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The Blowtorch Round 19 preview, every club’s burning question, Fox Footy commentators, TV broadcast details

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The biggest home and away game of the year will see a premiership contender’s flaw tested.

Plus why the Dogs aren’t “brave enougH”, the Bombers ‘aren’t ready” and the “fear factor” Brisbane must overcome.

Every club’s burning question ahead of Round 19, as well as commentators for every Fox Footy game in our ultimate weekly preview: The Blowtorch!

Watch every match of every round of the 2023 Toyota AFL Premiership Season LIVE on Kayo Sports. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >

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ESSENDON v WESTERN BULLDOGS

Friday July 21, 7.50pm at Marvel Stadium

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 7pm on Channel 504, with Garry Lyon, Jonathan Brown, Jordan Lewis, Kath Loughnan and Jon Ralph, followed by Fox Footy Live with Ben Dixon, Nick Dal Santo and Cameron Mooney.

Bombers’ burning question: Are they genuine contenders or pretenders?

The Bombers pushed second-placed Port Adelaide all the way in Round 17 and headed down to the Cattery full of confidence as many started to consider them contenders. Instead, they were blasted off the park in a horror opening term when they coughed up seven goals to none. Champion Data’s Daniel Hoyne said Essendon were yet to prove themselves against the competition heavyweights, telling SEN they’d only won one game out of the eight against the top eight teams. Hoyne told SEN: “They are not ready yet to significantly challenge for that prelim/grand final stage.”

Bulldogs’ burning question: When do the Dogs cash in?

It’s no secret the Bulldogs wanted to keep Josh Dunkley at the end of last season before his call to depart for Brisbane. But even without him in that midfield, the Dogs are still getting it done. So why can’t they put that clearance dominance on the scoreboard? Since Round 12, Champion Data statistics show the Bulldogs are +54 for clearances – third in the AFL — but their damage from clearance is ranked as the worst in the AFL. Fox Footy’s David King told First Crack: “They are an awesome clearance team but get nothing for it. I don’t think they are anywhere near aggressive enough. They don’t have a method whether they are going forwards, backwards. They are not brave enough – this is a team that has all the tools.” King showed vision of players repeatedly ignoring star Marcus Bontempelli running alongside them, opting instead to send the ball into attack – but without the accuracy of the likes of their captain. Leigh Montagna said it becomes a “nightmare” for the forwards to lead into if they don’t know where the footy is going to be put, adding: “It’s a bit disconnected.”

Dusty cops fine… but no ban? | 00:34

RICHMOND v HAWTHORN

Saturday July 22, 1.45pm at the MCG

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 1pm on Channel 504, with Sarah Jones, Mark Howard, David King, Nathan Buckley and David Zita.

Tigers’ burning question: Can they play two specialists rucks in the same team?

There was in their 2019 premiership, but not recently. However after Ivan Soldo’s impressive return game against West Coast on Sunday, the Tigers might have to revisit the tactic. In the absence of suspended co-captain Toby Nankervis, Soldo was terrific against the Eagles as he put the footy on a platter for his midfielders at stoppages in just his second AFL game of the season. Soldo kicked 1.1 from 11 disposals, seven score involvements, five tackles, five marks and four clearances, while 12 of his 41 hit-outs were to the advantage of a teammate. Nankervis will be eligible for selection again in Round 21 as the Tigers continue their unlikely late-season surge. Fox Footy’s Leigh Montagna told First Crack: “There’s still something left in the Tigers this season.”

Hawks’ burning question: Will they fight fire and fire against the Tigers?

We know Richmond plays its best footy when its forward handball game is in full swing. But the Hawks this year have developed a heavy handball-focused approach under coach Sam Mitchell this year that suits their playing list. As pointed out by dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna on First Crack, the Hawks have some seriously quick and/or powerful runners on their team, such as Josh Weddle, Finn Maginness and Jarman Impey. Montagna said: “I love they’ve picked players to this club who’ve got some genuine speed and power. That was one thing that stood out, some of the athleticism of the Hawks compared to the North Melbourne players (last weekend).” The Hawks have a poor record against Richmond, winning just one of their past nine games against the Tigers. But if they play with a no-fear attitude for a full four quarters on Sunday, they’ll give Andrew McQualter’s side a shake.

