afl round 9, afl round 11

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 9 Preview.

This round has it all – 2nd v 3rd, 17th v 18th and everything in between. Definitely the kind of weekend where you could blindly fall into just selecting the favourites. It does look quite simple on paper, but it’s never THAT simple, right?

Injuries and suspensions add another layer of complexity. It’s been carnage on the injury front: Howe, Caldwell, Butters and Viney are all set to miss more time. The likes of Hunter, Stringer, Bolton, Stephenson and Murphy have all joined them on the sidelines.

A few teams will be without important players thanks to the tribunal: Touk Miller will sit out the crucial Q Clash, the Giants won’t have Jeremy Finlayson to take advantage of a leaky Bombers defence, and Peter Ladhams or Sam Hayes will have to shoulder a big load for Port in the absence of Scott Lycett for several weeks. Bad timing for all three of them!

With a slight gap starting to appear between the best seven or eight teams and the rest of the competition, it will be interesting to see whether any of the underdogs can can cause an upset. Hard not to think the final eight is nearly set, even at this early stage…

Best Matchup Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs

Best Underdogs Western Bulldogs, GWS, Collingwood

Team Under Pressure Hawthorn. They couldn’t drop this one, could they?

Player To Watch Charlie Dixon. A great chance to silence the critics with a big performance in a big game. Can he deliver?

AFL Round 9: St Kilda v Geelong

Time to see what the Saints are really made of…

Wins against GWS, West Coast, Hawthorn and Gold Coast scattered around heavy losses to Essendon, Richmond and Port Adelaide. A competitive effort against the undefeated Demons in Round 2 seems a world away. Currently they are just a middle-tier team. Can they lift a notch and test a good side in prime time?

St Kilda were a top six team for converting Inside 50 opportunities into scores last year in the shorter format. This year? Second last. Whether it’s fitness or skill level, the drop-off is incredible, given the forward line is largely unchanged. The positive spin is it gives them some upside if they can fix their efficiency. Tough week to do it.

This Geelong defence is a massive test for St Kilda. Their back six have kept their opposition to the second fewest forward 50 marks for the season behind Melbourne. If King and Membrey can’t win their fair share of aerial contests then the pressure will fall on their small forwards and the resting ruckman, which seems to be their only real edge over the Cats.

It wouldn’t be football season without a ruck dilemma down at Geelong. The Cats went for the Blicavs / Ratugolea combination last week and it seemed to pay off. Didn’t think they could possibly try it again, but no sign of Fort or Stanley tonight at selection. Will they pull a late change, given Stanley is an emergency? Either way, Geelong will know it’s the only area where the Saints can exploit them.

All of this is probably irrelevant given the Cats ability to score so heavily. Cameron’s inclusion looks like it was the catalyst for a “new-look” Geelong, with scores of 136, 88 (where expected score was 111) and 126 in the past three weeks. Given the Saints have conceded 80+ points any time they have faced a top eight team so far, there’s no reason to believe the Cats won’t post another big total.

Frawley makes his Saints debut in one of the toughest re-introductions to senior football you could find. At least that takes some pressure off the likes of Callum Wilkie, who is in the mix for the most underrated defender going around at the moment.

Interested to see if the Saints can at least rise to the occasion a little bit here. It’s possible, but the more likely scenario is the Cats will have too many weapons up forward and too much experience down back to be troubled in this one.

Pick: Geelong by 25

AFL Round 9: Sydney v Collingwood

Sydney have come up hot favourites after stretching the Demons last weekend. The noise around Collingwood looks like it has affected their perception a lot more than it should have. They are a genuine chance here.

Many have suggested (including ourselves) that the Swans’ style of play might not suit the SCG anymore. Forget about it. It’s a myth. Now we have a much bigger sample size, the Swans DNA is still contest and defence over flair and high scoring. That sort of game style suits any ground, so they certainly don’t need open space to perform.

After their electric start to the season, the Swans have only scored more than 80 points once in the last four matches when they stole the points against Geelong. Thankfully for them, they come up against a team who is finding scoring even more of a challenge.

So we will probably find this one a bit of an arm wrestle. The Pies won’t want a shootout because they won’t be able to match it with Sydney in an open contest. The Swans have been defending well but lacking a bit of firepower up forward themselves.

This game will be decided at the stoppages. They are so evenly matched in the middle – both have had their challenges at scoring from stoppages this season (bottom four), come armed with a highly rated ruckman, and go head to head with plenty of experienced soldiers in their midfield. Grundy vs Hickey will be pivotal.

A Collingwood win wouldn’t shock, but just leaning towards the Swans if they can get back to hitting the scoreboard a lot more regularly. Franklin surely won’t be held goalless for the second time in two weeks, and with Roughead missing the Pies just might find him to be too much of a handful.

Pick: Sydney by 8

AFL Round 9: Hawthorn v North Melbourne

So here it is. 17th v 18th – North’s best chance at winning in some time. Can they do it? It really depends on Hawthorn. And team selection.

This game is relatively simple to break down:

Injuries: The depth of the Hawks has been tested this year, but they should regain O’Meara and Gunston this weekend. Those two alone will make a massive difference.

