Carlton may look to get creative, while the Western Bulldogs are staring down a horror deja vu.
And with so much still to play out in terms of the make-up of the top eight, nearly every game is critical.
Every club’s burning question ahead of Round 22, as well as the Fox Footy Podcast ‘Cups’ and commentators for every Fox Footy game in our ultimate weekly preview: The Blowtorch!
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NEW FOX FOOTY PODCAST — Finals fight down to 10 amid a Blue’s big bump and Crows camp fallout
AFL ROUND 22 (all times AEST)
ST KILDA v BRISBANE LIONS (Billy Longer Cup)
Friday, August 12, 7:50pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 7pm, hosted by Garry Lyon with Nick Riewoldt, Jonathan Brown, Kath Loughnan and Jon Ralph, followed by Fox Footy Live with Ben Dixon, Cameron Mooney and Nick Dal Santo.
Saints’ burning question: Will 2022 go down as another wasted season?
As harsh as it might sound, St Kilda missing the finals would mark a wasted season and disappointing outcome after its promising form earlier this year that even had some tipping it as a flag dark horse. Having won just three of their last nine matches, it’s not or never for the ninth-placed Saints to stay in the finals, with the Bulldogs breathing down their necks a game behind but better percentage (6.8). A loss would all but ensure Brett Ratten’s side misses the eight unless nearly everything else goes right for it and it defeats Sydney next weekend.
Lions’ burning question: Are the Lions still a bona fide contender?
There’d been question marks over the Lions in recent weeks over whether they were still in the premiership race after stumbling against Essendon and Richmond and out of the top four. But Brisbane made something of a statement against Carlton last week in a 33-point win to remind the competition how dominant it is in full flight. The Lions’ destiny is in their control now, where a win over St Kilda would ensure Chris Fagan’s side climbs back into the top four. But the Saints are fighting for their finals berth altogether and will be dog hungry to get the four points and no walkovers at Marvel Stadium. How Brisbane wins — or loses — could also be telling of its flag prospects.
WESTERN BULLDOGS v GWS GIANTS (Sam Darley Cup)
Saturday, August 13, 1:45pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 1pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Mark Howard, Gerard Healy, Nick Dal Santo and Ben Dixon.
Bulldogs’ burning question: Do they still ‘believe’— or is it deja vu of 2017?
With a much friendlier run home than St Kilda, the Dogs are the team pushing to get into the top eight that would be making Carlton and Richmond most nervous — the Blues particularly — as they fight to stay in the finals. In saying that, the Dogs have been patchy all season and there’s no guarantees they even take care of their match-ups against GWS and Hawthorn. “How much do you actually believe in yourselves in a group? Because it feels like their belief has taken a hit this year,” Saints great Nick Riewoldt said on AFL 360 Plus. Anything less than a finals appearance, which is in major doubt right now, would be a horror drop off after the Dogs’ grand final appearance last year, while it would emulate their fall in 2017 after winning the flag the year prior.
Giants’ burning question: Can they end rival’s finals dream?
GWS looked like a totally different team last week, defeating Essendon by 27 points in an emphatic response to caretaker coach Mark McVeigh’s brutal criticism the week prior. This is a Giants side still loaded with stars on every line and more than capable of doing some damage on the home stretch and having a say on the finals race. They face the Dogs and Dockers on the run home, two sides still fighting it out for a top eight spot and top four berth respectively. And having formed a modern-day rivalry with the Dogs in recent years, you can imagine the Giants would be more than happy to potentially end their finals dream.
ADELAIDE v NORTH MELBOURNE (Brad Moran Cup)
Saturday, August 13, 2:10pm at Adelaide Oval
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 503 from 2pm, with Leigh Montagna, David King and Mark Ricciuto.
Crows’ burning question: Are the Crows blossoming before our eyes?
Adelaide has found a spark late in its season, winning its last two games and getting within a kick of beating Collingwood last month. A team’s form on the run home shouldn’t be discounted, at times helping build belief into a group ahead of the off-season and thus momentum for the following year. A win over the Roos would see the Crows improve to 8-12 — their best return since 2019 and under Matthew Nicks — and plenty of confidence ahead of a final-round Showdown with Port Adelaide. Have we underrated their capacity to spike up the ladder in 2023?
Kangaroos’ burning question: How much of a spiritual lift does Cunnington provide?
