It’s AFL Round 21, and it’s also the antepenultimate round before the finals commence. Or the third-last round of the home-and-away season. A few teams have confirmed their seats at the table, but there are still a few places to be resolved. Read on for our famously accurate predictions!
If you can’t be bothered reading further, feast your ears on The AFL Protected Zone Podcast. One of the best! Listen to it before the match or at half time. Read the podcast notes.
In the podcast, we discuss:
- All the great games from Round 20, and who is coming out tops.
- Can games be so bad that they are actually good? Maybe.
- Tackling is the big issue, so we add our part to it as well.
- The World Cup that we don’t know about (actually, it’s called the AFL International Cup).
- We preview the big Round 21 feature games’
- And we go out with a Devo song which epitomises Round 20.
AFL Preview Game 1: Western Bulldogs v Greater Western Sydney
This promises to be a season defining game for both teams. Many were saying that Greater Western Sydney ‘is back’, but one match doesn’t maketh the season. Let’s wait a few more games before we decide if they’re back or not, including the final game of the season against Geelong. At Geelong.
Western Bulldogs are still angling for the seventh spot on the ladder, after winning the 2016 premiership from that position. Their main task will be how to get to seventh spot after Round 23. But first, they need to worry about getting into the finals, and we expect they’ll take the extra step on Friday night.
We wrote off the Bulldogs two months ago – in fact, we said right at the beginning of the season that they wouldn’t make the finals. However, we’re big enough to admit our mistake in advance and loosen up a bit. They’ve won their past four games to shoot into their famous seventh spot on the ladder and they are starting to peak at the right time.
Greater Western Sydney peaked last weekend but, before that, were not much to write about. They had five rounds without a victory – not all were in loserland, as they had two draws during that period – but we are not convinced by an unconvincing win against lowly Fremantle, and the follow up win against Melbourne.
Firstly, this game is being played in Melbourne, and the Giants haven’t had much success down there. At least the game isn’t being played at the MCG, where they have only won one game – ever. We’ll review Greater Western Sydney again after the end of Round 23, but for the moment, we’ll stick with the Bulldogs.
- Eddy Jay – Western Bulldogs, 18 points
- Lintang Enam – Western Bulldogs, 6 points
- Computer says – Western Bulldogs, 5 points
AFL Preview Game 2: Sydney v Fremantle
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past three months, or possibly not a fan of AFL, you’d realise that Sydney are the formest of form teams, and have won 11 of their past 13 games.
Fremantle, on the other hand, has been the opposite of a form team, winning only two of their past 10 games – both over near-the-bottom-of-the-ladder teams, Gold Coast and North Melbourne.
Fremantle haven’t got the skill or the game plan to match it against Sydney, especially at their SCG home ground, where Sydney know the exact dimensions of every single blade of grass on the ground.
Sydney really forgot to play football in the first six rounds of the 2017 season – losing every game before waking up to themselves and understanding that they’re actually a very good team. The way they crushed Geelong last weekend – at Geelong – was very impressive, and we expect they’ll continue with that form.
- Eddy Jay – Sydney, 39 points
- Lintang Enam – Sydney, 68 points
- Computer says – Sydney, 52 points
AFL Preview Game 3: Geelong v Richmond
We make a bold prediction: Geelong are the team most likely to drop out of the top four by Round 23. And we predict their demise will commence with a loss in this match of the round at Kardinia Park.
Those with long memories may recall that Geelong’s great era over the past decade commenced with a mauling of Richmond in Round 6, 2007, to the tune of 157 points. Richmond hasn’t defeated Geelong since the year before that, and this is the best time for Richmond to show their credentials and make their own leap towards an era of domination.
Sure, it’s a little bit strange to see Richmond in third position on the ladder so deep into the season, but they’ve got the stingiest defence in the league and a solid list of players in key positions around the ground.
Geelong has dropped off the boil quite remarkably, and in their loss against Sydney last weekend, they showed a combination of ill-discipline, inexperience and drop in their skill levels. To lose one player at the tribunal is a tragedy, but to lose two is careless – Tom Hawkins and Mitch Duncan are missing due to a jumper punch and a jab to the stomach. Not on each other, but their Sydney opponents and they’ve been suspended for this game.
Geelong rarely lose two consecutive games at Kardinia Park – or anywhere – but we have a feeling that Geelong have problems that are masked by their current ladder position. The lid might be off at Richmond as far as their premiership expectations are concerned, but we think lid might be on at Geelong. Richmond to win, and put in that little step forward towards their first premiership since 1980.
