afl round 1

Pete Roberts from Behind The Footy is sharing some of his great content with us for the 2021 AFL season. Pete spent fifteen years in AFL coaching boxes as an analyst. He now shares those insights with footy fans. Here’s his AFL Round 12 Preview.

Staying positive while Victoria faces Groundhog Day. Glad we have all games played in front of crowds this weekend, even though a few of them are neutral venues.

Round 12 has a lot of promise: Six games, two of them should be absolute belters. The other four contests aren’t bad either, so it’s a great opportunity to try and find the winners. Let’s get into it.

Best Matchup Melbourne v Brisbane

Best Underdog Brisbane

Team Under Pressure Both West Coast & Carlton. Loser to face the blowtorch for most of the week

Player To Watch Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – in the conversation as the best small forward in the competition. Could hold the key to Essendon’s chances of an upset on the big stage Saturday night

AFL Round 12: Melbourne v Brisbane

What a matchup. The 10-1 premiership favourite against a side on a seven-game winning streak. Originally fixtured in Alice Springs, this one will now be switched to Giants Stadium – a bit of a win for the Demons before the ball is even bounced.

Teams: Ed Langdon will miss with concussion, and he might be incredibly hard to replace. Tough to find another hard-running winger who plays 90%+ game time. For Brisbane, Lachie Neale is pushing for a return. There’s a case to suggest an underdone Neale wouldn’t be the right move for this one.

We missed an angle last week when assessing Melbourne – while the intensity of games tends to drop in an empty stadium, it would have allowed the super-organised Demons to communicate much more easily on defence. As the best pressure side in the competition, Melbourne posted their lowest pressure figure for the year yet kept the Bulldogs to their second lowest score. A huge tick for their structure behind the ball.

It’s worth a mention because they get a chance to do it again this weekend – in a neutral venue in NSW filled with a sprinkling of general footy fans and expat supporters. They have proven they can do it in front of a big crowd as well, but their absence certainly helps when trying to get organised quickly against another top four team.

No doubt the Lions will have studied Melbourne’s loss to Adelaide and the way the strangled the Bulldogs last weekend. The Dees are very good defensively but not impenetrable, and the Lions might have the mix to really challenge them. Like Melbourne, their multiple avenues to goal make them just as unpredictable and potent as the ladder leader:

  • Brisbane are one of only two teams with three players in the Top 25 for F50 marks (the Eagles being the other). All three are within four marks of each other.

  • Out of all current top eight sides, Brisbane have the lowest percentage of goals from marks (Melbourne and Geelong marginally ahead of them on a similar number). Ground level players like Cameron, McCarthy, Zorko and Bailey hit the scoreboard often, and have the class to really test Melbourne’s small defenders.

  • The Lions have the third-highest I50 differential this season, aided by the second highest clearance differential through the midfield. Melbourne are basically just breaking even at stoppage currently. Is that the window for the Lions to spend significant time in their forward half? That sort of supply will fatigue even the best defenders.

The statistical profile of both these teams is incredibly similar: both are top four at intercept marks in their defence, so they will be trying to figure out ways to keep the ball away from Harris Andrews and Jake Lever respectively.

Both are top six at winning the ball back in their front half: Melbourne generally do it through their structure with intercept marks, Brisbane win it back at ground level. With that kind of setup, the entire game will most likely hinge on who can win the contested possession battle.

A lot has been said about Melbourne’s defence, but the Lions boast a pretty impressive record themselves. They’ve conceded only one score above 85 all season, way back in Round 1 when they were jumped by an airborne Swans outfit. Since that game, they have kept the likes of the Cats (81), Bulldogs (73), Port Adelaide (44) and the Tigers (74) to pretty low totals as well. Even the demolition of Essendon in Round 5 looks pretty good in hindsight, although the Bombers have obviously improved since then.

So defensively they have the ability to keep the Demons from scoring heavily. Up the other end with the improved form of Charlie Cameron and Zac Bailey, a streak of games for Daniher and Hipwood to work together within their system, and a midfield that has proven they can flourish without Lachie Neale, they have all the ingredients to knock off Melbourne here.

The Dees have beaten most of their challengers so far, with the margins probably not a true indication of their dominance in any of those matchups. But given they don’t blow teams away on the scoreboard, Brisbane have a great opportunity to attack them head on – seven consecutive scores over 90 points, so this might be the magic number for Brisbane. Score 90 points, they win?

