The 16th round in the Australian Football League lived up to expectations last weekend with match after match throwing up important results that impact on the final eight.
With six rounds to play in the season, the top eight positions are far from decided, with Adelaide, Richmond and even Carlton still a chance of enjoying finals action.
Significantly, Adelaide have fallen from the top eight for the first time since Round 2 after their fifth-straight loss. Capitulating to South Australian rivals Port Adelaide by two goals, the Crows face one of the toughest tasks this weekend when they face the Sydney Swans in Sydney. Erratic with flashes of brilliance, the Crows are well off the mark at the moment.
Sydney returned to the winners table to consolidate their hold on the important fourth rung on the ladder. In danger of slipping to fifth or lower after having lost the pervious two matches to Collingwood and Hawthorn, they looked at risk of losing again against finals hopefuls Carlton, who led by 22 points at the first break. Behind, but in touch at half time and three quarter time, in a style we have come to know in recent years, the Swans won the hard-fought dour contest by 2 points.
The Swans should beat the Crows this weekend in their first match for the season, but their hold on the top four is not yet a forgone conclusion with Collingwood, Brisbane and St Kilda all a realistic chance if Sydney lets two games slip before the end of the season.
In summation of the Swan’s in matches against the current top eight this season, they are yet to defeat any team above them. Far from convincing as genuine a premiership threat, they have won one match and lost one against St Kilda, beaten Brisbane, drawn with North Melbourne and lost to Geelong, Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Collingwood.
Match of the Round
For the second week in a row, the top of the table Geelong Cats will be centre-stage when the third-placed Hawthorn Hawks host them at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
With the AFL’s production of a confounding fixture, these two teams will face each other for the first time this season. In fact, these two teams haven’t met since Round 4 2007 when the Hawks won by four points at their home-away-from-home in Launceston’s Aurora Stadium in Tasmania.
Every team is entitled to one “off day” and the Cats had theirs in what was a Round 9, 86-point aberration against Collingwood. That loss awoke them from their patchy complacency and they have since gone from strength to strength.
Meanwhile, the Hawks, needing to bounce back from a loss last weekend and having lost just three games this season, are well poised as arguably the best – or second-best team behind the Western Bulldogs – to challenge Geelong, who are far and away “the greatest team of all” for the second year in a row.
Geelong started the match last Saturday July 19 against the Western Bulldogs a little tentatively, with both teams nervously rushing their disposals at times under finals-like pressure. With the scores tied at both quarter and half time, the Cats flexed their muscles in the second half scoring 13 goals to 3. While the Bulldogs were competitive in the first half, perhaps it was their turn to have an “off day” as they were ordinary in the second half. The league’s highest-scoring team crumbled under the relentless pressure of the Cats – who outplayed them in every aspect of the game to win by 61 points. It was the fifth week in a row that last year’s premiers have outscored their opponents by 10 goals or more.
Hawthorn, meanwhile, started superbly against St Kilda last Saturday night. Leading by 28 points at half time, they could easily have been 50 points ahead had they taken advantage of their opportunities going forward. Beaten by 30 points in the end, the Hawks appeared to lose concentration during the third quarter, allowing St Kilda to get into rhythm – and a sniff of a chance is all that the Saints need as they continue to find form at the right end of the season.
Head-to-head, Geelong have won five in the last ten, with Hawthorn winning the last three – including that one last year in Tasmania. While Hawks fans can take some confidence from that, they haven’t met the Cats when they are on fire – and right now they are incendiary.
Although the Hawks boast the league’s first and sixth most potent goal scorers in Buddy Franklin (73) and Jarryd Roughead (52), the Cats lead the way as the team that allows the least score kicked against them.
The Hawthorn midfield and backline will struggle to contain Geelong, while the Hawks’ forwards will need to chase and tackle the elusive Cats, who turn defence into devastating attack on almost every turnover. To beat the Cats, the Hawks will need to take advantage of every opportunity forward and remain focused for the full 120 minutes – something they have not been able to maintain in recent weeks, if not the season.
Perhaps Hawthorn have the right combination to match it with the best. On form at the moment it’s doubtful. But regardless of the result, the Hawks (like the ’Dogs last weekend) will learn a lot and hope it’s enough to find an edge over the super Cats come September.
The right team, on the right day, with the stars aligned in their favour, may be able to beat Geelong…then again, maybe not – because they are just that good!
Friday July 25
Hawthorn vs Geelong (MCG) 7.40pm
Saturday July 26
Essendon vs Collingwood (MCG) 2.10pm
West Coast vs St Kilda (Subiaco Stadium) 2.10pm
Richmond vs Brisbane Lions (Telstra Dome) 7.10pm
Sydney vs Adelaide (SCG) 7.10pm
Sunday July 27
Port Adelaide vs Fremantle (AAMI Stadium) 12.40pm
Melbourne vs North Melbourne (MCG) 2.10pm
Western Bulldogs vs Carlton (Telstra Dome) 4.40pm
AFL Round 16/22
Teams % Points
Geelong 154.1 60
W. Bulldogs 127.0 54
Hawthorn 125.3 52
Sydney 123.1 42
Collingwood 117.9 36
Brisbane 105.8 36
St Kilda 101.8 36
N. Melbourne 95.9 34
Adelaide 104.7 32
Richmond 96.9 30
Carlton 94.1 28
Essendon 82.9 24
Port Adelaide 93.1 20
Fremantle 89.4 12
West Coast 64.7 8
Melbourne 64.3 8