In contrast, the Roos have nowhere near their best side on the park. Look at their 2020 Best and Fairest count: McDonald (1st), Anderson (3rd), Dumont (5th), Tarrant (6th) were all missing last week, with Dumont the only one who may return. New addition Jaidyn Stephenson wouldn’t be far off the top five of this year’s count, but he’s now missing for six weeks as well. Another off-season acquisition, Aidan Bonar, joins him in the rehab group for the next couple of months.

With that sort of setup it’s no wonder the Roos can’t get over the line. When you’re already devoid of top-end talent and your best players are sitting in the stands, you just can’t compete.

Offence: The problem for North is their incredible lack of potency up forward. Stephenson (now injured) is their leading goalkicker and has taken the most marks inside 50 for the Roos (with only 8). Nick Larkey has spent the entire season up forward and taken 7 F50 marks. Total.

The Hawks at least have some options up forward, especially if Gunston returns. Jacob Koschitzke and Mitch Lewis might not be household names but they do provide a reasonable target. This might also be the game where Luke Bruest gets to enjoy a bit of extra space and kick a bag.

Midfield: Basically it’s the old stagers McEvoy and Goldstein head to head, Mitchell v Cunnington, Worpel v Simpkin. O’Meara would add another genuine top line midfielder to the mix that the Roos don’t have the personnel to match. That should give the Hawks a clear edge at stoppages, unless Ben Cunnington can wrestle back control on his own.

Last time the Hawks played in Tasmania they kicked their only 100+ score against the Crows and pinched the four points. The Roos are just as poor defensively, so this is a chance for Hawthorn to run up the scoreboard and put the game out of reach. North Melbourne’s only chance is to turn this into a low-scoring grind. Unlikely.

Pick: Hawthorn by 22

AFL Round 9: Gold Coast v Brisbane

The most formidable opponent the Lions face this week could be themselves. There is a real danger of getting away from the basics and playing like millionaires when you’re in a local derby with a clear edge on the opposition.

Touk Miller’s suspension couldn’t come at a worse time for the Suns. They desperately needed him playing to try and stop the second best stoppage scoring side from winning the clearance battle. Without him, the Suns will find things tough.

The Suns prefer to win their contested ball and explode away from the contest into an open forward line. The problem is the Lions just do it better. Harris Andrews and Marcus Adams won’t find the Suns forward line much of a problem, and Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood and Charlie Cameron shouldn’t have many problems finding space and hitting the scoreboard up the other end.

Brisbane humming along nicely. The Suns have stagnated. Complacency or a huge drop in form the only danger to the Lions.

Pick: Brisbane by 37

AFL Round 9: Richmond v GWS

What happens to a side when basically their entire starting midfield isn’t playing? Well, we are about to find out…

The question mark on GWS is whether they have the weapons at either end to take advantage. Can Hogan, Himmelberg and Greene hit the scoreboard enough? The Tigers might not be defending as well as they used to, but their back six is still stacked with Premiership players.

In defence, everyone seems to have forgotten how undermanned the Giants will be – Keeffe tore his ACL last week, joining Davis and Haynes on the sidelines. GWS will find it difficult to keep Riewoldt, Lynch and the small forwards under control. Getting it in there will be Richmond’s biggest challenge.

We know that Hopper, Taranto, Green, Ward, Whitfield and Kelly should give the Giants an edge through the middle. The quality of delivery will be the key – it doesn’t matter how many flags you’ve won, it’s very hard to defend if the midfielders are able to pick their targets under very little pressure. Richmond are OK at their midfield pressure rating but the great unknown is how they will fare with the new personnel.

Will we see something completely different from the Tigers? They might have to get creative. Either that or they just wind up Dusty like a steel spring and give him the challenge of carrying the mids on his back. This is the kind of setup he could really enjoy…

Still have to side with Richmond. Undermanned in only one (albeit critical) area, and they have Martin and Graham to try and win their fair share through the middle. The Flynn/Mumford (EDIT: Briggs to debut!) vs Nankervis battle is a pretty neutral result, so it’s just a matter of the Tigers getting the ball forward enough and making the most of their chances.

If the Giants are ever going to topple Richmond, it is here. Leaning slightly to the Tigers, but not a huge confidence level.

Pick: Richmond by 10

AFL Round 9: Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs

What a cracker. 2nd v 3rd in the match of the round, in what looks like perfect conditions.

One major query about both of these sides. Whoever can exploit their opposition’s achilles heel the best will win this one.

For Port Adelaide, it’s their ability to play a forward half turnover game. They’ve gone from 1st in 2020 to 7th this season and face the number one side this weekend. Only twice have they managed a double-digit differential: against Adelaide last weekend and Essendon in Round 2. Big test to see whether they can do it against the best team in the comp at winning the ball back in their front half. The territory game will be so crucial.

For the Dogs, it is clearly their ability to defend the genuine marking forwards. Three times they have conceded 10+ F50 marks in a match: R2 against West Coast (clearly the best marking side around), R7 v Richmond (Lynch and Riewoldt took 11 between them) and R8 v Carlton thanks largely to Harry McKay.