Clearly there’s a chance that this becomes a total slog and neither side reaches 90 points. However, if Brisbane can pierce the Melbourne defence often enough and win their fair share of contested ball, it’s an upset we can definitely see playing out.

Pick Brisbane by 10
TopSport current market Brisbane H2H $1.82

AFL Round 12: Sydney v St Kilda

A nice little leg up for Sydney this weekend, as the Swans and Saints swap fixtures at a time when both are chasing important back to back wins. What would have been the Saints’ fourth match in succession at Marvel Stadium turns into a road trip to face the Swans on their home deck.

Which Saints team got on the plane? The one with the highest losing margin (at a whopping 60 points) and the second worst accuracy in the league? Or the side capable of posting an above average pressure factor in six of their eleven matches, one which arguably should have knocked off Geelong only three weeks ago?

Instead of the Cats game being a springboard for their season, it seemed to completely zap their confidence – a 111-point hammering at the hands of the Bulldogs and a disappointing 20-point win against the Roos followed. Not a great setup for this one.

Against such an honest team like the Swans, St Kilda would have to bring the sort of form they found on the road last year. Seven regular season wins away from home and a finals victory seems so long ago – hard to see them bringing it back judging by their last two weeks.

It all comes down to their key forwards. Sydney haven’t allowed double-digit forward 50 marks to any side in the past month, the only side to achieve that feat. If we forgive St Kilda’s horror show against the Bulldogs, the Saints have been able to find 10+ marks in their forward 50 in three of the last four matches. They would need more than 10 here to be competitive, not to mention the ability to convert them into goals.

With Max King devoid of any sort of confidence and the rest of their forwards in average form at best, we just have to be with Sydney here. It’s hard to see their offence not causing the Saints serious issues – Franklin, Papley, Heeney, Hayward…how will their defence deal with them all? At least they aren’t the usual monsters who tend to give St Kilda trouble, but with so many scoring options you’d think this is just a matter of Sydney posting any sort of competitive score.

Pick Sydney by 30
TopSport current market Sydney -21.5 @ $1.90

AFL Round 12: Adelaide v Collingwood

The Crows have the kind of platform we like heading into a home clash with Collingwood – a high-pressure contest against Melbourne, then another contest against a finals contender in Richmond, where they were taught a lesson at Centre Bounce.

They drop down a grade here and face the Pies without Grundy, Adams and a properly functioning forward line. The Crows are ripe to get the job done here but we can’t be too confident given Adelaide are still along way off resembling a finals contender.

Depending on which way you look at it, Collingwood’s form hasn’t been too bad either – losses to Port Adelaide and Geelong by less than two goals reads quite well. Their negative game style is keeping the scoreline tight for long periods, but they just lack the potency to score when they desperately need reward for effort.

Against a side without a heap of pace like the Crows, Collingwood’s slow ball movement might play into their hands. Adelaide have conceded 95 points or more in five of their past six games. Speed and aggression on offence beats the Crows – Collingwood don’t currently have either of those weapons.

So this probably comes down to Adelaide’s ability to score often enough themselves. The Pies defence has carried the team for most of the year, even though their five consecutive sub-80 scores against are as much a by-product of their keepings-off style as their actual defensive capabilities.

With Walker, Fogarty and Thilthorpe shouldering the load, those three should provide enough goals for the Crows to salute, particularly if the small forwards and mids can contribute as well. If Collingwood can keep them from scoring, it becomes a matter of who stands up in their own forward line. De Goey? Cameron? Mihocek? Anyone?

Pick Adelaide by 27
TopSport current market Adelaide -12.5 @ $1.85

AFL Round 12: Essendon v Richmond

What an exciting contest this will be. A real shame we don’t get to see these two at the MCG for the Dreamtime game for the second year running, but a packed Optus Stadium isn’t a bad alternative.

After last week’s upset against the Eagles, the hype on the Bombers has reached fever pitch. They are exciting, for sure, but let’s calm down a little.

Firstly, Essendon’s win against West Coast showed incredible character. Dominating territory and contested ball away from home with such a young side isn’t easy, particularly when you fall more than four goals behind. How much of that was aided by Tim Kelly and Oscar Allen missing an entire half, though?

The Bombers had won four games prior to last weekend. The teams they beat? St Kilda, Collingwood, Fremantle and North Melbourne. Hardly a stellar lineup of quality opposition. In two other games they’ve fallen just short – to the Swans and the Giants in Sydney. Great efforts, sure, but those two are still probably a rung below this Tigers side they will face on the weekend.

