• Pete Roberts

Round 22 Preview

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

This year is getting tougher as the rounds progress. Usually in the back end of the season there are several teams that have run out of gas. We are still seeing some fairly large form reversals from some sides, and none of the top contenders have escaped a flat spot in the second half of the year.

Looks like Round 22 is the calm before the storm of Round 23, where the top four sides all play each other in a potential preview of the finals series. No matches between sides in the top eight this week. Will it be a favourites round for the first time in a while?

With such a lopsided fixture, it's no surprise to see a heap of stars in the "managed" column. No doubt some teams have looked ahead and realised they need their best 22 in the last game of the regular season, particularly with the possibility of the pre-finals bye disappearing. Hopefully team selection doesn't come back to bite them.

Best Matchup - GWS v Richmond

Best Underdog - GWS

Team Under Pressure - Carlton

Player To Watch - Luke Jackson. Finally everyone stood up and took notice after his game last week. Another game like that against Adelaide and he might put the final touches on a Rising Star-winning season...

All games below...


GWS v Richmond

With two premiership points separating 8th and 12th, this game becomes the pivotal matchup of Round 22. The #FreeToby movement has failed to succeed in their mission (no comment), so unfortunately we don't see Toby Greene against the Tigers.

The last time they met (at the same venue, funnily enough), the Giants jumped Richmond early - seven scoring shots to three at quarter time, Jesse Hogan with three goals in a short burst in the second quarter. The Tigers reeled them in, but with a bit of luck (and a couple of free kicks to a wounded Toby Greene) the Giants should have saluted.

It's an epic rematch for a spot in the top eight. One that the Giants can definitely win. Just wish Greene was on the field.

How are the Tigers favourite in this one? Is everyone just taking them on trust that they are in good enough form? They've lost six of their past eight matches, four of them to teams below the Giants on the ladder. An 11-goal second half against North Melbourne can't mask the fact they kicked two goals in a half against a team about to win the wooden spoon.

The inclusions for GWS more than outweigh the loss of Greene - a fresh Jesse Hogan, Jacob Hopper off the back of an enforced concussion absence, new $8m man Josh Kelly and barometer Shane Mumford. With Taranto and Whitfield in red hot form, they have the nucleus of a side that can seriously challenge in a finals series, let alone against a team we aren't convinced are playing well enough to even make it.

The Tigers offence wasn't nearly as clinical as we thought they would be last week, even once the game opened up. Riewoldt and Lynch kicked two between them against the Roos. Taylor played one of the best games from a full-back all season against Tom Hawkins. A repeat of that will go a long way to helping GWS over the line.

Just loving what the Giants are doing at the moment. They have morphed into a hard-edged, contested-ball winning team that can keep sides to a low total. With this midfield they have the edge over Richmond, who are still dead last in clearance differential this season.

Modern footy is constantly edging towards a turnover game rather than a stoppage battle, but in this particular matchup GWS should play to their strengths. After posting a -20 Inside 50 differential in their past two games, getting more supply up their end of the ground will already feel like a win.

Could end up with egg on the face, but the Giants are well and truly worth a crack here.

Pick: GWS by 10


Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs

Some are saying the Hawks are one of the form teams of the competition. Wouldn't go that far. Their post-bye record is far better than the first half of the season, but for every win over a top eight side (Swans, Lions) there's also a rather odd loss - Fremantle by 62 points, then the Crows at Marvel Stadium in a shootout.

The major improvement has been their offence. At one point 30-gamer Dylan Moore was their leading goalkicker, with a fair gap to the next highest. Luke Breust has eventually overtaken him (now out for the season) and the Koschitzke/Lewis combination is reeling him in. 14 goals in the last four games from the pair.

The Hawks come off two wins on the trot for the first time this year. The Dogs head into this one off the back of an extraordinary game against Essendon, where they couldn't turn a 34-point expected score differential into an actual win. With this setup and a tendency to think Hawthorn are well suited to Launceston, the Bulldogs might somehow be underrated by the market here.

Despite losing Josh Bruce to an ACL injury, the Dogs' scoring options are still hard to believe. They have the highest scoring offence in the league, a seemingly endless supply of small forwards and a habit of dominating the clearance count. They are the best Inside 50 differential side in the competition by a long way, with the Hawks all the way down in 14th.

Would happily make a case for the Hawks if we could find one. Perhaps the Tassie location and the wintery conditions might give them a slim hope. Still can't see this upset happening unless they find a huge spike in their defensive capabilities.

Dogs to win. They couldn't beat themselves two weeks running, surely...

Pick: Western Bulldogs by 38


Port Adelaide v Carlton

An entire week enduring coaching speculation and even more question marks over their list management and performance. Just another standard preparation for Carlton, really.

