AFL preview: Round 3

Footy returned after an almost three-month absence on the weekend, and despite the season restart getting off to a limp start between the Tigers and Magpies, some decent quality matches featured in Round 2, with some major upsets taking place.

Now, the third round of this shortened 2020 season is upon us, and it looks set to answer some questions about the form of various sides.

Thursday, 18 June

Richmond Tigers vs Hawthorn Hawks
MCG, 7:40pm AEST
Despite not getting the victory last Thursday night against Collingwood, the premiership favourites Richmond enter this match-up with Hawthorn having gone a full year without losing a game. After giving up the first four goals of the contest against the Magpies, the Tigers slowly fought their way back into the contest to salvage a draw. Hawthorn were one of the biggest disappointments to come out of Round 2, suffering a heavy defeat against Geelong at Kardinia Park on Friday night. It doesn’t get any easier for Alastair Clarkson’s men, facing the side who have won two of the last three premierships.

At selection
Fortunately for both sides, they escaped any serious injuries from their first match back in over 80 days. Richmond goal-kicker Tom Lynch is reportedly nursing an ankle injury, but the Tigers expect him to take his place in the line-up. Dual premiership players Toby Nankervis and Josh Caddy both missed selection for last week’s game. Sydney Stack, Marlion Pickett and Daniel Rioli could be feeling nervous, with the trio all failing to register double digits in possessions. Small defender Liam Baker is set to miss the match, having flown back home to Western Australia to tend to family matters.

Hawthorn should welcome back gun midfielder Jaeger O’Meara, who missed Round 2 with a facial fracture. Three-time premiership forward Paul Puopolo might be the one to make way, having failed to have an impact against the Cats last week. Impressive young forward Mitch Lewis remains on the outer, but he could be considered to come into the line-up, with Tim O’Brien and Jonathon Patton only having a handful of touches between them against Geelong.

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The story
The talk surrounding Hawthorn during the AFL’s shutdown period revolved around mastermind coach Alastair Clarkson and what he had up his sleeve, with many expecting the Hawks to be a premiership contender in 2020. However, they were exposed on Friday night as a club with an uneven list demographic, with not a lot of exciting youth coming through the ranks. One of the most telling stats to come out of Round 2 was the fact Hawthorn trotted out the most experienced line-up of any team, yet were handed a 61-point hiding. This is incredibly worrying for Clarkson, and with games to come against the in-form North Melbourne and GWS Giants away after this game, a loss to the Tigers could almost spell an early end to any flag hopes.

The match-up: Dustin Martin vs Liam Shiels
The game’s most dynamic midfielder was solid without being spectacular on Thursday night against Collingwood, winning 20 possessions for the night, however his disposal efficiency was a lowly 45 per cent. The Hawks can’t afford to let Martin work into his own game, so sending their top tagger in Shiels to him will be vital to getting a win. Shiels played on Patrick Dangerfield last Friday, shutting him out of the game in the first half, however he couldn’t contain Dangerfield as the Cats ran away with the contest after halftime.

Dustin Martin

(Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The stat
With last week’s draw technically not counting as a loss, Richmond have still not lost a game at the MCG since the first week of June last year. Combine that with the fact they’ve beaten Hawthorn from their last four meetings, it doesn’t bode well for the Hawks.

The prediction
This match will play out similarly to how it did last Friday night in Geelong. The Hawks will stay with the Tigers for the first half, but the sheer class of Richmond will take hold and record a strong win. Richmond by 42 points.

Friday, 19 June

Western Bulldogs vs Greater Western Sydney Giants
Marvel Stadium, 7:50pm AEST
A mouthwatering match-up between two of the biggest losers from Round 2 hits centre stage on Friday night under the roof at Marvel Stadium. The Western Bulldogs have been the biggest disappointment of season 2020 thus far, barely giving a yelp or bark in their matches against Collingwood and St Kilda. They sit anchored to the bottom of the ladder, averaging just 41.5 points from their first two games. The Giants scored an impressive win in the first week of the season against Geelong, but were handed a footballing lesson against North Melbourne last Sunday at home. These two clubs have a storied rivalry, and it looks set to enter a new chapter on Friday night.