Ben Cunnington will make his inspirational return to the field this week — his first senior appearance in 2022 after overcoming a bout of cancer. It’ll provide the 2-18 Roos a much-needed boost, particularly against a Crows midfield stacked with inside players including Rory Laird and Ben Keays. But outside of what Cunnington, arguably North’s best player, brings on field, how much of a spiritual lift will he give this young side in a winnable game? Speaking on AFL 360, Roos legend David King called for Cunnington to make his return last week — instead of coming back through the VFL like he did — saying the gun midfielder’s presence alone is “worth four goals.”
GOLD COAST v GEELONG (George Horlin-Smith Cup)
Saturday, August 13, 4:35pm at Metricon Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 4.30pm, with Dwayne Russell, Anthony Hudson, Jason Dunstall, Brad Johnson and Alastair Lynch.
Suns’ burning question: How seriously should we take them for 2023?
With finals now all but ruled out for the Suns despite a promising season, they’ll have half an eye on the off-season. But these final two games are still critical with how much respect Gold Coast gets from the footy world moving forward as it also looks to at least match it’s club record of winning 10 games in 2014, currently sitting 9-11. There’s no bigger test than when the Suns come up against the top-of-the-table Cats this weekend where they could seriously turn some heads with a strong performance and generate more credibility as a bona fide finals contender for 2023.
Cats’ burning question: Do they need to lose before finals?
Geelong’s blistering form is somewhat being lost in all the narrative around Collingwood, with Chris Scott’s side also in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. The premiership favourites in the eyes of most, do the Cats need to cop a loss before finals rolls around though? Also factoring in their finals shortcomings in recent years, it’s a legitimate question that can be posed. Of course, the Cats have also all but locked up a top-two spot, so they don’t have much to play from here. Although you can’t imagine internally they’d want anything to disrupt their positive momentum.
MELBOURNE v CARLTON (Chris Johnson Cup)
Saturday, August 13, 7:25pm at MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 7.20pm, with Mark Howard, Jonathan Brown, Nathan Buckley, Nick Riewoldt and Kath Loughnan, followed by Best on Ground.
Demons’ burning question: Do they ‘smarten’ after Pies loss?
The Dees will be hurting after last week’s seven-point loss to Collingwood despite Melbourne leading for most of the night and dominating several key areas (finishing +93 in disposals, +22 in contested possessions, +20 in clearances and +24 in inside 50s). Saints great Nick Riewoldt believes the Blues come up against Melbourne “at the wrong time,” believing Simon Goodwin’s side will take lessons from its loss to the Pies to ensure it doesn’t get the same result. “They will be smarting after last week. That was a game that they play that game exactly the same way another 100 times and they probably win 95 times of them,” Riewoldt said of the Dees on AFL 360 Plus.
Blues’ burning question: Cripps is in, but do they try something ‘creative’ to match Dees star-studded midfield?
Carlton skipper Patrick Cripps is free to face the Demons after having his two-match ban overturned at the AFL Appeals Board in a crucial clash where a loss could put the Blues’ finals hopes in serious peril. Although even with Cripps available, Carlton will still be without its other key inside midfield bulls, Matt Kennedy and George Hewett, due to injury in an area of the ground Blues dominated early in the season and built their brand on to help them burst out of the gates. In coming up against the Demons star-studded midfield led by Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney, dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna wondered if Michael Voss would try something different to try and negate the on-ball battle. “Maybe it’s an opportunity for the coaching staff to get creative … because I don’t think they’re going to be able to handle Melbourne in the midfield with what they’ve got. Maybe Jack Martin coming in playing a Shai Bolton role as a centre bounce player that drifts forward. Maybe it’s an Adam Saad that comes into the midfield, maybe they tag two midfielders — I don’t know. I just think maybe it’s a week where they try something completely different to catch Melbourne out,” he said on AFL 360 Plus.
FREMANTLE v WEST COAST (Daniel Metropolis Cup)
Saturday, August 13, 7:40pm at Optus Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 503 from 7.30pm, with Adam Papalia, Dermott Brereton and Matthew Pavlich.
Dockers’ burning question: Do they play a premiership-level brand?
