St Kilda vs Fremantle, Friday 7:40, Etihad Stadium
After a horrific start to the season St Kilda are right back in the hunt, with nine wins and seventh spot on the ladder, two points ahead of Fremantle. This is largely attributable to the returns to form from players like Nick Dal Santo, who has been dominating week in week out, and small forward Stephen Milne.
The scintillating form of these players make the Saints a hard side to match up on comfortably; it’s why they have gone so deep into finals series in recent years. Fremantle’s loss to Hawthorn in Perth last week does not bode well, their poor Melbourne record is no secret.
St Kilda’s comeback hasn’t been without its hiccups, had Gold Coast kicked straight last week they would have beaten the Saints, but they shouldn’t be troubled here.
Supercoach – Nick Dal Santo (St K), Nathan Fyfe (Frem)
St Kilda by 50
Geelong vs Gold Coast, Saturday 1:40, Skilled Stadium
In bad news for Geelong opponents over the final round of the home and away season, star forward Steve Johnson said during the week it was time for Geelong to start delivering four-quarter performances. Last week’s 186-point demolition of Melbourne was scarcely believableand if that sort of performance can be expected each week the other 16 sides will struggle.
In disappointing news Gary Ablett has been ruled out of this game, depriving Cats fans of the chance to welcome him back – or hurl abuse – but it is a massive blow for the Suns, as Ablett knows the ground well.
Last week’s coach-killing performance will surely not be seen again for a long time but if Gold Coast doesn’t start well they too could find themselves on the end of 100+ point loss.
Supercoach – Steve Johnson (Geel), David Swallow (GC)
Geelong by 85
Carlton vs Melbourne, Saturday 2:10, MCG
Carlton’s form has improved considerably since the loss to the Western Bulldogs in round 16, and though they struggled early against North Melbourne last week they did what good sides do, and found a way to win.
Melbourne meanwhile is at their lowest ebb in their history. The second-worst loss of all time, the coach sacked, the #1 pick rumoured to be off to GWS, and all this while their president remains very ill. Their response this week under Todd Viney is critical to the health of the football club.
The comfort Melbourne can take is that no side in this competition is 186 points worse than another, and there should be plenty of fight this week, but it will not be enough against the strength of the Blues.
Supercoach – Rob Warnock (Carl), Jordie McKenzie (Melb)
Carlton by 42
Port Adelaide vs Collingwood, Saturday 7:40, AAMI Stadium
Last week’s showdown was perhaps Port Adelaide’s best chance of winning their third game for the year and taking themselves off the bottom of the ladder, but they were lead at every change under caretaker coach Mark Bickley’s Crows.
Collingwood meanwhile continued on their merry way – they trailed by two goals at half-time and lead by just 18 at the final break before kicking 10 goals to one in the last term to run out mammoth 74-point winners.
That result and Geelong’s win suggests the premiership race may well be down to just two players – and the Magpies will not be troubled the Power.
Supercoach – Travis Boak (Port), Dale Thomas (Coll)
Collingwood by 48
Essendon vs Sydney, Saturday 7:20, Etihad Stadium
Bombers fans weren’t as up and about as you would have thought at half-time; their side had put in a sterling performance but Collingwood’s class was always going to rise to the top. The important thing for Essendon is their response this week to the second half fade-out.
Sydney had the bye last weekend, but rejoined the winner’s list the week before after taking care of the Bulldogs. They are one of five sides competing for the finals between sixth and tenth, with West Coast a comfortable two-and-a-half games ahead in fifth place.
How will James Hird’s first season as coach be ultimately judged? Surely only a finals campaign will be viewed as an outcome the club and fans are happy with, particularly given the energy they started the season with.
Supercoach – Brent Stanton (Ess), Adam Goodes (Syd)
Essendon by 19
Brisbane vs Adelaide, Sunday 1:10, Gabba
Adelaide’s fifth win of the season last week didn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things but it was desperately needed, and they have a chance to move ahead of Richmond if they can topple Brisbane at the Gabba.
The Lions haven’t been disgraced in some of their losses this season – their percentage, while low at 77, is the best of the bottom four – and have generally been better at the Gabba.
Simon Black’s decision to play on next year is a coup for the club, who have plenty of talent in their young players but need as much experience as possible out on the park each week. They should account for Adelaide.
Supercoach – Simon Black (Bris), Bernie Vince (Adel)
Brisbane by 20
Hawthorn vs North Melbourne, Sunday 2:10, Aurora Stadium
Back down south for Hawthorn this week, a side that probably hasn’t been given enough credit for their form this season. It has to be remembered that it is only in the past few years that the top sides have dropped only one or two games for the season – and the Hawks have only lost four of 17.
North Melbourne remains in the running for a final eight spot and it has been heartening to see the much-maligned club putting in better performances this year. They are playing arguably their best football since 2007, when they lost to Port Adelaide in a preliminary final.
Kangaroos fans have gone into each game with confidence this year; something many supporters may not have had in recent years. Hawthorn however appear to be tuning up at the right time, and blew away Fremantle last week with a side close to full health.
Supercoach–Luke Hodge (Haw), Drew Petrie (NM)
Hawthorn by 35
West Coast vs Richmond, Sunday 4:40, Patersons Stadium
The burning question about West Coast as we enter get closer to the finals series is whether they will finish fourth, with the double chance, or remain in fifth place and get a home final. Either way, they appear destined to be playing finals into the second week after a few lean years.
Richmond’s bye was timely last week after a string of bad losses – their last win was against Brisbane in round 13. The exuberance they showed earlier in the year in matching St Kilda and beating Essendon appears to have all but disappeared.
The Eagles’ return to the pointy end of the ladder has been cause for celebration; they play an attractive brand of football and despite a number of key injuries should have no trouble beating the Tigers.
Supercoach – Matt Priddis (WC), Robin Nahas (Rich)
West Coast by 56