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  • Pete Roberts

Round 7 Preview

What a cracking round of football. Every game has an interesting narrative: some are trying to lift themselves off the canvas, others are trying to stay in touch with the tearaway teams at the top. Could be a round with a few surprises, this one...


Thought this was a super way to kick things off this week. Dimma schooling many in the media and their loungerooms on how the best team sport in the world works:

You only have to look at the way Richmond have played for five seasons to see that it's not about kicking six every week or trying to win 10 clearances on your own. Port Adelaide, the Bulldogs and Melbourne are showing similar signs - to win finals and flags these days you need an even contribution, not just your stars trying to carry the team on their back.


Anyway, onto a brilliant Round 7...


Best Matchup - Richmond v Western Bulldogs

Best Underdog - Richmond, GWS

Team Under Pressure - Carlton (again)

Player To Watch - Ben Brown! Can't expect too much of him first up, but he does get a soft matchup against his old side to begin.


Game-by-game previews below.

Richmond v Western Bulldogs


We see the first real benefit of the floating fixture here. The match of the round lands in the prime time Friday night slot, with perfect conditions forecast. This shapes to be an absolute cracker.


The reigning premiers come into this one having lost three of their past four. Their only win came in a hammering of St Kilda, a side with serious issues on defence. But we know better than to write off the Tigers.


Richmond's loss to Melbourne last week may have been a blessing in disguise. It gave them some critical teaching points in how to deal with a side playing a similar style of game to the Bulldogs. Remember, expected score was 74-77, so the loss wasn't as disastrous as it looked. Back to the MCG again this week, drier conditions. Usually a good setup to be confident they play much closer to their best.


The Bulldogs get to tick off the last two queries about their flag credentials in one match - playing well against another top four contender, and getting it done away from the roof of Marvel Stadium. Super important for them to perform at a venue where they are likely to play at least one final later this year.


Injury issues for both sides add another layer of complexity - no Dustin Martin or Kane Lambert for the Tigers, Dylan Grimes under an injury cloud as well. The Dogs lose Tim English and Josh Dunkley from their best 22. English is the critical one here, as his absence does have the ability to disrupt their structure a fair bit. The load in the ruck falls directly to Stefan Martin, and the forward/ruck spot has to be covered by Josh Bruce for the first time in a while. Josh Schache potentially plays his first game for the year in a key forward spot.


We can be reasonably certain of two things here - the Dogs midfield causing headaches for the Tigers (particularly in the absence of Martin and Lambert) and the Richmond forward line testing the Bulldogs defence. So the territory battle becomes the most critical part of this game...


The Dogs haven't lost an inside 50 count this year. They've posted a double-digit inside 50 differential in four of their six games. A +103 figure for the season is basically world record pace. They are very much used to the ball being in their front half for long periods.


Worth noting the name of the second-ranked team for Inside 50 differential: Richmond.


Their current +9 average would land them top two or three in any of the past four seasons. If anyone can deny the Bulldogs their forward 50 dominance and find a way to keep the ball up the other end, it's the Tigers. Attack will be the best form of defence for Richmond, in order to keep the game from being a total running race or a shootout.


Collingwood kept the Dogs under 70 points in Round 1. The Lions (the only top eight team the Western Bulldogs have faced so far) leaked only 73 points in their Round 4 Ballarat contest. GWS kept them to 47 points to three-quarter time before the floodgates opened. The Bulldogs can be held to low scores at times - this Richmond defence (hoping Grimes plays) is at least the equal of any they've faced so far.


With the potency of Richmond's forward line and some question marks on the Dogs key defenders, Richmond are well and truly in this. We learned last week to place less weight on the team who is "travelling better" and more on the specifics of each matchup, given how close the competition can be.


If the Bulldogs came out and blew the Tigers away with a 30+ point victory it wouldn't be a total shock. But we will side with the much more likely scenario of a low-scoring grind, which the Tigers tend to enjoy.


The Dogs have been "up" for a while. Could this be their flat one? Might end up with egg on the face, but can't wait to find out!


Pick: Richmond by 2


Collingwood v Gold Coast


The Pies under the pump, playing a team they really should beat. What could possibly go wrong?