At selection
The Bulldogs, namely coach Luke Beveridge, left many scratching their heads on Friday night when the final team to take on St Kilda was announced. The likes of Jackson Trengove, Tom Liberatore, Toby McLean, Zaine Cordy and Josh Schache all missed out on selection, while Easton Wood was absent due to injury. Instead, the likes of Ryan Gardner, Billy Gowers, Lin Jong and first-gamer Laitham Vandermeer were given opportunities. Expect the Dogs to bring in some of the more experienced names for this crunch game.

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On the GWS side of the fence, well, they were almost at full strength, missing only gun midfielder Tim Taranto and defender Adam Kennedy. Kennedy could return, while small forwards Ian Hill or Zac Langdon could be considered, with the Giants managing only eight goals on the weekend.

The story
These two teams hate each other, plain and simple. Tensions reached boiling point late last season, when GWS defender Nick Haynes suffered a fractured larynx in a feisty clash with Bulldogs star Marcus Bontempelli. A few weeks later in an elimination final, the Giants targeted Bontempelli, with Toby Greene suspended for eye gouging. Expect a few harsh words and some heavy hits to be exchanged on Friday night.

The match-up: Marcus Bontempelli vs Matt de Boer
It has been a rocky start to his official captaincy duties for Bontempelli, down on his usual lofty standards. After just 15 touches in the opening round against Collingwood, Bontempelli won 24 possessions on Sunday against St Kilda, but he was still far from his best. Expect the Giants to send De Boer to Bontempelli. It worked well in last year’s elimination final, with the Dogs’ skipper restricted to only 13 disposals.

Marcus Bontempelli Western Bulldogs AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

The stat
The Western Bulldogs will be desperate to avoid starting the season with three losses. The last time that happened was in 2012. That year, the Dogs won just five matches for the season, finishing 15th on the ladder. The winner on Friday night will go ahead on the head-to-head ledger, with both sides winning six games from 12 encounters with each other.

The prediction
The Dogs are stuck in a rut that I can’t see them getting out of anytime soon. The Giants were incredibly poor in Round 2, but I can’t see the likes of Josh Kelly, Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene have bad games two weeks in a row. Expect them to bounce back convincingly. Greater Western Sydney by 37 points.

Saturday, 20 June

North Melbourne Kangaroos vs Sydney Swans
Marvel Stadium, 1:35pm AEST
One of the form teams of the competition returns to their home at Marvel Stadium in Round 3, with North Melbourne looking to stay unbeaten in season 2020 when they take on a visiting Sydney side. Coming off an inspiring victory on the road against the GWS Giants, North are playing a terrific brand of footy under new coach Rhyce Shaw, with the shorter quarters seeming to play to their advantage with their physically taxing game plan. After getting over the line in Round 1 against Adelaide, the Swans returned to the SCG last week but were beaten by Essendon in a close encounter.

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At selection
No new physical problems for North Melbourne to worry about, which is welcome news given their already lengthy injury list. Talented young forward Nick Larkey missed last week’s match with the Giants, with North going the conservative route when he displayed some foot soreness at training. He is set to miss a further three or so weeks, so Mason Wood, if picked again, will want to perform this weekend. Marley Williams’ two-week suspension is finally up, an incredible four months following the actual incident. He is an important member of North’s back six, so expect him to come in at the expense of young midfielder Bailey Scott.

The Swans also escaped from their game with Essendon with no injury concerns. Ruckman Sam Naismith missed last week’s game with a hamstring complaint and has already been ruled out from returning against North. Sam Gray had a quiet game on the weekend, which could see him make way for someone like Ben Ronke or impressive youngster Dylan Stephens.

The story
Can North Melbourne keep their good form going? Since being 31 points down early in the third quarter against St Kilda in Round 1, the Kangaroos have kicked 18 goals and conceded only nine. Since the start of 2006, North have won the opening three matches of a season just once – in 2016.

