Round 10 Preview
Updated: May 21, 2021
A few have posed an interesting question over the past couple of days...
Who is the best team outside of the top eight at the moment?
Is it the Giants, who have basically had one uncompetitive game (R2 v Fremantle) in nine weeks of football? Quite possibly.
Is it the Dockers, who took advantage of the Giants failing to turn up and have beaten the Hawks, Crows and Kangaroos? Unlikely.
What about the Saints? They have the second highest losing margin in the league but nearly knocked off a top four contender last weekend. Depends on which St Kilda turns up.
Maybe the Bombers? Injuries to Draper and Stringer have tested their depth and they have issues with defending, but for a team who fielded 16 players under 100 games on the weekend they are tracking in the right direction. Not their year though.
And Carlton? Below the Bombers on percentage, surprisingly, but they have played three of the four preliminary finalists from 2020 as well as smacking into the Bulldogs and Demons over the last fortnight. Wins over the Hawks and Swans in the next two rounds and our opinion might change.
The answer is probably the Giants, yet there is a definite case to be made for Carlton.
Regardless, it does look like the final eight is reasonably set, unless the Tigers or Swans drop their bundle in the second half of the year. The whole competition is hanging for Richmond to somehow miss the finals, because they know full well they could win it from eighth.
Only one match this weekend involves two sides in the top eight - the 4th v 8th contest between Brisbane and Richmond. So we find a few other lopsided matchups to dig through and see if any of the underdogs have a genuine chance. Let's get stuck in.
Best Matchup - Brisbane v Richmond
Best Underdog - GWS, Sydney
Team Under Pressure - Carlton - they wouldn't want to drop this one. Time to win it convincingly and show the critics they aren't far off...
Player To Watch - Did we just curse Jesse Hogan? Had him as our player to watch and now he's out for an extended period with a calf injury. Brutal.
We will go with Nat Fyfe - genuine 50/50 game, his team needing help up forward, has kicked 2.16 with a few misses thrown in for the year. Is this the week he puts in a vintage performance and somehow hits the scoreboard? Fascinated to see if he can lift his team over the line.
Game by game previews below. Check back for any important team information as it filters through over the weekend.
Brisbane v Richmond
Friday night footy at the Gabba for the first time this year. A game where the Tigers might lose the battle, but could still win the war...
This game isn't as pivotal to Richmond's fortunes as some may think - yes, it would put another dent in their top four hopes (remember, they haven't missed the double chance in any of the past four seasons) but they have a pretty favourable last twelve matches on the run home.
After this weekend they face only three of the current top eight sides - West Coast (away) in Round 14 and return fixtures against the Lions and Cats at the MCG in Rounds 18 & 19. A few other games will pose a challenge of course, but it does give them the ability to build some momentum late in the year, particularly when they should see the bulk of their midfield return to play. Can't write them off just yet, even if they drop this one.
Focusing on Friday night's contest, there are so many angles to sort through. Brisbane are on a five-game winning streak, while Richmond have emerged from a tough month with a 2-2 record. The soft platform for the Lions might not be ideal in what shapes to be a finals-like contest - winning is great, but even their game against Port Adelaide didn't have the kind of intensity they are likely to encounter against the Tigers.
When you consider the Lions haven't won a single final term in the last four weeks, you would just hope their relatively comfortable run hasn't softened them up to be beaten. The Tigers are the one side who just keep coming - last week against the Giants was a great reminder.
Richmond have the opposite problem. After playing the top three sides in the past month followed by thriller without their starting midfield against the Giants, you could forgive them for putting in a flat one on Friday night. The cumulative effect of being "up" for so long with an undermanned clearance division could be the clincher.
So the Lions have a clear edge at stoppage - #2 at clearance differential over the past month, with the Tigers understandably 16th given their injuries and strength of opposition. That alone should place the Richmond defenders under serious pressure. Brisbane have the marking targets to exploit them as well as the ground level players to hit the scoreboard when required - they haven't scored fewer than 90 points since Round 4.
The one vulnerability for Brisbane might be their key defence - only two weeks ago they conceded 18 forward 50 marks to the Dockers. Anything close to that figure for Richmond and they could easily pinch it. Andrews and Adams vs Riewoldt and Lynch should be fascinating. Can they get enough supply, the Tigers?
