afl round 8

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 8 Preview.

Injuries, fatigue and flat spots. We are effectively eight weeks into the season (one pre-season game and seven rounds), so this is where it can get rather tricky. Two months of football starts to catch up with a few teams, and over half the players running around will be carrying some sort of injury that threatens to slow them down.

Also worth noting that this could be the period where the cumulative effect of the interchange cap and the increasing length of games starts to take its toll. Depth will be tested, and a few team changes to bring in fresh legs should be seen as a positive.

Basically every decent side has gone through a flat spot – flag favourites Richmond lost three of four through Rounds 3 to 6, Port Adelaide failed in two interstate trips to Perth and Brisbane, the Eagles looked formidable at one point before a disaster against the Cats, while the Cats themselves have arguably played flat for most of the season.

Did the Demons play their flat one last week despite their win? Or is it still to come? What about the Bulldogs? They lost last week against a quality team, so arguably a drop of form at some point in the next month or so wouldn’t be a surprise. We have to have this in the back of the mind when trying to find winners through the middle period of the season before the byes kick in – not every team will sustain their form from week to week. Beware the flat spot.

Best matchup Richmond v Geelong

Best underdog Essendon, St Kilda

Team under pressure Collingwood – if they don’t win this weekend, expect the media to be parked out the front of the Holden Centre from 7am Monday morning.

Player to watch Two of them this week: Max and Ben King. They go head to head and arguably hold the key to their team’s chances. More in the preview below.

Let’s get into it!

AFL Round 8: Richmond v Geelong

This is incredibly tough.

Don’t bother with weird stats like this one when looking at this matchup. The key part is how both sides might attack the game of the round.

Get the feeling that the Cats will approach things a little differently this week. Already rumours of Esava Ratugolea making the side, and doubts over whether Rhys Stanley holds his spot. Will they try to go super mobile and match the Tigers for running power?

The hunch is that Geelong know they can’t really beat the Tigers by playing slow footy in their back half. Richmond have far too much discipline and would force them into just kicking it back into a contest. Speed is the key – Geelong have to do it by putting speed on the ball.

Just hoping the Cats fight fire with fire: Hawkins and Cameron vs Lynch and Riewoldt up the other end, release the shackles and may the best team win. Those bloody coaches will have other ideas unfortunately, but it’s genuinely the way Geelong can get over the top of the Tigers.

No point digging through numbers or form lines for this one. We assume both will be at their best and it will be a ripping contest. Hard to be super confident either way so it’s definitely a game to just sit back with a beer and enjoy.

Team changes will be interesting – Martin and Vlastuin likely to return in a direct swap for Cotchin and Grimes. Cats could do anything. Will update as soon as the teams come through.

If you treat the Cats game against Sydney last week as a win (remember the expected score had them winning by 30+), then this becomes a reasonable coin flip. Wouldn’t talk you out of any result here.

Pick: Geelong by 4

AFL Round 8: GWS v Essendon

Came prepared for a slight overreaction to the Giants’ form for this one. And we got it.

The Bombers are clearly an enigma so the Giants deserve to be favourites, but shocked to see them such big outsiders. They have an offence that can cause a bit of trouble – four scores of 90+ in seven games – and the midfield has enough talent to break even with the Giants at the very least.

Were the Giants softened up for this one by an easy victory last week? That’s a massive question against a Bombers side coming off a proper contest against the Blues. Yes, they lost, but they found plenty of offensive form among a whole heap of skill errors that can easily be fixed.

Can definitely see a scenario where the Bombers win this, or at least keep it close. The Giants aren’t a huge step up from the likes of Collingwood and Carlton, and the last time the Bombers ventured to Sydney they were arguably super stiff not to knock off the Swans. Young side the query – are they still okay physically after a big few weeks?

Should we go out on a limb here? Very tempting… OK, let’s do it.

Pick: Essendon by 1

AFL Round 8: Gold Coast v St Kilda

A pair of Kings is the perfect starting hand for one of the best matchups this weekend. The problem for Gold Coast is St Kilda hold all the aces in the ruck. The Suns underrated midfield would have to pull off an incredible heist to avoid being on the back foot through the middle.