This challenge could go one of two ways for the Blues - we've seen teams have to hang out in the cricket nets pre-game at Adelaide Oval and come out on top. We've also seen plenty of sides play interstate after an indifferent week and completely fall to pieces. No Harry McKay, Liam Jones or Jack Silvagni, either. Could they do the unthinkable?

A week after the Giants posted the biggest upset (according to the starting prices) of the season, you have to give the Blues some sort of chance here (they would be the second biggest if they somehow pull it off). The problem is, it would have to come off the back of being able to defend first. Something Carlton would do once every four games. At best. A 190 pressure factor would be an absolute minimum in this one - they've done it three times this year, and still lost two of them to other top eight sides (Melbourne & Brisbane).

Port are used to having the ball in their forward half for long periods, and their turnover game is solid without reaching the heights of last season. It might only have to be solid here to win the ball back enough against the Blues. Their issue could be hitting the scoreboard - throughout this year they have had random games where even 60 points seems a challenge.

It's incredibly hard to bank on the Carlton defence. Not just the defenders, but the whole side coming in with a mindset to dig in and channel the kind of four-quarter grind they produced against Fremantle in Round 16. Can they even win the tackle count? Given they've done it only five times this year, you couldn't possibly bank on them doing it away from home against a side desperate to win a finals double chance.

Won't entirely write off Carlton here. There is a game script that can see them get close - high pressure, deny Port Adelaide forward 50 marks, retain the ball and find scores from their midfielders. But it has to start with their defensive intent, rather than their offence. In that area they are very hard to trust.

Pick: Port Adelaide by 23


Geelong v St Kilda

If Jordan Clark doesn't hit the middle of the ball from a snap only 15m out from goal, do the Cats win last week? Clearly an unanswerable question. They had won five games prior to last week, so the loss probably came at a good time. Just not a good time for the Saints.

St Kilda have been in reasonable form. Their ability to hit a target will make or break them here, given the Cat are so lethal on turnover. Keep an eye on the attacking midfield zone for St Kilda (between the 50m arc and the centre circle) - it is absolute death valley against a side like Geelong.

The blueprint for the Saints was delivered by GWS. The concern is whether St Kilda have the personnel to carry it out. Can they beat the Cats at ground level in their forward 50? Getting the ball in deep is their first challenge, and the second is keeping it away from their intercept markers to give their small forwards a chance.

We get our first look at Jeremy Cameron after his hamstring injury. Even if he is in warm-up mode, he might still cause the Saints some serious headaches given their issues in key defence. Hawkins rarely has two quiet games in a row, and the Cats rarely lose twice at home in a season, let alone in consecutive weeks. Look out.

All signs point to the Cats if their offence can avoid another flat one. The Saints should give them enough chances to put a score on the board.

Pick: Geelong by 29


Brisbane v Collingwood

Great timing for the Lions to return to the Gabba, where their only loss this season was in Round 1. They might have won only 8 quarters in their past four matches, but their ability to score heavily hasn't disappeared.

Did Collingwood's win against the Eagles two weeks ago give us false hope they hadn't run out of gas late in the season? Those games can often throw up a weird result, when one team is completely disinterested and the underdog enjoys a bit of freedom with nothing really at stake.

Going with the angle that their performance in Round 21 against Hawthorn is more their level at the moment. Nine of their 23 from last week had played less than 50 games. Five of them hadn't passed the 15-game mark yet. There are still a bunch of old heads around too, but after a long season it's no surprise to see them really tapering off now.

Can they find some energy to face the Lions on their home deck? The first quarter should tell us all we need to know. Anything less than a fairly intense start from Collingwood and they will be beaten.

Still don't think Brisbane are defending as well as some of the other top sides. They just face a team that probably won't post a score the Lions have trouble beating. A key tune-up for Brisbane as they head into the finals series, especially their defenders. Expecting them not to take this opportunity lightly.

Pick: Brisbane by 41


North Melbourne v Sydney

A nice little reality check for both sides last week - the Roos put in their worst pressure game of the season, while the Swans were held to 64 points against a side unlikely to feature in the finals series.

This all comes down to the North defence against the Sydney offence. Usually it's the Swans absolutely torching sides on turnover. The Saints flipped the script last week, so North Melbourne has a blueprint to follow which gives them a sneaky chance. Still, given the Swans are third in turnover points differential this season, we have to treat last week as a blip after a five-game winning streak the weeks prior.

