Dustin Martin marks the ball during the match between Richmond and Hawthorn at the MCG in round 19, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

THE BATTLE for places in the top eight could hardly be hotter.

Clear frontrunner Sydney holds a two-win advantage over a chasing pack of finals hopefuls that arguably stretches to as many as 13 teams.

Brisbane and St Kilda have hung on to the lower end of that group of contenders in recent weeks and now meet in what looms as a critical clash for both sides to open round 14 on Friday night.

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Adelaide's season is unravelling and it now faces the Swans for the first time since the controversial ending to their match late last year, with the two sides taking vastly different paths since then.

But the most highly-anticipated match of the round is between the lowly Richmond and resurgent Hawthorn with Dustin Martin set to play his 300th match on Saturday.

Here is what to expect across round 14 and a tip for all six matches, as Carlton, Essendon, Geelong, Gold Coast, Melbourne and West Coast enjoy the bye.


Brisbane v St Kilda, Gabba
Friday, June 14, 7.40pm AEST

Last time: Brisbane 9.18 (72) d St Kilda 9.6 (60), R24 2023

What it means

Brisbane (5-6-1) is showing signs of returning to the sort of form that made it a top-four regular in recent seasons. The Lions impressed when brushing aside Western Bulldogs last week, but the 2023 runner-up now needs to make it back-to-back victories for the first time since round five if they are to stay in touch with the top eight.

St Kilda (5-8) rode its own luck to clinch a second consecutive victory in a nailbiter against Gold Coast, a week after turning around its form in the second against West Coast. But the Saints are still two wins out of the top eight with a poor percentage all but putting them a further game behind, and can ill-afford to slip up even against the gradually improving Lions.  

Dan Butler, Max King and Liam Henry during the round 13 match between St Kilda and Gold Coast at Marvel Stadium, June 8, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Eric Hipwood had come under fire for a lack of contribution as the Lions stumbled through the first half of the season, managing only 11 goals in 10 matches for his worst average return since his 2016 debut. That was until the key forward matched his equal-biggest haul with six majors against the Bulldogs to breathe fresh life into his, and his side's, season.

Jack Sinclair added a spark to what was at times a dull contest against the travel-sick Suns, at least until the Saints snatched victory in the dying stages. The Saints' dasher was often seen playing behind the ball and crucially had seven rebounds among his 31 classy disposals, but can expect more midfield time this week against the Lions' deep on-ball brigade.

Early tip: Brisbane by 11 points


Western Bulldogs v Fremantle, Marvel Stadium
Saturday, June 15, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Fremantle 14.11 (95) d Western Bulldogs 10.11 (71), R7 2024

What it means

The Western Bulldogs (6-7) continued their rollercoaster ride of a season with a disappointing defeat on home turf to Brisbane only a week after showing such promising signs in a win over Collingwood. The Bulldogs continue to be hit hard by injury with fresh problems now at both ends of the field, but again have their key personnel in the midfield to stay in the finals hunt.

Fremantle (7-4-1) is coming off a bye following its crushing win over Melbourne by 92 points, with the rampant display sending a warning shot across the competition. The Dockers piled on 22 goals against the Demons as they showed strong signs that their under-fire ball movement and forward set up are now clicking into gear. 

Luke Ryan (left) and Jye Amiss celebrate a goal during the match between Melbourne and Fremantle at TIO Traeger Park in round 12, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Tim English will carry a bigger load than usual this week as the Bulldogs edge closer to running out of tall timber both as support in the ruck and at either end of the field. English won't be helped by coming up against a Dockers outfit that can turn to height in multiple positions as a strength, and might want to push forward more to find a fresh way to make an impact.

Jye Amiss built a reputation as a sharpshooter with 45.18 through his first 23 matches to the end of last season, but he was unable to find the same range during a lean start to this year. The 20-year-old had booted 14.15 from 10 matches and managed only four goals in five matches until bouncing back with four straight goals against the Demons in a reminder of his talents.

Early tip: Western Bulldogs by nine points


Richmond v Hawthorn, MCG
Saturday, June 15, 4.35pm AEST

Last time: Richmond 14.12 (96) d Hawthorn 15.5 (95), R19 2023

What it means

Richmond (2-11) had impressed even in narrow defeats to Essendon and Geelong in recent weeks but few would have seen their stirring victory coming on the road against Adelaide. The Tigers can now ride that wave of momentum into an emotional encounter this week as they return to the MCG for Dustin Martin's 300th match.

Hawthorn (6-7) is flying as one of the most in-form teams in the competition after six wins from its past eight matches well and truly putting a horror start to the season behind it. The Hawks can start eyeing a surprise return to finals, especially if they can make the most of playing the Tigers and Eagles either side of a bye.

Dustin Martin (centre) with fellow 300-game Tigers Kevin Bartlett, Shane Edwards, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Francis Bourke, under the statue of Jack Dyer. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Photos

Game shapers

Dustin Martin might not embrace the limelight off the field but few, if any, players have made a greater impact on the grandest stages. The three-time Norm Smith medallist will again be the centre of attention in his 300th match and will be coming in refreshed and raring to go after taking the week off ahead of his milestone. The midfield star helped the Tigers return to form with five goals in two matches before being managed against the Crows last week.