The match-up: Ben Brown vs Aliir Aliir and Kaiden Brand
North star Ben Brown has been the league’s most potent forward in the last three years, but his record against the Sydney Swans is nothing to write home about. Since making his debut in 2014, Brown has played a total of nine matches against the Swans, kicking only 13 goals. Only once has he kicked more than two goals against Sydney, booting four in 2018. Aliir Aliir is expected to get the tough job on the tall forward, with former Hawk Kaiden Brand also capable of spending time on him. Brown hasn’t started the year particularly well, with just two goals to his name after two matches. If he can get going, North become even harder to beat.

Ben Brown

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The stat
It isn’t often when an away side travels interstate to take on a team on their home deck with a favourable record. After losing their first ever match-up under the roof at Marvel Stadium in 2007, Sydney have won five of the next six meetings against the Kangaroos, with one match ending in a draw. North will have to end a 13-year drought if they are to get a rare home win against the Swans.

The prediction
The Swans have been plucky so far in season 2020, and they go to a venue they have a good record at. However, North don’t appear to have any glaring weakness in their game plan, and with a star-studded midfield at their disposal headlined by in-form ruckman Todd Goldstein, expect them to notch up win number three for the year. North Melbourne by 27 points.

Collingwood Magpies vs St Kilda Saints
MCG, 4:35pm AEST
Two sides who have enjoyed strong wins over the Western Bulldogs from the first two rounds of the season go head-to-head at the MCG on Saturday evening, with both sides searching for a second victory. The Pies burst out of the blocks against Richmond back on Thursday night before failing to kick a goal in the second half, ending with them splitting the points in a draw. St Kilda also had a poor fade-out back in March against North Melbourne, which saw them lose, however they bounced back to secure four points in a convincing win against the Dogs last Sunday night.

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At selection
New Magpie Darcy Cameron performed his role in his first match in the club colours last Thursday night, which would make it hard for Nathan Buckley to drop him for Mason Cox. Rising Star winner Jaidyn Stephenson is yet to play in season 2020, but he will be eyeing off Josh Thomas’ spot in the Collingwood forward line.

St Kilda skipper Jarryn Geary suffered a hamstring complaint in his side’s strong win over the Western Bulldogs on Sunday. Having performed a defensive role in the attacking 50, bringing in a fellow forward is likely. Jack Sinclair or Dean Kent appear to be the most likely to earn the nod.

The story
How does St Kilda fare in their first real challenge against a premiership contender in season 2020? Expectations surrounding the Saints were high heading into the season, with a new coach at the helm and five new names acquired in a bumper trade period. After getting off to a limp start in Round 1 against North Melbourne, Brett Ratten steered the ship back in the right direction with a fairly convincing win over the Bulldogs on Sunday. If they can topple Collingwood at the MCG, then the hype at Moorabbin will be entirely justified.

The match-up: Brodie Grundy vs Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall
With shortened matches in season 2020, we’ve seen teams prefer to go into games with just one ruckman, however St Kilda have so far bucked that trend, opting to pair the impressive youngster Rowan Marshall with experienced veteran Paddy Ryder. The two will battle Collingwood superstar Brodie Grundy, and if they can wear down the champion Magpie, then St Kilda could gain the edge in the midfield battle.

Brodie Grundy kicks the football

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

The stat
Collingwood have had the wood over St Kilda in recent times, winning nine of the last 11 meetings dating back to the 2010 grand final replay.

The prediction
This will be a really good litmus test for St Kilda, but I see Nathan Buckley’s Magpies being too strong in the midfield. Collingwood by 23 points.

Geelong Cats vs Carlton Blues
GMHBA Stadium, 7:40pm AEST
The Cats put their Round 1 loss to the GWS Giants behind them with an incredibly strong performance against Hawthorn last Friday night. After a tight first half, Geelong ran away with the contest to win by ten goals, putting the rest of the competition on notice for Chris Scott’s men. The Blues were dismal to start their match against Melbourne on Saturday at Marvel, conceding the first seven goals of the match. However, they roared back into contention, falling just short of pulling off a miracle win. A loss will give the Blues a 0-3 record to start the season for an astonishing seventh time from the last eight years.

