West Coast v Essendon, Optus Stadium, 6.10pm
There is no denying West Coast didn’t finish the home-and-away season in the manner they would have liked, but equally, there are no excuses if they don’t progress to the second week of September.
The Eagles thumped Essendon earlier in the season at Optus Stadium, a venue the Bombers travelled to later in the year and enjoyed success when they met Fremantle. On that occasion, they were thumped in contested ball and aided significantly by the Dockers’ horrid skill level.
West Coast are far more efficient with ball in hand and the return of Nic Naitanui, though underdone, allows the premiers to be considerably more pro-active at the stoppages. If the midfielders are afforded the service Naitanui often provides, the Eagles’ potent forward line will have ample chances to kick a winning total.
VERDICT: West Coast by 25 points
Geelong v Collingwood, MCG, 5.50pm
Geelong’s form since a blistering start to the season has been patchy. A look at the Cats’ win-loss record since their mid-season bye illustrates that. As a result, it has sparked debate about whether Chris Scott’s men are poised to flop in September once again.
One thing in Geelong’s favour however, is the health of their squad. Their prime movers are all in good nick, notably Patrick Dangerfield who enjoyed an outstanding last month of the regular season and shapes as a massive threat.
Conversely, the Magpies look potent on paper, but welcome back Jordan De Goey, Darcy Moore and Jaidyn Stephenson, who are all underdone. Scott Pendlebury will appreciate having Steele Sidebottom back alongside him in his 300th appearance, while Brodie Grundy will fancy his chances of impacting the contest at Rhys Stanley’s expense.
VERDICT: Geelong by 11 points
GWS v Western Bulldogs, Giants Stadium, 1.20pm
Greater Western Sydney started the season with high expectations. But unless there is a dramatic form reversal from both their perspective, and that of the Western Bulldogs, their campaign is about to end prematurely.
The Bulldogs mauled the Giants late last month as they continued their march to September and though the cavalry has returned and others, chiefly Josh Kelly and Matt de Boer are fitter now than they were in that match, GWS are vulnerable.
As for the Bulldogs, the momentum they have established in the second half of the season has drawn comparisons to their fairytale 2016 year. GWS must slow down the Bulldogs’ ball movement and find a way to curb the impact of Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Dunkley, Jack Macrae and Lachie Hunter.
VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 23 points
Brisbane v Richmond, Gabba, 5.25pm
Richmond’s early blitz against Brisbane in round 23 had many wondering whether the Tigers could win by a big enough margin to leapfrog the Lions on percentage, grab second spot and host this final.
We now know that didn’t happen, with the Lions’ ability to stop the bleeding and then fully extend Richmond well into the final quarter highlighting how far they have come this year. Organised, tough and disciplined, they tick a lot of boxes.
So too for that matter do Richmond, who have a wealth of finals experience. The availability of Trent Cotchin (hamstring) and Dion Prestia (Achilles) strengthens a midfield that has been powered of late by Dustin Martin, while twin towers Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt are all class.
VERDICT: Brisbane by 8 pointsMarket Market