AFL Round 23

Hawthorn v West Coast - Hawthorn  have had a run of these important matches in recent times and have handled them beautifully, although not dominantly. They are very short in flag betting, partly on their own performance, but also on account of the fading of the Pies. This match looks to be pretty easy for the Hawks at home, despite the Eagles  being in contention for a Top 4 position. Unless. Unless what? Unless Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui get hold of the game in a way that exposes Hawthorn’s relative weakness in the ruck. Ruckmen matter. Leigh Matthews didn’t think they mattered much yet he still had four on his Lions list. (Who am I to argue with Lethal?) Anyway, the big blokes are West Coast’s only chance and that won’t be enough. The Hawks by 21 points.

Geelong v Sydney - Sydney  are the only team to beat Geelong  at Simonds Stadium in almost 40 outings, and that came this time last year. The Swans are even stronger now, and the Cats will have to be a little sharper than they were last week against the Bulldogs if they are to win this. They also need a better hit-out so they can take some reasonable form into the finals. Shane Mumford returns to his old haunt, ably supported by Mike Pyke. That is a tick for the Swans. The mid-field is a tick for Geelong – just. The homeground may be the only hint of an advantage in a very tight contest. The Cats by 9 points.

Adelaide v Gold Coast - Not even their win against Carlton can energise the Suns  sufficiently to remain competitive for more than a quarter in this. The Crows  can try a few things , use their run to advantage, and serve Tex Walker a picnic. The Crows by 77 points.

GWS Giants v North Melbourne - North  will be trying to work out the margin by which they should win this. It’s a round where some teams have too much control over what happens to them, and no doubt there will be much talk about it all against GWS  on Sunday. North, easily, but by what margin? It depends on where North wish to finish on the ladder.

Fremantle v Melbourne - Freo  will win this easily. They have run into form with good wins over the Eagles at home and North away, and now they have even more control over where they finish than North. Once they know what has happened to Geelong and North Melbourne, the calculators will be fired up, and everything will point to a result against Melbourne  which allows them to enjoy a home final. To do that they need to finish eighth or sixth on the ladder. Freo, by whatever they need to.

Essendon v Collingwood - The Bombers  have collapsed over the past month, and the Pies  haven’t covered themselves in glory either. There is a case for the last-lager-waltz theory with Essendon. But not a very good one. If they get away to a reasonable start they may put some pressure on the Pies, but if The Carringbush really are flag contenders that pressure will be soaked up very easily. There will be more interest in Jobe Watson’s performance and its impact on Brownlow voting than anything else. Collingwood by 27 points.

Carlton v St Kilda - Sunday is a day of exhibition matches. Oddly, this could be a classic. Or a total and complete flop. How to find a winner? How does jaded B. Goddard perform? Does Kosi play? Do the Blues  put in for the coach? What a weird fixture! I’ll tip the Saints  on stability alone, by 11 points.

Richmond v Port Adelaide - It’s official: Richmond  cannot finish ninth. The winner of Carlton and St Kilda will take that position. Another crazy year for the Tiges who may turn it on, just to make the faithful cringe even further. I can’t see Port  getting within coo-ee. Richmond by 72 points to give Punt Road the feeling they are premiership material for next year.

Brisbane v Western Bulldogs - Again, this could be a fun match. You would expect Brisbane , at home, to prevail against the Bulldogs  and to then set their gaze on next season. Both teams need to improve markedly. The Lions here, though, by 32 points.

Click here to bet on AFL Round 23 matches