The Round 8 instalment of Friday Night Footy will bring us what is possibly the most anticipated match of 2016. When Geelong travel to Adelaide to take on the Crows, Patrick Dangerfield will play against his old side for the first time. Much will be, and already has been, spoken and written about what sort of a reaction Dangerfield can expect from the fans that once adored him. Most of whatever tension has built up, though, will dissipate within the first few minutes - once "Danger" gathers a few touches.
Besides, to focus too much on the '"Danger" Vs. Adelaide' angle would be to do this match a disservice. Based on the form of these two teams in the first month and a bit of the season, this looks like it could be a mouth-watering duel.
On paper it looks like a little bit of a mismatch. Geelong are in second spot on the ladder, a full two games and considerable percentage ahead of Adelaide.
Ahead of the season the first eight weeks of 2016 must have resembled a nightmare to the Crows. Six games against 2015 finalists, and another two against teams that played finals as recently as 2014. Luckily for them two of last year's finalists, Richmond and Fremantle, have become total basket cases while their Round 3 opponent, Port Adelaide, almost literally put up no defence to the Crows' onslaught.
Their Round 4 win against Sydney, which capped off a three game winning streak, was an impressive performance and won them a lot of fans amongst pundits. Unfortunately, that's the only win the club has had against a top eight team this year. Their other games against current top teams have ended in close, perhaps honourable, losses but losses nonetheless. That makes this week against Geelong the most important they've played this year.
Such is the closeness of the top teams, if Adelaide were to lose they could be out of the eight. If they win, they're in touch with the top four. A win would also prove that Adelaide belong among the top teams on the ladder. You can only point to a tough draw for so long - if the Crows can't beat Geelong it won't be because of a hard draw, it will be because they haven't been able to match it with the best teams.
Which brings us to Geelong, and the burning question - are they one of the best teams? The addition of Dangerfield, as well a few other handy recruits including Zac Smith and Lachie Henderson, had many a scribe declaring Geelong one of the teams to stand in the way of Hawthorn's fourth consecutive premiership. On the surface their form thus far would seem to back up that claim.
At the end of Round 7 Geelong rank second in points scored (787), second in points conceded (459) and boast a massive percentage of 171.5. They've won their last five games and are playing a brand of footy some have described as reminiscent of their form in 2007-08. The introduction of Dangerfield in to their midfield seems to have reinvigorated Joel Selwood and both of them are in career-best form.
Their form against the top teams has been slightly better than Adelaide as well. In their three games against the current top eight the Cats are 2-1, with the loss against GWS their only one against any team this year. Those two wins have been no mean feats, either, coming against last years Grand Finalists, Hawthorn and West Coast. Therein lies the problem in reading Geelong's form, though. The win against Hawthorn was commendable, no doubt, but West Coast look every bit the easy beat that other 2016 Geelong conquests, Brisbane, Essendon and Gold Coast do.
Friday night will tell us a lot about both teams and will go a long way to shaping what is going to be a very close top eight this year. If Adelaide lose, they'll go from a flag chance to a middle of the road team that can't deliver against the best sides. If it's close this season could become similar to that of North Melbourne in 2013 - a year full of close losses and missed chances.
Geelong, on the other hand, don't have quite so much to lose at this stage but quite a bit to gain. A 6-2 start to the season would make anyone happy, especially with likely wins against Carlton and Collingwood to come immediately after. Round 11 is when the real test starts for the Cats, with a return game against GWS followed by North, the Dogs and St. Kilda before the bye. If they can win their next few and make it to Round 10 at 9-1, that stretch of games between Rounds 11-14 needn't be anywhere as painful as it could be.
While most of the attention this week will be on the return of the prodigal son to Adelaide Oval, and how hostile a reaction he can expect, once the ball is bounced on Friday night we will be in for an engrossing contest, not only for its ramifications on the night, but on the rest of the season. At this stage I'm tipping Geelong in a close one, but I'm not quite ready to accept that Adelaide aren't one of the best teams in the competition.