Round 16 Preview
Updated: Sep 8
Straight into Round 16 this Saturday night! No time for a review of what was a pretty uneventful Round 15, but one that significantly shaped the final eight.
The Tigers and Magpies have their bye, so we have 8 games to get through over the next 5 days. Bring it on.
Port Adelaide v North Melbourne
It really feels like Port Adelaide have had a blessed run with the fixture. Obviously you still have to beat the teams you face (not many easy games these days), but they seem to have been given the right teams at the right time.
After a hard fought battle against the plucky Swans (the form doesn't look too bad from that game given Sydney just knocked off the Dees), they get the benefit of a bye and launch into a crippled North Melbourne team just wishing the season was over.
The only risk to a Port Adelaide win here will be a degree of complacency, or some tinkering by the coaching group to find out a bit more about some of their players prior to a finals series.
Ultimately it is hard to find any narrative that suggests North have a massive upset in them, unless it becomes a seriously dour, low-scoring contest where the Roos are in striking distance at the last change and manage to pinch it.
Staying injury-free might be a priority for the Power tonight (we saw Richmond play in a way not to get injured the other night), as they march on to potentially their first minor Premiership since 2004...
Pick: Port Adelaide by 33
St Kilda v Hawthorn
One side with quick ball movement, genuine speed and a desperation to ensure they make their first finals series in quite some time. The other...lost to the Crows last week.
You can never completely write off Hawthorn given the quality of players still taking the field, but they've just dropped off so much as a side it's hard to see how they lift enough to get over the Saints in this one.
St Kilda can't take this one lightly, though. But you'd still back them in to grab a crucial win and keep their finals hopes alive.
Pick: St Kilda by 18
Geelong v Essendon
Cats too good for the Bombers here? That's the general feeling, and rightly so. But Essendon do have a slow build towards fitness for some key players, a serious nothing to lose attitude where they have actually thrived before, and a game style that could trouble Geelong if it's executed well.
It's a big "IF", of course. Essendon haven't been a side you can trust - which half was the real Essendon against the Hawks in Round 14? Was the close loss to West Coast in Round 15 just false hope, or are they at least tracking in the right direction?
A couple of really good quarters from the Bombers wouldn't shock. Can they do it for four, though?
Pick: Geelong by 23
Western Bulldogs v West Coast
Probably the best chance of an upset this round lies with the Bulldogs. Despite winning 9 of their last 10 matches, the Eagles are winning a bit differently than we are used to.
There are two schools of thought regarding West Coast - the first is that they have managed to win despite not playing nearly their best footy for most of the season. The second is that they aren't playing like a side ready to really challenge for the flag, and will likely become exposed come finals time.
It's hard to know which camp is correct. They both might be, in some ways.
The Bulldogs have some weapons to challenge their leg speed and ground ball deficiencies. BUT....they have to be clever with their ball use both out of defence and up forward. Their marking players must stand up - they don't have to set the world on fire, but bringing the ball to ground and competing (amazing how you can earn a free kick when you launch at the ball) is absolutely critical.
For the Eagles, this could be their real chance to hone their ground ball further before they need a miracle lift in that area like their flag year.
Really tricky to pick how this will play out. Every scenario possible.
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 10
Melbourne v Fremantle
The Demons have the unenviable knack of bouncing back pretty well after a poor showing. They were embarrassed by the Swans last match, even though the extenuating circumstances of day-of-game travel may have caught up with them a bit. They aren't the only team to find themselves in that situation this year and many have performed fine - just goes to show if you're off your game a little bit, you will be exploited by most sides.
Fremantle have been brave but are showing definite signs of fatigue themselves. Melbourne's contested ball and stoppage game should see them compete well enough to get their fair share of the ball, so it will all come down to taking their chances.
Get the feeling they are still messing with their forward mix a little, the Demons. Fritsch returns after a costly sleep-in - just the kind of player who could really take advantage of the Cairns conditions and kick a few.
Demons to keep their finals hopes alive here.
Pick: Melbourne by 12
Adelaide v GWS
The slow build from the Giants adds a really interesting mix to the finals equation. Granted, they've been far from convincing for most of the season, yet a lot of the key figures are gradually looking like they should.
Which GWS do we get for the rest of the season though? They've had two wins against arguably inferior opposition (Carlton and Fremantle), and fallen to West Coast - playing quite well in patches - and the Swans, where they just failed to turn up. Very, very hard to trust as a side at the moment.
It's all about scoring for the Giants - with all their weapons, most of their games recently have been a low-scoring grind. Do they need to be a little different to other sides and embrace an open, high scoring contest somehow? Go fast with the ball, be daring with their ball movement and get it into a forward line who can hopefully work together (a major issue this season) to generate enough separation to score?
The Crows have the monkey off the back with their first win last week and stay at home again here so they aren't without a slim chance. Class does prevail though, and the Giants need this one to keep their hopes alive.
Pick: GWS by 22
Carlton v Sydney
Cracking game, this one. Two distinct game styles - Carlton have their territory game and kick forward at every opportunity, while the Swans are used to having the ball live in their defence for long periods before breaking out on the counterattack.
Unless something drastic changes, the Blues should enjoy a lot of forward half football. But can they find a mark down there? The Swans have conceded only 29 marks in their defensive 50 over the past four games - right up there with the best record in the comp.
Over the first seven rounds (half of Carlton's season thus far), the Blues were equal first for marks inside 50. Over the next seven games - 15th. Have teams worked them out? The personnel is largely the same tonight. Martin, Casboult, McGovern, McKay and Gibbons (the only one missing from this match). McKay is arguably in far better form, so this game could hinge on Carlton's ability to grab it up forward and convert.
10+ marks inside 50 equals a Carlton win? They need to be smart with their ball use and choose the right options, but it will go a long way towards securing the four points. With their direct game style, there should be enough chances to kick into a forward line without a lot of density. Big test for the talls in this one.
Pick: Carlton by 10
Brisbane v Gold Coast
Might be one of the only one who gives the Suns a sneaky chance here. Lions just travelling, have lost their general down back, might have to change their forward structure as a result and come up against the Gold Coast with basically nothing to lose against their state rival.
This will probably all come down to offence - the Lions have had goalkicking woes and the jury is still out on the quality of their forward line, while the Suns have only recently found different avenues to score aside from Ben King.
Can the likes of King, Sexton, Rankine, Day and Ainsworth combine for enough of a score to trouble the Lions? And will the Suns midfielders at least be able to break even at the stoppages to give them enough supply? Hard to tell...
Pick: Brisbane by 10
Round 16 Burning Question:
Do off-field controversies legitimately threaten to "derail" a Premiership tilt?
Having been involved at club level for a long time and seen plenty of off-field drama, the sorts of issues faced by Richmond recently can certainly serve as a distraction, but are potentially overblown by how much they really impact any on-field performances.
If the dramas create friction within a football department then it can't possibly help of course. But often there's a general lag on the impact, so you might not see a flow-on effect in terms of personality clashes or cultural issues for some time. Does that mean any cultural problems (not arguing that they are there, just that it's the perception at the moment) started a little while ago?
Richmond have been such a powerful, united team that it's surprising they have found themselves in so many headlines of late. The positive spin could be that it actually galvanises them even more - the "Us against Them" mentality has worked in sport for decades. It could easily work again here...