Round 4 of the AFL season is here with ladder-shaping games across the board.
Whether it’s the Lions needing to get their season back on track, Port Adelaide and Richmond needing to bounce back from a loss or GWS and North Melbourne needing to win their first games of the season, it’s a big weekend in football.
See our tips below.
Sydney v Essendon
Thursday - SCG
Sydney is the undoubted surprise packet of the season so far.
The red-hot Swans sounded a warning to the rest of the competition by beating reigning premiers Richmond by 45 points at the MCG to make it three straight wins to start 2021.
It’s the blend of youth and experience, slick ball movement and manic pressure that has transformed John Longmire’s side from ugly ducklings to beautiful Swans.
It’s the first time Sydney has started a season 3-0 since making the 2016 Grand Final and after finishing 16th with five wins last season, they look every bit a finals team at this early stage.
They host Essendon who have their tails up after dismantling St Kilda by 75 points in one of the shocks of the season.
The Bombers were scintillating from start to finish piling on 22 goals to record their first win of 2021 after starting the year with two losses and a host of injuries.
It was also Ben Rutten’s first victory as senior coach since taking the reins from John Worsfold.
Essendon got the better of Sydney in their last visit to the SCG, getting home by six points in a Round 2 thriller last season.
The resurgent Swans are playing some irresistible football and should be too strong at home.
Tip: Sydney by 25 points.
Port Adelaide v Richmond
Friday - Adelaide Oval
Friday night footy in Round 4 gives us the replay of last year’s epic Preliminary Final.
Richmond managed to edge Port Adelaide by six points at the Adelaide Oval in the penultimate round of footy in 2020 before going on to win the flag. This week they return to the scene of the crime on the back of a humbling 45-point defeat at the hands of the exciting Sydney Swans.
The Power find themselves in a similar position at 2-1 following their out-of-character 37-point loss to West Coast in Perth in which they kicked just two goals in the first half.
There would be little doubt that both Ken Hinkley and Damien Hardwick would have produced some sobering words for their respective playing groups this week as they prepare for the blockbuster prime time clash.
Port can take some solace from the fact they improved after half-time last week and being back on their home deck in front of a partisan crowd will only benefit. They came through the Eagles unscathed and will avoid any major changes.
In the other camp, the Tigers played an at times lazy and uncharacteristic brand against the Swans and there is only one way to respond.
However, they have a few aspects to work on and although they’ve produced some backs-to-the-wall wins here in the past, the Power appear a stronger side than before.
Tip: Port Adelaide by 8 points.
Western Bulldogs v Brisbane
Saturday - Mars Stadium
The Brisbane Lions continue their tour of Victoria, taking on the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat this afternoon.
It shapes as a huge game between two teams battling for early positioning in the top eight.
The Lions need to win to avoid going 1-3, while the Dogs could be 4-0 and sitting clear on top of the ladder.
These two sides met at Mars Stadium in 2019, with the Bulldogs winning by two goals. While Brisbane has mostly held serve at the Gabba, they have not beaten the Dogs in Victoria since 2014.
Losing key defender Ryan Gardner last weekend, the key for the Lions will be stretching the Bulldogs’ undersized backline. They will be hoping this is the game Joe Daniher takes full advantage of.
Up the other end, Josh Bruce kicked 10 goals on a hapless North Melbourne last week, but will find things a bit tougher up against Harris Andrews.
Expect a tough contest between two teams with deep midfields and plentiful forward targets.
We will learn a lot about where both teams sit in the pecking order. The Bulldogs might just have too many weapons for the Lions to handle through the middle.
Tip: Bulldogs by 15 points.
St Kilda v West Coast
Saturday - Marvel Stadium
In a round of upsets across the Easter long weekend, St Kilda’s 75-point surrender at the hands of a youthful Essendon last Saturday shocked the footy world.
Right from the outset, Brett Ratten’s side never looked in the contest and were exposed defensively, something they won’t want to do against West Coast at Marvel Stadium this weekend.
The Eagles on the other hand couldn’t have been more impressive, smashing one of the best sides in the competition in Port Adelaide at Optus Stadium.
Travelling to Melbourne for a second time in two weeks won’t daunt West Coast, who were unlucky not to beat the Western Bulldogs in Round 2, in what is arguably the best game of the season to date.
Luke Shuey is facing an extended period on the sidelines after another hamstring setback, but they’ll look to gain an ascendancy in the ruck with Nic Naitanui set to face off against a combination of Shaun McKernan and Jake Carlisle.
If this game was in Perth, West Coast would enter the clash as firm favourites, but the fact that it’s in Melbourne makes it a much closer prospect.
One thing is for certain – if the Saints bring the same defensive effort as last week, they’ll be roundly dispensed of once again.
Tip: West Coast by 18 points.
Gold Coast v Carlton
Saturday - Metricon Stadium
A key part of beating Carlton is winning the midfield battle and not allowing them to trap you in their forward half.
