The Cats have a gamestyle that can help them overcome a nagging finals hurdle, while the Swans have a profile that can “get them to a preliminary final.
But the Lions at times have looked “all or nothing”, while a fascinating debate looms among Blues fans.
Foxfooty.com.au analyses the 10 teams’ recent form, injury list and run home, plus the expert verdict on whether each club is a pretender or contender in 2022.
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1. GEELONG CATS (16-4, 137.1%)
Past six games: Defeated North Melbourne by 112 points, defeated Melbourne by 28 points, defeated Carlton by 30 points, defeated Port Adelaide by 12 points, defeated Western Bulldogs by 28 points, defeated St Kilda by 45 points.
Final two games: Gold Coast Suns at Metricon, West Coast Eagles at GMHBA
Injuries: Patrick Dangerfield (calf – test), Gary Rohan (concussion – test), Cooper Stephens (hip – test), Shannon Neale (concussion – test), Jon Ceglar (concussion – 1-2 weeks), Flynn Kroeger (knee – season), Cooper Whyte (groin – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: The Cats have surged into flag favouritism off the back of 11 straight wins. They’re humming both with the ball and without the ball, while their lack of reliance on individuals will put them in good stead for finals. There’s a concern around Patrick Dangerfield’s fitness after another calf setback on the weekend, but the Cats will be hoping the superstar’s awareness to pull out late against the Saints to avoid doing any further damage will pay off down the track.
Cameron Mooney’s expert verdict (via foxfooty.com.au): “I always felt like there was a game style there wasn‘t quite finals game style. They disagree with that, but that’s just me looking from outside in. I always thought with the ability to score they went too slow … but this year, just the way they move the ball forward – not sideways, not backwards – it’s positive ball movement that allows this I think the best forward line in the competition to go to work. For years, I would watch that forward line be crowded with opposition players in finals because they moved the ball slow and then everybody would jump on Tom Hawkins’ back – and it’s very hard to kick goals when you’re outnumbered in your forward line. This year with better ball movement, more speed, more youth, I feel we’ll see a different result.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 1st, face Collingwood in a qualifying final
2. COLLINGWOOD (15-5, 106.3%)
Past six games: Defeated Gold Coast Suns by 5 points, defeated North Melbourne by 7 points, defeated Adelaide Crows by 5 points, defeated Essendon by 4 points, defeated Port Adelaide by 6 points, defeated Melbourne by 7 points.
Final two games: Sydney Swans at the SCG, Carlton at the MCG
Injuries: Brody Mihocek (hip – test), Taylor Adams (groin – TBC), Will Hoskin-Elliott (hip – TBC), Charlie Dean (foot – season), Brodie Grundy (ankle – season), Nathan Kreuger (shoulder – season), Reef McInnes (shoulder – season), Tom Wilson (back – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: The Collingwood fairytale continues to roll on, notching their 11th straight win against Melbourne — of course by less than 10 points — to move into the top two. When you look at the Magpies’ percentage, which is often a better and truer indication of where a team sits compared to the win-loss ratio, it’s the second-worst of the 10 teams still in the finals mix. But the Magpies now are an exception to the percentage theory, for the belief they have in each other when games are on the line goes beyond numbers. They’ve got most of their best players back from injury, although Taylor Adams will be a significant absentee over the next few weeks as the Pies fight for a top-two finish. Brodie Grundy won’t be back this year, but Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox have proven more than capable as a ruck-forward duo in his absence.
Cameron Mooney’s expert verdict (via foxfooty.com.au): “With all these close finishes, you can look at it two ways. It means they‘ve got so much confidence and belief that no matter where they are, they feel that they’re in the game and they can win it – and I think that is worth its weight in gold that confidence, particularly when you’re younger. The other side is if you’re three or four goals down against Melbourne again, Geelong and Sydney, are you going to be able to come back? But I would put them right in the hunt, because I see a very sprinkled group of champions, great players and youth – and you mix those together, incredible things can happen.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 4th, face Geelong in a qualifying final
3. MELBOURNE (14-6, 128.8%)
Past six games: Defeated Adelaide Crows by 29 points, lost to Geelong Cats by 28 points, defeated Port Adelaide by 14 points, lost to Western Bulldogs by 10 points, defeated Fremantle by 46 points, lost to Collingwood by 7 points.
