Round 14 Preview
Updated: Aug 28
Now this is where the finals series really starts to be shaped. Four absolutely critical contests for the potential finalists, and a few other evenly-matched contests that should see us given a far more interesting round of football than the previous week.
Hoping the headlines move away from dangerous tackles, staging, trade rumours and the Grand Final location to more of the on-field results.
Who can secure their spot in Se....October? Let's see if we can pick a few winners this weekend.
Hawthorn v Essendon
One single game. So many angles. This could go in any direction.
Big Joe returns for the first time since Round 9, 2019. Can't wait to see how he goes here - Sam Frost on Joe Daniher might be the most unpredictable matchup you could find.
The Bombers have copped a bit of criticism for rushing Daniher straight back into the side without any sort of match practice. It's certainly unusual, but many might have forgotten how compromised the scratch matches have been this year.
With so many injuries, Essendon would be unlikely to field an entire team in a practice game - so their fit players would be joined by a selection of guys from other clubs. Hardly a winning recipe for your blue-chip forward to hone his craft. There's probably less to lose having him play on an elite surface amongst his senior teammates than having him run around in Queensland somewhere in an unlikely attempt to make him more ready for AFL footy again.
At the selection table, the Bombers have swapped three big blokes for three other big blokes, while Hawthorn gains Jack Gunston and Jon Ceglar, which can only help with team balance. There's a suggestion that Gunston may play in defence, but I'd consider that unlikely - Hawthorn's best chance of winning lies with him up forward against the Bombers' shaky back six.
Nothing would surprise here - do the Bombers now have enough firepower up forward to finally pose a threat to other sides? String will be better for the run last week, Daniher will be well underdone from a touch perspective but still takes the best defender, and the small forwards just have to find a way to keep the ball in there.
With both teams incredibly hard to read and with very mixed recent form, this is nearly impossible to pick. Let's side with the team who still thinks they're OK (Essendon) over a team who knows deep down they're in a totally different phase with their list (Hawthorn).
Pick: Essendon by 3
Richmond v West Coast
With the curtain raiser out of the way, the main event should be a cracker. Richmond have won four of their past five, while West Coast have won their last eight. The Eagles have to leave the comfort of their home state for the first time since Round 6, but it's too narrow-minded to think they will be unsuited to hub life as they were back in June and July - they are a different team with much more confidence this time around.
Back when they were battling, the Eagles just couldn't get the games on their terms - they struggled to keep the ball (16th for disposal differential in Rounds 2-6), battled to find a mark when they did have it (13th in the same time period), and clearly failed to find any efficiency up forward (15th for Scores Per Inside 50).
Since then, they've got their game back despite not playing incredible footy - 8th in disposal differential, 3rd in uncontested marks, and 1st at scores per inside 50. A fair turnaround.
Every team has a bad patch of form. Have the Eagles been blessed by going through it in the first couple of months of the season restart?
They face a Tigers side who hasn't set the world on fire but have weapons everywhere to at least match what the Eagles can produce. The Eagles will want the ball in the air as much as possible, trying to make it a kick-mark sort of game. The Tigers would be happy with chaos and the ball on the ground.
The Eagles' achilles heel has always been the ground ball - they are 18th in that area for the season. Richmond haven't set the world on fire on that front themselves (mainly due to missing key midfield personnel for a long period) but their graph is trending upwards over the last few weeks.
Big test for West Coast's midfield to hunt, tackle and win their fair share of contested possession. And for the Tigers defence to nullify the Eagles' marking power, particularly up forward.
Two distinct game styles, and a result that could go either way. The Geelong game might have been the best example of the Eagles having another gear to go to - they just have to do it away from Optus Stadium.
Pick: West Coast by 10
Western Bulldogs v Geelong
There is an angle to suggest Geelong might be slightly vulnerable here - five day backup off the back of a high-pressure, season highest tackle count, bash and crash game against the Crows (of all teams!), and an older playing group who might be a little flat as the condensed season catches up with them.
The team they would least like to face in that setup would nearly be the Bulldogs - confident after being challenged by the Demons last weekend, filled with speed and running power that can really challenge the Cats - IF (and it's a big if), they can enjoy enough of the ball.
The keepings-off, methodical Cats style is directly at odds with how the Bulldogs like to run and carry and kick through a team defence. It makes for a fascinating contest.
Of course Geelong have been travelling arguably better than any other side lately, and their loss to a then-airborne Collingwood way back in Round 5 is a distant memory. They aren't invincible though, so you'd have to give the Bulldogs a chance to knock them off here.
Sticking the neck out and picking the Western Bulldogs in a tight one. This could easily backfire (their defensive frailties are a worry) but just have to go with our gut here.
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 4
Port Adelaide v Sydney
One team can score well, one team struggles. There are no easy games at the moment for a number of reasons, but expect Port Adelaide to get through a brave Swans outfit and further cement their spot in the top four.
Can't underestimate how critical this game is for Port Adelaide to just keep the momentum going. And they get the right opponent here provided they are switched on.