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At selection
The Cats are likely to give Jack Steven another week to prove himself at training and in scratch matches before Chris Scott picks the former St Kilda midfielder. It’s hard to see Geelong making any changes.

The Blues won’t have rebounding defender Nic Newman for the remainder of season 2020 after rupturing his patella tendon last Saturday against Melbourne. Promising defender Tom Williamson seems the likely replacement, while Jack Silvagni is set to return after missing last week with a bout of gastro. Darcy Lang is likely to make way after a poor showing against the Demons.

The story
Are Geelong going to be unbeatable at home in season 2020? The Cats showed last Friday night in their match with fierce rivals Hawthorn that playing at GMHBA Stadium will give them a unique advantage over the rest of the Victorian teams. A similarly strong showing against Carlton will only strengthen the view that Geelong can be a genuine premiership contender due to how many home games they are going to play and win at Kardinia Park.

The match-up: Joel Selwood vs Patrick Cripps
It’s unlikely the two midfield bulls will go head-to-head much throughout the night, but whoever can have the most impact in the clearance battle will give their side a big advantage. Selwood turned back the clock with a vintage display against Hawthorn last Friday night, collecting 28 disposals, kicking a goal and winning eight clearances. Cripps didn’t have as big a game against the Demons as he would’ve liked, spending more time resting forward. If he can clean up his kicking accuracy in front of goal (one goal and two behinds against Melbourne), it gives the Blues a dangerous avenue to goal.

Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2017

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The stat
The last time Carlton walked away from Kardinia Park with the four points, they had the most premierships of any side in the AFL, while the Cats had just six flags in the trophy cabinet and hadn’t enjoyed any success in over 30 years. You have to go all the way back to the final round of the 1996 season to find the Blues’ last triumph at GMHBA Stadium. Granted, there’s only been three games played at the venue between the two sides since then, but it still remains an obstacle for Carlton to overcome, as well as their poor recent record against Geelong. Since the start of 2004, the Blues have won just four times from 19 matches against the Cats.

The prediction
The Cats are the real deal in season 2020, and I don’t expect many teams to get close to them at home. Carlton are perhaps not as advanced as we expected them to be, judging by their poor first-half showing against Melbourne. Geelong by 44 points.

Brisbane Lions vs West Coast Eagles
Gabba, 7:40pm AEST
Two premiership contenders meet under lights at the Gabba in a match that is sure to shape the order of the top eight. The Lions come into this game having got a significant monkey off their backs, winning their first match since Round 22 last season when they defeated Fremantle on Saturday, however they were far from convincing. The Eagles were the biggest disappointments of Round 2, falling to the Gold Coast Suns by 44 points in their first Queensland hub match. Another loss will have the critics circling Adam Simpson’s men.

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At selection
The Lions only have captain Dayne Zorko in some form of doubt, given he pulled up from Saturday’s match with Achilles soreness. Alex Witherden is probably the next name to come in if he doesn’t recover in time.

Expect the Eagles to swing the changes. Four-time All Australian defender Jeremy McGovern will miss after he let his emotions get the better of him in Saturday night’s loss to the Suns, suspended for one week. Will Schofield is the logical replacement, while Brendon Ah Chee and Jackson Nelson would be feeling uneasy, with premiership defender Tom Cole and promising forward Jake Waterman waiting in the wings.

The story
Can West Coast learn to embrace life in the Queensland hub? The talk coming out of the Eagles camp in the lead-up to the AFL resumption was that they expect to spend four weeks based out of the Gold Coast and not a day longer. Compare this to the Fremantle Dockers, who have been all too happy to do what is required to get the season up and running again. The Eagles couldn’t go with the Suns on Saturday night, with coach Adam Simpson admitting that his side ran more in an intra-club match during the week compared to their game against Gold Coast. If the Eagles can accept the fact that they are going to be away from home for at least the next three weeks and maybe even longer, they might see a better attitude on the field.

The match-up: Lachie Neale vs Jack Redden
The former Docker was instrumental in Brisbane’s win on Saturday afternoon, continuing on from his outstanding first season with the Lions last year. Neale won 29 possessions and eight clearances against his ex-teammates, while he also pushed forward to kick two goals. The Eagles won’t want him getting off the chain like that again on Saturday night, and it could come to former Lion Jack Redden to spend a large majority of the match on him.

