Round 19 delivers yet another week of season-defining clashes, with the tightest race to the finals that we have seen in years. This weekend, it'll be Port Adelaide vs Collingwood, Essendon vs Western Bulldogs, Melbourne vs Adelaide and Brisbane vs Geelong which will define the shape of the eight.
Carlton and GWS have emerged as the big contenders knocking down the door of the eight, sitting in ninth and tenth respectively. Carlton have a strong chance to win five in a row this weekend, hosting the Eagles at Marvel Stadium.
On the other hand, GWS have the longest win streak in the league right now, having won their last five games and are only out of the top eight due to their lower percentage. The task this weekend is simple - beat Gold Coast in Canberra and they'll find themselves in the top eight.
The match of the round this weekend is undoubtedly Port Adelaide vs Collingwood. Whilst the prison bar stoush often adds intrigue to the clash, this time it is both team's form and the words of Brayden Maynard that "Port better bring their A-game".
Coming off a loss to Carlton last weekend and with a host of key players out, will the Power be able to 'bring it' to the premiership favourites? We'll find out in front of a sold-out crowd on Saturday night.
Round 19 is massive and these are the five players to focus on this weekend.
With Harry McKay officially out for the rest of the home and away season, all eyes will be on Charlie Curnow's performances up forward as Carlton looks for their fifth straight win against West Coast this weekend, as well as a spot in finals for the first time since 2013.
When McKay went down last weekend, it appeared as though Carlton's attack may have worked even better, freeing up Curnow as the main target to finish with 3.3 and allowing other forwards such as Jesse Motlop and Jack Silvagni to capitalise on opportunities.
Hosting the Eagles at Marvel Stadium this weekend, Carlton have the chance to pile on a huge score and experiment with their forward mix ahead of next week, where they'll take on the toughest challenge in footy at the moment - playing Collingwood at the MCG under the Friday night lights in front of a massive crowd.
Last time Curnow played West Coast he got close to a 10-goal haul, finishing the game with 9.3 to lead Carlton to a 108-point victory. No doubt he'll be able to replicate an effort similar to that on the weekend and extend his Coleman Medal lead.
It seems fitting to include Brayden Maynard in our players of the week given the grenade he threw on this weekend's Port Adelaide vs Collingwood clash, adding even more spice to the top-of-the-table clash.
"Port better bring their A-game because we are coming over there and are going to give it our best. We're best in the comp for a reason," Maynard told Fox Footy's Sarah Jones post-match. There is no doubt Maynard will be in among all the action this weekend, particularly after those fierce words.
Known for his competitive spirit and big hits, 'Bruzzy' will thrive off the energy surrounding the clash this weekend and will potentially line up against a player like Jason Horne-Francis, which would make for an enticing matchup. Maynard was quiet when these two sides met in Round 2, gathering only nine disposals and two tackles.
His performance last weekend against Fremantle was one of his most solid this season, finishing up with 20 disposals, six marks, and eight tackles. He will definitely bring his best on Saturday night.
Brayden Maynard is RELENTLESS 😮💨
Two examples of outstanding pressure in the first half: pic.twitter.com/uXKcbdnYHs
— Collingwood FC (@CollingwoodFC) July 15, 2023
Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas was finally recalled to the senior side against Carlton last weekend after a raft of outs. However, it remains to be seen if he will be picked for the important clash with Collingwood this weekend with a few key players potentially up for selection after recovering from injury.
Jonas only managed six disposals, two marks, and two tackles for the game. Given he will be coming up against Collingwood's crafty small forwards like the in-form Jamie Elliott, as well as the taller Ash Johnson, Dan McStay and potentially Brody Mihocek, Jonas would have to majorly lift his game if Port Adelaide are to bring their best form against Collingwood, under the assumption he's named.
If Jonas does retain his spot, maybe his second weekend back at AFL level will see him steady and return to some better form. As the captain of such a strong football team, Jonas won't be down for too long if it means he can play finals and lead his team to victory.
Prior to his hamstring injury, Richards was enjoying a breakout season in the Bulldogs' backline. This season Richards is averaging 20.5 disposals, 15.1 kicks and 6.1 marks to rank above average in each category to be a mainstay in the back six, with his run off half-back providing speed going into the midfield.
The Bulldogs have only won two of their last seven games and sit precariously in seventh position, with a loss against Essendon on Friday night meaning they will likely be out of the top eight and facing a challenging run towards finals.
Richards' speedy recovery from a hamstring strain shows the hard work he has put in over the pre-season and throughout the year, slotting straight back into the side as soon as he was fit.
In just his second game back last weekend, he was one of the Bulldogs' best in the loss to the Swans with 28 disposals, two tackles and a game-high 11 marks. He'll have to back that performance up this weekend to keep the Bulldogs' finals hopes alive and celebrate his 100th game in style.
Tom Atkins was arguably Geelong's best last weekend, finishing the game with 28 disposals and a game-high nine clearances and 12 tackles. Atkins has been a consistent performer for the Cats over his career and ahead of game 100 this weekend, it appears he is only getting better.
Atkins has trialled positions as both a defender and a small forward over the years, but his return as a midfielder is reaping benefits for Geelong at the moment. Essentially running with Zach Merrett alongside Mark O'Connor for the game, he helped to shut down the Bombers skipper's strong form.
This weekend, when Geelong take on the challenging road trip to the Gabba to keep their finals chances alive, Atkins may be tasked with a similar role against one of Brisbane's midfielders like Lachie Neale.