• Pete Roberts

Round 19 Preview

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

More fixture changes, fewer games with crowds, a few key players still in isolation. But the show goes on.

It is absolutely worth noting though that analysis has never been as greyed up as right now. You can look through the figures all you want, establish formlines and try to predict a certain level of performance. Yet with hub life affecting some teams and others at the very least living with a lot of uncertainty, the mental game threatens to take over the physical one.

We definitely feel like we've got the on-field analysis worked out, giving us an edge. Is the edge then immediately lost if you have to factor in which teams will show up each week under a significant covid cloud? Definitely food for thought. Something that has us treading warily for the last portion of the season.

Not quitting though! Let's try and find nine winners this week, the old-fashioned way. We won't second guess ourselves on the mental aspect and approach things like we normally would. In this period, the angles around each matchup are more important than the pick itself. Hopefully we've helped a few of you find the right teams along the way...

Best Matchup - Melbourne v Western Bulldogs

Best Underdog - Western Bulldogs, GWS, Fremantle

Team Under Pressure - GWS

Player To Watch - Aaron Naughton. He holds the key to a win on Saturday night. Sticky hands regardless of the conditions, but a kicking boot that is fluky at best. Can score in other ways and cause headaches for the rock solid Melbourne defence.

Let's do this.


Port Adelaide v Collingwood

With the choice of Victorian venue for the Friday night clash, Port Adelaide smartly chose Marvel Stadium to play to their strengths - speed, turnovers and enough firepower up forward to trouble an injury-hit Collingwood.

The ins and outs of both sides should ensure the Pies go into this game as long outsiders. The usual three of Butters, Duursma and Rozee (do they ever get mentioned singularly, or are they forever linked to each other?) return to give them the speed and class they need, while Collingwood lose a few soldiers and replace them with two debutants.

In the Round 18 review we wondered whether Collingwood might have run out of gas this season. They definitely did against Carlton - is it a sign of things to come? They face a tougher opponent here on a fast deck with a much better defensive record. The jump from a 15th-ranked defence in Carlton to the 4th-best points against column in Port Adelaide should just about see Collingwood off.

The Pies would have to somehow get the jump on Port Adelaide and keep the scoring low to pinch it. They've won only a single first-half quarter since the bye, so that seems highly unlikely. They are also bottom-four in scores against over that same period, playing 9th, 10th, 11th, and 13th. Again, Port Adelaide are a step above all of those sides even though they still remain a rung below the top contenders.

You couldn't say Port Adelaide are travelling brilliantly. If it wasn't for their 91 points against Geelong in their Round 13 loss by 21 points, Port wouldn't have topped 90 against any top eight side. Given Collingwood are far from finals material they should still do enough here. Crucial to build some sort of offensive form at the back end of the season, as they desperately need it.

Be careful if Port Adelaide are in that "mood" we've only seen a couple of times this year. If they are, our prediction of 23 points could end up half the eventual margin.

Pick: Port Adelaide by 23


Carlton v North Melbourne

The Blues will be looking to carry last week's final quarter form into this one. For a side basically out of the finals race, it's time to turn the offence up even further and put a lesser side to the sword.

The Roos are fresh off a loss to an Essendon side which clearly didn't try very hard - the Bombers had their lowest tackle count for the season, their lowest midfield turnover total and their third-lowest pressure rating in that game, yet they won pretty comfortably comfortably in the end.

The return of Ben Cunnington helps North Melbourne enormously. The Blues sit below them in the clearance differential rankings this season, having won only one stoppage battle in their past six matches. There's the window of opportunity for North Melbourne to at least get some sort of advantage in the territory battle. Whether they have the forward potency to challenge even this hard-to-trust Blues defence is debatable.

Just get the feeling that unless the Blues put in a horrible one at stoppage, their ability in open play should prevail. Neither of them have set the world on fire at the turnover game, but with these two teams it's hard to see a Marvel Stadium match under a roof with no crowds becoming a total stoppage-to-stoppage grind. Hence why the Blues have a distinct advantage.

Carlton's biggest win this year was a 45-point victory over Fremantle in Round 3. If they can put four quarters together here, that sort of margin should be well within reach. Don't think defence will be high on the agenda for either side.

Pick: Carlton by 36


Brisbane v Gold Coast

A Q-Clash provides the perfect opportunity for Brisbane to bounce back after two straight losses. This should also provide us a good measurement on how far the Suns have come since being destroyed at home against the Lions in Round 9, their biggest loss this season.

Two schools of thought on the Suns. The first - they are a super honest side just lacking a killer blow up forward if Ben King is kept under wraps. The second - they have ridden their luck over the last three weeks and come into this one absolutely ripe for a bad one.

In terms of their recent formline, they have been pretty fortunate - the Tigers didn't show up but probably should have pinched it in Round 16. The fluky wind turned their Mars Stadium contest against GWS into a coin flip a week later, where the Giants lost their structure up forward in the last quarter. Then the Bulldogs were reasonably flat after a period on the road last week.

