As it comes to the pointy end of the season, points become all that more important and next weekend is looking like a crucial round for the top eight with some very interesting fixtures. Six out of the eight teams at the top will play each other and the Richmond Tigers face Hawthorne, who are sitting just outside the placings for finals football. The coming weekend will have a massive effect on where these teams finish, so today we’re going to take a look at the four key games that could determine who plays final football after the regular season is finished.
The first of the big games this week will take place down in Melbourne when the Sydney Swans travel south to take on the Geelong Cats. The Swans have been in red hot form for the past two months, notching up seven straight wins after their worst ever start to an AFL premiership season. They couldn't keep the run going, though, and succumbed to Hawthorne by just one goal recently.
They will be looking to get their winning ways back on track but it won't be an easy task against a Geelong outfit that have been one of the most consistent performers in the competition. The Cats currently sit in second place and are in danger of being overtaken if they can't grab a victory against the Swans. GWS Giants are only two points behind them and are eager to take the top-two position and secure their home final.
The big omission for the Cats is Patrick Dangerfield after finding out that he will be punished for his heavy tackle on Carlton's Matthew Kreuzer. The match review panel has given a one-week suspension to the star player and the Cats have decided not to challenge the ruling. The Carlton ruckman was heavily concussed when leaving the field and didn't return again for the rest of the afternoon. This also destroys any chance of a consecutive Brownlow Medal for Dangerfield as he now becomes ineligible to win since being found guilty. Dangerfield was a heavy favourite to take the award and make it back-to-back victories after he won the coveted medal in 2016.
Without Patrick on the field, this could be the perfect chance for the Swans to steal the win and keep their push to the top four going. Geelong are still tipped as favourites though, and with the Cats at 1.92 and Sydney at 2.10, it's going to be a tight one.
Sydney will be looking to their powerful full-forward, Lance Franklin, to cause the upset. He's kicked 51 goals so far this season and taken a staggering 127 marks. If he can manage to produce another brilliant performance we will certainly be in for a thriller down in Melbourne.
The GWS Giants were storming all the way to the Grand Final a month ago, but some recent slip-ups have put some doubt in the minds of their supporters. However, the Giants have only managed one win out of their last five games and are desperately looking to get their winning ways back on track. The club is still looking for its maiden premiership and it was looking like this was going to be their year until some bad form of late.
They are still a very strong side and the Melbourne Demons have had problems of their own in recent matches. The Giants will probably be too fast for the Dees and playing with their home crowd support, you would think the Giants will be able to take all four points. The latest odds have GWS at 1.50 and the Demons at 2.86, and it looks like it might be a long afternoon for Melbourne up there in Canberra.
Josh Kelly has been a tremendous force for the Sydney team this year and is playing some fantastic footy. He's averaging 29.2 disposals and 6.3 tackles per game, more than any of his teammates, and Melbourne will have to keep him quiet if they are to have any chance of being competitive and taking the game to the Giants.
The Richmond Tigers are increasingly looking like a team that could win this competition. Five wins out of their last six games have seen them propel up the ladder and they are currently in fourth place, level on points with third-placed GWS.
They come away from a relatively easy victory against the Gold Coast Suns and Hawthorne will undoubtedly be more of a challenge for their next fixture. This will be an incredibly close match and the Tigers are 1.88 to win with Hawthorne at 2.10. The Hawks are more than aware that this is the "do or die" moment of the season if they want to play in the finals. They are currently six points outside the eight and anything less than a win could be the end of their chances. It should be a cracking game to watch with nothing but end-to-end action.
Coach Damien Hardwick will be confident, though, knowing that he has one of the best players in the league at his disposal. Dustin Martin continues to impress for the Tigers and is now the favourite for the Brownlow, especially since Dangerfield was found guilty after his heavy tackle on Kreuzer. The dynamic midfielder has 542 disposals this year as well as 24 goals. With the help of Martin, you just feel that the Tigers will be too strong for Hawthorne and cement their place in the top four.
Port Adelaide Power will take on the Adelaide Crows in what is always an exhilarating contest. The Power have really struggled against teams in the top eight so far this season and will be looking to change their fortunes when they take on the Crows. It's a huge game for both sides as Port won't want to slip any further down the ladder and the Crows don't want to give the Geelong the chance to equal their points tally, which could be the case if the Cats win.
Adelaide were lucky at the weekend to snatch a draw against the Collingwood Magpies. Crow Mitch McGovern took a mark in the dying seconds and kicked the equalizing goal after the siren had already sounded. It was an amazing comeback from Adelaide considering they were 50 points down in the third quarter. It's this kind of determination that has that has got them to the top of the league and something that Port will have to deal with if they are to have any chance of taking the spoils.
However, Port are coming off the back of their own incredible victory and will be feeling confident they can match the Crows. Paddy Ryder tapped the ball to Robbie Gray who kicked the goal with 19 seconds on the clock to snatch the points from a devastated Saint Kilda.
It is going to be a lot harder opposition this week, though, and based on Port's top-eight form, you would think that the Crows will just be too much for the Power to handle. Adelaide are solid favourites to take the win at 1.56, while Port sit at 2.60. With the Crows playing the way they have been recently, it's hard to see them taking their foot off the gas at this stage of the season.
Rory Sloane will be the one to watch for Adelaide. His season just keeps getting better and better and he is absolutely one of the best midfielders in the game at the moment. He is averaging 7.6 tackles and 23.4 disposals per game and can change a game in the blink of an eye.
For Port, Paddy Ryder will have to once again shine through the middle as he did last week. He is most likely the best ruckman in the competition this season, and we saw that against the Saints. South Australia is definitely in for a treat this weekend when these two powerhouses slog it out to claim the Adelaide derby.