Zac Williams celebrates a win during round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

PACESETTER Sydney slipped up last week as its conqueror Fremantle climbed to the top of a pack of 11 sides likely scrapping for the six remaining finals spots.

The clubs sitting in third and 13th spots are separated by only one-and-a-half wins, with arch-rivals Essendon and Collingwood among that bulging group and set to open round 17 on Friday night.

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A triple-header on Saturday will involve six more finals contenders facing off against another, and finish with Greater Western Sydney trying to reignite its season against the red-hot Carlton.

Here is what to look out for across round 17 and a tip for each match.


Collingwood v Essendon, MCG
Friday, July 5, 7.40pm AEST

Last time: Essendon 12.13 (85) drew with Collingwood 12.13 (85), R7 2024

What it means

Collingwood (8-5-2) perhaps ran out of lives as it slumped to a rare narrow defeat last week against Gold Coast even after snatching a late lead. The Pies remain the masters of the close encounters, although the Bombers were perhaps the first to shake their belief in an Anzac Day draw 10 weeks ago that gave a firm indication of just how evenly-matched these two sides now appear to be.

Essendon (9-5-1) missed another opportunity to prove its top-four credentials with an alarming defeat to its bogey side Geelong. The Bombers have not beaten a side from outside the bottom three since round nine, losing against the three finals hopefuls it has faced in that time, but get another chance to find out where they are at against the reigning premier this week.

Bombers players look dejected following the round 16 match between Geelong and Essendon at the MCG, June 29, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers

Darcy Moore has come under fire as the Magpies defence has borne the brunt of an injury-ravaged stretch while their opponents have scored 100 points or more in three of their past four matches. The Pies’ skipper’s role has noticeably changed since the retirement of Nathan Murphy but Moore will be out to lead the way against their rivals following two wins and a draw from five matches.

Andrew McGrath has at times paid the price for his versatility as a capable onballer that is able to do just as much damage playing off half-back. The Bombers’ vice-captain will play his 150th match this week after being drafted with the first pick in the 2016 draft, while averaging a career-high for disposals (22.9) as well as 5.1 rebounds a game.

Early tip: Collingwood by 11 points


North Melbourne v Gold Coast, Marvel Stadium
Saturday, July 6, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Gold Coast 17.18 (120) d North Melbourne 7.10 (52), R9 2024

What it means

North Melbourne (1-14) could not quite match its promising performances of recent weeks but a late surge gave Western Bulldogs more of a scare than it has for five years. The Roos still need to learn how to turn those gallant efforts into wins, and should like their chances against a Suns outfit that remains most vulnerable when playing away from home.

Gold Coast (8-7) claimed its biggest scalp of the season when defeating Collingwood to extend its winning streak at home venues to seven matches even if it still needs to find a breakthrough on the road. The Kangaroos might be showing signs of improvement but the Suns would hope they can make the most of playing the cellar dwellers and secure a first victory in Victoria for more than a year.


Game shapers

Tristan Xerri has already played his greatest number of matches in a season after being an ever-present this year, and is making the most of the continuity to build into career-best form. The Roos 25-year-old matched it with Demons skipper Max Gawn, then arguably had the better the Dogs’ All-Australian Tim English, and is averaging 6.3 clearances for the third most among rucks.

Bodhi Uwland might not be the most high-profile of the Suns’ Academy graduates but he has made a spot in Gold Coast’s defence his own whether as a lockdown defender or running half-back. The 20-year-old adds a touch of class with ball in hand and was crucial late with well-timed runs and position to intercept multiple Pies’ attacks as they made their move late.

Early tip: Gold Coast by seven points


Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs, Adelaide Oval
Saturday, July 6, 1.45pm AEST

Last time: Port Adelaide 16.11 (107) d Western Bulldogs 13.7 (85), R13 2023

What it means

Port Adelaide (9-6) remains under pressure even after a narrow victory over St Kilda, and while sitting inside the top eight and equal on points with the reigning premier at the end of round 16. The Power now return to the scene of their crushing defeat to the Lions a week earlier, looking to win back over the fans that turned on them amid celebrations around their only premiership success,

The Western Bulldogs (8-7) have paid the price for its inconsistency and been unable to sit inside the top eight since round six even after back-to-back victories including against North Melbourne last week. But the Dogs could leapfrog the Power and even climb as high as fifth place if they can make it three wins on the trot for the first time this season and other results fall their way.


Game shapers

Aliir Aliir has seen a revolving door of teammates pass through the Power’s backline in recent seasons and there might still be more changes to come. But the 29-year-old remains unflappable as he marshals the defence, contains the opposition key forwards, and regularly intercepts high balls to launch his own attacks.

