Welcome to the Week 1 AFL Finals Preview. While it has been September for over a week now, finally we return to some high intensity footy with the 2015 Finals Series beginning on Friday night. The last few home and away rounds appeared to drag on, but Round 23 ended up being more entertaining than most originally thought. Finals bound clubs rested key players and the bottom sides wanted to finish on a high, which resulted in some strange results.
Thankfully Finals has arrived and at least three first week matches look like being close contests. West Coast vs Hawthorn, the Western Bulldogs vs Adelaide and Richmond vs North Melbourne all have lines under 10 points, while the Fremantle vs Sydney Qualifying Final had the potential of being difficult to predict before the Swans lost a handful of influential senior players. As we have seen in the past, winning a Qualifying Final increases a clubs premiership chances enormously. Not only does it offer the chance to rest sore bodies over the Semi Final weekend, but with clubs from five different states, a Preliminary Final home ground advantage is vital. History suggests that you can’t win the flag from outside the top four, but with questions marks hovering over some of the Qualifying Finalists, the Elimination Finalists would be feeling optimistic at the very least.
West Coast @ the +1.5 First Quarter Line.
QUALIFYING FINAL: WEST COAST ($2.05) VS HAWTHORN ($1.80)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, FRIDAY 11/09, 20:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER:
R19 West Coast 5.3 6.5 9.6 11.8 (74) lost to Hawthorn 2.3 5.5 8.8 13.10 (88) at Domain Stadium
Line: Eagles +3.5, Hawks -3.5
If you told anyone at the start of the season that West Coast were going to win 16 games, finish top two and host Hawthorn in a Qualifying Final, most would have laughed in your face. This is a side that had its defensive stocks obliterated by injury and retirements, while also showing nothing on the field in recent seasons to suggest such highs were achievable. Somehow, Adam Simpson has managed to get his side to click. Its midfield and forward line are obvious strengths, while a makeshift defence has got the job done. Simpson will be looking to get off to a good start like Round 19, but Hawthorn’s dominance at the stoppages that night was too much to hold off. There was one key absentee that night in Nic Naitanui, who will certainly help even up a -13 clearance disadvantage. Chris Masten misses with a hamstring.
Hawthorn have been the raging premiership favourite for a majority of the season, but an away Qualifying Final in Perth isn’t ideal. While the Hawks won by 14 points against West Coast in Perth early August, they were seriously challenged by a side missing key players. Alastair Clarkson and his staff are likely to be putting hours of homework into Nic Naitanui, who didn’t play in the Round 19 encounter as stated earlier. The Hawks outplayed the highly rated West Coast midfielders, but Naitanui’s hit outs to advantage are vital to their stoppage success. Isaac Smith hurt his knee against Carlton, but will be given until the last minute to get up. He has travelled to Perth and been named.
I shouldn’t be doubting Hawthorn, but I’m sensing a minor upset here. History states that is incredibly difficult to win Qualifying Finals interstate and a six day break doesn’t help that. The Hawks have beaten West Coast the last five times though. West Coast will be looking to start fast, as it did in most games after the byes. Hawthorn have lost nine first quarters in 2015, including four of its last six games. 6-15mm of rain is forecast for Perth on Friday, so expect a wet slog.
WEST COAST TO WIN BY 2 POINTS
West Coast +1.5 Quarter Time Line
QUALIFYING FINAL: FREMANTLE ($1.32) VS SYDNEY ($3.50)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, SATURDAY 12/09, 15:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER:
R4 Fremantle 4.2 9.3 9.4 11.8 (74) dftd Sydney 1.1 1.3 5.8 8.12 (60) at Domain Stadium
Line: Freo -19.5, Swans +19.5
Fremantle were the talk of the competition after winning its first nine games and snatching premiership favouritism briefly, but we still haven’t seen anything close to those high early season standards since. Ross Lyon has admittedly gone into preservation mode since a top two position was secured, making the Dockers very difficult to read. Lyon rested a mass of senior players against Port Adelaide, so it isn’t even worth discussing that result. The Dockers do have form in resting players before big Finals, as we saw in 2013 when a fresh looking outfit travelled to Simonds Stadium and caused one of the biggest upsets in years. Nathan Fyfe didn’t train on Wednesday, but is still expected to play. Just a lazy 14 changes for the Dockers.
The Sydney Swans were looking shaky a month ago when it went down to Geelong at Simonds Stadium, but have since managed to win four consecutive games and secure a top four position. Unfortunately, key injuries and unavailable senior players threaten to derail any momentum the Swans had built of late. Kieren Jack, Nick Smith, Lance Franklin and Luke Parker will all miss the trip to Perth. Jack injured his medial ligament against the Suns and is likely to miss multiple weeks, while Smith’s hamstring still isn’t right. We all knew Luke Parker was going to be struggling with that leg injury, but it is the loss of Franklin that has shocked the club the most. Franklin is unavailable due to a mental health issue and it isn’t known when he’ll be ready to play again. The timing couldn’t be worse for anyone involved.