Lachie Neale

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The stat
Unlike their record at Carrara, the Eagles have had a favourable run at the Gabba in Brisbane, winning 13 of their 22 matches at the venue since 1993. Prior to last year, West Coast were on a five-game winning streak in away matches versus the Lions, however that was broken in the opening round of 2019.

The prediction
I still firmly believe this West Coast outfit is a genuine premiership threat, even with the prospect of spending a month in Queensland. I’m backing them to get back on track in a thriller against the Lions. West Coast by two points.

Sunday, 21 June

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Gold Coast Suns vs Adelaide Crows
Metricon Stadium, 1:05pm AEST
The two favourites for the wooden spoon clash at Metricon Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with both sides experiencing vastly contrasting fortunes in Round 2. The Suns enjoyed a landmark victory against West Coast on Saturday night, while over 2000 kilometres away at the same time, the Crows were thumped by Port Adelaide in the Showdown. A win for Gold Coast, who enter as favourites, would set them up nicely with a 2-1 record, while Adelaide will be desperate to avoid a 0-3 start to Matthew Nicks’ tenure as senior coach.

At selection
Gold Coast will be boosted by the return of co-captain David Swallow, whose one-game ban from Round 1 is over. Richmond recruit Brandon Ellis missed the match against West Coast with a calf complaint, and he will push to make it back. Stuart Dew has to figure out who to drop after a 44-point win, with Nick Holman probably the 22nd man in the team at the moment.

Adelaide’s task could get even tougher when teams are released, with captain Rory Sloane in doubt after suffering a corked thigh, while defender Jake Kelly will have to pass a concussion test if he is to play. The likes of David Mackay, Bryce Gibbs, Ben Davis and Shane McAdam are on the outer waiting for selection.

The story
Can Gold Coast consolidate their ultra-impressive win from last round and give the Crows a similar hiding? Adelaide look bereft of confidence, and even beating the Suns seems like a bridge too far for them to climb, especially on last week’s form.

The match-up: Sam Collins vs Taylor Walker
The pressure continues to mount on former Crows captain Walker, who failed to hit the scoreboard on Saturday night against the Power. Collins will likely get the job on Walker, having kept two-time Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy to just one goal last weekend. Can Tex break the shackles and lead his side to a much needed win?

Taylor Walker

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The stat
The Suns have a giant opportunity to taste success against the Adelaide Crows for the very first time on Sunday. Since their inception into the league in 2011, Gold Coast have beaten every other team in the AFL, bar one: Adelaide. From 13 encounters, the Suns have lost every single one of them by an average of ten goals. Getting the win on Sunday would be a massive step forward for Stuart Dew’s team.

The prediction
The Crows don’t look like getting anywhere near a win at the moment, and buoyed by their performance against West Coast, which was led by young gun Matt Rowell, Gold Coast are brimming with confidence, and so they should be. Gold Coast by 28 points.

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Essendon Bombers vs Melbourne Demons
MCG, 3:35pm AEST
Essendon remained one of just three sides in the AFL to be unbeaten after two rounds with their victory against Sydney last Sunday, however neither of their wins have been convincing so far. Melbourne burst out of the blocks against Carlton on Saturday with the first seven goals of the contest, but managed just one goal in the second half as they fell over the line with a one-point triumph to open their account in season 2020. Both sides will be playing their first match at the MCG this year.

At selection
Essendon have a tough decision to make on experienced midfielder David Zaharakis, who was virtually invisible against the Swans. Orazio Fantasia will be hoping to prove his fitness after missing Round 2 with a quad injury, while Brandon Zerk-Thatcher could be considered after missing last weekend’s game due to breaching the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols.

Impressive youngster Kysaiah Pickett can return to Melbourne’s line-up after serving his one game ban for breaching the COVID-19 protocols. Small forwards Jayden Hunt and Alex Neal-Bullen kicked five goals between them on Saturday, so whether Pickett forces his way back in remains to be seen. Talented young prodigy Luke Jackson made his AFL debut on the weekend, but with Mitch Brown and Sam Weideman both kicking five goals in a scratch match against the Blues, one of them is likely to come in at Jackson’s expense.

