It’s hard to tell who’s more excited that the AFL Finals are upon us: the footy public, who had to endure that ridiculous bye nonsense, or Richmond, who finally have something else to draw our attention away from their flaming car wreck that they continue to pour petrol on.
But let’s get down to business. This weekend we’ve got seven worthy teams (well, eight if you absolutely must count North Melbourne) all fresh and ready to take on September. Here’s how we see it playing out.
WEST COAST vs WESTERN BULLDOGS
Timing can be everything in footy. West Coast ($1.26) were just about write-offs halfway through the year as they struggled to find anything close to the form that carried them to last year’s Grand Final. Fast forward three months, however, and here’s a team that’s won nine of its last 10, finally learned how to win on the road – beating two top eight sides away from home in the process – and looks like it might do a bit of damage over the next couple of weeks. The Eagles will have to do it without a decent ruckman, of course, with Nic Naitanui out for the year and Scott Lycett pretty banged up.
Speaking of no ruckman, how about those Bulldogs? The Dogs ($4.00) have toiled away without a true big man all season and have done an outstanding job to reach the finals, considering their injury toll. But the tide might finally be turning, with injured quartet Jordan Roughead, Easton Wood, Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae all coming good just in time to make the flight to WA. And then there’s Jake Stringer, who’s done all the right things to ensure he claims the prize for the AFL’s most overrated player, but has been given an 11th-hour reprieve and returns to the seniors in the hope that he’ll provide the spark his team needs to keep their finals flame burning. But will it make a difference against West Coast at Subiaco? Unlikely.
Last time they met: Rd 11 – Bulldogs 12.11 (83) def West Coast 11.9 (75)
Best bet: West Coast 1-39 ($2.00)
GEELONG vs HAWTHORN
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in footy, Geelong and Hawthorn get drawn to play each other in a final. I mean, what are the chances? It’s a true once-in-a-lifetime event that I’m sure we’ll all savour. On the available evidence, you’d have to say Hawthorn ($2.35) couldn’t possibly win another flag this year, after a month of pretty ordinary footy, including losses to West Coast and Melbourne and a one-point win against Collingwood. In fact, they’ve been average all year, doing just enough to win but without getting anywhere near their form from previous seasons. But this is finals, and if there’s one thing Hawthorn knows, it’s how to crush everyone’s souls in finals.
Geelong ($1.61) tuned up for finals with a couple of weekend training sessions against Melbourne and Brisbane in recent weeks, and didn’t drop a game after Round 16. Their timing couldn’t be better, and the question for Hawthorn will be who’s going to stop Patrick Dangerfield? The Cats recruit collected a lazy 43 disposals when the teams clashed in Round 1, and while Hawks stars Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis also had plenty of it, Danger was the difference. Geelong ($1.64) have won just one of their last six finals against Hawthorn, but they’re clearly the form team here.
Last time they met: Rd 1 – Geelong 18.8 (116) def Hawthorn 12.14 (86)
Best bet: Geelong 1-39 ($2.10)
SYDNEY vs GWS
Well, they did it. The AFL, that is. Just a handful of years after the league dropped a footy team into an area that couldn’t care less about footy, and sent a river of cash and draft picks through the place, Greater Western Sydney has reached its first finals series. It’s not that simple of course – Gold Coast have shown us all how to pour that money down the drain and end up back where you started. But there’s some genuine excitement and expectation around what GWS ($2.95) might be able to do over the next month. Almost all of their significant draft picks and investments have come good, including forward Jon Patton, who’s looking better by the week, and they’ve got an almost full-strength list to choose from.
In even better news for the Giants, the AFL did them another favour and scheduled this Sydney derby at ANZ Stadium, rather than the SCG. But Sydney ($1.42) finished atop the AFL ladder for a reason. Yes, they had a cushy run home, but the Swans ran riot over the last five rounds of the season. They’ve got easily the most midfield depth of any team in the competition, with Kieran Jack, Josh Kennedy, Tom Mitchell, Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker all absolute A-graders, and with Lance Franklin doing almost as he pleases these days, it’s hard to see how the Swans won’t get more than enough forward supply to win this one comfortably.
Last time they met: Round 12 – GWS 15.15 (105) def Sydney 9.9 (63)
Best bet: Sydney -15.5
ADELAIDE vs NORTH MELBOURNE
North Melbourne can really hit this one with confidence. The Roos ($5.00) enter the finals series having lost 10 of their last 13 games, including their last four in a row, and have all but admitted they’ve got stuff all chance of winning a game in September by announcing weeks ago that four veterans wouldn’t be offered contracts for next year. It’s inspirational stuff from North, who could welcome back forward Jarrad Waite, but at whose expense? They’d be brave to drop Drew Petrie for what will likely be his final AFL game, so it’s likely to be Majak Daw who’s on the block.
Adelaide, meanwhile, appeared all but unbeatable at home until West Coast finally learned how to play away from Subiaco last week and gave the Crows a touch-up that cost them a top four spot. They’ll have a couple of handy additions this week, with their best midfielder Rory Sloane back from suspension and Brodie Smith also in the frame as he recovers from a concussion. The Crows ($1.18) scored 40 times to North’s 17 the last time the team’s met, but only won by 33 points. They won’t be mucking around this time – if the Crows kick straight on Saturday evening, they’ll win by 10 goals plus.
Last time they met: Rd 14 – Adelaide 12.28 (100) def North Melbourne 10.7 (67)
Best bet: Adelaide -32.5