The Suns won on expected score against the Dogs, so in that regard they can't be underestimated. But they come up against the Lions breathing fire after dropping games against St Kilda and Richmond, where their defence leaked their highest scores against since Round 1.

Brisbane's defence should find this much easier. The game will likely come down to contested ball, particularly through the midfield, where the Lions have a clear edge. Even though they had a slow start to the year and have again dropped off a little, that middle period of their season shows us they've got a level that the Suns might not match. Gold Coast have won two contested possession differentials since Round 8 - the Lions focus should simply be their contest work and the rest will take care of itself.

This all comes down to whoever can get the upper hand when the ball is up for grabs. Have to side with Brisbane against their little brother.

Pick: Brisbane by 30


West Coast v St Kilda

It has happened again. The Eagles get the perfect setup to bank another win. Even though they have been blessed by the fixture more than any other side they haven't always got the job done (hello North Melbourne game). An Optus Stadium match against St Kilda without the majority of their key defenders is an absolute gift.

Kennedy comes back well rested after his late withdrawal last week. Trying to contain Kennedy, Allen, Darling and Ryan will be clearly the Saints' biggest challenge. You have to feel for James Frawley if he comes in to replace Tom Highmore. At nearly 33-years old, landing in Perth for your first game in ten weeks against this Eagles offence is probably the worst assignment you could be given. (Update: Coffield returns rather than a potentially underdone James Frawley. Good move).

The blueprint for St Kilda is simple - beat the Eagles the same way everyone beats them. Win the ball in the contest, kick your way forward without bombing it to their intercept markers, and force the ball to ground at every opportunity. The Saints have at least some of the weapons to get it done, but losing Marshall is a cruel blow to their chances.

The job of leading the Saints to victory looks like falling to only a few key players. Jack Steele, Brad Crouch, Luke Dunstan and an underdone Zac Jones will shoulder most of the load. With those four firing the Saints have a chance, but it's a worry if they can't deny the Eagles enough supply up the other end.

With enough supply to their forwards, the Eagles should have too much scoring power for St Kilda. If the Saints can somehow find a double digit lead in the inside 50 count away from home, then they will have earned the chance at an upset. Unlikely.

Pick: West Coast by 23


Melbourne v Western Bulldogs

The match of the round. Saturday night in front of...no one. Again. For the second time, the two ladder leaders find themselves facing off in an empty stadium. Such a shame.

Nevertheless, this promises to be a ripper.

How much can we take from the last time they met? The Dogs were jumped by the Dees in the first quarter in Round 11. At the time it was their only first term loss for the season - they've lost two more since, against Geelong and Sydney. Are they susceptible to starting a bit flat against the better defensive teams?

Melbourne are so strong at the turnover game, even though many would feel like the Dogs have the edge in that area. They scored six goals from midfield turnovers in their last contest, the Bulldogs wasteful with 2.5. The Dogs generated more inside 50s from that area than the Dees, just couldn't capitalise. It could easily turn back in their favour this time around.

Ball security might be the big focus for the Dogs here - their natural risk-taking and flair could be parked in favour of taking care of the ball a lot more. Last time the Demons did an enormous job of just one player committing to a tackle, while those on the outside took care of the receivers. It might lead to a slightly different strategy from the Dogs in this one. Look for them to kick the ball a lot more, particularly in their back half.

Definitely don't subscribe to the theory that the Demons have dropped off significantly. They can still win here if they can break even at stoppage and turn the contest into another high pressure turnover game. Just feel like the Dogs are up for the challenge here and capable of turning the tables, particularly if they use their foot skills a lot more.

What do we make of the Dogs' team selection? Josh Schache pops up out of nowhere to be named alongside Naughton, Bruce, English and Ugle-Hagan. Never thought we would see a Bulldogs team resemble the Land Of The Giants, but here we are. We've seen plenty of teams fail at the selection table this way (hello Richmond), so its fascinating to see what the Bulldogs are trying to do here. There's a real danger they end up way too tall on a slippery winter's night.

This is a genuine coin flip (surprised to see the Dogs start as outsiders), given the ball will be up for grabs a lot more in the slippery conditions. In a low-scoring grind we just have to lean to the better offence to find a way.

Pick: Western Bulldogs by 8


Adelaide v Hawthorn

Two bottom four teams facing off towards the back end of the year. On paper this could be borderline unwatchable, but often these types of contests turn into accidental thrillers.

The Crows are probably the most out-of-form team in the competition. They would have found themselves back at home for the third time in four weeks, looking for their first win since *that* miracle comeback against St Kilda. Due to the venue switch, they have to do it the hard way at an empty Marvel Stadium.

The Hawks are fresh off a super brave effort against the ladder leader last week. They were showing definite signs of tapering off in the fortnight prior to that game, so it was a serious spike in form. Which Hawks side turns up here?

