At long, long last we head into the final week of the painstaking bye period of the AFL, where you constantly flick on the TV for the comfort of Brian Taylor and Bruce McAvaney and instead are met by the discomforting sound of replays of The Couch.
Round 14’s set of games actually does a much better job of easing the pain of reduced matches, spreading it over four days from Thursday to Sunday. I’m not sure why they didn’t do this in the last two weeks, but that is a question for the eminent fence-sitter Gillon McLachlan.
Thursday’s opener looks to be an end-to-end game of footy and sees the recently dethroned league leaders, the Eagles, hosting Essendon, in what could be a long night for the Bombers.
The Eagles were toweled up by Sydney last week in a game that will only further add to the perennial criticism that West Coast do not travel. The SCG certainly does not suit their open, wide, expansive brand of footy and they were strangled and suffocated by a Sydney team that has mastered the league’s smallest ground, but irregardless they would have wanted to put in an infinitely better performance. They’re still one of the best four teams in the league however, and coming off a poor performance like that and heading home against a team no one trusts, I think this could get ugly. Essendon are capable of great footy but I think this one will be over from the first bounce.
Let’s look at the game’s fantasy plays.
Gun: Andrew Gaff ($16m)
The few touches he had last week were class even in the drubbing at the hands of the Swans, but I expect Andrew Gaff to bounce back with 40 or so touches and lead the Eagles to a 50+ point win. If you’ve read this blog in the past you know the wrap I have on the guy and how impressed I’ve been with him taking the next step in his career. He is worthy of the great midfielders that have worn the gold jersey in the past and I expect him to at least reach his 110 average.
Dud: Jake Stringer ($11.4m)
I’ve featured Jake Stringer in the gun and POD categories the last month or so, culminating in an astonishing 133 his last game, but I would be wary of riding the wave into this one. Stringer has certainly grown into his role with the Bombers and has embraced the Adam Treloar-style job he’s been given, driving the ball from the centre into the attacking 50. He runs into a team that is as strong as any at defending that, with classy midfielders to win the efficiently dispose the ball in the contest and a number of All-Australian defenders to intercept any attempts forward. This is grading more on the scale of his past month than his lowly 74 average, but I think The Package has a harder time of it this week.
Point of Difference: Chris Masten ($12.5m)
Chris Masten was arguably West Coast’s best in last week’s humbling, and that eye test translated to fantasy as well with the veteran racking up 102 points. He gives the Eagles a grittier edge among a midfield and driving backline full of class and grace, and could thrive if given he’s let off the leash and allowed to make a nuisance of himself to Zach Merrett and the Bombers strong midfield.
Check back soon for picks and analysis for the rest of this weekend’s AFL action. In the meantime, be sure to get your lineups in. Good luck!