West Coast v Richmond, Optus Stadium, 6.10pm
Not a lot has gone right for West Coast in 2022, but their trials and tribulations will be forgotten if they’re able to finally make a statement before a restriction-free Optus Stadium crowd. It is a very big IF though.
The Eagles have been putrid in their past two outings and have to establish some ascendancy inside the centre square from the outset to get a foothold. Failure to do so will ensure negative thoughts come rushing back and allow Richmond to quieten the faithful.
Helping West Coast is Richmond are in town off a five-day break and aren’t exactly humming themselves, a 2-4 record reflective of that. No Trent Cotchin, no Dustin Martin and no Robbie Tarrant leaves them devoid of experience, but they asked questions of Melbourne on Anzac eve. I’m not sure the Eagles could do that.
VERDICT: Richmond by 1-39 points
Geelong v Fremantle, GMHBA Stadium, 11.45am
The line in this clash continues to get out and out and out. And it could become even bigger by the time the game starts considering Fremantle are without Sean Darcy, Matt Taberner, Hayden Young and Heath Chapman.
Throw in the Cats being back at their GMHBA Stadium fortress and it’s easy to understand why tipsters are focusing in on the home side despite its win-loss record of 4-2 being inferior to that of Fremantle (5-1).
Even in their loss to St Kilda in round two, the Dockers defended stoutly. That, coupled with their leg speed and work without the football, is holding them in good stead. Upsetting the Cats down in Geelong with personnel issues however appears beyond them.
VERDICT: Geelong by 24+ points
Adelaide v GWS, Adelaide Oval, 12.10pm
Just over 12 months ago, Adelaide started 3-1. They would then lose seven of their next eight matches to fall from finals contention.
Fast forward to the present and the 3-3 record the Crows have established feels considerably more authentic. A narrow win over the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat in round six certainly helps your cause. And on the back of that victory, it is why the Crows find themselves as favourites against GWS.
The Giants led St Kilda at half-time last Friday night and weren’t disgraced, but had the Saints taken their opportunities, it would have been a blow-out. The speculation surrounding Leon Cameron’s future doesn’t help.
VERDICT: Adelaide -6.5 points (Line)
Melbourne v Hawthorn, MCG, 2.35pm
You just sense that if any side can overcome a distraction or three caused by COVID-19, it is Melbourne. The Demons will be without key players, not to mention coach Simon Goodwin, for this clash but regain both Jake Lever and Jack Viney.
That is significant against a Hawthorn side that has a hard edge to it and can score quickly and heavily, albeit has a tendency to leak goals also. Sam Mitchell knows full well that his team isn’t emerging as a genuine threat in this competition until it stems the flow of opposition goals.
Melbourne weren’t efficient in front of goal against Richmond and ground out a 22-point win. If they return to their clinical best here, the final margin could well double that.
VERDICT: Melbourne -27.5 points (Line)
St Kilda v Port Adelaide, Cazaly’s Stadium, Cairns, 5.25pm
Wasteful and on their heels at half-time last Friday night against GWS, the St Kilda of years gone by would have turned up their toes. Not the 2022 version.
The Saints were able to lock down the ball movement of the Giants and in the end cruise to a comfortable enough victory, their fifth in a row that underlines Brett Ratten’s charges as top-four material. Port Adelaide started the season thinking a double chance was attainable, but five straight losses torpedoed those thoughts.
Scott Lycett’s absence here shapes as an issue given Paddy Ryder returns from suspension and will be eager to assert his dominance as Rowan Marshall recovers from a corked thigh.
VERDICT: St Kilda by 1-39 points
Carlton v North Melbourne, Marvel Stadium, 5.25pm
It might only be a small sample size, but a Marc Pittonet-led Carlton following division is far superior to the one without. We saw the Blues lose to Gold Coast when he was missing through injury earlier this year and once he exited last Saturday night’s match against Fremantle, the Blues became extremely vanilla.
With Pittonet facing an extended stint on the sidelines, we will learn a lot more about the Blues. But any learnings are likely to take place after this weekend because North Melbourne don’t have the arsenal or system to trouble Michael Voss’ men.
The Kangaroos’ lack of pressure in the past couple of weeks has been alarming and if Carlton’s midfield rolls up its sleeves, their forwards could have a glut of chances to hit the scoreboard.
VERDICT: Carlton by 1-39 points
Collingwood v Gold Coast, MCG, 11.10am
Collingwood deserve to be favourites here and most likely emerge triumphant. But they can ill afford to rock up to the MCG thinking this will be a stroll in the park.
Gold Coast upset them in the corresponding match last season and as much as they were exposed by a slick Brisbane last weekend, their overall form this year has been solid enough. The Suns will be hoping Jarrod Witts can capitalise on Brodie Grundy’s injury and provide his midfielders with first use.
It is then up to the Gold Coast forwards to take their chances. They will need to because for all the excitement about Collingwood’s more attacking mindset under Craig McRae, their defence is very sturdy.
VERDICT: Collingwood to win
Western Bulldogs v Essendon, Marvel Stadium, 1.20pm
Spare a thought for Luke Beveridge and Ben Rutten. The loser of this contest is going to come under searing scrutiny … and deservedly so. The Western Bulldogs are underachieving big time after their grand final run of 2021 and Essendon’s defensive frailties don’t seem a priority to Rutten and his match committee.
The Bulldogs couldn’t get over the top of Adelaide in Ballarat last weekend where the absence of Tim English was felt. He again misses here, perhaps opening the door for the robust Sam Draper to ignite the Bombers midfield.
For a side that loves to flip the ball around, the Bulldogs are best suited by the sterile surrounds of Marvel Stadium. Surely, they don’t cough up this one and slip to 2-5.
VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 1-39 points
Sydney v Brisbane, SCG, 2.40pm
The AFL has saved the best for last. This match-up between two interstate clubs could well determine which one finishes in the top four and earns an all-important double chance despite coming up so early in the season.
Sydney stood Hawthorn a five-goal head start and gave them a beating last weekend, while Brisbane produced their most powerful performance of 2022, making light of difficult conditions to trounce Gold Coast.
Callum Mills has enjoyed an excellent season for the Swans and he will no doubt have some responsibility in curbing Lachie Neale. If Mills is able to execute his role to the best of his ability, it places added pressure on the Lions’ other on-ballers to pick up the slack.