Round 6 of the 2020 season will be like no other when all matches this weekend are played across just four venues in two states.
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria has forced all ten clubs to evacuate from the state, with six to move to Queensland, another two to be based in Sydney while the other two will spend a week in Sydney before shifting to the Western Australia hub.
The teams to be based in Queensland are Carlton, Essendon, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs. Hawthorn and Melbourne will hub in Sydney, with the Geelong Cats and Collingwood to spend a week there before they move to Perth from Round 7.
But while New South Wales and Queensland will host all of this weekend’s matches, their home tenants the Sydney Swans/GWS Giants and Brisbane Lions/Gold Coast Suns will actually be playing in each other’s states instead.
The Lions will play the Geelong Cats at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday night, while the Suns will do battle with Melbourne at Giants Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Giants and Swans will face Port Adelaide and Richmond on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, respectively, on Sunday.
Due to this, no team will be playing at home in Round 6, making for one of the most bizarre rounds in AFL history. It will be the first time in the expansion era (1982-present) that this has happened, and the first time since Round 8, 1952 that no match is played in Victoria.
Here is your preview to what promises to be an otherwise intriguing Round 6.
Geelong Cats versus Brisbane Lions
The first match of this rather unusual Round 6 sees the Geelong Cats “host” the Brisbane Lions at the SCG, in what is set to be the venue’s first AFL match not involving regular tenants the Sydney Swans since Round 18, 2000.
It was back in 1999 and 2000 that North Melbourne (then known as the Kangaroos) experimented with playing home games in Sydney with a view of becoming the market’s second NSW-based club, but it was dropped by the start of 2001 due to a crowd average of only 12,000.
As such, the last neutral match at the venue between the Kangaroos and Richmond resulted in a crowd total of only 9,198.
The Cats will go into this match on the back of a 37-point victory over the Gold Coast Suns, in which ageless veterans Gary Ablett Jr and Joel Selwood brought up their 350th and 300th AFL games, respectively.
It marked the first time in over twelve months that they had won consecutive matches, and saw them move to a 3-2 record ahead of their clash against the Brisbane Lions, which defeated Port Adelaide by the same margin at the Gabba.
The win over the previously undefeated Power saw the Lions move up to second place on the ladder on percentage, but they are going to have their work cut out facing the Cats, whom they defeated by six points at a packed Gabba in Round 22 last year.
That was then, but this is now, and the only people who are set to be permitted into the SCG will be local members of both clubs with only a quarter of the ground to be filled.
The Cats haven’t lost at the SCG since 2014, when they suffered a 110-point humiliation at the hands of the Sydney Swans, while the Lions haven’t won at the venue since an eight-point win in the final round of the 2009 season, nor have they played there since 2017.
It may be neutral territory, but I expect the Lions to take the points.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 24 points.
Collingwood versus Hawthorn
Across town on Friday night, Victorian heavyweights Collingwood and Hawthorn will clash in the 24,000 capacity Giants Stadium, making it the smallest venue to host the two sides in recent memory.
Both teams have in fact just suffered recent defeats against the stadium’s regular tenants, the GWS Giants, losing by two and 34 points in rounds four and five respectively.
The Hawks were kept on the back foot throughout the entirety of its loss to the Giants last Sunday night, failing to kick a goal in the first quarter, but while they managed to peg the margin back to 21 points at three-quarter-time, their poor start ultimately proved costly.
That came the week after coach Alastair Clarkson slammed his side’s brand of football, despite them beating North Melbourne by only four points at Marvel Stadium in Round 4.
Collingwood, meanwhile, will also be smarting after wasting a strong start against Essendon, in which it kicked the first three goals of the match, to lose by 15 points.
That came after they lost Jeremy Howe to a season-ending knee injury, and vice-captain Steele Sidebottom and defender Lynden Dunn to COVID-19-related suspensions, in the week leading up to the match.
Ruckman Mason Cox was also kept quiet against the Bombers, and there is every chance he may not play against the Hawks in Sydney on Friday night.
The only meeting between the two sides last year saw the Hawks register a four-point upset victory at the MCG in front of just over 66,000 people.
But on neutral territory, expect only a thousand or so fans to be there, with the only people to be admitted into Giants Stadium Sydney-based members of both the Pies and the Hawks, both of whom enjoy a strong following in the Harbour City.
As far as their records at Giants Stadium are concerned, the Pies have split their six matches at the venue, but haven’t won there since 2016, while the Hawks are winless from four attempts, including last week’s 34-point loss to GWS.
This match could go either way, though I think the Hawks will bounce back.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 12 points.
Fremantle versus St Kilda
The first of six matches in Queensland this weekend, and the first match on Saturday, sees Metricon Stadium play host to one of the most bizarre rivalries in the game’s recent history.
There was umpire Peter Carey taking a mark in 1999, the “Whispers in the Sky” match in 2005 in which now-Dockers coach Justin Longmuir kicking the match winning goal after the final siren, and, most infamous of all, the “Sirengate” match in 2006.
