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BARRETT: Get ready for the biggest game of the season

Dustin Martin's Tigers and Jordan De Goey's Magpies will face off in a huge clash on Friday night - AFL,column,Tag-Opinion,Richmond Tigers,Collingwood Magpies,Jarryd Lyons,Brisbane Lions,Gold Coast Suns,Geelong Cats,Port Adelaide Power,Xavier Duursma,Zach Merrett,Essendon Bombers,Western Bulldogs
Dustin Martin's Tigers and Jordan De Goey's Magpies will face off in a huge clash on Friday night

THE BIGGEST game of the 2019 season presents itself on Friday night. 

A wobbly Collingwood hosting a surging Richmond at the MCG.

The "house full" sign may even go up, so appealing is this contest and beautifully set up by the Tigers' four-match winning streak and the Pies' three losses from their past four games.

More than 70,000 people flocked to the MCG in round two. How many will be there on Friday night? Picture: AFL Photos

Damien Hardwick appears to be doing a Bart Cummings with his Tigers team this year, absorbing the early preparation setbacks through injuries and now fine-tuning a run to the big day.

Richmond toyed with Port Adelaide on Saturday. Reckon Toby Nankervis will be rushed back to take on Brodie Grundy, Collingwood's best in its disappointing loss to GWS on the weekend.

 

Collingwood has smashed Richmond the past two times they have met, last year's preliminary final and round two this year. It needs to reignite its sputtering premiership push in this game.

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The biggest head-scratcher of 2019

It was a mystery last year, and an even greater one now. 

How Gold Coast managed to stamp the papers of ball-magnet Jarryd Lyons, delist and then deliver him deliver him free of charge to Brisbane needs to be properly revisited by the AFL powers, who are now crunching ways to rescue the Suns with yet more player draft and financial assistance.

DEAL OF THE YEAR? Why Suns sent their best ball-winner to Lions

Lyons is probably second only to Lachie Neale in the Lions' best-and-fairest count, and his incredible performance – 23 contested possessions among 30 disposals, 13 clearances, two goals – at the Gabba on Saturday night against North Melbourne was the best of his career. 

 

On three occasions in 2018, the Suns chose to leave him out of their AFL team. Who is making these decisions? 

NINE THINGS WE LEARNED Top two recruits of 2019 are Lions

Incredibly, the Lions are second on the ladder after round 18. They have been fortunate with one of the all-time favourable fixtures, and were lucky when Oscar McInerney was incorrectly awarded a free kick, which resulted in the match-winning goal.

 

But after what I thought was a top-four-shattering, and maybe even finals-eroding, loss to Carlton in round 12, Brisbane has added five consecutive wins. 

Chris Fagan and the club are emerging as the stories of the year. 

Time to start worrying about flat Cats

If a Geelong supporter was told at the start of the season that after round 18 their team would be atop the ladder, four premiership points and massive percentage clear of the second team, they would've been doing cartwheels and heel clicks.

AROUND THE STATE LEAGUES Star Saint back, flashy Cat fires

But despite that being the case, there is reason for concern. Joel Selwood's effect on games is waning, Tim Kelly isn't being talked about as a potential Brownlow medallist any more, Rhys Stanley continues to be a concern. 

The Cats' loss to Hawthorn on Sunday was their third loss from the past five matches. The 11-1 scoreline they took into the bye looks misleading; scoring is now difficult. 

A disappointing finals record in the past three seasons remains fresh in memories, too.

Don't let the haters get you down, Xav

The football industry – be it the clubs themselves, the leadership groups, the media, the fans, the retired greats – is guaranteed to combine do one thing in 2019: admonish anyone who dares show individual flair.

THE RUN HOME Forget top four, can Tigers make top two?

Annoyingly, everyone gets the message that they must conform to boredom.

Port Adelaide's first-year player Xavier Duursma will be the latest to cop it, for his arrow celebration after a goal against Richmond on Saturday. 

 

Really hope he ignores the inevitable tut-tutting, continues to be himself and refuses to become the robot that everyone else is forced to be. 

Midfield Toby might be better than forward-line Toby

Love the player that Toby Greene is, and love him even more when he's in the midfield.

Greene set up GWS's massive, season-stabilising win against Collingwood on the weekend with a blistering and, as usual, class performance in the first quarter when unleashed by coach Leon Cameron into the midfield. 

After three straight losses, stand-in captain Greene led the Giants to their most impressive win of the year. 

 

Port Adelaide, Sydney, Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast are ahead for GWS. A top-four finish is again a possibility.

Cameron should leave Greene in the midfield, even when Josh Kelly returns, and even if Stephen Coniglio does too.

Bad old Dogs are back again 

The 'not-since 1978' bad record is back on the cards for Luke Beveridge and his Western Bulldogs.

Their lethargic loss to St Kilda at Marvel Stadium in the Sunday twilight fixture might be season-destroying.

Upon entry to round 18, the Dogs were poised to end it equal on premiership points with the eighth-placed Crows. They emerged from it a game and unrecoverable percentage behind.

Not since Hawthorn after its premiership of 1978 has a team failed to make finals in three consecutive seasons which followed a premiership. 

The Dogs missed in 2017 and 2018, and now have a lot of work to do if they are to avoid that fate. It won't matter for Beveridge, with the Dogs locking him away during the week until the end of 2023. 

One sore foot and a whole lot of confusion

Either lies were being told at the time, or the injury was misdiagnosed.

And either way, it is very embarrassing for Fremantle. 

On June 23, the day after their recruit Jesse Hogan left the MCG with a sore foot, the Dockers issued a statement saying the damage was "unrelated to the navicular injury he suffered playing for Melbourne last season". 

Jesse Hogan talks with ex-teammates James Harmes and Nathan Jones after hurting his foot. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

On Friday, the club issued another statement. "Jesse has suffered a recurrence of the injury to his navicular bone in his right foot," it stated. 

Hogan's career is sadly at another crossroads. 

The Dons just keep on delivering

No one has played a better half of football in 2019 than Zach Merrett on Friday night.

FANTASY FORM WATCH Is there a new Pig in the pen?

The Bomber midfielder was inspirational in leading Essendon to another gutsy win, its sixth from the past seven, against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.

 

This columnist asked as many questions as anyone when the Bombers slumped to 4-6, and could not be more impressed with how coach John Worsfold has managed to keep calm, be prepared to swing in-game changes and, despite dealing with big injuries to big name players, keep alive his team's season. 

Gold Coast, Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs and Fremantle are up next for Essendon. No match is a given in 2019, but of the teams vying for finals places, none has a better next quartet of match-ups. 

Twitter: @barrettdamian

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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs