• Pete Roberts

Round 3 Preview

A bumper Easter Weekend of footy ahead of us, with TWO games on Good Friday. They might not be blockbusters, but most of us would remember a time when there was no footy (or racing, or a lot of sports) on Good Friday so we were forced to spend time with partners and families.

With a bit more of a sample size we can start getting a line on some teams, yet Round 3 can still be a trap given sides are still mixing their form. Treading quite warily - scoring isn't the absolute free-for-all some predicted now that defensive structures have been tightened.

Can anyone cause an upset this week? The Demons were the only outsider to salute in Round 2 in what we thought was basically a coin-flip. With some real mismatches on paper and a few genuine 50/50 games, it's hard to see which underdog has the best chance of pinching a win.

Best Matchup - West Coast v Port Adelaide

Best Underdog - Adelaide

Team Under Pressure - GWS

Player To Watch - Brad Crouch - returns from suspension and slots into a Saints midfield that could do with his ball-winning ability. Arguably makes the likes of Clark, Jones & Steele better for having him around. Interested to see how he fits into the mix.

Let's get into the Previews. Team selection critical this weekend so we are flying blind a little bit for some games until the announcements across the weekend. Whatever happened to Thursday night teams?


Collingwood v Brisbane

The Lions have been given the ultimate hospital handball having to remain in Melbourne at short notice. Some players/staff will be able to deal with that sort of curveball quite easily. Others will really struggle with plans being flipped on their head.

How will Brisbane respond? Absolutely no idea.

On paper their side is perhaps marginally better than the Magpies at the top end, due to their weapons on offence. The slow start cost them against Geelong in Round 2 - 80 points on a tough night at GMHBA was a reasonable score - and they still posted 97 points against a Sydney side that just couldn't miss the previous week.

Anything between 80-100 this week and they are right in it. They need to do it against a serious defence for the second week running...

The big test might be keeping the ball away from Darcy Moore. Arguably the best first two weeks of any player so far, the Moore/Hipwood (we assume) matchup could decide the fate of both sides.

Grundy vs a raw Connor Ballenden could be pivotal as well, given the midfield of both teams match up pretty evenly at ground level. Grundy lifted last weekend to return to form - anything close to that and he will cause serious headaches for Brisbane. Do they regret parting ways with Stefan Martin?

The key challenge for the Pies is finding ways to score. Looks like a slight tweak to their structure helped against Carlton - the Lions are a much tougher defence than the Blues, and the inclusion of Marcus Adams (presumably to take care of Cox) is an interesting one. Good test to see where they stand.

The move from the Gabba to Marvel Stadium helps the Pies' chances but also suits the Lions offence to some degree. In close matchups like this one it often comes down to how well the bottom six-to-eight players can play - feel like Collingwood still have the better on-field depth at the moment, even with Elliot missing.

A lot of pressure on Brisbane's top six players to deliver. It might take a bag from Hipwood, Daniher or Cameron to haul them over the line. Pies in a close one, but this is an absolute coin flip.

Pick: Collingwood by 2


North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs

Forget the clickbait noise about North Melbourne's right to keep the Good Friday match. Let's focus on how they can beat the Bulldogs...

Well, they can't.

Another game where complacency will be the Dogs' worst enemy. They should find plenty of supply from their midfield, so it's only a matter of how efficient they can be on offence. The margin could be anywhere from 20 points to 100 points depending on North's ability to lock things down and find a way to score themselves.

Hopefully Cunnington returns for North to help their undersized midfield. Is this the game Luke Davies-Uniacke matches it with the experienced Dogs mids and people start to take notice? Hopefully there's a breakout game on the horizon to provide North fans with a glimmer of hope for the future.

Pick: Western Bulldogs by 45


Adelaide v Gold Coast

A really interesting contest with two contrasting game styles: the airborne Crows come off a home win against Geelong and an ultra competitive encounter with Sydney (where they nearly "won" on expected score). The Suns kept pace with the Eagles for three quarters in Round 1 before obliterating North Melbourne in a soft one.

Not super convinced the Suns should start favourites here. It will all depend on who can get the game on their terms for longer - the Crows want a slower, stoppage based game (they've nearly doubled their opponents stoppage score in the first two games), while the Suns would love a fast, turnover-based game to get the ball down to their creative forward line in a bit of space.

