AFL Round 7 Preview

Former Brisbane Lion Richard Champion
Former Brisbane Lions star Richard Champion previews Round 7 of the AFL for TattsBet.

TattsBet AFL Round 7 Preview

Carlton v Collingwood
Friday May 2, 7.50pm (AEST)

Dale Thomas, a long-time favourite son and 2010 premiership player at Collingwood, will play against the Magpies for the first time in a Carlton jumper as two of the AFL’s hottest rivals open Round 7 on Friday night on the back of impressive wins in the Anzac Day round. And Blues coach Mick Malthouse confronts his former club for the third time, looking for his first win in navy blue.

Collingwood, humiliated by Fremantle by 70 points in Round 1, have cast aside the early stumble and have lost only to Geelong in the past five weeks. With Dane Swan back to his brilliant best in a stellar midfield, they were outstanding in beating Essendon in the Anzac Day blockbuster last week and loom as genuine contenders.

After a diabolical 0-4 start Carlton have resurrected their season in the past fortnight with wins over the Bulldogs and West Coast. Marc Murphy has shown why he was appointed captain with two stellar performances to answer his critics perfectly. But this is a much tougher match-up and will say plenty about whether they are serious finals contenders.

The Pies, a worrying 17th in goal-kicking accuracy at 43.4%, won both meetings against the Blues last year by 41 and 17 points after the Blues won both in 2012 by 23 and 60 points.

My Tip: Collingwood by 26 points.

Hawthorn v St Kilda
Saturday May 3, 1.45pm (AEST)

Hawthorn don’t treat big milestone games lightly. Last week, they hammered Richmond to ensure the 250th game celebrations for Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne didn’t fall flat. And this week they’ll be looking to do the same again, as Jordan Lewis posts his 200th against St.Kilda.

Beaten by Geelong in Round 5, the Hawks bounced back to their best against the Tigers, as Cyril Rioli responded to a savage swipe from Matthew Lloyd with four third-quarter goals in a mercurial team performance highlighted by 11 different goal-kickers.

The Saints, with Jarryn Geary playing his 100th game and Sam Fisher and Adam Schneider set to return, became the first victims this season of the Brisbane Lions in New Zealand. They were plucky, but after an encouraging first few weeks, the suspicion is the gloss is starting to wear off for this young outfit. And losing No.1 ruckman Tom Hickey for six weeks to injury is a crucial blow on top of news that Sam Gilbert and Eli Templeton may not play again this year.

Hawthorn, easily the most accurate team in front of goals this year at 60.3%, have won their last three against St.Kilda by 31, 35 and 30 points after a draw in 2010. Ben McEvoy will wear Hawks colours against his former club for the first time and Shane Savage likewise in red, black and white, if selected.

My Tip: Hawthorn by 52 points.

GWS v Port Adelaide
Saturday May 3, 2.10pm (AEST)
StarTrack Oval, Canberra

Port Adelaide have firmed from the 12th line of premiership betting at $26 prior to Round 1 to be equal third favourite at $6.75 after Round 6. And rightly so after they outgunned ladder leaders Geelong by 40 points last week to become the fifth different team in six weeks to sit on top of the AFL ladder.

The Power, with skipper Travis Boak in supreme form, are only a final quarter fadeout against North Melbourne away from a perfect 6-0 start to the season. And the clinical manner in which they ended a 10-game losing streak to the Cats last week confirmed they are a better side than last year.

But coach Ken Hinkley will not let his players rest on their laurels. He will have reminded them that after starting 5-0 last year they slumped to 5-5, and that they lost their first meeting with the Giants in Sydney by 34 points in 2012. Also, that they’ve never won in Canberra, having lost there to North Melbourne three times from 1998-2005, and that the Giants’ first victory came in the national capital against Gold Coast in 2012.

The Giants, with the prolific Toby Greene back from suspension, have lost three in a row to the Western Bulldogs, Adelaide and Gold Coast after an encouraging 2-1 start, and were belted by Port by 56 and 75 points last year. They rank No.1 in the competition for clearances this year. Work that out!

My Tip: Port by 38 points.

