Digby Beacham’s AFL Preview: Round 20


Fremantle v Melbourne, Optus Stadium, 6.10pm

The margin for error gets smaller and smaller for many sides this time of the season. That includes Fremantle and Melbourne entering this contest, their second encounter in 2022.

Fremantle had some good fortune earlier this season when Steven May was concussed and exited the game during the course of their clash, but the Dockers’ coaching staff also wielded an influence with match-ups and a team defence that proved hard for the Demons to penetrate.

Melbourne’s own backline for this match has been bolstered by the return from a shoulder injury of Jake Lever. He works brilliantly in tandem with May and it could just be the inclusion that provides a sense of calm as the visitors pursue a top-four spot.

VERDICT: Melbourne by 1-24 points


Collingwood v Port Adelaide, MCG, 11.45am

Let the good times roll. That might just be the motto Collingwood are embracing after yet another get-out-of-jail performance, this time against Essendon.

If the more matches you win in succession means you are getting closer to a loss, it would be entirely understandable if the Magpie players were walking on eggshells having prevailed in nine straight games. Conversely, they could well be feeling bulletproof due to their ability to execute admirably late in matches.

Port Adelaide are a mathematical chance of playing finals, but you suspect their round-19 loss to Geelong was the final nail in the coffin. That’s not to say they weren’t brave. Charlie Dixon is in rare nick and will ask much of the Magpies’ centre square combination when injected in there.

VERDICT: Collingwood by 1-24 points

Sydney v GWS, SCG, 12.10pm

Sydney’s late-season surge shows no signs of abating, their most recent victims being Adelaide who were powerless to stop a first-quarter onslaught just as the Western Bulldogs were a fortnight earlier.

The Swans are now riding a three-game winning streak that has them in the cut and thrust for a top-four position and you just know that they’d love to rub the noses of their little brothers in the SCG dirt.

That hasn’t always been easy to do, but these Giants are a long way removed from the competitive outfits we have become accustomed to. The end of the campaign can’t come soon enough for GWS.

VERDICT: Sydney by 1-39 points

St Kilda v Hawthorn, Marvel Stadium, 2.35pm

St Kilda need everything to go right from here on in if they are to return to the finals. The loss this week of creative midfielder Jade Gresham (knee) for the rest of 2022 was not the news coach Brett Ratten wanted to hear.

It places more pressure on Jack Steele and Brad Crouch in and around the centre square, a workload they didn’t shirk in the crucial win over West Coast. That display came a day after Hawthorn also tasted success, down in Hobart opposed to North Melbourne.

Tom Mitchell has rediscovered his best form through the midfield, ably assisted by Jai Newcombe. It was also great to see Jack Gunston back doing what he loves … kicking goals for his beloved Hawks.

VERDICT: St Kilda by 1-24 points

Geelong v Western Bulldogs, GMHBA Stadium, 5.25pm

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge has made a habit of keeping his players on their toes. Further proof of that came at selection for this huge clash when he elected to drop Alex Keath despite the spectre of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.

It is a bold call from Beveridge considering the nick the Cats’ tall pair are in, not to mention the importance of travelling down the highway for his players in pursuit of a precious four points.

Geelong captain Joel Selwood will be feted and deservedly so in game 350. He well and truly deserves to be in the conversation alongside Gary Ablett Sr and Gary Ablett Jr as the best Cat of all time.

VERDICT: Geelong by 1-39 points

Adelaide v Carlton, Adelaide Oval, 5.30pm

Adelaide at home invariably ask questions of their opposition. Factor in Carlton haven’t always travelled that well this season and that is why these two teams are closer than you’d initially think in the market.

The Blues do possess some heavy artillery where it matters most, however. The midfield is proficient at the stoppages and keen to accumulate as many deep entries as possible, enabling twin towers Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay to wreak havoc.

Crows coach Matthew Nicks is contracted for 2023 and there is belief in the industry that he is more than capable. That said, these next four weeks are vital to his future at West Lakes.

VERDICT: Carlton by 1-39 points


Gold Coast v West Coast, Metricon Stadium, 11.10am

Any time Nic Naitanui is an “in” for West Coast, their supporters are on better terms with themselves. There is no disputing the importance of Naitanui to this Eagles line-up, in particular their work at stoppages.

His battle with Jarrod Witts will have a large bearing on the outcome, although it would take a big drop-off from the Suns and a stunning form reversal from West Coast on the road for this to be an upset.

Gold Coast, their Essendon showing in round 18 aside, have pieced together a solid body of work that has troubled and even taking down far better sides than the Eagles. This assignment sets up beautifully.

VERDICT: Gold Coast by 1-39 points

Richmond v Brisbane, MCG, 1.20pm

In a Richmond team bursting with superstars, Shane Edwards is often overlooked. He shouldn’t be. A bona fide gun, Edwards has played a pivotal role in their three flags and will reach the 300-game milestone at a critical point in the Tigers’ campaign.

It doesn’t matter how they do it or by how much they achieve it … Richmond have to find a way to win. Their participation in September depends on it.

Brisbane sit higher on the ladder than the Tigers, however their form is also a bit patchy. No Daniel Rich here hurts a defence that continues to be led grandly by Brandon Starcevich and Harris Andrews.

VERDICT: Richmond by 1-39 points

Essendon v North Melbourne, Marvel Stadium, 2.40pm

If a drubbing at the hands of Hawthorn wasn’t bad enough, North Melbourne coach Leigh Adams and several players contracted COVID-19. It’s a plight which probably sums up the Kangaroos’ dreadful season.

Adams is expected to back in the box with this game coming on an eight-day spin around. As for Essendon, coach Ben Rutten and his players would have probably preferred a shorter break than the standard seven days to make up for the horror defensive breakdown late against Collingwood.

That and the first term aside, the Bombers were very good. Their best this season, which has come after their mid-year bye, has troubled those expected to be active deep in September. That certainly makes it good enough to beat the Kangaroos, especially with Zach Merrett in excellent touch.

VERDICT: Essendon by 1-39 points

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