Coming off a down few weeks, Fremantle got things back on track last week with an upset win over the Bulldogs — the Dockers’ first win since Round 17. Justin Longmuir’s side has been critiqued for the way it plays during that down stretch and calls it doesn’t have enough attacking flare to compete in September. So the way Freo play against West Coast is arguably just as important as getting the four points in the bigger picture of the premiership race. “They’ve got to continue to get their best footy … they just want to continue to work on their game, it doesn’t matter who the opposition is, where they are on the ladder, play their best football and give themselves a real launching pad into the finals. You’d expect Fremantle to win, but it’s how they play that’s going to be more important than getting the four points.”
Eagles’ burning question: Do they find something extra for Derby?
The Eagles couldn’t get the job done for Josh Kennedy despite the champion forward booting eight goals in his farewell match against Adelaide last weekend. With nothing to play for amid a horror season, Adam Simpson’s side will try and find that little bit of extra motivation this week in the Derby against Fremantle — a match with added pride on the line no matter where the teams sit on the ladder. Of course, the Eagles also have a chance to deliver a mighty blow to their cross-town rival’s top-four hopes.
RICHMOND v HAWTHORN (Tyrone Vickery Cup)
Sunday, August 14, 1:10pm at MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 1pm with Anthony Hudson, Garry Lyon, Nick Riewoldt, Cameron Mooney and Jon Ralph.
Tigers’ burning question: Can they finally cement their finals hopes?
Richmond was at some stages this season seen as a shoe-in for finals, but tight losses put them on the brink of a stunning collapse. Finals are so close now the Tigers can just touch it, but a win against Hawthorn would almost guarantee a finals berth and finally assure them of September action. From there, anything is possible for this side, particularly if they get Dustin Martin back for their elimination final, but a win this week is virtually a must.
Hawks’ burning question: Are some of their veterans playing for their futures?
Sam Mitchell has made no secret of the fact the club will do whatever it can to bolster its draft hand heading into the off-season. With that in mind, could the way several veterans finish the season determine if Mitchell sees them in his plans for 2023? It’s a question that could loom large over the final two rounds of the season for a side that, apart from that, doesn’t exactly have many high-stakes attached to it.
SYDNEY v COLLINGWOOD (Robbie AhMat Cup)
Sunday, August 14, 3:20pm at SCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 503 from 3pm, hosted by Kath Loughnan with Brad Johnson, Eddie Betts and Jon Ralph.
Swans’ burning question: Can they cement themselves as the genuine dark horse?
Sydney has quietly been putting together some very impressive form and are building at just the right time of the year. The Swans are on a five-match winning streak of their own and come into Sunday’s game with a heap of confidence. Not only would a win put them in the box seat for a top-two finish, but it would cement them as one of the most in-form sides in the competition at just the right time of the year.
Magpies’ burning question: Whose youngsters are better?
It’s not often Collingwood comes up against a side with just as much young talent as its own, but that’s the case heading into Sunday’s game. The Daicos twins will be matched by the likes of Chad Warner and Errol Gulden in the middle and at halfback, making for a mouthwatering clash. We’ve seen some of the Pies’ veterans continue to stand up in conjunction with the young brigade, but maybe this time around the challenge will be put in front of the youngsters first. How they respond will likely be crucial to their hopes of a top-two berth.
ESSENDON v PORT ADELAIDE (Che Cockatoo-Collins Cup)
Sunday, August 14, 4:40pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 4pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Dwayne Russell, Jonathan Brown, Jordan Lewis and Jon Ralph, followed by Bounce and First Crack with Anthony Hudson, David King and Leigh Montagna.
Bombers’ burning question: How much higher can two-metre Peter soar?
In a side that struggles to get too much bang for buck when kicking inside 50, Peter Wright has kicked 49 goals and is fourth in the Coleman Medal race. It begs the question: How good can he be in a fit and firing Bombers side? If the Dons were more efficient, Wright could get even better in 2023. For now, him getting through the last two games without injury will be the primary focus, but he has so much room to grow from a scoring perspective, which is a scary prospect and arguably makes him an even better pick-up for Essendon than Will Brodie has been for Fremantle this year.
Power’s burning question: How much fight do they have left?
With finals now out of the equation, Port Adelaide’s chase to make up lost ground is over. How that affects the side’s on-field performance will be a fascinating watch, not least because of the focus on Ken Hinkley and his future. Despite the fact the Power recovered from a 0-5 start, the reality is they’re going to miss the finals after back-to-back preliminary final appearances and have now lost five of their last six games. Any drubbings in the remaining two rounds are going to heap more pressure on Hinkley, so the challenge is set for the players.