Welcome to the 2016 AFL Grand Final Preview. We are down to the final two teams and a premiership decider that is set up to be one of the most epic contested battles we have seen in years. Both clubs come into Saturday having already played 25 matches for the season, after Geelong and GWS become the first dual Qualifying Final winners to lose both Preliminary Finals. Some have blamed that occurrence of the bye after Round 23, but statistical trends suggest that the results were easily justifiable based on numbers throughout 2016 anyway. The Cats hopes were as good as gone after 20 minutes, while the Giants had to fight all the way to the final siren to know their heartbreaking outcome. Sydney were certainly the most impressive side of the Preliminary Finals, blowing the margin out quickly with sharp ball movement and efficient contested possession. The Dogs looked gone at times, but hung on with guts and determination to set up one of the AFL’s great fairy tale stories.
In our final AFL write up of the season, we’ll assess both clubs and give recommendations for the traditional Grand Final markets of the Norm Smith Medallist and First Goal Scorer.
Sydney -2.5 Quarter Time Line @ $1.91
GRAND FINAL: SYDNEY ($1.58) VS WESTERN BULLDOGS ($2.45)
AT THE MCG, SATURDAY 01/10, 14:30
Line: Swans -10.5, Dogs +10.5
Sydney finished first after the home and away rounds, but have had to reach a fifth Grand Final in 12 years the hard way. GWS made the John Longmire’s men look second rate at times during the Qualifying Final, but the Swans couldn’t have responded in better fashion in the Semi and Preliminary Finals. Sydney have kicked 14 goals combined in the two finals against Adelaide and Geelong, again proving that it is the most dangerous team to counter early. The Swans have led at quarter time on 19 different occasions in 2016 and developed a +287 point differential throughout the season. Sydney’s fast hands and ball use against Geelong was breathtaking in the first 20 minutes, while it created a physical intensity that couldn’t be matched. Once the Swans were out to a comfortable margin, the coaching staff were able to tactically dictate terms, despite Geelong getting on top in the midfield. Sydney constantly had two back-men on the deepest tall forward and easily read the Cats predictable long entries, which left Dane Rampe in complete control. Geelong ended with 32 more I50s, but Sydney didn’t mind as the defenders were rebounding with ease and creating scoring opportunities. Although the Cats intensity and pressure lifted in the third term, resembling some poor Sydney moments from the Qualifying Final for a very short amount of time. GWS exposed the same weaknesses against the Swans in both encounters throughout 2016, but have proven to be the only club good enough to challenge John Longmire’s brand for long periods. In the most disappointing story of the Grand Final lead up, Aliir Aliir will miss the big dance with a right knee injury after playing every game since Round 16. Callum Mills and Jarrad McVeigh are very worthy inclusions though.
The Western Bulldogs are on the brink of completing the most famous fairy tale of the AFL era. This is a club that has been success starved since 1954, having not even played in a Grand Final since 1961. It has had five heartbreaking Preliminary Final moments in the last 20 years, but all was forgotten on Saturday night when the Dogs had its greatest victory since that one premiership all those years ago. The Dogs looked gone on numerous occasions, but when Toby Greene kicked a goal at the four minute mark of the final term to make the margin 14 points, the gates looked like they could be opened. Had Tory Dickson not kicked a goal just over a minute later, all momentum could have been lost, but it kicked this club into action yet again. The contested ball winners lifted their intensity and the game breakers stood up, as Bontempelli and Macrae kicked clutch goals in the second half of the fourth quarter that were match and potentially premiership defining. The Dogs contested ball numbers have been lauded all season, but was again the key ingredient on Saturday night. The Western Bulldogs ended with a +16 contested possession and +15 clearance differential against arguably the most dangerous stoppage team in the competition. It also managed to nullify the Giants manic defensive pressure with calm, fast and smart decision making in tight. These midfielders just seem to know the perfect time to release a handball while in congestion and possess elite peripheral vision. Effective contested possession percentage is the most underrated statistical category by media and therefore the public eye. It is the main reason we are seeing the Dogs participating in a Grand Final. The Dogs go in unchanged, with Suckling named an emergency.
