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  • Pete Roberts

Round 15 Preview

Updated: Jun 24

More Covid chaos, the usual MRO drama, a few teams under serious pressure and a few stars set to return. Feels like we are talking about anything other than the matchups this weekend!


Well, let's right that wrong and check out all nine games this weekend and see if we can snag all the winners. Won't be easy.


Best Matchup - Brisbane v Geelong

Best Underdog - Geelong, Western Bulldogs

Team Under Pressure - Carlton. Drop this one and all hell will break loose.

Player To Watch - Patrick Dangerfield. Goalless in his four games this season, pivotal to the Cats fortunes away from home against a strong Brisbane outfit. Time for him to get back into form.


Here we go...

Brisbane v Geelong


Who could forget the last time these two played each other - GMHBA Stadium, Round 2, the infamous Zac Bailey/Mark Blicavs non-decision, the Cats sneaking home by a point.


A lot of things have changed since that night. For starters, both teams are playing significantly better. At the time, the Cats were playing far slower, denying the opposition from scoring but also failing to score heavily themselves. The Lions ended up -109 disposals and -46 in uncontested marks, easily their worst figures for the year.


The Cats have since become joint favourites for the flag, knocking off fellow contenders Richmond, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs in the last six weeks. Geelong will have roughly 17 of the same players from the Round 2 side taking the field on Thursday night, but they are a totally different team.


The same goes for Brisbane - they were 1-3 from the first four matches, pinching one against the Pies the week after being incredibly stiff against Geelong. They've gone 9-1 since, peeled off seven successive scores of 90+ and certainly look a far more mature team in the way they play. Sets up for an incredible contest here.


The points for & against columns confirm how tricky this will be to predict: 3rd v 6th on offence (Brisbane ahead, only 49 points between them), and 3rd v 5th on defence (Cats only 33 in front). A poor second half from Brisbane against the Demons in Round 12 is the only thing stopping them from conceding fewer than 80 points in the past seven matches.


So with all that, it comes down to which forward line can simply find a way. Neither side is overly reliant on their tall forwards (they both possess strong key targets but are mid-table at their goals from marks percentage), so the game might hinge on the smalls - Cameron, Bailey & McCarthy are genuine quality forwards. Gary Rohan is obviously in the form of his life, but it falls away for the Cats a little after that.


Is Dangerfield again the key? Two games under his belt now after injury, but yet to kick a goal in four games. If the midfield can do without him for a little more than usual, he becomes the one needed to hit the scoreboard if Brisbane's key defenders can hold their own against Cameron and Hawkins.


Both sides have been "up" for a fair while, and it wouldn't surprise to see either of them rate a little lower than their usual output. The Cats have come through an arduous fortnight, while the Lions will appreciate being back at home to test themselves against another top side. They failed last time against Melbourne, but Geelong plays a totally different style.


Leaning to the Lions, just. Only because of a question mark on the cumulative effect of the past couple of weeks on the Cats.


Pick: Brisbane by 8


Richmond v St Kilda


The bye came at the perfect time for the Saints. Their capitulation in the wet against the Crows in Round 13 was one for the ages, but it was quickly forgotten when the Eagles and Tigers played an epic the following day, and the Pies upset the Demons on Queen's Birthday.


With a week off and the return of at least three key players - Marshall, Ross and Membrey - are the Saints legitimately a chance against the Tigers? Perhaps, but they will need to somehow find that Saints "mood" that only seems to strike every so often this season.


Last time these two met the Saints were embarrassed by 87 points. Only one of their tall forwards kicked a goal. You would have to be incredibly optimistic to believe those same forwards have improved since that game.


A wet MCG might help, but those same conditions suit the Tigers particularly well. They return to their home ground for the first time since being obliterated by Geelong in Round 8. Six of their last nine games are at the 'G. That's a scary proposition for those hoping Richmond aren't in their usual form come finals time.


The Saints had some wet weather practice in Round 13, so this will be a great guide to see what they've learned. The leap from the Crows to the Tigers is significant, however. Unless Richmond decide to take this one a little too lightly or the weather turns it into a slippery grind, they should have enough class to get the job done here.


Pick: Richmond by 21


North Melbourne v Gold Coast


One of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend, if only because of the kind of sick fascination in seeing two pretty poor teams going head to head. Often it's a case of who is the least worst in these instances. And we have no idea who that will be...


The Suns get to travel all the way from sunny Queensland to the south of Tasmania in 12 degree weather. If they don't come ready for a scrap, that alone could end up costing them four points.


