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Previews with punch – The first and second semi-finals

Look out below! Collingwood’s Jeremy Howe on the way down after attempting a screamer against GWS in their Round 2 clash. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – The first and second semi-finals

Ronny Lerner    

HAWTHORN v MELBOURNE – First Semi-Final (MCG, Friday 7.50pm local time)

Two teams have bitten the dust, six still have a pulse and four will be fighting for their lives this weekend in a pair of blockbuster sudden-death semi-finals.

The first one promises to be an absolute ripper as the Hawks do battle with the Demons for the right to face West Coast at Optus Stadium next week in the second preliminary final.

What a whirlwind month it’s been for Melbourne. Having beaten the Eagles (away), GWS and Geelong in the first week of the finals, they are riding a serious wave of momentum heading into this encounter.

Hawthorn hasn’t been as convincing over that same period of time, with narrow wins over strugglers St Kilda and an injury-hit Sydney to go with a comprehensive five-goal loss to Richmond last week.

And it’s fair to say the Hawks are up against it again this week with two key players Ben Stratton (hamstring) and Jaeger O’Meara (knee) both out, along with the omitted Jon Ceglar. Taylor Duryea, David Mirra and Ryan Schoenmakers are their replacements. Unsurprisingly, the Dees, in contrast, head into this clash unchanged.

The midfield battle always loomed as the most crucial one in this contest with Hawthorn needing to rely heavily on big games from Tom Mitchell and O’Meara. But now that O’Meara is out, it looks as though the scales have tipped in Melbourne’s favour.

The Demons’ midfield is incredibly deep and its full potential was on show for all to see against the Cats last week.

Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver, James Harmes, Angus Brayshaw, Aaron vandenBerg and Alex Neal-Bullen led the charge as Melbourne’s ferocious pressure undid Geelong spectacularly. Throw Nathan Jones and Dom Tyson in the mix, and it becomes abundantly clear how tough is Hawthorn’s task.

The Hawks have a very good midfield, too – you don’t finish top four without one – but a lot will rest on Mitchell’s shoulders, as it has done for most of the year.

Expect Harmes to line up on him for most of the night after his sensational performances on Josh Kelly and Joel Selwood in the last two outings.

In Hawthorn’s favour, five of their best players – Luke Bruest, Jack Gunston, Shaun Burgoyne, Ben McEvoy and James Sicily – had off nights last week, so the likelihood of players of that ilk collectively putting in poor performances two weeks in a row is slim.

History is on Hawthorn’s side, too, with only six out of 36 losing qualifying finalists bowing out of the finals in straight sets since 2000. However, recent history tells a different story with four teams in the last four years suffering that fate.

The competition is certainly getting tighter and Melbourne should prove that one more time on Friday night by qualifying for its first preliminary final since 2000 and ensuring Hawthorn becomes the first club to lose consecutive finals as a top-four side twice under the current top-eight system.

RONNY’S TIP: Melbourne by 22 points.
ROCO’S TIP: Melbourne by 16 points.

COLLINGWOOD v GWS – Second Semi-Final (MCG, Saturday 7.25pm local time)

The highly-anticipated second week of the finals will be capped off by another contest that has the potential to be a classic.

Both teams head into this clash in superb form. Collingwood was one quarter away from pulling off the unthinkable against West Coast in Perth last week before falling short by three goals, while GWS handed out one of the most comprehensive September canings in recent memory against Sydney, restricting the Swans to their lowest ever score at the SCG in the process.

Like Melbourne, Collingwood has named an unchanged line-up after resisting the urge to bring back Darcy Moore, who trained strongly this week. The Giants, meanwhile, have suffered a massive blow with Josh Kelly (knee) replaced by Ryan Griffen. Their other change is Lachie Keeffe coming in for Harry Perryman.

Both teams rolled the dice last week at the selection table by bringing back a host of players coming off long injury layoffs and were totally vindicated.

Having said that, it will be interesting to see how Collingwood trio Adam Treloar, Jeremy Howe and Tyson Goldsack go ‘second up’ this weekend, along with GWS quartet Brett Deledio, Toby Greene, Matt De Boer and Zac Williams.

Greene might be small in stature, but he looms as Greater Western Sydney’s most important player. Bruce Lee impersonations aside, the small forward was absolutely sensational last week with 27 disposals, nine marks and three goals.

It was a toss-up between him and Phil Davis for best on ground. With Greene in the team this year, GWS are undefeated (7-0-1). Without him, they are 7-8.

Collingwood has the third-ranked attack in the AFL this year but has found scoring tough in its last two outings with totals of 76 and 70. The Pies will need more out of the likes of Jordan De Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas this weekend.

Both sides are capable of employing a high-octane, high-pressure game, but Collingwood has proven to be one of the best in the competition in that department, shaded probably only by reigning and minor premiers Richmond.

The Magpies are both the No.1 tackling side and, thanks to star ruckman Brodie Grundy, the No.1 hit-out side in the AFL, while they’re also ranked third for time spent in forward half.

Meanwhile, GWS is ranked second both for points from clearances and contested possessions this year. But at the MCG, where the Magpies have won six of their last eight games by an average of 43 points, and without Kelly, it’s going to be tough for the Giants.

GWS has only won two of 14 games at the ground, and while one of those was against Collingwood back in round two, that was an eternity ago in footy terms.

The Magpies have become a vastly better team since then and should qualify for their first preliminary final in six years – a promoter’s dream against arch rivals Richmond.

RONNY’S TIP: Collingwood by 19 points.
ROCO’S TIP: Collingwood by 6 points.


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