The 2019 AFL home-and-away season has been one of the most tightly contested in recent years, and even after 22 rounds it’s difficult to pick a clear favourite for the flag.
Round 22 proved a crucial weekend for many teams. With massive clashes, it rocked the standings, altering ladder positions and finals hopes. Brisbane bested Geelong in a close clash at the Gabba and the Tigers overcame the Eagles during a wet outing. Essendon and North Melbourne both bounced back and the Bulldogs surged and dominated a questionable Giants outfit, while both Adelaide teams choked in crucial clashes that could see the Crows and Port miss the finals.
This article will attempt to predict the top eight – itself a challenge – in order to forecast the results of the finals.
Firstly, based on a number of reasons, including recent performances and the opponents each team faces during the final round of the season, I have come the conclusion – after hours of deliberation – of this top eight prediction:
I struggled between putting Geelong or Brisbane on the top of the table. Geelong will definitely get the win over Carlton – while the Blues have been playing well, Geelong have more to play for this round.
The question came down to who would win the clash at the MCG on Sunday between Richmond and Brisbane. While the Lions are in good form and I would like to see them secure the minor premiership, the Tigers are also in terrific form, proving so against arguably premiership favourites West Coast on Sunday. The clash is at the MCG, which also gives the Tigers an advantage over the Lions, and while the game will be a battle, Richmond will escape with the win and secure themselves a top-four spot.
Collingwood is literally a lock for fifth on the ladder and can only secure a top-four spot if they beat Essendon on Friday night and if Richmond or West Coast lose their matches. West Coast will not lose to the Hawks – if they do it would be a shock. GWS will not move from sixth position. They have a match against Gold Coast this weekend, which should be an easy win and a good chance to regain some form
The final two spots on the top eight were debatable. However, with Essendon locking themselves in for the finals after defeating Fremantle over the weekend, the only predictions left to make was whether they would finish seventh or eighth and which team would join them.
I eventually decided to place them eighth, as I think Collingwood will win the clash on Friday night in an attempt to make the top four. The last place in the finals came down to choosing between Port Adelaide, Adelaide, Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs, and based on recent form I could not overlook the Doggies.
The clash between Adelaide and the Bulldogs will be crucial, with the loser missing out on finals and the winner claiming a likely place in the eight. The Bulldogs have been terrific the last two games, utterly dominating two finals contenders in GWS and Essendon. Adelaide’s form has been shaky all season, and while they played well against West Coast in Round 21, I can’t help but feel the Crows will choke when it matters most against the in form Dogs. The Dogs also have a one-game gap over the other three teams, which makes them the likely team to be the final participant in the post-season.
Now that I have sorted the top eight, it is time to predict the finals games. The ladder placements provided some really intriguing clashes for the first week of finals, with practically all the games being tight contests.
Qualifying final 1: Geelong Cars vs Richmond Tigers at MCG
This game will once again anger Geelong and their supporters as they have rightfully learnt a home final but will have to play the game on Richmond’s home ground. This match was difficult to predict, as both sides have been exceptional this season. In their only 2019 clash Geelong dismantled Richmond by 67 points. However, both teams have been on different trends after the bye, with Richmond managing to fire on all cylinders and work their way into the top four while Geelong have faltered, splitting their win-loss ratio. While this contest could go either way, I will give it to the Tigers.
Elimination final 1: Collingwood Magpies vs Essendon Bombers at MCG
This game will be another close one, as both teams have been out of form for the last couple of weeks. However, Essendon’s extensive injury list, with many solid players sitting on the sidelines, may cause their reckoning. Collingwood also showcased earlier in the year why they were one kick away from becoming premiers last season, and they will pull off the win in this clash.
Elimination final 2: Greater Western Sydney Giants vs Western Bulldogs at Giants Stadium
The clash between these two sides on the weekend started out close before the Bulldogs managed to pull away. They’ve had an incredible latter half of the season, managing to work their way into the top eight. The Giants have many question marks surrounding them, as while they have many brilliant players, like Stephen Coniglio, Jeremy Cameron, Lachie Whitfield and other young players, they have played below expectations the last couple of weeks, being blown out of the water by the Dogs and Hawks. This game will be a tight one and a fun game to watch. It could go either way, but based on the recent performances, the Dogs will scrap away with the win.
Winner: Western Bulldogs
Qualifying final 2: Brisbane Lions vs West Coast Eagles at the Gabba
This game was another difficult game to predict. West Coast have been considered premiership favourites for weeks and have looked very strong. However, Brisbane have been in form and have definitely played way above expectations this season. The game will be a high-scoring affair, with players like Charlie Cameron and Josh Kennedy leading the way for their respective teams. This one was almost too close to call, but based on finals experience and the pressure and nerves the young Brisbane outfit will face, they will likely drop their first game, allowing the Eagles to continue their dominating ways.
Winner: West Coast
Semi-final 1: Geelong Cats vs Collingwood Magpies at the MCG
These two teams were my pick for the grand final earlier in the season. Both started strong and both have premiership pedigree with players like Joel Selwood, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Gary Ablett Jr and Tom Hawkins. This game will ultimately come down to who is better on the night, which is almost impossible to predict. However, with Geelong getting good seasons out of Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Tim Kelly and having a variety of players to call upon, plus having more finals experience than Collingwood, they will take this one and prepare for a clash with the Eagles.
Semi-final 2: Brisbane Lions vs Western Bulldogs at the Gabba
This semi-final was the easier game to predict of the two, as Brisbane have been the far better team all season. While the Bulldogs have had a great latter half of the season to allow them to sneak into the finals, the young Brisbane core will overwhelm the Bulldogs, who will have a date with Richmond at the MCG.
Preliminary final 1: Richmond Tigers vs Brisbane Lions at the MCG
Richmond and Brisbane have had terrific seasons, with both teams being dominant especially towards the latter half of the year. Both sides have proven forward anchors in Charlie Cameron and Tom Lynch and strong midfield line-ups comprising Lachie Neale, Daniel Rich, Dayne Zorko, Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin. This one will be close and could even come down to the final minutes of play. In the end the finals experience of Richmond will ultimately overcome the Lions, who are about a season away from getting their hands on the premiership. While this will be a disappointment for Brisbane fans, their pride will return once Lachie Neale wins the Brownlow Medal days after this game.
Preliminary final 2: West Coast Eagles vs Geelong Cats at Optus Stadium
Another game which is almost impossible to predict. Both teams have premiership pedigree and the ability to win it all. The game will come down to firepower and which forward line can be the most consistent. In the end I decided the West Coast Eagles would win that battle. While Geelong have been dominant, their form has declined. West Coast have been consistently great for the majority of the year, which will put them into their second consecutive grand final.
Winner: West Coast Eagles
Grand final: West Coast Eagles vs Richmond Tigers at the MCG
How poetic. The big dance coming down to the 2018 and 2017 premiers. Both teams have been in very good form, and if their game over the weekend was any indicator, this match will be a classic. Both sides have strong midfields and forward lines, with both Tom Lynch and Josh Kennedy certified scorers. This game will come right down to the wire, but the Eagles have been dominant throughout the entire season and have become a stronger team playing in Melbourne compared to previous years, which will see them win their second premiership in a row.
Winner: West Coast Eagles
The predictions above were quite difficult to determine, but West Coast are the only team this season that haven’t shown many signs of weakness when compared to the other major contenders. The Cats and Tigers have both struggled during periods of the year, and while Brisbane have been impressive all season, the experience of the other teams will simply overwhelm them this year. The Lions will come back stronger next year, but this year belongs to the Eagles.