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Saturday, April 17, 2021

AFL round 4 preview: COVID chaos

What drama has surrounded Conor McKenna and the Essendon Bombers over the past week.

The future of their season was up in the air earlier in the week when it was thought potentially up to half the squad would have to self-isolate, but then it was announced only one other player would join McKenna in self-isolation.

Then in another twist, McKenna’s third test came back as negative so who knows what’s going on there? The good news is we get 9 matches of footy this weekend, at least for now. So, let’s get into them.

Sydney Swans (7th) vs Western Bulldogs (16th) Thursday 25 June 7.40pm @SCG

Good way to kick off the round with both teams coming off impressive wins last weekend.

The Swans put in a four-quarter performance and their forward line looked much better with the extra tall, Hayden Mclean, who performed well enough to keep his spot in the side despite first choice ruckman Sam Naithsmith coming back in.

Naismith was brilliant in his only game this year, all the way back in round 1, and is a huge addition for the Swans midfield.

Isaac Heeney will be crucial for the Swans.

Isaac Heeney played further up the ground last weekend and put in a best on ground performance so expect him to roam the field again. James Rowbottom and Josh Kennedy were also fantastic around the ball.

Speaking of Kennedy, this will be game 250 for the Swans co-captain, and what a great player he has been.

He has consistently been one of the best Swans players since joining the club in 2010, and his teammates will be desperate to make sure game 250 is one to remember.

The Bulldogs got their first win of the season against the Giants and returned to their best pressure game.

They will be without influential midfielder Josh Dunkley, who picked up a syndesmosis injury last week.

Marcus Bontempelli or Jack Macrae will most likely pick up a tag in the midfield but are good enough to still have an impact.

Young Bailey Smith looks like becoming a superstar for the Dogs and, with a glorious mullet, he’s a certainty to become a cult hero at the kennel.

GWS Giants (12th) vs Collingwood Magpies (2nd) Friday 26 June 7.50pm @Giants Stadium

This is a vitally important clash for the Giants as they look to avoid losing three matches in a row.

Last year’s grand finalists have come back from the COVID break with consecutive losses and not looking their usual skillful selves.

Good news for the Giants at the selection table with star trio Josh Kelly, Toby Greene and Lachie Whitfield all passed fit to play.

They desperately missed them last week but the Pies are a tougher opponent than the Bulldogs so they’ll need the whole team to lift as well.

The Magpies look one of the teams to beat early in the season; their veterans in Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury look as good as ever while Jeremy Howe has been superb down back.

They’ll be looking for some revenge on the Giants after they upset them in last year’s preliminary final so expect the Pies to come out firing.

These two played in an epic preliminary final last year, with the Giants getting the chocolates.

Port Adelaide Power (1st) vs West Coast Eagles (15th) Saturday 27 June 1.45pm @ Metricon Stadium

Well, who would’ve thought two weeks ago that the Power would come into this one as the red hot favourites?

The Power have been super impressive, recording big wins over the Suns, Crows and Dockers but with no big scalps, it’s hard to declare them premiership contenders just yet.

Former captain Travis Boak has been in sublime touch while the return of Ollie Wines last week was a welcome one; he racked up 25 touches in his first game of the season.

The Eagles have been the opposite of impressive to restart the season, with big losses to the Suns and Lions raising question marks around their premiership credentials.

Life in the Gold Coast hub has been difficult for the Eagles and, with another three games left in Queensland, the Eagles will be desperate for a win.

St Kilda Saints (11th) vs Richmond Tigers (9th) Saturday 27 June 4.35pm @ Marvel Stadium

Both sides are coming off disappointing losses so will be eager to bounce back.

The Saints looked the goods against the Bulldogs two rounds ago but couldn’t match it against a better side in the Pies.

They will be looking for better supply to their forwards this week after the likes of Max King and Tim Membrey failed to have an impact last round.

The Tigers looked completely out of sorts against the Hawks, with their usual ferocious pressure nonexistent.

In the first two matches back, they have been outscored 58-2 in their first quarters, which perhaps indicates they have come back lacking motivation.

