Round 3 is here and the AFL season is now in full swing.
Here are our tips and predictions for the upcoming games.
North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs
Friday – Marvel Stadium
Since North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs last met on Good Friday in a thriller that went down to the last kick, the marquee slot has delivered back-to-back thrashings.
Another bloodbath looms, with Luke Beveridge’s side unbeaten and entering premiership calculations, while the Kangaroos are holding up the ladder with a percentage of 48.4.
When last they met, the Dogs won by 49 points on the back of a blistering third quarter and six goals from Josh Bruce. It would be the final game played at Marvel Stadium in 2020, with the second wave of COVID-19 infections gathering momentum in Victoria.
The Roos regain Ben Cunnington, strengthening their inside cohort, but the Dogs are the league’s most daring team on the spread, and bat so deep they had the luxury of rotating Adam Treloar onto the ball in the last term against West Coast.
Going forward, the triple threat of Aaron Naughton (who has added strong leading patterns to his repertoire), an in-form Josh Bruce and Tim English will test North’s inexperienced defensive line, particularly if the delivery is as rapid as for rising Sun Ben King on Saturday night.
Early in his tenure, David Noble identified pressure on the ball carrier as a non-negotiable in the game plan he hoped to implement at Arden Street. Can the Roos frustrate the Bulldogs’ relentless forward momentum?
Expect North to front up with the grit and determination of their pair of opening quarters to date. The polish Jaidyn Stephenson, Bailey Scott and Tarryn Thomas exemplified in the Gold Coast rain could see the hosts cash in early on turnovers and poor positioning, as the Eagles did on Sunday.
Beyond that, the Dogs’ movement should wear the Roos down over 120 minutes. As ever, the script will be written as the ball crosses their forward 50 arc.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 40 points.
Adelaide v Gold Coast
Friday – Adelaide Oval
Adelaide and Gold Coast would be buoyed by their encouraging starts to 2021.
While both clubs sit 1-1 after two rounds, it’s the manner in which they’re playing that has ignited hope within their respective fan bases.
The Crows went down by 33 points to Sydney last time out, but created more than enough scoring opportunities to win the match, kicking a wayward 11.22.
33 shots at goal – the most of any club in Round 2 – suggests that with a bit more polish, Matthew Nicks’ side is more than capable of putting 100-plus points on the board.
Taylor Walker’s renaissance has been one of the stories of the season so far with the veteran Crow leading the Coleman Medal with 11 goals in two games.
The Suns opened their account with an easy 59-point win over North Melbourne.
A six-goal second quarter saw Stuart Dew’s men take an unassailable 44-point lead into half-time with Noah Anderson producing a career-best display.
Anderson, 20, finished with 35 disposals, seven clearances and 10 score involvements and continues to go from strength to strength since moving from the wing to an inside midfielder.
Both the Suns and Crows will look to put on a show in a rare Friday night appearance.
Gold Coast has never won at Adelaide Oval in their previous six visits that makes Adelaide the favourites to go 2-1 to start the campaign.
Tip: Adelaide by 20 points.
Richmond v Sydney
Saturday – MCG
Not many would have predicted that the Swans would come into this Round 3 clash with a perfect record as the highest scoring team in the league.
But that is exactly the scenario we have here.
Richmond, the competition’s recent dominator, host a vastly improved Sydney outfit in a game that could help shape the season for the visitors.
John Longmire’s Swans have been nothing but impressive in their two victories to date, kicking 37 goals in the process, but they’ve rested Lance Franklin for the trip to Melbourne.
This fixture was one of the more forgettable contests of the 2020 season when the two sides combined for just seven goals and a total of 60 points in a 34-26 slog. Damien Hardwick and Longmire traded barbs in the aftermath but things are very different in 2021 and this promises to be an entertaining affair.
The Tigers are loathe to play their best footy this early in the year – often saving that for the business end – but they should be good enough to see off a Swans side laden with talent.
Expect those in red and white to show a bit early before the customary grind from the consummately professional Tigers eventually breaks open the contest.
Tip: Richmond by 24 points.
Essendon v St Kilda
Saturday – Marvel Stadium
While both teams lost in Round 2, they enter this clash with contrasting fortunes.
The Saints were disappointing on Saturday night against Melbourne, letting a 16-point second quarter lead slip after their opening-round victory over GWS, while the Bombers were thoroughly outclassed against Port Adelaide and never looked competitive.
These two sides are usually involved in entertaining clashes under the roof at Marvel Stadium, but a St Kilda side on the rebound poses a dangerous threat for a battered and bruised Bombers coming off the back of a heavy defeat and sustaining long-term injuries to Sam Draper (ankle), Dylan Shiel (PCL) and Jye Caldwell (hamstring).
The Saints will be without Jimmy Webster through concussion, but Brad Crouch is all-but certain to play his first game for the club following his two-game illicit drugs suspension.
