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The Roar's AFL expert tips and predictions: Qualifying and elimination finals

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4th September, 2019
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This is where it really counts. Ten teams have been discarded, starting their offseasons well ahead of schedule, leaving us with 2019’s best eight sides as they battle it out to claim the premiership.

For the top four, it’s an all-important week off and home preliminary final to play for. For the others, a loss this round means elimination.

With this being one of the most open premiership races in recent memory, The Roar’s expert panel is here to help you navigate the knockout stage with our own tips and predictions.

Special congratulations must be extended to Marnie Cohen, after she finished the home-and-away season atop the expert panel with 128 points – one ahead of long-time leader AdelaideDocker (St Kilda at the SCG, really mate?)

After some early-season struggles, Marnie recovered strongly towards the end, with a blistering run of four eights in the final five weeks enough to see her snatch the title.

Can she stay on top of the pack during the finals? Let’s find out!

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Stirling Coates
West Coast, Collingwood, Western Bulldogs, Richmond

Why the AFL continues to schedule Thursday night finals I’ll never understand but, not only have they persisted with the unpopular timeslot, they’ve also scheduled by far the least suitable game for it too.

How on earth can Essendon fans be expected to support their team if it takes a cross-country flight on a weeknight? The 6:10pm local start time also means Eagles fans really need to hotfoot it to Optus Stadium from work.

Absolutely boneheaded stuff here from the fixturing department. Anyway, on to the game.

Both of these sides come into the finals on the back of patchy form. Essendon’s woeful five weeks (yes, beating Gold Coast by 10 is woeful) is well-publicised, but West Coast’s ordinary month has flown under the radar a little.

The shock loss to Hawthorn in Round 23 may have cost the Eagles the double chance, but it probably gave them something even more important – a well-timed reality check. With a week to reassess and get back to their best, I’m backing the home side.

West Coast’s quest to go back-to-back begins tonight. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Friday night’s game – which could very easily have been played the night before – will be the more interesting qualifying as I think it’ll be the one that catapults Collingwood back into the premiership conversation.

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On The Roar’s very own Game of Codes podcast, we’ve talked at length about how crucial suspended forward Jaidyn Stephenson is to the Magpies forward setup. With both he and Jordan de Goey back in the lineup, I reckon the ‘visitors’ will get back to their scintillating form from the first half of the season and win convincingly.

Greater Western Sydney get zero brownie points for their dismantling of Gold Coast. In fact, you could argue a bruise-free visit to Carrara is the absolute worst thing to happen before a bye.

The Bulldogs form over the last third of the season is simply too good to ignore here and, with Stephen Coniglio still yet to return, it’s hard to see the Giants getting revenge for Round 22’s 61-point shellacking.

Saturday night is probably the hardest one to pick, even if Richmond knocked off the Lions just two weeks ago.

With their superstars back, the Tigers have barely been challenged during their nine-game winning run and, with one hell of a point to prove after last year’s horror preliminary final, should be raring to go.

But did Brisbane’s loss come at a good time? They were far from disgraced in the 27-point defeat and playing them at The Gabba is a totally different proposition for a Richmond side who’ve only left Melbourne twice since the election.

Complicating matters further is the fact the Lions have never lost a home final. Ever.

Still, I think the disappointment of 2018 burns harshly for Richmond and, despite one hell of a fight, will leave the Gabba one step closer to redemption.

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Marnie Cohen
West Coast, Collingwood, Western Bulldogs, Brisbane

It’s always a bittersweet thing approaching September when your side isn’t one of eight featured.

It means premiership glory won’t be yours, but that way you can watch the finals with your health intact and simply enjoy good footy.

West Coast will be desperate to play some good footy on Thursday night. After an incredibly disappointing round 23 loss to Hawthorn, the Eagles found themselves out of the top four and without a double chance.

This will be their only home final and they will be looking to make the most of it, and a hungry West Coast on the rebound in front of a home crowd probably wasn’t what Essendon was after.

The Bombers are looking for their first finals victory in 15 years but, sadly for them, I just can’t see it happening. Their last month has been pretty ordinary and it’ll take their best to match it with the Eagles.

In the visitors’ favour is the return of a number of key players and that their only win in the last four games came over in Perth. Still, I don’t think it’ll be enough to get over the reigning premiers.

Dyson Heppell

It’s hard to see the Bombers getting the win in Perth. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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The rest of the weekend will be pretty even with no clear winner in my mind and, unlike on Thursday night, I wouldn’t be surprised if either side walked away with victory.

Last year, we saw the Pies thrive in September tension and I think they’ll do it again this year. That and the emotion surrounding Scott Pendlebury’s 300th game should do the trick.

On the park, I actually think both sides are pretty even and I can only really base this game on emotion. Chris Scott has spent more than enough time on the venue, so I won’t go into too much depth other than that I agree with him. You finish first, you earn the right to a home final. Simple.

However, I don’t think that will be the difference between winning and losing – good sides win at any ground.

That’s why I think the Bulldogs will get over the Giants in Sydney. They did in 2016 and they’re once again riding the September wave. They’re playing good, exciting footy and they have great energy and self-belief.

However, the Giants are riding a wave of their own at the moment – that of Stephen Coniglio’s re-signing, and a potential Nick Haynes return will give them an extra boost as well. It’ll be an exciting game, but I’m backing the Bulldogs.

