With just three rounds left, the 2022 season is heating up and Round 21 has several games that could shake up the season yet again.
You don’t need to look any further than Friday night, where the first of three big matches arrive as Melbourne takes on Collingwood in front of what should be a big crowd at the MCG.
On Saturday, the highlight arrives late afternoon when the Western Bulldogs host Fremantle at Marvel Stadium.
Attention then turns to Sunday’s clash between Brisbane and Carlton at the Gabba, the make up of the top eight could change depending on who emerges with the four points.
See our previews and tips for all nine Round 21 matches below:
All times AEST
SUBSCRIBE TO THE AFL RECORD AND GET IT DELIVERED TO YOUR HOUSE EVERY WEEK.
Melbourne v Collingwood
Friday – 7:50pm – MCG
They’re on a 10-game win streak, but Collingwood enter Friday night’s clash as outsiders given Melbourne’s big win last week.
The Demons recorded one of their best victories of the season when restricting Fremantle to 39 points in a comfortable 46-point win in Perth.
Last week saw the premiership backline reunite for the first time this season and they’re expected to be even better under the MCG lights.
Collingwood hasn’t kicked big scores throughout 2022. Craig McRae’s side’s highest total in the last five weeks was 91 points against Adelaide, and the Dees will look to keep the Magpies to under 80 points.
However, the return of Brody Mihocek will complicate that plan.
The other big watch will be the ruck battle. Brodie Grundy won’t play again this week due to ankle soreness, leaving Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox to shoulder the duties.
When Collingwood defeated the Dees earlier in the year, Cox played one of the best games of his career in a forward/ruck role and Cameron had Max Gawn and Luke Jackson beat.
The ruck battle is sure to be a crucial one in deciding the victor.
Both sides have genuine doubt about their credentials just weeks away from finals, but the winner will walk away with increased belief heading into September.
As good as Collingwood has been, their wins have often been by narrow margins. If Melbourne brings their form from last week, the Pies will struggle to kick a score and Simon Goodwin’s men will be chief among premiership contenders.
Type: Melbourne by 28 points.
Hawthorn v Gold Coast
Saturday – 1:45pm – University of Tasmania Stadium
Hawthorn will be hoping to pick up their eighth win of the season when they host Gold Coast in Launceston on Saturday afternoon.
While the Hawks entered the game as favourites, it was the Suns who dominated in the last head-to-head matchup, saluting by 67 points at TIO Stadium.
The Suns still aren’t mathematically out of the finals race with nine wins to their game, and they’ll be desperate to win here.
Considering they’ve had a better season than their opponents in 2022, one reason why Gold Coast enter as underdogs would be because of their horrible record in Launceston.
From five games at the venue, the Suns have lost each time by an average losing margin of more than 50 points.
Conversely, the Hawks have won three of their last four at the ground even though they’ve struggled in recent seasons.
In Round 11 the Suns won the game from the midfield with Touk Miller, Brandon Ellis and Lachie Weller having big games meaning Hawthorn’s midfield will need to get on top of they’re to win.
If Hawthorn’s on-ball bridge can break even, they’ll back themselves to take the chocolates at their home away from home.
Tip: Hawthorn by 13 points.
GWS Giants v Essendon
Saturday – 2:10pm – GIANTS Stadium
The Giants and Bombers will do battle on Saturday afternoon at Giants Stadium.
If you’re basing your tip off recent battles, we’re in for a close one.
The last four times these sides have faced off, the games have been ridiculously close – the average winning margin being 4.75 points.
Essendon’s mini resurgence towards the end of the year continued last week, smashing North Melbourne by 48 points in a dominant performance.
While the Bombers have proven a tougher task compared to earlier in the season, they’re still lacking the firepower to match it with quality opponents.
Not saying the Giants are a quality opponent, but they do have quality in their line-up – Toby Greene, Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield, Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper are just that, quality.
The Giants were so poor last week, a performance that saw interim coach Mark McVeigh label their efforts “embarrassing”, questioning whether players have checked out for the season.
Surely there’s going to be a fierce response this week, there has to be!
Can’t wait for this game.
Tip: GWS by 8 points.
Western Bulldogs v Fremantle
Saturday – 4:35pm – Marvel Stadium
One of the biggest games of the round lands on Saturday twilight as the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle do battle in yet another game that could shape the eight.
The Dockers are coming off a bitterly disappointing performance against Melbourne last week, with the loss seeing them drop to sixth place and needing a win to lock away their finals spot.
Their opponents the Bulldogs – who were also playing one of the best sides in the competition – were soundly beaten by Geelong down at GMHBA Stadium last Saturday night, placing even more importance on this pivotal Round 21 clash.
Boom Dogs father-son recruit Sam Darcy will make his debut for the club, adding an extra layer of intrigue after his impressive performances for Footscray in the VFL.
This is a genuine 50-50 contest, with the Dockers needing a much-improved performance to frank their form for much of the year.
We’ll go with Fremantle here in a tight one, who have had several impressive performances at Marvel Stadium this year.
Type: Fremantle by 9 points.
Geelong vs St Kilda
Saturday – 7:25pm – GMHBA Stadium
Geelong has an imposing record against St Kilda at the Cattery.
The last time the Saints greeted in Geelong was back in 1999 as they looked to break a 23-year drought on Saturday night.
It won’t be an easy task against the ladder-leading Cats who are on a run of 10-straight wins.
