Thursday night’s opener to Round 13 of the 2019 AFL men’s season would have included at least one player to watch as Dustin Martin led the Tigers out for the first time, the Crouch brothers picked up 35+ disposals each and Josh Jenkins finally hit some senior form with four goals.
Nonetheless, there remains plenty to excite the viewer over the weekend’s remaining fixtures as North Melbourne and Carlton both seek to assert themselves as reinvigorated outfits following senior coaching changes and the Dockers and Power battle to cement places in home final contention on a weekend where several top contenders get a breather.
Jesse Robertson previews three exciting prospects beginning with a match-winner from an unlikely scenario:
1. Patrick Cripps, Carlton (vs Western Bulldogs, Marvel Stadium, Saturday 7:25pm)
P. Cripps, 6 votes? An impeccable second-half display from the Blues captain steered his side to their second win in 2019, with four goals after the long break en route to 38 disposals featuring 16 contested possessions and eight clearances, aptly with the ball in his hands as the final siren sounded. The whole Blues midfield lifted (with forward Michael Gibbons and defender Jacob Weitering chipping in with career-best games) after going as far as 37 points down early in the second term, but Marcus Bontempelli and co. will have a tremendous task on their hands Saturday night containing the explosive leader.
2. Ben Cunnington, North Melbourne (vs Greater Western Sydney, Blundstone Arena, Sunday 3:20pm)
The Roos have strung three straight wins together, one in Brad Scott’s last game as coach and a further two under interim boss Rhyce Shaw, and this inside midfielder has been crucial to their rejuvenation. Averaging 30 touches a game in that time, and posting season-high tallies of 14 kicks, seven inside-50s, 14 clearances (taking first place in the competition ahead of Cripps) and a whopping 23 contested possessions all in last week’s victory over Gold Coast alone, Cunnington is a dangerous All-Australian smokey and a potent weapon at stoppages who could severely damage GWS at contests, so look for him in his 200th game.
3. Aaron Naughton, Western Bulldogs (vs Carlton, Marvel Stadium, Saturday 7:25pm)
The Dogs’ rising young tall forward found himself outmatched last outing against the Eagles as the Dogs slumped to a heavy defeat in Perth, their third in a row. Ranked second in the competition for contested marks and announcing his arrival as a threat with nine out of 14 contested against the Tigers in Round 7 against the Tigers, Naughton’s impact was totally mitigated as he failed to win a single ball in the air and registered only seven touches and 1.1 in a 61-point defeat. He needs to be back firing immediately this week as he takes on Jacob Weitering in a crucial duel.
Elsewhere, injury to Shaun Higgins may open the door for Kangaroos fan favourite Paul Ahern to finally play his first senior game for the year in Tasmania on Sunday. Look for David Armitage to make an impact as he also plays his first game at St Kilda as one of seven changes, and likewise Stephen Hill gears up for a late start to 2019 as an injury-hit Fremantle look to tackle the Power in Perth. They’ll run into trouble, though, with Travis Boak averaging 31 touches a game and capping off a brilliant last outing against the Saints with seven inside-50s and two goals.