Somehow the Roos are favourites, even after winning only one of their past 21 matches. Two in their past 28. Recent form suggests their favouritism is justified - a draw with the Giants and a sub four-goal defeat to the airborne Lions. Both in Tassie. It's clearly where they play their best football at the moment.


Is their home ground advantage enough, though? Absolutely not. Neither is their inability to play four quarters of competitive footy. The Roos have the second-highest pressure rating in first quarters. They drop to dead last in final terms.


The challenge for the Suns will be to meet them head on from the first bounce. It is absolutely critical that they set the tone for the day through the middle, and they are equipped to do it. We get to see what the likes of Miller, Greenwood, Rowell and Anderson are really made of.


For a team down on confidence like the Suns, their first quarter will tell us everything we need to know about their chances. They are the better side, playing arguably worse footy than the Roos. There is the dilemma.


Picking Gold Coast. Not sure why.


Pick: Gold Coast by 10


Collingwood v Fremantle


Can't wait to see Collingwood first-up after a break with Robert Harvey at the helm. He may well encourage them to play with the kind of freedom that many outsiders have been craving for quite some time.


Defensively, the Pies were super against Melbourne in Round 13. A repeat of that effort would make things incredibly difficult for Fremantle, who have had issues on offence all season. Taberner's return will help, as will the potential for the Pies to be a little rusty in trying to implement a game plan with a few tweaks.


The Dockers probably have the upper hand through the middle, particularly with Sean Darcy able to break even with Brodie Grundy in the ruck. With enough supply they can put some pressure on Collingwood's defence - their big challenge will be conversion.


The long injury list for Fremantle has to catch up with them at some point. They were lucky to find themselves with a soft matchup against the Suns prior to the bye when they were missing a large portion of their best 22. The Pies are a tougher challenge but hardly insurmountable.


Still have to be with Collingwood, and keen to get our first look to see what might have changed. Don't be surprised to see a few positional tweaks, or a bit more attacking flair. That could come with some mistakes so the Pies aren't certainties, but think they have the edge in this one.


Pick: Collingwood by 12


Essendon v Melbourne


The overreaction to Essendon's win over a 17th-placed team was extraordinary. All of a sudden Jake Stringer is in the top 20 players in the competition (not in our book), and the Bombers are the team outside the eight most likely to pinch a spot in the finals.


Yep, they are tracking in the right direction - Jones, Cox, Hind, Perkins, etc - the future is bright. But it needs to be put into the context of their season so far, and their chances of winning this game. They can certainly win if they play at their best, which they didn't last weekend.


Melbourne's defence will be a massive test for them. All of Essendon's big totals have come against teams playing inferior football to the Demons, with less accomplished defenders. They've posted 100-point totals against St Kilda, Collingwood, Carlton, GWS (in a loss) and the Kangaroos. The 80-90 point scores like they managed against West Coast and Richmond are about the mark they need to meet here. Not sure they can.


The Demons were ripe to be beaten against Collingwood at the SCG prior to their bye, and still had their chances to get the job done. It was probably the jolt they needed to remind them that there are a few other teams playing finals-like footy, and flags aren't won in June even if you're on top of the ladder at the half way mark.


Melbourne have surprisingly failed against the better defences, rather than the potent offences that have the ability to wear down their back six. Essendon are another team with a high-octane offence but definite holes going the other way, so if the Dees stay disciplined and turn the ball over often enough, they will win.


An exciting Essendon has a small window of opportunity turn it on and cause the upset here. The more likely scenario is the Demons prove they are a few years ahead of Essendon in their development.


Pick: Melbourne by 26


Port Adelaide v Sydney


The Swans have run out of steam after their blistering start to the season. Should have dropped the game against St Kilda, lost to an even worse side in the Hawks. Have teams worked them out a bit as well?


Sydney's last two opponents have provided a lesson in how to beat them. Deny their uncontested marks, particularly through the middle, stay disciplined on defence and halve your fair share of contests, and you're half way there.


The Swans have lost the uncontested mark count only three times this season - two were losses, the other was their unlikely escape against an inaccurate Geelong in Round 7. Their fourth lowest differential was a loss to the Giants. Port have the fourth-lowest uncontested marks against tally for the year. The team with the lowest? Sydney.


So the game becomes about ball control. And even if the Swans can break even, the concern still has to be the potency of their forward line compared to Port Adelaide. We can't get too carried away with Port given their form has been fairly mixed this season, so this becomes a pretty intriguing contest.


With Sydney showing definite signs of fatigue and a lengthy stint away from home hanging over their heads, you have to side with Port in this one.


