Will Hayward during the round 18 match between Sydney and Western Bulldogs at the SCG, July 13, 2023, Picture: AFL Photos

THE SECOND leg of Sir Doug Nicholls Round has much to live up to after an action-packed weekend of upsets, come-from-behind victories, and a masterclass from the pacesetters.

Dreamtime at the ‘G will be the centrepiece when Richmond and Essendon meet on Saturday night, while Western Bulldogs and Sydney open round 11 on Thursday night

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Here is who and what to look out for across round 11, as well as a tip for each match.                     

Western Bulldogs v Sydney, Marvel Stadium
Thursday, May 23, 7.30pm AEST

Last time: Sydney 11.12 (78) d Western Bulldogs 11.10 (76), R18 2023

What it means

The Western Bulldogs (5-5) have revitalised their season with back-to-back wins including a clinical dismantling of heated rivals Greater Western Sydney last week. But the Bulldogs are coming off a five-day break to face the white-hot Swans with further tests of their finals credentials to follow against the Pies, Lions and Dockers before a bye.

Sydney (9-1) can stretch its blistering start to the season to a 10-1 record for the first time since 1936 with a seventh consecutive victory when it faces the Bulldogs. The stunning streak has helped the Swans open up a gap on the chasing pack that they can maintain with a win over the Dogs before a week off with a bye.

Game shapers

The Bulldogs have been forced to shake up their midfield this year with Bailey Smith out for the season and Tom Liberatore sidelined in recent weeks. Dashing defender Ed Richards has made the most of his move to midfield over the past two weeks, winning the ball at the coalface while still using his pace to find space and move the ball forward at speed.

Isaac Heeney has lapped up the plaudits as the Swans have soared to the top of the ladder, but fellow onballer Chad Warner has been in similarly imperious form. Warner is all about maximum impact as he averages 24.5 disposals with 3.8 clearances, while booting the third most goals of all midfielders, with 15 from 10 matches.

Early tip: Sydney by 11 points


Walyalup v Collingwood, Optus Stadium
Friday, May 24, 6.10pm AWST

Last time: Collingwood 18.5 (113) d Walyalup 10.7 (67), R18 2023

What it means

Walyalup (6-4) is within striking distance of the top four even while sitting just outside the eight by a slim percentage after winning three of its past four matches. The Dockers could put themselves in an even stronger position with a victory on their home deck against the reigning premier, with the Demons up next in Darwin before a bye.

Collingwood (6-3-1) has climbed to fifth spot with three wins on the trot and is looking an imposing prospect for any opposition despite growing concerns for the length of its injury list. The Magpies travel well and have a promising record at the venue with three victories from their past four visits going back to 2020.

Game shapers

Even as the Dockers have climbed to the brink of the top eight, questions remain over their ability to score heavily. Jordan Clark’s impact on that has been growing even from half-back, as his rebounding from defence helps set up more Dockers attacks while a standout display against the Saints was arguably his best for the club.

Lachie Schultz has had an indifferent start to life at the Magpies since leave the Dockers at the end of last season. The zippy forward has booted 10 goals in nine matches and will now play his 100th match against his former club, while the Pies will hope Schultz can lift his impact near goal especially as their own injuries mount up.

Early tip: Collingwood by nine points


North Melbourne v Yartapuulti, Blundstone Arena
Saturday, May 25, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Yartapuulti 20.15 (135) d North Melbourne 10.5 (65), R9 2023

What it means

North Melbourne (0-10) once boasted a formidable record in Hobart but has only won twice in its past 13 visits since being stranded near the bottom of the ladder in recent years. The Roos showed promising signs against the Bombers outside of a 15-minute lapse, and can look to build on their cleaner ball movement with fellow bottom-four side West Coast to follow a bye.

Yartapuulti (7-3) snatched the four points in a dramatic finish against Hawthorn but will be well aware that it was mostly outplayed until the final-term surge. The Power can look to fine tune against the Roos, who they have defeated in nine of their past 10 meetings, before a five-day break to face the Blues ahead of a bye.

Game shapers

Aidan Corr has been an ever-present in the Kangaroos’ new-look defence, trying to stem the tide and lead the way alongside their less experienced key backs. The former Giant is certain to be handed another crucial role minding the Power’s tall forwards as he lines up to play his 150th match.