The Swans have won the contested possession count only once in the past five matches (against a terrible GWS side who didn't turn up), while Port Adelaide have dropped only three for the season. That's where they are vulnerable, but Sydney just don't have the side to exploit them.
With their fair share of the footy and a solid enough forward mix to post a good score, it would be a surprise if the Swans got within a few goals in this one.
Pick: Port Adelaide by 26
Fremantle v GWS
This is the game. The Giants will either be considered a potential finalist after this one or completely written off. Does their formline look worse after West Coast fell to Richmond last night?
The Dockers are an interesting one - can a team in 13th nearly be the most impressive for the season? They are squeezing the best out of their young list and lack of a potent forward line to win three of their last four games with plenty of spirit.
This could be a low-scoring affair, with both teams failing to hit 70 points since early July. For all their star forwards, it's a huge surprise that the Giants have failed to get the ball in there enough (and efficiently) to really trouble the scoreboard.
But on closer inspection, they are now trending in the right direction. Over the first 8 games, the Giants lost the inside 50 count ever single time. The past four weeks? They've won all of them, including a +5 count against the Eagles on their home deck.
Have they started to fix their issues defensively through the middle (6th for winning the ball back in that area over the past four weeks)? Is the final part now making sure the mids and forwards are on the same page? If they start playing like a team inside 50 instead of a bunch of individuals, look out.
Pick: GWS by 15
Melbourne v St Kilda
This could be played at a frenetic pace for the first half, before both teams become totally gassed and need a breather. Both of them are shaky defensively - admittedly the Saints have had a much harder fixture in the past four weeks than the Demons.
On face value, it looks like the Saints have a bit more marking power up forward. Their challenge might be getting it in there enough. Max King has threatened to kick six in a game lately, and the Ryder/Marshall combination against a banged-up Max Gawn will no doubt cause Melbourne a few headaches.
The Dees have been very good at generating a mark inside 50 themselves, so they will get their chance no doubt. One-on-one contest wins haven't necessarily been their strength, however, so the likes of Fritsch, Weideman and McDonald need to go up a level and compete. Can a small forward finally stand up and play a blinder? Kossy Pickett has been so close to a breakout game this year - if his radar is on, he's the one who could light up Traeger Park.
Picking the Melbourne midfield to get on top of the Saints up in Alice Springs, so theoretically that gives them an early edge. But if the Dees lose the clearance count, that St Kilda forward line is set up perfectly to cause Melbourne all sorts of issues in the air and at ground level.
Torn - do you go with a better midfield in the Demons, or a more formidable all-round forward setup in the Saints?
We've said a few times before that the forward 50 efficiency could be the go-to figure in this strange season. Looking closely, the Saints have made a habit of beating up on bottom 10 teams in that area - ranked first for scores per inside 50. Against Top 8 sides, the Demons are 15th at converting their inside 50s to scores.
Are the Saints defenders good enough to hold them off? Or will they just need to be better up the other end and win a shootout? Slight lean to St Kilda after all that, but nothing would surprise. Either team could win by 40+ and it wouldn't shock.
Pick: St Kilda by 12
Carlton v Collingwood
What a game! The Blues are in better form, but the Pies are hanging on for dear life and need a win here as much as Carlton.
Team selection will be critical - Mihocek to return to Collingwood's forward setup is pivotal, yet they lose Sidebottom in the middle. So many team changes for the Pies haven't allowed them to settle on a consistent side, which really seems to have affected their synergy for most of the year.
A critical point to note is the venue. The Gabba is a ground where the centre bounces are super important. Somehow the Pies ended up -7 against the Kangaroos last week, so they would need to lift here even though their midfield is far more formidable than the Blues on paper.
Neither team have been great at Centre Bounce scoring for the season (Carlton 14th, Collingwood 15th), or being able to even get it inside 50 from their Centre Bounces. Whoever can get on top through the middle should go a long way towards winning.
Not really sure why, but siding with Collingwood here to have a little more class than the Blues. We've been stubborn about them all year and been burned. Will it happen again?
Pick: Collingwood by 10
Gold Coast v North Melbourne
What a way to end Round 14! It might be better just checking the scores every now and then rather than sitting down to watch this one.
The unimaginative Roos were pretty average last week, but at least they seem to have rectified their defensive issues over the past couple of weeks (the return of Robbie Tarrant certainly helps).
Can the Suns find more avenues to goal? Can the Roos find some flair instead of playing like they're six goals up with 5 minutes to play?
Really not sure how this will pan out. Very hard to pick a team who has posted only 59 points in 8 quarters of football the past two weeks, and equally hard to pick a side like the Roos who just haven't been trustworthy for so long.
Flip a coin? Or just be lazy and pick the Suns at home...
Pick: Gold Coast by 1
Round 14 Burning Question:
Does it look like a Cox Plate/Grand Final Day bonanza?
As a racing fan as much as a footy fan, at least it looks like we might have a great day of sport to look forward to in October. We might not be able to attend either, but at least we can be thankful they can both continue.
Looking forward to the announcement from the AFL and MVRC shortly. Hopefully by the time the Round 14 review lands!