West Coast are strengthened by the return of star forward Josh Kennedy in a clash of last year’s grand finalists that is sure to shape the composition of this year’s top four.
Hawthorn, with a chance to deal a massive blow to Fremantle’s finals chances, have included Birchall as well as first-year Hawk, veteran forward Chad Wingard. Conor Glass has been dropped but Hawthorn have also lost Jack Gunston to injury.
‘‘I’m just really excited to get back out there again,” Birchall told the club’s website. “It’s been a tough two years, but I get my opportunity this week so I’m rapt.
“My body is the best it’s been for a long time. I’ve ticked all the boxes, I’m fit, I’m ready to go, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon has swung the changes with ruckman Aaron Sandilands out after just one match. Sean Darcy, Ryan Nyhuis and Stephen Hill are back for the Dockers, who also dropped Griffin Logue and Mitchell Crowden.
In Saturday’s most crucial match, the Bombers are unchanged for the clash against fellow finals aspirant North Melbourne. Heppell will miss another match with his foot complaint. The Roos have included Jamie Macmillan and Curtis Taylor at the expense of dropped pair Luke Davies-Uniacke and Sam Durdin.
Geelong, who host St Kilda on Saturday night, are bolstered by the return of Esava Ratugolea for his his first game since round 12. Brandan Parfitt comes in while Lachie Fogarty has been dropped and Jack Henry (managed) also to miss.
Melbourne are set to have big names back when they clash with Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Sunday. Jake Lever and Max Gawn are in the squad with the Demons losing Tom McDonald and Marty Hore to injury.
At Carlton, Hugh Goddard will play his first game for the Blues when they clash with Sydney. Injured pair Caleb Marchbank and Jacob Weitering are out while Mitch McGovern has been managed.
Carlton caretaker coach David Teague said Goddard had earned selection.
“You know what Hugh’s been doing, he’s been getting his job done, week after week after week and he just hasn’t got an opportunity,” Teague said as Carlton players were told the news.
“This week he does … he just kept getting his job done.”
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age