CrikeySports_markSo we’re 31.12% through the 2010 season. Close enough  to call it a third. And what have we learned?

Well we’ve learned that football, unlike the Federal Budget, is anything but boring (discounting the recent Saints/Bulldogs clash) and try as we might AFL has a way of springing surprise after surprise on you.

Take Fremantle. Like Alf’s Logie, no one saw it coming. Freo used to be a pack of flaming galahs and you couldn’t pick them as far as you could throw them (to use but two Alfisms) but now they have arrived.

And Richmond. Who would’ve thought…

And speaking of Richmond, who saw Ben Cousins’ interview on Fox Sports’ On the Couch on Tuesday night?

A fantastic interview and well worth the time to watch:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igJV2u7_Ayc&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z6g6bbd4oA&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8lQHs5lnmI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

And speaking of drugs in football, it’s been revealed that 12 players tested positive for drugs in 2009. The AFL would be pretty happy with that result you’d imagine. (Struggling to find something humorous here — say no to drugs kids).

Anyway, to the football…

Fremantle vs. Collingwood — 6.40pm Friday May 14, Subiaco Oval

If I had told you in January that this game would be Round 8’s Match of the round I’d be accused of being on drugs — but you couldn’t prove it unless I was on my third strike. (Hazaar!) Anyway, as a Fremantle supporter, this season thus far is like a wonderful dream. To keep the theme going, I never want to come down. But it’s going to happen at some point. But it won’t be this week. I don’t think.

Being the fair fellow that I am I asked SmartCompany‘s Editor James Thomson, a Collingwood supporter, why the Pies would beat Freo. This is what he said:

Collingwood will defeat Fremantle this week for one reason — Mark Harvey has been frightened of the Collingwood Football Club for the best part of 20 years. I can even tell you when this pathological fear of all things black and white began — on October 6, 1990, during the quarter time break on Grand Final day.

Many of you will remember the brawl that erupted during quarter time, which was sparked by Terry Daniher (brother of former Docker’s assailant coach Neale Daniher) king-hit Collingwood legend Gavin “Rowdy” Brown. What is less well-known is Harvey’s role in that epic fight. As this article by Herald-Sun journalist Glenn McFarlane shows, Harvey was so rattled by the Magpies onslaught that he decided not to join in the brawl and instead attack Collingwood’s mild-mannered football manager Graeme “Gubby” Allan.

It’s obvious that Harvey was forever shaken by this encounter. Not only did he have no impact on Grand Final Day, but in the years that followed, he has been involved in only a handful of wins against the Pies as a player or coach (four wins out of 11 games, to be precise). Can he really be relied upon to make the right moves on Friday night against Mick Malthouse? I think not.

Other reasons Collingwood will win include Shane O’Bree’s blinding pace, sleeve tattoos, and Chris Tarrant’s presence in the Fremantle backline.

He’s wrong.

Freo by 12 in a cracker of a match

Western Bulldogs vs. Sydney — 2.10pm Saturday May 15, Manuka Oval

Barry Hall is playing his old team. The first thing I could think of was this:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLTPCVv-zuw[/youtube]

But Barry’s changed, so he’s more like this:

stock-photo-swan-meets-puppy-hyde-park-london-14365435

Isn’t that cute? But seriously, the Dogs are hard to beat in Canberra. And Sydney, being on the receiving end of a Geelong thumping last weekend, will want redemption. But I can’t see it happening this week. The Dogs are playing at about 50% capacity at the moment and will click into gear at some point. Will it be this week?

Dogs by 21

Melbourne vs. West Coast — 2.10pm Saturday May 15, MCG

Melbourne were superb last week — losing narrowly to the Western Bulldogs in wet conditions at the MCG. Despite losing, Dees fans would have been happy though — because they saw what their Number One Draft pick from last year can do. Tom Scully was sensational. Clearly best on ground, the kid amassed 39 touches. And what’s even more exciting for Melbourne supporters is that Jack Watts, the Number One Draft pick from 2008, has been named after performing well for Casey in the VFL. Despite needing time to mature, Watts is the missing piece in the Red Legs’ jigsaw puzzle. Watching all these gun kids develop together over time will be something to behold.

Meanwhile, the Eagles had a superb win against beleaguered Hawthorn last week. Josh Kennedy and Nick Naitanui, two of the Eagles youngest guns,  were outstanding. The Eagles now need to take that winning form on the road and win two in a row. The highlight for me this match will be to see how much improved Melbourne ruckman Mark Jamar handles the imposing Eagles’ ruck duo of Naitanui and Dean Cox. Jamar has been sensational this year — perhaps All Australian standard — and this battle will go a long way to determine the winner.