Given Port Adelaide’s stacked forward line, this will be a real test for the Dogs defence. Some have been saying Dixon is out of form but he plays such a crucial role in their structure – Marshall and Georgiades don’t kick nearly as many goals without his presence. When you add in Robbie Gray and Orazio Fantasia, Port have the ability to score so many different ways it’s hard to know where to look.

So who wins? Leaning to Port Adelaide – Clurey, Jonas and Aliir to keep Naughton and Bruce under control, and their key forwards to get the job done up the other end. Confident Charlie Dixon can get the better of Alex Keath this week and silence the critics for a little while.

Pick: Port Adelaide by 19

AFL Round 9: Essendon v Fremantle

Tricky matchup, this one. Fremantle’s undermanned defence faces the second-highest scoring team in the league (that’s not a typo).

Clearly this will come down to Fremantle’s ability to restrict the Bombers scoring. The Dockers just don’t have the firepower to try and win a shootout like the Blues and Giants managed over the past two weeks.

Fremantle’s main weapon is their midfield. They sit third in clearance differential, while the Bombers are way down in 17th. This is their chance to exploit an Essendon midfield group who might not defend like the best of them. If they can keep the ball in their hands and somehow find a way to keep the scoreboard ticking over then they’re half a chance.

The loss of Stringer definitely hurts the Bombers. Can they find a few goals from someone else to fill that void? Hooker has been outstanding and McDonald-Tipungwuti is on track for a career-best goal scoring season, but they need a few others to step up in Stringer’s absence.

The Bombers face a challenge at the stoppages, Fremantle arrive with their usual challenge of finding enough ways to score.

If the Bombers can avoid being exploited through the middle, defend first and stay on the attack for long enough then they should create enough chances up forward. On the flip side, Fremantle have a golden opportunity to use their midfield weapons to generate enough supply. Who kick their goals outside of Taberner? Nat Fyfe can’t be in two places at once, unfortunately…

Pick: Essendon by 5

AFL Round 9: Melbourne v Carlton

There are two schools of thought on the Blues…

1) The fadeout against the Western Bulldogs shows they just can’t match it with the good sides for long enough, particularly through the middle.

2) They managed to challenge one of the best sides in the competition for a long period of time, with a +16 contested possession count for the first three quarters.

Human nature naturally forces most people to focus on the negative, but there was a lot to like about how the Blues were able to play against a team who had only dropped one game for the season. However, as the saying goes, your greatest strength is often your greatest weakness.

Carlton have only scored three fewer points than Melbourne so far this season. Their star key forward is leading the Coleman Medal race at the moment. Yet their offensive style might actually be working against them, leaving them incredibly exposed on defence if (when) they turn the ball over.

Even though Melbourne aren’t super potent up forward, if the Blues defend like previous weeks the Dees have plenty of ways to score. Trying another shootout against a better defence than the Bulldogs probably won’t end well.

The Dees are cruising on top of the ladder, of course. Weideman replaces Jackson in a pretty neutral swap, especially given his form in the VFL. Interested to see if Weideman or McDonald take the secondary ruck duties this week with Jackson not around. Defensively they are rock solid but not invincible – May will have the big job ensuring Harry McKay can be held under four goals for the first time since Round 5.

Clearly Melbourne are ripe to drop a game at some stage soon. You’d be brave to suggest the Blues would be the first ones to knock them off. Perhaps if they get jumped in the first quarter then it might be a slight chance. But for Carlton to win they would have to perform an incredible defensive turnaround. Do they have it in them at the moment? Probably not.

Pick: Melbourne by 24

AFL Round 9: West Coast v Adelaide

The Eagles have done a remarkable job to drop only three games despite all their injury issues. They were perhaps a little blessed by the fixture, facing the Dockers and Hawks immediately after their disaster against Geelong. At 5-3 and with some key ingredients returning, this could be where they start to get on a roll.

Speaking of being blessed by the fixture, West Coast now come home to tackle a team that has won only nine quarters for the entire season.

The Crows tend to go OK against other teams without a heap of leg speed, which might be their only saving grace here. Other than that, it’s hard to see how they win this one.

The Eagles will get plenty of supply to their forwards, their back six shouldn’t have many issues outside of containing Tex, and their undermanned midfield can still match it with the Crows whenever they find themselves at a stoppage, which shouldn’t be often outside of a centre bounce.

An amazing run of three soft games for the Eagles will just continue to build their confidence. West Coast will suddenly be 6-3 and in the hunt for a top four spot again. And their next three opponents? GWS (away), Essendon (home) and Carlton (away). Wow.

Pick: West Coast by 36

AFL Round 9 Burning Question

Do we need to revisit the football soft cap?

Yes. Just wish the focus wasn’t just on the coaches. There are so many overworked soldiers in footy departments outside of coaching groups who deserve praise, recognition and some work/life balance just as much as anyone. And a pay rise.

Chris Scott put the topic back on the agenda this week, and made some great points. No doubt there will be changes on the horizon as the industry recovers from the economic setbacks. Hopefully someone goes into bat for those without an association behind them as well…

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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