Who can Geelong ask to get their hands dirty without retired skipper Joel Selwood?
Will Brisbane’s Gabba fortress stand in the face of a Magpie attack, and can Buddy Franklin respond to his horror Round 3 performance?
Every club’s burning question ahead of Round 4, as well as commentators for every Fox Footy game in our ultimate weekly preview: The Blowtorch!
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AFL ROUND 4 FIXTURE (All times AEDT)
BRISBANE LIONS v COLLINGWOOD
Thursday April 6, 7:35pm at the Gabba
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 6.30pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Jason Dunstall, David King, Leigh Montagna, Alastair Lynch and Jon Ralph.
Lions’ burning question: Will the Gabba fortress stand?
Brisbane have the best home ground advantage in the AFL in recent seasons, having won 90% of their home and away matches at the Gabba since the start of 2019. In fact, the Lions have lost just four games at home in that time in a remarkable run of success. But they’ll come up against stiff competition on Thursday night with early flag favourites Collingwood head north. Brisbane’s talls have come under plenty of criticism this week, so expect a big response from the likes of Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood in front of their home fans.
Should the Lions worry about Daniher? | 02:27
Magpies’ burning question: Can the makeshift ruck set up work?
Collingwood will face off against the Lions without a recognised ruckman, due to injuries to Mason Cox, Darcy Cameron and Aiden Begg. And they’ll come up against a Brisbane outfit that’s ranked first in total clearances so far in 2023. The Lions are averaging more than 31 stoppage clearances per game. And without a recognised ruckman, Collingwood’s mids will face a tough time. Dan McStay is set to face his old side for the first time – this time as the ruckman. Ash Johnson proved his athletic ability in Round 3, showing his outstanding vertical leap which leaves him as the back up option for coach Craig McRae. But the burden falls heavily on the Pies mids to be first to the footy.
The Magpie ‘compass’ masterclass | 02:07
NORTH MELBOURNE v CARLTON
Friday April 7, 7:20pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 6.30pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Jason Dunstall, David King, Leigh Montagna, Brad Johnson and Jon Ralph.
Kangaroos’ burning question: How do North Melbourne bounce back?
There’s nothing like a loss to a club that your coach shares a very public rivalry with. And in the loss to Hawthorn, the Roos were accused of looking “a little bit flat”. Admittedly, the travel factor had to play its part, after the thrilling last second win over Fremantle in Perth and then the journey to Tasmania. The loss of midfield duo Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke clearly hurt too. But now back in Melbourne for a Good Friday blockbuster, the question is can these young Roos respond? “They were a little bit off in everything they did,” Fox Footy’s Nick Dal Santo said. “I felt like it took the Kangas too long to adjust.” Dal Santo said the Roos were unable to break the Hawk’s style of “keepings off” – and it was something the team needed to address heading into the clash with Carlton.
Blues’ burning question: How will they address their ‘rooster problem’?
Garry Lyon believes Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow face issues working together in the same forward line, which seems to be affecting McKay moreso than Curnow in the early rounds. McKay has managed just eight shots at goal this season at 25 per cent accuracy, while Curnow has booted 10 goals already. With both being Coleman medallists, Lyon believes the pair are “getting into each other’s space”. Lyon believes there isn’t a great system in place structurally to address this. If the two are able to work together and be a more effective duo, it’s a scary prospect for the rest of the opposition. For now, however, it’s certainly one to watch.
Logue loses bid to have ban overturned | 01:27
ADELAIDE v FREMANTLE
Saturday April 8, 1.45pm at Adelaide Oval
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 1.30pm with Kelli Underwood, Leigh Montagna, Gerard Healy, Nick Dal Santo and Mark Ricciuto.
Crows’ burning question: Can Adelaide’s new-look attack end get the job done?
The Crows may have secured their first win of the season last weekend against arch-rivals Port Adelaide, but there’s plenty to like about Matthew Nicks’ new-look forward half. Former captain Taylor Walker has been a mainstay in attack for the Crows for more than a decade, but now he’s got support around him – namely in high-priced recruit Izak Rankine and young gun Riley Thilthorpe. A lot has been said about Thilthorpe, given he’s Adelaide’s prized pick 2 from the 2020 Draft. He kicked five goals on debut but struggled to repeat that form in his following 25 games – until last weekend. The decision to poach Rankine from the Gold Coast looks to have been a masterstroke, with the former Sun kicking eight goals in just three appearances back in his home state. “He’s the best forward 50 stoppage player in the competition and the best I’ve seen I reckon,” Fox Footy’s David King praised. “I was worried he wouldn’t handle the pressure… but he’s hit the ground running.”
Dockers’ burning question: Will ‘Freeze-mantle’ return?
They were dubbed ‘Slow-mo Freo’ earlier in the season as their “chip, chip” style of play ensured they slowly inched inside forward 50. But shallow entries meant the ball was rebounding with ease in their two first-up losses. But against West Coast, and with their backs firmly against the wall in the final quarter, the Dockers showed the dash and dare footy experts have been pleading for. “Sometimes when you move the ball with speed, there’s energy with the rest of your game,” Fox Footy’s Leigh Montagna said. “Sometimes when you play with a ball movement that’s slower… you take your foot off the pedal at clearance, at stoppage.” Now the challenge is for Fremantle to continue that game style.
