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  • Pete Roberts

Round 18 Preview

Updated: Jul 16

More venue changes, more Covid chaos. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Important to look at those who might be favoured by a late venue switch (hello Sydney), but ultimately the same players will do battle regardless.


Already we can see a few overreactions to last week's results, so there are opportunities everywhere to find a winner. Several mismatches on paper, mixed in with a couple of genuine coin flips. Let's get stuck into it.


Best Matchup - Fremantle v Geelong

Best Underdog - St Kilda

Team Under Pressure - Richmond

Player To Watch - Sean Darcy - might be a year too early for All-Australian contention, but he is building towards being part of the conversation. Critical to Fremantle's chances against Geelong.


All nine games below. Hopefully they all stay at their fixtured venues and timeslots!

Fremantle v Geelong


We write a lot about recency bias and overreactions to the previous week's result. On the surface this game appears to be a classic example. Or is it?


Fremantle posted 100 points for the first time this season last week. Importantly, they didn't over-perform by shooting the lights out - expected score was exactly 108, the same as their actual figure. They have won three of their past four, and should have beaten Carlton two weeks ago. Comfortable that the Dockers are in good enough form - but can it translate into taking the next step and beating a top four contender?


The step up from the Hawthorn defence to Geelong is enormous. Sure, the Hawks had turned the corner a little post-bye, but they are still regularly conceding scores of 80+ most weeks. The Cats defence has routinely kept the middle to lower tier sides under that sort of total all year. The tricky part is where you feel Fremantle currently sits in the pecking order.


The numbers suggest these two are more closely matched than you'd think, even though the Cats have clearly been a better side across the season. Geelong have conceded the second-fewest inside 50s this season. Fremantle sit third, which might surprise a few. Same again for the clearance differential - Cats second, Fremantle third.


The midfield battle is clearly the key to this game.


Big pressure on the Dockers defence to hold their own. But even more pressure on the emerging Fremantle midfielders to match it with the seasoned veterans of Geelong. We pointed to the bigger bodies of the Cats against the Bombers two weeks ago, and in some respects the same applies here. Fyfe and Mundy become critical at ground level, and Sean Darcy potentially gives them a massive edge in the ruck.


The Dockers have lost the clearance count only three times this year. Huge challenge for them against Selwood, Dangerfield, Guthrie and Parfitt - they could be ready to match it with the best already. If not, they are probably only a pre-season away.


On offence, it's hard to see the likes of Lobb and Treacy being too much of a challenge for Geelong's key defenders, provided they still pay them enough respect. They kicked seven between them last week. When the Cats played Brisbane a couple of weeks ago we had faith in the Lions small forwards to cause them grief. Can't say we have the same faith in Walters, Schultz, Switkowski and the midfielders (in terms of goalkicking prowess) tonight.


No Rohan or Cameron for Geelong brings them back a notch in terms of potency. The only players outside the Cats' "big three" to score multiple goals in their past five matches? Zach Tuohy, Gryan Miers, Isaac Smith, Sam Menegola and Brandon Parfitt. Hardly a who's-who of dangerous forwards, so they might need to rely on an even spread again to post a competitive total. Either that or Hawkins explodes and kicks a bag - can Alex Pearce lock him down? Can't wait for that matchup.


The natural assumption is that Geelong are simply a "better side" and take care of Fremantle here. With a near-capacity home crowd (becoming more rare each week) cheering them on and a formline that reads pretty well, the Dockers are at least ready for the challenge.


Dockers midfield against the Cats midfield decides this one. Sean Darcy has been immense this season, but largely away from the spotlight. Will this end up being his breakout game? Can Fremantle find a way through the intercept marking of the Cats' back six? If it's not Hawkins hitting the scoreboard for Geelong, who will?


The market has this game as nearly a coin flip. That might comes a surprise, but we can definitely see why. Have a funny feeling about this one - absolutely anything could happen.


Pick: Geelong by 4


Richmond v Brisbane


What to do with Richmond? We know they aren't the same side as previous years, yet they threaten to be one of the more unpredictable sides on the run home. If we thought Sydney were the trickiest team to analyse, the Tigers might have just joined them.


The loss of Marcus Adams might be felt by the Lions more than some would think. He has been able to take care of the beast forwards, allowing Andrews and co to get a bit more creative in the back half. Richmond can still beat you with Lynch and Riewoldt up forward so without Adams the job definitely becomes a bit tougher.


It all comes down to Richmond and their ability to defend. We have to get our heads around the fact they aren't defending nearly as well as we are used to. Their scores against have hovered around the 70-90 point mark for the past five weeks - Brisbane are a step above any of the teams the Tigers have faced in that time.


Unless the Tigers can find a way to dial up the pressure again (second-worst pressure rating in the past four weeks), the Lions should have plenty of opportunity to move the ball quickly and post a solid total.


Expecting this to be a bounce back spot for both sides - Richmond have lost their past four, the Lions put in a flat one after winning ten of their previous eleven games. If we believe Brisbane are serious flag contenders (we do), then they just have to get the job done here. The midfielders were taught a lesson last week, so the review should have sharpened them up for Friday night.


