The rest of Round 4 preview

AFL, featured

We have reached round four of the AFL and crunch time has arrived for a few clubs, not least Essendon who could join Port Adelaide with a 0-4 start to the season.

A week of soul searching at North Melbourne following their horrific loss to the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba culminates in them having to front up to Buddy and the Sydney Swans, who return home after a disappointing loss to the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne.

It was a horrific week for the club with the equivalent reserves match also going the way of the Lions by more than 100 points, with coach David Noble forcing his players to take a good look at themselves in the mirror.

The Bulldogs and Richmond meet in a crucial Saturday night clash at the MCG, with the loser facing the prospect of a long road back to September as they would drop to a 1-3 record for the season.

On Friday night, the Lions return to the scene of the crime when they face the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park, which was the scene of last year’s great robbery when Zac Bailey was denied a shot at a match-winning goal after his tackle on Mark Blicavs went unrewarded.

Close to the end of the round, Hawthorn and St Kilda meet at the MCG, with the winner to move to a 3-1 start for the season.

Last night Port Adelaide lost their fourth straight game, this time to the defending premiers in Melbourne.

It marked their fifth straight defeat dating back to last year’s humiliating preliminary final defeat at the hands of the Western Bulldogs, and leaves more questions to be asked than answered as to where the club is heading this year in Ken Hinkley’s tenth season at the helm.

Geelong Cats vs Brisbane Lions
The last time the Brisbane Lions stepped foot into Kardinia Park, they left after what can only be described as grand larceny – when Zac Bailey was denied a free kick and the chance to boot the match winning goal at the death after his tackle on Mark Blicavs went unrewarded.

That wasn’t the only time the Lions had suffered misfortune against the Cats in recent times – in the previous meeting before that, they were denied the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for a flag on home soil when it lost to the men in the hoops in the preliminary final at the Gabba.

This Friday night, Chris Fagan’s men return to the scene of the crime fresh off a 108-point shellacking of North Melbourne – its biggest win since mid-2007 when Jonathan Brown booted ten goals against Carlton and got then-Blues coach Denis Pagan sacked the following day.

The percentage-boosting win took them to the top of the ladder but whether they remain there after Friday night will hinge on whether they can smash a near-two decade hoodoo at Kardinia Park – with the Lions having not saluted at the ground since 2003.

There will be an incentive for the club to win, with Daniel Rich to rack up his 250th AFL game, while they will also not want to be distracted by last year’s controversial last-minute loss which left them with an 0-2 record before they recovered to finish in the top four.

It will not come easy against a Geelong Cats side which conjured a 50-point turnaround to win by 13 points, after they had trailed by as much as 37 points in the third quarter, during which they conceded nine goals.

Jeremy Cameron played his best game for the club booting six majors, as he looks to rediscover the form that saw him claim the Coleman Medal during the GWS Giants’ run to the Grand Final in 2019.

His match-up with All-Australian fullback Harris Andrews promises to be enticing, as is the running battle between Brownlow Medallists Patrick Dangerfield and Lachie Neale.

But while the Cats might have a formidable record at their home ground, I think the Lions have got what it takes to put an end to nearly twenty years of misery at Kardinia Park on Friday night.

Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 14 points.

Sydney Swans vs North Melbourne
Coming off one of the most insipid efforts in recent club history, North Melbourne hit the road for the second consecutive week, this time to face the Sydney Swans and Buddy Franklin at the SCG.

The Roos suffered the embarrassment of a 108-point thumping at the hands of premiership contenders the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, and if that wasn’t enough, their reserves side were also thrashed by 104 points, for a total losing margin over the weekend of 212 points.

While he was rightfully angry at his side’s performance, David Noble also saw first-hand the work he did at the Lions, where he was their football manager between 2017-20, continue to produce impressive results.

Noble was at the Lions during their rebuilding period under their current coach Chris Fagan, and is attempting to do the same at Arden Street, but knows it is a tough ask given the playing list he inherited from predecessors Brad Scott and Rhyce Shaw.

The defeat came exactly a year after the Roos suffered its previous triple-figure defeat – by 129 points against the Western Bulldogs on a not-so Good Friday for the club.

It was the first time any side had suffered a triple-figure loss in Queensland since Carlton went down by 116 points in mid-2007 in a match which saw Denis Pagan’s coaching career brought to a brutal end at the hands of Jonathan Brown and his ten goals.

Things will not get any easier for the Roos who must now face up to the task of facing the Swans – and Buddy – at the SCG on Saturday afternoon.

After two straight victories to start the season, during which Buddy brought up his 1,000th goal, the Swans were brought crashing back down to earth, suffering a controversial 11-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in which the umpiring earned the ire of supporters.

