AFL Predictions: Round 23

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With just one round left in the season we have several matches that are going to shape the outcome of the finals. With the race for top four and even top two still wide open, we take a look at how everything will play out in our final AFL Predictions for the 2016 home and away season!

Don’t forget to check back in for the finals where we’ll be giving a comprehensive analysis and prediction for each match of what will no doubt be an exciting finals series!

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Adelaide vs West Coast

Venue: Adelaide Oval | Last Meeting: R12, 2016 – Adelaide by 29

As we enter the last round of the 2016 AFL season, we kick off Friday night with the surging Crows taking on the recently impressive Eagles down in Adelaide. With both teams coming off tough wins, Adelaide will look to move into first place before the end of the round with a win, while West Coast will look to climb into the top four.

Adelaide have been the talk of the league over this half of the season, playing excellent footy and dominating almost every opponent they’ve met. Aside from a tough loss to Geelong 5 weeks ago, the mighty Crows have been charging up the ladder and into an excellent position for September. Form across the 22-man side has been sensational, with every player putting in effort from the strong backline all the way up to Tex Walker and his forward army. This game will be tough, however, as the Eagles look to finish the season on a high note. Two similar play styles will also clash, as both teams like to control the ball through the middle and make their way forward efficiently and cleanly. The key matchup here will be Daniel Talia and Josh Kennedy, as the Crows attempt to take away any impact the Eagles may have on the scoreboard early in the game.

West Coast will definitely look to stand up here and try to finish their season on a high note. They currently sit at 6th position on the ladder, and with 4 wins over their last 5 games, are finishing the season strongly. A win here will bump them up to 64 points on the ladder, therefore equalising with teams such as Hawthorn, Geelong, Sydney and even Adelaide. A top four position will be very important, as home advantage has proved to be extremely important over the course of the season for the Eagles. If they can successfully take the drive out of the Crows midfield while also moving the ball quickly on transition, they may be able to steal one here at the Adelaide Oval.

I believe the Eagles will win here. The possibility of a home quarter final will entice the side enough to want to hit the Crows hard and take everything out of their quick, efficient game. Furthermore, Josh Kennedy should kick a bag in a very high scoring game.

Prediction: West Coast by 8

Geelong vs Melbourne

Venue: Skilled Stadium | Last Meeting: R12, 2015 – Melbourne by 24

Well, Melbourne’s chances at playing football in September are officially over after losing badly to a depleted Carlton side, and the Cats will look to take full advantage of this as they attempt to gain some ground on the ladder in the percentage column. Much unlike their last meeting, Geelong should have the first and final say in this game, as they put Melbourne away to end their 2016 campaign.

Geelong has been extremely impressive of late after suffering a mid-season slump 6 weeks ago. Now they currently sit in 3rd position on the ladder, tied with Sydney, Adelaide and Hawthorn. If we can expect both Sydney and Hawthorn to grab wins in this final round, Geelong must beat Melbourne well to jump above Sydney and into the first position on the ladder. However, this will not be of importance to coach Scott and his boys, as they aim to simply maintain a top four spot. They’ll look to grab the four points here and do it without causing any harm to their starting lineup.

Melbourne officially has nothing to play for now, and they will travel to Geelong to attempt to win in one of the hardest stadiums in the league. An unlucky end to their campaign won’t bring any unexpected performances on Saturday, but we may see a 22-man side looking to give it everything they have before they start rebuilding and restructuring for next year. If they can manage to get anything going here against a strong Geelong side, I will be very surprised.

Expect Geelong to take this one cleanly and swiftly. I love the way the Cats are finishing their season, and they should finish in the top two on the ladder, depending on the Friday night game. Full credit to Melbourne for finishing their season strongly, but I guess it’ll have to wait until 2017.

Prediction: Geelong by 59

Essendon vs Carlton

Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground | Last Meeting: R6, 2016 – Carlton by 15

The 18th placed Bombers look to finally end their 2016 campaign against a 14th placed Carlton side, who may I say have performed above expectations this year. Both teams have lost four of their last five matchups, and will want to close out their season on a high note. Both sides lack efficiency, but definitely boast young, eager players that want to prove themselves one last time before the remodelling for next season.

Essendon recently beat the Suns a couple weeks ago, and haven’t seen much more success than that. They have the right idea in playing quick, swift football right up the middle of the ground, but lack the efficiency to move with composure. Dropped marks and poor kicks through the middle have been their downfall this season, and the reason behind it is their overall inexperience. I do believe, however, they’ll come out firing on Saturday and look to put the Blues away without remorse. One last roll of the dice this season should see quite an interesting game between the two long time rivals on Saturday afternoon.

