Last weekend’s results shed further light on the make-up of the top eight at the conclusion of the regular AFL season. The Hawks look to have at least secured a top four spot and a win this weekend will all but guarantee them the minor premiership. The Cats, Swans, Giants and Crows are all vying for the other three top four spots, while the other three teams in the eight; Western Bulldogs, West Coast and North Melbourne will need a win to 100 per cent guarantee them a September footy appearance.
This weekend starts with an interesting clash between Collingwood and Richmond at the MCG but it won’t have an impact on the final eight. The Saturday ticket kicks off with the high-flying Swans hosting the Power at the SCG, then the Demons and Hawks battle away where a win would all but leave Alistair Clarkson’s record breaking team with the minor premiership.
The second of the Saturday games sees the brilliant Giants on the Gold Coast to take on fellow newbies the Suns, then the Bulldogs and Kangaroos will vie for an extremely important win and the Crows should make light work of Lions.
On Sunday, the Blues and Saints will play in a relatively meaningless match before the big one – ‘The Derby’ takes place at Perth’s Domain Stadium. The Eagles should smash the struggling Dockers but this match has been known to produce the odd curveball over the years. The last match of round 20 should be a cake walk for the Cats when they host the Bombers in Geelong.
Friday, August 5, 7:50pm (AEST) @ MCG
Neither the Tigers or Magpies are any chance at playing in this year’s AFL finals series but that shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the quality of the game. Richmond has convincingly lost its last two matches to number one and two on the table in Hawthorn and GWS in recent weeks, so it’s difficult to envision them beating a Magpies team fresh off a stirring upset win over West Coast last weekend.
That win over the Eagles in Victoria was one of the Pies’ best this year, alongside their massive upset win over Geelong back in May. In a positive sign for Nathan Buckley’s men, they come into this traditional grudge match with form on the board and an excellent recent winning record over the Tigers. That match also signified a return to for talented Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury, who amassed 34 disposals and 13 tackles.
Ben Griffiths and Andrew Moore are in for the Tigers, while the Pies welcome Mason Cox and Jarryd Blair to the fold.
Saturday, August 6, 1:40pm (AEST) @ SCG
Sydney enters this one in desperate need of a win so they can continue to pressure other top four contenders vying for a double-chance in the finals. With the Hawks likely to collect first and with three teams locked on 52 points, percentages will become a determining factor in the make-up of the top teams. Last weekend, the Swans did their finals dream no harm when they belted the Dockers by 90 points in Perth.
The Power may be out of the finals race but they will want to finish the season strongly and Ken Hinkley’s men will have nothing but designs on a win over the Swans. It has been a pretty disappointing season for Port despite their last start hammering of the hapless Lions. That 173-77 win was the highest amount of points any team in the AFL has scored this year.
The high-flying Swans remain unchanged while Port has added Charlie Dixon to its squad.
Saturday, August 6, 2:10pm (AEST) @ MCG
The Demons haven’t beaten Hawthorn in more than a decade and obviously enter this match as massive outsiders. Last weekend the Dees recorded an incredible two-point win over the lowly Suns and despite Gold Coast having a late chance at kicking the winning goal after the siren, Tom Lynch’s shot was wide and short resulting in a morale-boosting win for Melbourne.
The Hawks currently sit two wins clear of the second-placed Giants and are riding a nine-game winning streak. While a loss wouldn’t cripple their season, Hawthorn looks to be leaps and bounds ahead of the other sides, particularly teams outside the top eight. Last weekend’s win over Carlton was a great example of why the Hawks can become the second team in VFL/AFL history to win four straight flags.
Clayton Oliver, Sam Weideman and Tomas Bugg are in for the Demons. Hawthorn welcomes back strike weapon Cyril Rioli.
Saturday, August 6, 4:35pm (AEST) @ Metricon Stadium
The Suns and Giants are two of the AFL’s newest clubs and both have had contrasting levels of success so far in 2016. The Suns began the season beautifully, registering three straight wins but that’s as bright as it has been for them this year. The fell in a rut throughout the middle of the season as injuries and suspensions took their toll. Last weekend, the Gold Coasters were brave in going down to the Demons by just two points.
The Giants are flying high this year and look set to start their first ever finals campaign from within the top four. The Giants are currently in second position and start this match as clear favourites after last weekend’s impressive dismantling of the Tigers, winning by a massive 88 points. The Giants opened at very short odds, while punters are steering clear of a Suns win.
Gold Coast's Sean Lemmens and Mitch Hallahan come in for Jesse Lonergan and Nick Malceski.