Final two games: Carlton at the MCG, Brisbane Lions at the Gabba
Injuries: Deakyn Smith (jaw – test), Fraser Rosman (hamstring – 1-2 weeks), Andy Moniz-Wakefield (groin – 2-3 weeks), Tom McDonald (ankle – 3-5 weeks)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: Health is no concern, which is a big tick – although they’d love to get Tom McDonald back as soon as possible. But the fact the Dees have been so inconsistent over the past six weeks with a near full-strength side is a concern. Probably the most concerning aspect for the Dees, though, is their inability to create forward-half turnovers in the past six weeks, ranked 18th in that category during that time frame.
Nick Dal Santo’s expert verdict (via foxfooty.com.au): “They’re still as capable as anyone else in the competition, it’s just whether they turn up – and I think there’s a psychology behind this. When they won their first 10 at the start of the year, there were a handful of games in there where I was like ‘they’re just going through the motions’. They didn‘t have that killer instinct, apart from maybe a couple of games where they had to really fire a shot. They’ve been up and down a little, but I’m still bullish on the Dees. Them at around 85 per cent is still as good as most in the comp right now.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 3rd, face Sydney in a qualifying final
4. SYDNEY SWANS (14-6, 127.5%)
Past six games: Lost to Essendon by 9 points, defeated Western Bulldogs by 53 points, defeated Fremantle by 17 points, defeated Adelaide Crows by 33 points, defeated GWS Giants by 73 points, defeated North Melbourne by 38 points.
Final two games: Collingwood at the SCG, St Kilda at Marvel
Injuries: Josh Kennedy (hamstring – TBC), Colin O’Riordan (hip – TBC), Marc Sheather (ankle – TBC), Sam Naismith (knee – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: This team is cruising. The gameplan is in order, the wins are banking up and they’re still healthy. It’s why their upcoming matches against finals contenders Collingwood and St Kilda come at a perfect time, as it’ll give them the ultimate litmus test ahead of their finals campaign.
David King’s expert verdict (via Fox Footy’s First Crack): “They have a simple defensive system but it’s beautiful to watch. It’s meant in the last six weeks they’ve been the best team once they win the ball back. It‘s in your face. They win contest and go. They’re gettable at times because they’ll have a match-up that is vulnerable, but they’re still top five in the comp when they don’t have possession of the footy. So that’s a profile that at least gets you to preliminary final weekend.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 2nd, face Melbourne in a qualifying final
5. BRISBANE LIONS (14-6, 124.2%)
Past six games: Defeated Western Bulldogs by 41 points, lost to Essendon by 10 points, defeated GWS Giants 40 points, defeated Gold Coast Suns by 17 points, lost to Richmond by 7 points, defeated Carlton by 33 points.
Final two games: St Kilda at Marvel, Melbourne at the Gabba
Injuries: Marcus Adams (concussion – TBC), Callum Ah Chee (concussion – TBC), Connor McFadyen (knee – TBC), Ely Smith (hand – TBC), Tom Berry (shoulder – season), Carter Michael (shoulder – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: If you’re glass half-empty on the Lions, you’d be looking at their formline since Round 9, which reads: LWLWLWLWWLW – hardly the most convincing run. Plus you’d be lamenting the horror loss to Richmond and the mighty scare a fast-finishing Carlton gave them last week. But their first half against the Tigers and first three quarters against the Blues was the Lions at their best, applying unrelenting pressure and getting scoreboard reward for effort. After several players missed recent games due to Covid and niggling injuries, the Lions have got close to their best team for the crucial part of the season, although Marcus Adams and Callum Ah Chee’s absences will leave their backline a little vulnerable for their next game against St Kilda.
Alastair Lynch’s expert verdict (via foxfooty.com.au): “There’s a question mark over them. Their first half against Richmond showed that their absolute best is good enough. But against some of the bigger clubs at the appropriate time, they have conceded big scores. There just seems to be a missing piece. Anyone in that forward line can rip you apart on their day, but I think maybe that missing piece is that real blue-collar guy that when it‘s not going his way, he’s got the grit to still do a reasonable amount to crash packs, apply pressures and all the boring things. It’s a bit ‘all or nothing’, which is a bit harsh, but they just need a bit more to be in that conversation with the absolute top. At the start of the year, Brisbane were my flag favourites because I was seeing that their best was very good. But when it’s not their day, their drop-offs are a bit more than some of the other top sides.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 6th, face Richmond in an elimination final
6. FREMANTLE (13-6-1, 115.3%)
Past six games: Defeated Port Adelaide by 8 points, defeated St Kilda by 41 points, lost to Sydney Swans by 17 points, drew with Richmond, lost to Melbourne by 46 points, defeated Western Bulldogs by 17 points.