Ben King (20 goals for the Suns) has flown under the radar this season: Top 10 for inside 50 targets, outstanding numbers for retention and conversion when the ball is directed his way, and a competitive attitude that would put a few other key forwards to shame. His effort inside 50 against Collingwood that lead to a David Swallow goal should be played on repeat in the Suns rooms pre-game ahead of this one.

Max King (11 goals in 6 games) doesn’t have the impressive numbers of his brother but he does have to share the forward 50 targets with a few others. Accuracy has been his major problem – rarely has a shot outside of a 45 degree angle but has still kicked 11.11 with four missed shots.

Given how well the Suns are defending – the fourth-best scores per inside 50 figure so far – the Saints will have to lift their output. Higgins and Butler are starting to find a bit of form. Those two become super important if the Suns keep the ball on the deck.

Genuine coin flip here. The rest of the figures suggest both sides are at exactly the same level at this point in time. The Suns are arguably defending better but still have issues scoring outside of Ben King. Corbett jumped up last week late in the game. Can he back it up? The Saints have a serious edge with their Marshall/Ryder combo as ruck/forward and could prove the difference. But given they’ve mixed their form so much it’s hard to be super confident in what side will turn up.

Great contest. Leaning Saints only because of their ruck division. Worth a watch just for King v King alone.

Pick: St Kilda by 8

AFL Round 8: North Melbourne v Collingwood

There is absolutely no doubt about North’s mindset in the lead-up to this one: they can smell a kill.

The Pies have their backs to the wall and face a winless team desperate to put four quarters together. What would usually be a game you’d rather skip becomes nearly a must-watch on Saturday afternoon.

Only two encounters ago in 2019, the Roos pulled off an unlikely upset against a Collingwood side that eventually finished 4th that season. Only nine players from that day were in the North side last week. Collingwood aren’t anywhere near a top-four team right now. Fascinating how things can change so quickly.

So Collingwood couldn’t possible lose here, right? Well, they could lose, but the most likely scenario is they scramble their way forward enough to hit the scoreboard. Over the course of a 120-minute game the Pies should come out on top.

If there is one way for North to get the job done, it will be a first quarter ambush to force the Pies into panic mode. The Roos’ score differential is off the charts but they haven’t leaked big scores in the first quarter, and have one of the best pressure ratings in the first term of anyone in the competition. Can they translate that contest and tackling pressure into a four to six goal quarter? That’s their chance.

Collingwood to win. First quarter critical. If they can’t get over the line in this one then the blowtorch (and the media) won’t move from Magpies HQ all week.

Pick: Collingwood by 25

AFL Round 8: Port Adelaide v Adelaide

After being blessed by the fixture over the first five weeks, the Crows enter the “month of death” with their next four opponents.

First up, they face a Port Adelaide side breathing fire after another poor road performance. Then they jet over to Perth to tackle the Eagles, smack straight into a potentially undefeated Melbourne side and round out the four-week block with their first away trip to the MCG up against the reigning Premier. Talk about a horror draw.

Do we give them a legitimate chance of pinching any of them? Probably not. This might actually be their best chance given these cross-town rivalries often defy ladder position over the years. But gee it’s going to be tough.

The problem for the Crows is how easy they are to score against – they leaked 102 points against a 17th placed Hawks offence in Round 6. A week later Adelaide allowed the third-lowest scoring side for the year (GWS) to score 106 points away from home, the only time they have broken the 100-point mark for the season.

Even if Port Adelaide’s offence isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now, they are vastly superior in attack compared to the Hawks and Giants. What sort of score could they put up here?

It’s a great opportunity for Port to get back to the forward half game which worked so well last year. In 2020 they led the league for forward half turnover differential. This season they are middle of the road for both forward half turnovers and time in their forward half. The Crows will give them plenty of opportunities to win the ball back early, so they don’t have to rely on their ball movement from the back half as much.

Can’t see Port dropping this one.

Pick: Port Adelaide by 44

AFL Round 8: Melbourne v Sydney

Generally we don’t put too much weight on the “bogey side” angle when assessing a team’s chances – so many things change from week to week let alone season to season: game plan, personnel, injuries, conditions, even accuracy and expected score.