Certainly didn't pick Collingwood as a one-win, 17th-placed team after six rounds, but the numbers don't lie. Most of their issues relate to offence - they've won only 9 quarters for the season, equal with the Crows (who somehow have three wins despite that figure) and in front of only North Melbourne (6) and St Kilda (5!) so far.


The Suns won't necessarily be a pushover. Only two wins on the board, but they have the 7th ranked points against total (yes, facing the Roos and the Crows helps) and kept the Swans - who were the 2nd ranked offence at the time - to 60 points. Admittedly Sydney were undermanned on offence, but the way the Suns went about it with their pressure (a finals-like 195) would have troubled any side over four quarters.


If they can bottle that pressure and intensity and bring it this week, Collingwood will find them tough to overcome. We saw what happened when the Bombers attacked them with a nearly identical pressure number last week. Have they learned anything from that type of game? Are they clean enough under pressure to deal with it, particularly in the back half? Jury is out.


This will be our first proper look at Collingwood with Moore and De Goey operating in the same forward line. Immediately it just feels more potent, particularly when you add Mihocek and an in-form Darcy Cameron into the mix. If they are to score 80+ for only the third time this season, it has to be this game.


The Suns can certainly mix their form. They are incredibly hard to trust and have only scored four more points this year than Collingwood. One win over the Swans shouldn't paper over the cracks in their offence - they just must find ways to score this weekend outside of Ben King. Otherwise, it wouldn't shock to see the Pies keep them to another low total and turn it into party time in attack.


Collingwood would have gone to school on their game last weekend. Denying the Suns an open forward line is a must. They just have to be cleaner going the other way.


D-Day for Collingwood. One last chance. Surely...


Pick: Collingwood by 28


Adelaide v GWS


Fascinating contest. Early signs pointed to a great opportunity to oppose the Crows over the last two weeks, which proved to be correct. Fremantle and Hawthorn aren't the strongest opposition yet Adelaide still failed to win one of those matches. It makes this one another interesting matchup, given the Giants seem to be around a similar mark.


With their gamestyle, the Crows have a habit of encouraging a shootout. They are the fourth-highest scoring offence so far but also have the third-highest points against. For a lot of opponents this would be a tasty proposition. For the Giants, an offensive war is probably the last thing they want.


The best game for GWS to study is the Crows' Round 5 game - Freo kept them to 72 points, had 24 scoring shots of their own and won some crucial contests away from home. The blueprint is there for the Giants. On paper they have a superior forward line to the Dockers, along with a midfield more than capable of at least breaking even at stoppages.


The first term should be an interesting watch - in a free-flowing, high-scoring game you'd back Adelaide with the crowd on their side. If it's a more dour contest the Giants could pinch it, particularly given the Crows will give them enough chances up forward.


No idea which way this one will go.


Pick: Adelaide by 3


St Kilda v Hawthorn


The Saints have won 5 quarters for the season but how do they possibly lose here? Feel sick being so confident in a St Kilda win given the way they are going. Yet here we are.


The two sides have won only two games each. Hawthorn have had to come back from 30+ point deficits on both occasions. St Kilda have an average losing margin of a massive 58 points. Only North Melbourne are behind them with 60. Now that the Eagles have been exposed away from home, the Saints piling on a 10-goal second half against them in Round 4 doesn't seem that extraordinary anymore.


Offensively, this is St Kilda's chance to bounce back. Funny saying that for a team that has managed 87 points in the past two games combined, and have only Higgins and Lonie as multiple goal scorers in either of those matches.


The Hawks will give you chances up forward, having won only their first Inside 50 differential for the year against the Crows last weekend. Surely the Saints can't fail to score against this lot.


Hawthorn's best chance of winning is at the stoppages. Given St Kilda have been awful through the middle so far this season (17th at stoppage score differential) it's not impossible. How much better do the Saints become with the return of the Marshall-Ryder combination? It will help stretch the Hawks defence and give them the kind of competitive clearance edge they've been sorely lacking. Wouldn't shock to see Ryder return via the forward line, pinch-hitting in the ruck to give them a bit more creativity and flair for short periods.


