With two months until September, each game is getting more important every week and there are many teams feeling this pressure.
These are the five key storylines to keep an eye on in Round 16.
How do the Lions respond to their reality check?
Last week, the Lions were humiliated at the MCG in a top-of-the-table clash against the Demons. This time around they face the other Grand Finalist from last year, the Western Bulldogs, who have found some form at the right time of the year.
Brisbane sit in third position with 10 wins and remain inside the top four by percentage, but is also just one game away from joining Melbourne, once again, at the top of the ladder. Meanwhile, the Western Bulldogs are in eighth, two wins behind their opposition and a healthy percentage is holding them above the Tigers and Saints.
The question that surrounds Brisbane is whether it can respond after such a dull performance against a fellow top four side. The Lions will be at home at the Gabba and thus enter the game as favourites, but their play style will certainly need to be adjusted or else the Bulldogs could prance over them.
The Lions are set to bring back some very handy inclusions with Dayne Zorko and Zac Bailey returning from injury and health and safety protocols respectively. The Bulldogs are set to be without Tim English again due to concussion, but Lachie Hunter returns to the lineup after an impressive VFL showing.
The Bulldogs also have two key players notching up milestones with Bailey Dale playing his 100th game while Jack Macrae celebrates game 200.
Blues rising, Saints plummeting
Entering Friday night’s contest are two teams with similar aspirations, but heading in quite different directions. The Blues seem destined for their first finals appearance in almost a decade, while the Saints, who were at one stage in top four talks, are now in doubt to play finals at all.
A win for the Blues would almost certainly lock them in for September action and further push their case for top four. As for St Kilda, they either face a month without a victory or get back on the winners list and depending on other results elevate themselves back into the Top 8.
What will be interesting to look at this game is whether the Saints can utilise Max King to his full ability. In recent weeks, the Saints have had a tendency to bomb the ball inside 50 with no threat to defenders. Carlton’s defence has been smashed with injuries, meaning its even more crucial that the Saints get this right.
As for Carlton, the midfield has been under-performing compared to the beginning of the season. Last week against Fremantle, this was resolved and they dominated the middle, but in the weeks prior, the brutality of Cripps, Walsh, Hewett and Cerra seemed to vanish. It will certainly be easier for the Blues if they can get their hands on the footy where it matters most.
Since 2016, these two sides have met on six occasions, of which St Kilda have won four by an average of 28 points.
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They upset them last year, can the Crows do it again?
Round 10 of 2021 saw the Crows upset the Demons by a single point, handing the eventual premiers their first loss of the year. So the question being raised is if they’ve done it before, why not again?
Although, it may be a fair bit tougher this time around with the Crows in thirteenth on the ladder with just five wins and the Demons sitting on top of the ladder with eleven.
Adelaide have far a from pretty record against top eight teams with just one win and five losses, which isn’t too much of a surprise given where the Crows are placed. Although, Adelaide can defy the odds at their home ground and it happens more often that people think.
One player who plays some of his best footy against the Crows, is Clayton Oliver. In his last five matches, Oliver averages 34 disposals, 6.5 tackles and a goal. As a Brownlow contender, Oliver can further assert his chances by a similar performance this weekend.
In terms of the ladder, if Adelaide can once again upset the flag favourites it wouldn’t change their ladder position but does bring them a game closer to 12th. In this case, Melbourne’s spot at the top could be in jeopardy with some winnable games for the teams below. A loss for the Crows would see them likely fall one position to fourteenth.
Perhaps a way too early Elimination Final
Saturday night displays two teams who were expected to be in the bottom six and have proved the competition wrong.
Gold Coast sit just one win outside of the top eight and have produced some major upsets like Carlton, Fremantle and Sydney. Collingwood have shocked even more so, winning each of their last five games which has them in seventh position on nine wins.
There are some key players that might be made available for this interesting match up for both sides. Gold Coast should have Connor Budarick back this week after missing with a hamstring injury and the possibility of Jack Lukosius but he may still need another week with his knee.
Collingwood aren’t being forced to make any changes, but it would be hard to not pick Jordan De Goey given he was back at training this week. The problem that Collingwood have is who they take out given they have won five straight, which is a good problem to have, if anything.
Since 2015, the Suns have beaten the Pies just once out of the eight times they have met with Brodie Mihocek playing a pivitol in most of the contests. He averages three goals per game fromt he last five between the sides, proving that in order for the Suns to win, they will have to shut him down.
A win for the Suns will give them to 32 ladder points and lift them well and truly into the mix for their first ever finals appearance. Whereas a win for the Magpies means they can draw level with the top four with other results going their way, but more importantly further establishing their place in the top eight.
Port keeping their season alive, now the real test
Port Adelaide kept its season alive with a narrow in over the Gold Coast last week but now faces one of the hardest trips in the game, Fremantle in Perth.
The Dockers had their premiership hopes shaken after a disappointing loss to the Blues last week, they will be looking to bounce back and re-secure their place in the top four.
Fremantle have won five of seven games at Optus Stadium, with the two losses coming against St Kilda and Collingwood. Additionally, Port Adelaide have just two away victories so far in 2022 and would need a major upset to make it a third.
Michael Walters should make his much anticipated return following a brief stint on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. As for the Power, they are set to make a number of helpful inclusions for this contest. Names like Darcy Byrne-Jones and Tom Clurey will come back from HS protocols, whilst Zak Butters and Orazio Fantasia are also pushing to pass their fitness tests that will make them eligible for Sunday’s game.
If Fremantle can get back on the winners list, it will ensure another week inside the top four. Meanwhile, Port Adelaide can draw level with the top eight if other results fall their way.
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