‘Each umpire has a different reaction!’ | 03:57
RICHMOND v WESTERN BULLDOGS
Saturday April 8, 4:35pm at the MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 4.30pm with Anthony Hudson, Jason Dunstall, Nathan Buckley and Sarah Jones.
Tigers’ burning question: How do Richmond best use Liam Baker?
When the experts talk about Richmond, they list Dustin Martin, Shai Bolton and Tom Lynch as the keys to victory. But Liam Baker is continuing to show why he should be considered once of the competition’s best. Rated the highest ranked player on the ground against Collingwood, according to Champion Data statistics, Baker was the spark the Tigers needed in the low-scoring affair. He was solid in defence and was able to rebound quickly. In a match where Martin and Jacob Hopper were missing, Baker was able to step up as a big Richmond ball winner – as he did towards the end of 2022 when Martin was missing through injury. Named at halfback for the opening three rounds, more midfield minutes might be the best way coach Damien Hardwick can use the dynamic West Aussie.
Short ruled out for Bulldogs clash | 01:10
Bulldogs’ burning question: Will the talls stand tall in attack?
The Bulldogs went into season 2023 with arguably the tallest attack end in the competition, with the likes of Aaron Naughton, Rory Lobb, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and young Sam Darcy. But they’ve taken the least marks inside forward 50 – and remain the only team in the AFL averaging less than 9 marks inside 50 a game. They managed 10 against Brisbane in last week’s win over the Lions, but still only managed 10 goals on the night. The Dogs need to bring the firepower if they want to get back in the race for finals.
SYDNEY SWANS v PORT ADELAIDE
Saturday April 8, 7:30pm at the SCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 7.15pm, with Kath Loughnan, Brad Johnson, Jordan Lewis and Eddie Betts.
Swans’ burning question: How does Buddy respond?
Lance Franklin doesn’t have many opponents who can boast a winning record against him, but Steven May has proven a thorn in his side. Franklin kicked two goals but was targeted relentlessly, once again raising questions over the reliance on the AFL superstar. Champions rarely have two bad games in a row and Buddy will be chomping at the bit to tear the Power apart, but will the Swans stop targeting him so persistently and allow the likes of Logan McDonald and Joel Amartey to get a better foothold on matches? It’s one of the key fascinations of the Swans, not to mention their response to a 50-point thumping at the MCG at the hands of Melbourne last week.
Two plays that should have Swans worried | 02:25
Power’s burning question: Is Ollie Wines the man who needs to lift Port Adelaide?
He’s Port Adelaide’s sole Brownlow Medallist in a midfield stacked with young up and comers including the likes of Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis. But Ollie Wines is struggling in 2023. He’s racked up 21 touches in back to back weeks – that low of 21 disposals happened just twice for the whole of last season (excluding his Rd 4 injury). “Unfortunately, Ollie Wines at the moment is performing below expectation for his position more than any other player in the competition so far this year,” Champion Data’s Daniel Hoyne told SEN. “In the last two weeks they’ve been -57 and -23 in contested possessions. He’s integral to that part of the game and he just hasn’t been able to get going so far this year for Port Adelaide.”
Port coaching errors ‘get you sacked’ | 03:27
ST KILDA v GOLD COAST SUNS
Saturday April 8, 7:30pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 503 from 7.25pm, with Dwayne Russell, Dermott Brereton, David King and Ben Dixon.
Saints’ burning question: Can the Ross Lyon game plan hold firm?
St Kilda have employed a different approach to the majority of the competition with their boundary-hugging style of play paying off in the opening three rounds. According to Champion Data’s Daniel Hoyne, the Saints are hitting statistical highs not seen since the great Cats side of 2009. “Their ability to be able to move the ball from one end of the ground to the other, at the moment, is the best we’ve seen by any team since 2009,” he said on SEN. “They’re using the boundary more than any other team in the competition at the moment. If it keeps going this way, it would be the highest boundary use that we’ve ever seen by anyone in any season as well – more than Collingwood in 2010 and 2011 when they had that successful two-year period.”
Suns’ burning question: Is Matt Rowell about to break out as a genuine superstar?
Pop quiz – who ranks No.1 in the AFL for clearances and contested possessions through three rounds? In both categories it’s Matt Rowell, who was already a contested-heavy player last season, but has “gone next level” according to Fox Footy analyst David King. “He’s got a level of brutality that’s beyond his years,” King explained on AFL 360 on Wednesday night.
“And some of the things he’s doing, you have to see to believe. He’s now stepping out of traffic – that’s the last link that comes with these guys … if he continues to do this, they will win games just because of this guy.” If the Suns are going to finally break their finals drought, Rowell will be a key factor.