History shows young sides like Essendon will mix their form a little as they develop. The Bombers fielded the fourth-least experienced team in Round 11. Not much will change this week. Can they back up again in another tough contest?

We know the Tigers don’t win the clearance differential often – they haven’t won a stoppage count since Round 5. The key strength of their midfielders is their ability to apply pressure and win the ball back through the middle – think of their game against the Bulldogs as the perfect example of their capabilities.

If the Tigers dial up their pressure on the ball again on Saturday night, it will be something the Bombers haven’t faced for a while. Essendon have had the least amount of pressure applied in the first 11 rounds. Perfect opportunity for Richmond to come out all guns blazing, win the ball back through the middle (2nd best team in the comp at midfield turnovers) and go with speed on a fast MCG-like deck at Optus Stadium.

A mature Richmond group against an improving but inexperienced Bombers lineup. It’s the kind of recipe that has us confident in Richmond banking another win. A free-flowing contest would give Essendon a glimmer of hope, but you wouldn’t expect the Tigers allow that to happen on the big stage.

Pick Richmond by 26
TopSport current market Richmond -11.5 @ $1.85

AFL Round 12: Carlton v West Coast

This game is impossible to predict. The Eagles are trying to bounce back after being stung by the Bombers last week, while the Blues are desperately trying not to lose their eighth game by 10-30 points. If we think it’s Groundhog Day in Victoria, spare a thought for Carlton supporters.

The Blues get to face the worst pressure side in the competition on a small ground where the Eagles haven’t won since 1999 (only 9 attempts, however). This is their chance to beat a top eight side for the first time this season.

So how do they get it done? We know the SCG is a centre bounce ground, where winning the ball out of the middle is critical. Nic Naitanui poses a threat, but at ground level you have to think Carlton have the edge. With both side around mid-table at winning the ball back on turnover, this probably becomes the deciding factor.

For Carlton, offence will be the best form of defence – they have to limit supply to the Eagles forwards who are easily the best at making the most of their chances. With a little less room to work with on a crowded SCG, the Eagles will need to be at their contested marking best away from the open space of Optus Stadium.

Comfortable that the Blues have enough scoring power to post a reasonable total, particularly if they can avoid kicking it straight to the Eagles’ intercept mark brigade and bring the ball to ground. It just becomes a matter of who is winning contested possession and clearances through the middle – without Kelly and Shuey and with Yeo still underdone, you’d have to think Carlton have the best shot at winning in a tight one.

Pick Carlton by 4
TopSport current market Carlton H2H @ $1.57

AFL Round 12: Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

You have to feel for Fremantle. They smash straight into the Bulldogs fresh off being shown up against Melbourne only a week ago. With a reality check and a blessing in disguise plane trip to Perth, the Dogs could come out and give the Dockers absolute hell.

Will Fremantle load up on tall forwards and identify that area as their best chance at winning? Definitely possible, but it might also expose them at ground level if they go too top-heavy. Treacy and Lobb have a big job on their hands if Taberner doesn’t return.

Looking forward to these two midfields going head to head here. The Dockers might be a couple of years behind in their development compared to the Bulldogs, so we would expect them to find this a genuine test of how far they’ve come and how far they still have to go. The Dogs are easily the best clearance team in the league, with the Dockers sitting a very respectable fourth overall so far. The clear difference is their ability to score.

If Fremantle can’t at least break even at stoppage, it will become incredibly difficult to stop the Dogs from scoring. They have so many options up forward and players with a whole different range of capabilities, so their unpredictability and efficiency forward of centre gives them a clear advantage in this contest. Keeping the Bulldogs under 90 points would be a fair effort.

Unless Fremantle can somehow lock this completely down and win in a thriller, it’s hard to see the Dogs dropping this one – the game would have to resemble Fremantle’s gritty win over the Swans a couple of weeks ago, but the Swans and Dogs are completely different sides.

The league’s highest scoring offence against a team in the bottom six for points scored who hasn’t posted a triple-digit total all season. A fired-up Bulldogs can post the kind of total the Dockers will struggle to match. Expecting that to happen here.

Pick Western Bulldogs by 33
TopSport current market Bulldogs -16.5 @ $1.90

Pete Roberts from Behind The Footy is sharing some of his great content with us for the 2021 AFL season. Pete spent fifteen years in AFL coaching boxes as an analyst. He now shares those insights with footy fans.

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