Hawthorn v Fremantle – MCG
Last Meeting: Grand Final, 2013 – Hawthorn by 15
The Grand Final rematch sees two teams continuing their great run from 2013. It’s a bit surprising actually that the two teams have started the season so strongly, particularly Hawthorn. A hard fought win over the Bombers where they were down 32 points at half time has surely kicked their season into top gear – a worrying sign for the rest of the competition. Fremantle hasn’t faced a quality team like Hawthorn has in Essendon, but they have dealt with their opposition as a premiership contender should. Round 2 saw an easy win again against the rapidly improving Gold Coast, with Ryan Crowley keeping Ablett to a shocking 24 disposals.
Both teams head into this match with a few injury concerns. There are doubts over Hodge, Mitchell, Stratton and Sewell for Hawthorn, while Barlow is out for the next 6 weeks with a knee injury for Fremantle. Adding to that, Dawson and Fyfe both miss with suspension and you’ve got some big holes to fill on both sides.
Prediction | Fremantle have a score to settle, and while it won’t avenge their loss in the Grand Final, a Fremantle win will send them in the right direction towards premiership favouritism. Dockers by 6
Western Bulldogs v Richmond – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R13, 2013 – Richmond by 60
Expect to see a lively encounter on Saturday at Etihad Stadium. The Dogs will be disappointed with their start to the season, and will look to bounce back in an upset win over a finals bound team. The Dogs’ key statistical areas are all down from last year, particularly in the midfield. Sitting a lowly 14th in clearances, down from 2nd last year has meant and overall drop in inside 50 numbers, where they sit dead last. All of this will have to lift against an experienced midfield in Richmond. Last week saw the Tigers get on the board in 2014 with a great win over Carlton. While the Blues didn’t offer the pressure of a finals team throughout the match, Richmond still had to hold them off in a frantic start to the final quarter. To Richmond’s credit, they held strong, and kicked away in the final minutes. A concern for the Tigers is they lost every single key statistic – this may say more about Carlton if anything, but still might be something to look out for in this Round 3 matchup
Prediction | The Dogs will step up their effort from the first two weeks to provide a decent showing throughout the match, but Richmond with their powerful forward line will ask too much of the Richmond defence. Tigers by 24
Adelaide v Sydney – Adelaide Oval
Last Meeting: R11, 2013 – Sydney by 77
I don’t think anyone would have though these two teams would have started the season with 2 losses, especially with one of them being a premiership fancy. This match is definitely more about seeing if the Swans can finally get their season off the ground. If you’re starting the season 0-3, you can almost kiss the top 4 goodbye, with a 5 match buffer already separating them from top position. I put the slow start to the season for the Swans down to the midfield – numbers are way down from last year. They sit an un-Sydney like equal 9th in clearances, sending their inside 50 numbers right down to 10th. Compare that to 1st and 5th respectively from 2013 and you can see the problem. Could this be down to losing Shane Mumford? Give it a few more weeks to see. Adelaide have been outclassed by two quality teams in Geelong and Port Adelaide and have the potential to bounce back with an upset over the Swans. One thing they need to address is contested possession numbers – against a quality outfit like Port, they were crushed, and they should get the same style against Sydney this week.
Prediction | Sydney should win this. Should. They are the better side all over the ground, have the experience and really will look to step back up to the level they know they can play. Swans in a tight one – 10 points.
Gold Coast v Brisbane – Metricon Stadium
Last Meeting: R15, 2013 – Brisbane by 83
For the first time in their existence the Suns enter the 2014 as the better half of the Q-Clash rivalry. The Suns midfield is starting to look scarily good, with the likes of Swallow, O’Meara, Prestia, Rischitelli and Stanley backing up the legendary Gary Ablett. While he may have been the anchor in past seasons, his support crew over the past year have really stepped up. The Suns are sitting 2nd in contested possessions and 7th in clearances and 3rd in tackles – a good indication of a big improvement heading into 2014. For Brisbane, the coaching rebuild continues, with competitive outings against Geelong and Hawthorn showing there are some signs of improvement. The Lions hold a significant advantage in the Q-Clash head to head, with a 5-1 lead despite being a pretty average team over those 3 years. This is a big test for both sides, but I’ll be paying particular attention to the Suns. These 50-50 matches are the ones they need to win to make the finals.
Prediction | Time for the Suns to step up and take hold of this rivalry. Their best footy is far better than that of Brisbane’s – it’s just about keeping that up for four quarter. Gold Coast by 10
West Coast v St Kilda – Patersons Stadium
Last Meeting: R11, 2013 – West Coast by 4
Both teams sit 2-0 after playing pretty weak opposition, and while West Coast should be undefeated, it is a bit surprising to see St Kilda sitting there with them. This match is the real deal for St Kilda however. Wins against Melbourne and GWS shouldn’t really mean too much in terms of reading into form, but they’ve got the job done. Against West Coast they will come up against a much more mature side that will run the inexperienced side all over Patersons Stadium. The likes of Hayes, Reiwoldt, Dempster and Montagna will need to lead the way on this one as they face one of the biggest tests in footy. For West Coast, a soft start to the season continues after a thumping of Melbourne at the MCG. The depth of the Eagles was on show, with a consistent performance across the board. One thing the Eagles may need to look at is their key statistical areas. Surprisingly, they were out-tackled by Melbourne last week, and also lost the contested possession count. Against a team like Melbourne, and this week against St Kilda this won’t be too much of an issue, but against even a middle of the pack team like Richmond or Carlton, this may hurt. Something to watch out for anyway.