If Gold Coast are up for the fight they have enough class to cover the Crows and take advantage of their defensive fragility. Just can't be confident they will find it easy to do against Adelaide with a hostile Friday night crowd against them and the potential uncertainty of hub life hanging over their immediate future.

Would have preferred to have seen the Suns up against at least a middle-rung team last week to be confident they've improved on last year. At the moment we are still guessing a bit on both sides. Will lean towards the Crows in a tight one. Can't believe I'm saying it.

Pick: Adelaide by 8


Richmond v Sydney

Can't wait for Richmond to cruise their way to another 20-30 point victory like they usually do...

In all seriousness, this should be a cracker. The resurgent Swans playing a great style of footy up against a serious opponent whose only loss at the MCG in the past two seasons was this round last year against the Hawks.

Can the Swans emulate Hawthorn and knock them off? They're not without a chance.

For those who like to watch footy with a slightly different lens, keep an eye out for the forward half turnover battle. Richmond have been great at it for years, and it looks like the Swans are building a similar gameplan. No one has scored more points from forward half turnovers than Sydney so far this year, with the Tigers up there in third.

The Champ vs the Challenger in forward half footy sets up for a great game. Clearly the Tigers have given us no reason to doubt their ability to get it done again, but the Swans pose an interesting threat they haven't faced so far this year - super disciplined on defence, slick by foot and the potential to put up 100+ points if it all comes together.

Looking forward to seeing them try against the best, even if they come unstuck at times. Do they have a plan for Dusty? Who should it be?

Sticking with Richmond to grind away and deal with the hot weather and restricted interchange a bit better than the Swans once fatigue sets in. Surprised to see Sydney such a long outsider, though.

Pick: Richmond by 22


Essendon v St Kilda

Have to feel for the bombers. They've lost Draper, Shiel and Caldwell for extended periods, there is a question mark over their captain playing this week and the likes of Michael Hurley and Patrick Ambrose are still absent indefinitely.

The Saints get the perfect opportunity to bounce back here. They can't possibly execute any worse by hand or foot than last week against the Demons, or be as defensively poor. They allowed Melbourne to win the ball back in their D50 over and over, then move the ball up the other end with ease - 4.3 from "coast-to-coast" opportunities alone, the Demons.

With that addressed in review, the Saints should lock down on the Bombers a lot better. If they can't, this would put serious doubts on their ability to do it against the top-four contenders.

The Bombers' best chance might be just to jump them early and play with a bit of flair. Keeping the ball in their hands could be their best defence, otherwise its scary to think what the St Kilda forwards might do to them...

Pick: St Kilda by 30


West Coast v Port Adelaide

Match of the round, this one. We get to see how good Port Adelaide are really travelling, and whether West Coast are destined to be just a flat track bully or genuine flag threat.

The Eagles will be reeling from the one that got away against the Bulldogs. Shouldn't have lost from that position and now face a red hot Power side looking for a big scalp.

As the market suggests, this could go either way. Little benefit in looking at Port's figures given they've played North Melbourne and Essendon. The Eagles have had the tougher draw, which might actually be beneficial this early in the season to get them ready for this one.

Last year, Port took hold of a softened up Eagles early in the season at a neutral ground, despite losing clearance by 12 and only breaking even at contested possession. Dixon kicked six and he's travelling just as well this year by the looks.

If West Coast can match it with Port in the middle again (Yeo is missing from their game last season but otherwise it's a very similar personnel setup for both sides) and get enough supply to their super dangerous forward line, then they can win. If there is a question mark over Port it's their key defensive structure, even with Aliir Aliir on board. He becomes a critical player in this game.

But it does seem like the Eagles struggle when the game isn't on their terms - the Dogs had a lot of success last round when coming forward to defend, and when the final quarter became a bit more of a scrap they gave up nearly a three-goal lead.

Port will love the scrap, love to come forward to apply pressure and have just as much firepower up forward to match it with them. Definitely rate Port Adelaide as a better side than West Coast as it currently stands. Just wish we had seen them play someone half decent before travelling over to Perth...

Take your pick.

Pick: Port Adelaide by 1


Carlton v Fremantle

If Carlton can't get over the line against Fremantle, they might tear down Marvel Stadium then march towards Ikon Park. Having lost Martin and Fisher during the week, the Blues get to bring in a few hungry backups and potentially drop a few more. How many changes will they make after last week's disappointment?

