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Previews with punch – Qualifying & Elimination Finals

Last time they met: Geelong’s Harry Taylor had the measure of Richmond star Alex Rance when the Cats last beat the Tigers. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – Qualifying & Elimination Finals

Rohan Connolly    

First Qualifying Final: ADELAIDE v GWS (Adelaide Oval, Thursday 7.20pm local time)

Adelaide has had a habit of shooting itself in the foot in the past when it’s come to golden finals opportunities. The Crows simply can’t afford to this time, the prize for victory a home preliminary final and a grand final berth so close they could taste it. But there’s more tangible reasons for nerves, too, most importantly the absence of midfield heartbeat Sloane, and two defeats from their last two outings. The Giants present a considerable wildcard presence here, too, struggling for much of this season to ever hit a peak due to injury and various ups and downs of form, but clearly a formidable presence on the occasions they have done so. GWS has bitten the bullet at selection and dropped the out-of-sorts veteran Johnson, going instead with the greater defensive pressure of the hard-working De Boer, who will get the job of curbing the run of Crows’ half-backs Laird and Smith. Adelaide made a mess of the Giants at the same venue in round one, and the GWS track record at the venue is poor, just one win from five appearances, none against the Crows. But the Giants’ talent is such they’re never too far away from turning it on. This would be a good occasion to do so.

TIP: Adelaide by 18 points.

Second Qualifying Final: GEELONG v RICHMOND (MCG, Friday 7.50pm local time)

Both these sides have recent finals records which don’t inspire a lot of confidence. For the Cats, it’s 2-6 since their 2011 premiership. For the Tigers, three elimination final defeats in a row between 2013-15. That said, there’s been a steadiness of performance this season which would make a poor showing from either side in this massive Friday night game a major surprise. Geelong has a major plus in the return of skipper Selwood, but the Cats have also had good midfield contributors in his recent absence in the form of Menegola and Guthrie. Richmond has a handy smaller goalkicker and potential midfield presence in Caddy back in the mix. What the Tigers don’t have is a good record against their opponent. Indeed, it’s 20-1 Geelong’s way, the most recent just four weeks ago when the Cats were without three keys in Selwood, Hawkins and Duncan. On the narrower Simonds Stadium, Geelong was able to block Tiger exits, while Taylor did a number on ace key defender Rance. That can’t happen again if Richmond is to reverse what is clearly a significant bogey. This is the biggest game in 20-odd years for the Tigers. I think they’ll give it a very decent shake, but I still think Geelong has marginally the better team and hopes of victory.

TIP: Geelong by 12 points.

Second Elimination Final: SYDNEY v ESSENDON (SCG, Saturday 4.20pm local time)

In a week of hard-to-call finals, this is the one with a clear outsider, Essendon a lucrative $5 to upset the Swans on the SCG. It’s a lengthy price in a two-horse finals race, particularly given how close the Dons came to upsetting their opponent in round 14, but any way you view this match-up, it’s hard to go for a selection other than the home team. Sydney has won 14 of its past 16 games leading into this elimination final. Essendon has won four of its past six, but at no time since the round 17 pasting of St Kilda looked entirely convincing. Injuries have taken a toll, too, via the loss of small forwards Fantasia and Green and key position mainstays Hurley and Hooker. All bar Hooker have returned, but obviously short of a gallop. Against a side that plays as hard a brand as the Swans, that’s significant. Sydney holds the aces midfield through the supremely consistent Kennedy, Parker and Hannebery, and the Swans present match-up issues for the Dons up forward too in the height of Franklin, Reid and either of resting ruckmen in Sinclair and Naismith. Essendon has saved some of its best in 2017 for clashes against better-credentialed opponents. It will need all that and more to be a chance here.

TIP: Sydney by 32 points.

First Elimination Final: PORT ADELAIDE v WEST COAST (Adelaide Oval, Saturday 7.20pm local time)

The Power go into their elimination final having played some of their best football of the season. The Eagles only booked their spot in the last minute or so of the regular season and have been patchy at best. Yet there’s still the potential for an upset here, Port less-than-convincing in bigger games this season, West Coast with a handy record at this venue, five wins from six starts, the most recent a round seven victory over Port. The Power did reverse that, however, when the sides last clashed in Perth in round 16. West Coast decided against taking a gamble on would-be debutant Rioli, but what the Eagles can’t win without is big games from midfield veterans Mitchell and Priddis, who will be stretched by Port’s midfield group of Boak, Wines, Ebert and Polec. Up forward, meanwhile, Dixon seems to be hitting his straps at the perfect moment. Neither outfit is made of the most reliable stuff, but Port’s form is better, the question marks perhaps fewer, and a fiercely parochial home crowd certainly doesn’t hurt. That all might be enough.

TIPS: Port Adelaide by 6 points.

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