Backing Brisbane to rise to the occasion and pick apart an undermanned Richmond at home, just like they did in the 2020 qualifying final. There is a feeling the Lions have been waiting for another serious test for a while. You'd have to assume they come ready for war on Friday night.
Pick: Brisbane by 22
Carlton v Hawthorn
Finally we get to see what Carlton are made of here. Not often your biggest test for the season appears against a 17th-placed side, but it is definitely the case with this one.
Incredibly, Carlton are only a game clear of Hawthorn with three wins for the season. Despite all the outside noise, the Blues have performed pretty admirably - were they realistically expected to beat any one of Port, Brisbane, the Bulldogs or Melbourne? Probably not. They have still been super competitive and just failed to cause a much-needed upset for their confidence. No loss greater than 28 points in that period is a pass mark in our book.
They tackle Hawthorn fresh off a loss to the previously winless North Melbourne. If Carlton can't take care of this side we will finally concede the criticism of the Blues' has been warranted. Just hard to see it happening.
Last year the Hawks gifted Adelaide their first win in similar fashion. The following week they got within 14 points of St Kilda, who were travelling OK at that point before their late season surge. So the Blues will expect a bounce back for the Hawks. Will it be enough?
Unlikely. If the Blues are serious they wipe the floor with Hawthorn here. Perfect conditions at the MCG for their midfield to exploit a Hawks team who aren't defending well at all on the outside. Any score of 85+ is likely to be enough to keep it out of reach of the Hawks.
As long as McKay is fit and the Blues don't put in a flat one offensively, they should do this pretty comfortably.
Pick: Carlton by 33
Geelong v Gold Coast
Hopefully everyone at Geelong bought a lottery ticket after their absolute heist against St Kilda last week. In an even greater stroke of luck, they get a pretty soft fortnight before a much needed bye for their ageing playing group.
Saturday afternoon against the Suns should be pretty straight forward. Gold Coast will look to bounce back from failing to turn up against the Lions, and they regain Touk Miller at least. Holman gives them some extra grunt, Sexton some additional scoring power if they manage to get it down there. Still, they just don't have the kind of offence that will cause Geelong much trouble - under 80 points in five of their last six games says enough.
What do the Cats do with their rucks in this spot? Zac Smith's return for Gold Coast may force the Cats to bring in Fort or Stanley, otherwise they might roll with Blicavs and Ratugolea again (EDIT: No sign of Fort, Stanley an emergency. Will we see a late change again from the best in the business at the late swaps?). Not a lot of height up forward for the Suns, so Blicavs could be without a matchup down back anyway. Watch this space.
Confident the Cats just get the job done. They could cruise and never get out of third gear, or go full-throttle and run up the scoreline like they did against West Coast. Margin is a tricky one here. We might aim to just split the middle of those two scenarios.
Pick: Geelong by 41
Adelaide v Melbourne
A team on a five-game losing streak trying to knock off the first 9-0 side since 2009. They couldn't, could they?
Well they could, but its highly unlikely. For starters, the Crows would have to find a new level of pressure they've basically failed to achieve in any of their matches this season. Aside from a 190+ rating in the Showdown (where you'd expect them to lift for a mini grand-final), Adelaide haven't posted anything above 175 in their past five games.
A number like that on Saturday afternoon and the Demons shouldn't have any trouble moving the ball. Or scoring. Restricting Melbourne offensively is Adelaide's ticket to an upset - it's just so hard to make a case for the Crows being the first to complete the job this season by scoring enough themselves.
So much has been said for Melbourne's defence. With only one genuine marking target (Tex returns, thankfully) and a young weapon still finding his way (Riley Thilthorpe), it's not exactly the kind of setup that will challenge the likes of Lever and May. Can they find regular goals from their mids and small forwards?
Melbourne are far from perfect, so Adelaide will get their chances. The Dees haven't dominated the inside 50 count over the past month and their clearance record over that period would be a genuine concern - 14th at stoppage in the past four games. The problem is the Crows have an even worse record, so they don't exactly stand out as a team capable of knocking off the premiership favourites.
If Adelaide can somehow make this a total grind then there would be a glimmer of hope. They might just need three Rory Sloanes to get it done, though.