Carlton come off an excellent win against a surging Melbourne side, however continue to lack composure and efficiency in their play. Furthermore, they haven’t been the most efficient from week to week all year. With spirits high, they’ll look to down the Bombers and jump on the scoreboard quickly. They will, however, have to deal with a young, hungry Essendon side looking for one more victory in a poor season.

In a close matchup, I believe that the Bombers will edge out the Blues and earn one final win on the 2016 season. They’ll look to give their loyal fans one more win before they return next year with their fully experienced side. The Blues will have to withstand a siege from the young Bombers, but I believe the game will go towards the red and black in the end.

Prediction: Essendon by 6

Sydney vs Richmond

Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground | Last Meeting: R8, 2016 – Richmond by 1

The 1st placed Swans look to close out their 2016 season with a win against the struggling Tigers, as they also intend to maintain their position at the top of the ladder for upcoming finals footy. Richmond, however, will look to steal one before the end of the season and force Sydney down as far as possible on the ladder. Only time will tell which team will edge out the other for their final matchup of 2016.

In a game that was last decided by a point, Sydney will be looking for revenge here. Finishing the season strongly, they’ll look to put the Tigers away early and earn the four points without any other issues. As they prepare for a big campaign in September, they may even look to rest some key players, including Buddy Franklin and Dan Hannebery. Nevertheless, the Swans should earn the four points and do it without any fuss.

Richmond will look to give their fans one last fling before entering the off-season and remodelling their lineup for the 2017 season. I have loved how key midfielder Dustin Martin has approached the poor season by the Tigers, as he currently sits in 2nd place for the Brownlow prediction votes. Expect Dusty to rack up another 30 possessions in this one as he makes his final statement for the final vote count. Apart from this, the season hasn’t exactly gone to plan, as they will most likely finish the season in 13th position. Even more importantly, they will finish four or five total wins behind the team that sits in 8th position – most likely North Melbourne. Next year, they will look to kick off the season in better form and establish themselves in a higher position from the get-go.

I expect Sydney to take this one easily. They should put the Tigers away early and establish some more room on the percentage column. In saying this, don’t be surprised if the hungry Tigers make a statement in the first quarter. They may even lead after half-time, but their chances of winning from there are slim to none.

Prediction: Sydney by 38

Gold Coast vs Port Adelaide

Venue: Metricon Stadium | Last Meeting: R22, 2015 – Port Adelaide by 37

With both teams out of the race for finals this match will be all about pride going into the off-season. While Gold Coast were predicted to finish the season at around their current six win mark, it has been thoroughly disappointing for Port Adelaide who have again missed the finals after a very exciting 2014 season. Is Ken Hinkley the right man for the job at Port? His initial impact was tremendous, turning a lacklustre team into one of the fastest in the AFL that punished teams with huge swings of momentum. After missing the boat in 2014 they have fallen away considerably behind a lack of effort. They currently sit 17th in uncontested possessions and 18th in disposal efficiency. While pressure numbers are still good (3rd in tackles, 3rd in clearances and 6th in contested possessions), their running game which won them so many games in 2014 has disappeared. Look for this to be addressed in the off-season.

This is certainly a tough one to call with neither team having much to play for nor great form in recent months. The Suns have had some success recently at home, defeating both Brisbane and Fremantle, while pushing the Giants to the end just three rounds ago. If they can play this confident brand of footy they will no doubt be a match for Port. Midfield contests will be crucial, and with Port likely getting first use of the ball the majority of the time, it’ll be up to the Suns’ defensive pressure and setup to deny any clean possession moving forward. Forcing a stoppage may slow this momentum, but again, the Power’s clearance players will likely step up to force the ball forward. The Suns need transition footy to have an impact here, which likely comes down to how they’re playing on the day.

Prediction: Gold Coast by 3

North Melbourne vs Greater Western Sydney

Venue: Etihad Stadium | Last Meeting: R12, 2015 – North Melbourne by 56

Most would have had a keen eye on this match even before today, but with North Melbourne’s massive contract bombshell being dropped it’s likely this match will now push close to a sell-out. With Nick Dal Santo, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and games-record holder Brent Harvey all playing their final season for the Roos, the club has signalled real intent towards the future. A lot will be said about the axing of Harvey who still remains as one of their best players, but with just one more year at most likely for him, it’s definitely the right call as they look to the future.

GWS has locked in a finals position for the first time in their history, and with the potential for a top four finish still on the cards, look for them to bring their best game. Their powerful running midfield that also excels in the clearance department makes them a formidable opponent for anyone – you wouldn’t want to face them in a cut-throat final in September. The biggest question remains in how they’ll deal with the pressure of playing a final. With just a few on their list coming from finals teams over the past few years it’s a real unknown how many of their youngsters will shape up.

