All eyes will be on the out-of-sorts Geelong as they host North Melbourne in one of the AFL’s key Round 21 fixtures.
With just three wins in their past seven. the Cats are clinging to top spot on percentage alone and have both reigning premiers West Coast and the Brisbane Lions breathing down their necks.
Geelong will take some solace from the fact their Saturday night meeting with the Kangaroos will take place at GMHBA Stadium, a venue they have won 31 of their last 35 matches at.
But with just three rounds remaining, the Cats desperately need to return to form if they are capitalise on their superb start to 2019 and book a top-two finish.
Both the Eagles and the Lions have winnable home fixtures, the former taking on the eighth-placed Adelaide Crows on Sunday afternoon.
Brisbane are in terrific form and are unlikely to be troubled by the hapless Gold Coast Suns.
Essendon’s meeting against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday evening looms as an important clash, too, with both sides vying for a top-eight finish.
And Carlton’s resurgence will be tested when they meet a Richmond side who have hit their straps, winning their last six matches.
Read on for our full preview to all Round 21 AFL fixtures.
Greater Western Sydney v Hawthorn
The Hawks have never beaten the Giants in New South Wales and it is hard to see Alastair Clarkson’s men bucking the trend on this occasion against a Greater Western Sydney side who have won their last three. Of those victories, two have been been under three points, but the fifth-placed Giants simply have too much on the line in their bid for a top-four spot to lose this. GWS have cracked the 100-point barrier just once in their past eight matches while Hawthorn have not managed it all season.
Melbourne v Collingwood
An injury-depleted Collingwood are also pushing for a top-four berth, the sixth-placed Magpies returning to winning ways with a 51-point triumph against Gold Coast last week. It was a desperately needed triumph, given last year’s losing grand finalists had lost four of their previous five matches. A clash against the Demons, second from bottom after an extremely disappointing season, will have Collingwood fans confident but this could be somewhat of a danger game for Nathan Buckley’s side, still missing a host of key stars. The ruck battle between Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy – both All-Australians in 2019 – may prove decisive.
Port Adelaide v Sydney
A quirk of the fixture means these two sides have not met at Adelaide Oval since 2015 when the Swans recorded a convincing eight-goal win. Plenty has changed since then, though, and the Swans sit a lowly 15th on the ladder heading into this match. Port Adelaide sit ninth and could move into the top eight with victory here. Sydney have dropped five in a row and it is hard to see John Longmire’s side ending that run at a difficult place to visit, even if they were extremely competitive against the Giants last week.
Brisbane Lions v Gold Coast Suns
With seven wins in a row, the Lions are short-priced favourites to take care of the rock-bottom Suns on home soil. Brisbane are one of three sides at the top of the ladder on 14 wins and this match provides a big chance for Chris Fagan’s men to boost their percentage. Gold Coast have a streak of their own, too, with 15 successive losses to their name. The Suns have the worst attack in the league and the worst defence, statistically, while Brisbane are the most free-scoring side in the competition. A blowout is on the cards and Brisbane forward Charlie Cameron, with 29 goals in his last 11 matches, could pounce.
Essendon v Western. Bulldogs
Seventh plays 10th in arguably the match of the round at Docklands. The Bombers – without a finals win since 2004 – are desperate to feature in September and still sit inside the top eight despite a 59-point loss to Port Adelaide last week. That loss ended a run of five straight wins, all by 21 points or less. They come up against a Bulldogs side who were valiant in defeat in Brisbane in Round 20. The 2016 premiers are just one win behind the eight-placed Port Adelaide and have won four of their last six. Midfielders Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae are in form and will be crucial if the Bulldogs are to win.
Geelong Cats v North Melbourne
What’s wrong with Geelong? It is the question on everyone’s lips at the minute with the Cats having suffered an alarming drop-off since the mid-season bye. Geelong still sit on top of the ladder but they won’t occupy that spot for much longer if they continue to dish up what they have in recent weeks, Chris Scott’s side losing four of their last seven matches. This task isn’t easy, either, even if Geelong have won their last four against North Melbourne. After a dreadful start to 2019, the Kangaroos have been rejuvenated by new coach Rhyce Shaw and key forward Ben Brown is in terrific form, having kicked 18 goals in his last five matches.
St Kilda v Fremantle
The pressure on Fremantle coach Ross Lyon eased with a 34-point win over the Cats in Round 20 but the Dockers have just won twice outside of Perth this year. Fremantle’s Docklands record is not great either, losing eight of their last 10 matches at the venue. St Kilda sit 14th but pushed the Dockers all the way at Perth Stadium in Round 3, losing by just five points. Caretaker coach Brett Ratten led the Saints to wins in his first two matches in charge and they put up a decent fight against the Crows at the Adelaide Oval last week, too. This one could go either way.
Richmond v Carlton
Since taking over on a caretaker basis from sacked coach Brendon Bolton, Carlton’s David Teague has led the Blues to five wins in eight matches, but surely a triumph against the in-form Tigers is too much of a task. Carlton do have an array of young stars impressing but they are still 16th, seven wins behind the fourth-placed Richmond. With matches against the high-flying West Coast and Brisbane ahead of them, this is simply a must-win for the Tigers if they want a double chance. Richmond’s Tom Lynch has kicked three goals or more in his last six matches and it would not surprise if he repeats the dose.
West Coast Eagles v Adelaide Crows
Just one win and a slither of percentage ahead of rivals Port Adelaide, the eighth-placed Crows know defeat is likely to send them drop out of the finals spots, for now at least. That means this game, which ends Round 21, is a massive, potentially season-defining clash for Don Pyke’s men. Adelaide have often wilted under pressure this year and it is very hard to see them coming away with victory against a West Coast side who have hit their straps. The reigning premiers have won six of their past seven and have won 19 of their 24 matches at Optus Stadium.