Cripps details Carlton’s progression | 01:44

CARLTON v WEST COAST EAGLES

Saturday July 22, 2.10pm at Marvel Stadium

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 2pm on Channel 503, with Dwayne Russell, Kelli Underwood, Gerard Healy, Nick Dal Santo, Cameron Mooney and David Zita.

Blues’ burning question: Will Charlie Curnow play with more freedom?

The Blues suffered a big blow when forward Harry McKay went down clutching his knee last weekend. And despite scans confirming he’d avoided an ACL tear, we won’t see the big man again this home and away season with the star sidelined for up to eight weeks. That leaves Charlie Curnow as the last man standing in Carlton’s attack end – something he hasn’t had to manage for long periods of time, like McKay has done without Curnow. But maybe the extra space in attack will work in Carlton’s favour? Garry Lyon told On the Couch: “They’ve got the two big forwards, the two roosters. Is it going to be the end of the world for them? Because it wasn’t (after McKay went down). It straightened up this side and made them predictable (to the small forward teammates). It worked – Curnow was the beacon.”

Eagles’ burning question: How do West Coast decide which veterans to keep?

Adam Simpson has some big list calls to make at the end of the season. By the time next season rolls around, the Eagles would have eight players over the age of 30 – including the likes of 32-year-old Nic Naitanui, who hasn’t featured all year and remains on crutches after Achilles surgery. “I just wonder what the message is to some of these key (West Coast) playmakers,” David King questioned on First Crack. “There’s an old theory if you’re 27-plus and not in the top six to eight players at your club, you’re biding time. You might as well go past them. I think Adam Simpson has got some really tough decisions to make.” Going off King’s 27-year age cut off, the Eagles will have 14 players above that age for next season – too many to squeeze into the top six to eight.

BRISBANE LIONS v GEELONG CATS

Saturday July 22, 4.35pm at the Gabba

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 4.30pm on Channel 504, with Anthony Hudson, Garry Lyon, Jonathan Brown, Alastair Lynch and David Zita.

Lions’ burning question: Can Chris Fagan finally outplay Chris Scott?

Chris Fagan has only ever outfoxed Chris Scott’s Geelong twice since he took over as Lions coach in 2017. He’s suffered seven losses, including two preliminary final beatings. David King says while Brisbane’s record at the Gabba is brilliant, the game will be won in the coaches’ box. King told AFL 360: “They’ve (Geelong) done it the same way. I think this is Chris Fagan’s Battle of Waterloo … he just has to find a way to engage in the game against Chris Scott. The way Chris Scott sets up the field really challenges everything Brisbane aren’t. They (Geelong) restrict, deny easy access to scores for Brisbane who want to play fast footy.” Statistics show Brisbane are the number one ranked team for points from forward-half intercepts and are second for time in forward half. Mark Robinson believes the Lions need to overcome the “fear factor” against Geelong. “I think teams are a little scared of Geelong,” he said on AFL 360.

Cats’ burning question: Can the Cats find their claws away from home?

Geelong has marched back into finals contention off the back of big wins over North Melbourne and Essendon, but there’s a big difference between games at the Cattery and those away from home. Stats show the Cats have been the hardest team to move the ball against in the past six weeks, with three of their past four games played at home at GMHBA Stadium. Triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown told On the Couch:“We’re not completely buying Geelong. We’re holding Geelong. Let’s not tip into them completely.” The Cats have a percentage of 174 from matches at home, but only 104 elsewhere. Given the Lions are the hottest home team in the AFL – losing just twice in the regular season since April 2021 — and with eight straight at the Gabba this season, this is Geelong’s biggest test to see if they are the real deal.

Gulden represents changing of the guard? | 02:00

FREMANTLE V SYDNEY SWANS

Saturday July 22, 7.40pm at Optus Stadium

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 7.30pm on Channel 503, with Adam Papalia, Leigh Montagna, Dermott Brereton, Will Schofield and David Zita.

Dockers’ burning question: What is still to be gained?