GWS’ best game is far stronger than North Melbourne’s so if allowed to play their strong brand of footy they will likely run away with this match. The Roos possess quite a strong midfield themselves and should be able to come close to matching the younger Giants squad that dominates so many teams. It then becomes a battle at either end of the ground. North Melbourne was quite strong against Sydney last weekend, with forward Ben Brown providing some issues to a solid back six of Sydney. If he’s let off the chain by Phil Davis or Joel Patfull we could see a bit of an upset here.

Prediction: GWS by 12

St Kilda vs Brisbane

Venue: Etihad Stadium | Last Meeting: R9, 2015 – St Kilda by 22

While St Kilda can still mathematically make the finals, their poor percentage means they need a massive win on top of a big loss from North Melbourne. Based on their performance this season, there isn’t anything to suggest they’ll bring anything less than their best effort here. The Sains have improved considerably, now possessing one of the hardest running styles of play in the competition and with so many talented youngsters improving beyond expectations, it’s likely we’ll see an even stronger team in 2017.

Brisbane on the other hand is at rock bottom. Justin Leppitsch will be lucky to see out the off-season and with a high likelihood of young players leaving for money or brighter prospects elsewhere, it’s hard to see any positives from this season. A logical tip for the wooden spoon next year.

A pretty straightforward tip here – don’t be surprised if the final margin is beyond the 10 goal mark. With so much more to play for, even if finals is beyond them, the Saints will bring a far more positive outlook to Sunday’s encounter. Their last meeting in Round 9 last year was the Nick Riewoldt show. Grabbing 10 marks and kicking four goals to tear the Lions apart. With no-one who can physically match the size and fitness of him, it’s likely he’ll play a key role in this match as well.

Prediction: St Kilda by 67

Hawthorn vs Collingwood

Venue: MCG | Last Meeting: R14, 2015 – Hawthorn by 10

Hawthorn has now slipped to fourth after holding what seemed like an unassailable lead at the top just a few rounds ago. Now with two losses in their past three matches, the three time defending champions seem vulnerable. Their loss to West Coast in Round 22 wasn’t overly positive, consistently second to the ball losing key statistical areas you just don’t see from Hawthorn. Overall disposal efficiency wasn’t hurt too much, but in moments the Hawks usually step up in, they were lacking.

Collingwood is all but done for another year, sliding down the ladder once again under Nathan Buckley who continues to hold a contract amid chaos around him. With Travis Cloke likely playing his final game for the club he’ll look to go out with a bang. The Pies continue to build a solid young group of midfielders but are really lacking at either end. There’s no doubt they’ll continue as a marquee destination for a lot of free agents and trades, so look for them to focus on this area in the coming years.

With a top four spot on the line, this match will reveal how Hawthorn is faring coming into the finals – their form hasn’t been great the past three weeks and in general this season has been far below what we’re used to. Despite this, Collingwood should be a comfortable win to secure them a position in the top four. They’ll need results to go their way to secure a top two berth thanks to their percentage, but like any great team, they’ll be dangerous if given a sniff.

Prediction: Hawthorn by 57

Fremantle vs Western Bulldogs

Venue: Domain Stadium | Last Meeting: R1, 2016 – Western Bulldogs by 65

In the last match of the home and away season we find cellar-dwellers Fremantle coming up against top four hopefuls in the Western Bulldogs. Many at the start of the season would have pencilled this match in as one to shape the outcome of the finals for both teams with the Dockers pushing for a minor premiership and the Bulldogs developing their list further into a potential top four team. With one of those scenarios playing out, this match will be very important in the context of September. The Dogs sit in seventh position with a mathematical chance of securing a top four berth, but with a poor percentage they’ll need absolutely everything to go their way.

Fremantle will likely finish the season in 16th position – one where no-one would have predicted they would be after successive years pushing for a premiership. A slight tweak in their game style has forced the Dockers to rethink their entire approach to footy. Their team seems lost without Nat Fyfe, and their lack of scoring power still continues to hurt them. Unless they can add in some more free flowing football to a confident and potent forward line, it will be much the same in Fremantle.

This match should fall the way of the Bulldogs in a similar fashion to their Round 1 clash. Their pace and efficiency around the contest will trouble the Dockers. On top of that, Freo’s issues in the forward 50 are likely going to be highlighted even further with a fast rebound style of play from the back half from the Dogs. Fremantle’s tired on-ballers will not be able to keep up with this.

Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 23

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Religiously tennis - senior coach at Canberra School of Tennis, playing and watching. Sydney Swans nut and fan of the five day game.

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