Round 15 promises to be the biggest of the season and perhaps one of the most impactful of any round in the last decade, as all top eight sides play each other for the first time since 2012.
The round begins with a Thursday night blockbuster as top of the table Brisbane takes on Melbourne, who have slipped to second on the ladder after three straight losses.
Super Saturday sees three games that will have serious finals implications – Carlton hosting Fremantle at Marvel Stadium, Geelong taking on Richmond at the MCG, and Sydney meeting St Kilda at the SCG.
It’s a round not to be missed as the final stretch of the season begins.
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Western Bulldogs v Hawthorn
Friday – 7:00pm – Marvel Stadium
It’s not one of the games that will define the top eight, but it’s a pivotal one for the Western Bulldogs to win if they are to play finals.
When they meet Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium, they’ll be aiming to win their eighth game for the year. Barring a draw between St Kilda and Sydney, the Dogs can move into the top eight with a win, but it won’t come easy against the young Hawks.
In the weeks leading up to the bye, they’d shown they could match it with the best when defeating Brisbane by five points before succumbing to narrow defeats against Collingwood and Fremantle.
Sam Mitchell’s men are susceptible to the counter-attack but have built an impressive attacking flair, able to transition the ball from the defensive 50 into the forward half better than many clubs in the league, despite their youth.
That could present a problem for the Western Bulldogs, who conceded 105 points to the Giants. However, they booted 125 of their own in that clash and could once again take full toll against a Hawthorn defence that has leaked heavily at times.
In what’s set to be another high-scoring game, who will come out on top?
It’ll be surprising if the Bulldogs’ midfielders and forwards don’t win their respective battles and they should get the job done to move into the top eight (for the time being).
Tip: Bulldogs by 27 points.
West Coast v Essendon
Friday – 8:40pm – Optus Stadium
West Coast Eagles will play host to Essendon in the second of the Friday night games.
Coming off a much-improved performance against the Cats last week, the Eagles head into this clash as a genuine winning chance – a foreign feeling to Adam Simpson’s side this year.
Slowly regaining key senior players in the past few weeks, the Eagles will give themselves a big chance to claim their second win of the year at Optus stadium.
Liam Ryan will be a welcome addition to their line-up, providing a much-needed x-factor in their forward line if he returns.
As for the Bombers, they head into this clash full of confidence having knocked off St Kilda last Friday night.
In what was their best performance for the year and they were back playing their 2021 run and dash style of football – a breath of fresh air for their frustrated supporters.
Key forward Peter Wright played his best game for some time against a solid defence last week, booting four goals along with his eight grabs.
Benefitting from their attacking brand, Essendon’s forwards will be encouraging their defenders and midfielders to keep attacking, especially on the wide Optus Stadium expanses.
Ben Rutten’s side has also tasted recent success against the Eagles in Perth, beating them by 16 points in their most recent clash – they’ll take great confidence from that outing.
All things considered, if West Coast are going to win another game this year it looks like this fixture is their best opportunity.
Tip: West Coast by 17 points.
Carlton v Fremantle
Saturday – 1:45pm – Marvel Stadium
The first game of a massive Saturday triple header sees the injury-hit Carlton take on Fremantle, who are sitting pretty in third spot on the ladder.
The Blues were gallant in defeat to Richmond last Thursday night, recovering from giving up a six goal to zero head start to challenge the Tigers late.
But Michael Voss’ side will have to be a lot better if they are to truly challenge the Dockers, who are one of the in-form sides in the competition and are fresh coming off a bye.
Carlton’s defensive injury problems are showing no signs of slowing down, with mid-season draftee Sam Durdin the latest to succumb to injury. Someone like Brodie Kemp could be in line for a senior recall to help fill the void.
Fremantle is firm favourites for this one, but you can never discount the Blues who have impressed for much of the year.
Tip: Fremantle by 15 points.
Geelong v Richmond
Saturday – 4:35pm – MCG
Geelong and Richmond lock horns in a Saturday twilight blockbuster at the MCG.
The fourth versus sixth clash will shape the top eight come the end of Round 15.
The Cats jumped back into the top four thanks to an 18-point win over lowly West Coast in Perth last time out.
Chris Scott’s side are on a run of four consecutive wins and are positioning themselves for an all-important double chance come September.
The Tigers jumped from ninth to sixth courtesy of a 15-point victory over Carlton without superstar Dustin Martin.
With the three bye rounds now done and dusted, Richmond is one of four sides locked on eight wins and five losses.
The race for the finals spots is heating up.
A win for Damien Hardwick’s troops would see them draw level with Geelong on nine wins and significantly boost their top four chances.
Not much separates these two teams.
