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It has been one hell of a week in the AFL. Two major figures have announced shock departures from key roles, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons.
But now, as the weekend draws nearer, it is all about the football.
We are 16 rounds into 2021, everyone has played 15 times, yet we don’t have a crystal clear premiership favourite right now. You can throw a blanket over the top four sides – the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Brisbane and Geelong – and potentially include Port Adelaide in the conversation.
As we turn for home, with the season still hanging by a thread due to coronavirus outbreaks across Australia, it is all about who will hit form in the road to September.
Round 17 starts with a mouth-watering clash between Port Adelaide and Melbourne at Adelaide Oval. The Demons have been arguably the best team all year, but have stuttered in recent weeks, losing to Greater Western Sydney and Collingwood in the past month. Simon Goodwin has finally recalled big name recruit Ben Brown for only his fourth game in red and blue as the Demons search for their best forward mix ahead of the finals.
Friday night football involves Essendon and Adelaide at Marvel Stadium with the Bombers still a mathematical chance of playing finals, despite wasting some chances in recent weeks. The Crows won three of their first four matches this year but are now below the Gold Coast Suns in 15th spot after winning only two games since round four. Not the inroads we were expecting after a bright start to 2021.
Football returns to Tasmania again this weekend after the government refused to allow games in recent weeks due to strict COVID protocols. Hawthorn hosts Fremantle in Launceston following a week where the club announced that four-time premiership great Sam Mitchell will take over the reins from legendary coach Alastair Clarkson at the end of next season. Much to the astonishment of many involved with the game who can’t believe the best coach in the business is now on the market.
Two weeks is a long time in football. A fortnight ago, an external review had started at Carlton with many expected to be out the door, including senior coach David Teague. But after back-to-back wins and the return to form of some maligned players, there is hope at Princes Park again. If they can beat premiership contenders Geelong at Marvel Stadium, look out.
Brisbane had its wish granted by playing St Kilda in Queensland – albeit at Gold Coast’s home ground Metricon Stadium instead of the Gabba due to the pandemic – in a match that has the potential to be one of the most intriguing of the weekend. It all depends what St Kilda side turns up on the weekend. They need to keep winning if they are any chance of playing finals again. But will they?
Greater Western Sydney returned to the top eight last weekend after upsetting Melbourne at the MCG. Now they need to find a way to stay there. Leon Cameron’s men face Gold Coast in Ballarat on Sunday, with the Suns coming off arguably the best win in their history after upstaging reigning premiers Richmond last Thursday night.
The Western Bulldogs host Sydney at Marvel Stadium on Sunday as they look to cement their spot on top of the ladder. The Dogs have been the team to beat of late with superstar midfield Marcus Bontempelli firming as Brownlow Medal favourite by the week.
It is hard to believe how far these two sides have fallen this year. Usually, Collingwood versus Richmond at the MCG would attract 80,000 people and be the marquee game of the round. It isn’t this weekend, even on a weekend short on box office fixtures. The Pies are in freefall and the Tigers could miss out on September after winning the past two flags, bringing an end to one of the great dynasties of the modern era.
Monday night football returns to the fixture to allow West Coast to host North Melbourne at Optus Stadium, with local restrictions easing at the start of next week. The Eagles return home after being annihilated by Sydney in Geelong last weekend, in a performance that many believe brings an end to this team’s era. Not too much has gone right since 2018.