AFL Round 4 Preview

Former Brisbane Lion Richard Champion
Former Brisbane Lions star Richard Champion previews Round 4 of the AFL for TattsBet.

TattsBet AFL Round 4 Preview

Friday April 11
Richmond v Collingwood at MCG, 7.50pm (AEST)

It’s Travis Cloke’s 200th game, and the Collingwood faithful will be desperately hoping he’s in the mood for a party. Because the Cloke they’ve seen lately isn’t the Cloke they need to play finals this year. He’s had just three shots on goal in the first three games for two goals, and after being the No.1 ranked player in the competition for contested marks last year he ranks 46th this year. The Magpies have gone from sixth in the same category to last. Cloke kicked seven goals and collected three Brownlow Medal votes in the corresponding game last year, so it’s all set up for the big power forward to return to his best.

Both teams sit outside the eight at 1-2 in the win/loss column and are coming off narrow losses – the Pies by a 11 points in a slog against unbeaten Geelong, and Richmond by a heart-breaking two points against the Bulldogs after they’d come from 34 points down to hit the front in time-on in the final quarter. But the difference between a win and a loss is massive. At 1-3, which is the dilemma that will face Damien Hardwick or Nathan Buckley, it’s a long haul.

History says Richmond are overdue. They’ve not beaten Collingwood since 2007, having lost six in a row by an average 57 points. Brett Deledio, who missed last week after a run of 145 consecutive games dating back to Round 18 2007, is tipped to return for the Tigers with Shaun Hampson, with Queenslander Josh Thomas, a revelation in his debut season last year, in line to play his first game of 2014 after an injury-delayed start.

My Tip: Collingwood by 26 pts

Saturday April 12
Carlton v Melbourne at MCG, 1.45pm (AEST)

Both teams are winless after three rounds and coming off a six-day break, but this is all about Carlton. They are easily the shortest price favourites of Round 4 to turn around what has been a nightmare week after an insipid 81-point hiding at the hands of Essendon last week. The media spotlight has been brutal, and almost overnight coach Mick Malthouse has gone from talking about premiership windows to the desperate need for redevelopment. But with his 61st birthday coming up in August questions are being asked about the suitability of the 30-year coach for a long-term project.

Oddly, Melbourne, despite losing to St.Kilda, West and the Giants, are third highest for possessions despite and yet are easily the lowest scoring team, with just 128 points overall. Collingwood are next lowest at 211. Carlton, beaten by Port Adelaide, Richmond and Essendon, have had fewest possessions in the competition this season yet are 12th in scoring.

The Blues have won their last seven meetings with the Demons by an average 53 points, and after an eagerly awaited selection shake-up that is tipped to elevate ex-Lion Sam Docherty for his first game in the navy blue and possibly claim a couple of big scalps, it will be a calamity for Malthouse and his men if they don’t win – and win well.

My Tip: Carlton by 37 pts

Port Adelaide v Brisbane Lions at Adelaide Oval, 2.10pm (AEST)

For a side that claims to be the fittest in the competition Port Adelaide stopped badly in the closing stages against North Melbourne last week to suffer their first loss of the season. They were 15 points up early in the final stanza but conceded five of the last six goals. Yes, they were undermanned, but it is something that Power coach Ken Hinkley will have taken to heart and will outlaw this week.

Brisbane, ranked 16th in scoring this year, head to Adelaide not just chasing their first game win but their first quarter win. In 12 quarters they are yet to finish ahead on the scoreboard once. And having lost Daniel Rich to a shattering knee injury and Daniel Merrett to an untimely suspension, it’s not going to get any easier this week. At least for Justin Leppitsch’s sake the Power are minus Chad Wingard and Angus Monfries.

It’ll be a big day for Power newcomer Jared Polec against the club which he walked out on last October. Taken at No.5 overall by the Lions in the 2010 National Draft, he averaged 12 possessions in 16 games and three years in maroon. Yet in three games in the teal of Port he’s averaged 21 possessions and looked much more like the hot prospect he was always expected to be. Ironically, he could be opposed to first-gamer Nick Robertson, who is the player the Lions picked up at No.34 in last year’s draft with the choice it received from Port in the Polec trade.

Port, looking to build a new fortress at Adelaide Oval, beat Brisbane by nine points in a slog in Adelaide last year but had lost their previous four to the Lions, including two in the City of Churches.