Pick: Melbourne by 25
Western Bulldogs v St Kilda
This definitely a potential trap game for the Bulldogs - fresh off an extraordinary win against Port Adelaide where the coach has openly admitted to a fair bit of soreness among the playing group, the Dogs wouldn't shock if they put in a flat one.
In contrast, St Kilda found their intensity again last week. If anyone relies on their attack on the contest more than any other side, it's the Saints. Their pressure rating has ridden a rollercoaster this year, much like their season. Which St Kilda side turns up on Saturday night?
Worth remembering that the Saints won the expected score 75 to 68 last week against Geelong, another top four contender. Would they be such long outsiders this week if they weren't let down by their inaccuracy?
The Dogs have a real weapon that the Cats don't possess, of course. Leg speed. Really interested to see whether the pressure of the Saints works as well against a side with arguably the best run and spread in the game. Containing Liberatore and co at the stoppages, then Macrae, Bontempelli and Treloar on the outside as well will be a serious challenge.
Just love the key forward setup in this matchup - The Saints had Max King and Tim Membrey take 11 forward 50 marks between them last week. Against the Dogs key defenders they could easily do it again. Huge pressure on the both of them to stand up, and put it through the big sticks this time.
Of course they won't have it easy up the other end. Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce are top ten in the Coleman Medal race for a reason. Could it come down to the small forwards? On paper the Saints have the edge in that area, but when you factor in the Dogs midfielders getting in on the action it definitely tips the scales in their favour.
Tricky one - the Dogs are clearly a better side but the cumulative effect of a few tough weeks and a bruising encounter against Port Adelaide makes us wary...
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 15
Fremantle v Sydney
Surprised to see Fremantle favourites here. Must be a lot of weight placed on their home ground advantage, and we can probably see why. Only three scores of 85+ this season - all of them at Optus Stadium, all of them wins.
The Swans were scoring 85 without even trying at the start of the season, but have come back to earth a little thanks to a mixture of injuries and a renewed focus on a more defensive style of play, once the opposition started to work them out a touch.
So this is a genuine coin flip. The Dockers really should have won last week against Essendon - another team to "win" on expected score but lose the game. The Swans are a step above the Bombers but Freo grow a leg at home, so they are definitely up to the task.
Even though we've been critical of the Dockers' lack of scoring power outside of Matt Taberner, there are signs they have adjusted to having only one legitimate key forward. Incredibly, Fremantle average more inside 50 marks than any team other than the Bulldogs. Translating them into goals (they are the most inaccurate side in the competition), and defending up the other end (a long list of injuries to their best defenders clearly unhelpful) is their challenge.
Expecting this one to be a ripping contest, won and lost through the middle. Sydney with the more impressive resumè so far this year, Fremantle needing a scalp ahead of a tough few weeks to keep in touch with the eight.
No idea which way this will go.
(EDIT: The market has swung in favour of Sydney, presumably due to the Brayshaw injury and the realisation that the Swans have a far better season under their belt so far. Sydney's superior offence could do some damage away from home, so it's no surprise to see Fremantle fall out of favouritism here. Luke Ryan's return helps. Tough one)
Pick: Fremantle by 1
GWS v West Coast
Pivotal game for the Giants here. If they drop this one they could be three games away from 7th place by the end of the weekend. A long road back to make the finals from there...
The loss of Toby Greene would sting. Can they get the job done offensively without him? At least their team changes will be a relatively neutral result: out goes Greene and Perryman through injury, in comes Haynes and Finlayson. Having enough entries and keeping the ball in there will be their biggest problem.
Despite all their injuries, West Coast have hung in there quite well. Perhaps aided by a particularly soft last three weeks, the Eagles come into this one with a fair bit of confidence and the prospect of adding Hurn and Ryan into the side.
Really hard to tell which gamestyle will win this one - the Eagles want to enjoy the uncontested mark game, keep the ball away from a scrap and move it quickly to their stacked forward line. The Giants have a reasonable record at denying that sort of game.
If GWS can turn this into more of a stoppage grind and exploit the Eagles in the contested possession battle, they are right in this. Their past four weeks have shown they can roll up the sleeves, win clearances and score quite well - they were right in the game until three-quarter time against the Bulldogs, posted two 100+ scores in their wins, and were arguably unlucky not to knock off the Tigers away from home. Love that kind of setup for this one. Just wish Greene was out there to lead the way.