Could've just cursed the Saints, but expecting them to respond and defend like a proper team this week. Then it all comes down to finding their offensive spark again.



Pick: St Kilda by 30


Brisbane v Port Adelaide


Close to the best matchup of the round, just pipped by the Tigers and Dogs on Friday night. A fair amount of rain forecast in Brisbane this weekend - important to monitor whether the deck will be wet or dry before committing heavily to either side.


If the rain comes down, it might mask Brisbane's main issue up forward - their efficiency. The Lions are in the top six for Inside 50s, yet bottom four at finding a mark and scoring once they get it in there.


Hipwood and Daniher have only 22 forward 50 marks between them, which is super low compared to most other sides with a similar key forward structure. With Charlie Cameron still yet to regain his form from last year, their offence is just middle of the road right now. The positive spin is Brisbane have plenty of upside - once they get past Port Adelaide and fix a few of their issues we might see the Lions strike some reasonable form.


Port are looking super confident in their game style right now. They cruised to victory against St Kilda without every really being threatened. Not the greatest platform to tackle a far more difficult opponent away from home, so that's the only query. The last time they travelled to face a reasonable side they conceded a 10-goal first half to the Eagles in Perth.


Still have to side with Port Adelaide, but it wouldn't shock to see the Lions lift their output a little here - they got on a roll at home last year and have desperately been trying to find that form since. Without Lachie Neale and with Port likely to go unchanged, we have to lean to the Power in a close one.


Pick: Port Adelaide by 5


Sydney v Geelong


Surprised to see the Swans only given an 11-point head start when this game rolled around. With all of their weapons they have the kind of side that would trouble a Geelong team missing some speed. But anyone over 6-foot seems to be either injured or out of form.


We knew Sydney would come back to the pack a little after a blistering 4-0 start to the season with the highest scoring offence in that period. With a growing injury list and the rest of the competition going to school on their gamestyle, it's no surprise to see them regress.


The Cats have gone the other way - an unconvincing start to the season even though they were still winning often enough, then an explosion against West Coast where everything seemed to come together. How much of it was the Eagles basically not trying after quarter time, and how much was it the Cats clicking into gear? 50/50 most likely.


This sets up perfectly for us to see exactly where Geelong sits in the pecking order, given they should take care of Sydney here. No Franklin or Reid up forward, no Hickey in the ruck, Hewett out with concussion and question marks over the fitness of Blakey, McDonald and McCartin. That's a serious list of absentees against a fairly tall back six and the two big targets of Hawkins and Cameron to contend with up the other end.


Cats comfortably. Feel like the SCG suits Geelong more than Sydney these days.


Pick: Geelong by 26


North Melbourne v Melbourne


Big Ben Brown returns to face his old side, who in hindsight are probably regretting their decision to let him go.


Prior to the start of the season there was a question mark on how well Brown would fit into the Melbourne gamestyle, given he traditionally only scores goals one way (mark, set shot, goal). The mobility of the Dees forward line has been their trump card rather than a hindrance - Melbourne have laid more forward 50 tackles than any other side so far.


Clearly that pressure won't evaporate with Brown in the side, but it may change the way Melbourne have to approach their forward 50 entries. Do they become much more predictable and easier to defend? We get our first chance to find out, even though the Roos won't be much of a test.


It's also a big assumption that Brown comes in and has an impact immediately. He hasn't played an AFL game since Round 10 last year, or kicked multiple goals in a match since Round 3 of the same season. The Demons offence should ensure he gets enough supply, so it will be great to see him in a side where he doesn't have to kick three or four to be successful.


Not a lot to say about North, really. They try and bring the pressure early and do it quite well - top 6 for pressure in first halves, top 2 for the first quarter - but just can't sustain it over the entire game. Bottom four at pressure applied in the second half confirms it.


As long as the Dees don't try and play like millionaires early on, they should withstand the inevitable first quarter heat from North Melbourne. From there they can post the kind of total the Roos could only dream of...


Pick: Melbourne by 48


Essendon v Carlton


Beware the let-down after Anzac Day. That will be on the minds of the Bombers coaching staff with so many youngsters in their current best 22. Against the Pies they fielded 11 players with fewer than 50 games experience. A further 5 had played less than 100 matches.