- Eddy Jay – Richmond, 18 points
- Lintang Enam – Richmond, 31 points
- Computer says – Geelong, 3 points
AFL Preview Game 4: Brisbane v Gold Coast
The ‘Q-Clash’ is looming as one of the worst games of the year. But, there’s always something of interest in these games. Just like cinema, it’s always fascinating to see how a bad movie resolves itself and so it will be in this game too.
For those with macabre tastes, it’s almost as fascinating as watching the Gold Coast–Greater Western Sydney clashes, circa 2012 – at the time, two very under-skilled and inexperienced teams but, like the circus act or sideshow alley, always interesting to see how non-AFL players like Karmichael Hunt or Israel Folau would perform.
This game offers the spectacle of the current wooden-spooners, Brisbane, an up-and-coming-team of the future, against the disappointing Gold Coast. They’re a team that could have been contenders, instead of the bums that they’ve ended up as. They’ve just sacked Rodney Eade as their coach, and the future is not bright for them. There’s usually a ‘first-game-factor’ for a coach that takes over from a sacked coach, but Gold Coast are a very demoralised team. Their stand-in coach, Dean Solomon, might need to tell the team to enjoy themselves, and break the shackles.
In 2018 and beyond, Brisbane will remind Gold Coast what they coulda been, but we think the reminders will start in this game. Brisbane by some margin, even though the computer algorithms suggest Gold Coast will win a close game.
- Eddy Jay – Brisbane, 39 points
- Lintang Enam – Brisbane, 46 points
- Computer says – Gold Coast, 3 points
AFL Preview Game 5: Essendon v Adelaide
This is a game Essendon needs to win, but they probably won’t. Adelaide can almost sew up a top-two position if they can win this game and this might be too great an incentive for them to ignore.
That’s not to say that Essendon are without incentive: they need to win this game to stay in the hunt for a finals position. They sit in eighth position by percentage over West Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda and a loss will make it difficult for them to make the finals.
Adelaide hasn’t performed that well in Melbourne this year – sure, they haven’t lost a game there, but they had a narrow win against Hawthorn when Hawthorn were not playing well, a win in the final five minutes against Carlton, and a drawn match against Collingwood.
These a lowly teams and Essendon are a skill level above this group. It will be tough game and we might see a surprise here, but we still think Adelaide will have the incentive to stay on top of the ladder and take the victory.
- Eddy Jay – Adelaide, 8 points
- Lintang Enam – Adelaide, 26 points
- Computer says – Adelaide, 15 points
AFL Preview Game 6: West Coast v Carlton
The main thing that we can say about this game is that West Coast will not be travelling to Melbourne! They’ve lost their last few games played in Melbourne by starting to think about their plane trip home, but the only thing they really have to think about in this game is a short trip by car or bus to the comfortable surrounds of Subiaco, maybe snatching a quick latte from the many fashionable cafes nearby.
Carlton has been tipped by many to win the wooden spoon (all eight tipsters at afl.com.au reckon the ’spoon this year will be coloured blue) and West Coast will be desperate to stay in the race for the finals.
Speaking of tipsters, there are slightly amplified voices in Perth calling for the resignation of the West Coast coach, Adam Simpson. ‘He’s too nice’ they’re all saying, but maybe it’s not that he’s too nice, but he hasn’t got a Plan B for coaching West Coast. Those with short-term memories will remember that his ‘Weagles Web’ plan from 2015 was very successful, if you ignore the result of the Grand Final for a moment, but since that game, teams have worked a way of untangling that web, and there hasn’t been another successful plan in place.
Aside from this, we’re sure that with West Coast, it’s not the skill levels, or maybe even the strategy, but a basic element: fitness. There have been three results of note that show that either the team is not fit enough, or too old: or both. A last quarter capitulation against Port Adelaide, where they coughed up eight goals when the game was in the balance, and two games against Collingwood and St Kilda.
In these two games, West Coast were up by 24 points and 14 points, ten minutes into the final quarter. And now that teams understand West Coast’s weakness, if they’re only a handful of points down early in the final quarter, they’ll have confidence in being able to run over the top of them.