Final two games: West Coast Eagles at Optus, GWS Giants at Manuka
Injuries: Sam Switkowski (back – test), Sebit Kuek (calf – test), Nat Fyfe (hamstring – 1 week), Matt Taberner (calf – TBC), Jye Amiss (kidney – inactive)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: While the Dockers have put their fans through a rollercoaster ride in the past six weeks, their ability to lift for big games away from home can’t be underestimated. In fact a lot of Fremantle’s best performances this season have come on the road — think Geelong (Round 7), Melbourne (Round 11), St Kilda (Round 17) and Western Bulldogs (Round 21) — which augurs well ahead of finals. They adjusted and played with more dare and dash against the Dogs – a style they must maintain for the rest of their 2022 campaign. Nat Fyfe should be right for finals, but the Dockers also really need Sam Switkowski and Matt Taberner available as they’re two crucial cogs in their forward set-up.
Leigh Montagna’s expert verdict (via Fox Footy’s First Crack): “Fremantle knew after their last three weeks that they needed to go forward a bit more against the Bulldogs, they needed to be a bit more daring and aggressive with the ball because when we‘re speaking about the good teams in the competition, kicking his king at the moment. It just looked better, so hopefully for them, it’s just given them a bit of confidence to back themselves in and go forward a bit more, because they still are really strong defensively. That never went away, it’s just they lost that element of offence. If they can continue to tie that in, I still think they’re a threat come finals.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 5th, face Western Bulldogs in an elimination final
7. CARLTON (12-8, 109.6%)
Past six games: Lost to St Kilda by 15 points, defeated West Coast Eagles by 63 points, lost to Geelong Cats by 30 points, defeated GWS Giants by 36 points, lost to Adelaide Crows by 29 points, lost to Brisbane Lions by 33 points.
Final two games: Melbourne at the MCG, Collingwood at the MCG
Injuries: Jack Martin (calf – test), Liam Stocker (concussion – test), Josh Honey (calf – 1 week), Matt Kennedy (jaw – 1 week), Zac Williams (calf – 1-2 weeks), Ed Curnow (hamstring – 1-2 weeks), George Hewett (back – 2-3 weeks), Nic Newman (knee – 2-3 weeks), Jordan Boyd (foot – 2-3 weeks), David Cuningham (knee – TBC), Oscar McDonald (back – season), Luke Parks (foot – season), Sam Philp (foot – season)
Suspensions: Patrick Cripps (2 weeks)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: Alarm bells everywhere, but particularly on the injury front. Health is a footy club’s best friend at this time of the year – and the Blues are not in good shape from that perspective. They’ve been beaten up around the ball in recent weeks while inside midfielders George Hewett and Matt Kennedy have been sidelined due to injury. Hewett mightn’t feature again this season, while superstar skipper Patrick Cripps is now sidelined for the final two home and away games due to suspension. Zac Williams is also racing the clock to be back in time, while Nic Newman’s absence shouldn’t be underestimated either. If the Blues don’t make finals after being 8-2, there’ll be an almighty debate as to whether their 2022 season should be considered a success considering where they’ve come from in recent seasons.
Leigh Montagna’s expert verdict (via Fox Footy’s First Crack): “They’re starting to get beaten up around the footy … and without that big three in the midfield, they look vulnerable to me. They don‘t look like the same side at the start of the year that was brutal, physical, aggressive, that was just bullying and beating up on teams through the midfield. The ‘Voss gloss’ might’ve worn off. They’ve got their work cut out now and they‘re going to have to do some soul searching to try and play finals – and it might undo what has been such a terrific season up until the last sort of four or five weeks.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 9th on percentage, miss finals
8. RICHMOND (11-8-1, 115.8%)
Past six games: Defeated West Coast Eagles by 35 points, lost to Gold Coast Suns by 2 points, lost to North Melbourne by 4 points, drew with Fremantle, defeated Brisbane Lions by 7 points, defeated Port Adelaide by 38 points.