With their season all but over, the Dockers return home to take on Sydney but they’ll be without big man Sean Darcy, who was one of two injuries suffered in the loss to Collingwood. When Darcy went down earlier in the year, it was recruit Luke Jackson who stepped up – but it left a gaping hole in the attack end. So what does coach Justin Longmuir do and what is the priority to take out of this season? Is it time to give former Sun Josh Corbett a run in the forward line after his 10 goals in 10 games in the WAFL? Or is it a look to the future and debut someone like Liam Reidy to keep the focus on creating a connection in attack with Jackson at the helm? Reidy has been averaging almost 25 hit-outs a game this season in the WAFL.

Swans’ burning question: Is Dane Rampe lucky to be playing this weekend?

Sydney will fly west to Perth with star Dane Rampe on the flight after the defender beat his rough conduct charge at the Tribunal on Tuesday night. s Garry Lyon declared Rampe “the luckiest man in AFL footy” after he was cleared of an off-the-ball hit that left Bulldog Lachlan McNeil with concussion after the match. “In this instance, Dane has overcooked it. He’s coming too hard,” Lyon lamented on SEN. And Mark Robinson felt Rampe needed to be accountable for the damage McNeil sustained, telling AFL 360: “Dane Rampe is not a dirty player, but Dane Rampe went at, in my opinion, at the opposition player and then there was the accident in an off-ball block. There was enough angst out there (for him to be suspended).”

Rampe’s two-week suspension overturned | 01:33

PORT ADELAIDE v COLLINGWOOD

Saturday July 22, 7.40pm at Adelaide Oval

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 7.15pm on Channel 504, with Kath Loughnan, Brad Johnson, Eddie Betts, Ben Dixon and David Zita.

Power’s burning question: Have they learnt their lesson?

The Power’s record 13-game winning streak is over and they’ll now face a red-hot Collingwood in a top of the table clash. The last time the two sides met, it was the Magpies who dished out a 71-point defeat. Port’s Ollie Wines admits the team was “shell-shocked” that day and pledged the club has learnt from that encounter. “They put the jets on and blew us away in only a quarter,” he said on SEN. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what the Pies did to Fremantle last weekend with a 10-goal blitz in the second term. Coach Ken Hinkley and his team will need to ensure they have plans in place to stop that run on. But defence hasn’t been Port Adelaide’s strength in 2023. The Power are 11th for points against, 10th for points against from turnovers and 12th for points against from clearances. “That defensive profile is going to get tested by three pretty good offences in the next three weeks,” Nathan Buckley warned.

Magpies’ burning question: Will confidence kill Collingwood’s campaign?

Magpie Brayden Maynard threw down the gauntlet after his side’s win over Fremantle, telling Port Adelaide to “bring their A-game” if they wanted to beat the Pies. And while it’s confidence we love to see, Fox Footy’s David King even rated Collingwood “that far in front” of every other team that premiership is all but won. “I think the premiership’s a cakewalk. I’ve seen enough,” he said on First Crack. “They’re getting better every week … there’s a huge gap in the competition right now and I’m just going to ride it all the way.” But will that overwhelming confidence in the side’s premiership favouritism come back to bite the Pies? Everyone knows home and away season form counts for nothing come September. Coach Craig McRae is going to have to keep his side focused and level-headed now that finals is assured and there’s still a mountain of work to be done.

Wildcard Proposal ahead of finals | 05:13

GWS GIANTS v GOLD COAST SUNS

Sunday July 23, 1.10pm at Manuka Oval

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 1pm on Channel 504, with Kath Loughnan, Anthony Hudson, David King, Nick Dal Santo and Jon Ralph.

Giants’ burning question: Are GWS getting the respect they deserve?

The Giants are knocking on the door of the top eight, sitting just percentage outside of finals off the back of six wins in seven matches. And while critics may argue some of those wins have come against North Melbourne, Fremantle and Hawthorn, there’s been plenty of brilliance along the way. “I think we need to give more credit and more love to the GWS Giants and what they’ve been able to produce,” Leigh Montagna said on First Crack. “They’ve won six of seven games … they had eight players that have played less than 30 games. In those six wins, they’ve beaten Melbourne away, Geelong away and the Adelaide Crows away. We can’t sleep on what they do. I just love the way they’re going about it. The kids are all jumping on board.” Since Round 11, only Collingwood have registered as many wins as the Giants, followed by Port Adelaide and Geelong.

Suns’ burning question: Are the Gold Coast the most dangerous opponent in the run home?

