AFL WEEK 1 FINALS PREVIEWS
BRISBANE LIONS v RICHMOND
SECOND ELIMINATION FINAL, GABBA, THURSDAY, 7.20PM
The heavy last-start defeat at home to reigning premier Melbourne left a sour taste in the Lions’ mouth, but it was just their second defeat in 11 matches at the Gabba this year. That follows them winning nine of their last 10 matches there last year. Brisbane also beat the Tigers at the venue in a qualifying final two years ago, so there shouldn’t be any lack of confidence.
FINISH THE JOB
Brisbane was 42 points up on Richmond nearing time-on in the second quarter in round 20, only to somehow lose the match by seven points. That fade out cost the Lions a top-four spot and a double chance in the finals. They also conceded eight of the first nine goals in the last quarter against Carlton to risk losing another unlosable match.
Joe Daniher has been a strong addition to the Lions’ attack, averaging two goals a match in 41 games to date. But the ex-Bomber has never kicked more than four majors in a game in his two seasons up north, with more than five years passing since his career-best six-goal haul. This clash is a great time for Daniher to make his presence felt.
Almost nine weeks will have passed since Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin (hamstring) last played, but the superstar midfielder-forward is expected to run out on Thursday night. Whether that means Martin spends more time than usual in attack remains to be seen, but his incredible finals record overrides any potential rust he might have.
How much will the Tigers’ incredible finals record in recent years count in this one? Richmond missed September altogether last season but has amassed 10 wins versus just two defeats since 2017. In contrast, Brisbane returned to the finals for the first time in a decade in 2019 and has been one of the AFL’s best teams. But they have lost five of their six finals in that period.
Richmond is confident spearhead Tom Lynch will play despite ending the season finale on the bench with ice on the right side of his groin. The Tigers are so much tougher when Lynch is up and about. He’s kicked 21 goals in the past month since returning from a hamstring strain and should have Harris Andrews for company in the elimination final.
Brisbane Lions $2
Brisbane Lions $31
Marcus Adams (concussion) test
Callum Ah Chee (concussion) test
Noah Answerth (suspension) 1 week
Blake Coleman (concussion) TBC
Cam Rayner (suspension) 1 week
Tom Lynch (groin) test
Dustin Martin (hamstring) test
Jack Graham (foot) 1-2 weeks
Dylan Grimes (hamstring) 3-4 weeks
ROUND 20: RICHMOND 15.14 (104) d. BRISBANE LIONS 14.13 (97), MCG
WE SAY: All the pressure is on the Lions, which suits the surging Tigers just fine. Brisbane’s defeat to Melbourne was concerning and Richmond is primed to pounce.
EARLY CALL Richmond by 14 points
MELBOURNE DEMONS V SYDNEY SWANS
SECOND QUALIFYING FINAL, MCG, FRIDAY, 7.50PM
RUCK DOUBLE ACT
There is some doubt about Luke Jackson, but he is expected to be fit to partner Max Gawn on Friday night. They are arguably the best one-two ruck punch in the competition and will give opposing coach John Longmire plenty to think about. Does the threat of their matchwinning potential cause the Swans to recall Peter Ladhams to play alongside Tom Hickey?
There were concerns about the Dees’ ability to kick a winning score while Ben Brown went through a form slump and Tom McDonald went down with a foot injury. But they had five players – Kozzy Pickett, Bayley Fritsch, Brown, Jake Melksham and Charlie Spargo – kick multiple goals in at least one game in the last month.
There is no better midfield in the game right now. Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Angus Brayshaw are all among the AFL’s best midfielders and are enjoying outstanding seasons. Brayshaw’s switch back into the centre in recent times has been a masterstroke and gives the Swans someone else to worry about, while releasing Petracca to be damaging up forward.
Lance Franklin might be rising 36 and weighing up his future but remains one of the most dangerous forwards going around. Another 50-goal season is in the books, including eight bags of three goals or more, so Steven May and co. will need to be at their best. A Buddy masterclass could rip the match from Melbourne’s grasp.
Melbourne’s mixed patchy performances with scary reminders of its best football, whereas Sydney’s taking a seven-game winning streak into September. The Swans’ scalps in that time include finalists Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and Collingwood, so this isn’t an empty run. After suffering through slow starts and mid-match lapses early in the year, they have found their groove.
THE NEW BREED
There may not be a more exciting young list than Sydney’s. Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, Logan McDonald, Tom McCartin, Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom, Justin McInerney, Dylan Stephens and Braeden Campbell are all 22 or younger. Get ready for another decade-plus of the Swans being finals staples – and most likely another flag under John Longmire at some stage.
Luke Jackson (corked calf) test
Christian Salem (groin) test
Tom McDonald (foot) TBC
Tom Papley (concussion) test
Lewis Melican (hamstring) test
Josh Kennedy (hamstring) 4-6 weeks
ROUND 12: SYDNEY 10.13 (73) d. MELBOURNE 9.7 (61), MCG
WE SAY: The Demons’ ability to snatch second spot off the Swans and a home final could prove pivotal. Their best football is still probably better than any other side.