Pride suggests Richmond won't make it easy for them, but now the venue switch makes it even tougher - what would've been the Lions' first trip to the MCG this season on a potentially a slippery deck, has turned into a Metricon Stadium "neutral" venue in the Lions' home state where they can avenge their loss last week against the Saints.


All about depth, here. When you stack up the quality of their bottom six against the Lions it's easy to see why Brisbane remain heavy favourites.


Lions to win. Wary of the Tigers lifting a little after being under the pump for so long. Only one bad quarter against Collingwood ruined their game last week. Would they be such big underdogs if that hadn't happened?


Pick: Brisbane by 10


Gold Coast v Western Bulldogs


This is an enormous trap game for the Suns - fresh off two wins against average opposition, there is a real danger of overrating their form. They crash into a quality Bulldogs side on a dry deck. If the Dogs are switched on this could be a gap job.


The scoring profile of these two sides couldn't be further apart - the 17th-ranked Suns offence has to face the highest scoring team of the year. Defensively the Dogs are only behind Melbourne in points conceded.


Even though the Suns have the 7th lowest points against column, you only have to check out their record against top four sides to see how big of a challenge this is - they leaked 118 the last time they played the Bulldogs, gave up 124 against the Lions at the same venue as this weekend's game, and conceded 91 points to a Geelong side that never really got out of second gear at home.


The Suns have to find a way to keep the Dogs under 75 points. Good luck.


The loss of Greenwood is a huge blow against all those Bulldogs midfielders. With Sam Day injured, you wouldn't think the key forward trio of King, Burgess and Corbett will give the Dogs defenders much trouble, even if the Suns can somehow generate enough forward 50 entries to threaten at all.


We can't let the last two weeks cloud the reality that Gold Coast regularly post double-digit negative inside 50 differentials. The Dogs are +170 for the season - next best is Brisbane at +95. With all of their class through the middle and the weapons they have up forward (especially with Naughton returning), the Bulldogs should easily post the kind of score the Suns can't match.


As usual in this type of mismatch, the only real danger to the favourites are themselves. We said as much in the preview of the last game these two played. The Dogs have a habit of playing like millionaires at times, but it never seems to stretch over more than a quarter or two.


Comfortable the Bulldogs get the job done here. Enjoying the way the Suns seem to be building a bit more of a competitive edge, but this is probably a bridge too far for them this year.

Pick: Western Bulldogs by 45


Melbourne v Hawthorn


Speaking of mismatches (maybe it's a good thing these two games are being played at the same time, otherwise the negative Nancy's will be complaining about the state of the game even more), the Dees take on a Hawthorn side that might have run out of gas.


You would've thought the Hawks were suited to teams such as Fremantle and Melbourne, given their offence never really puts a team to the sword. But after conceding 100+ to Fremantle last week it's hard to see how Melbourne can't find a way through and put up at least 80+ themselves.


The Hawks have the worst inside 50 differential of any side this season. By a long way. The only way to stop the onslaught at the MCG is to win the clearance battle. Melbourne haven't been super in that area lately but did look to turn the corner a little against Port last weekend. Stoppages are the small window of opportunity for the Hawks to pinch it. Do we think they can do it? Nope.


Another game where the favourite's mental application will determine the margin. An empty stadium has been a blessing for the super-organised Demons before. No reason to think it won't help their defence this weekend, where they could really clamp down on the 16th-ranked offence and just squeeze them to death.


The Dees to march on. Even a wet MCG plays into their favour - anyone not named Ben Brown should find the conditions really suitable to grinding a way to a win and banking another four points.


Pick: Melbourne by 38


St Kilda v Port Adelaide


One of the trickiest matchups of the week. Are we able to trust St Kilda, now?


There is talk of this game moving away from Marvel Stadium. Obviously this has a huge bearing on the chances of St Kilda. No matter what venue the Saints are a legitimate chance, even though they definitely do mix their form.


Team news for Port throws up a red flag - Butters, Rozee and Motlop are all out injured, leaving them without a bit of speed and class that is crucial to their turnover game. It means they have to meet the Saints at their level - a much more contested grind than they would like.


The Ryder/Marshall v Lycett/Ladhams battle could be pivotal. On paper the Saints have the edge with that matchup, particularly if their ruckman can wander down to the forward line and hit the scoreboard. They kicked three between them against the Magpies two weeks ago. Need a similar output this weekend.


The key for Port will be their ability mark the ball up forward - Dixon, Georgiades and Marshall should stretch the undersized Saints defence. They have managed double-digit marks inside 50 in 11 of 16 matches, but haven't posted more than 8 in their past three games. With some of their small forwards missing this weekend, it all comes down to whether their key forwards can clunk it and convert.


Leaning the Saints. Big watch on any venue switch, though.


Pick: St Kilda by 4


North Melbourne v Essendon


Another game moved to Queensland, in the early lunchtime slot of 12:35! At least in Victorian lockdown we have something to watch after another enforced sleep-in. Too bad it doesn't look like the greatest game on paper.