Cody Weightman has quickly returned to form following an elbow injury that sidelined him for six weeks, with three goals against both Fremantle and North Melbourne. The high-flying forward can hardly miss when shooting for goal, booting 20.4 in nine matches this year, but is still coming under fire for the way that he earns some free kicks.

Early tip: Port Adelaide by four points

Geelong v Hawthorn, GMHBA Stadium
Saturday, July 6, 4.35pm AEST

Last time: Geelong 17.4 (106) d Hawthorn 10.10 (70), R3 2024

What it means

Geelong (9-6) went some way to answering its critics with a commanding victory over Essendon even if some close calls fell in its favour when the match was on the line. The Cats still showed more than just signs of bouncing back towards their best and will now be out to put distance between themselves and the chasing pack against old foes the Hawks, and with Pies and Dogs to follow.

Hawthorn (8-7) has turned around its winless run through the opening five matches to now have a positive win-loss record for the first time this season after just as many victories in a row. The Hawks now face a challenging stretch that will test their top-eight credentials, first against the Cats and with the Dockers and Magpies to come next.

Tyson Stengle (left) and Mitch Knevitt celebrate a goal during round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Gary Rohan has taken the long route to reach 200 matches with multiple serious injuries and occasional bouts of poor form slowing his progress across his 15 seasons. The pacey forward showed that he still has a part to play as the Cats chase a top-four finish with 12 disposals and two goals against the Bombers, and can expect an even bigger role with Tom Hawkins sidelined.

Josh Weddle has already experienced the highs and lows of being in the spotlight after being called out for shirking a contest early in the season in what has otherwise been an impressive second campaign. The 20-year-old owned that split-second mistake but has bounced back to become a key part of the Hawks’ resurgence while averaging 14.7 disposals mostly playing off half-back.

Early tip: Geelong by 16 points


Greater Western Sydney v Carlton, Engie Stadium
Saturday, July 6, 7.30pm AEST

Last time: Carlton 17.15 (117) d Greater Western Sydney 15.8 (98), R6 2024

What it means

Greater Western Sydney (8-7) might be ahead on the win-loss ledger but there are growing signs that its season is on the brink of collapse after six defeats in its past eight matches including against Adelaide last week. The Giants have not scored more than 80 points in that stretch of eight matches as their ball movement has been stifled at the same time as the goals have dried up.

Carlton (11-4) is firmly entrenched in second place on the ladder after powering away from Richmond to make it five wins in a row by an average of 43 points. The Blues are nearing full strength and humming in all areas of the field, but are unlikely to let complacency creep in as they look to secure a first top-two finish since 2000.

Toby Greene after Greater Western Sydney's loss to Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Tom Green has continued to rack up the possessions to have the eighth-best average this season at 29.2 a game, and found plenty of the ball again with 38 disposals against Adelaide last week. But the on-ball bull is still to have a similar impact in the forward half with only four goals from 15 matches Green’s lowest rate since his debut season.

Adam Saad’s importance to Carlton’s rise this season is made clear by the defender playing in nine wins and only one defeat this season, the latter coming when he was subbed out due to a hamstring injury. Saad returned in time to be part of the Blues’ current five-match winning streak and had arguably his best display of the season when punishing the Tigers with 24 disposals off half-back.

Early tip: Carlton by 14 points


Fremantle v Richmond, Optus Stadium
Saturday, July 6, 6.10pm AWST

Last time: Fremantle 15.13 (103) d Richmond 6.13 (49), R8 2024

What it means

Fremantle (9-5-1) sent a warning shot across the competition as it outworked and outmuscled the Sydney midfield to set up a victory that propelled it up to third spot. The Dockers can now start to cement their top-four position against the depleted Tigers with arch-rivals the Eagles still to come amid a group of clashes with top-eight contenders.

Richmond (2-13) stayed with Carlton for more than a half until blown away when its in-form rivals put the foot down after the main break. The Tigers continue to be struck down by an injury curse that has derailed much of their campaign but have at least given them more opportunities to unearth fresh talent in a development year.


Game shapers

Nat Fyfe was hardly renowned for his defensive attributes while becoming one of the most damaging midfielders in the competition and on the way to winning two Brownlow Medals. But the former skipper might have discovered a new role in the Dockers’ unlikely top-four push, after limiting the influence of the Swans’ midfield and in particular the in-form Isaac Heeney in the upset last week.