But, we’re not expecting Carlton to be too close to West Coast in the final part of the quarter. They’re not up to the level of West Coast, and they haven’t got enough in their backline to cover the tall timbers, Josh J. Kennedy and Jack Darling. West Coast to win and stay in the finals race.
- Eddy Jay – West Coast, 43 points
- Lintang Enam – West Coast, 61 points
- Computer says – West Coast, 30 points
AFL Preview Game 7: Melbourne v St Kilda
A mid-table clash, and the stakes are very high. How high? Well, we think the loser will fall out of the finals race and start planning for Mad Monday and other post-season celebrations.
St Kilda played an excellent game against West Coast, learning from their mistakes in the closing minute in Adelaide the week before, and holding on to win a close, fast-paced, high scoring tussle.
Melbourne were hopeless in their clash with Greater Western Sydney last weekend. Maybe it was the Canberra cold; maybe it was the woes of the Liberal Party in Parliament that were creating problems for them. Whatever the case, they were outclassed, out-skilled and outsmarted in this clash.
The great thing about football is that each week offers the opportunity for redemption, but will Melbourne be up to it? They do have great potential, but injuries and their misguided version of ‘unsociable’ football have taken their toll.
St Kilda has a more even team, and should keep their hat in the ring for finals action.
- Eddy Jay – St Kilda, 17 points
- Lintang Enam – St Kilda, 12 points
- Computer says – St Kilda, 2 points
AFL Preview Game 8: Hawthorn v North Melbourne
And in the game of the round, Hawthorn take on North Melbourne, in what could be a preview of the Grand Final… sorry, these are our notes from 1978. And they could also have been the notes from 1975 or 1976 as well, when these teams faced off in three Grand Finals over four seasons. They were the behemoths of the 1970s.
But in 2017, North Melbourne is in the battle for the wooden spoon, and Hawthorn are in the ‘mathematical chance’ zone for the finals – which means they won’t make it. We have the feeling that North Melbourne and their coach, Brad Scott, will part ways by the end of this season. He’s been in the position since 2010 and while he’s been doing reasonably well with a list that is not so great, there is only so long a regime will tolerate a lack of success.
On the other hand, Alastair Clarkson has moved on from a terrible start to the season and still has Hawthorn in contention for finals action. But both teams are really thinking about 2018. Hawthorn seem to be a harder team and while they performed poorly against Richmond last week, they have a better overall team than North Melbourne, and should be able to win this game.
- Eddy Jay – Hawthorn, 33 points
- Lintang Enam – Hawthorn, 19 points
- Computer says – Hawthorn, 18 points
AFL Preview Game 9: Port Adelaide v Collingwood
It’s a game between two sets of Magpies, but who came first? Port Adelaide was formed in 1870 and first started using ‘Magpies’ in 1902. Collingwood was formed in 1892 and started using ‘Magpies’ when a supporter said he was impressed with the magpie on the South Australian coat of arms.
We suggest as a compromise, the home team should take the colours and the nickname, so this weekend, it should be Port Adelaide in their traditional black and white prison outfit (which they wore in the final against Richmond in 2014), parading themselves as the Port Adelaide Magpies. Eddie McGuire will not be happy about this.
Collingwood has been somewhat in form, undefeated over the past four rounds (including a draw against Adelaide), while Port Adelaide was hammered by 84 points in the Showdown last weekend. Also known as the ‘flat-track bullies’, the ‘up-and-down team’, or ‘The Pretenders’, Port Adelaide has been assisted with a very favourable draw this year – as well as winning nine of 10 games in games against teams positioned 10–18 on the ladder, while only winning two of nine games against teams positions 1–9 on the ladder.
Port Adelaide only scored 1.3 in the first half against Adelaide last weekend, but Collingwood are a different proposition – they’re lower on the ladder and would be considered a ‘flat-track’ for Port. Port will be seeking redemption, but we should never underestimate the ability of Collingwood to fight when their backs are against the wall.
Collingwood will be missing their talisman, Daniel Wells. ‘Wells plays, Collingwood win. Wells doesn’t play, Collingwood lose.’ It’s not a catchcry like ‘Up there Cazaly!’, but it’s still pretty good. After the game, Port will be singing the ‘Redemption Song’ and will give Collingwood the boot. In the process, they’ll shore up their position as the most undeserving finals candidate in memory.
- Eddy Jay – Port Adelaide, 41 points
- Lintang Enam – Port Adelaide, 29 points
- Computer says – Port Adelaide, 12 points