Jason Horne-Francis has had one of the more eventful – and impactful – first 50 matches, being drafted with the No.1 pick then a year later moving clubs. The former Kangaroo gives his original club regular reminders of what they once had, as his influence continues to grow with the Power whether playing near goal or on the ball.

Early tip: Yartapuulti by 33 points


Carlton v Gold Coast, Marvel Stadium
Saturday, May 25, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Carlton 13.13 (91) d Gold Coast 13.9 (87), R23 2023

What it means

Carlton (6-4) started brightly against Sydney before being handed a clearer indication of where it sits as the ladder-leaders soon got on top and eventually raced away. The Blues have now lost three of their past four to drop out of the top eight, but can take critical points off finals rivals like the improving Suns, with the Power and Bombers to come before a bye.

Gold Coast (6-4) could hardly have been more impressive as it thumped Geelong in Darwin to make it six-from-six at its home venues and a move into the top eight. But the Suns are yet to match those heights when they hit the road this season, losing all four matches as the gap between their best and worst has been too obvious to see.

Game shapers

The Blues continue to search for more support for skipper Patrick Cripps and gun midfielder Sam Walsh, especially with Adam Cerra part of their long injury list. George Hewett plays his role well, but the likes of Matthew Kennedy could add more grunt around the stoppages, if only to help their stars shine.  

Alex Sexton was widely expected to flourish in a new role as a rebounding half-back where his pace and long kicking could open up the game for the Suns. But the former goalsneak took time to settle and was dropped after three matches, until returning for the past two, including with a starring role against Geelong that suggested his best is yet to come.

Early tip: Carlton by 16 points


Geelong v Greater Western Sydney, GMHBA Stadium
Saturday, May 25, 4.35pm AEST

Last time: GWS Giants 12.9 (81) d Geelong 10.14 (74), R11 2023

What it means

Geelong (7-3) will hope to call on reinforcements as it returns from Darwin with its tail between its legs after a crushing defeat to Gold Coast that was among the most shocking of Chris Scott’s reign. The Cats have now lost three on the trot to fall back into the pack but can look to get their season back on track in back-to-back matches at home.

Greater Western Sydney (6-4) has stumbled badly after starting the season with five consecutive victories that suggested it was among the flag fancies, losing four of the next five to now only just squeeze into the top eight. But the Giants seem to lift when on the road and have beaten the Cats on their past three visits to their formidable home deck, and can leave it all out there with a bye to come next.

Game shapers

Brandan Parfitt has taken on added responsibility in the Cats’ midfield with changes in part due to a planned refresh while also forced upon them by injury. The 26-year-old has grasped the opportunity through improved consistency and tidier disposal, while averaging 18.4 disposals with a career-high 5.25 clearances.

Toby Greene went a long way to brushing off any talk of a form slump with three goals in the defeat to the Bulldogs, even as he was one of only two goalkickers for his side. The skipper now has 14 majors from nine matches, including five in the past two, and again looks primed to lead the Giants out of trouble when their backs are to the wall.

Early tip: Geelong by 17 points


Richmond v Essendon, MCG
Saturday, May 25, 7.40pm AEST

Last time: Essendon 10.11 (71) d Richmond 10.10 (70), R10 2023

What it means

Richmond (1-9) is facing an ever-growing injury crisis that is making it hard for it to compete, but must find a way to at least limit the damage on the big stage against rivals Essendon. The Tigers’ problems are reinforced by their difficulties to score, averaging only 62 points for their lowest return from a season’s first 10 matches since 1964.

Essendon (7-2-1) is past flying under the radar after climbing to second spot with a commanding victory over North Melbourne and can now bolster its top-four hopes against a struggling Richmond. The Bombers snapped their 13-match losing streak against the Tigers in a one-point thriller in the corresponding clash last year, but this time might eye a percentage boost as well as the four points.

Game shapers

Jayden Short has been a valuable addition to the Tigers’ defence since overcoming yet another a calf injury. The experienced half-back has helped to steady the ship even as the undermanned Tigers’ have been under attack, locking down on opposition forwards and rebounding the other way.

The Bombers look far more potent now with multiple forward threats, but Jake Stringer is also reaping the rewards of the variety in attack. Stringer has booted at least one goal in all 10 matches this season for 19 overall, and will no doubt be looking to add another haul in his 200th match.

