Round 7 Preview
It takes a lot of effort to run the most elite sport in the country. And even more effort to keep it going in a pandemic. Credit to everyone involved for giving the fans something to look forward to, not to mention allowing the thousands of staff a way to earn a living.
Footy moves to Perth for the first time in a while, with the Cats and Pies opening Round 7 in front of a real-life crowd! Will the artificial crowd guy take the night off? Or will we get a blend of rabid Pies and Cats fans on the live microphones mixed in with some faux-excitement from the broadcasters?
We ask all the big questions here on Behind The Footy.
Let's get to the preview.
Geelong vs Collingwood
Statistically the best attack (Cats) vs the best defence (Pies), so this will be a fascinating contest.
Collingwood have taken on some quality opponents and still emerged with the fewest points against. While they've had scoring issues of their own (ranked 8th), look out when they face some of the teams with nothing to play for later in the year...
Geelong have faced a mixed bag but seem to lift against the better sides - a mature team in a strange year might need that extra motivation to bring their intensity you'd suspect.
The weather may play an interesting role tonight - an afternoon storm scheduled and up to 10mm of rain through the day. In theory a wet surface favours Geelong, but Collingwood would have learned some valuable lessons from their loss to Essendon a few weeks ago.
So, who wins? I'm still a believer in the Pies, and like them on the Optus Stadium deck with roughly the same dimensions as the MCG. The midfield battle alone will be worth tuning in for, and if Collingwood can negotiate the wet conditions they might just have the edge. Just.
Pick: Collingwood by 7
Essendon v Western Bulldogs
The Bombers have been super brave this year, and seem to be a very different side than the boom-or-bust style we had become used to in previous season. Defensively they are far more sound than in the past (how good is Jordan Ridley?!?!) and they have somehow still been able to generate enough of a score each week to get over the line with a makeshift forward line.
Would love to see Cale Hooker go forward this week, but not sure it will happen. Just get the feeling the Bombers need to give the Bulldogs defence something to think about down back.
Leaning towards the Bulldogs to bounce back against a Bombers side that is probably due to have a flat one. The loss of Shiel hurts them immensely, while the Bulldogs could be loading up on small forwards to run them off their feet.
Ultimately it might come down to which side can take their chances and find the highest efficiency on offence (Essendon currently 8th, the Bulldogs 14th).
Bulldogs to zip around Metricon Stadium and win the running race.
Pick: Bulldogs by 18
GWS v Brisbane
Surprised with the Giants starting favourites here - the usual knee-jerk reaction to a loss (which may have affected the Lions more) hasn't seemed to apply to GWS this week.
For all but a 10-minute patch, the Giants looked the winners last week. It was an arm wrestle against Port Adelaide and they lost a few crucial contests at the wrong time. Bear in mind that the Giants are still the most efficient at scoring from their inside 50s so far this season. It's just their inability to produce enough volume on offence to generate a defendable total sometimes - they haven't won an inside 50 count this year, and will find it tough against an exciting Lions side used to having more entries than their opposition (a strange -1 figure against Freo in Round 2 the only blip).
The Lions have been a tricky side to get a handle on this season. But haven't most teams?
I feel like the Giants are being harshly judged at the moment. The Lions will be a stern test, but one they can overcome.
Pick: GWS by 10
Sydney v Gold Coast
You have to feel for the Swans. Fast running out of soldiers and facing a lengthy period away from home. The Suns face a team absolutely ripe for the picking, but have to get the job done away from home on a small deck.
This is the perfect opportunity for the Suns to roll up the sleeves and get dirty against a team notorious for making things difficult. Gold Coast have lost the last two contested possession counts by a combined total of 34, so they need to take advantage of an undermanned Sydney midfield and get he job done.
Pick: Gold Coast by 22
Richmond v North Melbourne
Geez, this is tricky. It doesn't look like any of Richmond's Best 22 will return to face the Roos, while North Melbourne might regain Jack Ziebell and a few other soldiers to try and reverse their recent form.
Thankfully for the Tigers, they still have the majority of their forwards on the park. Any team with Lynch and Riewoldt on a dry Metricon surface (hopefully) plus their endless supply of small forwards should be respected, even if the midfield has been absolutely decimated lately.
We've been waiting for North to bob up again and cause an upset for a while, but it just hasn't happened. Is this their best chance to embrace their underdog status and find a way to win against the undermanned Tigers?
The midfield battle will be critical - the current Champion Data number 1 rated player in the game, Todd Goldstein, becomes the most vital player on the ground again here. But without Ben Cunnington, do the Roos have enough grunt through the middle to give their forwards enough supply?
North are hard to trust, while the Tigers are nothing if not honest. Fascinating game this one where nothing would surprise.