Sydney would have considered itself a chance less than a week ago, but the losses of key senior players hurts immensely. The Dockers are fresh and ready to roll. Hail is forecast, so this won’t be the prettiest Final.
FREMANTLE TO WIN BY 25 POINTS
Fremantle 1-39 @ 2.10
ELIMINATION FINAL: WESTERN BULLDOGS ($1.92) VS ADELAIDE ($1.92)
AT THE MCG, SATURDAY 12/09, 19:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTER:
R4 Western Bulldogs 6.5 10.9 16.14 18.17 (125) dftd Adelaide 1.1 5.4 5.5 10.8 (68) at Etihad Stadium
The Western Bulldogs have been the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season, after many predicted a bottom four finish for the Red, White and Blue. Luke Beveridge has not only managed to implement a successful game plan faster than he expected, but numerous inexperienced players have developed at rapid rates. Everything has worked for the Dogs and now they find themselves hosting an unexpected Elimination Final at the MCG. The Dogs almost gave that home ground advantage up with a disappointing loss to Brisbane, but the Crows couldn’t get the job done against Geelong to steal that right. It is no secret that the Dogs would much prefer to be playing at Etihad Stadium, a ground that has seen it play its most dangerous football. Luke Beveridge’s men played two games at the MCG this season which resulted in a great win against Richmond in Round 2, but a woeful effort against Melbourne in Round 8. Jason Johannisen & Jordan Roughead miss with injuries.
The Adelaide Football Club as a whole have had to deal with the most tragic of circumstances after the death of senior coach Phil Walsh, which makes a Finals berth incredible in itself. The players and staff have benefitted from the unity of playing football and helping carry on a legacy that Phil Walsh began. The Crows have played some scintillating football since Round 15, with an adventurous style and fast ball movement creating a huge amount of scoring opportunities. During that time Adelaide have been the highest scoring team, lifting itself to third overall for points scored throughout the season. Scott Camporeale has been fantastic since inheriting the senior role and couldn’t have implemented Walsh’s methods much better.
Both clubs possess attacking styles, but it is difficult to imagine a shootout in an Elimination Final. Both clubs will be looking to use their attacking strengths with ball in hand, but defensive structures will make or break this game. The Dogs lack both Finals and total games experience, which is sure to benefit Adelaide. The Dogs also lack serious options in the ruck against Sam Jacobs, who could have a field day without genuine competition. Will Minson has been included to take on the inform Crow. That 182.5 Total Point line looks quite high as well.
ADELAIDE TO WIN BY 16 POINTS
Adelaide Head to Head @ $1.92 (Sportsbet lead at any break, cashback special)
ELIMINATION FINAL: RICHMOND ($1.64) VS NORTH MELBOURNE ($2.30)
AT THE MCG, SUNDAY 13/09, 15:20
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTERS:
R6 North Melbourne 3.2 6.8 13.10 16.13 (109) dftd Richmond 2.1 5.8 6.11 10.14 (74) at Blundstone Arena
R23 Richmond 1.4 2.7 7.11 16.12 (108) dftd North Melbourne 2.3 4.5 6.6 10.7 (67) at Etihad Stadium
Line: Tigers -9.5, North +9.5
The Tigers will be met with high expectation on Sunday afternoon at the MCG, as a crowd of 80,000+ people will be dominated by yellow and black colours. The success starved supporters feel their time is now and you suspect the club does too. Damien Hardwick is now Richmond’s third longest serving coach, but is yet to be on the winning side of a Final. He and his players will get no greater opportunity than against North Melbourne on Sunday, with a near full and sunny MCG the back drop. Unlike some teams during Round 23, Hardwick wasn’t keen to flirt with form and potentially sacrifice a home Final by resting players. His side was met by a committed North Melbourne second string outfit early, but eventually ran away with a 14 goal second half. Losing just isn’t an option for Richmond.
Brad Scott went a completely different direction on Friday night to Damien Hardwick by resting its key players to ensure they went into this Elimination Final fresh. It also gave an opportunity to trial some different ideas and gain a stronger opinion on certain fringe players that may need to be called upon during Finals. As expected, resting those key players resulted in some media accusing North Melbourne of tanking to avoid travelling interstate for an Elimination Final. This generated a fiery response from Scott, which appeared unnecessary considering most of the heat was directed toward AFL policies. It is certainly going to be interesting to see whether the freshening method works for North Melbourne, as it did Fremantle in 2013.
I’m finding this Elimination Final extremely difficult to predict. Judging this plainly on 2015 form as a whole, Richmond will win. Although there is more to this than that. North Melbourne have a great record against the Tigers excluding Friday night’s irrelevant fixture, having the last five encounters before. Of those five matches, only one was played at the MCG and North scraped home by 4 points on that occasion. The Kangaroo’s 2015 MCG form isn’t overly compelling, losing to Collingwood in Round 9 and running away late to beat Melbourne last month. Richmond however have won 9 of 14 games at the MCG this year and are far more familiar of its dimensions. It surely gives Richmond a slight edge.
RICHMOND TO WIN BY 10 POINTS
No Suggested Bet