Round 17 kicks off with what is expected to be Buddy Franklin's last game of footy at the MCG, returning to the Swans' side to take on Richmond and keep their quest for finals alive. Richmond had won three in a row under interim coach Andrew McQualter until last week, when they suffered an 81-point defeat to Brisbane. In response, they've swung the axe and omitted five players as the door to finals looks just about shut.
Collingwood returns to the Friday Night lights against the Western Bulldogs as they regain superstar Jordan De Goey from suspension. The sold out clash at Marvel Stadium will be an intriguing encounter as Collingwood have lost their last two to the Bulldogs, whilst Adam Treloar, Caleb Poulter and Pat Lipinski all come up against their old sides.
Essendon and Melbourne will be hoping to recover from heartbreaking losses last weekend, as they look to keep their finals hopes alive. Essendon are currently sitting precariously in eighth spot, whilst Melbourne are only in the top four based on their percentage currently.
These are the five players we've chosen to watch across this weekend's games.
Buddy Franklin returns to the Sydney Swans side, having been out since Round 13 with knee soreness. It very well could be Buddy's last game at the MCG when the Swans play Richmond on Thursday night, with a win keeping the Swans in the finals hunt. A loss would all but eliminate last year's grand finalists from appearing in the September action this year.
Buddy didn't feature in the side that beat Richmond by 44 points in Gather Round, and his inclusion will no doubt strengthen their forward line, particularly as Joel Amartey misses with a hamstring injury. Buddy was everywhere when the two sides met in Round 11, 2022 kicking a bag of five goals to help the Swans over the line in a narrow six-point win.
Buddy always lives up to a big occasion and if he performs on the big stage on Thursday night, we might see him at the MCG for a final time in September.
Jordan De Goey
In a week where Collingwood loses Brayden Maynard and Brody Mihocek to injury, they welcome back their superstar Jordan De Goey from suspension ahead of their return to Friday night footy. De Goey is an important inclusion for this game, with his stoppage and clearance work crucial to beating the Western Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs midfielders ran rampant the last time these sides met as they ran out 48-point winners. It was a 'quiet' night for De Goey, who finished the game with 20 disposals, two tackles and a goal. The Bulldogs have four players ranked in the top 50 for total clearances, whilst Collingwood has two with one of them being De Goey, highlighting the importance of his return this week.
Despite missing three matches, De Goey is still the highest-ranked Collingwood player for centre clearances, with the team's clearance numbers dropping off considerably in his absence.
Collingwood have lost their last two contests against the Bulldogs and with the game being held at Marvel Stadium on Friday night, it will be a more evenly matched contest than anticipated.
Nick Larkey is making a charge towards the Coleman Medal, sitting on 42 goals to be only four goals behind leader Taylor Walker. When Larkey comes up against Geelong this weekend, he has the chance to bridge the gap, whilst also extending his lead over Jeremy Cameron.
Larkey faces a tough challenge in getting the ball this weekend, as the Kangaroos travel to GMHBA Stadium to play Geelong on the back of their 13th straight loss. Larkey will line up against Sam De Koning and Jack Henry and will be made to work for his goals, whilst also competing with another Coleman Medal hopeful in Tom Hawkins down the other end of the ground.
Despite the Kangaroos' form, Larkey still manages to find the ball and has the best accuracy in front of goals amongst the top 20 goalkickers in the league at 68.9 per cent.
Larkey has been held goalless once this season and has kicked ten goals across the last three weeks, suggesting he's in for a big game on Sunday afternoon.
Melbourne are currently facing a serious accuracy problem in front of goal, having kicked a total of 21.48 in their last three games to have one win and two losses, whilst they have lost four of their last six games.
Making that even worse is the foot injury to star forward Bayley Fritsch, who will be kept out until finals time. The Demons faced this same issue in 2022 and it once again threatens to derail their chances at another premiership, as they are now ranked last in the competition for accuracy from Rounds 10-16. However, moving Christian Petracca forward looms as a possible solution.
Whilst Petracca is currently covering the loss of Clayton Oliver across the midfield, he has shown he can move up the ground and kick goals. In Melbourne's premiership year, Petracca kicked a career-high 29 goals including two in the grand final. However, Petracca will have to lift his own accuracy in front of goal if the positional change is to pay off, having kicked four behinds against GWS last weekend in what seriously hurt his team.
With Melbourne playing St Kilda this weekend, their forward brigade with the likes of Mitch Owens, Anthony Caminiti, Max King and Jack Higgins will be out to capitalise on Melbourne's inaccuracy. Petracca hinted at the idea of positional changes at the start of the season, and now seems like the time to do it.
Jack Silvagni was an inclusion against Hawthorn last weekend to help his side's ruck stocks after Tom De Koning failed to overcome injury, and he capitalised on the opportunity, finishing the game with 17 disposals, five marks, 12 hitouts and a goal as Carlton beat Hawthorn by 60 points.
Silvagni hasn't played Fremantle since Round 16, 2021 when the Blues won by 16 points. He finished the game with 19 disposals, nine marks and two goals to feature amongst the Blues' best.
There has been much speculation on Silvagni's future as he continues to come in and out of the senior side, but it is crucial he capitalises on the opportunity this weekend to cement his side. His ability to play both forward and in the ruck will favour him if he can continue to build strong performances.