Prediction | West Coast is too good in too many areas. Expect another big one from Nick Reiwoldt, but nothing more from St Kilda. Eagles by 60
Collingwood v Geelong – MCG
Last Meeting: R8, 2013 – Collingwood by 6
Another massive clash for Round 3 sees surprise winners from last week, Collingwood taking on the undefeated Geelong. Collingwood were super impressive against the Swans, pegging back a 20-plus point lead led by the sensational Scott Pendlebury. This man is an absolute legend, tallying 33 disposals, 10 tackles and a goal in a 3-vote lock. Keep in mind this was against one of the best midfields in the competition. He’ll need a similar performance against Geelong if the Pies are any chance this week. Geelong continues their 2013 form with a 2-0 start to the season. So they’ve played Brisbane and Adelaide, but they’ve been impressive wins nonetheless. The retirements of some big names at the club and a few trades and free agency moves hasn’t seemed to derail the Geelong system which has been so successful for the past 7 years.
The result of this match was a bit of an upset last year – happening just around the time people were really starting to question Collingwood’s claim to being a finals side. Interesting fact – Geelong hasn’t beaten Collingwood since the 2011 Grand Final.
Prediction | Collingwood’s spirits will be lifted after a great win last week, but it won’t be enough to get them over a quality side in Geelong. Cats by 18
GWS v Melbourne – Spotless Stadium
Last Meeting: R19, 2013 – GWS by 37
Well this will be an interesting match. Can you imagine if Melbourne lost this one? For once, the pressure will be on the players, not the coach for their position at the club. Paul Roos is one of about two or three unsackable coaches in the AFL, so a poor performance reflects on the players, rather than the coach. Some good signs last week despite a 93 point loss included out-tackling their opposition (although, this may have been through a sheer lack of possession), and winning the contested possession count. Regardless of the score, this indicates that at least they are working hard, but are just being let down by skill errors and indecisiveness – something which will only come with time. For GWS, this match is theirs to lose. A win against Sydney in Round 1, and having more scoring shots than St Kilda last week could easily have them sitting 2-0 to start the season. Shane Mumford’s impact on the club is tremendous, and with him feeding a star midfield below him, Melbourne better bring their A-game
Prediction | A very tough one to call. A tight loss last week may dampen the spirits of GWS, but I’m tipping them to bounce back and start the season with a surprising 2-1 record. Giants by 15
North Melbourne v Port Adelaide – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R6, 2013 – North Melbourne by 10
Probably the most intriguing match of Round 3 for me. North Melbourne’s horror performance in Round 1 was largely forgotten after a win against the Bulldogs in Round 2. Far from a convincing performance though, considering their top 4 aspirations – it was only until halfway through the 4th quarter they really kicked away, which must be concerning coach Brad Scott. One thing that won’t be concerning Scott is Brent Harvey’s excellent start to the season, who just keeps on surprising everyone. I’m tipping this guy to hit the 400 game mark – there’s no sign of him slowing down. Port Adelaide were very impressive in the first showdown at Adelaide Oval. They are in the ‘elite’ category in terms of intensity and pressure on the ball, something which showed in what could have turned into a tight affair in Adelaide. They were far too good for Adelaide, with impressive performances all over the board, particularly Cornes, Ebert, Wingard, Wines and Hartlett. This is a very strong side, and will continue to win the majority of their matches. North Melbourne is their first real test, and is a match they should really win.
Prediction | Port Adelaide will be too consistent over four quarters. The Roos will show the flashes of brilliance they always do, but won’t be able to sustain it for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Port by 30
Essendon v Carlton – MCG
Last Meeting: R22, 2013 – Essendon by 6
Isn’t the MCG loaded with big matches this week? Geez. After last year’s performance in Round 22, given the impending sanctions from the AFL regarding the supplements saga, it will be interesting to see how the two teams line up with no distractions hanging over. Essendon head into Round 3 with a 1-1 record, after pushing Hawthorn right to the end of their Round 2 clash. This was an impressive performance in many regards, but most noticeably the way they fought back after half time to take the lead in the final quarter. It takes a seriously good team to do this to Hawthorn. Jobe Watson was once again at his best, the usual suspects in Goddard, Hibberd, Heppell and Zaharakis stepped up, and Paul Chapman seems to be enjoying life at his new club. A much more settled year so far at Essendon, and they are looking the goods for a top 4 finish. Carlton meanwhile showed patches of brilliance, particularly late in the match against Richmond. I’m going to call them ‘North Melbourne 2.0’. Their best footy is breathtaking, and they’ll cause an upset or two this season against good sides, but just won’t be able to be consistent over the year. Pay attention to Bryce Gibbs in this match. Contract distractions may be to blame for poor performance, but he really has to put in more of an effort. He may not even be worth another contract if he has another performance like his Round 2 effort.
Prediction | Essendon will win, and handsomely, despite a rivalry that usually puts up a good showing, regardless of form or ladder position. Essendon by 40.