St Kilda players look dejected after their loss to Greater Western Sydney Giants at Manuka Oval in R5, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

A BLOCKBUSTER round six is packed with evenly-matched contests that will shake up both ends of the ladder.

St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs will both be out to stay in touch with the top eight, and at the same time silence their critics, when the inconsistent duo open the round on Thursday night.

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Last year's Grand Finalists Collingwood and Brisbane will be looking to confirm their return to form when they face top-four contenders Port Adelaide and Geelong respectively, while Carlton and Greater Western Sydney meet during a mouth-watering Saturday.

Here is what to expect across round six, including a tip for each of the eight matches with Melbourne and Richmond enjoying the bye.


St Kilda v Western Bulldogs, Marvel Stadium
Thursday, April 18, 7.30pm AEST

Last time: St Kilda 14.8 (92) d Western Bulldogs 5.11 (41), R2 2023

What it means

St Kilda surged home with six straight goals against Greater Western Sydney but would be well aware that it left itself with too much to do in its third narrow loss for the season. The Saints have dropped to a 2-3 record and need to start finding more wins against opponents around the same mark to keep pace with the top eight.

The Western Bulldogs failed to make the most of its chances before being brushed aside by Essendon in what quickly turned into a demoralising defeat. The Bulldogs have an ideal opportunity to respond against a fellow top-eight hopeful, and perhaps even put to bed the uncertainty over whether they are playing for finals or the future this season.

Western Bulldogs players look dejected after their loss to Essendon in round five, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

Bradley Hill turned back the clock with 33 disposals and a goal against the Giants, which included 13 touches as the Saints made a belated push in the final term. Hill has warmed into the season but with the opposition now also focused on his younger teammates, the veteran could again be critical as the Saints look to lift their scoring rate.

Adam Treloar has been putting together a solid season while again spending more time in the midfield, even as the Bulldogs have faced problems across other parts of the field. Treloar is averaging 31.6 disposals and 4.6 inside 50s a game, both personal-bests since joining the Dogs at the end of 2020, and remains crucial to their ball movement in the forward half.

Early tip: Western Bulldogs by 11 points


Adelaide v Essendon, Adelaide Oval
Friday, April 19, 7.10pm ACST

Last time: Essendon 17.13 (115) d Adelaide 15.7 (97), R17 2023

What it means

Adelaide kickstarted its season while also snapping its hoodoo in matches decided by a goal or less with a thrilling victory over Carlton. The Crows even showed signs of slicker ball movement when hitting the 100-point mark for the first time this season, but need to back it up this week with little margin for error after a 0-4 start to the season.

The Essendon rollercoaster ride continued as it kept pace with the Western Bulldogs then soared over the top of them with a blistering final term, just a week after a crushing loss to Port Adelaide. After a W-L-W-L-W start to the season, the Bombers will now be searching for consistency as much as back-to-back victories, while being boosted by winning the past six clashes with the Crows.


Game shapers

Josh Rachele is yet to truly make his mark in the Crows' midfield but gave a reminder of his prodigious talents with 15 disposals and two goals against the Blues. Rachele has now booted seven majors as he continues to be a threat inside 50, but the Crows might get more benefit from the spark the 21-year-old could add with more time in the midfield.

Sam Durham made the most of his opportunity to play on the ball more against the Bulldogs with a career-high six clearances alongside 21 disposals and a goal. Durham even went a long way to restricting the output of Marcus Bontempelli as he showed that he can improve the Bombers’ balance around the stoppages.

Early tip: Adelaide by nine points


Collingwood v Port Adelaide, MCG
Saturday, April 20, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Collingwood 13.7 (85) d Port Adelaide 12.11 (83), R19 2023

What it means

Collingwood had an opportunity to reset its season with the bye after it kicked off its premiership defence with three lacklustre defeats before bouncing back with back-to-back victories. The Magpies are yet to match the heights of the past two seasons but still have the weapons to send a warning shot across the competition while playing against a top-four contender on their home deck.