Any team facing the Eagles will have nightmares about their key forward setup. Do the Giants have enough depth down back without Keeffe and Davis? Kennedy, Darling and Allen are a challenge for anyone, let alone one as depleted as GWS. The return of Haynes helps, but if the Giants can't stop the supply then they will be under the pump.
It all boils down to who can get the game on their terms - West Coast have the far superior forward setup, while the Giants should get on top through the middle. If West Coast aren't prepared to take their angry pills and win their fair share of genuine contests then the Giants can knock them off.
Just have to side with the Eagles given they bat a lot deeper than GWS - but it's hard to have a lot of confidence in West Coast away from home and needing to play a team which thrives on getting dirty. (EDIT: Really like the inclusion of Ryan for West Coast, who gives them a bit of X-factor up forward so they aren't so predictable)
Pick: West Coast by 8
Collingwood v Port Adelaide
The Collingwood of the first couple of rounds would be well and truly a chance in this one - their defence was rock solid, their midfield largely intact and their offence had enough firepower to compete.
Since then, they have transformed into a side completely devoid of confidence. In the past three weeks they've beaten only North Melbourne and failed to score above 55 in their other two games. Sides just know they don't have to post a big score to win against the Pies.
Off a bruising loss to the Bulldogs, there Port could be a little vulnerable away from home. Yet they would have to fail pretty badly on offence to drop the four points. All of their recent numbers are suggesting the forward half game has returned. They just haven't hit the scoreboard as much as they did last season. This might be the week it all clicks.
Unless De Goey, Cameron and Mihocek explode you'd think the Port defence will have them covered. The midfield battle should tip in Port's favour. So once again, the Pies defence has the job of trying to contain Port well enough to keep the game from becoming a shootout.
A Pies win wouldn't shock, but they just aren't going well enough to trouble Port if they can hold their form from last week.
(EDIT: Teams announced - Fantasia and Clurey missing for Port and Adams returns for Collingwood. We are unashamed Taylor Adams fans, so if he's anywhere near fit his inclusion certainly gives Collingwood are much greater chance, particularly with those two big outs for Port Adelaide. Port can't afford to take this one lightly)
Pick: Port Adelaide by 19
Essendon v North Melbourne
It would take another extraordinary midfield performance from Cunnington and Simpkin for North to land their second win in a row. The Bombers are a far more honest side than Hawthorn through the middle.
Expecting this one to be a pretty end-to-end sort of contest. These two sides are the worst at defending coast-to-coast ball movement, so the ball could be pinging around everywhere. That's a game style the Bombers are happy to play.
The Roos just don't have the offensive capabilities (or the skill level) to compete if this is an open contest. The Bombers have been prone to plenty of turnovers themselves, but the likes of Heppell, Merrett, Parish and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti could run rampant if the game lacks a certain level of defence.
North Melbourne posted their highest score for the year last week - 87 points - after obliterating Hawthorn at the clearances and capitalising on an incredible number of free kicks in that tense final term. 87 would be the minimum they require here unless they can find ways to lock the game down for long periods. They've been great at coming out with a high-pressure first quarter in most of their games. Sustaining it has been a major problem.
The absence of Smith and Stringer does hurt the potency of the Bombers a little. You'd think they still have far too much talent across the park to lose this one.
(EDIT: Really like the inclusion of Alex Waterman. He's no Jake Stringer, but against the Roos he just gives them another big body up forward to test them)
Pick: Essendon by 24
Round 10 Burning Question:
Do we need to bring back curtain raisers to attract more people back to the footy?
Cute idea, laced with a serious number of logistical issues.
Everyone wants to find out why attendance hasn't bounced back to a higher level. Asking the opinion of those who are paid to be there just doesn't make sense. Some of them wouldn't have purchased a seat for friends and family in their life...
Best Matchup - Brisbane v Richmond
Best Underdog - GWS, Sydney
Team Under Pressure - Carlton - they wouldn't want to drop this one. Time to win it convincingly and show the critics they aren't far off...
Player To Watch - Jesse Hogan. Four goals in a quarter last week, but dropped away in the second half. He becomes pivotal against a solid Eagles defence in the absence of Toby Greene.