by Josh Barnstable
Well it’s that time of the year again. Five weeks to go, and the top eight is all sewn up? Wrong. Even Melbourne in 11th position are still an outside chance of making the finals as we head into Round 18, especially if they keep playing like they did against the Swans. Speaking of the Swans, they sit in eighth position and if any change is going to be made to the finals’ candidates, it will be Sydney dropping out. Carlton are also not completely safe, but you would think they can hold their ground and stay in 7th spot.
Hawthorn have a chance to go 5th, but have to rely on Fremantle dropping a couple of games in the next few weeks, which may happen as the Dockers seem to be starting to tire, especially after the Western Bulldogs embarrassed them by 82 points to jump into the top four on the weekend. St Kilda should win every game it has left in 2010, with Adelaide at AAMI Stadium in Round 22 the only real worry, and they’ll have to be cautious against Essendon this Friday night at SSS (Shocking Surface Stadium).
Geelong and Collingwood’s final positions will be decided in Round 19 when they clash on Saturday night at the MCG, sure to pull a crowd of 85,000-odd. Collingwood will be hoping to stay on top and go into the finals with an eight day break, but Geelong have the perfect opportunity to be the minor premiers for the third time in four years. As for the teams on the outer, North Melbourne blew a perfect chance to strengthen its finals hopes, losing to Essendon by three points on the weekend, and you would think, with a tough draw, they won’t feature in September. But, stranger things have happened. Sydney have a terrible fixture as well, while North can beat Fremantle at Etihad, West Coast at Subiaco and Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday night in Round 22. That clash, seen as a dead-rubber by everyone when the fixture was first released, could decide the last spot in the eight. A terrible percentage will work against their favour though, so they need to win those three games with a bit of help from the Swans.
Adelaide have Richmond at the MCG, they will win that you would think, the Bulldogs at AAMI Stadium, that isn’t mission impossible, then they play Brisbane at the Gabba, definitely a winnable game. The kicker though, is that they face Collingwood at the MCG and St Kilda at Football Park in the last round, but they are a skilled outfit and can pull off an upset, as we saw in Round 16 against Geelong.
The last remaining team is Melbourne. The Demons, who looked like a different unit between Rounds 3 and 5, beating Adelaide and flogging Richmond and the Brisbane Lions, have found recent times tough, but an impressive past few weeks including a 73-point belting of the Swans, has seen them included with all the finals talk. They play Brisbane at the Gabba next week, that will be tough for the Dees, who don’t like playing away from the MCG, but then return home to face Richmond and Hawthorn. They will beat Richmond, and then should defeat Port Adelaide in Round 21 at Footy Park, but again, Melbourne don’t like interstate venues. The Round 22 clash against North Melbourne will be crucial, and defeat will see the Dees fail to feature in September.
So here are the remaining teams in the race to play for the Premiership:
Carlton-Their arch-rivals would love to spoil the Magpie party, but Collingwood should be too strong.
Geelong-This clash shouts one word: Crucial. Haven’t beaten Geelong since 2008, and I can’t see them ending the drought this year.
Essendon-A perfect tune-up for the finals.
Adelaide-The rematch of that epic Semi-Final from last year. No Jack Anthony this time, but should still chalk up another win.
Hawthorn-This match will be huge. These two rarely play close games, with the past four clashes resulting in margins of 64 points, 45 points, 65 points and 54 points, with Hawthorn winning three of those. I don’t think it will be a blow-out like its predecessors, but the Hawks to win narrowly.
Sydney-The Swans at ANZ Stadium will be a tough task, but the Cats will be up for it.
Collingwood-The Magpie army have fancied themselves against Geelong in recent times, only for Geelong to defeat them. The process should be repeated.
Western Bulldogs-Can’t see the Cats getting up for this, they might take the chance to rest a few big guns against the hardened Doggies outfit.
Carlton-Should rectify its Round 5 loss to Carlton with a thrashing of the Blues.
West Coast-Too bad for the Eagles that the mercy rule doesn’t exist in the AFL.
3rd St Kilda
Essendon-Has been somewhat of a bogey side of St Kilda, losing the past two games against the Bombers. The stakes are higher now, and they should win.
Port Adelaide-Expect Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke to hit some form in this game, they should rip apart Port Adelaide at their home deck.
North Melbourne-The Roos would have learnt from the Round 2 loss to St Kilda, but the Saints will again be too strong.
Richmond-Should consolidate a spot in the top two with a heavy victory.
Adelaide-Who knows what Adelaide side will show up? If they get their A-game on, they will be tough to beat. The Saints should be too strong.
4th Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne-Will be looking to follow up from their ruthless display they showed against Fremantle. I would be scared if I was the North boys.
Adelaide-Depends if they continue to fire on all cylinders or go back into their shell. One suggests they will keep their form up, and will be too slick for the Crows.
