Welcome to the AFL Preliminary Finals preview. We are in to the final two weeks of the season, the business end of the year. Hawthorn have been eliminated and won’t complete a historic four-peat, meaning we have four very evenly matched clubs. Interestingly none of the Preliminary Finalists won a final in 2015, while the match-up of GWS and the Western Bulldogs means we’ll have at least one Grand Finalist that either makes its debut or hasn’t been on the big stage for 55 years. Geelong and Sydney haven’t met in a final since that famous 2005 Semi where Nick Davis kicked the winning goal with only seconds remaining. Considering both Geelong and Sydney have been at the top end of the ladder for the past decade or so, it is difficult to fathom that the clubs haven’t developed a rivalry of note. That could easily change on Friday night though. GWS and the Dogs are the challenging young clubs of the competition and could begin their own rivalry of length on Saturday when considering the scope of each list. The odds are close to what would have been expected, meaning you have to dig deep for value this week.
Geelong Last Quarter -1.5 Point Line @ $1.85
PRELIMINARY FINAL: GEELONG ($1.65) VS SYDNEY ($2.30)
AT THE MCG, FRIDAY 23/09, 19:50
Line: Cats -8.5, Swans +8.5
Geelong earned a direct path to a Preliminary Final and week off after Isaac Smith missed his shot on goal after the siren of the Qualifying Final. The Cats would have been ecstatic to get through considering Hawthorn had almost everything on its terms, excluding inside ball. Geelong were dominant in tight, winning the contested possession count 170-118. It is a category that will be closely watched again on Friday night, although the Cats broke even with Sydney for contested possession during the Round 16 encounter and still lost by 38 points. That night Geelong struggled to get clean possession on the outside, finishing the game with a -30 uncontested possession count. Hawthorn also restricted the Cats uncontested possession, creating a -72 differential on top of taking 70 more uncontested marks. It is an area Geelong must address to be at its peak. Lachie Henderson returns from minor knee surgery, but in heartbreaking news, injury ravaged Daniel Menzel will miss with a groin complaint.
Sydney bounced back from its Qualifying Final loss to GWS in style against Adelaide, running away to a Preliminary Final berth by a comfortable six goals. The Swans started in dynamic fashion, kicking seven first quarter goals to set the tone for the match. Sydney gathered 54 more disposals in that first term and attacked a Crows outfit that wasn’t on its game early. The Swans were back to its contested best on the tight confines of the SCG, gathering 166 contested possessions and a +9 clearance differential. Although the intense encounter left the Swans with more sore bodies, as Gary Rohan was stretchered off with a knee injury and Jarrad McVeigh suffered a calf complaint. Amazingly Rohan looks likely to play and has been named, while McVeigh couldn’t get up with the six day break. Callum Mills won’t play, but the Swans will regain the services of Kurt Tippett.
This is going to be an intense battle. If both clubs had the same breaks and as healthy lists, I’d be confident in backing Sydney as it structurally matches up well against Geelong. Although the Cats certainly sit in the box seat on circumstances. Sydney have a six day break record of 5-1, but haven’t come up against a team in such a battered state. The midfield battle will be fascinating, but the game is likely to be won by the most damaging team on the outside and the wider dimensions of the MCG certainly suits Geelong. The Cats have incredibly lost just two final quarters in 2016 and with one match in 27 days, should be able to out run the Swans in the fourth quarter off a six day break.
GEELONG TO WIN BY 10 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Geelong Last Quarter -1.5 Point Line @ $1.85
PRELIMINARY FINAL: GWS ($1.42) VS WESTERN BULLDOGS ($2.95)
AT SPOTLESS STADIUM, SATURDAY 24/09, 17:15
Line: Giants -18.5, Dogs +18.5
GWS are on the brink of history, hosting its first final at Spotless Stadium with the prize a debut Grand Final berth. It was only a matter of time before the Giants started to produce success, but I think the magnitude and potential of this season has snuck up on everyone. The Giant’s defensive pressure against Sydney was as manic as I have ever seen, racking up an enormous 96 tackles, 32 more than the Swans. Despite losing the contested possession and clearance counts, GWS made life as difficult as possible for its crosstown rival, which saw Sydney’s efficiency drop to 65% in perfect conditions. Once the Giants got ball in hand, its transition and ball movement was spectacular to watch at times. It also helped that Jeremy Cameron picked the perfect time to return to form and finish off the good work of his teammates up the ground by kicking four goals. The only negative for GWS was the suspension of Steve Johnson, who will be available for the Grand Final should it win. Rhys Palmer comes into the side.
The Western Bulldogs have done what no club has managed to do since 2012, knocking off three time premiers Hawthorn in an elimination encounter. The Dogs looked in danger of being blown away in the second term when Luke Breust lined up to make the margin 27 points, but he missed and Luke Beveridge’s men kicked the next three goals to get back into the game. The Dogs were able to expose the Hawks inside flaws again, winning the contested possession count 161-111 and did so with breathtaking efficiency. They were able to move the ball with amazing speed in congestion, even when appearing to be covered. Marcus Bontempelli lifted to new heights, gathering 27 disposals, 13 contested possessions, eight clearances and two clutch goals. The Dogs have been cruelled by injury throughout the entire season and appeared to suffer no new setbacks from the weekend. Although Suckling is a surprise omission with an achilles injury.
I can’t wait to watch the intensity of this game in tight on Saturday evening. It will be the Dogs prolific contested and inside ability verses the Giants crazy defensive pressure and efficient stoppage work. The Giants proved that it is capable of restricting the best contested teams in the competition after its immense Qualifying Final performance and score going the other way. The Round 9 clash saw the Giants win comfortably by 25 points, highlighted by an 80% efficiency rate and a +29 tackle differential. I’m expecting to see a similar statistical breakdown and result again.
GWS TO WIN BY 22 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
GWS Over 90.5 Points @ $1.89