Adelaide Crows v Melbourne
Saturday May 3, 4.40pm (AEST)
Adelaide Oval

At 0-3 the Adelaide Crows were in diabolical trouble. But after consecutive wins over St. Kilda, GWS and Western Bulldogs they’ve now got a chance to push up into the top eight, if they can claim what some might regard as another ‘soft kill’ against the battling Melbourne. 

Former Crows B&F winner Bernie Vince, who left the club in controversial fashion last year, will make his first trip “home” with the Demons to Adelaide Oval, and can expect a spirited welcome from local fans who have quickly regained voice after their team’s poor opening to the season.

And they’ll be even louder if Taylor Walker, who returned from a knee reconstruction in the SANFL last weekend, is rushed into the top side. Unlikely given the Crows have won three in a row, but not entirely out of the question.

Melbourne remain a work in progress. Despite an improved defence which has seen them cut their average points conceded from 122 last year to 81 this year, they are still worst in the competition at the other end of the ground, averaging just 54 points a game through the first six rounds. Colin Garland will help if he’s cleared to play his first game of the year, but too much is being left to Nathan Jones, who ranks third in possessions across the League behind only Gary Ablett and Steve Johnson.

Adelaide have a 21-11 advantage over Melbourne all-time in head-to-head meetings, and beat the Demons by 68 points last year and 69 points in 2012, after Melbourne had shocked them by 92 points at the MCG in 2011.

My Tip: Crows by 31 points.

Essendon v Western Bulldogs
Saturday May 3, 7.40pm (AEST)
Etihad Stadium

Essendon’s season has hit an early cross-road. After a 2-1 start in which they beat North by 39 points, lost by four points to Hawthorn and belted Carlton by 81, they’ve lost three on the trot to Fremantle, St. Kilda and Collingwood to crash from 4th on the ladder to 12th. Another loss here and serious questions will be asked.

Already the Bombers have become somewhat of a curiosity, given they rank No.1 in the League this season for kicks, disposals, marks and uncontested possessions despite their unconvincing recent form.

After a blistering start to the Anzac Day clash against the Pies in which they led 5-3 to 0-2, Essendon fell apart and went an hour without a goal. They’ll be desperately hoping Brendon Goddard, Heath Hocking and Tom Bellchambers are cleared to return for one they simply must win.

In addition to four crucial premiership points, the Bombers will also be looking to make a statement to ex-Bomber Stewart Crameri, who rejected a Windy Hill contract extension to accept a lucrative Dogs offer amid the fallout to the Essendon supplements scandal late last year. Crameri has kicked 14 goals in six games for his new club.

Good news for the Dogs, who had a chance to win their last two against Carlton and Adelaide but wilted badly under final quarter pressure, will be the return of No.1 defender Dale Morris. His two-week absence hurt badly and saw Liam Jones confirm that if he cannot make it up forward he definitely cannot make it down back.

The Dogs, playing well enough lately without winning, have lost their last three to Essendon by an average 57 points after beating them for the last time in 2010. With both teams at 2-4 it’s crunch time because the loser will find themselves a long way off the pace.

My Tip: Essendon by 19 points.

Brisbane Lions v Sydney Swans
Saturday May 3, 7.40pm (AEST)

There is life in the Lions after all. They got new coach Justin Leppitsch his first win over St.Kilda in Wellington last week, and although it wasn’t pretty or convincing it was full of persistence, and there was plenty to like.

James Aish, the Round 6 NAB AFL Rising Star nomination, confirmed his unquestioned class, while fellow youngsters Lewis Taylor, Nick Robertson, Sam Mayes, Marco Paparone and Darcy Gardiner continued to impress. Joel Patfull was outstanding in his shut-down job on Nick Riewoldt, Dayne Zorko and Jack Redden were great around the ball, and old-timer Andrew Raines found a new lease of life in a new role on the wing.

Leppitsch has learned he cannot have too many youngsters in the same side, and although he wouldn’t be getting too carried away, they will spring an upset or two despite conceding most points in the competition. Maybe even this week.

After all, Sydney haven’t exactly been good except for a Round 5 win over Fremantle. Kurt Tippett is still out, there’s doubt over Buddy Franklin, and even Sam Reid is no certainty to resume.

Rhyce Shaw, coming off a career-best 34 possessions in his 199th game last week against Melbourne, will give the Swans a milestone motivation, and Adam Goodes will be better in his second comeback game. But I’m not convinced.