It was otherwise a disappointing performance by John Longmire’s side, which kicked only one goal in the first half and failed to even score in the second quarter, and while they got it back to five points with a minute to go, they conceded the final goal at the death to fall to their first loss of the year.

While the Swans will start hot favourites to hit back on their SCG turf before they head off on a two-week road trip, they will be wary of a Kangaroos side which will want to regain its pride and credibility after the embarrassment suffered in the sunshine state capital.

Prediction: Sydney Swans by 40 points.

Collingwood vs West Coast Eagles
Having been ravaged by COVID-19 protocols and injuries to start the season, the West Coast Eagles will be hoping for a bit of better luck when they trek east to face Collingwood under the roof at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.

Without several key players, the Eagles crashed to their worst Western Derby defeat since 2012, going down by 55 points and also crashing to an 0-3 record for the season as the success from their 2018 premiership win continues to wear off.

But in some long-awaited good news for the club, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly are not far from returning, but flag hero Dom Sheed remains at least a month or two away, meaning Pies fans won’t have to confront the man who sunk their premiership hopes four years ago, in the flesh.

The Pies appeared on track to make it three straight wins to start the Craig McRae era, leading the Geelong Cats by as much as 37 points after booting nine goals in the third quarter, only to capitulate thereafter, failing to boot a major in the final quarter and losing by 13 points.

They had earlier beaten two of last year’s non-finalists, St Kilda and the Adelaide Crows, in the opening two rounds, leading many to suggest that the club could be about to turn a corner following a regression that has lingered since the heartbreaking 2018 Grand Final loss.

McRae will be wanting his players to put in a full four-quarter effort against the Eagles if they are to claim their third win of the season, and with the opposition ravaged by injuries, there’ll be no excuses.

Prediction: Collingwood by 18 points.

Richmond vs Western Bulldogs
It might only be round four but for both Richmond and the Western Bulldogs, it’s crunch time.

Both sides have won only one match for the season, with the Tigers defeating the GWS Giants by six goals at the MCG in round two while the Bulldogs got off the mark for season 2022 with a rather controversial 11-point win over the Sydney Swans at Docklands last week.

Last week the Tigers, who are still without Dustin Martin for personal reasons, let slip a 25-point lead against St Kilda to go down by 33 points, conceding a run of ten straight goals before Shai Bolton stopped the rot at the death with his third goal.

Understandably, coach Damien Hardwick was not happy with his side’s lack of discipline, saying his side needs to “get better”.

They will get the chance to hit back when they face the Bulldogs, who were led brilliantly by Marcus Bontempelli as he steered last year’s beaten Grand Finalists to their first win of the season at the expense of the Swans.

Despite the eleven-point margin, they actually led from start to finish, and a strong defensive effort in the first half saw them restrict the red-and-whites to only one first half goal, and nothing in the second quarter.

Tim English also played his best game of the season, dominating in the ruck against his Swans counterpart Tom Hickey who was later subbed out due to injury in the third quarter.

After they had their lead whittled to five points with a minute remaining, it was left to Bontempelli to boot the match winning goal to send Marvel Stadium into raptures, and belatedly kick-start their season after two losses.

It will be difficult picking a winner with any real confidence but I think the Bulldogs have it in them to claim victory on the hallowed MCG turf.

Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 17 points.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 04: Hayden Crozier of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal with teammates during the 2022 AFL Community Series match between the Western Bulldogs and the Brisbane Lions at Marvel Stadium on March 4, 2022 In Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Fremantle vs GWS Giants
If it wasn’t for an insipid second half against St Kilda at home in round two, Fremantle would so easily have been 3-0 to start the season, with a chance to go 4-0 when they face the GWS Giants at home on Saturday night.

Nonetheless, the Dockers will start favourites to register their third win for the season against the Giants, but will be without senior coach Justin Longmuir for a second straight week due to COVID-19 protocols, leaving Jaymie Graham with the clipboard for another match.

Last Sunday, Freo feasted on a weakened Eagles side, winning its second straight Western Derby and also recording its largest victory in the fixture for nearly a decade with Lachie Schultz claiming the Glendinning-Allan Medal as the man of the match.

The Eagles’ score of 7.5 (47) was the lowest the Dockers had ever conceded in a Derby, though they did concede less goals on one occasion, coughing up just six in round 19, 2012.

Meanwhile, despite a strong 26-point win over the Gold Coast Suns last Saturday night in front of a dismal crowd of just over 4,000 people, speculation continues to linger around Leon Cameron’s future at the club after both parties announced they would put off contract talks until season’s end.

It was otherwise an impressive performance by the injury-hit Giants, with Braydon Preuss performing solidly in his club debut and Stephen Coniglio racking up over 30 touches while Lachie Ash put the clamps on Suns co-captain Touk Miller restricting him to 17 disposals.