Geelong-Will take heart in the late-season defeat of Geelong in 2009. They will be looking to do it again, and should.
Sydney-The smaller SCG will suit the running style of the Dogs, and will be hoping to rack up a big score.
Essendon-Will be hoping to avenge their Round 10 defeat by the Bombers, and should do so in a big way.
West Coast-Will be up for the local Derby.
North Melbourne-A taxing clash with West Coast will probably take its toll on the Dockers, and may drop this game to the Roos.
Sydney-Sydney won’t like the large ground, and Freo should put a huge dent in the Swans’ finals chances.
Hawthorn-Hawthorn in Tassie is always a tough task, and with the Hawks returning to a powerhouse status, it looks almost impossible.
Carlton-May decide a couple of positions in the top eight, you would suspect the Dockers have too much skill and firepower.
Port Adelaide-Should take care of the Power with ease.
Sydney-The Hawks will take care of the Swans with relative ease.
Melbourne-Won’t be a pushover like Round 1, but will have the class to grab the four points.
Fremantle-Buddy, Cyril and Hodgey love Aurora, and that spells trouble for the Dockers.
Collingwood-Will decide a couple of positions in the top eight, and have just a touch more class than their black and white counterparts.
Collingwood-In these games, the ladder positions don’t matter. Collingwood will be too strong though.
Essendon-Tough game to pick, Essendon can kick a big score if they get all the big guns firing, but Carlton has the midfield power to claim victory.
Richmond-Won’t be as easy as the Round 1 opener, and the Tigers are a huge chance to win this one. Jack Riewoldt will be the factor in the Richmond win.
Geelong-Tough assignment, and with Geelong wanting to get some run into those legs, the Blues will lose quite comfortably.
Fremantle-Suffered from a poor start against West Coast at Subiaco last weekend. Freo won’t let them off the hook as easy. Carlton to end the season in disappointing fashion.
Geelong-Can cause some damage to Geelong’s premiership hopes, but won’t.
Hawthorn-The Hawks seem to have too much firepower and skill on paper.
Fremantle-Fremantle at Subiaco is now one of the tough assignments in footy, Sydney to drop its fourth in a row.
Western Bulldogs-The Dogs to run Sydney off its feet, Barry Hall running rampant against his old side.
Brisbane-Looked like a potential grand final preview earlier in the year, now this game will decide if Sydney makes the finals and if the Lions will take home the wooden spoon. Sydney too strong.
9th North Melbourne
Western Bulldogs-Can’t see an unlikely victory happening here. Crucial not to get blown out of the water.
Fremantle-Would love to inflict some damage on a rival’s finals chances and with the home ground advantage, should pull off the win.
St Kilda-Not a hope. But, everyone said that last year when North won a thriller by five points against the Saints.
West Coast-If this game was at the MCG or Etihad Stadium, you would give North the four points. Subiaco brings out the best in the Eagles though. The thought of playing finals will drive the Kangas though.
Melbourne-A tantalising clash, two of the youngest teams fighting it out for possibly the last spot in the top eight. Expect North to be too strong.
Richmond-Should have too much midfield class, but will be a battle of the forwards one would suspect.
Western Bulldogs-Can cause some damage on their home turf, but the Dogs are running hot and will leave Adelaide in a cloud of smoke.
Brisbane-Should win up in Brisbane, the weather may prove a factor, first day game at the Gabba since 2008.
Collingwood-Would love to knock off the Pies, but Collingwood will be classier all over the ground, despite being quite even on paper.
St Kilda-A chance to cause an upset, but with Riewoldt almost certain to be hitting some form by then, St Kilda will be too strong.
Brisbane-Hate playing away from the MCG, but judging by both teams’ form last week, Melbourne should win.
Richmond-Frawley should get the job done on Riewoldt, indicating a Melbourne victory.
Hawthorn-Don’t have the class and skill to compete with Hawthorn yet.
Port Adelaide-Could resign Port to a wooden spoon in this game, but the AAMI Stadium factor will play a huge role. Melbourne just.
North Melbourne-Not a biased opinion, but with the finals carrot dangling in front of North’s nose, the Roos will should win. Should.
1st St Kilda (PTS 70)
2nd Geelong (PTS 68)
3rd Collingwood (PTS 66)
4th Western Bulldogs (PTS 64)
5th Hawthorn (PTS 58)
6th Fremantle (PTS 56)
7th North Melbourne (PTS 44)
8th Carlton (PTS 40)
FINALS WEEK ONE:
Hawthorn v Carlton (MCG) (N)
Geelong v Collingwood (MCG)
Fremantle v North Melbourne (S) (N)
St Kilda v Western Bulldogs (?)
That is what I think will happen in the next five weeks. I’m looking forward to it.