Sydney v Essendon, SCG, 5.50pm
In years gone by, a trip to the SCG led to opposition sides experiencing a nervous twitch or two. Not anymore. The Swans are a shadow of what we have seen in the past 15 years and their form at the saucer-shaped venue reflects that.
Essendon had a great opportunity to make a statement against a Geelong side missing Joel Selwood last Sunday, but after an encouraging opening quarter, looked very pedestrian. Their inability to hit targets coming out of defence was stark, as was the disconnect going inside 50.
Those areas can be fixed quickly. The Swans are unable to sustain their effort in games this year, partly because of injuries to key personnel and the desire of coach John Longmire to usher in the new breed of youngsters. Essendon coach John Worsfold doesn’t have the same dilemmas.
VERDICT: Essendon by 23 points
Western Bulldogs v Brisbane, MARS Stadium, Ballarat, 11.45am
Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge stuck fat with his players after the loss to Fremantle in round six and was rewarded, thanks in no small part to Aaron Naughton’s heroics, last Saturday night against Richmond.
It was the type of performance that can be used as a launch pad. The challenge for the Bulldogs is to ensure they do exactly that. Brisbane have already won five games this season — their 2018 total — and quite rightly have designs on the top eight.
For that to occur however, they need to bank wins interstate, particularly those against opponents like the Bulldogs who are around or below them on the ladder. Dayne Zorko produced his best effort of the season against Sydney and will need to repeat that, and have support from his senior teammates, to get out of Ballarat with the points.
VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 12 points
Carlton v Collingwood, MCG, 11.45am
Brendon Bolton knows full well that things could be much different. A win over Gold Coast and even Hawthorn a fortnight ago would have his side in a solid enough position, even taking into account the disaster that was last weekend’s display against North Melbourne.
But Bolton also knows performances of last round aren’t tolerable and any loss to Collingwood is not looked upon with a great deal of fondness by rusted-on Carlton people. The Blues must stand their ground early in the midfield and then be prepared for a thorough examination.
The Magpies have dropped games they were expected to win against Geelong and West Coast, but those aside, it is hard not to be impressed by how they are tracking. Stacked in the midfield, highly competent defensively and potentially explosive forward of centre, they will have too many weapons here.
VERDICT: Collingwood by 39 points
Gold Coast v Melbourne, Metricon Stadium, 2.35pm
Melbourne’s much-needed win over Hawthorn last weekend lost some of its lustre this week with the headlines surrounding Steven May and his decision to indulge over the weekend. That aside, there was a bit to like how they went about it last Saturday.
The same applies to Gold Coast, who fought valiantly in the second half opposed to West Coast at Optus Stadium. It dispelled fears the Suns may have hit the wall after their previous two efforts against Adelaide and Brisbane.
Suns ruckman Jarrod Witts was the best big man on the ground against West Coast and his battle with All-Australian Max Gawn will have a large bearing on the most important area of the ground. The Suns at Metricon Stadium are a test, but if Melbourne are the side many believe they are, this is a must-win match.
VERDICT: Melbourne by 20 points
St Kilda v West Coast, Marvel Stadium, 5.25pm
Many watching West Coast go about their business last weekend thought the switch was about to be flicked. The premiers had their foot on the throats of Gold Coast at half-time and were seemingly poised to inflict real damage.
But the middle-of-the-road Eagles we have seen more of than expected in 2019 reappeared. An inability to impact the scoreboard and win decisive one-on-one battles proved problematic and the Suns surged. St Kilda coach Alan Richardson would have watched with a great deal of interest.
The Saints generated enough opportunities to be competitive against Greater Western Sydney, but skill errors and poor finishing in front of goal hurt them. St Kilda are a dangerous side, especially at Marvel Stadium, and are sure to ask many questions of West Coast. Time will tell if the Eagles have the answers.
VERDICT: West Coast by 8 points
Port Adelaide v Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, 5.40pm
Adelaide were required to do it the hard way against Fremantle, but they did it nonetheless. If they have bounced out of that contest physically and mentally, they are poised to win a fourth game in a row and solidify their spot in the top eight.
The Power are seriously banged up heading into this match without Ollie Wines, Robbie Gray, Brad Ebert, Tom Jonas and Hamish Hartlett, not to mention the prolonged absence of Charlie Dixon. And the talented youngsters Ken Hinkley has blooded are now faced with the intensity of a 46th showdown.
The Crows were thrilled with the output of Reilly O’Brien against the Dockers and he will need to back that effort up opposed to Paddy Ryder and Scott Lycett. If he can break even at worst, even be shaded slightly, that will be OK for Adelaide given the potency they have at ground level.
VERDICT: Adelaide by 31 points
North Melbourne v Geelong, Marvel Stadium, 11.10am
Nobody could have begrudged Geelong had they taken their foot off the pedal ever so slightly against Essendon in round seven after a searching opening six weeks to start the season. Even more so when captain Joel Selwood was ruled out on the Saturday through injury.
But what we saw was a committed and purposeful Cats side looking to put real space between itself and the chasing pack. Geelong were simply outstanding and anything near that level will be sufficient against North Melbourne, regardless of their win against Carlton.
The Cats are a complete side and have the weapons and mindset to defend from the front half like many good outfits before them. The tribunal decision earlier in the week to clear Gary Ablett is another positive for Chris Scott’s team.
VERDICT: Geelong by 27 points
Hawthorn v GWS, MCG, 1.20pm
If you required evidence of the overall talent level at Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron’s disposal, last week was a perfect case study. No Phil Davis, Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield, Callan Ward and Adam Kennedy meant little as they eclipsed St Kilda in Canberra.
The expected return of Kelly, Whitfield and Kennedy here bolsters a side that will well and truly stretch a Hawks side that Alastair Clarkson admits is a long way from its preferred destination at present. Hawthorn couldn’t get over the top of Melbourne as recruits Chad Wingard and Tom Scully’s patchy form continued.
Hawthorn still have weapons in Jaeger O’Meara, Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and James Sicily, but the support cast is nowhere near as accomplished as it once was. Then there is the small matter of stopping Giants full-forward Jeremy Cameron.
VERDICT: GWS by 19 points
Fremantle v Richmond, Optus Stadium, 3.20pm
Fremantle lost last weekend, but no admirers with their willingness to engage in 120 minutes of brutal hand-to-hand combat with Adelaide on foreign soil. And just like the Crows, if they show no signs of fatigue from that struggle, this is a game that sits up beautifully.
Richmond are seriously wounded and will make the trip west without a swag of automatic selections, including superstars Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt. David Astbury is set to return from injury and that is critically important given Matt Taberner and Jesse Hogan lurk deep for the Dockers.
Nat Fyfe and David Mundy have proved headaches for Richmond before and loom as real issues for Damien Hardwick, who will also have his work cut out structuring up a forward line capable of kicking a winning total against a miserly Fremantle defence.
VERDICT: Fremantle by 37 pointsMarket Market