AFL Round 20 Preview

Well, that really was a giant-sized spanner thrown into the complicated works of the 2012 premiership race last Friday night. Brilliant for Cats  fans, and for flag punters, as it has re-arranged the market. Brave analysts are claiming Hawthorn  won’t lose another game this season: by my calculations that is four home and away matches and three finals. I think that goes way past brave and into the realm of profound silliness. Here’s why: the Hawks are no guarantee to get a home final in the first week. And here’s another reason: they’ve just been beaten by a side which is not regarded: Geelong ($21 three weeks ago).

West Coast v Geelong - Friday night’s was a cracking match. Admittedly, the Cats  were patchy. But their brilliant was brilliant. Now they have to travel to Perth which is always a tough trip. This week, though, they play an out-of-form, flat, sore Eagles  outfit which was embarrassed by cross-town antagonists, Freo. They should bounce back with at least a better showing – they have to or else a top four spot is less and less likely. The Eagles ruck duo will trouble Geelong, although The Big O (Stephenson) was OK last week in his return match. Both have classy mid-fields. Geelong’s is in better touch at the moment. Hawkins may be a key again. As will the ability of the younger Geelong players to travel. This is hard to line up: hence the betting. The Cats, on recent form alone, by 6 points

Adelaide v Fremantle - Another ripper. A soft draw has allowed the Dockers  to play themselves into some form, which was stamped by an outstanding win against the Eagles. The return of Nathan Fyfe has helped. Matthew Pavlich has had a huge month. He is one of the keys to this match. If the Crows  can contain him the Dockers will feel the pressure to find other avenues to goal. If he is contained by a lack of ball from the mid-field then that’s a problem as well. The Crows are not in the greatest of nick. They played an excellent third quarter at Geelong, but that was all, and they staggered to the line against a depleted Bombers. The trouble is you have to take Freo on trust. I don’t trust them enough to tip them outright, but I am very keen to back them at the line. The Crows at home to fall in again, by 3 points

St Kilda v Melbourne - The Saints  were in and out of their match against Collingwood, and really the Pies had enough of the footy to put them away, but didn’t. More worrying for the Saints is that when they had the Sherrin, they also butchered it with poor decision-making and sub-par skills. The best example was that final kick into the forward line. They had about five free options. Lucky they are playing Melbourne . This slaughter will help them keep their finals hopes alive. The Saints by 60 points

Gold Coast v GWS - I like this match, and I like that it’s at the Metricon Stadium. I also like the price of GWS . There is no doubt the Giants will be competitive. Choco Williams and Shiraz Sheedy will have them up for this. It’s their Grand Final. They’re coming off a win. Their experienced players match the Suns  experienced players, except for G. Ablett. Keep his influence to a minimum and you are part way there. I like the Giants at the line, and I reckon they can win, just as I did last week. The Giants by 11 points

Sydney v Collingwood - This really is an excellent round of footy with two of the top teams clashing on a Saturday night in the Emerald City. Dane Swan has to be the factor here. How much will Collingwood  miss him on the field? What does the incident and the response of the leadership group say about what’s going down at Pie-land? Eddie will be choking on his black pudding in London. The Swans  will have too much consistency for the Carringbush, and will grind away until they win by 11 points

Carlton v Brisbane - Tis a strange beast, the Carlton Football Club. Some of the selections have been just plain weird, but they have managed to register a few wins and a finals birth, while unlikely, is mathematically possible. In a similar situation to the Saints, the Blues  will come out firing and be too skilful for the battling Lions . Carlton by 33 points

Hawthorn v Port Adelaide - Oh dear! The Hawks  with their feathers ruffled, against a Port  side that has just sacked its coach. No first-up win for Buddha Hocking. Hawthorn by as many as they like. I’m tipping a middling effort. Hawks by 65 points

Richmond v Western Bulldogs - The Tiges  are in a much better place than the Bulldogs : at least they have a few goal-kickers. The Doggies have one less mid-fielder now. Yet, the funny thing is, this is the sort of game the boys from Punt Road lose. Surely they can’t lose this. Richmond by 41 points

Essendon v North Melbourne - And to finish this fascinating round, a mini-final. This fixture will probably decide one of the final two positions in the eight. The Bombers  have structure, leadership and flakiness all at once. So do North . Both teams love the open style of game. This will be genuinely entertaining. I think tactics will be a key. Hence this is a huge test for Brad Scott and his match committee. It might also be a case of who has the momentum when the final siren sounds. The Roos by 3 points

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