That will be tough to do for Gold Coast this weekend without a recognised ruckman. They’ve lost Jarrod Witts for the season and have no healthy alternative on their list.
The Blues will need to take full advantage of this with Marc Pittonet putting the ball in the direction of Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh and giving them an edge around the contest.
Carlton has won their last two encounters with the Suns, but Gold Coast’s toughness around the ball and speed off half back will worry them.
Gold Coast needs to learn from Fremantle’s mistakes last week. Jacob Weitering will go to Ben King and they cannot allow Liam Jones to roam free and intercept as he pleases, even though they lack a genuine secondary key forward.
The Blues will be confident coming off Round 3, but the Suns have looked good so far this season and will test them.
The loss of Witts however might be one obstacle too many.
Tip: Carlton by 18
Collingwood v GWS
Saturday - MCG
Collingwood simply must beat the Giants at the MCG on Saturday if they’re to put their hand up for finals contention in 2021.
The winless Giants’ dire situation became even worse last week, losing experienced difference makers Stephen Coniglio, Phil Davis and Matt de Boer to injury.
While Collingwood would be shattered with their after the siren loss to Brisbane, the Magpies’ form hasn’t been near as worrying as the Giants.
Despite being 1-2 after three rounds, the only missing man from Nathan Buckley’s best 22 is Jamie Elliott, a far cry from the Giants’ horror injury list.
Collingwood would be hoping to clean up their ball use heading inside 50 this week after burning several simple opportunities against the Lions, while the Giants will be hoping to turn the game into a dour, low-scoring affair.
Unfortunately for GWS, if the football moves as quickly as it has for the Magpies in the last fortnight, they may struggle to keep up with the scoring pace. The Giants are the second lowest scoring side in the competition after three rounds and they’ll need to significantly bump up their forward half output if they’re to give themselves a chance.
First-year ruckman Matt Flynn struggled to contain Max Gawn last week, and Brodie Grundy will be looking to dominate and provide his midfield first-use after an encouraging past two weeks.
This game may have been a toss-up if GWS had all of their star players to pick from, but having a look at the expected sides, Collingwood should be far too strong.
Tip: Collingwood by 32 points.
North Melbourne v Adelaide
Sunday - Marvel Stadium
North Melbourne and Adelaide were tipped by most to be this season’s cellar dwellers.
But after three rounds, the two clubs are seemingly going in opposite directions.
Good Friday became a nightmare for the Kangaroos – smashed by the Western Bulldogs to the tune of 128 points – the Dogs’ highest score and biggest winning margin against the Roos.
It condemned North to a 0-3 start with the record defeat highlighting the enormity of the task at hand for first-year coach David Noble.
Things are a lot rosier at West Lakes.
The Crows improved to 2-1 courtesy of a hard-fought 10-point win over Gold Coast with reborn veteran Taylor Walker continuing his rich vein of form.
Walker’s six-goal haul – his second in as many weeks – lifted his season tally to 17 and consolidated his early lead in the Coleman Medal race.
Coach Matthew Nicks is starting to see the fruits of his labour with Adelaide’s ball movement and defensive pressure keys to their improvement.
The Crows will look to heap further misery on the struggling Roos when they travel to Melbourne for the first time this year.
Expect a Roos response, but Adelaide to get the four points.
Tip: Adelaide by 22 points.
Melbourne v Geelong
Sunday - MCG
The Demons enter this with a 3-0 record after a fast start to the season with wins over Fremantle, St Kilda and GWS.
Their style of play is the direct opposite to what Geelong is currently producing with the chip-and-hold plan of the Cats designed to slow the game down.
If Simon Goodwin’s side can get things on their terms, then they are going to be mighty hard to hold out, but they first have to wrestle the ball off Chris Scott’s Cats who will look to control things at all costs.
By doing that, the Cats almost invite teams back into the contest as they’ve done the past two weeks against Brisbane and Hawthorn which can be a flammable way to go about things.
The Dees are up and running right now and if they can take their explosive game to the wily Cats, who still have a few key absences, then they could go a long way to setting up their season with a 4-0 beginning.
Tip: Demons by 12 points.
Fremantle v Hawthorn
Sunday - Optus Stadium
Hawthorn will fancy their chances of notching up their second win of the season against a battered and bruised Fremantle outfit at Optus Stadium.
The Hawks were unlucky not to beat Geelong on Easter Monday, kicking four of the last five goals of the match.
Alastair Clarkson’s side after three rounds is performing better than expected, something which will worry the Dockers coming off arguably their worst performance under Justin Longmuir thus far.
While the injuries have continued to pile up at Fremantle, their performances so far have largely underwhelmed (despite their Round 2 win over GWS) and they’ll be targeting this clash as a genuine opportunity to bounce back against a side that isn’t widely tipped to play finals.
Hawthorn should be looking to take the game on, with their best moments so far this season coming through daring ball movement.
Sunday’s clash is a crucial one for both sides, with a genuine 50-50 contest looming in the final game of Round 4.
Tip: Hawthorn by 7 points.