AS WE draw into the second half of the season the finals picture looks just about set, with just the positions within the top eight yet to be determined.
Richmond are making a big push for the top four, Collingwood are in desperate need of a win after dropping several in a row while the Crows, Giants, Bulldogs and Kangaroos look set to battle it out for the final spot in the eight.
Lots of interesting games this week, here’s how we think they will pan out.
Kangaroos vs. Bombers
Friday, July 17th, 7:50pm, Etihad Stadium
North Melbourne – $1.92 (-29.5)
Essendon – $1.92 (+29.5)
Back to the traditional Friday night round opener and this game sees North Melbourne hosting Essendon at Etihad Stadium.
Essendon are coming off their first win in well over a month, upsetting Melbourne at the MCG.
North Melbourne got their season back on track with a crushing victory over fellow finals aspirants Geelong at Etihad Stadium.
The Roos will be without vital big-man Drew Petrie, who will miss the match due to suspension.
Petrie was the game changer last time the two teams met earlier in the year, chipping in with goals up forward, then taking several goal saving marks down back late in the game when the scores were tight.
Petrie’s absence opens the door for Aaron Black, who impressed last week with North Melbourne’s VFL affiliate, kicking three goals.
Despite a spirited win last week to the Bombers, North Melbourne are a far more daunting prospect than the Demons and should prove too much for the injury-hit Dons.
Tip: North Melbourne to win $1.27 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Most disposals group 1 – Dyson Heppell – $4.00 via Sportsbet
Cats vs. Bulldogs
Saturday, July 18th, 1:45pm, Simmons Stadium
Geelong – $1.91 (-6.5)
Western Bulldogs – $1.91 (+6.5)
The early Saturday afternoon game down the Geelong highway sees the Cats hosting the Bulldogs in a match that could decide who plays finals and who misses out.
The Bulldogs were unconvincing last week despite kicking ten last quarter goals to beat the Gold Coast.
The Dogs looked a spent force at three quarter time but were able to rally when it mattered to record a very important victory.
Geelong were abysmal against the Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium, and looked like the 21-day-layoff between games had a negative impact on their match fitness.
The Cats welcome back Mitch Duncan, who prior to his foot injury was Geelong’s best midfielder. His inclusion will be a big boost to an on-ball brigade heavily reliant on Joel Selwood.
Simmons Stadium has not been the fortress it has been in the past, with the Cats susceptible at home, but with the inclusion of Duncan, as well as Bartel’s return the week before, Geelong should be too strong for the Dogs.
Tip: Geelong to win $1.67 via William Hill
Exotic: Matthew Stokes to have 30 or more disposals $6.40 via Sportsbet
Suns vs. Gaints
Saturday, July 11th, 2:10pm, Metricon Stadium
Gold Coast – $1.91 (+4.5)
GWS – $1.91 (-4.5)
Saturday afternoon on the Gold Coast sees the Suns hosting the Giants in an intriguing match at Metricon Stadium.
The Suns have been much better over the last month, and with the inclusion of Gary Ablett back into the side, look like a dangerous prospect going into the second half of the season.
The Giants had a good win against St Kilda at home last week to keep in touch with the top eight, but lost one of their best midfielders in Dylan Shiel for an extended period with a knee injury.
A depleted Giants back six will be happy to see the talented Charlie Dixon out of the line-up, who has been in sparkling form up forward for the Suns.
With the exclusion of Dixon the pendulum swings back in favour of the Giants, who have more to play for at this stage of the season.
Tip: GWS to win $1.76 via Crownbet
Exotic: Gary Ablett to score 3 or more goals – $3 via Sportsbet
Saturday, July 18th, 4:35pm, Etihad Stadium
Collingwood – $1.92 (+9.5)
West Coast – $1.92 (-9.5)
The sole Melbourne game on Saturday sees Collingwood hosting the West Coast Eagles at Etihad Stadium, with the Pies looking to snap a three-game losing streak.
The Magpies were gallant in defeat in the wet against Port Adelaide last week, leaving their fourth quarter surge just a little too late.
The Eagles kept their fantastic run going, sweeping aside Adelaide in an emotion-packed matchup at Domain Stadium.
The Pies lose Taylor Adams to suspension, but regain rebounding defender Marley Williams who is in All-Australian form.
The Eagles are unchanged.
This match should be a tightly fought contest, but expect the Eagles to have a little too much class than their opponents, with the West Coast midfield a class above most on-ball divisions in the league.