Pick: Port Adelaide by 25


GWS v Hawthorn


This one flipped on its head a little when it moved from Giants Stadium to the MCG. If GWS are looking on the bright side, they should relish the opportunity to get back to the home of footy, a place where their last win was a gutsy 30-point victory over Collingwood in Round 4.


The Hawks have looked a vastly improved side defensively over the past two weeks. Yet they still failed to salute against Essendon last week. In theory the Giants and Bombers are pretty level in terms of their form, so this will be another test for the Hawks to be able to defend as well as put a winning score on the board.


The Giants have the fourth-highest scoring offence since Round 7. Clearly that figure has been helped by games against North Melbourne, Carlton and Essendon, yet they've still managed 83 against Richmond (where they were unlucky to fall short) and 93 in a stirring win over the now in-form Eagles.


The only team to score 80+ against the Hawks and lose was the Bombers in Round 1, who gave up a 41-point lead to do it. Even away from home and with the potential for a slippery deck, you'd think the Giants have at least 80 in them on Sunday. They don't rely on marking the footy for their goals regardless, so as long as they bring the right attitude, a wet MCG shouldn't faze them.


The game script for Hawthorn to win would be a rock solid first quarter and a confident start from their forwards. Anything less than that and the Giants should have enough quality across the board to get the job done.


Pick: GWS by 6


West Coast v Western Bulldogs


Just look at those team changes for West Coast - in comes three of their top ten players in Shuey, Kelly and McGovern, and coming along for the ride is All-Australian Brad Sheppard. Oh, and Jack Petrucelle and Nathan Vardy.


The Eagles have mixed their form, yet in front of a home crowd they rarely fail to compete. One blemish against Essendon when they lost two critical soldiers in the first half and were overrun shouldn't overshadow their record at Optus Stadium.


The Dogs have faced the rather odd adversity of having to quarantine in Western Australia despite their home state being relatively free of restrictions. We've seen teams perform under strict conditions previously this year so it shouldn't be a huge factor, even if it's far from ideal.


This is a classic case of the speed and spread of the Dogs up against the ball control and marking power of the Eagles. And the Dogs are well and truly in this.


The real query on the Eagles might be the match fitness of Shuey, Kelly and McGovern. Against this in-form Dogs midfield, it's a big ask to have arguably their two best mids coming in first-up and having to perform over four quarters. Can the Dogs stay in touch for long enough and let their fitness prevail in the end? That was the case in Round 2, so why not the same here?


Defensively the Dogs need to hang in there, or at least find a way to limit supply. You can't expect them to keep the likes of Darling, Kennedy and Allen down for a whole game, but maintaining possession could be their best form of defence. They have the engine room to do it, and the Dogs' chances probably hinge on their output.


After fifteen rounds it would be a brave person to suggest the Eagles are a better side than the Bulldogs. So we have to make the case for an upset here. West Coast clearly play near their optimum level at home but the Dogs have the kind of side to really test them.


It's a scary proposition, picking against the marking power of West Coast, but just get the feeling this Bulldogs team can keep things under control and score enough at the other end.


Pick: Western Bulldogs by 8

Carlton v Adelaide


What a way to end the round. All eyes on the Blues, who have had to endure another week with the blowtorch. Round 14 was a terrible time to lose by 30+, given there were only five games across the weekend.


So how will they respond? This is the perfect bounce back spot for a side who have been fine offensively and terrible defensively. Externally, their defence has been spoken about all week. Guarantee it would've been spoken about a lot more internally, which usually means a spike in intensity the next time they play.


Up against a Crows side that really should be coming off three losses in a row (only the Saints disappearing act two weeks ago saved their bacon), Carlton can put the foot to the floor and get the knockers off their back for a while.


The Blues defence has been awful over the past couple of months (some would say all year), yet the Crows aren't far behind. Bottom four in points conceded along with Carlton - a problem given the Blues have shown they can score quite well when you give them enough chances.


If the Crows win here then you'd expect the media to be parked out the front of Ikon Park early Monday morning. Think the likes of McKay, Walsh, Cripps and Weitering will stand up and save them the trip...for now.


Pick: Carlton by 11



Best Matchup - Brisbane v Geelong

Best Underdog - Geelong, Western Bulldogs

Team Under Pressure - Carlton. Drop this one and all hell will break loose.

Player To Watch - Patrick Dangerfield. Goalless in his four games this season, pivotal to the Cats fortunes away from home against a strong Brisbane outfit. Time for him to get back into form.