James Worpel was struggling to find as much of the ball as usual just as the Hawks started to turn their season around, but he seems to have rediscovered his role. The lean patch was partly due to teammate Will Day returning to the side, but Worpel looks comfortable again as he spends more time in the midfield and adds balance to the Hawks' on-ball brigade.

Early tip: Hawthorn by 14 points


Adelaide v Sydney, Adelaide Oval
Saturday, June 15, 7pm ACST

Last time: Sydney 11.8 (74) d Adelaide 10.13 (73), R23 2023

What it means

Adelaide's (4-8-1) finals hopes are on the brink of collapse after failing to win either of its back-to-back matches against sides around the same mark in Richmond and Hawthorn. The Crows have next to no margin for error as they sit three wins outside the top eight and in 15th place, but must find a way to stun the high-flying Swans that broke their hearts in controversial fashion late last year.  

Sydney (11-1) brushed aside its latest challenger in Geelong, even after giving up a six-goal lead. The Swans' midfield, including ruck recruit Brodie Grundy, was the key to the 65-point turnaround but with their defensive and forward groups also firing, it appears that only complacency against an opponent looking for a dose of revenge might prevent a ninth win on the trot.

Luke Pedlar with hands on his knees after Adelaide's loss to Sydney at Adelaide Oval in round 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Max Michalanney has been one of few Crows to grow their reputation this year especially since the 20-year-old has stepped out of his role as a lockdown defender and more into the midfield. The father-son pick up could be asked to combine those two skill sets as the Crows come up against the Swans' imperious on-ball brigade that is a key to their success.

Errol Gulden might be playing off the back of a top-five finish in the Brownlow Medal last year but has been able to fly under the radar at times during the Swans' blistering first half of the season. The tireless midfielder has perhaps been overshadowed by the form of Isaac Heeney and Chad Warner, but was back to his brilliant best against the Cats with a season-high 37 disposals as the Swans set themselves as the team to beat.

Early tip: Sydney by 21 points


North Melbourne v Collingwood, Marvel Stadium
Sunday, June 16, 1pm AEST

Last time: Collingwood 16.9 (105) d North Melbourne 10.10 (70), R11 2023

What it means

North Melbourne (1-11) will enter a match riding a wave of momentum from a victory the week beforehand for the first time in more than a year. The Roos showed encouraging signs for the future as they built a 33-point lead over the Eagles, but were all the more impressive for bouncing back even after giving up that advantage to snatch their breakthrough win. 

Collingwood (7-4-2) is building nicely into the season even as several influential players remain sidelined, with some unavailable for multiple weeks to come. The Pies might look to rest rather than risk some more of their key players, especially with the lowly Kangaroos up next with a bye to follow.

Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin lead the team from the field after North Melbourne's win over West Coast at Optus Stadium in round 13, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

Jy Simpkin has stumbled through an injury-hit first half of the season that started with being on the receiving end of a horror high hit on the cusp of round one. But the Kangaroos' inspirational skipper was back to his best in the win over the Eagles with season-highs for 28 disposals, five clearances and two goals, with the latter including the major that reclaimed the lead in the dying stages. 

Brayden Maynard seemed to relish his role as the villain as he was targeted by opponents and booed by Demons fans whenever he touched the ball until the Pies gradually dismantled their opposition. The rugged defender will again be in the spotlight this week, this time to celebrate his 200th match while enjoying near-career highs for disposals and rebounds.

Early tip: Collingwood by 27 points


Greater Western Sydney v Port Adelaide, Engie Stadium
Sunday, June 16, 4pm AEST

Last time: Greater Western Sydney 13.15 (93) d Port Adelaide 9.16 (70), SF 2023

What it means

Greater Western Sydney (7-5) sits in the top eight only on percentage after giving up any advantage it had built with its early-season surge, suffering five defeats in the past seven matches. The Giants have been hit hard by injury to key players but have few excuses for failing to run out games after being outscored in the second half in their past five games and by a total of 36 goals, compared to their 19.

Port Adelaide (8-4) held onto its place in the top four even while having the weekend off with a bye. The Power will have appreciated the extra time to prepare for the return bout against the side that knocked them out of the finals last season, although they will face the Giants in unfamiliar surroundings with just their third ever visit to Engie Stadium and their first since 2013.

Dan Houston tackles Toby Greene during the semi-final between Port Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney at Adelaide Oval in round 13, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

Brent Daniels was the leader of the Giants' mosquito fleet as they made an undefeated start to the season through their opening five matches, booting seven goals and directly assisting the same. But the 25-year-old had struggled to hit those same heights since being struck down with injury in the Giants' first defeat of the season against the Blues, until rediscovering his touch against the Hawks with 27 disposals as he added a spark to the midfield.

Ollie Wines has been in the spotlight for less than ideal reasons after he was substituted out of the clash with Hawthorn due to heart palpitations, and has more recently been linked with a move away from Port Adelaide. But the former co-captain has brushed all that aside to gather 26 disposals in consecutive weeks while also hitting the scoreboard as his versatility turns into a key weapon for the Power.

Early tip: Greater Western Sydney by 17 points