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Previews with punch – The preliminary finals

Josh Caddy celebrates a final-term goal as Richmond puts the foot down against Collingwood on its way to a 43-point win in round six. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Previews with punch – The preliminary finals

Ronny Lerner    

RICHMOND v COLLINGWOOD – First Preliminary Final (MCG, Friday 7.50pm local time)

And then there were four. We are just under 36 hours away from knowing who our grand finalists will be this year and it’s pretty hard to argue that the four best teams in the competition aren’t still standing.

Preliminary final weekend is here, arguably the most magical weekend on the footy calendar, and what better way to kick things off than with a battle for the ages between two of the biggest and oldest clubs in the AFL?

Arch rivals Richmond and Collingwood, with 26 premierships between them, face off in September for the first time in 38 years in what is one of the most anticipated finals games of the AFL era.

It’s Punt Road v Hoddle Street in what looms as the ultimate suburban showdown. History is certainly on Richmond’s side, with Collingwood losing their last six finals meetings between 1969-1980.

In fact, it’s been 81 years since the Magpies bettered the Tigers in a final and, unfortunately for the black-and-white army, it looks as though that drought is set to continue.

Richmond has been the best team this season by quite a margin and it would require a hell of a performance from Collingwood to prevent the minor and reigning premier from making back-to-back grand finals for the first time since 1974.

Yes, the Magpies trailed by just 11 and four points respectively at three-quarter time in their previous two meetings this year before being blown away in the final quarter both times.

And, granted, in round 19 Collingwood were missing Jordan De Goey and Adam Treloar while injuries to Jeremy Howe and Matthew Scharenberg compounded things for them.

But Richmond was missing Bachar Houli, Reece Conca and Jack Graham that day, too, and the Tigers are a different proposition in a final at a ground where they’ve won a record 22 games in a row.

After a lacklustre finish to the home-and-away season, the Tigers flicked the switch against Hawthorn in their first final and are back in premiership mode.

Collingwood has been one of the stories of the season, and getting this far is an achievement in itself in many ways. But one of the Pies’ biggest strengths over the course of the year – their scoring power – has deserted them at the most important time.

The Pies have averaged an alarming 71 points in their last three games, and if they are to be any chance of beating Richmond, they will need that to drastically improve considering the Tigers’ average score is 97 this year.

Part of Collingwood’s problem recently is that its forward line has been a little bit too one-dimensional.

It’s almost become a case of Jordan De Goey or bust with the likes of Mason Cox, Brody Mihocek, Jaidyn Stephenson, Josh Thomas and Will Hoskin-Elliott all appearing to hit the wall at the wrong time of the year.

You can bet your bottom dollar that De Goey will not enjoy as much time and space as he did against GWS last week, with Richmond defenders Dylan Grimes, Alex Rance, Nick Vlastuin and David Astbury all beautiful readers of the ball and brilliant interceptors.

Collingwood tagger Levi Greenwood will probably go to Richmond star Dustin Martin, whose bad corky could ironically be a blessing in disguise as he will probably spend a lot more time in attack where he can expose Greenwood for physical strength.

Collingwood does play a similar game to Richmond, but the Tigers are the original and the best. With more effective avenues to goal than the Magpies, Richmond should be too strong and make its way to a second consecutive grand final.

RONNY’S TIP: Richmond by 29 points.
ROCO’S TIP: Richmond by 22 points.

WEST COAST v MELBOURNE – Second Preliminary Final (Optus Stadium, Saturday 1.20pm local time)

If someone was to say pre-season that the Eagles and Demons would be playing off in a preliminary final this year, they would have been laughed at. Yet here we are.

West Coast was widely predicted to tumble down the ladder in 2018, while doubts remained over Melbourne’s bona fides after the manner in which the Demons missed out on finals last year.

But both sides have certainly given the big middle finger to the doubters. It must be said, though, that Melbourne’s story has captured the imagination a lot more.

After 12 years in the doldrums without a finals appearance, and at times being compared to Fitzroy through that period, the Dees have won two consecutive finals in emphatic fashion and take with them some serious momentum to Perth on Saturday.

There’s a hint of the 2016 Bulldogs and 2017 Tigers about them, and the venue doesn’t hold any fears either given they beat the Eagles there in round 22 in a game which not only secured them a spot in the eight but also kicked off their recent purple patch of form.

The driving force behind their elevation to premiership contender has been an incredibly ferocious midfield unit.

With the uncompromising Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw, James Harmes, Nathan Jones, Aaron vandenBerg, Dom Tyson, Alex Neal-Bullen and, of course, big ruckman Max Gawn, the Demons bat deeper in the middle than the Eagles and will apply enormous pressure.

But West Coast finished second on the ladder for a reason. The Eagles’ midfield ain’t too shabby, and while they’re without Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui, they still have the likes of Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey, Jack Redden, Dom Sheed, Scott Lycett, Chris Masten and Lewis Jetta running around – nothing to be sneezed at.

After adding the scalp of Tom Mitchell to his impressive collection last week, Harmes will probably go to Yeo following his best-on-ground performance against Collingwood in week one.

It’s a cliché, but the battle of the midfields will be absolutely crucial in this game, because if the Eagles manage to get on top in that part of the ground, it will give West Coast’s deadly forward line the chance to break the game open.

West Coast is 11-0 this year when Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling have been in the same team and with a support cast of Jamie Cripps, Willie Rioli, Mark LeCras and Liam Ryan, the potential for Demon disaster becomes abundantly clear.

In fact, the Eagles’ potency in attack forced Melbourne to drop Bayley Fritsch and replace him with Joel Smith. West Coast also made a change with Will Schofield coming in for Brad Sheppard (hamstring).

This game promises to be an absolute epic. The Dees have the superior midfield, but the Eagles have the superior forward line and that might just be the thing that gets Adam Simpson’s team into its second grand final in four seasons.

RONNY’S TIP: West Coast by 4 points.
ROCO’S TIP: West Coast by 16 points.


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