Despite the poor result last week, the Tigers have enough runs on the board over the past three years to suggest they will bounce back sooner rather than later.

The Saints will be looking to claim a big scalp this weekend as the Tigers will be trying to get back on the winners list.

Essendon Bombers (4th) vs Carlton Blues (13th) Saturday 27 June 7.40pm @MCG

What a circus it’s been at the Bombers. It looks like the Bombers have dodged a major COVID shaped bullet with only two players to be quarantined after Connor McKenna has now seemingly tested false positive to COVID-19. Bizarre.

McKenna and James Stewart are the two players set to miss the next fortnight; neither player was selected in their round 2 team, so they’re not a big loss for the Bombers.

However, skipper Dyson Heppell will be a big loss after fracturing his ankle at training last week and is expected to miss a large portion of the season.

Essendon would be used to dealing with off-field drama, so perhaps it may not have that big of an impact on their performance.

While the Bombers had the week off, the Blues were busy recording a famous win down in Geelong.

Carlton were sensational in the first three quarters against the Cats and hung on for a two-point victory.

Eddie Betts showed he’s still got value for the Blues while their co-captains Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty led their team from the front.

It was an important victory for the Blues, but it’s even more important that they back it up with another win here.

Gold Coast Suns (3rd) vs Fremantle Dockers (17th) Saturday 27 June 7.40pm @Metricon Stadium

The Suns are the surprise packet over the first two weeks back, racking up two comprehensive victories over the Eagles and Crows.

Young Matthew Rowell is a star already and with the form of Ben King up forward, things are starting to look rosy on the Gold Coast.

This is a huge opportunity for them to win three in a row up against the winless Dockers who have been in the Gold Coast hub for a few weeks now.

Despite the winless start, the Dockers have been competitive in all their matches but have too heavy a reliance on their big guns in Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters.

The Dockers have two more games in the hub against the Suns and Crows, so if they can win those two, they give themselves a shot at finals.

Brisbane Lions (5th) vs Adelaide Crows (18th) Sunday 28 June 1.05pm @Gabba

The Lions appear to be in the premiership window while the Crows’ form has them looking like certainties for the wooden spoon.

The Lions enjoyed a solid win over the Eagles with a dominant second-half display.

Lachie Neale continues to solidify himself as one of the best players in the competition, while Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry look to have taken their games to another level this season.

The Crows have been non-competitive in their last two matches and it’s hard to see a form reversal big enough to win this one but this is the season for upsets so who knows.

It’s been a tough start to new coach Matthew Nick’s tenure so it wouldn’t surprise to see him make some changes to the side to set an example.

The Crows are under serious pressure after back to back floggings.

Melbourne Demons (14th) vs Geelong Cats (10th) Sunday 28 June 3.35pm @MCG

The Demons were almost forgotten about last weekend with Essendon taking all the headlines, but they were unable to play so it will be interesting to see how they perform after missing a week.

The Cats probably wished their match had been called off with an uncharacteristically poor performance at their home ground.

Staggeringly, the Cats have not won back-to-back matches since they defeated the Tigers on 7 June last season which shows how inconsistent they are.

Recruit Jack Steven only managed six disposals in his first game for the Cats but should be better for the run.

Hawthorn Hawks (8th) vs North Melbourne Kangaroos (6th) Sunday 28 June 6.05pm @Marvel Stadium

The Hawks were at their best in their 32-point win over the Tigers with the inclusion of Jaeger O’Meara making a big difference to their midfield.

Ben McEvoy was good down back and picked off several intercept marks while Jonathan Ceglar had a field day in the ruck.

They’ll need to bring the same intensity they showed against the Tigers again because the Kangaroos won’t lie down.

Despite the loss last week, the Kangaroos have shown a big improvement on last season and with Ben Cunnington back in the midfield, they should feel confident of causing another upset.

Todd Goldstein is back to his best form and his clash with Ceglar will be pivotal around the stoppages.

Ben Cunnington is a massive inclusion for the Kangaroos midfield.

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