The finals race is well and truly alive in Round 15, and it is looming as the best round of the entire season with each of the top eight teams facing each other.
These are the five key storylines to look for ahead of this weekend’s action.
Top of the table clash to open
Round 15 kicks off on Thursday night with the second-placed Demons hosting the ladder-leading Lions at the MCG.
After Round 10, Melbourne was two games clear ahead of Brisbane. The Demons then went on to lose their next three games and are in a certainly less comfortable position than they were a few weeks ago.
Melbourne is set to welcome back arguably its most important player in Steven May from a club suspension. It will however lose skipper Max Gawn with an ankle injury for up to a month meaning Luke Jackson is set to take up the number one ruck role.
For Brisbane, Dayne Zorko is out of the clash with a hamstring injury. Without a like-for-like replacement, the loss could hurt the Lions more than initially thought.
The Lions won’t want to look at their history at the MCG, having lost their last nine matches at the venue with their last win coming in Round 21, 2014 against Collingwood.
Two double-chance contenders lock horns
Carlton and Fremantle have been two of the ‘risers’ up the ladder in 2022 both making their mark as top-four calibre teams.
The sides meet for the second time this season at Marvel Stadium on Saturday with plenty to play for. Fremantle could jump into the top two with a win, while Carlton will continue its push for a spot in the top four.
Everyone is well aware of the injury difficulties that the Blues are currently facing with several key players sidelined. Although the Dockers also have several key players out due to injury, Sam Switkowski has suffered a serious fracture in his back, while Matt Taberner is still under an injury cloud.
This contest though will feature a scintillating midfield battle, some have labelled these as the two deepest midfield groups in the competition. With Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps, George Hewett, and Matthew Kennedy facing Andrew Brayshaw, Nathan Fyfe, Will Brodie, and Caleb Serong.
The pressure will mount on Fremantle’s key defenders and their ability to contain Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow. Alex Pearce and Brennan Cox are likely to play on the duo but how well can they limit their impact.
Both these sides expect to play finals at the end of the year, making this contest imperative as to where they finish at the end of the season.
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A Geelong home game that’s once again not at home
The third top-eight clash sees fourth-placed Geelong host sixth-placed Richmond at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
There is always controversy surrounding Geelong home games not being played at GMHBA Stadium that has sparked again this week. However, the Cats are often very strong at the MCG and will likely push the Tigers to the limit in what looks to be a thriller.
Aside from that debate, on the field is where it will be most brutal. These two midfield groups are known for doing it the hard way.
Both with a key forward duo that on their day are near impossible to stop. Tom Lynch appears to be back to his best following a stint on the sidelines and Jack Riewoldt makes for nice company. While Geelong star forwards Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins sit second and third in the Coleman Medal.
At ground level in the front half, the Tigers look more damaging with names like Shai Bolton, Judson Clarke, and Kane Lambert who all offer a variety of skills that make the Tigers forward 50 dangerous. The Cats have crucial players themselves in Gary Rohan, Tyson Stengle, and Brad Close who are certainly not afraid of hitting the scoreboard.
Geelong will be looking to make it five wins in a row and secure its place in the top four. While Richmond is looking to secure its place in the top eight and further push for a spot in the top four and secure a double chance.
How much will Jack Steele’s return help St Kilda?
In the last of the top eight matchups of the weekend, St Kilda warmly welcomes back its beloved skipper Jack Steele for its clash at the SCG against Sydney.
With both teams sitting inside the eight on percentage, the loser of this contest will likely end the round outside the eight.
The addition of Jack Steele will only benefit the Saints as they look to hold their place in the top eight. Before his injury, Steele was averaging 27.8 disposals 6.2 tackles, and a career-high 4.8 marks.
As well as Steele, St Kilda could welcome back Dan McKenzie as he has been made available to play after missing last week due to concussion protocols. Regarding Sydney, Peter Ladhams will miss Saturday night’s clash due to suspension, but the perfect replacement of Tom Hickey nullifies that loss.
This is a massive contest that acts almost like an early elimination final, the winner can almost lock in a place in September while the loser will come under real pressure.
Suns with the potential to be percentage out of the top eight
It might be hard to believe, but if the Suns can beat the Power in Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, they will likely be just outside the top eight only by percentage.
However, it is much easier said than done. Port Adelaide is quite a strong side on its home deck and it will take really strong opposition to knock them off. Question is, can Gold Coast do it?
Port Adelaide will be helped by the addition of veteran Travis Boak who returns after missing last week through health and safety protocols. In addition, Sam Hayes has an opportunity following an injury to Brynn Teakle, and Xavier Duursma could potentially come into the 22 after being named as the medical sub last week.
Gold Coast suffered an injury nightmare in its last contest with Will Powell and Connor Budarick sustaining injuries that will see Powell miss the rest of the season, while Budarick could miss some weeks. It allows players like Rory Atkins to grab an opportunity after a dominant 38 disposal performance in the VFL, and Jack Bowes to potentially be brought back into the 22 after being the medical sub against the Crows.
Historically, Port Adelaide has the edge winning 12 out of 13 matches between the sides, with Gold Coast’s only victory being in 2011 when the pair first met.
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