Digby Beacham’s AFL Preview: Round 23


Western Bulldogs v Port Adelaide, Marvel Stadium, 5.50pm

One more chance or cast to one side? That is the dilemma facing tipsters looking to settle on a selection here for what shapes as a critical round-23 fixture.

The Western Bulldogs have been outclassed by Essendon and Hawthorn in successive weeks, with their blue-chip midfield being exposed. Unless that area of their game is addressed by coach Luke Beveridge, they could find themselves in an elimination final next weekend.

Whereas the Bulldogs have lost their bite, the Power are surging. They are healthy and building nicely and while this represents a stiffer challenge than last Saturday’s blitzing of Carlton on home soil, they have the weapons to prevail.

VERDICT: Port Adelaide by 17 points


Richmond v Hawthorn, MCG, 11.35am

There are many elements of COVID-19 that are regrettable. And so many things are far more important in everyday life than sport. But how good would have it been to see a jam-packed MCG saying farewell to Alastair Clarkson and Shaun Burgoyne at the end of this match?

The next best thing for the two Hawthorn greats will be to ensure they remember their final Hawthorn match with a great deal of fondness. And if current form is any guide, that honour should be afforded to them.

The Hawks have enjoyed an excellent last month and get back to the MCG to confront a Richmond side out of the finals mix and bereft of preferred personnel. This is a game Hawthorn should be winning.

VERDICT: Hawthorn by 20 points

Sydney v Gold Coast, Marvel Stadium, 11.45am

A week after seeing off the challenge of North Melbourne, Sydney return to Marvel Stadium to put paid to yet another underwhelming season turned in by Gold Coast.

Even in the absence of Nick Blakey (fractured leg) and Josh Kennedy (hamstring), the Swans have the quality and formlines to easily account for a Suns side that has well and truly put the cue back in the rack.

The ball movement of Sydney remains a highlight and the season of journeyman ruckman Tom Hickey an absolute cracker.

VERDICT: Sydney by 39 points

Brisbane v West Coast, Gabba, 2.35pm

Willie Rioli was to make his long-awaited return after a heavily scrutinised drugs ban. It was to be a feel-good story. That was until he was unable to prove his fitness. It perhaps sums up the Eagles’ plight.

Outside the top eight after the continuing decline in their 2021 season, the Eagles look certain to miss out on the finals. They need to upset Brisbane and rely on other results falling their way. On what we have witnessed in the back end of the year, the Eagles will be flat out getting out of their own way.

The Lions’ past two weeks against Fremantle and Collingwood have been powerful. Forward of the ball, they have rediscovered their mojo and the effort by Lachie Neale last weekend was arguably his best of the season.

VERDICT: Brisbane by 43 points

Geelong v Melbourne, GMBHA Stadium, 5.25pm

Any side that has an in-form Patrick Dangerfield running around is always going to ask a lot of questions of an opposition side. And sometimes that opposition side is out of answers. Just ask St Kilda.

Dangerfield put on his Superman cape last weekend to lift the Cats over the Saints and keep them in the race for a minor premiership. Standing between them and that though are Melbourne, who play a brand of football that will stack up next month.

And unlike the Cats, they are healthy. Steven May should return to boost the Demons’ defence, an injection of class and experience that is timely given the presence of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.

VERDICT: Melbourne by 7 points

Carlton v GWS, Marvel Stadium, 5.40pm

The finish line can’t come soon enough for Carlton. Conversely, Greater Western Sydney are heading into the finals in season-best form, as evidenced by back-to-back wins over Geelong and Richmond.

The Giants have always been good defensively, but their flair with ball in hand has returned and so too have the goals. The return of Toby Greene will only assist them impacting the scoreboard.

That spells major trouble for the Blues, who have battled to contain sides all year and only last weekend conceded 19 unanswered goals to Port Adelaide. You would like to think the Blues find a little bit extra for Eddie Betts than they did for Marc Murphy.

VERDICT: GWS by 39 points


St Kilda v Fremantle, Blundstone Arena, 10.15am

Credit must be given to Fremantle for the way they took down West Coast to keep their own finals aspirations alive. For their sake, it would be great if they were able to springboard off that and push for a post-season berth with another win.

But it is probably unlikely. St Kilda, much like Fremantle, are giving plenty in the back half of the year and forced Geelong to dig really deep to down them last weekend. Max King continues to progress at a rapid rate and will ask many questions of Alex Pearce or Griffin Logue.

In what could be telling for Fremantle though, Andrew Brayshaw is available after a week’s suspension and we are consistently seeing players who have a week off in the back half of the season make a splash upon their return.

VERDICT: St Kilda by 20 points

Essendon v Collingwood, MCG, 1.20pm

For a large part of 2021 it seemed Essendon would be very much within striking distance of the top eight without actually securing a spot. How wrong we were.

The future has arrived for the Bombers, who have stormed into eighth spot courtesy of some strong performances and should remain there with a win over a depleted Collingwood outfit starting to leak goals.

The return of Andy McGrath from injury only strengthens coach Ben Rutten’s hand further. While these two teams have been involved in many absorbing duels over the years, it would be a shock if that was to occur again.

VERDICT: Essendon by 25 points

Adelaide v North Melbourne, Adelaide Oval, 2.40pm

Matches between sides sitting 17th and last on the ladder rarely garner a great deal of attention. However, the progress of both Adelaide and North Melbourne means this contest bucks the trend.

Only a fortnight ago, the Crows were edged out by top-two contenders Port Adelaide. The Kangaroos have improved markedly in the second half of the year and can lay claim to be being one of the better wooden spoon sides in recent history.

So what does all that mean here? It means very little separates the pair, with this shaping as a genuine venue game. The Crows can be expected to farewell club great David Mackay in fitting fashion.

VERDICT: Adelaide by 12 points

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