Pick: Richmond by 15
Carlton v Port Adelaide
Port Adelaide will have absolutely gone to work on Carlton this week. No one missed the Blues charging forward at every opportunity in Round 6 - a high kick-to-handball ratio team like Carlton (#1) vs a handball happy opposition like the Bulldogs (#18 for K:H ratio) is always fun to watch.
So Port know what's coming, and will arguably be better prepared for it than the Dogs, who didn't seem to have a Plan B.
The Blues still lost the Inside 50 count against the Bulldogs (-12) but their direct style allowed them to rebound from their defensive half (5 goals from defensive half intercepts) into a wide open forward line.
This time they face a team that is used to absolutely dominating the Inside 50 count, so Carlton's ability to turn the ball over will again be tested. Port Adelaide have just lived in their forward 50 this season:
Round 1: +31
Round 2: +27
Round 3: +21
Round 4: +12
Round 5: -13 (a loss to Brisbane)
Round 6: +18
It was good to see Port produce those figures in Round 6, because the rest of their games had been against teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the ladder (they found Gold Coast at the right time in Round 1).
So we know Port won't get it their own way, but the Blues will need to really strangle their supply or the sheer volume of offensive contests could wear down their defence. Hence the Charlie Dixon matchup becomes crucial, as will Justin Westhoff's ability to stay out of the way (even the commentators noticed how the two of them seemed to trip over themselves all day last weekend).
Loving the way Carlton are playing at the moment but Port's ability to find a way to win certainly makes you think they are a genuine contender at the moment, not just a flat track bully.
Pick: Port Adelaide by 21
Hawthorn v Melbourne
Usually you'd be excited about a matchup like this one, but it's hard to be excited by the way Hawthorn are playing at the moment.
Meanwhile, the Dees just found a way to win last week. A good sign for them after being under the pump from the "external noise" which was more than just a dull roar.
So who emerges the winner?
It seems to be a "Stoppage Game" vs "Turnover Game" kind of setup, this one. But perhaps not the way you'd think.
Traditionally we would know the Hawks as slick ball users, fast by foot, and a team that can slice you up with their skills. Conversely, the Demons are known for their contested ball winning ability more than their foot skills. This game sets up nearly exactly the opposite.
Melbourne should be looking to exploit Hawthorn's lack of leg speed - turn the ball over as quickly as possible and use their running power to keep the ball in motion. If they can get it into their forward line with speed, then their usual challenge of choosing the right option is made a little easier.
Hawthorn, on the other hand, have a midfield that can go head to head with Melbourne and try to turn the contest into a slow, stoppage game. Max Gawn will be a challenge, but at ground level the Hawks have the weapons to at least break even at stoppages.
Giants stadium is probably irrelevant in this matchup, so it comes down to how well either side can execute their plan - or find a different plan quickly if the first option isn't working.
Others may bill it as a coaching battle between Clarkson and Goodwin, but it's really about who can get the game on their terms first.
Big test for Melbourne to gain some much needed momentum. Bring the work rate and running power and they win. Miss tackles and fail to hit targets by foot, the Hawks will have the upper hand.
Pick: Melbourne by 4
Fremantle v West Coast
West Coast are back! Well, not really.
If you were the Eagles - 1-3 after four rounds and on the canvas - and they allowed you to make a fixture request for your next three matches, there is absolutely no doubt it would have been Sydney, Adelaide and Fremantle back at home (probably in that order).
West Coast have been gifted some momentum and look to go on with it here. While Fremantle is probably their toughest test out of their last three opponents, the loss of Fyfe and some big matchup issues both forward and back make it hard to see them losing.
You'd think the Eagles forward line are absolutely licking their lips at the prospect of plenty of supply inside 50, dry weather and a midfield that might just be hitting their straps.
Pick: West Coast by 28
Adelaide v St Kilda
Not the greatest way to launch Monday night football, but here we are.
You couldn't possibly pick Adelaide in any game this season, yet you just get the feeling they will find a team in a weak moment on their home deck and come to play.
The Saints are probably unlucky to be tackling the Crows at this time, as funny as it sounds. Embarrassed by giving up a 36-point quarter time lead against Freo, perhaps a little vulnerable as a young group, and facing a team with basically nothing to lose.
St Kilda have loads more talent of course, and win this easily on paper. Just that nagging feeling that an upset isn't out of the question here...
Pick: St Kilda by 10
Round 7 Burning Question:
Can the broadcasters really help with the way the game is perceived?
As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention...
Could it take a pandemic and a groundswell of external noise to force a bit of a rethink on the way football games are delivered to fans?
We mentioned this article as a bit of a catalyst for discussion on the current broadcasting techniques for football. There have been a few responses since, and a wide range of views on the issue.
So...we will attempt to provide our own spin on things in an article next week.
As someone who has been equal parts analyst and just general football fan on the couch, there is no easy answer.
But believe it or not, there are ways to cater for everyone.
Stay tuned next week for more.