Tip: West Coast Eagles to win $1.64 via William Hill
Exotic: Most disposals group 1 – Dane Swan $4 via Sportsbet
Swans vs. Hawks
Saturday, July 18th, 7:20pm, ANZ Stadium
Sydney – $1.91 (+7.5)
Hawthorn – $1.91 (-7.5)
The second Grand Final rematch of the year sees the Swans hosting the Hawks at ANZ Stadium in a match that could dictate who has a home final come September.
The Swans were just good enough against the Lions, skipping away in the final quarter to record a victory that belied just how tough Sydney had to do it.
The Hawks looked ominous against the Dockers, putting the league leaders to the sword and issuing the AFL world a message in doing so.
Hawthorn welcomes back Jarryd Roughead after he had surgery to remove a melanoma from his lip.
The Swans welcome back All-Australian defender Ted Richards who missed last week’s match with a concussion.
It is not often that the Swans go into a game as underdogs on their home ground, but that is precisely what is happening in this match up.
Despite not having the favouritism, the Swans should have enough firepower to get over the line, especially with Lance Franklin’s 700th career goal looming.
The big Bud looks set for a big one and it could spell trouble for his former team.
Tip: Sydney to win $2.35 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Most goals – Lance Franklin $3.25 via Sportsbet
Dockers vs. Blues
Saturday, July 18th, 7.40pm, Domain Stadium
Fremantle – $1.92 (-42.5)
Carlton – $1.92 (+42.5)
The last game on Saturday sees the Dockers hosting the Blues in a match that could get ugly for the visitors.
The Dockers were dismal against the Hawks last week and will be looking to get back on the winner’s list after blowing a two-game advantage atop the AFL ladder.
Carlton have been much improved under caretaker coach John Blakey, but failed to secure a win against Richmond last Friday night.
The Blues have taken a massive hit to their midfield stocks with last year’s best and fairest winner Bryce Gibbs out for the year with a pectoral injury.
The Dockers will be looking to bounce back in style and will see this as the perfect opportunity to flex their collective muscle and prove to the competition they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Expect Fremantle to dismantle Carlton and record a huge win.
Tip: Fremantle to win by 40+ $1.74 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Most possessions group 1 – Nat Fyfe $3.25 via Sportsbet
Demons vs. Lions
Sunday, July 19th, 1:10pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground
Melbourne – $1.91 (-9.5)
Brisbane – $1.91 (+9.5)
The first and only game at the MCG kicks off Sunday’s action with the Demons hosting the Lions at the home of football.
Melbourne are coming off a disappointing loss to the Bombers, with wayward kicking in front of goal costing the Dees dearly.
The Lions will be buoyed by their strong showing against the Swans at the GABBA, falling just short of securing another upset on their home turf.
Unfortunately both teams will not be featuring in the September action, and the game will most likely reflect that with two teams injury affected and anticipating the end of the season.
Expect the Dees to bounce back in this match, with a touch more class all around the ground and a potent forward attack that a depleted Lions outfit will find difficult to contain
Tip: Melbourne to win $1.57 via Sportsbet
Exotic: First goal scorer –Chris Dawes $15 via Sportsbet
Sunday, July 19th, 3:20pm, Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide – $1.92 (-9.5)
Adelaide – $1.92 (+9.5)
The battle for supremacy in the state of South Australia is the second game on Sunday, with the Power and the Crows resuming hostilities at the Adelaide Oval.
This one will have a slightly different feel, with both teams affected by the passing of former Power assistant coach and former head coach of the Crows Phil Walsh, with both teams showing a mutual respect throughout the week.
The Power had a terrific win last week against Collingwood and will consider themselves a big chance to make a late charge for the eight.
The Crows were brave to take to the field last week given the circumstances, and matched the Eagles up until half time, but were blown away late in the match.
It should be an interesting affair with no one quite sure how the two teams will attack the game, but the Power take slightly better form into the match and should come out on top.
Tip: Port Adelaide to win $1.62 via William Hill
Exotic: First goal scorer – Justin Westhoff $11 via Sportsbet
Phil Walsh medallist: Ollie Wines – $8 via Sportsbet
Saints vs. Tigers
Sunday, July 19th, 4:40pm, Etihad Stadium
St Kilda – $1.91 (+18.5)
Richmond – $1.92 (-18.5)
The Saints at the Tigers finish off round 16 at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon with one team firmly entrenched in the eight and the other languishing towards the bottom of the ladder.
The Tigers overcame a plucky Carlton outfit on Friday night, with a scrappy and at times unwatchable game. Richmond will be happy to bank the four points and move on.