I truly think we are set for one of the most physically intense Grand Finals for years. There is no doubt this premiership is going to be won in the midfield, but there are two Sydney key performance indicators the Dogs must control. Nullify the fast start and create intense defensive pressure. If the Swans can be efficient in tight early and score, its confidence grows quickly. Geelong and Adelaide had players ball watching, which created the one weak link the experienced Sydney midfielders needed. The Dogs are a much more capable inside team as we know, but can leave dangerous space at stoppages. That must be restricted, but Luke Beveridge’s men naturally fight to win the ball first. The Western Bulldogs have beaten Sydney the last two times at the SCG, but more importantly proved it can stop the Swans from doing as they please. It isn’t as if this is a long shot for the Dogs, it is a realistic scenario. I still expect the Swans to cover the -2.5 point quarter time line after winning 19 first terms this year, but if the Western Bulldogs are within 2-3 goals at that time, it is game on. The Swans experience must be considered though and it will be interesting to see how the Dogs respond after such an emotion driven week. Have the Dogs already played their Grand Final?
SYDNEY TO WIN BY 7 POINTS
FIRST GOAL SCORER
Sydney 1ST Goal Scorer Stats 2016
Gary Rohan 6
Lance Franklin 3
Tom Mitchell 1
Harry Cunningham 1
Kurt Tippett 1
Jarrad McVeigh 1
Kieren Jack 1
Xavier Richards 1
Jake Lloyd 1
Tom Papley 1
Ben McGlynn 1
Dogs 1ST Goal Scorer Stats 2016
Tory Dickson 2
Clay Smith 2
Marcus Bontempelli 1
Tom Liberatore 1
Koby Stevens 1
Jack Redpath 1
Luke Dahlhaus 1
Shane Biggs 1
Matt Suckling 1
The First Goal Scorer market has become a punter favourite for Grand Final day, but it is usually decided without logic or theory. Above is a list of every first goal scorer throughout the season from the each team, but the most damning factor is probably the difference of total first goals from each club. The Dogs have only kicked the first goal 11 times out of 25 games, compared to Sydney 18 out of 25 matches. We all know Sydney love to hit the scoreboard first and the gap is significant between both clubs. The most eye catching individual tally is Gary Rohan’s, who has scored the first goal six times in just 17 games. At $17.00, he is certainly worth the value. Although Buddy Franklin can’t be ignored. Despite kicking the first goal just three times, he has kicked the first or second score on numerous occasions. Sportsbet has a 2nd, 3rd or 4th goal cash back special, which means the big No.23 deserves serious consideration. Clay Smith is the obvious value pick from the Dogs at $18.00 with two first goals from just 12 games. Dickson is always around the mark early, while Bontempelli has a habit of floating forward in the opening minutes. The First Goal Scorer market can be a stab in the dark, so hopefully this list can help minimise your options.
PREDICTION: Lance Franklin (SYD) @ $8.00 (Sportsbet 2nd, 3rd or 4th Goal Cash Back Special)
VALUE: Gary Rohan (SYD) @ $17.00 and Clay Smith (WB) @ $18.00
NORM SMITH MEDAL
The Norm Smith Medal has become one of the most celebrated awards in the game and as punters, we love to get involved and barrack for our adopted man throughout the entire day. There have been a few different types win the medal of late, with Cyril Rioli, Luke Hodge, Brian Lake, Ryan O’Keefe and Jimmy Bartel playing a variety of positions as the last five winners. But if you gather a stack of the footy, have an influence at the stoppages and kick multiple goals, you are a certainty to be in contention. There are five obvious short price contenders in Bontempelli, Hannebery Kennedy, Franklin and Parker which does create some value with the rest.
PREDICTION: JOSH KENNEDY (SYD) @ $8.00
Josh Kennedy is the type of accumulator that is always going to be in contention for a Norm Smith medal. He just wins enormous amounts of the footy on a regular basis, as seen in the Semi Final when he gathered 42 disposals against Adelaide. He is averaging 32 disposals, 7 clearances and 19 contested possessions from his three finals in 2016. He isn’t the biggest goal kicker or the most eye catching footballer, but his numbers are just too difficult to ignore and the selectors get full access to the statistics.
VALUE: JAKE LLOYD (SYD) @ $41.00
There wouldn’t have been many players in the history of the game who have gone into a Grand Final with over 600 disposals for the season, yet have Norm Smith odds of $40+. Jake Lloyd has been an integral part of the Swans midfield, but is often forgotten due to the bigger names like Hannebery, Parker and Kennedy performing at high levels so consistently. Lloyd is more of an outside player, but an important link up option moving forward. He is averaging 28.71 disposals in his last seven games and arguably in career best form. He must be considered as a cash out option at the very least.