EARLY CALL Melbourne by 12 points
GEELONG V COLLINGWOOD
FIRST QUALIFYING FINAL, MCG, SATURDAY, 4.35PM
TOM AND JER(EM)Y
The Cats’ All-Australian forwards Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron each kicked 59 goals in the home-and-away season to finish equal third in the Coleman Medal race. Only Carlton duo Charlie Curnow (64) and Harry McKay (45) came close to that sort of return from a pair of forwards. Hawkins and Cameron were arguably the difference in their round 3 clash with the Pies, combining for nine majors.
MCG v CATTERY
There’s no doubt Geelong would love to host finals at GMHBA Stadium, which has happened only once (a defeat in 2013, ironically). The Cats won eight of nine at their fortress this season but, as usual, will play home finals at the MCG. They have lost nine of their last 13 finals at the home of football, so Collingwood will hope to add to that pain.
Two key Cats – Tyson Stengle and Sam De Koning – are preparing for their first taste of September action. Stengle’s redemption story continues to gain momentum after scoring a maiden All-Australian nod this week, while De Koning looks a genuine star who will take the opposition’s best forward for the next decade-plus.
Two of the most important Magpies in this clash are Darcy Moore and Darcy Cameron. Moore will have the unenviable task of blunting the influence of both Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron as well as making his mark offensively with his intercept marking. Cameron could be a difference-maker in the ruck, where the Cats can be vulnerable on occasion.
No club specialises in the close one quite like Craig McRae’s Pies – just ask Carlton. They are a remarkable 7-0 in games decided by six points or fewer and 11-1 when the margin extends out to 11 points. That must count for something if Saturday’s contest is tight at the end. But the Cats did beat them by 13 points in round 3.
There are some excellent players at Collingwood but no Magpie turns a game quite like Jordan De Goey (with apologies to 34-year-old Scott Pendlebury). De Goey’s brilliance in close helped him win almost five clearances a game this year, which rates elite at Champion Data. His ability to also impact the scoreboard makes him a dual threat.
Jeremy Cameron (hamstring) test
Mitch Duncan (hip) test
Rhys Stanley (adductor) test
Jake Kolodjashnij (concussion) test
Cam Guthrie (shoulder) test
Sam Menegola (soreness) test
Sam Simpson (quad) test
Taylor Adams (adductor) test
Nathan Kreuger (shoulder) test
Tyler Brown (illness) TBC
ROUND 3: GEELONG 16.8 (104) d. COLLINGWOOD 13.13 (91), MCG
WE SAY: The Cats are deserving favourites and it would be a major disappointment if they dropped this one and only add to their underwhelming finals reputation.
EARLY CALL: Geelong by 22 points
FREMANTLE V WESTERN BULLDOGS
FIRST ELIMINATION FINAL, PERTH STADIUM, SATURDAY, 8.10PM
To win a final and a grand final you need A-graders, elite players, those the opposition have to put time and energy in to stopping. In 2022, Andy Brayshaw has emerged as that superstar midfielder, crowned by his peers as the standout player this season and now he gets a finals stage to strut his impressive stuff that could be more than decisive.
It’s hard to know just what to expect from Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe who was rusty in his return from a hamstring injury in the final round win over GWS, with just nine disposals and a single score playing predominantly as a forward. The two-time Brownlow medallist has played just seven matches and will enter the finals series severely underdone but could just as easily explode with some of his best and be a Freo X-factor.
A BIT BANGED UP
The list of “tests” on the injury list is a concern, with Rory Lobb recovering from a hurt shoulder, Matt Taberner nursing a calf injury and Griffin Logue, who could play forward or back, working his way through an adductor issue. But on the plus side, they are the only ones on the injury list, giving coach Troy Longmuir good selection choices.
The rule is you can’t win a premiership from outside the top four. At least once, and nearly twice, the Bulldogs have proven themselves to be the exception to the rule, making the decider from fifth last season and winning the 2016 premiership from seventh. It guarantees that no matter the obstacles, this time sneaking into eighth and having to travel, Luke Beveridge’s men cannot be counted out.
Through the final two rounds Marcus Bontempelli’s coach was letting everyone know his skipper wasn’t 100 per cent and niggling injuries were hampering his output. But on Friday, Bontempelli declared himself over those issues, freshened by the pre-finals bye and ready to go. The Bulldogs can’t win without Bontempelli at his best.
LOCK IT DOWN
If the Bulldogs have had a weakness against their fellow finalists, it’s been trying to stop them scoring. Just in the final month of the season, the Dogs have given up 100 points to Melbourne, 94 to Geelong, and 95 to the Dockers under the roof at Marvel. Finals are more hard fought, but the Dogs have to lock the gates down back to keep their season going.
Western Bulldogs $2.65
Western Bulldogs $31
Rory Lobb (chest/shoulder) test
Griffin Logue (groin) test
Matt Taberner (calf) test
Josh Treacy (illness) test
Hayden Crozier (ankle) test
Jason Johannisen (ankle) test
Dominic Bedendo (knee) test
Laitham Vandermeer (knee) TBC
ROUND 21: FREMANTLE 14.11 (95) d. WESTERN BULLDOGS 11.12 (78), MARVEL STADIUM
WE SAY: The Bulldogs have shown their finishing position doesn’t hold them back form a finals push. But the loss to Fremantle in round 21, and just getting over the Hawks in the final round to sneak into the finals, makes them a worry this time around, especially against the Dockers at home.
EARLY CALL: Fremantle by 27 points