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Previews with punch – Qualifying and elimination finals

West Coast star Jeremy McGovern closes in on Collingwood’s Will Hoskin-Elliott during the Eagles’ win over the Pies in Round 17. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – Qualifying and elimination finals

Ronny Lerner    

RICHMOND v HAWTHORN – First Qualifying Final (MCG, Thursday 7.20pm local time)
The infuriating pre-finals bye weekend has come and gone and we can now finally sink our teeth into one of the most highly-anticipated finals series in recent memory.

And it all kicks off with a bang on Thursday night with arguably the pick of the bunch as the team of the last 15 months (Richmond) takes on the team of last decade (Hawthorn).

The master (Alastair Clarkson) meets the apprentice (Damien Hardwick) and you get the feeling if the Hawks are going to pull off a victory here, they’re going to need to rely on Clarko’s ingenuity more than ever.

Incredibly, this will be the first time ever that the two clubs will meet in a final. These are also the two form teams of the comp, with Richmond winning nine of its last 11 and Hawthorn 10 of its last 12.

The Tigers have replaced the unlucky Brandon Ellis with Kane Lambert, while the Hawks have welcomed back key trio James Sicily, James Frawley and Jon Ceglar. Interestingly, Clarkson opted against bringing back Daniel Howe, who many had earmarked for a tagging role on Dustin Martin.

Both teams are full strength, so it promises to be a magnificent spectacle. Hawthorn’s direct game style has the potential to upset Richmond, but getting past the Tigers’ defensive pillars of Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes, David Astbury and Nick Vlastuin is no easy feat.

The Tigers have been in second gear for the last month of the home-and-away season, but that is symptomatic of a top team not playing for much. History is littered with examples of the best teams flicking the switch in the first week of the finals following a lacklustre lead-in.

You can expect the Tigers to do so as well as they look to extend their record-breaking run at the MCG to 22 wins in a row.

RONNY’S TIP: Richmond by 25 points.
ROCO’S TIP: Richmond by 10 points.

MELBOURNE v GEELONG – First Elimination Final (MCG, Friday 7.50pm local time)
After 12 long years, the Demons are finally back in the big time! There were no premature finals flyers sent out this year, Melbourne is definitely featuring in September.

And, importantly, the Demons head into their drought-breaking elimination final in red-hot form, having beaten West Coast in Perth and GWS in convincing style in their last two games.

The Cats’ recent form line is nothing to be sneezed at, either, with wins against Fremantle and Gold Coast by a combined 235 points boosting their percentage by 14 points. But whether those wins were more like junk food rather than a nutritious homemade meal remains to be seen.

In a huge boost for Melbourne, its inspirational co-captain Jack Viney (toe) has been all but cleared to play his first game since round 16, while Dom Tyson (arm) is a good chance of retaining his spot.

With Geelong basically ruling out Rhys Stanley (calf), it looks as though the Cats will head into a game unchanged, which is very rare under Chris Scott.

Stanley’s absence means fourth-gamer Ryan Abbott will have the daunting task of trying to negate the competition’s most in-form player – Max Gawn. Stanley actually did a good job on Gawn last time in round 18, so to say the pressure is on Abbott is an understatement.

Yes, the Cats have the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett (who plays his first final in eight years), but Gawn almost singlehandedly tips the scales in Melbourne’s favour.

It’s a battle between the AFL’s No.1 attack (Melbourne) and No.1 defence (Geelong) and the Dees know how to play the game on their terms against Geelong, kicking two of the six highest scores conceded by the Cats this year.

Perversely, they nonetheless were losing score lines after two losses on and after the siren. But given just a little cleaner conversion, it should be a case of third time lucky for the Dees.

RONNY’S TIP: Melbourne by 11 points.
ROCO’S TIP: Melbourne by 16 points.

SYDNEY v GWS – Second Elimination Final (SCG, Saturday 4.20pm local time)
It hasn’t taken long, but the competition’s newest cross-town rivalry is already a bona fide one as the Swans and Giants lock horns in a final for the second time in three years.