Early tip: Essendon by 44 points

Hawthorn v Brisbane, Marvel Stadium
Sunday, May 26, 1.10pm AEST

Last time: Hawthorn 15.8 (98) d Brisbane 11.7 (73), R13 2023

What it means

Hawthorn (3-7) might still be reeling from a last-gasp defeat to Yartapuulti last week but can at least take positives from an impressive three quarters when it had built a strong lead. The Hawks have turned around their season with three wins in their past five, and even have the wood over the Lions after triumphing the past four times they have met.

Brisbane (4-5-1) will be out to even up its win-loss record for the first time this season after starting it with three defeats. The Lions have been building their form in recent weeks and should hold few fears of playing at this venue after eight wins from their past nine visits, while last year’s runner’s up can look forward to freshening up after this with a bye to come next.

Game shapers

Will Day had a belated start to his season after taking out the Hawks’ best and fairest award last year, but after four games back appears to be humming again. The 22-year-old took a while to get going after recovering from stress fractures in his foot, but was all but back to his best with 27 disposals and a goal as his side fell a few seconds short of making it four wins from five.

Kai Lohmann has been something of a slow burn after being drafted with pick No.20 in 2021 but has played every match for the Lions this year, including spending time as the sub. The livewire forward booted a career-high five goals last week to earn the Rising Star nomination, as he starts to fulfil more of his promise just as the Lions need their young guns.

Early tip: Brisbane by 19 points


Narrm v Euro-Yroke, MCG
Sunday, May 26, 3.20pm AEST

Last time: Narrm 12.7 (79) d Euro-Yroke 8.10 (58), R17 2023

What it means

Narrm (6-4) has been paying the price for its inconsistency in and across matches while it has dropped from flag fancy to only sitting inside the top eight on percentage. After back-to-back defeats the Demons can now look to get their season back on track against an under-fire Saints outfit they have beaten the past four times they have met.

Euro-Yroke (3-7) has only beaten lowly North Melbourne in its past six matches as its season has hit the skids to leave it at significant risk of losing touch with the top eight. The Saints are finding the going tough with their ongoing struggles to score, ranked 15th for points for and with the miserly Demons now to come.

Game shapers

Christian Salem bounced back immediately from a stint on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury to gather 25 disposals even as the Demons were stunned by the Eagles. Narrm now needs the smooth-moving half-back to help reinvigorate its ball movement that was too timid in that loss, while the defence could also do with a boost as fresh injuries strike.

The Saints missed the new-found consistency of the tireless Mason Wood when he was sidelined, even as other injuries and losses piled up. The hard-running 30-year-old has been useful since returning to the side, averaging 21 disposals in three matches, but the Saints should now look to Wood to be more of an influence on their attack.

Early tip: Narrm by 24 points


Kuwarna v Waalitj Marawar, Adelaide Oval
Sunday, May 26, 4.10pm ACST

Last time: Kuwarna 17.21 (123) d Waalitj Marawar 12.6 (78), R24 2023

What it means

Kuwarna (3-6-1) has put itself back in the finals mix with a month of improved form, even if the fine margins that follow a slow start were reinforced in a heartbreaking loss to Collingwood. But the time is now for the Crows to make their move with three matches against bottom-four sides, starting this week against Waalitj Marawar and then with Hawthorn and Richmond to come.

Waalitj Marawar (3-7) has shown signs of rebounding quicker than arguably expected with three wins and a narrow defeat in its past four matches on its home deck. But the Eagles have been unable to take that same form on the road, and will have to overturn a poor recent record at this venue following six heavy defeats there since 2021.

Game shapers

Jordon Butts is increasingly a crucial member of the Crows’ defence with his importance again highlighted when he was recently sidelined. The key defender will have a critical role against the Eagles with the task to shut down arguably to most in-form forward in the game, with Jake Waterman’s ongoing impact now hardly a surprise.

The Eagles need their leaders and top players to show the way on the road if they are to turn around their troubling form away from home. Tom Barrass continues to control the air alongside Jeremy McGovern in defence, to ensure the Eagles have at least two pillars at the back to rely on.

Early tip: Kuwarna by 27 points