The AFL Round 23 Preview: Top Eight Up For A Shuffle

The guide to the final round of the home and away season.

Robert Whiteby Robert White

Hawthorn v West Coast

Hawthorn dismantled Sydney and took the league’s top spot last week, but West Coast have been arguably just as good with strong wins over Geelong, Port and Collingwood in their last three.

The Eagles can fall no further than fifth, setting up a likely elimination final at home against crosstown rivals Fremantle, however you have to feel good about their chances heading into this one despite it being played at the MCG.

Matt Rosa is out again for West Coast with a collarbone while Cyril Rioli returns for the Hawks.


Geelong v Sydney

Geelong has powered through the final stretch of the season, currently sitting sixth and looking to move up. Tom Hawkins transformation into a reliable and even dominant option up forward makes this team exciting again and the only real cause for concern is the play of Jimmy Bartel. He hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t influenced games very much this season and is currently in a slump. There’s speculation he could be carrying something, he’s played A LOT in the forward line, and disregarding his 21 possessions against the Bulldogs last week, the month prior saw him average just 17.5 a game with one 30+ possession game in 2012 down from seven two years ago.

Sydney came up short against the Hawks last week after dropping a huge second quarter lead over the space of 10 minutes. Is there something to be worried about? They’ve now dropped close games to Collingwood and the Hawks, both contenders, in recent weeks.

Worth noting: Josh Kennedy is averaging 28 possessions a game in 2012 with 40, 34 and 35 in his last three.

Matthew Scarlett, Joel Selwood and Taylor Hunt are huge inclusions for the Cats while Sydney receives Jude Bolton back but loses high flyer Sam Reid.


Adelaide v Gold Coast

Adelaide got back on track last week after that shock loss to the Lions while Gold Coast ended Carlton’s season with win number three for the year. That information would suggest this game could be better than it looks, but it’s just a tease; Adelaide in a blowout.

Rory Sloane could have sat out another week for the Crows, but instead he’s back.


GWS v North Melbourne

How disappointing were the Kangaroos last week? They went from being one of the top three or four teams since the bye rounds to a shell of themselves against a Fremantle outfit minus Matthew Pavlich.

Still, there’s no need to doubt for a second that they’ll win. The one interesting point to watch will be Drew Petrie. Their big forward hasn’t been very consistent since bagging hauls of seven goals in consecutive games back in late July. Over his last four he’s kicked five goals, no goals, three and zero again with the five coming against the Bulldogs.


Essendon v Collingwood

James Hird hasn’t come under much scrutiny despite the Bombers flopping out of finals contention. They’ve been miserable and the losses have only been compounded by the insane amount of injuries they are suffering.

Collingwood aren’t exactly the hottest team either; they’ve been blown out by North and West Coast in recent weeks. Everyone is talking about Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes and so they should be; they’ve kicked a combined six goals in the last month and none in the past fortnight (which is probably why Dawes was dropped this week).

Have a look at Collingwood’s ins: Nick Maxwell, Darren Jolly and Andrew Krakouer. Nice.


Fremantle v Melbourne

Obviously Fremantle are going to shellac this miserable Melbourne outfit and it’s probably a game not worth watching, or is it? Fremantle appear to have figured out Ross Lyon’s game plan and have combined a great mix of attacking and defensive football, so much so that they’ve been one of the better teams over the past month. Finals bound teams should be concerned.

Fremantle has chosen to go with a  double ruck line up of Sandilands and Griffin while Pavlich is other big inclusion.

Carlton v St Kilda

This morning Carlton announced that the St Kilda game will be coach Brett Ratten’s last, but does this news make the game any more interesting? Here we have two losers, both inconsistent and often uncompetitive.

Brendon Goddard is actually averaging more possessions than last year, but he looks half the footballer. Also, his could be Justin Koschitzke’s last game if you’re interested in that type of stuff.


Richmond v Port

Another one that poses no influence over the final top eight standings, but while we’re here let’s reflect briefly on the year Trent Cotchin has had. He’s lifted his disposal up to 27 per game (up from 24 in 2011, which was up 19 in 2010) and is kicking a goal a game. He has surpassed Brett Deledio as the Tigers main guy at just 22 years of age and has become a deadly one-on-one player; a guy (at just 185cm) that the Tigers throw forward and isolate. My hat is off to you, sir.


Brisbane v Western Bulldogs

Avoid at all costs.