Port Adelaide and North Melbourne may be rank outsiders to claim the AFL premiership but it’s great to see new sides pushing deep into September.
Between them, powerhouses Geelong, Hawthorn and Sydney have won seven of the last nine flags. That could well become eight in the space of ten years given the Hawks and Swans are robust favourites to square off the in the grand final.
It is good for the fans and the competition, however, to have some fresh blood challenging these dominant clubs.
Finals upsets add terrific intrigue to the end of the season. It had seemed very likely that the top-four teams of the regular season would, as usual, be the last quartet standing.
Then Port and North turned the competition on its head with unexpected victories last week. Neither team had made a preliminary final since 2007, when they squared off in a lopsided match in Adelaide which Port won by 87 points.
The Power last raised the cup 10 years ago while for North their most recent triumph is a distant 15 years back during their era of Wayne Carey-led ascendancy.
Port, in particular, appear to be a genuine chance of snaring an ultra-rare flag from outside the top four. They seem to be peaking just at the right time following a barnstorming start to the season, a mid-year lull and now a second surge.
As the second-highest scoring team in the league, they have the firepower to trouble Hawthorn, whose potency up forward overwhelms so many opponents.
In Jay Schulz and Justin Westhoff they have a pair of key forwards capable of booting a bag and who demand close attention from the opposition back six.
At their feet are a host of dangerous small to medium goal kickers in Chad Wingard, Angus Monfries, Robbie Gray and Ollie Wines, among others.
It is an Australian tradition to barrack for the underdog. Given the club I follow didn’t even make the finals I’ll be throwing my support behind Port and North this weekend. A grand final match-up between that pair would have been unthinkable just weeks ago. It still remains unlikely but there is that glimmer of hope, that element of uncertainty which will add significant interest to this weekend’s matches.
Snaring a grand final appearance would be a massive boon for either of the unfancied clubs, both of whom have had to dig themselves out of dire off-field situations in recent years.
Port were a basketcase on and off the field just two years ago. After a phenomenal resurgence from the side in 2013, their supporter base was energised and they have recorded an astounding increase in membership this year, spiking from 40,000 last season to more than 55,000 at last count, according to the official AFL website.
That increase is so extreme that they have gone from having one of the weakest supporter bases in the competition to having almost as many members as AFL giants Adelaide, West Coast and Essendon.
North, too, have enjoyed a crucial rise in support, with their membership going from just under 35,000 last season to over 40,000 this year.
Here’s hoping that at least one of these formerly battling clubs makes it on to the AFL’s biggest stage next weekend.