On paper this looks like a relatively straightforward win for St Kilda, who will still be smarting after their loss to the Dees last week.
The Dons are likely to hand a debut to top draft pick Archie Perkins for this clash and at this stage, blooding younger players is likely to be the mantra for a season which is quickly becoming all about development.
Tip: St Kilda by 38 points.
West Coast v Port Adelaide
Saturday – Optus Stadium
Port Adelaide has dazzled so far this season, but they face one of the hardest challenges in football when they travel west for a Saturday night blockbuster against West Coast.
Both sides had contrasting fortunes in Round 2, with the Eagles going down to Western Bulldogs in a fast a furious Sunday afternoon thriller. Meanwhile, the Power never looked like losing against a listless Bombers outfit last Saturday.
The Eagles will still be without Elliot Yeo for this one, but are a chance to regain Luke Shuey from a hamstring injury in what would represent major boost.
Port Adelaide’s forwards will be put to the test against arguably the best tall defence in the competition and that battle could very well decide whether the Power or Eagles emerge victorious.
How Ken Hinkley plans to combat the Nic Naitanui threat – who was one of the Eagles’ best last week in defeat – looms as another key battle throughout the evening with Scott Lycett looking in imposing form in the opening rounds of the season.
The Power should enter the clash as favourites, but it’s a genuine tossup as to who emerges from Optus Stadium with the four points on Saturday night.
Tip: Port Adelaide by 7 points.
Carlton v Fremantle
Sunday – Marvel Stadium
We all know what happened when these two teams met last year, with Jack Newnes kicking the match-winner after the siren to hand the Blues a historic win.
It was an important win in the context of Carlton’s season too and Round 3, 2021 is no different. The Blues are 0-2 and pressure is mounting quickly.
They have been exposed so far this year by St Kilda (AAMI Community Series), Richmond and Collingwood as a team that cannot defend the speed in the game right now. They’re currently ranked third for points against, last for pressure and first for points conceded from turnover.
Fremantle is well equipped to attack through the midfield and punish the Blues if they remain poor in those areas, even without skipper Nathan Fyfe on top of their already significant injury woes.
The Blues have been caught up in two shootouts and the Dockers showed last week that they’re capable of hitting the scoreboard hard – though their accuracy left a little to be desired.
The two sides have actually only met once at Marvel Stadium since 2013, with seven of their last eight encounters taking place in Perth.
Expect Carlton to come out firing given what’s at stake for them, but Fremantle will be full of confidence given they took down GWS without Fyfe and a whole host of other key players.
Tip: Fremantle by 12 points.
GWS v Melbourne
Sunday – Manuka Oval
The 2021 season has started in less than ideal fashion for the Giants who come into this Round 3 clash on the back of two straight defeats.
In contrast, Melbourne has kicked things off positively by stringing a pair of wins together despite not being at their absolute best.
Last weekend, Simon Goodwin’s Demons did a number on St Kilda, producing 31 scoring shots to 18, and it could have been a much more comfortable victory than 18 points if not for some wastefulness in front of goal.
They will take confidence with them to Canberra where they last played in 2017 when they were seen off by 35 points. That performance won’t mean much, however, after they got one over GWS at the Gabba last year and now find themselves in winning form.
The likes of Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Christian Salem are gathering plenty of the ball while Steven May and Jake Lever are controlling the airways by taking intercept marks at will. That could provide worries for the Giants who are struggling to mark the ball inside 50 following Jeremy Cameron’s departure.
While the season is somewhat on the line for Leon Cameron and the Giants, a win appears slightly out of reach unless they turn things around swiftly and improve on their lowly 67 points per game average.
Expecting Melbourne to get through in a tight one away from home.
Tip: Melbourne by 13 points.
Geelong v Hawthorn
Monday – MCG
Geelong and Hawthorn square off in the traditional Easter Monday blockbuster with both clubs sitting 1-1 after two rounds.
The marquee fixture has delivered some classic encounters over the years in a fierce rivalry that lays claim to be the best in the modern era.
The Cats and Hawks find themselves at different stages in their development after locking horns in some iconic finals over the last decade.
Chris Scott’s side can count themselves lucky to have beaten Brisbane last time out with a controversial non-free kick denying the Lions a shot at goal to win the game in the dying stages.
Former Hawk Isaac Smith kicked the winning goal to help the Cats get over the line by a solitary point.
Smith, a three-time Hawthorn premiership player, will face his former club for the first time after exercising his free agency rights at the conclusion of 2020.
The Hawks were gallant but simply outclassed by reigning premiers Richmond, going down by 29 points after conceding the opening three goals.
Coach Alastair Clarkson will demand better from his side from a skill level perspective after 21 of the Tigers’ 28 first-quarter points came directly from turnover.
Despite the unavailability of some key players, it’s hard to go past Geelong in this one with their experience and star quality to be too much for a Hawthorn outfit in transition.
Tip: Geelong by 30 points.