Final two games: Hawthorn at the MCG, Essendon at the MCG
Injuries: Nick Vlastuin (ribs – test), Shane Edwards (general soreness – test), Thomson Dow (concussion – 1-2 weeks), Dustin Martin (hamstring – 2-3 weeks), Dylan Grimes (hamstring – 2-3 weeks)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: Their injury list is small, but the issue is there’s a lot of important players on there, namely defenders Vlastuin and Grimes, as well as superstar Martin. Importantly, though, they’ve flipped the script on the close game narrative around them in the past couple of weeks. They narrowly lost to Sydney, Geelong, Gold Coast and even North Melbourne, while they drew with Fremantle. But a comeback win against Brisbane, as well as a professional victory over Port Adelaide last weekend, might give them timely belief ahead of, what appears now, a likely finals campaign.
Nick Dal Santo’s expert verdict (via Fox Footy’s AFL Tonight): “They executed really well against Port Adelaide. Yes they’ve lost some close games in the last month or so, but the way they controlled that game was really impressive away from home. There’s still a little bit of aura about them. It’s not what they once were a few years ago, but they still have the capabilities of just flicking that switch. Shai Bolton has been brilliant and opposition clubs need to put more time into him. I think from here the Tigers sneak into finals.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 7th, face Brisbane in an elimination final
9. ST KILDA (11-9, 101.1%)
Past six games: Defeated Carlton by 15 points, lost Fremantle by 41 points, lost to Western Bulldogs by 28 points, defeated West Coast Eagles by 28 points, defeated Hawthorn by 12 points, lost to Geelong Cats by 45 points.
Final two games: Brisbane Lions at Marvel, Sydney Swans at Marvel
Injuries: Daniel McKenzie (calf – test), Dan Hannebery (ankle – test), Jack Billings (back – 1 week), Paddy Ryder (calf – 2-3 weeks), Nick Coffield (knee – season), Jade Gresham (knee – season), Jack Hayes (knee – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: They sit ninth on the ladder, but it feels like the Saints are still lucky to be in the finals conversation considering they’ve lost six of their past nine matches – and those three wins over Carlton, West Coast and Hawthorn were hardly breathtakingly impressive. Their inability to kick winning scores since their bye, as well as their inconsistent pressure ratings from game to game, is proving costly. The absence of Jade Gresham, who played such a crucial role in the Saints’ blistering start to the season, has hurt significantly too. In effect, the Saints need to beat both Brisbane and Sydney or they’re not playing finals.
Nick Riewoldt’s expert verdict (via Fox Footy’s Best On Ground): “The loss to Geelong probably encapsulated the last half of the season. They’ve been good in bursts, good for the first half and then fallen away after half-time … I think that’s where this St Kilda group is currently at. The last couple of weeks have been more positive, but a reality check for the Saints on Saturday night. It‘s going to be hard work from here for the Saints.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 10th, miss finals
10. WESTERN BULLDOGS (10-10, 107.9%)
Past six games: Lost to Brisbane Lions by 41 points, lost to Sydney by 53 points, defeated St Kilda by 28 points, defeated Melbourne by 10 points, lost to Geelong Cats by 28 points, defeated Fremantle by 17 points.
Injuries: Ryan Gardner (calf – test), Jason Johannisen (ankle – test), Anthony Scott (concussion – test), Buku Khamis (concussion – 1 week), Charlie Parker (hamstring – 1-2 weeks), Mitch Wallis (foot – season)
Foxfooty.com.au analysis: The Dogs remain one of the hardest teams to get a read on. They were thumped by the Lions and Swans, impressed against St Kilda and Melbourne then handed reality checks by the Cats and Dockers in the past two weeks. Defence continues to be the biggest concern for Luke Beveridge’s side, which has conceded at least 94 points in six of its past eight games, including four 100-plus point games. Yet they’re still well placed to feature in this year’s finals series with games against the Giants and Hawks to finish their home and away campaign.
Brad Johnson’s expert verdict (via foxfooty.com.au): “Ignore the Lions and Swans games, I’m going from the point when they beat St Kilda. They beat St Kilda, they beat Melbourne and lost to Geelong and Fremantle. But if they beat the Giants and Hawthorn, that’s four from eight with three contenders in there and they’d make the eight. You’d be nervous to play the Bulldogs in the first week of the finals.”
Foxfooty.com.au’s The Run Home prediction: Finish 8th, face Fremantle in an elimination final
Final two games: GWS Giants at Marvel, Hawthorn at UTAS