Noah Balta has been shifted between the forward half and defence this season as first-year coach Adem Yze searches to find the right balance during an injury-ravaged campaign. Balta remained stationed as a key forward even as the Blues ran away, and finished with three goals that pointed to his promise ahead of taking on the Dockers’ undermanned defence.

Early tip: Fremantle by 29 points


Melbourne v West Coast, MCG
Sunday, July 7, 1.10pm AEST

Last time: West Coast 16.9 (105) d Melbourne 10.10 (70), R10 2024

What it means

Melbourne (8-7) did a lot right against the resurgent Brisbane until slowing to a crawl and failing to boot a goal in the final term, just as it had done the week before against North Melbourne. The Demons will hope a similar performance can get their campaign back on track, though will be wary of the threat the Eagles can present after being upset by them seven weeks ago.

West Coast (3-12) will head to the MCG for the first time in more than a year buoyed by its round 10 35-point victory over Melbourne that showed promising signs for the future. But the Eagles have not been able to match those highs, falling to five defeats since then including three on home turf even while they are yet to win on the road this season.

Eagles players leave the field after the round 16 match between West Coast and Hawthorn at Optus Stadium, June 30, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Max Gawn has mostly done all that he could as Melbourne has slumped to five defeats in its past seven matches to tumble out of the top eight. But the Demons’ talisman was not able to have his usual impact as the Lions stormed home last week, so is all but certain to put in an improved performance in what will be his 100th match as skipper.

Tim Kelly played a starring role when West Coast stunned Melbourne earlier this year as the midfielder gathered 30 disposals, eight clearances and added four goal assists. The smooth mover was injured a week later and the Eagles have not won since, but now that Kelly has one game under his belt, he could be ready to inflict more damage on the Demons’ undermanned onball brigade.

Early tip: Melbourne by 21 points


St Kilda v Sydney, Marvel Stadium
Sunday, July 7, 3.20pm AEST

Last time: St Kilda 12.8 (80) d Sydney 9.12 (66), R13 2023

What it means

St Kilda (5-10) only fell two points short against Port Adelaide but the defeat leaves it still searching for a second win against a finals contender since round two, with its only other victory of that sort coming against the travel sick Gold Coast. But the Saints could brush that aside if they can claim the current biggest scalp in the competition against a wounded Swans outfit.

Sydney (13-2) had cracks in its aura of invincibility exposed as it failed to overcome yet another sluggish start when losing to Fremantle by the narrowest of margins. The Swans will be just as concerned that their midfield was mostly outplayed as they look to bounce back from a first defeat since round three.

Sydney players look dejected after losing during round 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Bradley Hill has been a pivotal player over 13 seasons at three different clubs but will finally reach 100 matches for one of them when he runs out for the Saints this week. The 30-year-old is still contributing too, as Hill averages 21.1 disposals, 1.7 clearances and 4.5 inside-50s this year for his highest tallies since joining the Saints for the 2020 season.

Hayden McLean was the Swans’ key forward to step up and keep his side in the game as the Dockers made the running early in their clash last week, while also adding valuable support for Brodie Grundy in the ruck.  The 197cm McLean is adept as a second ruck but can do most damage when one out and closer to goal, where his contested marking is an emerging threat.

Early tip: Sydney by 33 points


Brisbane v Adelaide, Gabba
Sunday, July 7, 4.10pm AEST

Last time: Adelaide 13.12 (90) drew with Brisbane 13.12 (90), R9 2024

What it means

Brisbane (8-6-1) has continued its resurgence to rise into the top eight for the first time this season following only one defeat in its past eight matches. That run also includes a draw against the Crows, though the Lions are in much more ominous form this time with their midfield guns firing as they start eyeing off a top-four move.

Adelaide (5-9-1) turned around its lacklustre form to overpower Greater Western Sydney last week and snap a three-match losing streak. The Crows are likely too far back to make a late charge towards the finals but a first win at the Gabba since 2018, then backing up when hosting the Saints next week could give them a glimmer of hope.

Harris Andrews celebrates Brisbane's win with teammates during round 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers

Will Ashcroft hit the ground running in his first match since overcoming an ACL injury late last season as he gathered 18 disposals in a stirring return. While the 20-year-old might not approach anything near his best until much later in the campaign, he has already added a touch of class that can help the Lions continue their surge through the second half to the year.

Izak Rankine looked unstoppable as he gathered 21 disposals, seven score involvements and booted 2.2 in the first half against the Giants before a lockdown role came his way. The dynamic Rankine is now a key weapon for the Crows, with his pace an asset at centre bounces before he drifts forward to be an option in attack.

Early tip: Brisbane by 27 points