Saturday, August 6, 7:25pm (AEST) @ Etihad Stadium
The Bulldogs are in the midst of an injury crisis and with their hopes of a double shot at the finals fading fast, they desperately need to knock off the Kangaroos. Last weekend the Dogs were soundly beaten by the Cats in Geelong but with a home ground advantage and so much at stake this weekend, they are a decent chance of knocking off Boomer Harvey’s Kangaroos.
North is finally back in the winner’s circle with back-to-back wins over Collingwood and St Kilda over the past two weeks. At the start of the season, The Roos won their first nine games to sit alone on top of the ladder but a mid-season slump saw them slip to as low as eighth. Now they are back on track and ready for a tilt at its first flag in 20 years.
Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd, Nathan Hrovat and Lukas Webb are in for the Dogs while North has added Majak Daw for the injured Jarrad Waite.
Saturday, August 6, 7:40pm (AEST) @ Adelaide Oval
The Adelaide Crows will start this weekend’s encounter against Brisbane as the unbackable favourites, while the Lions are not expected to receive much love from punters. Last week, the Crows were ruthless in their 82-point win over the woeful Bombers and should, realistically, put in a similar performance against the lowly Lions. In fact another big win over Brisbane will almost certainly see Adelaide enter the top four at Geelong’s expense.
Brisbane is most likely in for a loss similar to the hiding they copped last weekend against Port Adelaide. Last Saturday Justin Leppitsch’s side was, again, thoroughly outplayed as they were easily brushed aside by the Power, who went on to record a comfortable 94-point win. In fact, the Lions conceded 173 points, making it the highest amount of points any team in the AFL has let in this year.
Taylor Walker, Reilly O'Brien and Cam Ellis-Yolmen are back for the Crows while the Lions have added Darcy Gardiner and Josh Schache to their team.
Sunday, August 7, 1:10pm (AEST) @ MCG
Carlton’s seven game losing streak was started by the Saints way back in round 12 and UBET has installed the Blues as outsiders in this return game. Prior to this worrying run of outs, Carlton was considered a decent shot at playing in the finals for the first time in a long time. Last weekend they buckled to the might of Hawthorn but they were far from disgraced, losing by just 18 points in what was otherwise, a very measured performance.
St Kilda is actually enjoying one its best seasons in years but the proud Melbourne club is not in medal contention despite a string of gutsy performances that have yielded upset victories over the Bulldogs and Cats. After losing to North Melbourne last week, St Kilda effectively ruled itself of making the finals. If they had won, they would need to win their remaining games and bank on North Melbourne losing a string of games.
Carlton's squad includes Dale Thomas, Andrew Walker and Mark Whiley. The Saints have named an extended squad that includes Sam Fisher, Cameron Shenton and Jason Holmes.
Sunday, August 7, 3:20pm (AEST) @ Etihad Stadium
Geelong has the opportunity to maintain its narrow percentages lead over the likes of the Crows. With the Crows are almost certain to lap Brisbane, the Cats will be expected to inflict similar misery on the Bombers even though this year the Cats have made a habit of losing to inferior teams such as Carlton, Collingwood and St Kilda. Last weekend they withstood a spirited Bulldogs side, with the likes of Paddy Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Rhys Stanley and Tommy Hawkins among their best.
Not much can be said about Essendon’s season from hell. They were beaten for the 16th straight week last weekend; this time by 82 points against Adelaide. While the gap in class was there for all to see, the previous week the Dons actually started as favourites to topple fellow stragglers Brisbane but ended up getting pumped by 38 points. This could get ugly for John Worsfold’s men.
The Cats have named Lachie Henderson, Scott Selwood, Josh Caddy, Shane Kersten and Darcy Lang, while the woeful Bombers have named Jackson Merrett, James Kelly, Mitch Brown, Mason Redman and Sam Grimley.
Sunday, August 7, 4:40pm (AEST) @ Domain Stadium
Fremantle is a shadow of its former self. The 2015 minor premiers managed to lose its first 10 games of the year, including a third round ‘Derby’ loss to the Eagles, however the proud Dockers have improved since that game despite the 90-point weekend flogging they copped against the Buddy Franklin-inspired Swans. Obviously Freo’s hopes of playing in the finals died months ago but that doesn’t mean they will rollover for bitter rivals and top four contenders West Coast.
West Coast was a shock last start loser to Collingwood. It’s like the Eagles are petrified of playing interstate footy, with a clear correlation between winning at home and losing away. This weekend is technically an away game for the Eagles but they will be playing at a venue they haven’t lost at all year. A victory is essential if West Coast is to continue its quest for a top four finish.
Freo's Zac Dawson is suspended with Hayden Ballantyne, Aaron Sandilands, Michael Apeness and Ethan Hughes added. The Eagles' squad features Thomas Barrass, Nic Naitanui, Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden, Xavier Ellis, Lewis Jetta and Jackson Nelson.