Hard to tell which way this will go. Maybe Adelaide have at least some sort of edge given their superior pre-clearance contested possession figure? Seems like a bit of a guess because you can't really trust either side. The Hawks come off a better last match (by a long way), so no surprise they start favourites here.

Clearly when you're down the bottom, most sides you face are better on paper. After a tricky fixture for both teams, they finally face someone around their mark, so we get a good indication on how they're really going. Footy is a simple game sometimes, so whoever can win the footy and keep hold of it will find enough avenues to score.

Leaning to the Crows but hard to be confident. The Hawks have enough grit in them to make things difficult, even though you wonder whether some sides might have lost their hunger a little in this strange period of Covid lockdowns and strict protocols.

Eight goals might win it.

Pick: Adelaide by 2


Sydney v Fremantle

We put our faith in Fremantle to make it a contest last week and got it horribly wrong. They crash into an airborne Sydney, a team thriving despite living away from home for an indefinite period.

Can the Dockers put last week behind them and challenge Sydney? Maybe it all depends on the fitness of Sean Darcy and Matt Taberner - with those two firing the Dockers should be highly competitive. But the addition of Lloyd Meek on the interchange bench suggests Darcy is in a race against time.

Fremantle do have an opportunity to exploit the Swans' main weakness down back - defending forward 50 marks. The Giants were able to grab 10 marks inside 50 in a half against them last week on the same ground, skipping to a 30+ point lead. Sydney were able to keep them to only one mark inside 50 after half time, but they were lucky the game wasn't already out of reach.

The Dockers were top four at forward 50 marks in the first half of the season. They have dropped off since, so they will need to recapture that early form. A lot of it has to do with Taberner's absence - he has played only one game since Round 10. Easily the most important player to Freo's fortunes here.

Sydney's focus will be on containing Fremantle's strength at stoppage and contested possession. If they can avoid a game filled with constant stoppages and get the ball to the outside, they win.

Two contrasting styles - the ball movement and turnover game of Sydney facing the contested, stoppage game of Fremantle. At a dry Metricon Stadium we will side with the Swans, but expecting Freo to making this a serious contest. An upset wouldn't surprise at all.

Pick: Sydney by 10


Geelong v Richmond

The Tigers win last week was gave us a bit of hope for this contest - they've got the talent and the class, it was just a question as to whether the hunger was still there. Another challenge against a top four side here. Back at the MCG, can they lift to Geelong's level?

Don't think so. Even though Dusty's absence is offset by the return of Shane Edwards, the Cats just look to have far too much depth across the field. They managed 100 without Rohan and Cameron last week against Fremantle, and it would be an optimistic view to suggest Richmond are defending any better.

Rohan jumps back into the side along with Lachie Henderson. The Cats look like they've settled on a preferred lineup now they are reasonably injury free. Only Duncan and Cameron missing from their best 22.

Unlike Brisbane last week, the Cats have the key defenders to take care of Richmond's tall forwards. The weather might also play a bit part - hard to see the Tigers grabbing 16 marks inside 50 against this Cats defence on a slippery MCG.

We always tend to favour Geelong when the game becomes a grind. Their bigger bodies and rock solid defence gives them a chance to just squeeze the life out of Richmond here. As long as they can find ways to score up the other end, then the Cats can march onto premiership favouritism after this weekend.

Pick: Geelong by 22


Essendon v GWS

One of the best matchups of the weekend, buried away at 6pm on a Sunday night! The second match of a Metricon Stadium double header. Fingers crossed the surface holds up OK after more traffic than the Monash Freeway in recent weeks.

Tricky one. Did the Bombers just take their foot off the pedal last week or are they trending towards a bit of a flat one? If they apply the same level of pressure as they did against North Melbourne then the Giants will carve them up. We saw what they could do in a half against Sydney. Essendon aren't travelling nearly as well as the Swans.

If we believe in Essendon's mini-evolution from a turnover side into more of a stoppage team then they face a great test here. No team has scored more from stoppages since Round 12 than the Giants. A head-to-head battle at the clearances should make for an epic contest.

Time for Sam Draper to put in a breakout game? He gets a half-fit Shane Mumford who will try to bash him to death, but if Draper approaches his ruckwork and around the ground game in the right way then he could have a massive impact on this match. The Bombers need him to set the tone, and their mids to follow.

Whitfield's return, the form of Jesse Hogan and a midfield that is up for the contest means we will lean slightly to the Giants here. An absolute coin flip of a game, so couldn't talk you out of any angle to finish Round 19.

Pick: GWS by 5


Best Matchup - Melbourne v Western Bulldogs

Best Underdog - Western Bulldogs, GWS, Fremantle

Team Under Pressure - GWS

Player To Watch - Aaron Naughton. He holds the key to a win on Saturday night. Sticky hands regardless of the conditions, but a kicking boot that is fluky at best. Can score in other ways and cause headaches for the rock solid Melbourne defence.