The story
Can Essendon put some distance between themselves and their opponent? In the opening round of the 2020 season, Essendon led Fremantle by 26 points before surrendering the lead, only to fight back and snatch a six-point win. On Sunday afternoon against Sydney, the Bombers got out to a 20-point advantage in the third quarter, but once again they saw the opposition storm back into the game. Essendon supporters will appreciate it if their team can create a sustainable advantage, while percentage points will be handy come the end of the season.

The match-up: Kyle Langford vs Christian Petracca
There were a number of special individual performances from Round 2, and Christian Petracca’s was definitely one of note. He continued his transition as a full-time midfielder with a dominant display against the Blues, collecting 24 possessions, winning five clearances and booting two goals. Kyle Langford could be given the job of minding Petracca, with his height and body size well equipped to match the Melbourne dynamo.

Christian Petracca

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The stat
The Bombers will be confident when they run out on the MCG against the Demons on Sunday afternoon. Essendon have won their last three meetings with Melbourne at the home of footy, with the Dees’ last victory at that venue over the Bombers coming in 2014.

The prediction
Essendon have shown the ability to put a sizeable gap between themselves and the opposition so far in season 2020, and I expect them to be able to do that on Sunday against the Demons. Essendon by 14 points.

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Fremantle Dockers vs Port Adelaide Power
Metricon Stadium, 6:05pm AEST
The first genuine hub match between two interstate sides closes out Round 3’s action, with the Dockers looking for their first win under new coach Justin Longmuir after narrow defeats to Essendon and Brisbane so far in 2020. On Port Adelaide’s side of the fence, they’re sitting pretty on top of the ladder with a percentage of 290.6 per cent after huge wins over Gold Coast and Adelaide.

At selection
Former Melbourne goal-kicker Jesse Hogan looks set to finally return to the playing field, with his inclusion to give Fremantle a much needed boost in attack. Sean Darcy will go out of the side after injuring his knee last weekend against the Lions. Rory Lobb is likely to lead the ruck in his absence, opening the door for Hogan’s inclusion. Fremantle will also want to get Round 1 Rising Star nominee Sam Sturt back into the senior side, with Brandon Matera or Lachie Schultz likely to make way for him. Nathan Wilson was named for last week’s match but was a late scratching, with first-gamer Hayden Young coming in to replace him. Expect Wilson to come back in for Young.

It’s hard to find a player in danger of losing their spot in this Port Adelaide side, with Ryan Burton their only concern after hurting his knee in last week’s Showdown win. Vice-captain Ollie Wines is available for selection after serving his one-game ban for breaching COVID-19 protocols, but it’s incredibly difficult to identify who he would replace, so he may be forced to bide his time.

The story
Are Port Adelaide the real deal? They are the talk of the competition at the moment after their stunning start to the season, but with wins over Gold Coast and Adelaide so far, they still need a genuine scalp to prove themselves as a finals contender. Fremantle aren’t expected to be a top-eight side in 2020, but if they can do the job this Sunday, it will be another tick for Ken Hinkley’s men.

The match-up: Nat Fyfe vs Travis Boak and Tom Jonas
Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe was superb in his side’s loss to the Lions last Saturday, winning 24 possessions but also pushing forward to have an impact in attack with three goals. Former Port skipper Travis Boak will spend some time on Fyfe when playing through the midfield, but if the dual Brownlow Medallist goes forward, current captain Tom Jonas has the body strength to try and quell Fyfe.

Nat Fyfe

(Photo by Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The stat
It has been a fairly even history between the Dockers and the Power, with Port winning 20 of their 37 meetings since 1997. In their last six encounters, both sides have won three matches. With no discernible home-ground advantage, it will be intriguing to see who can get the early ascendancy.

The prediction
It’s hard to go past the Power with the form they’ve displayed so far in season 2020, but Fremantle haven’t disgraced themselves either. This will be a genuinely cracking contest. Port Adelaide by 15 points.

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