Round 6 Preview
With everyone settled into Hub life and probably bored shitless at the moment until game time, it will be fascinating to see which teams are coiled up like a steel spring and which teams carry some Netflix and Chill into the match.
Like everyone, we've had a bit of extra time on our hands over the past few days (in amongst Covid tests and panic-buying at the Supermarket, of course), so the Round 6 preview will go a little more in-depth than usual on a few matchups.
All I can say is...tipsters nightmare!
Geelong vs Brisbane
The Cats and Lions at the SCG - only in 2020 could we even think about uttering that sentence.
The venue does play an important role, however, as we find both sides in the Top 3 for Inside 50 differential (only Port Adelaide has a superior figure) as well as a game style built around having the ball in their hands in the forward half as much as possible. The contrasting part of their games is intriguing as well - Brisbane tend to favour the up-tempo style which might have taken them a while to adjust in an empty stadium with no crowd-generated excitement levels (hence their slow-ish start to the year). The Cats have certainly been more direct this year but are still a lot more measured in their ball movement.
Brisbane really need to keep the tempo of the game in an adequate gear, otherwise it may play into the hands of the Cats.
Ultimately, the midfield battle becomes the absolute key to this game, more than any match in recent memory. Statistically, the team that wins Centre Bounce clearances wins between 55% to 65% of matches in recent times, so it's not a definitive indicator of success. When you expand it to just Clearances in general the number jumps only slightly higher, historically.
But in this game, in a four quarter sample size, that dial would be heading a lot further towards 100%. It's that critical.
The Lions midfield boasts the clear Brownlow Medal favourite in Lachie Neale (he could easily be on 12 votes already) and some underrated soldiers alongside him, while it's hard not to think Geelong will load up the Centre Bounces with the usual combination of Selwood, Dangerfield and someone to sit on Neale wherever he goes (Guthrie, Parfitt perhaps).
By default, does the Stefan Martin v Darcy Fort matchup become nearly the most important? Martin can end up being like an extra midfielder at times, while Fort has shown glimpses but is giving away 179 games of experience to his Lions counterpart.
Of course hitouts and ruckmen aren't always pivotal to the stoppage battle (the Pies have lost the clearances three times in 5 matches despite boasting arguably the best ruckman in the comp), but in this specific game it's an important angle that must be considered when trying to figure out who wins.
I'll back in Stefan Martin to have a big one and tip the scales in favour of the Lions.
Pick: Brisbane by 4
Collingwood v Hawthorn
What's wrong with Collingwood? I say nothing!
OK, they've lost two in a row and a few off-field incidents have potentially been a bit of a distraction (is there something in the water down there?), but it's definitely not panic stations just yet.
The GWS game in Round 4 was the old-fashioned coin flip that could've easily gone Collingwood's way against a side that just hadn't been switched on until that night, while the Essendon game last weekend seemed to just be a strange case of one side going in harder and more desperately than the other. And even then they got close to pinching it late.
While I didn't expect them to be in this spot after 5 rounds, they just need enough wins to land in the finals and some momentum to carry them through, because they playing list has got what it takes (Howe's injury hurts, of course).
Hawthorn, on the other hand, tried to play keepings off against the Giants and got burnt, badly. In both their losses, the Hawks have had 6+ goals kicked against them from midfield turnovers - if you can win the ball back off them and go with speed to a forward line with multiple scoring options like the Pies possess, then you're well on the way to victory. Need to see the intensity and polished ball-handling we saw from Collingwood in the first few weeks, but if they bring those elements then it's hard to see Hawthorn being able to contain them for long enough in the predicted dry conditions tomorrow night.
Pick: Collingwood by 14
Fremantle v St Kilda
It's not often your opponent has a goalless first half but still remains in the game, but that's what happened with Fremantle last week.
The sharp minds at Stats Insider had the Crows winning 54-47 on expected score against the Dockers in Round 5, which probably says more about Fremantle's lack of potency up forward more than the Crows (who we already know are in a "world of hurt", as the coach put it).
St Kilda have scored the fourth-most points since the competition restart, and that includes a lowly 37 against Collingwood when they were taught a lesson by the in-form side at the time. From Round 2, they've gone 88, 37, 93, 73, the kind of scores Fremantle could only dream of at the moment.
