Round 15 Preview
Updated: Sep 2
Another condensed fixture block, but this time we have six teams enjoying a break in their bye week. Six games to preview today, all of which have some very interesting angles to explore.
Four rounds to go, finals spots up for grabs, Crows chasing their first win, some chasing a top four position, others just trying to make it. There might be fewer matches in Round 15, but all of them have a fair bit at stake...
Hawthorn v Adelaide
Oh wow. If the Crows are any chance of cracking their first win of the season, it's here.
We saw how they can play when matched up against another side without a heap of leg speed - the Geelong game in Round 13 was bash and crash football at its best, and while the Cats eventually kicked clear, it was easily the best game the Crows have played all season from a commitment and effort perspective.
But a proud club like Hawthorn will be desperate to save themselves the embarrassment of losing to a 0-13 side. Team selection confirms that they'll have their foot on the gas - in comes Stratton, Frawley (not sure who both of them play on, come to think of it), Lewis, Burgoyne and Impey. Fair inclusions.
With that side, you still have to lean to Hawthorn. As much as the Crows will relish playing a side without much leg speed, the same applies to Hawthorn. We saw what happened when the Bombers threw caution to the wind and went with speed in the second half last week. Adelaide don't have those weapons.
So we go with the side that can at least put up a reasonable score - we know the Hawks will get enough opportunity to convert their inside 50s, so with Breust, Gunston, Lewis, Wingard and potentially Burgoyne up forward, that *should* be enough firepower to post a score that the Crows can't match.
Pick: Hawthorn by 18
West Coast v Essendon
Did the Bombers find their mojo in the second half against Hawthorn? Big Joe was incredible first up off the long break, but can he do it five days later?
The Eagles had been winning without dominating, then ran into a Tigers side who were well and truly up for the fight. Essendon present them with a bit of a different challenge here - speed, spread and a pretty unpredictable forward line could give them some trouble.
If we see any lack of effort to bring the ball to ground like we saw in the first half vs Hawthorn, then the Eagles will slice them to pieces with their kick-mark game.
The single focus for Essendon should be to create CHAOS - force the ball to the ground at every opportunity, use handball to break into space and then go forward with speed. Slow ball movement just can't be an option (within reason), and flair or creativity should be encouraged otherwise the Eagles will be comfortable setting up in defence to pick them off.
The real critical part of the game will be the midfield battle. The one thing the Bombers have on their side is their ability to win a clearance lately - sitting 2nd in the last four weeks. Now that they have a forward structure to capitalise, we should see their ability to score increase.
Heppell returns (another example of bringing a player straight back into the senior side rather than having them run around a suburban ground in a scratch match made up of players from three different teams), but he may be used in a slightly different role to ease him back into footy - do we see him on a wing? Half forward? Can't wait to see how he goes.
For the Eagles, they lose Kennedy but still have enough strength up forward to challenge the Bombers defence (even with Hurley returning). So again, it comes down to the midfield battle - Naitanui vs Draper, then Shuey, Kelly, Sheed, Gaff and Yeo to get the job done. They bat a bit deeper than the Bombers, and their contested possession issues have always been post-clearance rather than at the stoppages.
Such a fascinating game this one. On paper it might not seem like a very enticing matchup, but it will be so exciting to see how things unfold.
Pick: West Coast by 10
Richmond v Fremantle
Think the season just started catching up with the young Dockers last week. The days break is even more relevant here - 4 days for Freo, 6 days for Richmond. A very hard task for the Dockers to come up against a Tigers side here with a lot of momentum on their side.
Is there an angle that we can take which has Fremantle winning? Not unless it's an absolute grind and they keep the score to under 50 points each. No rain on the horizon, a neutral venue where Richmond has enjoyed a 5-0 record this year (Freo 2-3), and a lack of goalkicking threats up forward for Freo certainly points to this being a one-way contest.
A total blowout wouldn't be out of the question, but we may see the Tigers drop back a gear or two in the second half if the game is under control.
Pick: Richmond by 35
Sydney v Melbourne
Footy in Cairns for the first time this year. It's a great little venue, as long as it's not pouring with rain.
Both sides come off the same break between matches and into the North Queensland heat. If it's an endurance test you'd have to back in the Demons, but the Swans have continued to make it hard for sides to play free-flowing footy despite being heavily outmatched for class.
Aside from Melbourne being their own worst enemy at times with their execution, it's really tough to see a scenario where the Swans can trouble them. If it's a midfield turnover feast, then the Demons just need to convert enough of their opportunities to get over the line. If the Swans try and turn it into a stoppage grind, Melbourne still have a midfield that will easily get the job done against the likes of Parker, Kennedy and Rowbottom.
Perhaps the only angle could be if the Demons defence is beaten on the counterattack too often - we assume that the inside 50 count will favour Melbourne, so the Swans might want to be patient and attack from their defensive half with speed once they finally get their chance. Do they push all their forwards high up the ground and make it a race back to goal?
Melbourne with too much to play for and the Swans without enough quality all over the field to really challenge here, you feel.
Pick: Melbourne by 28
GWS v Carlton
Attack vs attack. The best kind of setup for the second match in the Thursday double-header.
The numbers for both these teams are reasonably unremarkable. They sit bottom two for getting it inside 50 from a defensive 50 turnover chain in the past four weeks ("going coast to coast", to put it simply), and both had found it hard to score 60+ most matches until the Giants finally turned it on against Freo last weekend.
The midfield turnover battle will be where the game is won or lost - the Blues are #1 for midfield turnover differential in the past four matches, while the Giants are third, having addressed a huge issue from the first part of the season.
Neither side has the lethal edge to convert their chances like the Tigers or Cats who sit around them on the midfield turnover ladder lately, but whoever can take their chances will get the job done.
Siding with the Giants here. They are building slowly and could finally be getting a bit of crucial momentum for a finals tilt.
Pick: GWS by 22
Brisbane v Collingwood
This game is set up to be one of the best midfield battles of the season - the Lions have the best stoppage scoring strike rate in the competition (probably assisted by so many games at the Gabba), while the Pies haven't been nearly as dominant from stoppage as previous seasons. Big test for them to get back to their best here.
Very tricky to pick how this will pan out. Gut feel says that scoring will come at a premium - the Pies have been great defensively for most of the year so the Lions might find it difficult up forward, and up the other end Collingwood just haven't found the synergy to post a really decent total for a long time. The Lions can't have the yips in front of goal again, surely!
Have to side with Brisbane off a bye (effectively an 11-day break) over Collingwood backing up 5 days later after a grinding win against Carlton. While the Pies have threatened to click and could cause an upset here, the Lions have just been easier to trust.
Pick: Brisbane by 12
Round 15 Burning Question:
Out of all of the new initiatives introduced in this crazy season, what is likely to be carried over to next year?
Is it a rolling four-week fixture? (Makes sense, given the better matches can be slotted into prime time)
Or a Festival Of Footy in winter with a compressed schedule? (Not a fan, but it could be here to stay)
Maybe even the strategy of having commentators all physically at the ground could be a thing of the past.
An interesting time, for sure...