Two months of the AFL season down and the ladder is certainly taking shape. Round 9 looms as a weekend with several potential thrillers.
These are the five key storylines to look out for ahead of this weekend’s actions.
Can the Bulldogs silence the doubters?
The Western Bulldogs have not started season 2022 the way they would have liked following their appearance in last year’s Grand Final.
On the other hand, Collingwood has had an up and down 2022 campaign so far including some highly impressive victories but also some disappointing losses.
The Magpies and Bulldogs sit ninth and 10th respectively, and with a potential spot inside the top eight by the end of the weekend for the victor.
The Bulldogs announced earlier this week that young defender Luke Cleary will make his AFL debut against Collingwood on Friday Night.
Last year, the Sandringham Dragons prospect averaged 20 disposals and five marks as a roaming intercepting defender and will be looking to bring his strong rebounding abilities into the Bulldogs lineup.
The Bulldogs are also set to welcome back captain Marcus Bontempelli and key defender Alex Keath after both missing last week against Port Adelaide.
It will prove an interesting night for Collingwood recruit Patrick Lipinski who will face off against his former side for the first time.
After playing 56 games with the Bulldogs, Lipinski was traded to the Magpies in the last year’s trade period and is having a career-best season in his new colours, averaging 25 disposals, three tackles and three clearances a game.
How do the Hawks stop the red hot Tom Lynch?
The Hawks and Tigers have a long-lasting rivalry that expands almost 100 years, and on Saturday afternoon the teams will meet for the 163rd time.
The Tigers currently sit eighth on the ladder with four wins and four losses. Two of those wins can be heavily accredited to one man, in particular, Tom Lynch.
Lynch has been unstoppable in the past fortnight, recording a combined 44 disposals, a whopping 25 marks, and 13 goals, all as a key forward. The recent success has seen Lynch skyrocket to the top of the Coleman Medal after eight rounds.
Hawthorn will likely send Sam Frost to go to Lynch, given its lack of key defender depth.
The midfield is where this game will be won and lost.
For Hawthorn, the young group of Jai Newcombe, James Worpel, Conor Nash and the experience of Jaeger O’Meara who has been slightly underperforming this year, could prove the key to victory.
For Richmond, the recent inclusions of Dustin Martin and Kane Lambert are only adding to the existing depth of the Tigers’ midfield.
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Saints down on performance, looking to respond
After back to back defeats against Port Adelaide and Melbourne, St Kilda will be looking to get back on the winner’s list when it hosts Geelong at Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Cats meanwhile, have just come off a very strong performance against the Giants defeating them by 53 points away from home.
The Cats and Saints are just two positions apart on the ladder, both with five wins and only separated by percentage.
Given the Saints have been down on performance the last two weeks, a third consecutive loss could be detrimental to their top eight and potentially top-four aspirations. They should be looking to implement a slightly modified game plan and get the game back on their terms as they did in the opening six rounds.
Both teams will be warmly welcoming back some handy inclusion to the midfield. St Kilda will be boosted by the addition of Jack Billings after a couple of games in the VFL following a hamstring injury. While the Geelong are likely to bring back skipper Joel Selwood into its lineup making for an exciting contest around stoppages.
Can the Bombers capitalise on the crumbling Swans?
Looking at the most recent encounters between these two clubs, it is as close as it gets between Sydney and Essendon. Since 2019, they have met on five occasions and all matches have been decided by 10 points or less. The Swans have the upper hand winning the last two games.
Despite losing its last two games in a row (and both at the SCG), the Swans remain sixth on the ladder with a healthy percentage and should head in confident when they host the disappointing 16th placed Bombers.
Essendon enter the game against Sydney with a bit of confidence after pulling off a come from behind victory over its arch-enemy Hawthorn.
Despite it being only their second victory of the season, the Bombers can seriously challenge an underperforming Sydney if they can play the way they did in that fourth quarter last week.
Sydney will view this contest as a potential percentage booster and secure its place within the top eight and reinstate itself as a top-four calibre team.
The Swans welcome back ruckman Tom Hickey to the lineup, to partner up with Peter Ladhams who was in charge of primary duties while Hickey was out. As for the Bombers, Jordan Ridley, Jake Kelly, Matt Guelfi and Sam Durham all come back into the side after missing last week with illness.
How does Charlie Curnow deal with pressure as the number one forward?
The Blue’s horror run with injury in 2022 has continued with reigning Coleman Medalist Harry McKay tearing his meniscus during the week.
McKay’s absence means that Charlie Curnow has to step up into the number one key forward role and be the centre-piece of Carlton’s attack.
Curnow has booted 25 goals this season as the number two option behind McKay, and now the challenge is whether he can maintain his form when he gets the opposition’s best defender.
Carlton will be a bit more vulnerable going forward given its lack of tall forwards and replacement options for Harry McKay, meaning Jack Silvagni will now be the likely second tall in the forward line.
On Thursday, the Giants made the shock announcement that head coach Leon Cameron would step down after nine years at the helm. Thus, the Giants should enter this contest with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality and leave it all on the field in Cameron’s last outing.
Given that GWS has been noticeably underperforming this season, Cameron was under pressure and his job was ‘on the line’ but instead he made the decision himself to resign from the top job.
Mark McVeigh will take over as the caretaker coach from Round 10 through to the end of the season.
Carlton can move to 7-2 for the first time since 1996 and end the coaching career of Leon Cameron somberly.
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