This Saturday’s clash at Metricon Stadium will mark the first time since that infamous 2006 match that the Dockers and Saints face each other on neutral territory, with Longmuir hoping to once again inflict heartbreak on Saints fans after his heroics fifteen years ago.
Despite being without captain Nat Fyfe, the Dockers managed to register their first win for the season with a 20-point victory over the Adelaide Crows, with Michael Walters acting as captain.
In a huge boost to their chances of making it two straight victories, Fyfe could return earlier than planned in what will be the Dockers’ final match on the Gold Coast hub before they return home to an adoring crowd in the Western Derby in Round 7.
Meantime, St Kilda’s impressive start to the season continued when they led from start to finish to defeat Carlton by 18 points, despite losing midfielder Dan Hannebery to a hamstring injury which is set to sideline him for up to a month.
It was their third win from four matches since the season resumption and coach Brett Ratten would be happy at where his side is tracking with nearly a third of the season down.
This followed on from crushing victories over the Western Bulldogs and Richmond, on either side of a disappointing loss to Collingwood after which questions were being asked as to where the Saints were at in their development.
Set to be based on the Gold Coast for at least a month, the Saints should bank the points.
Prediction: St Kilda by 14 points.
West Coast Eagles versus Adelaide Crows
As far as the Gold Coast hub is concerned, the finish line is within sight for both the West Coast Eagles and Adelaide Crows, who have both struggled on the holiday strip over the past few weeks.
After a hat-trick of disappointing defeats, the Eagles bounced back to defeat the Sydney Swans by 34 points, despite full-forward Josh Kennedy being held goalless and captain Luke Shuey suffering a hamstring injury which saw him sit out the second half.
In the end, however, it was Nic Naitanui who dominated the centre bounces against the Swans’ makeshift ruck division after the Eagles struggled to get going in the first half.
They will now fancy their chances of registering a second straight victory when they come up against the Adelaide Crows, whose coach Matthew Nicks’ tough initiation as head coach continued with a 20-point loss to Fremantle last Sunday.
The defeat saw the Crows drop to a 0-5 record for the first time in a decade, with the side now a shadow of the high-scoring machine we saw in 2016 and 2017.
They are the only side yet to taste a victory this season and there appears to be no respite this Saturday against an Eagles side which is starting to get going after a disappointing start to the year.
Their most recent meeting, at Optus Stadium in Round 21 last year, saw the Eagles eek out a 10-point victory, that coming after they registered a two-goal victory at Adelaide Oval in Round 10.
As mentioned above, this will be the last match on the Gold Coast hub for both the Eagles and Crows, with both sides to return home almost immediately following full-time.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 30 points.
Melbourne versus Gold Coast Suns
The third of three neutral matches in Sydney will see Melbourne do battle with the Gold Coast Suns at Giants Stadium, with both sides looking to register their first win at the venue.
The Dees’ 27-point loss to Richmond last Sunday all but confirmed that the 2018 season, in which they finished fifth, scored the most points of any side and reached a preliminary final, was only an aberration.
They have now only won two matches in the past twelve months, both against Carlton and by a grand total of only six points, confirming many people’s suspicions that they are not a very good side at all.
And while they have won their past seven matches against the Suns, the most recent of them by only a solitary point in Round 8 last year, there will be no respite when they face a much-improved side in Sydney on Saturday night.
After winning their first three matches following the season’s resumption, Stuart Dew’s side copped a reality check last Saturday night, losing to the Geelong Cats by 37 points at Kardinia Park in what was their first match away from home this season.
Despite losing Rising Star favourite Matt Rowell to a shoulder injury in the first quarter, the Suns managed to hit the front in the third quarter, but a scoreless final quarter would see them crash to their second loss of the season.
Due to recent government restrictions mandating a 14-day quarantine period for those returning to Queensland directly from Victoria, the Suns will take a detour through a two-week stay in Wollongong, before they return to the Gold Coast ahead of Round 8.
Neither the Dees or Suns have won at Giants Stadium, with the former side being the only team to be beaten by GWS in 2013 and the Suns’ smallest losing margin being 83 points in round eleven last year.
Despite the challenges facing the Suns, I think they’ll take the points.
Prediction: Gold Coast Suns by 22 points.
Essendon versus North Melbourne
The second of two matches to be played on the Gold Coast on Saturday sees Essendon and North Melbourne face each other in the first Victorian derby on the holiday strip since 2009.
After a narrow yet frustrating loss to Carlton in Round 4, and then conceding the first three goals against the Pies on Friday night, the Bombers fought back to record a 15-point victory, marking their first win over Collingwood on a Friday night since 2006.
Jake Stringer was among the Bombers’ best, but could miss the rest of the season after suffering a nasty ankle injury at the death, while Cale Hooker and Andrew McGrath were strong in defence.
Meantime, North Melbourne crashed to a second straight loss last Saturday night, thrashed by the Western Bulldogs by 49 points and booting only five goals for the match, with their haul of 5.8 (38) being the lowest score by any side in Round 5.
Luke McDonald, however, did well to curtail the influence of Dogs captain Marcus Bontempelli and had it not been for his efforts, the Roos’ losing margin would’ve been as bad as it already was.