Port Adelaide won each of the matches it was broadly expected to win so far this season, though it only edged past Fremantle at home last week. The Power now need to start matching it with the top-ranked teams to be considered a genuine contender, with a clash against a reigning premier that has barely fired this season perhaps the ideal time to make a statement.

Ollie Wines looks to go past Nick Daico during the match between Port Adelaide and Collingwood at Adelaide Oval in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Jamie Elliott has shown glimpses of his best this season and was one of the Magpies to stand up when their season was all but on the line against the Lions. Elliott is averaging two goals a game but is almost flying under the radar as more attention turns towards the Pies' other zippy forwards like Bobby Hill and Lachie Schultz. 

Dan Houston yet again demonstrated that he can make an impact at either end of the field while gathering 27 disposals and 740m gained against Fremantle. The 2023 All-Australian is averaging four rebounds and four inside 50s a game this season, and only really needs to add goals to his game to be considered a genuine all-rounder.

Early tip: Collingwood by 16 points


Carlton v Greater Western Sydney, Marvel Stadium
Saturday, April 20, 4.35pm AEST

Last time: Greater Western Sydney 16.9 (105) d Carlton 11.7 (73), R24 2023

What it means

Carlton finally ran out of lives when it was pipped by Adelaide after winning its previous six matches decided by a goal or less. The defeat arguably brought the Blues back to Earth after their barely believable streak of thrilling victories, but we are about to get a much better idea of where they are placed, with this match the first in a long stretch of games for the Blues against top-four hopefuls.

Greater Western Sydney was almost given a rude awakening when putting the cue in the rack too early against St Kilda until being saved by the clock. But the Giants also suffered injuries to pivotal players in Sam Taylor and Stephen Coniglio that left them a player down, and they can now at least brace themselves for a clash with a similarly undermanned Carlton.


Game shapers

Sam Walsh wasted no time returning to form with game-highs for 34 disposals, eight clearances and 13 tackles in his first match of the season after being sidelined with a back injury. The silky-smooth midfielder can have an impact at the stoppages or on the outside and looms as crucial to the Blues matching it with the Giants' better ball users.

Jack Buckley was always likely to line-up on one of Carlton's twin towers anyway, but will now be set for an even more important role with Taylor sidelined. Buckley has the size and agility to match it with Charlie Curnow or Harry McKay and might be called to swap between the pair especially if they get off the leash.

Early tip: GWS Giants by 15 points


Brisbane v Geelong, Gabba
Saturday, April 20, 7.30pm AEST

Last time: Brisbane 9.10 (64) d Geelong 7.11 (53), R19 2023

What it means

Brisbane is well on the way to turning its season around after a shock 0-3 start, smashing its MCG hoodoo with an impressive victory over the red-hot Melbourne last week. The Lions still have plenty of fine-tuning to do, especially in their forward half, but now have an opportunity to do that in more familiar surroundings while also beginning to rebuild their Gabba fortress.

Geelong faces its biggest test of the campaign so far after doing all that it has needed to against arguably pedestrian opponents during an undefeated start to the season. The Cats will now need to flick a switch to bring their best each week with the clash against the Lions the first in an extended stretch against top-four hopefuls.

Eric Hipwood and Rhys Stanley in action during the match between Brisbane and Geelong at The Gabba in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Cam Rayner played a starring role in Brisbane's midfield with 25 disposals and a career-high nine disposals in the victory over Melbourne last week. While the former No.1 draft pick remains a threat inside the forward 50, the Lions must now be tempted to find out what sort of influence he can have as a regular onballer. 

Jeremy Cameron looks renewed with a more expansive role that allows him to roam high and wide before burning off defenders on the way back towards goal. The Cats' forward is averaging a career-high 18.6 disposals a match, while also booting 14 goals this season, and he requires only two more to reach 600 majors.

Early tip: Brisbane by three points


West Coast v Fremantle, Optus Stadium
Saturday, April 20, 6.10pm AWST

Last time: Fremantle 20.14 (134) d West Coast 4.9 (33), R22 2023

What it means

West Coast has not had much to celebrate in recent seasons but will be flying high coming into the Derby after a stirring victory over Richmond. The Eagles' relatively comfortable win was built on a blend of the old and the new that showed enough to suggest that they might even be able to keep pace with the Dockers for the first time since 2021.