Brisbane have lost six in a row against Sydney since they last beat them in 2009, so they are overdue. They are at home and will be coming off an extra day’s recovery. Sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut.

My Tip: Lions by 21 points.

North Melbourne v Gold Coast Suns
Sunday May 4, 1.10pm (AEST)
Etihad Stadium

This is an opportunity for the Gold Coast Suns to prove just how good they are, and whether they are genuinely ready for a serious crack at the finals this year. Or not.

There are those who say that although the Suns are sixth on the ladder with a 4-2 record, a record high for the expansion club, they are merely warming the spot for others better credentialed because they’ve beaten only Richmond (13th), Brisbane (18th), Melbourne (17th) and GWS (14th). But if the Suns can stand up against a hot-and-cold North Melbourne, who confirmed their credentials when they out-lasted Fremantle last week, they won’t be ridiculed any longer.

North have been either very good or very poor this year, and not much in between. The question for coach Brad Scott will be which Kangaroos outfit turns up. In the hope of drawing out their best he’ll be sure to remind his troops they lost to the Suns by 15 points at Metricon Stadium last year after winning their first three meetings.

Interestingly, Gold Coast with Tom Lynch coming off a career-best five goals last week against the Giants, rank fourth in the League for inside 50s this year at 54.2 per game, while North are 16th at 44.7 per game. They can look forward to the inclusion of Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon, but Scott Thompson will return for North.

My Tip: Kangaroos by 36 points.

Geelong v Richmond
Sunday May 4 3.20pm (AEST)

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick might regret saying recently that his 2014 side is better than their 2013 predecessors. Because they’ve not exactly shown much to support his claims, beating only Carlton and Brisbane, when both were at rock bottom in a 2-4 start. 

And now they are staring down the barrel at 2-5. The Tigers have lost their last nine meetings with Geelong since they last beat them in 2006, and 38 of 46 since 1984. That’s a serious hoodoo, compounded this week by bad timing.

Richmond, in danger of falling three wins outside the top eight, will face a Geelong side coming off their first loss of the season. After accounting for premiership favorites Hawthorn in Round 5 the Cats were shown up by Port Adelaide last week in a top-of-the-table clash which had letdown written all over it.

My Tip: Geelong by 62 points.

West Coast v Fremantle
Sunday May 4, 4.40pm (AEST)
Patersons Stadium

Matthew Pavlich is set to complete a statistical cleansweep of western derby records as the two WA clubs meet for the 39th time on Sunday. The Dockers skipper presently holds the record for most derby appearances at 28, ahead of Eagles Dean Cox (25) and Darren Glass (23), and most derby goals at 53, ahead of Eagles Phil Matera (37) and Mark LeCras (27). And he’s second in all-time derby possessions at 463 behind only ex-teammate Paul Haselby (468). 

The stakes are huge for both sides, with the loser to fall to 3-4 in the win/loss column and outside the top eight after both started 3-2. And both are coming off losses after leading in the final quarter last week.

Fremantle have lost three of their last four to Hawthorn, Sydney and North Melbourne, while West Coast have lost three on the trot to Geelong, Port Adelaide and Carlton, when they were 24 points up with 10 minutes to play.

West Coast have a 21-17 edge overall in derbies, despite Fremantle winning the last three by 28, 28 and 65 points and 14 of the past 22. But history says form and ladder positions don’t count for much – it is all about performance on the day and both sides are always in with a chance.

The ruck contest will be fascinating, pivotal and personal. Aaron Sandilands, in his 200th AFL game, will take on Dean Cox, in his 100th consecutive game, and an out-of-form Nic Naitanui in a match-up that may shed some light on the hot recent debate about the value of ruck hitouts. Fremantle rank 14th in centre clearances and West Coast equal 15th despite their huge ruck presence.

The Eagles are likely to be strengthened by the return from injury of LeCras and Shannon Hurn, while Fremantle selection will focus on the possible inclusion of No.4 draft pick Anthony Morabito for his 24th AFL game, his first since the 2010 finals, following three left knee reconstructions.

My Tip: West Coast by 17 points.

Richard Champion, former Brisbane Lion