W2W4, Round 4: Crunch time is now for the Suns

What to make of the season so far?

Port Adelaide are the only undefeated team, but are they the real deal?

The Demons sit fourth and have surprisingly scored the most points in the league so far, but they're more puzzling than ever and face a huge test this weekend against Hawthorn -- another side with plenty of question marks.

Can the Eagles continue their surprising early-season form? The Herculean return of Nic Naitanui certainly helps.

Geelong suddenly appears vulnerable -- a stray Max Gawn kick from 20m out in Round 1 could have left the Cats 0-3, and with Gary Ablett now hamstrung, the Cats are in danger of slipping off the pace considering the teams they face over the next month: St Kilda (home), Port (away), Sydney (home) and GWS (away). Surely they beat the Saints on Sunday.

Down the bottom of the ladder, the Lions and Blues are still winless, although the pressure is much greater on Brendon Bolton's men than the boys from Brisbane.

Here's What To Watch For in Round 4.

How do the Dees stop Tom Mitchell?

One of the more intriguing Round 4 match-ups is the clash between Hawthorn and Melbourne, two sides that have started the season 2-1, at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.

Hawthorn are much improved from where they were this time 12 months ago. Ben McEvoy has been in supreme touch in the ruck, Cyril Rioli is back doing Cyril things and Jarryd Roughead has rediscovered his best form. Oh, and what about Tom Mitchell? The star Hawk has shot into equal-Brownlow Medal favouritism after an exceptional opening three weeks in the midfield where he's been averaging 45 disposals and 11 clearances a game.

The big question for the Demons is how they handle Mitchell. Are they better off having Bernie Vince run with him or do they back their entire midfield group to collectively get the job done? You'd think Simon Goodwin will opt for the second option given the midfield power Melbourne has been able to generate in recent times. They are no longer reliant on a single player and are getting significant contributions from their deep midfield group.

Melbourne will also need to contemplate how they line up in defence against Hawthorn's small forward line of Rioli, Paul Puopolo, Luke Breust and Jarman Impey. The Dees' backline was very tall after recalling Sam Frost in their win over North Melbourne -- a team that has a very different looking forward line to Hawthorn.

It all adds up to an intriguing clash between two teams that are hard to judge after three up-and-down rounds. We'll know more come 6pm on Sunday.

Will the big men deliver more big headaches?

Who is the best ruckman in the league? Max Gawn? Brodie Grundy? Stefan Martin? The miraculously-recovered Nic Naitanui? Depending on who you ask, any of that quartet could lay claim to the AFL's premier big man.

One thing is for sure, though. If your club comes up against one of these goliaths without an in-form ruck, prepare for pain.

Last weekend, Port Adelaide almost suffered a shock loss to Brisbane on their home deck after Martin's incredible masterclass in the ruck, while Collingwood, Melbourne and West Coast all prevailed after their respective big men demolished their opponents.

Fans are certainly enjoying the rebirth of the dominant big men, who are no doubt thriving thanks to the abolishment of the third man-up rule at the start of last year, a decision that has made quality big men worth their weight in gold.

But what happens if you don't have a quality ruck? It's a question that the Giants (vs. Fremantle), Western Bulldogs (vs. Sydney), Port (vs. Essendon) and Geelong (vs. St Kilda) need to answer ahead of Round 4.

Interestingly, the Bulldogs threw Marcus Bontempelli into the ruck at times during their barnstorming win against Essendon last round and while he was routinely beaten by Tom Bellchambers for the hit-out, his ability to became an extra ball-hunter at ground level reaped strong reward. But it's fair to assume that could backfire spectacularly against Gawn, Grundy and Co -- no disrespect towards Bellchambers intended.

It'll be fascinating to see if the rise of the premier talls continues, and how rival clubs combat them.

Gold Coast's crunch month: sink or swim?

They knew it was coming, but Gold Coast's season has already reached an early crunch time.

Clearly buoyed by the arrival of new coach Stuart Dew, the Suns shocked the league in winning their first two games of the year, victories which will no doubt prove invaluable down the stretch when they eventually return home to play their seven games at Metricon Stadium later in the year.

But this is a crunch month or so for Gold Coast; they're in the middle on a 10-day residency out west during which they play the two Western Australian teams in consecutive weeks.

With their home ground still out of action due to the Commonwealth Games, the Suns last week 'hosted' Fremantle at Optus Stadium - a move that netted them a cool $1m or so but possibly cost them four points. Rather than return home, the group remained in Perth ahead of Saturday night's away clash against West Coast at the same ground.

And after the second Perth leg, the Suns still don't get to play on their home deck. Rather, they play Brisbane at the Gabba, then Adelaide in Adelaide, before a bizarre aeroplane/bus ride combo to play the Bulldogs in Ballarat in Round 7.

By the time they return to Queensland (Brisbane) again for a 'home' game, it'll be mid-May, with a trip to China also looming the week after. Talk about an exhausting schedule.

If the Suns are to stay in touch with the competition heading into the back-end of they year, this next month of footy is vital. Snagging two or even three wins during this arduous stretch would leave them with at least four or five wins before China and their home run at Metricon -- in an ideal position to launch an assault on their first ever top eight finish.