Welcome to the Preliminary Finals AFL Preview. Hawthorn and North Melbourne booked themselves Preliminary Final berths during week two of the AFL Finals Series, getting home in encounters that didn’t quite live up to the standards of week one. Neither side will care how their respective games appeared visually, as achieving their target of reaching the penultimate week of the season was a far higher priority. Adelaide and Sydney couldn’t back up their decent performances of week one, both going down in disappointing fashion. The Crows produced a stubborn game plan that was never going to be successful against Hawthorn, while Sydney became the third side in two years to go out in straight sets after a host of key injuries late in the season.
Preliminary Finals of the past have developed a reputation of producing the best games of the Finals Series, while also giving supporter bases their last chance of securing tickets without the threat of corporate initiated limitations. This is the first time that we’ll see both Preliminary Finals played in Perth, as West Coast and Fremantle also enjoyed the right to a week off. The week off has proved to be a significant advantage in recent times, as every Qualifying Final winner since 2007 has reached the Grand Final. During that period of time, every Preliminary Final favourite has also gone on to earn a position in the Grand Final. One of those long running trends will end on Friday night as Fremantle come from the week off and Hawthorn are likely to hold favouritism.
West Coast @ the -14.5 Half Time Line
PRELIMINARY FINAL: FREMANTLE ($2.35) VS HAWTHORN ($1.63)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, FRIDAY 25/09, 20:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER: R15 Hawthorn 4.3 7.6 13.8 17.13 (115) dftd Fremantle 1.2 1.4 3.7 6.7 (43) at Aurora Stadium
Line: Freo +9.5, Hawks -9.5
Fremantle scraped through to defeat a severely weakened Sydney Swans line up during the Qualifying Final a couple of weeks ago, but are presented with an amazing Premiership opportunity. It isn’t very often that a side earns itself a home Preliminary Final in Perth against a team that has been flag favourite for a majority of the season. Ross Lyon couldn’t have his side any fresher after resting a majority of his senior players during Round 23 and then earning last weekend off. Brownlow Medal favourite Nathan Fyfe has only played one game since August 23rd and will be itching to get on the field. Keeping his list fresh worked a treat in 2013 for Ross Lyon when reaching the Grand Final, but the Dockers certainly didn’t look at their best against Sydney. The Swans had nearly as many behinds as Fremantle had scoring shots and entered the forward arc 12 more times. The Docker’s scoring woes have been well documented, but it truly has become a problem since the magnificent early season form. They have only reached 100 points once since Round 8 and that was against an out of form Melbourne outfit. Fremantle enter the match near full strength, with Luke McPharlin the only absentee.
Hawthorn gave a warning to the competition on Friday night that they aren’t a finish force just yet. The Hawks were utterly dominant against Adelaide and left to do as they pleased, running away to a massive 74 point win. All the key performance indicators that require low numbers to beat Hawthorn were off the scale. They gathered 287 uncontested possessions, took 120 uncontested marks and operated at 78% efficiency. Did Scott Camporeale even bother watching Hawthorn’s recent games against Richmond, Port Adelaide and West Coast? You restrict their space and make the key ball users accountable. Instead, the Crows stubbornly went all out attack and it blow up in their faces. I understand that Adelaide are trying to implement an attractive brand, but it rarely works against the Hawks. Ross Lyon will ensure that Hawthorn have far more to think about this Friday night. Jack Gunston has been ruled out again with that combined ankle/knee injury.
This is extremely difficult to predict, especially with the game played at Domain Stadium. Hawthorn were dominant during the earlier clash between the two this year in Tasmania, but you feel Ross Lyon was just starting to ease the intensity. Fremantle must restrict Hawthorn its uncontested possession and take advantage of its scoring opportunities to win this game. Based on Preliminary Final history and results, Fremantle must be considered value at $2.40 with the week off. I’m not game to confidently predict either side though. Despite the prediction of good weather, I’d be surprised if the total game score goes over 170.5 points. Lyon described the Hawthorn vs Adelaide Semi Final as “circle work”, so expect him to lock this game up.
HAWTHORN TO WIN BY 2 POINTS
Under 170.5 Total Game Points
WEST COAST ($1.20) VS NORTH MELBOURNE ($4.85)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, SATURDAY 26/09, 19:45
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER: R10 North Melbourne 4.4 5.4 9.6 13.7 (85) dftd West Coast 1.4 5.11 7.12 10.15 (75) at Blundstone Arena
Line: Eagles -30.5, North +30.5
West Coast head into a home Preliminary Final against North Melbourne as a short priced favourite and the current premiership favourite. It is fair to say that Adam Simpson’s men are sitting pretty after a famous Qualifying Final victory against Hawthorn and the week off. That week of rest couldn’t have come at a better time with Matthew Priddis and Chris Masten certainties to return, while the likes of Jeremy McGovern and Luke Shuey were able to rest sore bodies. It is obvious that Adam Simpson and staff studied for hours to orchestrate a method to defeat Hawthorn, which couldn’t have been implemented much better during the Qualifying Final. They restricted the Hawks to only 202 uncontested possessions and 57 uncontested marks, accumulating to a low disposal efficiency of 67%. It wasn’t about tackling, but restricting space and making players behind the ball accountable. The Eagles were then able to create scoreboard pressure, which resulted in Hawthorn uncharacteristically turning the ball over and making rushed decisions. It will be interesting to see if West Coast implement a similar game plan against North Melbourne, as they certainly possess different strengths.
North Melbourne defied history on Saturday night by becoming the first club to ever reach a Preliminary Final after finishing eighth at the end of the home and away season. Brad Scott and his men will have to defy further history and damning numbers on Saturday against West Coast, with Carlton’s 1999 side the last club to reach a Grand Final from outside the top four. Brad Scott must be applauded for reaching a consecutive Preliminary Final, after his side has constantly been written off over the past 18 months. North Melbourne will be written off again this week, but mainly due to the great form of its opposition and the enormity of winning a Preliminary Final interstate. The Kangaroos didn’t dominate any particular area against an undermanned Sydney outfit, but had numerical victories in most categories. It’s contested and stoppage work was good at ANZ Stadium, but they’ll have to up the ante against a refreshed West Coast midfield. Talls Drew Petrie and Robbie Tarrant are struggling with leg injuries, but will be given every opportunity to get up for the game and have been named.
West Coast are shorted priced favourites and deserve to be. Despite North Melbourne winning the last two encounters between the two sides, West Coast are now performing at a significantly higher standard. North Melbourne’s best chances of an upset are probably held in the ruck, as All Australian Todd Goldstein would need to completely nullify Nic Naitanui’s influence and hurt him around the ground on top. At the end of the day, a week’s break and home ground advantage are significant factors in the Eagles favour. I just can’t see an upset occurring here. The Eagles will be looking to take advantage of North Melbourne’s underwhelming first half form over the last six weeks and they generally don’t win small.
WEST COAST TO WIN BY 38 POINTS
West Coast @ the -14.5 Half Time Line