Nat Fyfe is among a raft of star inclusions across the AFL this weekend. (Photo: AFL Facebook)

AFL: Star power injected into round 5

Last week, the sides tied for the best record in the league went from two to six as the previously undefeated Geelong and Brisbane had their streaks broken in quick succession but under vastly different circumstances.

Now, with five sides still boasting a 3-1 start and the Lions and Pies both at 3-2 following Thursday night’s Easter weekend opener, the race at the competition’s summit is as tight as ever and with all four teams facing different opponents, each new game brings an added weight and potentially drastic effect at the top end of the table.

Hatch’s Jesse Robertson previews Round 5 of the 2019 AFL men’s season, commencing with a double header on Good Friday:

Friday, April 19, 4:20pm: North Melbourne vs Essendon, Marvel Stadium

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The Kangaroos controlled the ball well in defence in their two-goal victory over Adelaide at this venue last *week, with Robbie Tarrant, Jasper Pittard and a less attack-minded Trent Dumont all picking up 10 or more marks as Brad Scott oversaw his side’s first win of 2019. They’ve emphasised a strength in efficiency, climbing to sixth for average effective disposals but despite the likes of the prolific Shaun Higgins (30 disposals, seven marks, 1.1 last week) pushing forward, they boast the equal-lowest clearance tally in the AFL and need to impose more control around the stoppages in addition to their prowess in the backline. Sam Wright and Bailey Scott come into the side as Luke McDonald serves a suspension.

Essendon were ruthless in ending Brisbane’s dream start to the season, and the headlines were stolen by the stunning performance of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and his career-high seven goals, including on the run with the last kick of the game.

Zach Merrett starred as well with 35 disposals and six tackles but his seven clearances, a number matched by teammate Dylan Shiel, will be the Roos’ chief concern heading into Good Friday action. Matt Guelfi replaces the surprisingly omitted Devon Smith, whose 19 touches and six tackles apparently weren’t enough to retain his place.

Hatch predicts: Essendon by 27 points. Even without Smith, the Bombers have the engine ready to take over the game if Higgins doesn’t find more precise targets following seven clangers last week.

Friday, April 19, 8:10pm: West Coast vs Port Adelaide, Optus Stadium

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The Eagles coasted to victory in the Western Derby last week off the back of a dominant opening term and enjoying a controlling share of possession, a rarity so far in 2019 as they rank third-last for team disposals as well as second-last for inside-50s. Shannon Hurn was a rock at the back with 32 disposals, eight marks and six rebound-50s but the fanfare was centred around Andrew Gaff as he took control of the fixture that saw him rubbed out for eight matches last season, his 35 possessions, nine marks and four tackles helping stem the tide in the final three quarters. Lewis Jetta is included in the squad this week for Josh Rotham.

Losing the tackle count by 15 never helps anyone’s cause, and that could well have been Port Adelaide’s undoing as they fell in a thriller at home to Richmond last week. Travis Boak gained more metres than anyone on the ground but at only 60% disposal efficiency and with seven turnovers, second only to Tom Jonas. Tom Rockliff took the challenge on, though, with 37 disposals at 81% with an equal game-high six clearances, but Steven Motlop drops out of the side after going missing in exactly the type of game he would have taken to with both hands at Geelong.

Hatch predicts: West Coast by 18 points. The Eagles hiccuped in the opening round but have regained premiership-favourite status in the three weeks since, and should be expected to roll on here.

Saturday, April 20, 1:45pm: Greater Western Sydney vs Fremantle, Canberra Oval

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Many would have written GWS off if they hadn’t already early in their trip to Geelong last week with influential skipper Callan Ward going down with what immediately looked like, and would later be confirmed as, an ACL rupture. The Giants found another gear in his absence, however, as Lachie Whitfield upped his All-Australian credentials with 31 disposals at 84% along with 10 marks and six intercepts, while four other Giants racked up a dozen or more contested possessions as they overran the home side in almost every key statistic. South Australian first-round draftee Jackson Hately debuts this week as Ward begins his long recovery.

Fremantle’s paltry score of 7.14 in last week’s Derby made their goalkicking accuracy their own worst enemy in a match they could well have won from behind with more refined shots. Luke Ryan again cemented himself as an important and underrated defender with all of his 19 touches finding the target while top disposal-getter David Mundy picked up 10 as did fellow midfielder Ed Langdon. Nat Fyfe is cleared to return from concussion and thus Lachlan Schultz makes way.

Hatch predicts: GWS by 32 points. They may miss Ward for the remainder of the season but they proved more than capable of stepping up against adversity in overturning a 21-point halftime deficit last weekend.

Saturday, April 20, 4:35pm: Melbourne vs St Kilda, MCG

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Max Gawn produced a stellar display out of the ruck as the Demons finally broke their duck in Sydney last Thursday, destroying Callum Sinclair and greatly contributing to the final 73-13 hitout count. Clayton Oliver played a vital role with 33 disposals and a set of Lucky 7’s, registering the same number of marks, clearances and inside-50s. Simon Goodwin’s side still have plenty to do to turn a dismal campaign around, though, ranking a distant last for team marks as well as the bottom side for total disposals. Luckily for them, two important members of personnel in Jordan Lewis and Neville Jetta return to the side this week.

Before the season began, most would have confidently bet on Melbourne and St Kilda being in the exact opposite positions from where they currently find themselves, but Alan Richardon has so far done well to shake the tag of perhaps being the most under-fire coach in the competition. Seb Ross electrified his side in the tight tussle with Hawthorn with 39 disposals, six clearances and a goal in the five-point win. The AFL’s top tackling side again came out on top in that regard and will be thankful for Jack Steven and Jarryn Geary’s inclusions ahead of Saturday.