The Saints were average in Sydney against the GWS after thrashing Essendon the week before, going down by 35 points.
Richmond welcomes back Ivan Maric after a one week suspension.
The Tigers are in touch with the top four, but cannot afford to drop games against opposition they should be beating if they are to earn the double chance going into September.
St Kilda will be no easy beats, with the talented team taking it up to their opponents in almost every game they have played this season.
Expect Richmond to come out on top in this one, with too much to play for and a top four spot on the line.
Tip: Richmond to win 1-39 $2.15 via Sportsbet
Exotic: First goal scorer –Ben Griffiths $11 via Sportsbet
Ian Stewart medallist: Dustin Martin – $8 via Sportsbet
Friday, July 17, 2015, 7.50pm AEST, Etihad Stadium, watch on Seven Network, Fox Footy
North Melbourne Kangaroos: 10th
Essendon Bombers: 14th
North Melbourne Kangaroos: 7-7-0
Essendon Bombers: 5-9-0
North Melbourne Kangaroos: WLWLW
Essendon Bombers: LLLLW
AFTER fortnight of superb Friday night footy action, with thrillers between Sydney and Richmond and then Hawthorn and Collingwood, we’ve had a Friday night footy let down.
Richmond and Carlton was a snore fest last week and we have some concerns that this one won’t be much better.
Touted as a top four hope, mentally fragile North Melbourne has done what is so often does and underachieved after reaching the preliminary final.
We don’t even have to mention what a basket case Essendon are.
At least both teams are coming off wins.
Ripped apart by a supplements scandal that has almost destroyed the club, their captain Jobe Watson out for the season and left reeling from a 100 point loss to the immortal (not) St Kilda a week earlier, the Bombers actually showed some ticker to take out a fighting nine point win over Melbourne, 10.9 (69) to 7.18 (60).
Missing a host of their best players, the Baby Bombers featured 12 players with less than 40 games experience and got five goals from young gun centre half forward Joe Daniher, snapping a five game losing streak.
With newly named captain Dyson Heppell tempered by Demons’ stopper Jack Viney, the consistent Brent Stanton led the way with 30 disposals.
Brendon Goddard also stepped up with 29 disposals and Michael Hurley bounced back with 24.
But it was Daniher who provided the biggest highlight for the Bombers, winning praise from embattled coach James Hird.
“Joey was terrific with his marking and his positioning and just his hard work off the contest,” Hird said.
“He didn’t start great. We had to re-align him a little bit and get him back on.
“Joe will have weeks where he’ll kick poorly and weeks where he kicks well probably over the next 18 months.
“But he’s working so hard on his goalkicking.
“I’m confident within 18 months he’ll be the best set shot in the competition because of the way he works on his game.
“We know he can mark the ball, we know he can compete, we know he’s going to get enough opportunities.”
But it was only Melbourne.
“Let’s not get carried away with the game, it was a nine-point win, Melbourne aren’t travelling great, we’re not travelling great,” Hird said.
“We didn’t beat the best team in the competition, we’re not shooting for premiership glory this year.
The Kangaroos should pose a far stiffer task, especially after absolutely belting the now far from invincible Geelong, 18.12 (120) to 11.13 (79).
Coming off a disgusting 55 point loss to the lowly Gold Coast, North bounced back in serious style, throttling the Cats with a seven goal to one second term that was the catalyst for the 41 point win.
Shaun Higgins was awesome for the Roos, booting three goals and nabbing 19 disposals with eight marks, while key forward Drew Petrie matched his goal output with three.
Ryan Bastinac led the way in the midfield with 27 disposals, while Nick Dal Santo, Ben Cunnington and Andrew Swallow had 24 each. The latter was a monster with 12 tackles, leading the way as North’s pressure suffocated the Cats all over the park.
It was a win that didn’t come without controversy, Roos’ legend Brent Harvey starting as the sub as a “warning” to listen to his fiery coach Brad Scott’s instructions.
With just two games left for 400, Harvey copped the green vest after a “pretty honest and frank conversation”.
“Boomer probably by his own admission hasn’t performed the role we’ve asked him to play on a few occasions this year,” Scott said.
“We had a pretty honest and frank conversation.
“We’ve got a great relationship and we talk all the time and it was a pretty simple coach player conversation.
“Whilst being the sub wasn’t a punishment, he needed to know that if he’s not going to listen to my words, he might listen to my actions.
“It is a role that we’ve spoken about over the last couple of years.
