Welcome to the AFL Semi Finals preview. Week one of the 2015 AFL Finals Series produced record TV numbers and four games that were worthy of their statuses. It all started on Friday Night as West Coast became the new flag favourite, easily defeating the reigning premier Hawthorn by 32 points. It was followed by a surprisingly tight tussle between Fremantle and Sydney on Saturday Afternoon, which saw the Dockers get home by 9 points and set up a second Perth based Preliminary Final.
The Elimination Finals were just has fascinating, as we said goodbye to Richmond and the Western Bulldogs for season 2015. The Dogs and Adelaide produced one of the most attractive games of the season as the ball moved from end to end with blistering speed, concluding with two 100+ point totals and an epic small margin. The weight of expectation was once again too much for the Tigers to handle, as the Yellow and Black Army suffered through a third consecutive Elimination Final loss.
Qualifying Final losers Hawthorn and Sydney will now host Adelaide and North Melbourne respectively in knock out Semi Finals, a stage that saw two top four sides eliminated in straight sets last year. 2014 was an exception to the usual rule that generally sees all top four sides reach the Preliminary Finals, but it proves that Hawthorn and Sydney must be at their best in a competition that has evened up significantly in recent seasons. Punting wise, it was great to see some season long trends become relevant and trust worthy again.
Hawthorn @ the -4.5 First Quarter Line
SEMI FINAL: HAWTHORN ($1.30) VS ADELAIDE ($3.65)
AT THE MCG, FRIDAY 18/09, 19:50
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER: R12 Adelaide 4.1 7.2 11.7 12.13 (85) lost to Hawthorn 6.2 9.6 13.9 17.12 (114) at Adelaide Oval
Line: Hawks -22.5, Crows +22.5
It ended up being a horror trip to Perth for Hawthorn as it went down to new premiership favourite West Coast by 32 points. The loss could end up being the most important result of the season, as the Hawks will now have to travel to Perth yet again (should it win this week) to play for a Grand Final berth and keep its “Threepeat” ambitions alive. I believe that teams have worked out how to beat Hawthorn, the hard part now is just implementing that plan. Adam Simpson’s defensive structures worked superbly, throttling Hawthorn of any space and making their key ball users accountable. The Hawks disposal efficiency of 67% on Friday night was well below its 2015 average of 76%, proving that the Eagles disciplined methods were effective. The Hawks even managed to have a clear win at the stoppages with 10 more clearances, but consistently turned the ball over at half forward and the Eagles made them pay on the rebound. Jack Gunston will at the very least miss this week with that knee/ankle injury, while Isaac Smith looked nowhere near 100%.
It is no secret that Adelaide have been looking to play a fast paced, aggressive style and it was brilliant put on show against a Western Bulldogs side who had similar ideals. When the two positive game plans combined, it provided a spectacle that left a smile on every viewer’s face. The high scoring epic wasn’t completely perfect with numerous examples of poor turnovers and near non-existent defensive strategies, but it all just felt so right. Eddie Betts and Taylor Walker were outstanding with eight goals between them, but it was Walker’s two bounce run and kick to set up Charlie Cameron’s match winning goal that put the cherry on top of a satisfying match for the neutral supporter. Scott Camporeale will encourage his side to attack again on Friday night, but he must ensure his defensive methods aren’t as leaky against the Hawks. He’ll also want to avoid replicating the -20 clearance differential recorded against the Dogs, a number they plain and simply won’t get away with playing Hawthorn.
This is almost certain to be a high scoring encounter, but the outcome will be determined by how efficient Hawthorn is. If the Hawks operate at 75-80% disposal efficiency, it is difficult to see Adelaide winning. Excluding its ridiculous 8 goal first quarter against West Coast in Round 22, Adelaide have started games flat ever since it travelled to Sydney in Round 18. Look for the Hawks to expose that again on Friday night. Hawthorn will be looking to make it six consecutive wins against the Crows.
HAWTHORN TO WIN BY 25 POINTS
Hawthorn @ the -4.5 First Quarter Line
SEMI FINAL: SYDNEY ($1.54) VS NORTH MELBOURNE (2.50)
AT ANZ STADIUM, SATURDAY 19/09, 19:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER: R11 North Melbourne 3.4 4.6 8.11 10.15 (75) lost to Sydney 4.3 9.5 12.7 14.7 (91) at Etihad Stadium
Line: Swans -10.5, North +10.5
Sydney eventually went down to Fremantle by 9 points in the Qualifying Final, but it is impossible to fault the effort and commitment put in by the players to get so close. The Swans were horrendously undermanned coming into the game with names like Franklin, Parker, Smith and Jack all missing the trip west. Sydney have developed a reputation and culture in the last decade or so that sees its players give 100% on any occasion and Saturday afternoon was no exception. You can easily argue that the Swans outplayed Fremantle for large portions of the match, but it just didn’t take its chances. John Longmire will begrudge the fact that his side ended the game with 12 more inside 50s and 6 more scoring shots. Kicking for goal is the most underrated statistic in the game and you just can’t afford to be running at 28% scoring accuracy at any time, let alone during an away Qualifying Final. The Swans are likely to regain the services of Nick Smith, but a hamstring injury to Sam Reid is a massive blow. Jack, Parker and Franklin won’t be seen either.
North Melbourne didn’t go into the Elimination Final against Richmond with huge expectations externally, but surprised most of its critics with a statistically comprehensive win. Richmond’s straight kicking and final 17 point margin didn’t quite justify just how dominant North Melbourne were on the day, as the match ended with some lopsided numbers. The Kangaroos had 13 more inside 50s, had 12 more shots on goal and ended with a +33 contested possession differential. It also restricted the Tigers to just 283 disposals and ensured their key ball winners had a minimal influence on the game. Ben Jacobs tagging effort on Trent Cotchin was so good that he kept the Richmond skipper to a career low 9 disposals! Then there was the four goal performance of Jarrad Waite, who basically justified his recruitment on Sunday alone. You get the feeling that Richmond were just as bad as North Melbourne were good, but the boys from Arden Street will get a massive confidence boost from this.
I’m sensing an upset here. Sydney gave their heart and soul in a taxing encounter against Fremantle and need to recover from a long flight on top. With Franklin already out, the loss of Sam Reid structurally is significant. The Swans were dominant during the Preliminary Final against North Melbourne last year in a clash that will be exactly 12 months to the day on Saturday. This Sydney outfit appears far more vulnerable though and North have been given a great opportunity to reach a second consecutive Preliminary Final. In saying that, this North Melbourne side can be difficult to trust at times. Rain is expecting in Sydney on Saturday, so be prepared for potential sloppy conditions.
NORTH MELBOURNE TO WIN BY 6 POINTS
North Melbourne Head to Head @ $2.50 (Sportsbet Lead At Any Break Money Back Special)