Hatch predicts: St Kilda by 11 points. This could easily be another of the last-minute results the Saints have scratched and clawed their way through.

Saturday, April 20, 7:25pm: Richmond vs Sydney, Marvel Stadium

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Richmond will have taken volumes of confidence from their nail-biting result against the Power in Adelaide, lead by makeshift captain Shane Edwards and with only two players (he and top ball-winner Brandon Ellis) having played more than 150 games. On the other end of the experience scale, Jack Ross acquitted himself nicely on his debut with 25 touches at 88% with five tackles and seven intercepts, while Dylan Grimes was immense with five contested marks at full-back and six rebound-50s. Most importantly for this week, Dustin Martin returns to the core while Bachar Houli is also named once again.

The Swans fell over in the second half in last week’s opener putting up only 3.2 against Melbourne’s 7.6, resigned to their third defeat of the season. Jake Lloyd was a major factor on the outside with 35 disposals of which 26 were kicks, featuring nine marks and seven rebound-50s. Transition football has been severely damaging the Swans in 2019 as they rank third-last for intercepts per game, while their midfield failed to hit top gear after quarter time as Callum Sinclair was given a bath in the ruck. Kieren Jack will hope fortunes turn around in his 250th game while James Rowbottom is named for his first.

Hatch predicts: Richmond by 14 points. The Tigers are slowly regaining elements of their best side and with the likes of Jack Ross slotting in with immediate impact, can take advantage of a mentally weakened Swans outfit.

Sunday, April 21, 1:10pm: Western Bulldogs vs Carlton, Marvel Stadium

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It was a high-possession affair in the Bulldogs’ 14-point loss to Collingwood last Friday night but just like the week before, there was little defining presence up forward to convert their huge disposal tally into a meaningful scoreline. Saving face with a five-goal third term, genuine opportunities were lacking otherwise as they racked up a staggering 44 disposals per goal and with only Sam Lloyd hitting the board more than once, the side averaging the least clangers per game should be creating chances far more often. With three changes confirmed including the omission of key forward Josh Schache, two potential debutantes are included in an extended squad.

The Blues endured a most bitter pill to swallow as Jack Bowes’ snap with less than fifteen seconds remaining consigned Brendon Bolton’s side to the bottom of the table, and a startling 34th loss in their last 37 games. Patrick Cripps was attempting to force progress in a match that flattered neither side in terms of skills, and Sam Walsh earned the Round 4 Rising Star nomination after equalling a disposals record for his first four games that stood for 32 years.

Jacob Weitering has hit career-best form in defence but in attack is where the Blues, like their opponents this week, continue to struggle with an attack that started with four talls often sending long balls to the undersized Michael Gibbons, just one part of a recipe that ended in heartbreak. They’ll miss Will Setterfield who serves a two-game suspension.

Hatch predicts: Western Bulldogs by 9 points. A game between two sides lacking in potency in front of goal shouldn’t be decided by a blowout margin.

Sunday, April 21, 4:40pm: Adelaide vs Gold Coast, Adelaide Oval

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Adelaide elected to send star ruckman Sam Jacobs for knee surgery this week so Reilly O’Brien will be settling into an extended run in the side. Fellow established tall Josh Jenkins is said to be dropped this week per reports, but no official changes are as yet confirmed. Nonetheless, the forward line of Walker, Lynch and Jenkins has faltered thus far in 2019 and in averaging just 69 points a game, something has to give. Sunday’s 300-gamer Eddie Betts fought hard with three goals and Rory Laird was important down back with 31 touches and seven rebound-50s but some experimenting may be on the cards with the likes of Elliott Himmelberg.

Jack Bowes got the Suns out of jail last week in a dour hitout with Carlton to keep their unexpected winning ways rolling, and in a game of diminished flair Sam Collins stood tall against a particularly high-reaching Blues attack. His 11 one percenters were a vital factor in nullifying what limited chances their opponents could create, as were Touk Miller’s massive 14 tackles with six inside-50s and five rebound-50s. The Suns have as yet only confirmed the removal of Wil Powell with concussion following a dangerous tackle.

Hatch predicts: Adelaide by 32 points. Jenkins may have performed below expectations set for a player of his calibre but one can expect Betts to shine in his milestone game.

Monday, April 22, 3:20pm: Hawthorn vs Geelong, MCG

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The Hawks went into last week’s game minus Jaeger O’Meara as a late withdrawal but had the rest of their midfield and defence to thank for keeping them in the contest at the other end. Tom Scully’s unexpected career revival kicked into gear with a 26-disposal, two-goal performance in the tight defeat while James Sicily, boasting the most rebound-50s in the AFL, added another 10 to his tally, far and away a game-high number. Hawthorn lose James Frawley to injury this week and with O’Meara and multiple key position players named in the extended squad, more changes are likely to be announced.

The ladder-leading Cats ground to a halt last week against the Giants in a game most would have predicted would be theirs with near-certainty following Callan Ward’s injury. They held onto top spot but have been dragged into a fierce dogfight but it nevertheless remains a testament to their conversion ability that they remain the highest-scoring team on points per game despite ranking 16th for inside-50s, and with just three Cats picking up more than 20 touches in last week’s game they will want more output from their engine room with Dangerfield, Selwood and Menegola all restricted.

Hatch predicts: Geelong by 17 points. O’Meara or not, if the star Cats can lift the pressure that let them down at Kardinia Park they should be every chance of retaining their place.