Fremantle has let its commanding start to the season slip with a pair of narrow defeats, while the goals have dried up with only nine majors in each of its past three matches. The Eagles might not be the pushovers that they have been in recent seasons, but the Dockers will still expect to equal their longest winning streak of six with another victory over their crosstown rivals.

Fremantle players pose with the Western Derby trophy after defeating West Coast at Optus Stadium in round 22, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

West Coast has been searching for a goalkicker to add a spark to its forward line but few would have expected Jake Waterman to be the one to step up. The 25-year-old booted a career-high six goals and pulled down eight contested marks in the victory over Richmond, and suddenly looms as the main threat for the Dockers' defenders to contain. 

Fremantle will again rely on at least one of Josh Treacy or Jye Amiss to provide a target inside the forward 50 as it looks to add more of a goal threat to its attack. Treacy booted an equal career-high three goals against Port Adelaide, and has kicked at least one goal in each match this season, but might be eyeing a bigger bag against the improving but still undermanned Eagles.

Early tip: Fremantle by 38 points


Sydney v Gold Coast, SCG
Sunday, April 21, 1.05pm

Last time: Sydney 18.6 (114) d Gold Coast 13.12 (90), R22 2023

What it means

After a blistering start to the season, Sydney staggered to the bye with a shock loss to Richmond followed by a close call against West Coast, where it needed until the final term to put West Coast away. But the refreshed Swans are starting to get more reinforcements and should be primed to take on a Suns side that has few fears about visiting the SCG.

Gold Coast has impressed since calling on more of its budding talent but ideally needs to take down a finals contender to prove its own credentials. The Suns are yet to win away from home this season but can turn to a strong record at the SCG with three wins from their past five matches against the Swans at the venue.

Jed Walter celebrates a goal during the match between Gold Coast and Hawthorn at People First Stadium in round five, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

The battle of the Academy prodigies could be decided by the distinctive talents of Nick Blakey. The Swans are looking to put the ball in Blakey's hands as the dashing defender averages career-highs for disposals (22.4) and rebounds (6.4), while being one of the best in the business at turning defence into attack.

The Suns have talent blossoming around all parts of the ground but co-captain Jarrod Witts remains integral to leading the way. Witts' battle with Swans ruck Brodie Grundy, who will be playing his 200th match, could decide which team gets on top at the stoppages and gives their runners first use of the ball. 

Early tip: Sydney by eight points


North Melbourne v Hawthorn, Marvel Stadium
Sunday, April 21, 4.05pm AEST

Last time: Hawthorn 12.16 (88) d North Melbourne 6.4 (40), R18 2023

What it means

North Melbourne was handed a challenging start to the season despite four consecutive bottom-two finishes, but any hint of excuses over the fixture must end when it takes on the 17th-placed Hawthorn. The Kangaroos are yet to hold an opposition to fewer than 100 points this year but can be buoyed by the Hawks' scoring struggles in a clash between the two remaining winless teams.

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell turned the blowtorch on his own players when describing their performance against Gold Coast as "a completely unacceptable way to play". The Hawks have now lost the first five matches of a season for the first time since 1970, but arguably face the ideal opponent to snap their losing streak.

Hawthorn players react after their loss to Gold Coast in R5, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Harry Sheezel is doing as much as could be asked of a young defender in his second season with a struggling side, as the 19-year-old averages a League-high 34.4 disposals. But Sheezel might be even more impactful for the Kangaroos in the forward half where his silky skills could give their forwards better delivery as they look to lift the scoring rate above 10 goals a match. 

Karl Amon has performed with his usual consistency since arriving at Hawthorn as a prized recruit ahead of the 2023 season. Amon’s levels rarely drop away even when his side is on the ropes, as he showed while gathering 26 disposals in the loss to the Suns, but now needs to also lead the way as the Hawks’ young side chase a first win of the season.

Early tip: North Melbourne by four points