Two MCG blockbusters will take place this weekend, with the prize on the line being the prestige of playing on a day steeped in Australian cultural lore, the last Saturday in September, otherwise known as the AFL grand final.
We came back down to earth last week, picking just five of last week’s nine games correctly – and on the four games we were wrong, we were very wrong – like, 66.5 average point margin wrong.
Anyway, onto the next round, which happens to be the final round of the season. I honestly can’t believe we’re here already. Let’s try to finish with a bang.
Collingwood vs Essendon
7:50pm at the MCG
Now let me start by saying I don’t have the time or motivation to figure out every single permutation of the final ladder. However, I did muck around with the ladder predictor a fair bit trying to get a feel for what could realistically happen, so when I make statements like ‘if Essendon wins this game, they’re going to play GWS on the road in the first week of finals’, it may not be 100 per cent accurate, but it’s very probable. On the other hand, a loss would most likely leave the Bombers in eighth to take on whichever of Collingwood, Richmond or West Coast end up outside the top four.
For the Pies, they can’t fall lower than fifth, but they can finish as high as third if both the Tigers and Eagles falter or fourth if only one of them do. So both teams actually have a fair bit to play for here.
If I were Essendon, I’d much rather play a reeling Giants squad – although the pre-finals bye could really help GWS get their team back – than whoever ends up fifth, and on the other side, obviously Collingwood would really love the double chance. Essendon stood up very impressively last week in Western Australia to ensure their season wasn’t lost, but they’ve once again lost a host of key players – Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis, Jake Stringer, Orazio Fantasia – which should swing this towards the Pies and their comparatively healthier line-up.
The tip: Collingwood
Sydney vs St Kilda
1:45pm at the SCG
Jarrad McVeigh – 300-plus gamer, premiership captain and one of the all-time Swans favourites – will play his final game this weekend. Kieren Jack – 250-plus gamer, premiership player and former captain – will also play his final game. Lance Franklin – Sydney’s best player; you may have heard of him – will finally chalk up his 300th game after another injury layoff. And you better believe the Swans will also be playing for Nick Smith, who is retiring after not managing to overcome his own injuries all season. If this isn’t a game in which the Bloods culture come to the fore, then I don’t know what will be.
The tip: Sydney
North Melbourne vs Melbourne
2:10pm at Blundstone Arena
See ya next year, Melbourne – I can’t wait to see how good you’ll be with full seasons from Aaron vandenBerg, Kade Kolodjashnij, Joel Smith, Tim Smith and Sam Weideman. Back to the prelims, baby! I’m far more interested in watching North Melbourne’s blossoming young squad after a full preseason with Rhyce Shaw. It’s going to be great when everyone picks the Demons to finish higher than the Roos next year.
The tip: North Melbourne
Geelong vs Carlton
4:35pm at GMHBA
You know the Cats aren’t losing to Carlton at GMHBA. The Blues will be feisty, though; they’ve got everything they wanted out of the second half of the season and actually have a better record than Geelong (6-4 against 5-5) since they fired Brendon Bolton. But it’s bloody tough to beat the Cats in Geelong – as I’ve mentioned before, only the two Sydney teams have managed it in the past four seasons.
Geelong also have the added motivation of ensuring they lock up a win and potentially retain top spot on the ladder if Brisbane loses to Richmond – or do they? I’m not saying they’re going to tank this game of course, just that it’s probably not a big deal if they don’t finish first. If you’re a Geelong fan, would you rather finish second and play West Coast at the MCG or take top and have to take on the rampant Tigers on their home turf? I know which I’d prefer.
The tip: Geelong
Gold Coast vs Greater Western Sydney
7:25pm at Metricon Stadium
GWS have been insulting to me over the past fortnight. I understand they’ve had injuries, but I thought they were good enough to, I dunno, maybe kick a goal in the second half of a football game once in a while? Anyway, they’ll smash Gold Coast this week, get back a bunch of big names back over the next couple of weeks and probably cause some mayhem in finals now that I’ve started to sour on them.
The tip: Greater Western Sydney
West Coast vs Hawthorn
8:10pm at Optus Stadium
Now, West Coast shouldn’t lose this game (9-2 at Optus Stadium this season), but if they do, they’re in real danger of dropping to fifth. All it would take are Richmond and Collingwood wins (both favourites) and, boom, Eagles no longer have a double chance. Hawthorn actually have a slight finals chance to play for too – a win coupled with a Bulldogs loss the next day would see them unbelievably into the eight.
It’s a testament to how much better Alastair Clarkson is compared to any other coach in the league right now that the Hawks might actually make finals in a rebuilding season during which their reigning Brownlow medallist hasn’t played a second. And would you totally write them off if they were playing Collingwood in the first round? What a world. Anyway, it’s probably not going to happen because I just can’t see them beating this Eagles team in Perth. But the fact that it’s in play…
Beware the Hawks in the next year or two and for as long as Clarkson reigns there.
The tip: West Coast
Western Bulldogs vs Adelaide
1:10pm at MARS Stadium
The equation is really pretty simple for Adelaide – have Hawthorn lose the night before, win by at least four goals and then gather around the TV and pray Port Adelaide don’t win by a bigger margin. Light work for this team (check notes) oh wait, they lost by 11 goals last week at home in a game with similar stakes? Yeah, forget about that. The actual simple equation belongs to the Dogs: win and you’re in. Even better, if Essendon loses, the Dogs get to head back to Giants Stadium and have a second round with the GWS team they just clobbered at the very same venue. Easy. Done. Lock it in. Marcus Bontempelli for Brownlow.
The tip: Western Bulldogs
Richmond vs Brisbane
3:20pm at the MCG
The Lions passed their first top-four test at home last week by sneaking past the Cats; now they face a bigger challenge – the MCG (for only the second time this year) against Richmond (their seventh time at the MCG in the past seven weeks). Brisbane’s nine-game win streak against the Tigers’ eight-gamer. Lachie Neale vs Dustin Martin. Harris Andrews vs Tom Lynch. Brisbane’s league-best offence vs Richmond’s defence.
The Lions can lock up top spot and either a rematch with the Tiges or a date with the Pies. Richmond can ensure themselves the double chance, a very juicy clash against an extremely beatable Geelong team and an eighth straight game at their favourite ground. Brisbane still get a game at the Gabba if they lose, while the Tigers could drop out of the top four if Collingwood have already won. There’s more on the line for Richmond, but at a stadium they may as well sleep in, I reckon they get the job done in another classic match.
The tip: Richmond
Port Adelaide vs Fremantle
4.:40pm at Adelaide Oval
For Port, the equation isn’t too different from that the Crows are facing: a Hawthorn loss, an Adelaide win and beat Fremantle by more than their cross-town rivals. It didn’t have to be like this, though – had the Power simply beaten a Kangaroos team with zero to play for last week, they would’ve only needed to dispense with a suddenly Ross Lyon-less Freo squad to have the opportunity to cause some trouble in the finals. Instead they got crunched to the tune of 86 points. Eighty-six. I can’t believe I thought it was a good idea to trust them again.
I kind of want to wait on this tip until after every other result, but if their finals chances are done, it’s probably just as likely that Port win big with no pressure as it is that they fold with nothing to play for. Same goes for the reverse – with a finals spot up for grabs would you back the Power to lift or choke? They’ve screwed us so many times, we might as well go down swinging – Port it is. An interim coach has to lose in their first game once this season, right?
The tip: Port Adelaide
Last week: 5-4.