Round 22 kicks off this weekend and there is still no certainty as to which teams will make up the bottom half of the eight. The Sydney Swans launched themselves back into the equation last weekend with an impressive win over GWS in the Sydney Derby and depending on the way results swing this weekend, they could find themselves inside the eight by Sunday night.
After losing to Fremantle in Round 20, Geelong's season seemed over. Yet they too proved last weekend that they are still in contention for September, with an impressive win over Port Adelaide at GMHBA launching them into ninth and only two points off eighth position. They face a tough game on Friday night against Collingwood, albeit the Magpies have lost two in a row and will be without stars Nick Daicos and Steele Sidebottom. The two teams have typically put on exciting games over the last few years, and Friday night is looming to be yet another fiery clash.
Carlton and Melbourne is another exciting clash to come this weekend, as Carlton searches for their eighth consecutive win and has the chance to knock off another top-four contender. A win for Melbourne this weekend is also important in ensuring that they secure a home qualifying final.
These are the five players to focus on for Round 21.
Tom Green returned to the Giants' side last weekend after three weeks out with a hamstring injury and showed no signs that he had been injured. Green was an apparent best on ground for GWS and arguably one of the best for the game despite the loss, finishing with 38 disposals, 10 tackles and seven clearances to put on one of his top performances for the season.
Despite missing a few games, Green would be well up there when it comes time to count votes for the Kevin Sheedy Medal, demonstrating how important he is to this GWS team particularly if they are to make finals.
After their win streak was snapped last week against the Sydney Swans, GWS will hope to return to the winners list this weekend when they face a tough challenge - playing Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval. GWS won't be afraid though, having previously beaten Adelaide there earlier in the season. The two teams have a pretty even win-loss record, with the ledger sitting at 7-6 a piece in the Power's favour.
Green does not typically perform well against Port Adelaide, with an average score of 44 AFL Fantasy Points when he plays the Power. However, with finals on the line this weekend Green will be hoping to continue the strong form he has found in the 2023 season.
— GWS GIANTS (@GWSGIANTS) August 7, 2023
After Geelong's impressive win over Port Adelaide put them back into finals contention, Friday night's game has so much riding on it. A loss for Collingwood would make it three in a row - not the form they would've hoped for heading into September. Meanwhile, a loss for Geelong would all but end their finals hopes.
With the big injury to brother Nick against Hawthorn last weekend, and now the confirmation that Steele Sidebottom won't play against Geelong this weekend with a foot injury, Josh Daicos has a big role to play this weekend in order to get Collingwood back on track heading into finals.
Daicos has been a consistent performer for Collingwood throughout the season, but according to AFL Fantasy Points last weekend was his lowest-ranked game for the season. Daicos finished the game with 19 disposals, two marks and two tackles, failing to have the same impact on the game.
Siblings, shadows and stepping out.
— Ed Carmine (@ed_carmine) August 8, 2023
Geelong has been a side which Daicos has consistently performed well against. When the two sides met back in Round 1, Daicos had 27 disposals, five clearances and three marks. Even more impressive was his performance against Geelong in last year's qualifying final, finishing the game with 29 disposals, eight marks, five tackles and a goal.
Last week's performance against Carlton was Steele's worst for the season and statistically his worst performance since Round 1, 2018 against Brisbane. Steele finished the game with 11 disposals, including zero in the last quarter, and one mark. His performance can be slightly redeemed by the fact he did lay 10 tackles in a strong defensive showing for the game.
However, St Kilda has won only two of their last five games and those were against bottom sides Hawthorn and North Melbourne, having lost to Carlton, Gold Coast and Melbourne. Their game against Richmond this weekend looms as a do-or-die clash if they are wanting to play finals this season, particularly with tough games to come against Geelong and a trip to the Gabba in Round 24 to play Brisbane.
Interestingly enough, Steele's lowest-ranked game prior to last weekend came against Richmond in Round 14, with 21 disposals and an unusually low four tackles for Steele. This weekend at Marvel Stadium, Steele must produce one of his typical captain's performances if his side is to play finals in 2023.
Port Adelaide have now lost four games in a row, and concerningly, they have all been to fellow top eight contenders. Two weeks ago, the Power had seemingly locked up a top two finish. Now, they sit precariously in fourth position and face the potential of travelling to the MCG to face either Collingwood or Melbourne in a tough qualifying final.
After it was announced on Wednesday that Charlie Dixon is anticipated to miss four weeks with a foot injury, Todd Marshall will be expected to step up in his absence. Marshall was one of his team's stronger performers against Geelong last weekend, with a game-high 10 marks, two goals and four tackles.
It signifies a return to form for Marshall, having gone under the radar between Rounds 18-20, including an unusual scoreless performance in the Showdown in Round 19. An important clash with GWS on Sunday afternoon looms and it will be interesting to see how these two sides line up, having not played each other since Round 17, 2022 in a game which saw the Power run out 55-point winners. Marshall was quiet in that game but still managed to kick 2.1.
When Carlton come up against Melbourne on Saturday night, it will be a very different story between the two sides than what it was in Round 12. That game saw Carlton suffer an eighth consecutive defeat at the hands of the Demons, with finals seemingly all but out of the equation for yet another year. However, coming into this game Carlton are now searching for their eighth consecutive win and the opportunity to lock up a place in the finals for the first time since 2013.
After being kept out of the senior side from Round 12, Zac Fisher returned with a bang at halfback against St Kilda last weekend with 32 disposals, including nine contested possessions, four clearances and three tackles. However, Carlton faces a much tougher opposition this weekend in the in-form Melbourne at the MCG under Saturday night lights. According to Champion Data, Fisher was the seventh-highest-ranked defender across Round 21 off the back of that performance.
Fisher previously played Melbourne in Round 12 finishing with 14 disposals, one mark and a goal for the game in a performance which saw him subsequently omitted the following week.