My Tip: Port Adelaide by 42 pts

GWS v Western Bulldogs at StarTrack Oval (Canberra), 4.40pm (AEST)

It’s an unusual AFL ladder that has expansion teams GWS and Gold Coast sitting sixth and eighth after three rounds. Giants coach Leon Cameron won’t be fooled, though. He knows they’ve got a long way to go. But one key statistic with which he will be absolutely thrilled is that which shows his young charges as the No.1 tackling side in the competition. They average 91 per game this year and had an astonishing 115 in beating Melbourne last week. Not pretty but positive.

The Giants, with Jeremy Cameron needing only two goals to reach 100 for the club, completed back-to-back wins at Spotless Stadium for the first time last weekend when they wore down the Demons to double their 2013 win tally three rounds into 2014. But they will surrender that homeground advantage this week by playing in Canberra, where they are 1-6 and the Dogs, frequent visitors to the national capital, are 6-2. In their only meeting last year the Giants led at every change before going down by four points in a heart-breaker.

The ever-competitive Dogs gave supporters something to smile about when they overhauled Richmond in a thriller last weekend to open their 2014 account, but they rank last in the competition for inside 50s. With a forward line that lacks scorepower, they need to at least create more opportunities if they are to build on the promise they showed late last season.

My Tip: Bulldogs by 30 pts

Geelong v West Coast at Simonds Stadium, 7.40pm (AEST)

At last Adam Simpson will find out what it’s really like to be an AFL coach. The former North Melbourne skipper and Hawthorn assistant-coach has eased his way into the pressure-cooker seat of the top job at West Coast, with wins over the Bulldogs, Melbourne and St.Kilda by an aggregate 185 points to sit top of the ladder. He’ll face a much tougher proposition against Chris Scott and his unbeaten Geelong at Simonds Stadium in what will be a litmus test for the finals credentials of the Eagles, who have firmed in premiership betting from $21 to $10 in three weeks.

The Eagles, without the injured Mark LeCras and Chris Masten and the suspended Luke Shuey, will want to win for the hugely popular Dean Cox, who will play his 277th game to break Glen Jakovich’s club record. But it’ll take some doing. They’ve won only once at the Cattery since 2000 – in 2006. They’ve split the last four meetings with Geelong, but are 2-8 overall against them since 2007.

Geelong, equal third in flag betting, have had an equally impressive start to the season, with wins over Adelaide, Brisbane (away) and Collingwood last week, when Tom Hawkins showed the same imposing form that Eagles fans have enjoyed from his counterpart Josh Kennedy. Cats fans also will be encouraged by Hamish McIntosh’s early showing, but he’ll face a big test against the Eagles ruck duo of Cox and Nick Naitanui in a crackerjack match full of appealing individual battles.

My Tip: Geelong by 24 pts

Gold Coast Suns v Hawthorn at Metricon Stadium, 7.40pm (AEST)

The ever-improving Gold Coast Suns have won seven of their last nine matches at Metricon and have been true to their promise in building a fortress at home. They were outstanding in blowing away the Brisbane Lions by 53 points last week, when they strung together a club record eight unanswered goals either side of three-quarter time. Kade Kolodjashnij, with 24 possessions and a goal in his second game, looks another star in the making.

The 2-1 Suns sit inside the top eight for the first time other than when they beat St.Kilda in Round 1 last year. They are the No.1 ranked side in the competition for contested possessions, with Gary Ablett No.2 individually after 19 contested possessions in another supreme effort against the Lions. But the Gold Coast are last for marks inside 50. Hawthorn, a much bigger challenge this week, are No.1 for marks inside 50 and No.1 for goal-kicking accuracy at 61%. Two telling statistics.
The Suns step up a couple of divisions this week against the unbeaten premiers, who were positively brutal in mauling Fremantle in the grand final replay last week. Many have suggested the Hawks’ 12-5 to 2-8 first half was as close as it gets to perfect. Enough for them to firm as $3.40 flag favourites and a scary prospect for Guy McKenna and his young side.

It could get even more frightening at the Hawthorn selection table, with Luke Hodge, Ben McEvoy and Ben Stratton in line to return. The head-to-head record is a predictable 0-4 to the Hawks, but the Suns did lead the competition powerhouse by as many as 17 points midway through the third quarter when last they met at the MCG in Round 9 last year. At least there’s no Buddy Franklin this year. He kicked five goals that day.

If nothing else it’s an ideal measuring test for the finals aspirants from the tourist strip.