North take the field without Ben Cunnington for the first time since Round 2. They lose a lot in his absence - he's their best clearance player, fourth-highest disposal winner and their best tackler. They don't really have anyone else like him to pick up the slack. That alone puts them on the back foot against the Essendon midfield.


While Marvel Stadium would have obviously suited the Bombers far more than Metricon, it is still a venue where they can use their best weapons - run, spread and youthful exuberance against average opposition.


It was party time in Round 10 when these two last met - Wright, Hooker, Waterman, Jones and Cox all managed multiple goals. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti cleaned up everything that wasn't marked and kicked three himself. Admittedly the Roos have improved since that time, but that sort of potency promises to cause them serious headaches again.


The ticket for a Roos win is a locked-down, dour contest. The rain suited them last week against a team that shrinks in the wet. No rain on the horizon in Queensland so their challenge will be containing the Bombers and their uncontested possession chains. The first quarter should give us a fair indication as to whether it's possible...


Pick: Essendon by 29


Collingwood v Carlton


Such a shame these two will do battle in front of an empty stadium. Even though the Pies' finals chances are gone and the Blues are hanging by a thread, the two traditional rivals always produce something worth watching. This time it has to be from home, unfortunately.


Clearly these two are impossible to assess - Carlton are 2-2 in the past four weeks, yet have won only four quarters. In total. Trying to work through that sort of record is incredibly tough. The Pies haven't won a first term in the past four weeks, yet they have somehow managed 20 goals to 6 in last quarters over the same period, winning all of them.


So what happens here? No idea. It's even hard to determine who has the better formline. The Pies stormed over the top of a Tigers side going terribly last weekend, while the Blues beat themselves with inaccurate kicking against the Cats. The week prior they should have dropped the four points except for some brilliant individual efforts in the final term.


Would you say Carlton are a better side at this point in time? Only just. Collingwood might finally be starting to play with a bit of belief and freedom after three games under their new coach. Have they clicked? If they have, they could be one of the hardest teams to face outside of the finalists in the run home. And they could definitely win here.


Absolutely no idea which way this will go. Flip a coin.


Pick: Collingwood by 2

Adelaide v West Coast


The Adelaide forecast suggests there is a 50% chance of rain, but only a couple of millimetres. Perhaps the Crows should turn the sprinklers on a few hours before the game.


The Eagles travel to face a Crows side in arguably worse form than West Coast. Surprisingly, Adam Simpson hasn't been too savage at the selection table - he is backing in all the class and experience to finally start playing up to their reputations. Big call.


The inclusion of Taylor Walker and Darcy Fogarty will help the Crows. They need all the firepower they can get, given the Eagles still have all of their goalkicking weapons up the other end.


It all comes down to how well the Crows can defend. They have the third-worst inside 50 differential for the season, so any sort of figure around the average for West Coast and they should be able to convert supply into a reasonable total.


Neither side is any good at winning the ball back in their front half, keeping the ball away from their opposition (remarkably, West Coast are 17th at disposal differential), or enjoying enough contested possession to turn things around if it's not going their way.


Just don't know how much longer we can keep expecting this Eagles team to play competitive football. If the game is on their terms and the Crows don't apply enough pressure, then they might start feeling good about themselves again and win this game. But if it gets too hard and Adelaide can somehow make it at least half difficult for them, then the Crows are a definite chance.


Stacking up both forward lines you have to lean to West Coast. Stacking up effort and intensity it's nearly a nil-all draw on recent form. If the Adelaide coaches aren't focusing on their players producing a world-record pressure rating this weekend, then we would be very surprised.


Feel sick picking West Coast. In some ways, we hope we are wrong.


Pick: West Coast by 13


GWS v Sydney


Another team blessed by a venue switch - wintery Ballarat is swapped out for sunny Metricon Stadium. That has absolutely played into the hands of the Swans - dry conditions to unleash the same sort of ball-winning ability and foot skills as they did only six days earlier.


The Giants lose Whitfield but regain Coniglio. Their midfield definitely has the kind of personnel to trouble Sydney - it's just a matter of whether that can translate into a competitive score against a side that has consistently shown an ability to post above average totals.


The likes of Greene, Himmelberg and Finlayson will enjoy conditions much more conducive to scoring this weekend. The four-goal wind in Ballarat saw them starved of opportunity for a whole half of football. The neutral venue at Metricon will be helpful to them, but also incredibly helpful to Sydney given their game style. That's why you simply have to side with the Swans to deliver.


A Giants win wouldn't shock but it would have to come on the back of restricting Sydney to a manageable score. The more likely scenario is the Swans are able to continue to use their speed and kicking skills to bank another win and march towards the finals.


Pick: Sydney by 19

Best Matchup - Fremantle v Geelong

Best Underdog - St Kilda

Team Under Pressure - Richmond

Player To Watch - Sean Darcy - might be a year too early for All-Australian contention, but he is building towards being part of the conversation. Critical to Fremantle's chances against Geelong.