Western Bulldogs v Richmond, Metricon Stadium, 5.10pm
Richmond showed wonderful resolve to hang tough last season in the face of an extensive injury list during the middle of the season. The same is going to have to apply if they are to defend their premiership.
The absence of Nick Vlastuin for tonight’s match against the Western Bulldogs comes on top of David Astbury and Bachar Houli’s unavailability, placing enormous pressure on Dylan Grimes and Nathan Broad to hold firm in defence against a side that can score freely.
The Bulldogs amass big numbers midfield, even in the ongoing absence of Lachie Hunter, with Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Dunkley, Bailey Smith, Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore and Toby McLean capable of wreaking havoc. The extra 24 hours break they enjoyed opposed to the Tigers making a trip to western Sydney to tackle Greater Western Sydney last round is also a bonus.
VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 14 points
Melbourne v Port Adelaide, Gabba, 5.50pm
It was no shock to see Port Adelaide open up as favourites for this encounter, given they are perched on top of the table with a 6-2 win-loss record in a season like no other.
But Melbourne continue to improve and will have their share of admirers. Humbled by Richmond a month ago, they have since beaten Gold Coast and Hawthorn and have only themselves to blame for a narrow loss to Brisbane last Sunday.
Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Jack Viney are prolific midfield for Melbourne and the forward line is potentially dangerous, but many of their entries are less than desirable. Port have the capacity to punish sides who leave the door ajar, thanks chiefly to the presence of matchwinners Robbie Gray and Charlie Dixon forward of the ball.
VERDICT: Port Adelaide by 8 points
Carlton v Hawthorn, Optus Stadium, 3.40pm
Alastair Clarkson and success went hand in hand for several seasons. Not now. Hawthorn’s revered coach, the best in the business courtesy of his four flags and implementation of a game plan that had him ahead of his rivals, is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
A defeat at the hands of Carlton on neutral soil here in Perth today could well ignite the flame that might lead to all-out chaos at Waverley. Hawthorn haven’t just been getting beaten, they are guilty of stagnant ball movement, ineptitude in front of goal and faltering with an old group.
Conversely, the Blues are building nicely. They haven’t been at their best the past two weeks, but remain very much in the finals conversation and, thankfully, are a far more efficient and potent outfit than we saw for prolonged periods under former coach Brendon Bolton, who has since returned to the Hawks.
VERDICT: Carlton by 10 points
Essendon v Brisbane, Metricon Stadium, 6.10pm
In years gone by, an Essendon side sitting in seventh spot at the halfway mark of the home-and-away season would be talked about in glowing terms. But 2020 is like no other and it is hard to get an accurate handle on the Bombers’ plight.
Their best is very good, but they can also be bystanders in the course of a match. That said, they are doing a fine job in the face of a mounting injury list, which this week had the opportunistic Orazio Fantasia added to it.
Brisbane are also without some notable figures, including ruck duo Stefan Martin and Archie Smith, placing enormous pressure on Oscar McInerney to step up and ensure his damaging midfield, headed by Lachie Neale, more than holds its own.
VERDICT: Brisbane by 16 points
North Melbourne v Adelaide, Metricon Stadium, 12.35pm
The worst fears of North Melbourne supporters looked like being realised at quarter-time last weekend when the Kangaroos trailed Carlton by 23 points. A dozy start followed the shellacking a week earlier from Richmond.
But Rhyce Shaw’s men then got down to work and made the Blues stretch their neck to escape with the four points. The back end of that match, coupled with the popular decision to select Majak Daw this week, could be the catalyst for the Roos to rediscover their early-season form.
Adelaide were poor earlier in the year when forced to ply their trade on the Gold Coast, but have steadily improved. However, injuries to key personnel and their lack of leg speed might work very much in North’s favour.
VERDICT: North Melbourne by 20 points
St Kilda v Sydney, Gabba, 3.10pm
If you needed any confirmation that this year was a weird one, St Kilda made a mockery of their horrific Adelaide Oval record with back-to-back victories over Adelaide and Port Adelaide … in the space of five days while flying in from Queensland. Go figure.
They now have a wonderful opportunity to cement a spot inside the top eight and zero in on a top-four berth with a win against a plucky, yet depleted Sydney. The Swans found a way late against Hawthorn, the influence of Tom Papley hard to ignore.
The Saints will fancy their chances of dominating in the air against the Swans, especially if Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder can replicate their influence of last round.
VERDICT: St Kilda by 25 points
West Coast v Geelong, Optus Stadium, 6.10pm
Scary. Dominant. Ruthless. Brutal. There are many other words that could be used to best describe the performance West Coast turned in against Collingwood last weekend. It put the rest of the competition on notice.
Included in that are Geelong, who now have to front up against the 2018 premiers on the back of a shortened week following a slogging win over Fremantle. The Cats were aided during the week when Tom Hawkins successfully appealed his striking suspension, 24 hours after Elliot Yeo and the Eagles had a win at the tribunal.
The Cats have struggled to find a permanent ruck option in recent years and that spells trouble for whoever Chris Scott employs to oppose Nic Naitanui after his sublime performance against Brodie Grundy.
VERDICT: West Coast by 29 points
Gold Coast v GWS, Metricon Stadium, 1.35pm
Greater Western Sydney have had their way with Gold Coast for several seasons now. So too for that matter have the rest of the competition.
However, the Suns of 2020 — post the COVID-19 break — are a different beast altogether. Even in the narrow loss to the Western Bulldogs, their maiden exposure in prime time, they lost no admirers. They are committed, organised and disciplined. Oh, and they have a young group bulging with talent.
The same applies to GWS, who have mixed their form this year. One constant though is when Toby Greene plays, Leon Cameron’s side is a daunting prospect. Small in stature, Greene is a colossus on the big stage. How Gold Coast attempt to curb him will be intriguing.
VERDICT: GWS by 31 points
Fremantle v Collingwood, Optus Stadium, 4.10pm
Fremantle have come in for their share of criticism after a two-goal display in the loss to Geelong at a saturated Optus Stadium on Monday. Given their injuries and the experience in the Cats’ back half, they should be afforded some latitude.
But Dockers coach Justin Longmuir knows full well that his charges cannot afford to be so impotent in front of goal this week, even taking into account Michael Walters’ hamstring strain.
Collingwood welcome back Steele Sidebottom after his month-long ban and his presence couldn’t have come at a better time, with Scott Pendlebury facing a month on the sidelines with a quad strain. The Magpies were embarrassed by West Coast, but have shown over a sustained period now that they are the genuine article.
VERDICT: Collingwood by 13 pointsMarket Market