Round 17 Preview
Updated: Sep 14
No time to take a breath. On we go to Round 17!
Much like the NFL season, the beauty of a shortened fixture is that every game becomes absolutely critical. Even more so in the final few rounds with six teams still fighting it out for the final three spots in the finals.
Looking at the weather (yes, lockdown is that boring), we could see a fair few matches affected by rain. Probably should have taken a look prior to the Demons v Swans game last round, but we have learned our lesson and can see a few rain clouds on the horizon for Queensland this weekend...
A few tricky matches to take a look at, and a few that look straight forward on paper. Let's get into it.
St Kilda v West Coast
Interesting match this one. West Coast have a fair few injury issues through the middle (their top two disposal winners from last round are missing here) and have been struggling to score like we have become used to from the Eagles for a while.
They face a very workmanlike Saints midfield group who now need to take advantage of the Eagles' vulnerability and get the ball going their way.
Crucially, there is rain predicted for tonight. Great for the Saints, a tragedy for the Eagles. Who knows whether it will actually arrive, but the prospect of a slippery deck plays even more in the Saints' favour as much as the Eagles injury troubles.
Funnily enough, the wet could make the Saints a little top-heavy themselves - King and Membrey return, joining Ryder and Marshall. Could we see a late change if the radar suggests the ball might be on the deck more often than in the air?
You just have to favour St Kilda here given all the circumstances. The -19 contested possession count from the Eagles last round against the Bulldogs gives them the blueprint for success. Put your hard hats on, Saints, and get the job done.
Pick: St Kilda by 11
Geelong v Richmond
Another cracking matchup in prime time. Another game with a question mark on the weather.
Keep a close eye on that radar, as this game in particular could change dramatically if the heavens open. Geelong wouldn't be able to play their controlled kick-mark style, yet they are blessed with some of the best wet weather players in the game (Guthrie, Duncan, Menegola, Dangerfield).
Richmond, on the other hand, would need their smaller players to stand up against a Cats side who have conceded the least amount of forward 50 marks in the past 5 matches. They have the weapons to get it done, but this is their toughest test in quite some time.
Just leaning towards the Cats in this one. They're probably due for a flat one at some point (did they have it against the Bulldogs but still manage to win?), so the Tigers can definitely win it. Legitimate coin flip with two quality teams looking to build momentum before the finals series - if the rain comes down, advantage Cats...
Pick: Geelong by 5
North Melbourne v Fremantle
One super disciplined side here, and one who wants to be. Is this North Melbourne's best chance to jag a win before the season is out though? With the Dockers offence still a work in progress, you're always a chance against them if you can find a way to score.
North aren't exactly blessed with a heap of potency themselves (scores of 42, 28, 35 and 52 their past four games) so it's a risk thinking they can somehow post 60+ here. Does Jack Ziebell become the key in only his second game back? Can he find a couple of goals and create a bit of panic for the Dockers defence somehow?
Another match where the rain radar could be important - you'd give the Dockers a few extra points in the wet given they way they dismantled Melbourne last round.
A win to the Kangaroos wouldn't shock by any means. Freo clearly a better list, playing better footy and arguably better coached at this point in time.
Pick: Fremantle by 11
Port Adelaide v Essendon
Basically no one giving the Bombers a chance here. And you can see why. They're not hopeless though, so the overreaction to being embarrassed by the Cats is probably a little too severe (remembering expected score was only 81-63 that day).
Yet another game under the threat of some rain, which plays into Port Adelaide's favour, you'd feel. In theory, the Bombers' only chance of a huge upset could have been some slick ball movement and the likes of Daniher, Stringer and Stewart grabbing enough marks up forward (and kicking straight). A lot more difficult to do if the ball is wet.
The equation is simple for Port - win this one and basically secure top spot for the first time since 2004. Have always thought they were a legitimate contender, albeit perhaps a rung below the Cats and the Tigers. So if that's true, they will take care of Essendon here and march towards a very interesting finals series.
Pick: Port Adelaide by 22
GWS v Melbourne
The game of the round, with plenty at stake. Total flip of the coin, with one important aspect to consider...
We've said many times before that this is a centre bounce ground. GWS were absolutely obliterated by the Crows in the middle last week, which was basically the reason they lost. Hard to win when you only spend 38% of the time in your own forward half.
The Demons have their own problems at Centre Bounces as well. They have won only 2 CB clearance differentials in the past 9 matches, both by a single clearance. Their numbers for CB to inside 50 conversion are below average for the season, along with their scoring figures.
For a midfield with a dominant ruckman like Gawn (concede he has been playing hurt for much of the season) and some clearance bulls like Oliver, Petracca and Brayshaw, they sit 12th for centre bounce scoring. Perhaps it says more about the structure and ability of those ahead of the ball, but this game is the perfect opportunity for the mids to step up, give the forwards enough supply and see what they can do.
The Giants won't be a pushover - Kelly, Coniglio, Hopper and Taranto can match it with anyone. So if they break even though the middle, what happens?
Well you stack up the potency of both forward lines and how we feel the defence might hold up. Offensively is where the Giants should have an edge - Cameron, Greene, Himmelberg and Finlayson will cause anyone problems if the ball is in there enough.
But the loss of Phil Davis up the other end means the defence needs to step up against a Demons side who surprisingly sit reasonaby high in the rankings for marks inside 50. The past three they have dropped off in this area (wet last game vs Freo, of course), so they have an opportunity to make amends here. If they do, they can win. What does their forward mix look like this week?
Just siding with GWS for no other reason than their forward line. Demons just not going well enough offensively or defensively to be able to pick them in a 50/50 flip.
Pick: GWS by 2
Carlton v Adelaide
Blues to score too heavily for the Crows? First quarter critical - Carlton can't let Adelaide gain some confidence or an upset isn't out of the question.
Pick: Carlton by 10
Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs
Dogs with too much speed to be worried by the Hawks in this one.
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 25
Sydney v Brisbane
A wet game in Cairns is exactly what the Lions don't want, two games out from finals. They should still prevail, but hopefully they can avoid any injuries against a very honest Swans unit.
Pick: Brisbane by 16
Collingwood v Gold Coast
Crucial game for Collingwood - some of their stars return, so you have to pick them here. The Suns won't go down without a fight, but if the Pies can release the shackles a bit they could find some momentum going into the finals series.
Pick: Collingwood by 22
Round 17 Burning Question:
Can you win the flag from outside the Top 4 this year?
Absolutely. Anything can happen this season, and there might be a couple of sides in the bottom four of the finals series who are travelling better than those up the top. Some games might end up with neutral venues or reduced crowds, the injury toll could mount for a lot of teams if they lose a few in the next couple of weeks, and just a single win could build enough momentum for a genuine finals tilt from the 5-8 spots.
If you make it, you can win it.