Digby’s AFL Preview – Finals Week 1

Thursday, 7 September

Adelaide v GWS, Adelaide Oval 5.50pm

Most expected Greater Western Sydney to feature in a qualifying final again in 2017. Their graph from last year and the overall talent on their list demanded as much. But they enter this match as underdogs and are facing the prospect of a cutthroat semifinal next weekend unless they conjure up a minor miracle.

Forget the last two weeks of the home-and-away season, Adelaide were clearly the best side up until this point. The loss of Rory Sloane (appendix) is a significant blow, however. He powers the Crows’ engine room and his absence places greater responsibility on the Crouch brothers, Matt and Brad, to win the contested-ball battle opposed to a very capable GWS following division, headed up by young gun Josh Kelly and fellow All-Australian Dylan Shiel.

If Adelaide are able to find plenty of the football at the feet of Sam Jacobs, who was desperately unlucky not to be named the All-Australian ruckman, then their forward line has the capacity to score big against a GWS back line that is talented, but would much rather attack than defend.  Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch, Mitch McGovern and Eddie Betts have compiled some big totals this year, including when these two sides met for the only time this season in round one.

VERDICT: Adelaide by 20 points

Friday, 8 September

Geelong v Richmond, MCG 5.50pm

Of the four finals to launch the 2017 post-season, this is the one that has captured the hearts and minds of the football public. And so it should. Richmond have positioned themselves perfectly to make a serious assault at winning the club’s first flag since 1980, with a crowd of more than 90,000 expected to brave horrible conditions to witness a blockbuster with a capital B.

Geelong defied the odds to beat Richmond at Simonds Stadium last month and will be a stronger line-up in this match given the availability of captain Joel Selwood (ankle) and Tom Hawkins (suspension). But this game is at the home of football and no side feels more at home than Richmond do at the MCG.

As is so often the case, so much depends on the midfield battle. Geelong obliterated the Tigers in contested ball last month and the addition of Selwood alongside Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Menegola, Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and co. can only be a positive. Richmond will look to captain Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia, Kane Lambert and Shaun Grigg to wield an influence and ensure their fleet-footed forward line has enough looks to impact the scoreboard. History says attacking structures such as the one Richmond have employed this season aren’t successful in finals, but we haven’t witnessed a year like 2017.

VERDICT: Richmond by 11 points

Saturday, 9 September

Sydney v Essendon, SCG 2.20pm

Would Sydney have preferred a different opponent to start their finals campaign? Probably. Will what occurred when these two teams met at the SCG earlier this year carry any weight when they square off again here? No. The Swans throttle their opposition better than anyone else and the dominance Essendon enjoyed in round 14 for a sustained period is highly unlikely to be repeated.

We know that Gary Rohan’s one-handed mark and goal after the siren sealed the win on that occasion, but it must be remembered that the Swans kicked 11.20, with Lance Franklin booting 0.6. Franklin hits this final off a good old-fashioned bag of 10 against Carlton in round 23. If the Bombers allow 31 scoring shots again, then they are in a world of hurt as there is no denying John Longmire’s side is in far better form now than it was mid-season.

Essendon will look to Zach Merrett and Dyson Heppell to generate a heap of possessions midfield in order for Joe Daniher to have a chance to make a difference in attack. And he may have to if the Bombers are to get up. No Cale Hooker (calf) leaves a great deal up to him and James Stewart opposed to Dane Rampe and Heath Grundy respectively, although the expected return of Orazia Fantasia is a boost.

VERDICT: Sydney by 30 points

Port Adelaide v West Coast, Adelaide Oval 5.50pm

There is a part of West Coast which hopes history repeats in this match and there is the other side of the equation where they are hoping it does not. The Eagles are 3-0 against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, a record that is borne out of their comfort playing at a ground not that dissimilar in dimensions to Domain Stadium. However, if their back line is exposed to as many entries as it was in the two games against the Power this season, Adam Simpson’s side will, in all likelihood, exit the finals on Saturday night.

The Power held sway midfield courtesy of Paddy Ryder in both matches this season and though they lost the round seven game at home, they were able to exact revenge in the return bout in round 16. Charlie Dixon, Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard don’t need a lot of opportunities to hurt their rivals and will ask plenty of the Eagles’ defence, which relies heavily on the intercept marking of Jeremy McGovern.

At the other end of the ground, the absence of Tom Jonas and Jack Hombsch leaves Port’s defence undermanned. West Coast haven’t been a heavy-scoring side for the most part in 2017, but have shown signs lately of their firepower. Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Mark LeCras are experienced and capable of cashing in on Port’s defensive frailties if their midfielders hold their own against the home side’s quality running division.

VERDICT: West Coast by 5 points

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