ESSENDON v GWS GIANTS
Sunday April 9, 2:10pm at Marvel Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 2pm with Anthony Hudson, Mark Howard, Gerard Healy, Cameron Mooney and Kath Loughnan.
Bombers’ burning question: What do Essendon do with Dyson Heppell?
There’s no question former captain Dyson Heppell has given his all to the Bombers since being snapped up in the first round of the 2010 draft. He’s averaging just over 15 touches a game but not having an impact in a side that’s embracing the rebuild and finding young talent to get the job done. His surprised reaction to being handed the sub vest just another sign not all is peachy under new coach Brad Scott. While just 30 years of age, Bombers football director Kevin Sheedy this week said “Dyson is actually in his last year, I’d say”. The move drew criticism, but Bombers great Tim Watson has agreed Heppell’s place may not be in the best 22. “Having watched him over the early rounds of this season, he’s not playing well. Now I don’t know whether he’s in Essendon’s best side … He’s been a great player for Essendon, he’s been a great leader, but at some point in time we lose our abilities and our power to play this game at the highest level,” he said on SEN.
Giants’ burning question: Where do they sit in the pecking order?
They defeated Adelaide after a slow start, lost to West Coast in Perth and then fell 10 points short of an inaccurate Carlton side. Essendon this week will be another interesting test for a side that still isn’t that easy to pin down in terms of ladder position. Many thought the Bombers would struggle in 2023 but they’ve made a promising start under Brad Scott. The Giants have also made a decent beginning to life under Adam Kingsley, but Sunday should provide a better gauge of just where they sit in 2023.
Kingsley fumes as he lashes Cogs claim | 03:33
WEST COAST EAGLES v MELBOURNE
Sunday April 9, 5:20pm at Optus Stadium
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 5pm from Adam Papalia, Garry Lyon, Jonathan Brown and Matthew Pavlich, followed by Bounce and First Crack with Anthony Hudson, David King and Leigh Montagna.
Eagles’ burning question: Who stops Brodie Grundy?
The Eagles haven’t been able to lock in a regular ruckman as injury keeps Nic Naitanui grounded. And with none of note beneath him on the playing list, it’s been left to 29-gamer Bailey Williams to try and compete against the competition’s best. West Coast are getting smashed in the hitout count week in week out and they’ll endure another tough day out against Melbourne recruit Brodie Grundy. Even without injured Demons skipper Max Gawn, Grundy looms as a massive challenge for an Eagles side that is struggling in the ruck stakes. First Crack’s Leigh Montagna praised the role Grundy player for the Demons in the win over Sydney. “Brodie Grundy played like the big mid he was known for at Collingwood,” he said of Grundy’s 21 disposals, six inside 50s and 25 hitouts. The Eagles will need to find an answer for the big Dee.
Demons’ burning question: Has Simon Goodwin found his answers in attack?
Melbourne struggled to find an attack end that could lead them to victory in 2022. But that issue appears solved in the form of Harrison Petty forward and young Jacob van Rooyen. Leigh Montagna was full of praise for the debutant last weekend, claiming “he’s already a cult hero!”. “The crowd were loving him! The way they changed up their side. They saw a different mix.” Remarkably the Dees piled on 57 points against the Swans from forward half pressure – up from the competition average of 26 points. They were the most efficient team going inside 50 in Round 3 in more promising signs for coach Simon Goodwin. Add in the fact Kossie Pickett is still to return, and this forward half is looking dangerous.
Dangerfield denies Cats are ‘complacent’ | 02:18
GEELONG v HAWTHORN
Monday April 10, 3:20pm at the MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 2.30pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Jason Dunstall, David King, Leigh Montagna, Cameron Mooney and Jon Ralph, followed by On the Couch and AFL360.
Cats’ burning question: Who is willing to get their hands dirty?
The reigning premiers are the only winless side in the AFL as they remain anchored at the bottom of the ladder after three rounds. Alarmingly, the Cats sit dead last for total clearances won this season, and second last for both contested possessions and stoppage ball. Fox Footy’s Jonathan Brown believes we’ve undersold the absence of premiership skipper Joel Selwood who retired after last year’s grand final victory. “I think now the midfield without their great warrior out there are starting to lack a bit of belief,” he said On the Couch. Cats coach Chris Scott has to find someone to put their head down and win the ball, because no one has stepped up in Selwood’s absence so far in 2023.
Hawks’ burning question: Can Hawthorn find a middle ground?
The Hawks were blown away in the first two rounds of competition, before a trip to Tassie rejuvenated the side and they secured their first victory of the season. Fox Footy’s David King labelled the Hawks’ game style as “arrogant” against the Swans before they opted to switch it up against the Roos. “They played a lot wider. A lot safer,” he said on First Crack. “This was calculated, it picked apart the Kangaroos zone off defence and got the chocolates. Does (Sam Mitchell) want to play something like this going forward? I think he wants to find a balance between last week’s version and this weeks.” Statistics showed the Hawks took just 85 marks for the entire match against Sydney – compared to the 140 against North Melbourne. Remarkably 96 of those marks came in defensive 50 – more than what they had for the whole Sydney clash.
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