You'd like to see the Saints perform outside of the perfect Marvel Stadium conditions - all of their wins have been indoors so far- but unless the Dockers can pull off the incredible and give their forwards enough supply (only 1 more inside 50 than Adelaide last weekend says a lot), the Saints should be far too slick for Freo.
Pick: St Kilda by 28
West Coast v Adelaide
Get a feeling that despite all of West Coast's troubles early in the season, they're the kind of side that can build a serious bunch of momentum and get on a roll very quickly. They just couldn't quite find the midfield-forward connection in the first quarter last week but kept persisting and built a confidence-boosting win.
At 2-3, facing two of the bottom three sides in the next two weeks and an extended stint back at home in front of a crowd again, the Eagles have to be respected again from a finals chance point of view - bizarre to think we would be saying that after they lost three in a row across Rounds 2-4 and never scored above 45 points.
Importantly, the forwards look like grabbing it in the air again lately and look to be ready to really stretch an under-siege Crows defence.
There's not much to say about Adelaide other than they probably should have grabbed a win last week. As Garry Lyon said, it's just their turn to be down the bottom of the ladder. But one thing is for sure - Reilly O'Brien needs to put in a big one after accidentally posting this on his Twitter account this afternoon...
The best part is he owned it, and posted this not long after. Given he's the ruckman in my fantasy team on The Bench, I'm hoping this is just the tonic he needs for a dominant game against ol' lazy and unfit Nic Nat.
Pick: West Coast by 35
Melbourne v Gold Coast
Oh boy, wowee. There will be some nervous players and coaches at Demonland right now as they go in favourites against an ultra-competitive Gold Coast Suns on a neutral deck. The issues at Melbourne are well documented, but perhaps this might be the game we see something a little different from them. Team selection could provide us with a hint, and also their method going inside 50 may change from the helter-skelter tempo to a much more measured approach.
The saying used to be "ice" when players had the ball ready to send it into attack, a trigger designed to help them slow down their thought process and choose the right option without panicking. Fair to say the ice has melted recently, but it's not to say they can't find the right avenues to score this weekend.
A few players (Oliver, Brayshaw, Viney) have been under the blowtorch this week as well, so you'd expect a response from them. They are quality players and proud individuals - confident they will show that against the Suns.
From a Gold Coast perspective, the number that really jumps out is their stoppage scoring (ranked 2nd). That should match up well against a Melbourne side who have been traditionally strong at clearance and contested possession, so it might come down to whoever can make the most of their opportunities up forward.
HUGE game for Melbourne, and they might just scrape by. It's a real shame we miss the opportunity to see Matt Rowell go up against the likes of Oliver, Viney and co in the middle. You'd pay to see that.
Pick: Melbourne by 8
Essendon v North Melbourne
Er, I've got no idea how this one will pan out. North Melbourne have lost their honest mojo and haven't won for four weeks, while the Bombers might struggle to find enough players to fill their forward line.
Is it time to unleash Hooker or Hurley into attack? It's the obvious hot-take any time they have been injury-hit (which has been often lately), but it might be the perfect situation to do it again from the opening bounce.
You'll get a good guide as to what Ben Rutten thinks about either of them forward this week. If he doesn't pull the trigger then you might never see them down there again in his time more than just a brief hail-mary cameo here and there.
Is North Melbourne just a dour stoppage side without any other tricks to combat the run and gun style of Essendon? Kangaroos games have had more stoppages than any other this year. Break even at clearances as a starting point, and exploit their inability to turn it over through the middle and score. The Bombers haven't been world-beaters in that area themselves, but perhaps have a little more imagination and manic pressure than North Melbourne.
Having said all that, nothing would surprise with these two. They have played some bizarre matches in recent times, so let's hope something strange happens again for a bit of entertainment on a Saturday night!
Pick: Essendon by 14
Port Adelaide v GWS
Easily the match of the round, and a stern test for Port Adelaide. We will find out whether they've just been beating up on poor opposition, or if they've got what it takes to contend this season.
The Giants have their game humming along nicely, but Port Adelaide's style presents them with a different test than they've seen this season.