In this case, however, Sydney have absolutely OWNED Melbourne for years. The Swans have won nine of their past ten encounters, the Dees only win being an SCG clash in 2019 where expected score (if we could find it) would have shown the Dees just couldn’t miss in the second half.

That game was the only time the Dees have scored 100 points (they scored exactly 100) against the Swans in their last eleven matches. Defensively, Sydney have just had their measure.

This new-look Swans outfit will need to channel their old style a little in this one. Given how well the Dees have been defensively themselves – #1 for points against – and how clean they are through the middle, Sydney’s best chance will be another low-scoring slog on a slippery Saturday night at the G. Can they keep the Dees under 80 for the first time this year?

This is such a good setup for the Dees to squash another finals contender, one they have struggled to conquer for so long. The Swans are a little more vulnerable at the moment for a number of reasons: a few injuries to key players (most of whom have now returned), the natural form fluctuations of a young side (10 players under 50 games last weekend), and enough of a database of vision for opposition teams to study in order to shut them down. An average of 75 points over the last four weeks suggests the other teams have worked them out to some extent.

If the Swans score 75 again here then they would have to be super defensively to avoid defeat. The pivotal selection might be Buddy Franklin, who has terrorised the Demons for years. That match in 2019 mentioned above is the only time Franklin has EVER lost to Melbourne – a 15-1 record going all the way back to his Hawthorn days.

Lance is their trump card but it’s hard to mount a case that he’s going to be a matchwinner against a polished defence in his first game back from injury.

Up the other end we get another look at the Dees with Ben Brown. Fascinated to see whether he can make a regular impact in this forward line. If not, he might still be a great designated decoy so that Fritsch, McDonald and Pickett can run rampant. The Melbourne offence should have enough unpredictability to get the job done here.

Pick: Melbourne by 26

AFL Round 8: Hawthorn v West Coast

This one has a bit of a weird feeling about it. On paper there’s no way the Hawks can compete with the Eagles for long enough to pinch this. A team ranked 17th at inside 50 differential faces the best side at scoring once they get it in there. That’s the kind of setup which often produces a very lopsided result.

Yet somehow there is an angle to suggest a small window of opportunity for Hawthorn – their midfield. Yes, they are slow and one-dimensional, but the Eagles are slow and undermanned. The Hawks have broken even at clearances (or within 3-4 either way) against the likes of Richmond, Geelong and Melbourne. Most would argue all three of them have superior clearance personnel than the Eagles can muster this week, Naitanui aside.

Prior to their embarrassing blowout last week which destroyed their stoppage scoring differential, the Hawks had hung in there pretty well against most of the others. Can they turn this game into a stoppage grind? If they can, it will purely come down to finding a way to score enough to compete. O’Meara should return to give them some class. Would love to see him hit the scoreboard to help the Hawks – only 1 goal in six games so far.

Gunston has the ability to play matchwinner, but it’s a tough task to do it in only his second game back after injury. Koschitzke is gaining confidence. Who else can stand up? This is the time to do it, with Hurn, McGovern and Barrass all missing.

While we aren’t silly enough to pick the Hawks, we can definitely see a glimmer of hope for their chances…somehow.

If it’s another open, uncontested, kicking game, clearly the Eagles will thrive and could post a hell of a score. If they aren’t marking it up forward they will probably be earning a ton of free kicks as the Hawks key defenders enter desperation mode.

Rain would help the Hawks immensely, making sure the Eagles are tested in a genuine contest again. If it’s dry and resembles the kind of open field West Coast saw against Fremantle last week, then the margin could get out of hand.

Pick: West Coast by 18

AFL Round 8: Fremantle v Brisbane

Have to feel for the Dockers. A very rare back-to-back Optus Stadium fixture has turned into a two-week stint away from home. Brisbane become the beneficiary of the reverse. At least they suffered the same fate earlier this season when COVID protocols forced them away from their own state for a couple of weeks.

So… it’s hard to make a case for the Dockers here. The Lions might have the most hidden consistent form line of any team in the competition. Unless their form dips drastically on Sunday, Brisbane should march on to a 5-3 start to stay within striking distance of a top four spot.

