AFL Rural Round 17 Preview: Sydney and Western Derbies Take Center Stage

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The AFL Rural round has arrived, and with just a few weeks remaining before finals, it’s gut check time for teams in danger of missing the top 8. Both the Western and Sydney derbies will play a key part in determining the year end top 8, here is your full round preview.

St. Kilda vs Essendon (Friday at Etihad Stadium)

The 9-6 Saints are red hot, having reeled off four straight victories, they also have a positive recent record against the Bombers, which sit at 7-8 and are facing a near must-win game in this one. Essendon has every opportunity to make the 8, but they’ve stumbled at times this season, while the Saints look like a different team in the second half, than they did in the first. The Bombers will miss the veteran presence of Jobe Watson, and will be looking for Cale Hooker and David Zaharakis to step up, among others. The Saints miss Tim Membrey, while Josh Battle debuts in his place in the forward line. Look for Seb Ross to lead the Saints to another big win. Saints by 14

Geelong Cats vs. Hawthorn (Saturday at the MCG)

The Hawks haven’t lost a game in the last three rounds, coming off a draw last week, and Geelong is in the same boat, with two wins and a draw in their last three. In round 4 the Cats destroyed a hapless Hawthorn side 134-48, Hawthorn has gotten much better since then, but at 6-8 this is a must-win game for their dwindling finals hopes. Geelong meanwhile has to look at this game as key to making the top 4. 300 game player Luke Hodge is retiring, and his Hawthorn mates would love to give him a big send off on the MCG, I have a feeling the Cats will fire well though, as Mitch Duncan, Tom Hawkins, and of course Patrick Dangerfield will prevent Hodge from having a happy 300th. Geelong by 27

Port Adelaide vs. North Melbourne (Saturday at Adelaide Oval)

Slow starts have doomed North recently, and they only have pride to play for, while Port is hoping to stay in the top 4 spot they find themselves in at 9-6. North is better than 4-11, but not that much better, a surging Paddy Ryder should have a go at struggling Todd Goldstein in the ruck, while Charlie Dixon should keep up his form too. Look for Port to bully the Roos. Power by 34

Gold Coast Suns vs. Collingwood (Saturday at Metricon Stadium)

Both sides have made major list changes this week, the Magpies dropped Mason Cox, and also miss Levi Greenwood among their four outs, they are bringing in Darcy Moore, Jarryd Blair, Jeremy Howe, and Daniel Wells though, moves that should improve a struggling side. The Suns bring in Michael Rischitelli for the first time all year, along with Aaron Hall, Pearce Hanley, and their best player, Gary Ablett. Despite Collingwood being one of the best supported clubs, and the Suns the least supported in all of the AFL, these teams are pretty even, and both should miss finals. The Suns at 6-9 have stumbled down the stretch, winning just one of their last four, the Magpies have done one worse than that, at 5-10 they have dropped four straight and sit more than three games off the finals pace. This is the soon to be sacked coach derby, and I’ll back Rodney Eade to get the best of it at home, Collingwood seems to have lost faith. Suns by 16

GWS Giants vs. Sydney Swans (Saturday at Spotless Stadium)

These sides are much closer than the big win the Giants got in round 5 (105-63) would suggest. At 10-3 vs 8-7, the Giants have certainly had the better body of work this season, but Sydney is plainly surging, while the Giants have just one win in their last four games (two draws included). The Giants probably will have a better season, if they can just get healthy for finals, but this is Sydney’s time to get revenge and show they are still big brother in New South Wales. Josh P. Kennedy returns for a mostly unchanged Sydney side, while Steve Johnson and Toby Greene are key ins for the Giants. Look for Buddy Franklin to have a day out in the race for the Coleman medal, and Luke Parker to keep up his blistering midfield form, dueling with Josh Kelly and Callan Ward. Swans by 8

Melbourne vs. Adelaide Crows (Saturday in Darwin)

Melbourne won this matchup in round 8 rather easily (107-66), both teams have been in good form since that date, as the Crows at 11-4 are top of the ladder, and the Demons at 9-6 have every shot at top 4. With Nathan Jones and Jack Viney out though, the injury bug probably costs the Demons in this one. Max Gawn also hasn’t fully found form, and although Jesse Hogan makes a massive return after cancer, I can’t expect his form to be firing yet. Look for Eddie Betts and the rest of the Crows to use their lethal offense for success in an AFL Rural round game, in a rural area. Crows by 24

Richmond vs. Brisbane Lions (Sunday at Etihad Stadium)

Richmond had their worst game of the season last week, but at 9-6 they’ve shown every ability to bounce back. The Lions have just a 3-12 record, but two of those wins came in the last five weeks, they have proven they won’t back down against anyone. Richmond blew their doors out in round 4 though, winning by a bag 119-67, I don’t see the Lions being able to shut down Dustin Martin the way St. Kilda did last week, Damian Hardwick and Dusty should light a fire under the rest of the Tigers, look for Alex Rance, Kane Lambert and others to step up and beat the young Lions, who see their future star forward Josh Schache return. Tigers by 38

Carlton vs. Western Bulldogs (Sunday at the MCG)

On paper the Bulldogs should be favored, they have a better record at 7-8 vs 5-10, and they have a better list. Both teams are struggling, but they are struggling in different ways, the Blues have been pesky but shown their youth this season, and are a year away from being serious finals contenders. The Dogs have collapsed under pressure in the second half of the season, and I have them missing finals for what it’s worth. The reason I see them missing finals is because I don’t think they can pull together and focus in a key game like this, missing Clay Smith, Matthew Boyd, and Easton Wood, the return of Bob Murphy shouldn’t be enough. Patrick Cripps is a big out for Carlton, but Charlie Curnow, and Sam Petrevski-Seton are among the Blues coming into their own. The Dogs have struggled to kick goals this season, and the backline of Liam Jones and Sam Docherty has been a highlight for Carlton this year. Look for the Navy Blues to win a low scoring, grinding matchup. Blues by 11

Fremantle vs. West Coast Eagles (Sunday at Domain Stadium)

Fremantle are desperate for a win, but not just any win, their awful percentage means they need wins by some margin to have hope for finals at 7-8. West Coast at 8-7 and near 100% are in better finals shape, but it’s not out of the question that the West’s two AFL teams will miss finals after poor second halves of the season. West Coast thumped Freo and took on the role of big brother in round 6, winning 103-62. I’m probably more optimistic than most, but I genuinely think Fremantle are a good team that are vulnerable to getting blown out if they become too slow. This is one of the last big games at Domain Stadium, adding to that big game feel, Josh Kennedy is among four returnees for West Coast this week, while David Mundy is back for Freo. No matter what happens, if you’re with driving distance of Perth, you should be at this game. Look for Ross Lyon to figure out how to get the best out of his side, and Nat Fyfe to step up to help Freo get an upset. Dockers by 9

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