Chris Scott’s side took care of the Western Bulldogs by 28 points last time out, their 15th win of the campaign.
Since going down to the Saints by 10 points in Round 9, the Cats are yet to lose a game.
While they haven’t been at their absolute best, the Saints have stayed in the finals hunt after winning their past two games.
Last week’s 12-point win over Hawthorn saw St Kilda jump into eighth spot with three rounds remaining.
Brett Ratten’s side most likely require two more wins to make the finals.
It’s a huge test of St Kilda’s finals credentials, one coach Brett Ratten is embracing.
“They’re well-drilled, well-rehearsed, playing good footy,” Ratten told reporters on Wednesday.
“But like anything, you can’t win forever.”
It’s hard to go past the Cats given their current form and the fact they’re playing at the fortress that is GMHBA Stadium.
Tip: Geelong by 20 points.
Subscribe to the SEN YouTube channel for the latest videos!
Port Adelaide v Richmond
Saturday – 7:40pm – Adelaide Oval
Richmond kept its season alive courtesy of a stunning come-from-behind win over Brisbane last week.
Trailing by as much as 42 points, the Tigers staged a stirring fightback to snatch a seven-point victory to stay in touch with the top eight.
With three winnable games to finish their home and away campaign, Richmond remains in the finals hunt.
Victory over Port Adelaide on Saturday night could see them move into eight by the end of the round.
The Power’s final chances are all but over following last week’s six-point loss to Collingwood, their third consecutive defeat.
Port (8-11) sits 12 points behind eighth-placed St Kilda with three games remaining.
Coach Ken Hinkley conceded his side hasn’t played well enough to warrant a finals spot.
“Are we good enough to compete with the best teams in the competition? That is clear, we are,” Hinkley said after the Magpies loss.
“But we haven’t been good enough to play finals this year.”
The last three games between these two clubs have all been tight contests.
Damien Hardwick’s side won by 12 points at the MCG earlier this year, but lost to the Power by two points in Adelaide early in 2021.
Richmond’s season has been a topsy-turvy one, but are they hitting form at the right time?
Tip: Richmond by 11 points.
North Melbourne v Sydney
Sunday – 1:10pm – Marvel Stadium
Sydney will be looking to continue their top four push when they take on North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.
Percentage could mean everything come the end of the year and the Swans have a ripe chance to add to theirs against a struggling North Melbourne side.
The Kangaroos are coming off a loss to Essendon last Sunday, while the Swans dominated GWS in the Sydney Derby.
The Swans are peaking at the right time. Their midfield is firing, their backline has restricted teams for a few months now and their forward line has gone to another level.
The Roos meanwhile are hanging on, but have been competitive, outside of Round 19’s loss to Hawthorn.
Can they muster up one big effort to put a spanner in the works of Sydney’s season?
The Swans have won their last five clashes with the Roos, including three games at Marvel Stadium.
Their game earlier in the year was a tight one, with the Kangaroos leading until the fourth term. Jack Ziebell booted five, but Sydney ultimately overran them.
Expect the Swans to be far too strong in this one, given where they’re at in their final pursuit.
Type: Sydney by 35 points.
Brisbane v Carlton
Sunday – 3:20pm – Gabba
The Brisbane Lions will be playing for their spot in the top four when they host Carlton at the Gabba on Sunday.
Chris Fagan’s side lost the unlosable game at the death against Richmond, blowing a 42-point second-quarter advantage and leading for all but 10 minutes. It saw them fall out of the four, presenting them with a serious challenge to return.
After another loss at the MCG, the Lions return to their home fortress where they boast a win-loss record of 8-1 in 2022 which does not bode well for this week’s visitors.
The Blues had issues of their own last weekend, going down to Adelaide by 29 points at the Adelaide Oval as they slipped further away from the top four and towards the bottom of the eight.
Carlton has not been to the Gabba since the 2020 season where they went 1-3 including a loss to Brisbane, extending their losing streak at the venue to the Lions to six matches. The Blues have only greeted once in their past five meetings overall.
Both sides will be attempted on bouncing back after calamitous defeats, but the Lions are a much better team at home and really should be getting the job done.
With a top-four spot on the line, expect Brisbane to win over a Carlton side scrapping to avoid a third loss from their last four outings.
Tip: Brisbane by 14 points.
West Coast v Adelaide
Sunday – 4:10pm – Optus Stadium
The Eagles and Crows meet in Round 21’s last game with both sides playing for pride at this late stage of the campaign.
The two powerhouse clubs have struggled in 2022, but when paired up these opponents often play close games.
Last time out though, it was the Crows who won in reasonably comfortable fashion as they took care of the Eagles at home for 31 points.
At Optus Stadium though, it’s Adelaide who are still yet to break their duck at the venue with the Crows holding a 0-3 record at the ground.
Considering that this game will be played in Perth, that gives West Coast hope that they can win their third game for the season in this one.
While they’ve gone 1-9 in their last 10 games, their most recent performance against Gold Coast away from home was promising as they went down by just three points.
Conversely, 15th placed Adelaide also enter this game off an impressive performance after they took care of Carlton by 29 points in round 20.
With the Crows’ forward line firing, they rightly deserve to enter this one as favorites but considering where both teams sit in terms of the ladder, it poses as a real toss-up.
Expect the keys at either end to decide this one.
Tip: Adelaide by 11 points.