Fremantle are 4-3 on the same line as the Lions, but have beaten 11th, 13th, 16th and 18th. Without many weapons on offence and at least three of their first-choice back six on the sidelines, so much of the load falls on their midfielders to put in a blinder.

There’s no doubt Mundy, Fyfe, Serong, Brayshaw and the Darcy  Lobb combo can trouble the Lions at their best. The problem is those guys would have to hit the scoreboard pretty frequently in order for them to compete, or at least keep it down their end as a form of defence – in all four of their wins they’ve enjoyed at least a 55% share of time in their forward half.

If they fail to break even at clearance and find a way to lock it in their forward 50 for long periods, the Lions should have way too much firepower on offence. How do they keep Daniher, Hipwood, Cameron, McCarthy and the midfielders from putting up 100+ in perfect conditions?

Big watch on Hugh McCluggage. Finally getting some centre bounce attendances over the past few weeks and some serious midfield minutes with Lachie Neale out with injury. He was their second-highest clearance player against Port Adelaide, which seemed to finally get the attention of the slow judges who figured out he was a genuine gun. Only Charlie Cameron has had more scoring shots than McCluggage in the last few weeks – if he can fix the radar (2.7 not ideal) this could be the game where he just tears the place apart.

Lions with too many weapons across the board. Midfield battle the key for a Freo upset. Hard to see them getting the job done regardless unless it’s a low-scoring grind and they pinch it.

Pick: Brisbane by 33

AFL Round 8: Western Bulldogs v Carlton

Wouldn’t be shocked if this is the highest scoring game of the round. Defence not high on the priority list for the Blues, and they smash straight into the most potent offence so far this season. End-to-end footy on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Marvel Stadium under the roof is a massive chance.

So can the Blues beat the Dogs in a shootout? They’ve got a hope.

The media are starting to take notice of the Dogs’ vulnerabilities in key defence – Keath and Cordy were definitely brave last week (and rightly defended by their coach post-match), but they can still be exposed pretty regularly.

Carlton have the beast that is Harry McKay, the current leading F50 mark player in the competition. But there is daylight between McKay and their next best key forward: Mitch McGovern is out through injury, Levi Casboult has taken six marks inside 50 and kicked four goals despite playing every game, and their next option looks to be Tom De Koning in his return from injury.

That is the challenge for Carlton – can McKay shoulder the entire load up forward against a quality side? Can anyone else threaten enough down there to post a decent total? Will they try something different to stretch the Bulldogs defence somehow?

The Dogs won’t have it all their own way through the midfield but they do look to have lengths on Carlton’s best. That should give them plenty of supply again – remember the Dogs are on world record pace for I50 differential and clearly the leader at clearances as well. The Blues would have to lift to a new level to match them if their shootout against an inferior team in Essendon last week is any guide.

Team news will filter through over the weekend (more of that in our Burning Question below) so worth following given there are a few question marks over quality players on either side.

If English returns to provide a better team balance than last week, you would be a brave tipster to side with the Blues. It’s not out of the question but you’d have to be confident that Carlton can go to another level in order to win this one. Not for us.

Pick: Western Bulldogs by 26

Round 8 Burning Question

Should we go back to Thursday night team announcements?

Yes. Check out the Twitter poll below. Not sure there was much of a “debate” about it. Couldn’t hit the Yes button fast enough…

Contrary to popular belief from the nay-sayers, it’s not all about tipping/fantasy sports. Most teams know their side by Thursday anyway. Not sure why you’d hold them back. It fuels the footy discussion for the weekend, they all come at once rather than become buried over the weekend among the other matches, and everyone gets a bit of notice about how teams might set up. What’s not to like?

With no Thursday night footy at the moment it makes even more sense. Signals the start of the new round and gives the fans something to digest before all the games kick off. In a league where constant content is king, it’s surprising it’s taken this long to realise the opportunity they have to go back to one of the footy traditions that actually makes sense.

For secrecy purposes some coaches would prefer to show their hand much later, of course. And there would be fewer late withdrawals which has been mentioned as an issue – haven’t heard as many complaints about late withdrawals compared to the current setup! Looks like sanity will prevail.

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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