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Previews with punch – Preliminaries to the biggest dance

Hideously underrated: Adelaide’s Richard Douglas kicks his fourth goal in Adelaide’s 21-point win over Geelong in round 18. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – Preliminaries to the biggest dance

Rohan Connolly    

ADELAIDE v GEELONG (Adelaide Oval, Friday 7.20pm local time)

Adelaide rightly goes into this game favourite, but still not without some anxiety about both the occasion and the opponent.

It’s been nearly two decades since the Crows’ last flag, and they’ve never been better placed to win one. But they’ve also had a nasty habit of coming unstuck in September despite 11 finals appearances since then, the tale of woe including four preliminary final defeats.

So, too, has Geelong been a repeated thorn in Adelaide’s side, the round 18 victory over the Cats at this same venue their first in six attempts.

What should offer some comfort is the way that game was won compared to what happened in the earlier round 11 loss at Simonds Stadium.

That evening, Geelong stopper Scott Selwood kept Adelaide midfield heartbeat Rory Sloane quiet and the Crows shrivelled as a result. In the latter meeting, Sloane got off the chain and his team dominated until a late flurry from the visitors.

But unlike earlier in the season, it wasn’t Sloane or bust for the home side. Adelaide’s midfield unit is batting a lot deeper now, with both Matt and now Brad Crouch on fire, Richard Douglas still hideously underrated, Rory Atkins and Charlie Cameron doing their bit, while in the round 18 win it was the Crows’ turn to shut down a Geelong key, Riley Knight getting the better of Joel Selwood.

Adelaide beat Geelong in the contested ball and almost doubled the Cats for clearances. And with that much supply, the AFL’s best forward set-up couldn’t help but kick a decent and winning score.

It means to be a chance, Geelong simply has to have all midfield guns blazing, much as occurred last week against Sydney, when the form of Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola allowed the relative luxury of Patrick Dangerfield spending much time forward with great effect. The Cats will also need a competitive Zac Smith in the ruck against Sam Jacobs.

The return of Nakia Cockatoo is a big gamble, given just one appearance in Geelong’s last 12 games, but his dash and x-factor is a risk worth taking. As for Dangerfield, the Crows will hardly be unprepared for him to play a goalkicking role again after last week.

Tom Lonergan is a critical inclusion given the presence of three quality talls in Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch and Josh Jenkins, the Crows lamenting the absence of Mitch McGovern, who might have stretch the Geelong backline to breaking point.

For Adelaide, Brodie Smith’s loss obviously looms large as well, but besides Rory Laird, either Paul Seedsman or David Mackay are capable of playing a rebounding role.

And it’s Adelaide’s depth and flexibility which is still perhaps a little underestimated. It’s been a major part of the Crows’ virtual season-long occupation of the top of the ladder, and it shapes as a trump card here, too.

TIP: Adelaide by 18 points.

RICHMOND v GWS (MCG, Saturday 4.45pm local time)

Tackling and defensive pressure. That’s probably the key to this game, and whether Richmond reaches its first grand final in 35 years or whether the AFL’s new kid makes it only its sixth season in the competition.

The Tigers do it better than just about anyone, and in their round 18 win over the Giants at this same ground completely shut down the much-vaunted GWS midfield group with fierce pressure, the result that after a bright start, the Giants were held goalless for nearly two full quarters.

Richmond did it pretty well in the round nine clash, too, well enough to be going into this game with a 2-0 season record over the opponent were it not for that well-documented brain fade at a final GWS kick-in and a last-minute goal which enabled the Giants to pinch victory.

Bringing that heat will be the difference once more because, as GWS proved in an impressive return to form last week against West Coast, give the Giants’ on-ball army the slightest bit of room and they can wreak havoc.

In both previous meetings this season, there have still been moments when the likes of Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield, Dylan Shiel and Tom Scully have broken the chains, and the outcome has been goals in a hurry.

In round nine, they came in a rush in the last quarter after Richmond had led by at one stage five goals, and even in the return clash it was the Giants who made the early running with 3.4 to two behinds in the first quarter before the rain set in and gave the Tigers more of the scrap they were looking for.

Not that GWS aren’t themselves capable of playing the tough game. And to that end the presence of Stephen Coniglio, absent in both previous clashes, is a big one, the impressive Sandgroper capable of winning ball both inside and outside.

So will the Giants be looking for a big start from skipper Callan Ward, whose hardness at the contest set the tone last week against the Eagles.

Both teams, perhaps predictably, go in unchanged. And there’s not much doubt that while on paper the Giants’ loss of both ruckman Shane Mumford and forward Jeremy Cameron should have been big losses, GWS actually looked a lot more balanced as a result.

With Rory Lobb impressive in the ruck, and Jonathon Patton comfortable as a sole key forward target, the smaller Toby Greene and Steve Johnson came into their element. Both will need to be “on” this week, too, for the Giants to have a chance.

For Richmond, though, there are advantages other than just the tangibles. Like a crowd of 90,000 or more virtually all barracking for the home side, GWS having played in front of more than 46,000 just twice in their entire history. Not to mention a 10-2 record at the MCG compared to the GWS record of just one win from 11 starts.

Every little bit will count for the Tigers, whose consistency all season has been admirable. They play finals-type football, and this is the perfect stage for it.

TIP: Richmond by 24 points.

  1. Cats by 3 points.
    GWS by 27 points.

  2. Perhaps it’s just my Geelong bias but I give the Cats a real chance tonight.
    Our last game against the Crows, Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins were battling a virus, it was Scott Selwood’s first game back from injury (a mistake to start him on the bench)
    Geelong lost Blicavs to an ankle injury, and Paddy probably shouldn’t have played with his ankle injury from the week before.
    I expect Geelong to go in tonight with plenty of belief from the week before and we just don’t know the roll on effect of playing only one game in three weeks for the Crows – will they be a bit rusty to begin with, allowing Geelong to get away with a good start?
    Either way I expect it to be a ripper!

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