Dees by not much, say 10

Brisbane vs. Geelong — 7.10pm Saturday May 15, Gabba

After starting on fire, the Lions’ season is beginning to stall. Cut down by injury, the Lions are struggling. Fortress Gabba was breached last week by Fremantle — can its once secure walls be battered down again? Fortuitously for the Lions, key defender Matt Maguire is back this week and will bolster the back line. Unfortunately for the Lions the invading army isn’t the People’s Liberation Army of 7.30 Reportland but the battle hardened Geelong Cats. Without Xman Jared Brennan and rebounding ace Josh Drummond the Lions’ midfield and twin attacking towers Jonathan Brown and Brendan Fevola will need to fire.

To Geelong. This great team is showing no signs of slowing up any time soon. They feasted on Sydney at Kardinia Park last week with Gary Ablett going berserk. Despite losing octogenarian recruit James Podsiadly, the Cats have been strengthened by the return on reformed party boy Matthew Stokes. And with both Ablett and fellow bald head traveller Paul Chapman in supreme form it’s hard to overlook the Cats against a depleted Lions outfit. Fortress Gabba or not.

Cats by 31

North Melbourne vs. Adelaide — 7.10pm Saturday May 15, Etihad Stadium

It’s hard to get a read on North Melbourne at the moment. Coach Brad Scott said that the Kangaroos learned a lot following their thrashing by Collingwood last week. I also learned a lot when I got the crap beaten out of me in high school once — don’t fight again. But that isn’t an option for North. The good news for Scott and his men is that they are playing Adelaide who are making Wayne Swan’s Budget speech look exciting by comparison. Ruckman Hamish McIntosh needs to fire after a disappointing start to the season and the North side picked isn’t exactly the fastest team — but neither are the Crows.

Adelaide had their first win last week … against Richmond. Which is effectively a bye. They need this win. Perhaps more than the win against Richmond last week. A loss to North will cement the Crows as a likely bottom four team and that’s something coach Neil Craig will want to avoid at all costs. But is that cost the perceived guaranteed starting place of the Crows senior players. And by senior I mean OAP. Brett Burton has paid the price for looking old and slow and may struggle to get back in this team if the Crows’ younger players start to find their feet.  Tyson Edwards would be on notice. Simon Goodwin had a decent game last week and will is the captain but even he needs to lift. Andrew McLeod is Adelaide’s Benjamin Button but even he can’t play forever.

Both teams need this win.

But I am picking North by 11

Richmond vs. Hawthorn — 1.10pm Sunday May 16, MCG

Poor Richmond. Even when playing a crap outfit like Hawthorn they stand no chance. Hawks welcome back captain Sam Mitchell, Lance Franklin and new recruit Shaun Burgoyne. Those three, plus Luke Hodge, could probably beat Richmond. In doing research for this match I came across something infinitely more interesting that this game, the ancient art of Tiger Hawk boxing:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOqeQe1k2Vk[/youtube]

Hawks by 45, Franklin to go nuts

Port Adelaide vs. Carlton — 2.40pm Sunday May 16, AAMI Stadium

This should be a cracker of a game — and probably won’t get the coverage it deserves. Port look very good this year. I have been super impressed with their midfield and the variety of players rotating through there. Danyl Pearce is in super form, finally reproducing his enormous talent that was on display when he won the Rising Star Award in 2006. With Pearce, David Rodan, Travis Boak, Robbie Gray (at times), Dom Cassisi and Kane Cornes — that mix is hard one to match up on for opponents. Alipate Carlile has also been in tremendous form down back — but the big problem for Port will be the loss of Warren Tredrea to injury.

And Carlton.  While the swagger isn’t back they have had two fabulous wins against Geelong three weeks ago and St Kilda last week. They are two big scalps. Jordan Russell has gone from much maligned to perhaps the biggest improver in the AFL this year. Setanta O’hailpin, often derided in this column, is proving super important in offering a contest and allowing the mosquito fleet — Chris Yarran, Jeff Garlett and Eddie Betts — to wreak havoc in the forward 50. Carlton play AAMI very well, and have form — but so do Port.

This is a hard one to pick — but I can’t ignore Carlton’s past three weeks.

Carlton by 7

St Kilda vs. Essendon — 4.40pm Sunday May 16, Etihad Stadium

Is the impregnable St Kilda showing the first signs that its watertight game plan is cracking under the weight of having its best player and captain, Nick Riewoldt, absent? No doubt that Carlton were as impressive as St Kilda were vulnerable last week, but you have wonder if the Saints are showing the first signs of stress. Virtually unbeatable at Etihad, Carlton showed last week how you beat St Kilda’s fables zone: high risk, high reward, play on at all costs, attacking football — something that use to be synonymous with Essendon.

So do the Bombers have the game plan to beat St Kilda? In theory, yes. In practice? Hard to tell. If Essendon of last year rocks up, an upset is on the cards. Essendon’s midfield leaders in captain Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton have been fantastic. But the Bombers need more leg speed to trouble the Saints.

I think the loss last week to Carlton will sting the Saints into some sort of punitive retribution and they will have the Bombers in their sights.

It will be interesting to see though if St Kilda are pressured, will coach Ross Lyon change to a plan B he hasn’t had to use?

But St Kilda should win this.

Saints by 17

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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