The AFL finals are finally upon us and we are in for a treat in the first week of the series. The Sydney blockbuster between the Swans and Giants is sure to bigger than Ben Hur. The fact these two clubs are meeting in the finals for the first time underlines how strong the AFL is across the board. Gillon McLachlan would be over the moon with the luck of having an all Sydney final in a game where Melbourne clubs typically dominate.
One of the most intriguing matches from the opening week of the playoffs is the Cats up against the Hawks at Geelong’s Simonds Stadium with Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins all in brilliant form for the Cats. The Hawks also have their own weapons in the form of Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and the miracle worker Cyril Rioli.
In the other matches, the Crows play the Kangaroos and the Eagles meet the Bulldogs in Perth. If you think week one of this series is going to be epic, wait for the grand final qualifiers and the big dance to happen. We reckon a Swans v Cats match-up is most likely to take place on the first Saturday afternoon of October.
Sydney may be minor premiers but they only secured top-billing from a bumbling Hawks team in the final couple of weeks of the competition. However, all in all, the Swans have enjoyed a marvellous season under John Longmire and with Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin firing, anything is possible.
THE GOOD: Sydney is perhaps the most consistently good team in the competition. Watch out rivals!
THE BAD: Away from their spiritual home the SCG, the Swans can dish up some pretty ordinary displays, highlighted by their loss to Richmond in Melbourne earlier this year.
THE STAT: Just two games at the MCG this year with a win and a loss.
THE X-FACTOR: Luke Parker. At one stage, the midfielder was considered a likely Brownlow contender but the ball he provides for his forwards this year has been immense.
THE PREDICTION: Grand Final … too close to call though.
Geelong has been favourites to clinch their first flag since 2011 for a fair chunk of the season, largely thanks to their midfielders Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. With leading goal-kicker Tom Hawkins back in sublime form, the Cats are a fair chance of staving off the Swans and Hawks for this year’s premiership.
THE GOOD: Patrick Dangerfield. The Brownlow favourite is in his element in his debut season at the Cattery.
THE BAD: Losing to inferior teams has been a lowlight of a promising season for Geelong. Losses to Carlton, Collingwood and St Kilda were very surprising.
THE STAT: Won their last flag from second spot.
THE X-FACTOR: Chris Scott. A bit left field but the Cats coach is a tactical master and his use of Dangerfield, Selwood and Rhys Stanley has the Cats primed for a genuine title tilt.
THE PREDICTION: Grand Final … too close to call.
Hawthorn has not been the premiers for the last three years for nothing. Alastair Clarkson’s men are finely honed, hungry beasts and would want a fourth straight title for the first time since the Pies achieved the feat in 1930.
THE GOOD: Been there, done that. Hawthorn has more grand final experience than any other team in this year’s finals and knows how to get the job done.
THE BAD: Desire. Any team who consistently wins titles is plagued by motivational dramas … what motivates the 2016 Hawks?
THE STAT: The Hawks won their last title from third position.
THE X-FACTOR: Cyril. Rioli’s ‘delicious’ feats have been a hallmark of Hawthorn’s success over the last few years.
THE PREDICTION: Grand Final qualifier loss.
GWS is playing in its maiden finals series and probably have every right to feel a little bit daunted by the mountainous task that awaits them. This year has obviously been the Giants’ best and wins over the Hawks, Cats, Swans and Crows have been the highlights of a breakthrough season.
THE GOOD: 2016. The brilliant 2016 season achieved by Leon Cameron’s team has eclipsed anything this GWS side has achieved in their brief five-year history.
THE BAD: Inexperience. Not many players have finals experience and everyone knows finals footy is a different beast to, say, a round 15 match.
THE STAT: No player has finals experience in a Giants jumper.
THE X-FACTOR: Stevie J! Johnson has been epic in 2016 with his new club and between him and Jeremy Cameron; they’ve combined for 92 goals in 39 games.
THE PREDICTION: Grand Final qualifier loss.
In a season that was expected to yield few positives without key man Patrick Dangerfield, the Crows have blossomed from a $34 shot to their pre-finals campaign price of $9. Adelaide has enjoyed a great season and at one stage found themselves in second spot but coach Don Pyke would happily settle for fifth.
THE GOOD: Defying adversity. Prior to the season beginning the Crows were considered vastly inferior to crosstown rivals Port Adelaide but have proved many wrong.
THE BAD: Strike power. Across the park, the Crows will find it hard to compete with the Swans, Cats, Hawks and Giants.
THE STAT: Without a flag since 1998.
THE X-FACTOR: Tex. Skipper Taylor Walker is all class and his monster boot has helped the Crows to many wins throughout his illustrious career.
THE PREDICTION: Elimination semi-final loss.
West Coast would be so keen to avenge last year’s grand final loss to Hawthorn but they may find it hard to achieve from sixth position. The Eagles have gradually improved as the season has progressed and a home semi-final is key to them progressing deep into the finals series.
THE GOOD: Motivation. A grand final loss stings anyone and this Eagles team would still be hurting from the 2015 demons.
THE BAD: MCG. The Eagles’ record at the spiritual home of AFL footy is atrocious.
THE STAT: Won just one of their last three at the MCG.
THE X-FACTOR: Josh Kennedy. The 2015 and 2016 Coleman Medallist can kick a goal from almost anywhere and is crucial to the Eagles hopes of avenging last year.
THE PREDICTION: An unglamorous elimination semi-final loss.
The final round loss to Fremantle collapsed many punters’ views of the Bulldogs collecting a flag this season, especially considering the Dockers finished 16th! Despite that loss, the Dogs finished just two wins shy of the minor premiership in a season that has been one of their best in recent memory.
THE GOOD: Despite the absence of the very likeable and influential Bob Murphy, the Bulldogs have turned injury after injury into a pretty successful season.
THE BAD: History. The Bulldogs have not tasted success for a very long time and defying history can be next to impossible, especially from seventh.
THE STAT: No premierships in 61 years!
THE X-FACTOR: Jake Stringer. He’s kicked the most goals of any of his teammates and has the ability change the momentum of any game.
THE PREDICTION: Narrow qualifying semi-final loss.
You’d think any team that begins a season 9-0 would almost certainly have banked a top four position yet somehow the Kangaroos managed to turn that record into a bumbling 12-10 result. North is given little hope of salvaging a season that saw them go from first to eighth in a matter of weeks.
THE GOOD: Action. Coach Brad Scott made the very difficult decision to potentially end the careers of great Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie as the club looks to new tactics to win another flag.
THE BAD: The Kangaroos’ record over the last five months is atrocious. Surely no team can recover from an eighth-placed position and a poor 3-10 record.
THE STAT: No team has won a flag after going into a finals campaign on the back of three straight losses.
THE X-FACTOR: Oddly enough, Harvey is the key to the Kangaroos having a crack in this series as the veteran enjoys his best-ever season with the club.
THE PREDICTION: Qualifying semi-final loss.