They must now look to bury the demons of two disappointing losses to the Bombers from last year, the first of them being a 58-point hiding on Good Friday and the other being by just five points in Round 17 after Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti booted the match winning goal at the death.
The Bombers have only ever lost twice at Metricon Stadium since the redeveloped ground was opened in 2011, and on their last visit there avoided a major embarrassment when they kicked two goals in the final minute to snatch a ten-point win from the shadows of defeat.
Despite being without Stringer, I think John Worsfold’s men will claim the points.
Prediction: Essendon by 10 points.
Port Adelaide versus GWS Giants
The first match on Sunday sees Port Adelaide play its penultimate match in the south-east Queensland hub against the GWS Giants at Metricon Stadium.
While the Gold Coast hub will dissolve after Round 6, Port will be forced to spend another week in the sunshine state, as they are fixtured to play Carlton at the Gabba in Round 7.
Last week the Power were exposed as premiership pretenders, the previously unbeaten side embarrassed by the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba by 37 points last Saturday night.
It was their third straight loss against the Lions and proves that there is still a lot of work to do before the Power can be considered genuine finals contenders.
Things will only get tougher for Ken Hinkley’s men when they face a resurgent GWS Giants side on Sunday.
After two disappointing losses since the season resumption, the Giants have returned to form over the past fortnight, helped by the return of Toby Greene from injury.
He was instrumental in the two-point win over Collingwood in Round 4, and against Hawthorn the Giants went up a notch, leading from start to finish to record a comfortable 34-point victory, with Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg kicking eight goals between them.
Recent history favours the Giants, which has won their past five matches against the Power, and their past three on the Gold Coast, though their most recent trip to the holiday strip, in Round 23 last year, was their first for three years.
On the road for only the second time this year, the Giants should return to Sydney with the points.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 18 points.
Richmond versus Sydney Swans
Richmond’s first match in their Queensland hub will see them “host” the Sydney Swans at the Gabba, which has proven to be their most favourite venue to play outside of Victoria this century.
Why, you ask? Because in recent years, the Tigers have enjoyed playing at the venue so much that they have not lost in the sunshine capital since Round 14, 2004.
Their opponents, the Swans, have also enjoyed an impressive recent record at the Gabba, winning ten of their last fourteen matches there, though they did lose to the Lions by 22 points in Round 7 last year.
Thus, both teams have every right to feel at home in Brisbane this Sunday.
The Tigers’ 27-point win over Melbourne in what was the last match to be played at the MCG for at least a month came at a cost, with several key players suffering injuries, including captain Trent Cotchin, who will miss the Swans game due to a hamstring injury.
Tom Lynch, Toby Nankervis and Dion Prestia also suffered significant injuries, while defender Bachar Houli has opted out of travelling to the Queensland hub with his wife having recently given birth to the couple’s first child. Shane Edwards has also opted out, for personal reasons.
Meantime, the Swans’ injury curse conspired against them as they fell to the West Coast Eagles by 34 points on the Gold Coast last Saturday afternoon.
They started off well, kicking three goals in the first quarter, but would merely double their tally thereafter to finish with six majors for the match as they crashed to their third loss from four games since the season resumption.
It was also the second consecutive week they failed to lift for a player’s milestone match, with Luke Parker’s 200th AFL game set to go down as one he’d rather forget, that following a similarly disappointing loss to the Western Bulldogs in Josh Kennedy’s 250th the previous week.
While both the Tigers and Swans will be without key personnel this Sunday, I think the Tigers’ experience should get them the points.
Prediction: Richmond by 28 points.
Carlton versus Western Bulldogs
The final match of Round 6, the sixth to be played in Queensland, the fourth at Metricon Stadium and the second at the ground on the day sees Carlton host the Western Bulldogs as both sides adapt to hub life in the sunshine state.
After a pair of close wins over the Geelong Cats and Essendon, the Cats were brought back down to earth last Thursday night, being kept on the back foot last Thursday night as they fell to St Kilda by 18 points at Marvel Stadium.
That match very nearly did not go ahead, due to a security guard testing positive to coronavirus during the week. However, it did not happen on match day, which would’ve meant severe consequences for the AFL.
Mitch McGovern copped some criticism for his below-par performance, and this will surely lead to questions about whether he retains his place on the side this Sunday.
Meantime, the Western Bulldogs continue to go from strength to strength, with a six-goal haul from off-season import Josh Bruce helping the side to a 49-point thrashing of North Melbourne at Docklands Stadium.
For the third straight match, they restricted their opposition to less than 40 points, an indication that the Dogs are finally starting to get going after a pair of poor performances on either side of the COVID-19-enforced suspension.
Bruce’s heroics cancelled the quiet performance of captain Marcus Bontempelli, who was well contained by North tagger Luke McDonald only a week after his best-on-ground efforts against the Sydney Swans in Round 4.
In what will be their first premiership match at Metricon Stadium since 2014 (1-2 record, with the only win being in 2011), Luke Beveridge’s men will start the prohibitive favourites to register a fourth straight victory and continue their push up the ladder.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 21 points.