The Suns have nothing to lose after the sacking of coach Stuart Dew — and Fox Footy’s David King says they played like it last week against St Kilda. Under interim coach Steven King, Gold Coast appeared to play with more freedom, and now loom a danger opponent in the run home for sides including finals hopefuls GWS, Adelaide and Carlton. “Under Steven King, they just said: ‘Boys, run and play. Take the burden off and just express yourself,’” King said. “It was great to see them play like that. They played on more, they handballed more, rewarded the runner … They are going to be a dangerous team to play in the back half of the season.”

Is Grundy set to depart Dees after 2023? | 02:00

MELBOURNE v ADELAIDE CROWS

Sunday July 23, 3.20pm at the MCG

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 3pm on Channel 503, with Kath Loughnan, Dermott Brereton, Brad Johnson and Jon Ralph.

Demons’ burning question: Is it Gawn or bust for Melbourne?

Melbourne made the big call to axe star recruit Brodie Grundy for the clash with Brisbane – and while it paid off last weekend, there’s no guarantee it’ll work every week. Demons skipper Max Gawn was arguably best on ground in the thrilling win over the Lions after the big “statement” was made at selection. First Crack’s David King said the signs were ominous from Gawn in that match. “The competitions has problems when Max Gawn is in this sort of form,” he said. “When the game was in the balance, he went into beast mode. Most teams struggle to get around Max Gawn. As a leader, he had an incredible impact.” But what’s the plan if a rival shuts down Gawn? Who steps up then? The Demons are already trying to balance the Christian Petracca forward move and what it costs them in the middle. If Gawn’s not firing, is there a back up plan?

Crows’ burning question: What’s the answer in attack if it’s not Walker?

Taylor Walker had a great opening half against GWS, but fell away – just as the Crows did in the final quarter loss. Now they’ll take on a Melbourne outfit with a depleted attack end already without suspended youngster Josh Rachele. If Walker doesn’t fire, and without Rachele, David King has questioned where the goals come from. Do they have a replacement for Walker in the wings?” he said on First Crack. “When he’s down, someone else has to step up and it doesn’t happen.” Leigh Montagna agreed Walker was the key to Adelaide’s attack. “A lot of ball goes through Tex, and they’ve got to find other avenues,” he added. Even Crows head of development Marco Bello conceded the club had work to do in that area. “We need to make sure across the board we’re not reliant on one or two players,” he said on SEN. “In our case, older players – Tex up forward, Laird in the midfield and Smith down back. We need to see a more even contribution from the whole side.”

Clarkson to return to coaching in Rnd 21 | 03:37

ST KILDA v NORTH MELBOURNE

Sunday July 23, 4.40pm at Marvel Stadium

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 4pm on Channel 504, with Sarah Jones, Dwayne Russell, Gerard Healy, Jordan Lewis and Jon Ralph, followed by Bounce and First Crack with Anthony Hudson, David King and Leigh Montagna.

Saints’ burning question: How do they turn their attitude around?

St Kilda was well beaten by a Gold Coast outfit who was more desperate and determined. Coach Ross Lyon fronted up to the media and even admitted the Saints “don’t deserve to play” finals if they continued to play like that and that the club won’t “earn” the right in 2023 after performances like that. First Crack’s David King was critical of what he saw from St Kilda. “They didn’t turn up the Saints,” he lamented. “I can understand why Ross is so disappointed. Those guys didn’t want to engage, they didn’t want to work … they weren’t really engaged in the running battle.”

Kangaroos’ burning question: Is the looming Clarkson return affecting players?

It was initially reported super coach Alastair Clarkson would be returning to coach this weekend, but that was pushed back. Now the Roos have revealed Clarkson will coach his first game since taking a mental health break back in May in Round 21. But how will the players respond between now and then? The Kangaroos haven’t managed a win under caretaker Brett Ratten. “It’s a tough question,” Jordan Lewis said on AFL 360. “As a player I would probably want the consistency in Brett Ratten to be there and finish off the year. Maybe they get that sugar hit in the last four rounds of the year and the hardness they’ve missed in the last couple of months? It’s a difficult situation. I would want consistency but other players might not.” Mark Robinson said having Clarkson back before the end of the season helps with the planning heading into 2024.

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