No other non-Victorian rivals have played in as many finals as these two sides. And boy does this promise to be a crackerjack affair.

There is so much intrigue surrounding the Giants’ selection with the likes of Toby Greene (hamstring), Brett Deledio (calf), Ryan Griffen (hamstring), Matt De Boer (hamstring), Aidan Corr (groin) and Sam Taylor (hamstring) all available.

Does GWS bring them all in at once for a cut-throat final? Probably not. However, it wouldn’t surprise to see Greene, Deledio, Griffen and De Boer all named. The Giants have more quality on their list, and while there is some risk involved in selecting those four players, it’s a roll of the dice that could pay dividends.

Lance Franklin and Luke Parker, meanwhile, are expected to be named for Sydney after overcoming groin injuries.

The Giants might have lost their last two games of the season, but their injury toll reached a critical mass by then and prior to that they had won nine of their previous 10.

The Swans’ late-season form line is a little misleading. Yes, they won three of their last four games, but Franklin saved their bacon twice against the injury-ravaged Magpies and Giants, while Melbourne’s horrible goalkicking in round 21 helped Sydney greatly, too.

Granted, their narrow loss to Hawthorn without Franklin and Parker was commendable. However, this time, assuming Davis lasts the entire match, Franklin might not have it as easy as he did in round 22.

The SCG factor probably assists the Giants considering the Swans have lost six games there this season. A GWS ambush is totally within the realms of possibility and Sydney might just lose a seventh game at their home ground in the same year for the first time since 2000.

RONNY’S TIP: GWS by 17 points.
ROCO’S TIP: GWS by 6 points.

WEST COAST v COLLINGWOOD – Second Qualifying Final (Optus Stadium, Saturday 6.10pm local time)
Of all the finals rivalries shared by this week’s match-ups, these two sides have by far the richest and most storied of the lot.

From the 1990 drawn qualifying final to the thrilling 1994 qualifying final, which was capped off by Mick McGuane’s infamous dropped mark on the final siren, to the heart-stopping extra-time 2007 semi-final, these two clubs know how to produce a September classic.

In fact, if you take away the 1990 qualifying final replay blowout, the average finals margin between them is just 11 points. The Magpies hold sway 4-1-1, but they’re going to have their work cut out for them if they plan on winning their fifth final against the Eagles.

Collingwood can’t be questioned when it comes to applying pressure to the opposition – the Pies are arguably only shaded by Richmond as the best team in that department.

But your weakest links tend to get exposed in the heat of the finals furnace more often than not and the Pies are still missing a great deal of their first-choice players.

They should regain Adam Treloar and Jeremy Howe after long injury layoffs, but almost a third of their best team will still be missing. Contrast that with West Coast, which will only be missing Nic Naitanui (knee) and Andrew Gaff (suspension).

Naitanui’s absence gives Collingwood’s All-Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy the opportunity to impose himself on the contest.

However, the reunion of West Coast’s fully-functioning forward line – Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling, Mark LeCras, Jamie Cripps, Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli – will make the Magpies sweat, especially considering how undermanned they are in defence.

If the Eagles’ midfield provides their forwards with frequent supply, things could get very ugly very quickly for Nathan Buckley’s men.

Meanwhile, Travis Varcoe deserves a special mention for mustering the courage to play just over a week after his sister Margaret tragically died after a mishap on the footy field.

RONNY’S TIP: West Coast by 29 points.
ROCO’S TIP: West Coast by 22 points.


1 Comment
  1. Love the bye. Love that it means we get the best chance for all clubs to get their best players as fit as possible and out there in the finals.

    It takes 23 weeks to get there, and then you can be out in one. I like, as a fan, that I get an extra week to savour my side making the finals (especially as they are in an elimination final and could be out after this weekend). Without the bye it can be all over in a blink.

    And so many people complain about the weekend without footy like that’s such a terrible thing you’d think it was as bad as catching the plague!

    However, I bet the local leagues love it.

    The AFL does need to make more of it tho. Make it celebration week with the Rising Star, the All Australian and the Coaches award and top it off on the Saturday night with the Brownlow.

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