The Dockers will miss Fyfe but look to regain Walters who is perfectly suited to exposing Carlton's defence on a fast deck at Marvel Stadium. It will be their second game in a row coming up against a questionable defence, so they get another opportunity to put a competitive score on the board with a bit of a makeshift forward line.

Still, you have to think Carlton have enough of a head start in their development to take care of Freo here. Their attacking style will suit this matchup given they just need to keep hitting the scoreboard and post a total that Fremantle is unlikely to be able to match.

The Blues are hard to trust, for sure. A Dockers upset wouldn't surprise, but Carlton have shown enough to suggest they can get the job done in this one.

Pick: Carlton by 15


GWS v Melbourne

Carlton are thankful the Giants came along and put in a shocker last Sunday losing to Fremantle. With the blowtorch aimed squarely at Leon Cameron and GWS it will be fascinating to see how they respond.

Melbourne are starting to look more like the side that made the finals in 2018 than the mediocre team of the past two years. Even with a forward structure that desperately needs a Ben Brown or Sam Weideman as the key target, they are finding ways to score.

The Giants haven't hit 80 points in either game this season - huge pressure on Greene, Himmelberg and the midfield to hit the scoreboard enough to keep them competitive.

Both sides try and play a forward half game as much as possible. The Demons just do it better. This is the absolute key to the game:

GWS have reasonable numbers from a forward half turnover perspective but when the opposition do break through they are terrible at restricting their scoring. The Saints were still able to move the ball from defence to attack pretty easily in wet conditions in Round 1, and the Dockers just did what they liked in Round 2 without any real resistance. 1 in 4 of Fremantle's D50 chains went for a score, and they aren't exactly known as a ball movement kind of team.

Melbourne can exploit the Giants weakness defensively and get the job done here.

Pick: Melbourne by 22


Geelong v Hawthorn

The traditional Easter Monday matchup makes us a bit nostalgic for the time when both sides were flying and beat the living hell out of each other. There was a period of time when there were fewer than four goals between them for five straight matches.

Unlikely to see that here, unfortunately. The Hawks face the 2020 grand finalists in back to back weeks, so it's a tough start for them. Ultimately Hawthorn just don't have the class to go with Geelong unless they can somehow turn the game into a dead set scrap or get the jump on them like the Crows managed a couple of weeks ago.

The big question for Geelong is whether they are still over-reliant on Hawkins on offence with Jeremy Cameron still sidelined. He is clearly their most targeted player inside 50 (no surprise), with the suspended Gary Rohan the next in line.

Do we see Rhys Stanley go forward in this one? Blicavs might not have a matchup down back given the lack of key forwards for the Hawks so it could be a chance for Geelong to switch things up a little.

Keen to see the teams before having a firm idea of how this might play out, but happy to be with Geelong to get the job done comfortably.

Pick: Geelong by 28


Round 3 Burning Question:

Is the "hard tag" back in vogue?

The rule changes may have made things easier for taggers - more open play, fewer stoppages, faster ball movement that often bypasses the wings. The risk of a tagger getting lost in a stoppage isn't nearly as great anymore.

The downside, which many won't be aware of, is that it can totally pull your structure apart at stoppages. If the tagged player is at least half-smart they can dictate where they go and create opportunities for the other mids to win the clearance. The reduced rotations numbers also make it a little more tricky to follow someone around the whole day.

Will we see the hard-running tagger come back into fashion? Some clubs don't tend to tag at all, while others prefer to use it as a surprise tactic (like Geelong with Mark O'Connor on Lachie Neale last weekend). Should be interesting to see if a few more teams try and take away an opposition weapon a little more this season.

The first test will be Collingwood's plan for Neale tonight. If they don't tag and Neale can lead them to victory, get ready for a fair bit of criticism aimed at the Pies...


Best Matchup - West Coast v Port Adelaide

Best Underdog - Adelaide

Team Under Pressure - GWS

Player To Watch - Brad Crouch - returns from suspension and slots into a Saints midfield that could do with his ball-winning ability. Arguably makes the likes of Clark, Jones & Steele better for having him around. Interested to see how he fits into the mix.