Sydney copped a 190+ pressure factor from the Saints which halted their ball movement and lead to them blasting it forward instead of picking off a target like they usually do. North's profile defensively has been pretty consistent - a competitive first quarter or half before an inevitable drop off in the final two terms. They have posted a 190+ figure only once this season. Hard to see them doing it here. And even if they manage to lift to another level, the Swans should still have them covered.

Even though the Roos have been quite competitive lately, it's just hard to see how North get on top in this one. It would have to be on the back of a poor defensive showing from Sydney - as the best pressure side in the competition and a super honest workrate, we just can't see it happening.

Pick: Sydney by 25


Melbourne v Adelaide

The Crows did the unthinkable in Round 10 and snapped Melbourne's nine-game winning streak. Our review of that match mentioned the Dees ran into a Crows side at the absolute top of their game. They aren't travelling nearly as well right now.

A few crucial misses and some missed free kicks probably took the four points away from Melbourne on that occasion. They probably won't need any luck this time, as long as they hold their form. A good weather forecast for Saturday is a positive - as good as they were in the wet against West Coast, they are a far better side in dry conditions. Transition footy is their strength, and they will get ample opportunity to put it on display against a bottom four team.

With no Sam Jacobs to compete with Max Gawn and Brodie Smith and Will Hamill concussed last week, the Crows will find this incredibly tough. Even though Melbourne aren't the most potent top four side at the moment, they've still got plenty of avenues to goal (particularly with Ben Brown finding some form) and a defence that shouldn't really be troubled by what the Crows can muster.

Melbourne aren't the kind of team who are able to take their foot off the gas, so they still need to play to a reasonable level here. It's just hard to see how the Crows put together four quarters good enough to beat them regardless. Perhaps they could catch the Dees napping in the first quarter and gain some confidence early, but it sounds like a fair stretch to think Melbourne aren't a far better side over 120 minutes.

Pick: Melbourne by 31


Gold Coast v Essendon

After last week's heist against the Bulldogs, we can't get seduced by the Bombers in this one. It was a 32-point loss on expected score, so we will treat it that way.

Clearly the Suns are a huge step down from the Bulldogs, so the Bombers head into the game as clear favourites. Which Suns team will turn up? They were lucky to avoid a 100-point loss against Melbourne only two weeks ago, then scraped past Carlton in a rather odd stoppage game at the same venue.

Not sure the Suns want another clearance battle here. The Bombers have gone +16 (against the Bulldogs) and +8 (Swans) in their past two games so they won't mind plenty of stoppages. Essendon are 3rd overall for stoppage scoring differential this season. The Suns are 15th, so they will have to win a different way.

So the Suns need a turnover game - their four best turnover score differentials have all been wins, and they haven't won a match this season with a negative differential. Melbourne, Brisbane and the Bulldogs have been able to expose them in this area recently. North Melbourne and Port Adelaide have done the same. Big question mark on whether their turnover game is strong enough against Essendon here.

The Bombers boast the superior stoppage game as well as a few more weapons through the midfield and forward line if the Suns manage to make it a turnover battle. A spike in form from Gold Coast (coinciding with a dip from Essendon after being up for a while) gives them a chance, but still have to pick the Dons in this one.

Pick: Essendon by 19


Fremantle v West Coast

The last time these two sides met, we absolutely declared the Eagles as certainties. They posted their biggest winning margin of the year in a 59-point win. Ten individual goalkickers, seven of them hitting the scoreboard multiple times. It was also their highest score of the season - 132 points. They have failed to post a total even half that size in five games since. Where has their offence gone?

Firstly, winter hasn't exactly been friendly to them. We constantly say how wet weather derails the Eagles more than any other side of the modern era. If you're already the worst pressure side in the competition and rely on marking the footy for your whole gameplan, rain is your worst enemy.

With little chance of rain on Sunday, the Eagles get their preferred conditions. They face a Fremantle side still mixing their form, even though you can't really fault their effort. The case against them in Round 7 was their lack of firepower compared to the Eagles. That argument still stands here.

Looks like 80 points is the magic number. Fremantle have a 2-10 record when conceding 80 or more. To win here, they have to avoid an open contest where the Eagles will have too many weapons not to post a competitive total.

Considering these two teams are the two worst pressure sides in the competition, you have to lean towards this being a reasonably open contest, even if they do lift a little in the local Derby. Under that scenario, the Eagles are in the box seat despite their pretty awful recent form. The Dockers need to find a way to lock this one down and grind it out. That's their chance.

Pick: West Coast by 21


Best Matchup - GWS v Richmond

Best Underdog - GWS

Team Under Pressure - Carlton

Player To Watch - Luke Jackson. Finally everyone stood up and took notice after his game last week. Another game like that against Adelaide and he might put the final touches on a Rising Star-winning season...