Welcome to the AFL Semi Final weekend preview. While we had to wait an extra week, the quality of the first week of finals didn’t let us down with some performances and results that won’t be forgotten. Geelong and GWS were the big winners, each claiming famous victories to progress to preliminary finals and earn the week off. West Coast and North Melbourne won’t be seen again in 2016 after disappointing Elimination Final results, while the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide lived to fight another day. Losses to Hawthorn and Sydney mean they will have to win the premiership the hard way through a Semi Final, something both clubs have achieved in 2015 and 2005 respectively. We are now at a stage where I genuinely believe any of the six remaining sides can win the flag. Geelong and GWS are currently obvious short priced favourites at $3.00 and $3.25, but the winners of the Semi Finals are sure to be backed well next week. If you think one of the semi-finalists can win, there is no better time to back them for the premiership than now.
Hawthorn -2.5 Quarter Time Line @ $1.93
SEMI FINAL: HAWTHORN ($1.56) VS WESTERN BULLDOGS ($2.50)
AT THE MCG, FRIDAY 16/09, 19:50
Line: Hawks -10.5, Dogs +10.5
Isaac Smith had the opportunity to take Hawthorn straight to a Preliminary Final on Final night after the siren against Geelong, but his kick faded to the right for a behind and has left the Hawks needing to win the flag the hard way. The Qualifying Final was a genuine epic and will go down in footy folklore, but it is a match Alastair Clarkson will want to forget quickly. Hawthorn were able to play on its own terms for most of the night, ending the match with a +72 uncontested possession differential and an enormous +70 uncontested mark advantage. Although it was again destroyed in the contested possession stakes, finishing -52. The two teams were playing contrasting styles, but Hawthorn must now begin to limit the inside damage of all opposition. Hartung and Sicily replace Burton and Howe.
The Western Bulldog’s result on Thursday night was arguably the clubs best finals win since 1954. The Dogs claimed its first ever interstate finals victory, easily disposing of West Coast by 47 points. Luke Beveridge’s men were back to its inside best, creating clear advantages in the contested possession (162-139) and clearance (40-32) counts. Its presence and physicality without the ball was fantastic, while the intensity rarely dropped when the game was still alive. The Dogs also managed to take advantage of Nic Naitanui’s absence, despite losing the hit out count comprehensively. The Dogs will be without Lin Jong after breaking his collarbone early in the Elimination Final, but have proven that depth is rarely a problem with Toby McLean coming into the side.
Hawthorn have defeated the Western Bulldogs in the last eight encounters, but I doubt that counts for much on Friday night. The Hawks won by three points in Round 3 at Etihad Stadium, but a knee injury to Bob Murphy in the match winning marking contest against Sicily led to minimal defensive pressure. The Dogs limited the Hawk’s uncontested possession and comfortably won the inside numbers that day. Replicating those KPIs could result in an upset here, but we all know Hawthorn bounce back so well. The Hawks made a first quarter statement in the 2015 Semi Final against Adelaide, kicking eight goals. I expect the reigning champ to flex its muscle early again.
HAWTHORN TO WIN BY 12 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Hawthorn -2.5 Quarter Time Line @ $1.93
SEMI FINAL: SYDNEY ($1.56) VS ADELAIDE ($2.50)
AT THE SCG, SATURDAY 17/09, 19:25
Line: Swans -10.5, Crows +10.5
The Swans went into its first finals encounter against little brother GWS knowing it possessed the required and greater experience, but almost looked surprised by the ferocity of the defensive efforts it was receiving. Sydney were physically smashed from all directions and constantly struggled to get a clear possession away. Its disposal efficiency dropped to 65% despite fine conditions, while it struggled to look dangerous when it eventually entered the arc. Franklin, Tippett, Rohan, Heeney and Richards couldn’t kick a goal between them, which obviously restricted the remaining scoring options. Injuries have also hurt the Swans with Rising Star winner Callum Mills pulling a hamstring and Kurt Tippett having a hairline fracture in his jaw. Both will miss this game and are no guarantees to play again in 2016. Jeremy Laidler and Toby Nankervis are the lucky replacements.
Adelaide were the only side to go about its business as expected, easily accounting for a struggling North Melbourne by 62 points. The Crows were back to their scoring best, finishing with an impressive 141 points and an amazing 15 second half goals. Although the star of the night was Eddie Betts, who proved again to be the most dangerous goal kicking small forward in the competition. His six goals on Saturday night has lifted him to an outstanding 72 goals for 2016, numbers rarely seen by a player his size in the modern era. Adelaide ended the match with significant advantages in contested ball, clearances and defensive pressure on Saturday night, which is a dangerous combination when mixed with its scintillating ball movement. The Crows look to be settled, naming an unchanged side.
Another Semi Final that is very difficult to predict. Sydney have two vital outs in Tippett and Mills, which certainly works in the Crows favour. But the tight confines of the SCG should ensure Adelaide’s fast rebounds are easier to defend with disciplined structures. The Crows won the Round 4 encounter by 10 points in a high scoring contest, but don’t expect another free flowing spectacle. Adelaide’s Round 23 exposure against West Coast is still in the back of my mind, leaning me slightly in Sydney’s favour.
SYDNEY TO WIN BY 8 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Taylor Walker 3 or More Goals @ $3.75