The Blues have been encouraged to go down a similar path to the Bombers at team selection. Betts, Murphy and others are under the pump to keep their spot so that Carlton can find out if the likes of Dow, Setterfield and O'Brien can cut it at this level.


Genuinely feel like the criticism of Carlton has been incredibly over the top. They've played Richmond, Port Adelaide and Brisbane in the first six weeks and been beaten but not disgraced, taken care of the Suns (where they should have won by more but for inaccuracy) and smashed the Dockers at Marvel Stadium. They finally face a team around their mark, so this is the real test of how they are travelling.


The Bombers could be vulnerable in this spot after an epic against Collingwood last week. Carlton should see it as a great opportunity to silence the critics for a little while. Their issue isn't supply - they've lost the inside 50 count only twice this season. Their method going forward is the biggest issue, and now they get a chance to fix it against a defence leaking the fourth-most points against so far this year.


Don't feel great about putting faith in the Blues, but this is their chance.


Pick: Carlton by 15

West Coast v Fremantle


In some ways it's understandable that West Coast are only -4.5 favourites against Fremantle, but in a lot of other ways it makes absolutely zero sense.


The Eagles dead set gave up last week. No matter who is sitting in their forward line, you simply can't win with 38 inside 50s and a -8 clearance differential. With their midfield undermanned, every one of their games has hinged on how they fare at stoppages. In their three losses combined, their clearance differential is -28. In their three wins they are +22, including just breaking even with the Gold Coast in Round 1.


With their inability to win the ball back enough at the contest, the entire Eagles game hinges on their ability to at least neutralise the clearance battle. Time for some of their midfielders to roll up the sleeves and get it done.


They face a Fremantle side whose main strength is that exact area. They are behind only the Bulldogs in clearance differential, losing the clearance count only once this year when they failed to turn up against Carlton in Round 3. Stating the obvious, but the stoppages are easily the most critical part of this matchup.


So that might be why the game is seen as basically a flip of the coin. But has anyone looked up either end? Kennedy returns to join Darling and Allen again up forward. Petrucelle might be back for some much needed speed. They face a Dockers side in the bottom half of the competition for conceding marks in their defence. This Eagles forward line posts double-digit marks inside 50 totals for fun.


Shannon Hurn comes back into the side as a replacement for Jeremy McGovern. The Eagles only need to look after Matthew Taberner and the occasional appearance from Nat Fyfe (who has the goalkicking yips) and the Dockers will find it incredibly difficult to score.


Probably too simple to suggest that whoever wins the clearance tally wins the game, but it's the most obvious angle here. West Coast aren't as bad as last week. The Dockers haven't faced a decent team since Round 1. Fascinating local derby to finish the round.


Pick: West Coast by 33


Round 7 Burning Question:


Is the game too long?


Chris Fagan suggested it was, with many disagreeing with his sentiment.


Are we ignoring the obvious? We can shorten the game without shortening the playing time. For starters, some of the quarters aren't even starting on time. The quarter and half time breaks often go for longer than the allocated slot, which doesn't help. They will be tightened up, no doubt.


There are other easy "leaks" that can be fixed to create the illusion of a shortened game as well - time between ball ups and throw ins to nominate ruckmen, waiting for players to get into position for the 6-6-6 formation, even the warnings for the teams take a bit of extra time. And let's not mention the time it takes to recall a centre bounce that should just be thrown up from the beginning.


The biggest issue is the rotation limit of 75. The explanation from Shane Edwards highlights what many don't understand about limiting rotations.



Instead of getting the "best" players staying out on the ground in their preferred positions, they are either resting in other places and incredibly fatigued, or they are on the bench for a much longer stint because teams can't rotate as often. Rotation limits are counter-productive. Would anyone notice at home if they went to 90/100 again?


Best Matchup - Richmond v Western Bulldogs

Best Underdog - Richmond, GWS

Team Under Pressure - Carlton (again)

Player To Watch - Ben Brown! Can't expect too much of him first up, but he does get a soft matchup against his old side to begin.