Tom Papley is back for Sydney. Image (sydneyswans.com.au)

With the top 8 beginning to take shape, here are the key things to look out for in Round 7 of the AFL

With six rounds gone, the ladder is starting to take shape. Some teams have exceeded expectations, while some have been disappointing.

Round 7 looms as an important round for many sides, here is what to look out for on the weekend.

Fremantle optimistic for Cats Clash

Fremantle has started season 2022 in emphatic fashion, sitting second on the ladder and losing just one game in the opening six weeks, that being to St Kilda in Round 2.

The Dockers make the trip down the highway to GMHBA Stadium on Saturday when they face the Cats. Geelong has also been impressive this season, sitting sixth with a 4-2 record.

Fremantle will have to be very strong defensively to counter Geelong’s key forward duo in Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron. The Cats are one of just two teams in the competition to average 100 or more points per game.

The Dockers have been mesmerised by the emergence of midfielders Andrew Brayshaw and recruit, Will Brodie.

Brayshaw is in Brownlow Medal contention this season, averaging 30 disposals, six marks and six tackles, all of which are career highs for the 22-year-old. Will Brodie has been arguably the recruit of the season, ranking amongst the competition’s best for contested possessions, disposals, and clearances per 100 minutes on field.

Contensted Possessions, Disposals, Clearences per 100 minutes table. Image (fremantlefc.com)

A win for the Dockers will elevate them to 6-1, and almost a guaranteed lock to play finals come September.

Crows Vs Giants will be proper test

The young and so far impressive Adelaide Crows will host the GWS Giants on Saturday afternoon, in a contest that looms quite critical for both outfits.

For the Crows, they have registered three wins this season, all of which in the last month. Defeating the Bulldogs and Port in nail-biters as well as the Tigers at home.

Whereas GWS have started 2022 very poorly as far as expectation goes. The Giants have just one win against the Suns through six games so far, facing a real possibility of falling to 1-6.

Ben Keays and Brent Daniels fight for the ball in a contest. Image (gwsgiants.com.au)

Adelaide will host the GWS for the eighth time out of the last nine occasions between the two sides. Of the seven previous encounters in Adelaide, the hosts have won five of them by an average of 29 points.

Historically, Crows midfielder Matt Crouch plays some of his best footy against GWS. The 27-year-old averages over 30 disposals and six tackles against the Giants and will be looking to put similar numbers on the stat sheet this weekend.

The Crows are now without veteran midfielder Rory Sloane to a season ending ACL injury. Sloane stating his focus for this year is “How best I can help this team out while I’m not playing”.

This could spark the opening of young midfielders like Jake Soligo or Brayden Cook to take the step up and assert themselves in the Crows’ 22.

Rising Saints on for six?

St Kilda is one of the hottest teams in football at the moment, winning six of its last five matches, which places them in fifth position after six rounds.

This week they host Port Adelaide who recorded their first win against the West Coast Eagles in a blowout last Saturday.

If successful, the Saints will have recorded six wins in a row for the first time since 2011. While sending Port Adelaide to 1-6 for the first time in 10 years.

Dan Butler shoots for goal against Port Adelaide. Image (saints.com.au)

St Kilda has multiple targets in their forward line with Max King presenting at the ball as good as he ever has. Small forward Jack Higgins is looming as an All-Australian outsider and Dan Butler is applying excellent forward pressure.

At the other end, Port Adelaide’s forward duo of Todd Marshall and Jeremy Finlayson are filling the void of Charlie Dixon slotting five goals each last week, Robbie Gray and Sam Powell-Pepper are causing problems at ground level.

Todd Marshall takes a contested mark. Image (portadelaidefc.com.au)

Two teams underperforming, head to head

The Western Bulldogs and Essendon haven’t been performing to the level each team would have liked to start the season. The Bulldogs sit 11th on the ladder with just two wins, while the Bombers are five places below in 16th with only a single victory so far in 2022.

Despite the poor start this season, Essendon showed promising signs in the 11-point loss on ANZAC day to Collingwood. It dominated the midfield battle, with +12 clearences and +9 contested possessions.

This midfield dominance will be challenged by the supreme Bulldogs mids. With the likes of Josh Dunkley, Jack Macrae, Bailey Smith, Adam Treloar and Marcus Bontempelli contasntly rotating through the middle.

Essendon will certainly have to lift to win this midfield contest.

Historically, Jack Macrae elevates to another level against Essendon. Since 2018, Macrae averages over 35 disposals and five tackles against the Bombers.

A win for the Western Bulldogs could see them just percentage outside the top 8 with a 3-4 record. However a win for Essendon would see it rise from 16th to as high as 14th if other results go their way.

Saving the best ’til last

There’s a saying of ‘leaving the best ’til last’, this might be a perfect example of that. Sydney hosting Brisbane in the final game of the round and it looks set to be a thriller.

The Swans and Lions sit fourth and third respectively both with five wins to start the 2022 season. Both sides have proven themselves as top four candidates and we could be seeing a finals preview this weekend.

Sydney emerged onto the scene in Round 1 last season, when they upset the Lions at Gabba. This time, Brisbane will be looking for revenge when the sides meet in Sydney on Sunday evening.

The Swans will be delighted with the potential return of All-Australian small forward Tom Papley which only adds to what has been an impressive front half for the side.

On the hand Brisbane could welcome back a young rising Devon Robertson who like Papley, can apply significant forward 50 pressure and generate goals for the Lions.

Former Pick 1 Cam Rayner is beginning to emerge as a future superstar of the competition, averaging 14 touches and a goal per game in his return season from an ACL injury.

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