They now head west to face the Dockers for the first time since their 2021 campaign threatened to unravel when they suffered an ugly 31-point defeat in round two, which could’ve been much worse if not for the Dockers’ inaccuracy (eleven goals from 32 scoring shots).

At home for a third consecutive week, Freo should get the job done at home.

Prediction: Fremantle by 25 points.

Essendon vs Adelaide Crows
They may have been brave against Melbourne last week, but it was another case of not good enough for Essendon as they crashed to a 29-point defeat – and their third straight loss – leaving them with an 0-3 start to a season for the first time since 1967.

A poor first quarter saw them trail by 19 points at quarter-time, but whatever Ben Rutten said to his troops at the first change seemed to have the desired effect as they cut the margin to nine at half-time, before briefly claiming the lead in the third quarter.

One positive to take out of the defeat was the lock-down effort of Andrew McGrath on reigning Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca, who had racked up nearly 80 disposals in the opening two rounds.

This came after the side copped some harsh criticism for allowing Lachie Neale to run riot in the Bombers’ round two loss to the Brisbane Lions at Marvel Stadium.

Now that the Bombers have faced three of last year’s top four, they will now fancy their chances of a maiden win when they welcome the Adelaide Crows to Marvel Stadium on Sunday.

It will not come as easy as first thought, with Matthew Nicks’ side coming off its first win of the season when Jordan Dawson booted the match-winning goal after the siren to sink Port Adelaide in the Showdown last Friday night.

The pressure is off the third-year coach for now, the Crows having suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to Fremantle in the opening round while they copped some criticism for its dismal round two loss to Collingwood at the MCG.

In a boost for the men from West Lakes, Taylor Walker is available again after missing the opening rounds due to suspension, while captain Rory Sloane is a chance to return for the clash against the Bombers.

On a high after their Showdown victory which may have all but ended their rivals’ season, the Crows should make it two straight wins and plunge the Bombers’ season further into crisis.

Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 10 points.

Hawthorn vs St Kilda
After two wins to start the Sam Mitchell era, the Hawks came crashing back down to earth after a heartbreaking one-point loss to Carlton last Sunday, in which a poor first quarter where they conceded seven goals coming back to bite them in the end.

They then trailed by as much as 41 points in the second quarter before booting nine of the final eleven goals to set up a grandstand finish before falling agonizingly short of recording their third straight win of the season.

It means the jury is still out as to whether the future is bright at Glenferrie Oval, with many pundits having predicted another long season for the club, with some even going as far as picking them for the wooden spoon, which would be the first for the club since 1965.

Meantime, St Kilda head into their first game at the MCG for the season off the back of consecutive victories over Fremantle and Richmond; last week, they conjured a 58-point turnaround to win by 33 points, with a stretch of ten straight goals the catalyst.

The Saints appeared headed for a demoralizing defeat when they trailed by 25 points, only for Brad Crouch and Max King to inspire the side’s stunning turnaround with the latter booting four final quarter goals.

With both sides at 2-1 for the season, a win for either will see them move to 3-1, and I think the Saints’ strong form should see them get past the Hawks at the MCG.

Prediction: St Kilda by 18 points.

Gold Coast Suns vs Carlton
After an impressive win against the West Coast Eagles in the west, and a competitive performance against reigning premiers Melbourne at home, the Gold Coast Suns fell back to old habits, failing to fire so much of a shot in its loss to the GWS Giants last Saturday night.

They conceded the first five goals of the game and only when things threatened to turn embarrassing for Stuart Dew’s men in the final quarter did they really turn up, halving a 52-point deficit by the final siren.

In fact, since former Channel 10 commentator Stephen Quartermain sent out this tweet:

The Suns proceeded to kick the final four goals of the match, but it was not enough to prevent a barrage of criticism that has headed Dew’s way ahead of what shapes as a crucial home game against the Blues this Sunday night.

Carlton has started a season 3-0 for the first time since 2012, but fans need not get too carried away with the way that their side is going, taking into account that they actually went on to miss the finals that season, resulting in Brett Ratten’s departure at the end of the year.

Last Sunday, the Blues produced its best opening quarter for nearly eight years, kicking seven majors, only to then boot another four for the rest of the match as the Hawks stormed back into the contest in the second quarter.

Eventually, Michael Voss’ side held on for a one-point win, which was marshaled by captain Patrick Cripps, and despite the excitement that has been generated, and understandably so, Voss has called on the fans to keep a lid on expectations.

A major subplot will be the three-time premiership captain’s return to Queensland as an AFL coach for the first time since he was sacked as coach of the Brisbane Lions late in the 2013 season.

The question remains – can the Blues continue their impressive start to the season, or will the Suns bounce back after a week of criticism following their dismal loss to the Giants in Sydney?

Prediction: Carlton by 15 points.

Leave a Reply