The midfield battle will be crucial in giving their star forwards enough supply to kick a winning score.
Tip: Geelong by 7 points.
Sydney Swans v St Kilda
Saturday – 7:25pm – SCG
Could we look back on this game at the end of the season as one that shaped the ladder?
It feels likely.
Sydney and St Kilda both unexpectedly dropped games in Round 13, leaving them in precarious situations going into this one.
The Swans feel safer in the eight than St Kilda, but a loss tonight could swing that. The loser could spend the week outside the eight.
They split their two matchups last season, with the home team taking each game.
Jack Higgins was dangerous in these games, kicking 5.7 across the two matches, while Luke Parker led the way disposal wise for the Swans in both contests.
Sydney was out-hunted, out-tackled and beaten in the clearances by Port Adelaide last weekend, while the Saints had their worst overall performance of the year against Essendon.
Can the McCartin brothers quell Max King? Who from St Kilda goes to Lance Franklin? Could Callum Wilkie be the matchup for the in-form Isaac Heeney?
These will all be the questions to answer by the respective coaching sides.
Tom Hickey’s health will be incredibly important, given Peter Ladhams’ suspension and the looming clash with Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall.
Tip: Sydney by 9 points.
North Melbourne v Adelaide
Sunday – 1:10pm – Blundstone Arena
North Melbourne returns from the bye to host Adelaide at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena on Sunday afternoon.
With 11 straight losses to their name, this shapes as one clash in which David Noble and his Kangaroos side can pick up a win in with Adelaide sitting 15th with a 4-9 record.
While Bellerive was once somewhat of a fortress for the Kangaroos, they only have one win from their last seven games at the venue and head-to-head it doesn't look any brighter as it’s the Crows who have won the last two encounters, with their midfield dominating in both games in 2021.
With North Melbourne’s form dropping further since those meetings, Adelaide will back themselves in to grab a win here, even at a venue they haven’t played at since 2017.
Considering the Kangaroos’ current form, it’s simply impossible to pick them against any side bar West Coast, and while the Crows have also struggled this season, they’ve shown far more than their opponents and should win.
Expect the Crows to get on top in the middle and give their forwards enough opportunity to kick a big score on this struggling North side.
Tip: Adelaide by 27 points.
Collingwood v GWS Giants
Sunday – 3:20pm – MCG
It may not be one of the four top-eight meetings in Round 15, but there is still plenty riding on this one.
Collingwood enters the round in ninth position and by the time their Sunday afternoon clash with GWS comes around, there will be a spot in the eight up for grabs.
The Swans (seventh) and Saints (eighth) meet on Saturday night and the result of that (provided it’s not a draw) opens up a slot for the Magpies to slide into.
But in order to do that, the Pies must get over the Giants who they have failed to beat in their last four attempts. Two of those results have been at the MCG, where this takes place, including a 30-point margin to the visitors in round 4 last year.
This edition occurs with both clubs under new guidance as Craig McRae is in the Collingwood hot seat and Mark McVeigh now in charge of the Giants.
McRae’s Pies have won four on the trot and are enjoying being on the home comforts of the ‘G, winning three in a row at the venue, while the Giants have been up and down in four weeks under McVeigh.
Despite the intense media speculation stemming from Jordan De Goey’s mid-season trip to Bali and the TikTok mishap of Jack Ginnivan and Isaac Quaynor, the Pies will bring a steely resolve and take care of business to continue their impressive form in McRae’s debut season.
Collingwood looks to be a more settled side with stronger pieces all over the ground, so should have enough up their sleeve to get this done at home.
Tip: Collingwood by 17 points.
Port Adelaide v Gold Coast
Sunday – 4:10pm – Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide and Gold Coast are both in the finals mix ahead of their crucial meeting at Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
After losing their opening five games to start of the season, the Power have won six of their next eight games to revive their finals chances.
Last week’s crucial 23-point win over Sydney kept their season alive – their sixth consecutive victory over the Swans.
Port Adelaide (6-7) are hot on the heels of their Round 15 opponent the Suns (7-6). They’re also two games behind eighth-placed St Kilda.
Gold Coast made it three wins in a row courtesy of a comfortable 43-point win over Adelaide at Metricon Stadium last time out.
The Suns are eyeing a maiden finals appearance and have already equalled the number of games they won for the entire 2021 season.
With just two games separating seven teams, a loss here could be detrimental to both club’s September hopes, especially Port.
Port Adelaide’s record against the Suns is formidable – they’ve won 12 in a row since losing the first ever encounter in 2011 – Gold Coast’s maiden AFL victory.
The Power to get home in a tight one to keep their finals ambitions flickering.
Tip: Port Adelaide by 8 points.