“We think it can be a real weapon for us going forward. It probably just took the courage to pull the trigger and do it, because it was a big game for us against a really strong opposition club.
“Brent was outstanding from yesterday’s meeting, right through to the end of the game today in terms of how he embraced that role.”
Boomer might have had some drama, but it was nothing compared to Hird’s past few days.
Poor old Hirdy can’t take a trick. After using his post match press conference to have another stab at the AFL over its handling of the supplements saga, the Bomber great took a serious tumble off his bicycle early in the week and ended up in hospital.
“Indications are that he should be fine to go Friday night, but we’ll make a call on that once he’s had time to sit down with Doc Reid,” Essendon chief executive officer Xavier Campbell said.
Hird was hospitalised with severe concussion after falling off his bike on Monday night.
North Melbourne won the last encounter between these two teams, eking out a 13.15 (93) to 12.10 (82) win in round seven this year.
Hard man Jack Ziebell was a monster with 29 disposals and two goals, while Ben Cunnington had 26 and Sam Gibson 25. Three other Roos booted two goals in an even spread of attacking options.
Heppell had 29 for the Bombers and Goddard 27, while Patrick Ambrose, Travis Collyer and Watson kicked two goals each.
The Roos will be without Petrie for this match, the big forward copping a one match ban for striking.
Match result: North Melbourne wins ($1.25 with Crownbet.com.au)
Line: North Melbourne -25.5 ($1.92 with CrownBet.com.au)
Fighting win or not against the Demons last week, we don’t reckon the Bombers stand a chance here… unless the typical North Melbourne ‘losing a match it should win’ rears its typical ugly head. But we’re banking on a big win to the blue and white. While we maintain they are mentally frail, they should have too much class and experience for the Baby Bombers. They’ll need to shut down the superb Daniher, but the Bombers’ lack of attacking options should make that an easier task for the Roos defenders. Potential All Australian key defender Hurley will be doing his best to make life tough for the Roos’ forwards, but the Bomber’s defence, with all their injuries, has become a bit of a one man band and the likes of Lindsay Thomas, Jarrad Waite and company should be able to find a way to kick a winning score. The Bombers haven’t defeated North since round one last year, and they haven’t been able to handle the Roos at Etihad Stadium, with 10 wins from their last 14 games and three wins from the last four.
First goal scorer tips
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Jarrad Waite ($9 with Sportsbet.com.au)
The embattled Waite hasn’t really lived up to the billing the Roos had hoped, aside from a big seven goal haul in round two. But Scott says Saturday night’s effort against Geelong was his best of the season and we think he can build from the there. With no Petrie, Waite will be expected to shoulder a huge load for the Kangaroos and they will need him to fire if they are to ensure victory. The midfielders will be looking for the rangy key forward every chance they get and if they get it out of the guts, he should be the prime target.
Brent Harvey ($17 with Sportsbet.com.au)
Hopefully young Boomer has been a good boy this week and managed to impress Brad Scott enough not to start with the green vest against the Bombers. We reckon Harvey has learnt his lesson and, while age might be finally starting to catch up with the Kangas’ favourite son, he still has plenty of heel and still has a razor sharp eye for the goals. We’re backing him in to do what the coach tells him to and have a blinding performance against a Bombers side that doesn’t really have anyone up to the task of shutting him down. Had 14 disposals when he finally got rid of the sub’s vest and will be primed to pick up where he left off with the first goal of the match.
Joe Daniher ($7 with Sportsbet.com.au)
It feels like Daniher’s career is destined to be a tragedy. No, not individually, but, due to the Bombers being virtually destroyed by the supplements saga, it appears he will languish at a club that’s a long way from being a contender. Make no mistake, this kid is going to be a superstar. But the herd around him is more like mutton than lamb. A lot of things have to go right for the Bombers to even get close over the the next five to 10 years. Perhaps the dreaded tank is an option? Anyway, back to the task at hand, Daniher is the only clear cut pick for first goal, every time the Bombers go forward, they’ll be kicking it to him. He’s their only real danger man, after kicking five last week.
Shaun Edwards ($15 with Sportsbet.com.au)
Didn’t see a whole lot of the footy against the Demons and did start on the bench after being a late inclusion, but his two goals were invaluable and we feel like that will be enough for the young buck to hold his spot in a side that is really bereft of goal kickers. The former GWS Giant has size and speed on the half forward flank and, while he still needs to work on being more involved, he does have skills around the goals and is as good a candidate as anyone other than Daniher to boot the first goal in a make shift Essendon forward line.