The Power have always been a forward half territory team. This year they have complimented this dominance with an increase in forward 50 efficiency (currently 4th in the most important year for that stat we have arguably ever seen, after being 15th last year). Having a fit Charlie Dixon helps, of course.
Just get the feeling that defence is going to be so critical to this one, particularly how the big key forwards can be contained - Cameron up one end, Dixon at the other. Jonas and Davis waiting for them. Can't wait to see those matchups unfold.
Perhaps the big question mark is the lack of a real secondary goalkicking gun at Port Adelaide. GWS have Toby Greene, while the Power have...Todd Marshall and Justin Westhoff. Can another forward like Rozee, Butters or Motlop emerge on Sunday to kick three or four?
Giants in this one. Just. But would love to see Port Adelaide come out of this game as a genuine threat in a wide open year.
Pick: GWS by 3
Richmond v Sydney
If there is ever a team that justifiably looks to be taking a year off, it's the Tigers. Strangely, the smart play might be for them just to go through the motions this season and regroup ready for the return of the fully-fledged footy we all know and love in 2021.
Houli and Edwards, a couple of veterans, can freshen up. Cotchin can take a rest and get the hamstrings sorted, they can get games into a few youngsters and plan their tilt at a third flag in five years by spending 2020 wisely. It all makes way too much sense!
Onto the actual game, however, and they will face some sort of test from Sydney. As of this moment, Tom Lynch remains a 50/50 proposition to play. Funnily enough, this might be a great game for Jack Riewoldt to assume "big dog" status once again and kick a bag. Clear out the forward 50 and just let him get to work?
The Swans have found scoring very difficult the last couple of weeks, with their lack of tall options up forward (and in the ruck) really taking their toll. Defensively we know Richmond are well-coached and their back six is ultra-reliable, so in theory that should be enough to ensure the Tigers just need an average offensive effort to get over the line here.
Big watch at the selection table though - No Houli and Edwards in the hub, no Nankervis and Prestia for a while, potentially no Lynch. Could be one of those statistical anomalies where a team has six or more changes and still manages to win. Maybe a few hungry depth players is a good thing to inject at this point in time?
Swans can win if they can exploit all these changes and find a way to score - big test for their forwards to step up against a quality defence. A lot resting on the shoulders of Papley, Heeney and Blakey, I feel.
Pick: Sydney by 4
Carlton v Western Bulldogs
They've found the perfect game for a late Sunday timeslot, and I don't mean that in a negative way. Both teams have become quite exciting to watch (remember, the 2020 version of exciting is slightly different to previous years). We get to see how they will go on a deteriorating surface of Metricon Stadium after it's 6th game in 8 days. Interested to see if that becomes a factor at all.
If it becomes a bit of a messy scrap - both teams have had issues with skill execution this season, which isn't a surprise - then you'd probably favour the Bulldogs just to outlast the Blues here.
It's hard to find anything statistically to support Carlton causing an upset in this one. Pleasing to see they've been able to force a lot more forward half turnovers this year, and both sides sit about middle of the road in converting their forward 50 entries into a score.
Don't think it will be easy by any stretch (this first round of games with the Victorian teams in the hubs could throw up some strange form reversals, potentially), but hard to go past the Western Bulldogs right now.
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 18
Round 6 Burning Question:
Who should take more blame for Melbourne's forward 50 issues - the mids or the forwards?
It's a real chicken-or-the-egg kind of question, this one. On one hand you've got an up-tempo style with the kind of personnel that lacks the poise and skill to execute under that kind of situation, but on the other hand you've got a forward line that can't win a 1v1 contest to save themselves and quickly runs out of position so fast that it becomes impossible to deliver it to them. There is no doubt the behind goal vision (remember, teams get vision from both ends of the ground that forms a critical part of their coaching and analysis) will have thrown up a lot of examples where both the Inside 50 kicks could have been executed much better, and also where the forwards didn't play their role to make it an easier decision from up the field. A big test this week to see what changes! Would love to see Melksham become their Inside 50 delivery man as much as possible (perhaps off a wing?) - at one point not long ago he was statistically one of the best in the comp. Time will tell....