My Tip: Hawthorn by 36 pts

Sunday April 13
Sydney Swans v North Melbourne at SCG, 1.10pm (AEST)

It’s amazing what one win can do. After more doom and gloom than is warranted for an 0-2 start to the season the Swans got thing back on track last week when they belted Adelaide by 63 points in Adelaide, with Lance Franklin kicking four goals. Their premiership price was cut from $11 to $8, and they are back now to something like where they started the year. Status quo restored after early losses to GWS and Collingwood. And a little sanity.

Buddy will make his debut at the new-look SCG this week as the Swans look to extend an imposing seven-game winning streak against North which dates back to 2007. And he’ll have fond memories of his famous and career-best 13 goals against the Kangaroos in 2012. It’ll be enough for the Roos’ All-Australian fullback Scott Thompson to have a few restless nights.

North, savaged in similar fashion to Sydney in Round 1 when embarrassed by Essendon, have got things back on track with consecutive wins over the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide. They probably didn’t get the credit they deserved for over-running the previously unbeaten and fancied Power last week, but in the publicity stakes it was impossible for them to compete with Carlton’s appalling capitulation against Essendon. It’ll be the least of coach Brad Scott’s concerns. More worrying is the fact that their 2013 scoring average of 104 points per game has dropped to 80 in early 2014.

Sydney, beaten across town at Spotless Stadium and ANZ Stadium this year, will be pleased to get back to their real home. They were 7-1-1 at the SCG last year, losing only to Geelong and sharing the points with Fremantle.

My Tip: Swans by 14 pts

St Kilda v Adelaide Crows at Etihad Stadium, 3.20pm (AEST)

It’s no great surprise that Adelaide and St.Kilda are 17th and 9th on the ladder. It was almost exactly what the pre-season premiership market suggested. Except for one thing … it had them the other way around. The Crows were equal 10th in early markets, and the Saints equal 16th. Yet heading into Round 4 the blow-torch is most definitely aimed at Brenton Sanderson’s 0-3 Crows, who were hammered by Sydney last week after earlier losses to Geelong and Port Adelaide. And Alan Richardson’s 2-1 Saints are cruising, having followed wins over Melbourne and GWS with a creditable loss to unbeaten West Coast.

Some Adelaide folk have even turned up the heat on favourite son Patrick Dangerfield, who lacks nothing in effort but has been down a little on impact, and Sanderson last week admitted he was “certainly starting to lean on the panic button a little bit” after they faded badly in the closing stages for the third game in a row. If they slump to 0-4 the finals will look a long, long way off.

While Dangerfield struggles, his counterpart Nick Riewoldt could not have been better. Teammate James Gwilt this week suggested he’d not seen a better start to the season from his veteran skipper, who leads the Coleman Medal with 10 goals and heads the competition for marks inside 50, equal with cousin Jack.

Adelaide have a 4-1 recent advantage over St.Kilda but the Saints’ only in that stretch did come at Etihad Stadium in 2011, when they held the Crows to a club record low final score of 3-6 (24). The visitors will start slight favourites, but an upset beckons.

My Tip: St Kilda by 11 pts

Fremantle v Essendon at Patersons Stadium, 4.40pm (AEST)

Ross Lyon is widely regarded as one of the very best coaches in the AFL. If not the best. But even the master Fremantle boss finds himself under pressure this week as his side looks to rebound from an unexpected mauling at the hands of Hawthorn last week in the 2013 grand final rematch. He’ll look to do it against a rampant Essendon without Nat Fyfe, Michael Barlow, Michael Walters and possible Garrick Ibbotson, and with even past history against him. While he’s got an impressive 35-1-16 record since moving west, he’s never coached the Dockers to a win over the Bombers.

While a 2-2 start if they were to lose to the Bombers wouldn’t be catastrophic, it would certainly rock the confidence levels. Because it wasn’t so much that they were beaten by Hawthorn by last week but more the way it happened. Regarded as the best defensive unit in the competition, and having only twice conceded 100 points in a game last year, they would have looked in horror at a three-quarter time scoreboard last week which saw Hawthorn at 107.

Essendon, who lead the competition in overall possessions and have Patrick Ryder set to return for the key ruck match-up with Aaron Sandilands, have beaten Fremantle the last two years after Freo tooks the odds in 2009-10-11. The Bombers will have fond memories of the last time they played the Dockers in Perth. It was one of the all-time great wins in Round 3 last year as the supplements scandal started to take hold of the club. They’d kicked only one goal in the first half and were six goals down at the break before getting over the line by four points on the back of a match-winner from Ryder.

My Tip: Fremantle by 22 pts

Richard Champion, former Brisbane Lion


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