With seven games remaining, round 16 of the 2013 AFL season provided plenty to talk about as we approach the final quarter of the season.
Who will miss out on the top 4?
Based on form and after analysing each teams draw, it seems that only the current top 5 teams are a chance to gain that second chance in September – barring any setbacks to the Bombers in their ASADA scandal (point stripping). Six points behind the top 5 are the Tigers and Magpies, however both a difficult draw (Richmond) and inconsistency/injuries (Collingwood) gives both teams little chance of catching up.
Geelong and Hawthorn should occupy the top two spots, with the Cats the hot favourite to finish the season on top as they play four more home games at Simonds Stadium and possess an easier finish to the season than their great modern-day rivals.
Expect Freo to continue to climb the ladder, with a top 2 position not out of the equation as their easy run home has them in the box seat for a double chance. Add to the fact that crucial players like Pavlich and Sandilands are working their way back and they look every bit a premiership chance.
The Swans run home is probably the toughest of the top 5 and will have them scrambling for the fourth and final spot in the eight which I expect them to narrowly hold on to.
Essendon face a tough month without their under-fire skipper, with their top four hops hinging on games against the Hawks, Pies and Eagles from rounds 18-20. Of all their remaining games, only round 17 is an assured win on paper and I expect them to be the unlucky team to fall out.
Keep an eye out for the Swans-Hawks game in round 23 as it will be interesting to see by then how seriously both teams take the match depending on whether a top 4 spot is up for grabs.
Rivalry matches with mixed results
Sunday’s derby was a fantastic match, with an undermanned West Coast side putting up a strong fight against a much more fancied Dockers team in front of around 40,000 fans at Patersons. As we have come to expect in derbies, it was an extremely physical encounter with 145 tackles being laid, tempers flaring and spot fires breaking out throughout the match. The game was in the balance until the Dockers pulled away in the final quarter, kicking eight goals but otherwise it was another fantastic game to watch between these two arch-rivals.
On the other hand, Kevin Sheedy (with a little help from the media), continued his efforts to spruik and ignite the Swans-Giants rivalry, dubbed as the “Battle of the Bridges”. Being the first game played at the SCG by the Giants, Sydney unsurprisingly had the game sewn up at half time with a lead of 45 points and from then onwards it was smooth sailing for the premiers. A final margin of 129 points confirmed just how far away these two teams are as the Giants were simply embarrassed by their crosstown ‘rivals’. At this stage in the Giant’s footballing existence, it’s almost a sign of disrespect to deem themselves rivals to the Swans, at least on the field. Perhaps what was the most disappointing result of this match however, was the small crowd of just around 22,000 turning up for the Giants first game at the SCG.
Although expected, the difference between these two ‘rivalry’ matches were profound, with Sheedy and the AFL having plenty of work ahead of them to establish a ‘true rivalry’ on the field.
Battle for the 8 narrows down
Coming into this season, no one would have expected top 4 placed West Coast and Adelaide to not make the eight, but after 16 rounds their fate seems assured that they will miss out this September. Last weekends loss to the Pies confirmed that the Crow’s finals chances are all but over, with a game this week against the Cats (likely without Dangerfield) that will snuff out any mathematical chance that could be made. After coming so close to being in the grand final last year, their performance this year has been an utter failure in comparison, despite the losses of Tippett and Walker.
West Coast have lost 6 of 8 at home this, year which is unheard of and will need to eradicate those results with 5 more games remaining there this year. Their fate is firmly in their hands and I see them fighting out for eighth spot against the Blues and Power.
In the next month the footballing world will finally find out whether the Power are dramatically overachieving or if they do indeed deserve to play finals football. They possess the best draw of their competitors, only playing current top 8 teams twice in the next 7 games. Regardless of if they make it or not, Hinkley has worked wonders with the young list that should serve as a staunch example that things can turn around and priority picks should not be handed out to struggling clubs.
The Kangaroos will only have themselves to blame come September, as they yet again capitulated in the final term and surrendered a top 8 position. Along with West Coast, they may be the most talented side outside the eight but a tough draw including games against the current top 3 sides will have them deservedly missing out.
After witnessing last weeks match against the Saints live, I can safely say that the Blues don’t look deserving of playing finals, nor capable of being damaging if they do make the 8. Despite the negativity, they do possess a superior draw to their counterparts, which should be the big factor in whether they can snag the final spot if the Power does fall out.
Hawks can manage without Buddy
Despite recent conjecture that the Hawks are tabling a club record contract offering for the injured star, the goal kicking performances of Roughead and Gunston last weekend displayed Hawthorn’s immense forward depth, with both players scoring 5 goals against Port Adelaide. Roughead currently leads the competition goalscoring this year with 47, whilst Gunston and the ever-consistent Luke Breust have provided 27 apiece.
The Hawks, along with Port Adelaide, are the only teams in the competition currently with four goalkickers over 20 goals, displaying their spread of options. Add in to the fact that Rioli is yet to hit his stripes near goal this year and the Hawks possess one of the most talented forward lines, even without Franklin in the side.
Franklin’s form has been wildly inconsistent this year as he has managed a few niggling injuries, however such is his star he still has kicked 38 goals to date. After a shocking season so far, the giants are in desperate need of a top-tier player who can sell tickets and Franklin perfectly fits that bill. However, if he is to leave, it can be seen that the hawks boast the necessary firepower up front to more than cover his absence.