Last year’s AFL finals series was a favourite’s graveyard, with underdogs winning six of the nine finals. The Western Bulldogs won against the odds in all four of their finals on their way to an unforgettable premiership.
Given the way this season has played out, it stands to reason we can expect more of the same this September. Let’s have a look at what this week’s underdogs have to do in order to claim victory.
First Qualifying Final – Adelaide Oval
GWS ($2.65) against Adelaide ($1.48)
In the short eight-match history of these two teams, GWS have never been able to stop Adelaide scoring, with the Crows averaging 135 points per match against them.
Even allowing for how bad the Giants were in their first two seasons, Adelaide kicked two of the highest four scores against them in that time, running up totals of 187 and 178. Even looking at 2016-17, when GWS made finals, the Crows have won both match-ups, with scores of 107 and 147.
Eddie Betts has brought his own lunch to games against GWS since moving to Adelaide, kicking 4, 5, 3 and 5 in his last four matches. Tex Walker has hauls of five and four from his last two games against the Giants. Stopping these two is going to be critical to any chance GWS have.
Adelaide have also been able to run their own race through the midfield against the Giants, running up over 60 inside 50s in both wins in the last two seasons.
If they are to challenge and beat the Crows, GWS need to apply better than average pressure through the middle and in defensive 50, neither of which is their strong suit.
Leon Cameron has had two weeks to prepare for this battle, to shore up these weaknesses, and tweak his own game-plan to counter that of a team that has had the wood on his. Can the Giants shelve their natural arrogance and make these changes, or will the Ferrari once again rely on its own engine to win the day? It’s Cameron’s biggest test.
Second Qualifying Final – MCG
Richmond ($2.10) against Geelong ($1.73)
The Cats beat the Tigers only three weeks ago, inflicting Richmond’s only loss in their past seven matches. Both sides will have made three or four changes to the teams that took the park in Round 21, with Geelong to look much stronger than they were with Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins in the line-up.
In Richmond’s six wins either side of the Geelong game, they averaged 107 points per game. The Cats kept them to 66. Led by Andrew Mackie, Lachie Henderson and Tom Lonergan, Geelong were able to win the ball back and rebound from the back half of the ground with too much ease. The famed Tiger pressure broke down at Simonds Stadium, and the Cats press was too much for them to handle.
On the much bigger MCG, Richmond has to use the width to spread the Geelong defence when moving forward, and utilise their speed to expose the lack of it in the three backmen mentioned above, creating options inside 50. It will be up to the Tiger midfield to hit those targets in the manner they couldn’t in Round 21.
Equally, when clearing from defence, spreading out to the MCG wings in a way they couldn’t on the much narrower ground will be all-important. The Richmond defence can’t just kick high and long, which plays into opposition hands, quite literally.
Geelong’s pressure has been a strong point for most of this season, but they have been shown vulnerable on the MCG. Their last four matches there have seen an 11-point win over Collingwood after being down by five goals, a three-point win over Hawthorn, plus a 17-point loss to Essendon and a 29-point loss to the Pies in Round 6. The Hawks and Pies finished 12th and 13th respectively. They were not strong sides.
The Tigers will get their chance to win the game and it is crucial they kick straight when the opportunities present, something that has been an issue for them all year.
Second Elimination Final – SCG
Essendon ($4.60) against Sydney ($1.20)
We all know that Sydney has only lost two games since their 0-6 start to the season, both of them to Hawthorn. But Essendon got as close as any other team, infamously surrendering a 13-point lead in the final two and a half minutes. That match was at the SCG, as is this elimination final.
But in order to beat the Swans, the Bombers need to take a leaf out of Hawthorn’s book, and control the game on the outside. Sydney are always going to have an advantage on the inside, especially given the form of Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker.
Hawthorn were +78 and +41 in disposals in their two wins against Sydney this season. Adelaide were +51 against the Swans when they had 21 more inside 50’s and seven more scoring shots. When Collingwood beat Sydney at the SCG in Round 3, they were +70 in disposals. These sides all ran the Swans off their legs through uncontested possession.
Essendon has the speed to win the outside game, through the likes of Travis Colyer, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Connor McKenna and Andrew McGrath. It is absolutely critical that Orazio Fantasia comes up.
The Dons are also going to need to have to be at their best with their foot skills under pressure, so getting as much ball into the hands of Zach Merrett and Brendon Goddard as often as possible will be a key.
If Joe Daniher can get a lot of supply, and catch fire for a period, he is as unstoppable as any force in the game. But, he’s only kicked three career goals against Sydney, from four matches. They have clamped him more effectively than any other team. It’s time for him to deliver against the Swans.
Oh, and the Bombers have to stop Buddy too.
First Elimination Final – Adelaide Oval
West Coast ($2.75) against Port Adelaide ($1.45)
A fascinating quirk has taken place in the last five matches between these two sides – the away side has won all of them (West Coast 3, Port 2). All three of the Eagles wins in that run have been at Adelaide Oval, and they hold a 5-1 record there overall. The venue holds no fears for them, which is a great start.
One area West Coast have troubled Port in the past has been their efficiency of scoring once inside 50, and they have usually been able to find a forward or two to get off the chain. Mark Le Cras and Jack Darling both have season highs of four goals in an individual game this year – Le Cras did it twice times against Port, while one of Darling’s was also against the Power. Last year, Josh Kennedy kicked seven in their only clash.
Up the other end of the ground, the Eagles have to control the air through Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass, with help from Elliott Yeo when possible, particularly given how Charlie Dixon has been dominating for Port. Dixon has kicked eight goals in his two matches against West Coast this season, and took six contested marks in their Round 8 clash.
West Coast can afford to breakeven or even get slightly shaded in the midfield and still win, but they’ll need to ensure their forward-line is working in unison once more, and must win the air battle in their own defensive 50.