And finally, the Lions. After the season they’ve had it’s hard not to back them, especially at home. Despite an improvement on travelling from 2018, I’m never convinced about the Tigers on the road.

I think they could reach the big dance, but they may have to play an extra week to get there. Very much looking to this game out of the four – if it’s anything like round 23 it is sure to be a cracker.

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Daniel Jeffrey
West Coast, Collingwood, GWS Giants, Brisbane

The tipping score resets for the finals, right? Right!?

The Eagles deserve heavy favouritism against the Bombers, but there’s more than a little bit of a 2016 vibe about this elimination final; West Coast the higher-ranked side, the lowly opposition, who are capable of springing an upset or two, benefitting from the bye on the injury front.

Am I going to learn from that lesson? Of course not. With Nic Naitanui back, West Coast will control too much of the ball for Essendon to make a proper dent on the scoreboard. The Bombers might draw close for one quarter, but over the space of four, the Eagles will be too strong.

Like Essendon, Collingwood will have been glad for the bye, with Darcy Moore, Steele Sidebottom, Jordan de Goey and James Aish all in the frame to return. But it’s Jaidyn Stephenson’s inclusion which is the biggest boost for the Pies.

The youngster’s importance to his side has been made glaringly obvious in his absence, and with him and de Goey back, Nathan Buckley has his key forward pieces back at his disposal.

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For Geelong, it comes down to whether they can slow Collingwood’s ball movement and restrict the dynamism of Stephenson and de Goey. If this match was being played at the narrow GMHBA Stadium, they’d be every chance of doing just that. But at the MCG, with their late-season form, the Cats might struggle in a close one.

The Bulldogs touched up GWS last time the two played, but I can’t help but feel that Round 22 fixture will play into the Giants’ hands, who’ll be able to learn from that thrashing.

Keep in mind, too, that Leon Cameron wasn’t able to call on the services of Jeremy Cameron, Jacob Hopper and Brett Deledio for that game, and Matt de Boer and Josh Kelly were both in their first games back from injury. All are available for this final.

Make no mistake, the Bulldogs are looming as the team no one wants to play this September. Win this one, and the comparisons to 2016 will be undeniable. But on the road, and with the Giants boasting a better line-up than they did a few weeks ago, I’ll take GWS in a thriller.

Can a raucous Gabba help Brisbane overcome their habit of starting slow? The answer to that question may well determine the outcome of the weekend’s final match. The Lions have been a notoriously poor first-quarter team, even during their late-season run, and it cost them against the Tigers in the last round.

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Richmond built themselves a 25-point first-quarter lead at the MCG. The final margin was 27, both teams scoring six goals apiece in the remaining three terms.

Brisbane have never lost a final at the Gabba, and I’ll tip that trend to continue – if only just.

AdelaideDocker
West Coast, Collingwood, GWS Giants, Brisbane

It’s the best time of the year; where dreams are made and broken, and where everybody begins bandwagoning. Finals time!

West Coast host Essendon in what, just quietly, might be a belter. The Eagles – who slipped out of the top four courtesy of a shock loss to Hawthorn – find themselves attempting to go back-to-back from outside the top four, while Essendon haven’t won a final in 15 years.

The Bombers will be buoyed by the returns of a host of key players – Dyson Heppell, Orazio Fantasia and Jake Stringer among them – but they’re still decisive underdogs. West Coast’s got too much on the line, and will be very happy to be at home so I’ll tip them to win, but it won’t be as comfortable as most expect.

Friday night’s final, judging by history, will likely be both a low-scoring and controversial affair. It’s at the ‘G, as has been mentioned by virtually every footy commentator, but regardless of the ground, it’s going to be a very close clash.

Adam Treloar tackles Joel Selwood.

Adam Treloar and Joel Selwood will take centre stage at the MCG. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

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The Cats, so powerful early in the season, have been strong yet flawed since the bye, yet secured the minor premiership and head into the finals series as one of the favourites.

Nathan Buckley’s men are returning to peak form, however, and the returns of Jordan de Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson and Darcy Moore make them the very slight favourites here. Geelong’s an enticing tip, but I’ll go Collingwood by a goal or two.

The Western Bulldogs are gunning for a second fairytale premiership, and are arguably the form team of the competition. This sees them headed into Saturday afternoon’s elimination final visiting Sydney, where they’ll take on GWS.

Want to head to Giants Stadium this Saturday for this mouth-watering final? You can buy tickets here.

Deja vu? Yup. These two sides played here less than three weeks ago, which saw an undermanned Giants outfit slump to a very disappointing loss to the rampaging Doggies. The Giants will be garnering a few integral men back into the line-up, though, and no doubt this wiill be a more fierce team.

The Dogs seem to be the favourites here, but I’m going to buck the trend and tip their fairytale to end before it properly begins. Giants to sneak home.

The weekend’s biggest final in my books is Brisbane playing Richmond for the second successive round.

There’s plenty of talk that the Gabba means Brisbane should be favoured here. It’s true that Brisbane’s a stronger team at home, but Richmond’s a strong team all around and, given Brisbane’s lack of finals experience, Richmond look a scary proposition.

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I’ll suggest that this is more or less the Tigers’ to lose, but a sold-out Gabba will witness a Brisbane win instead. The Lions in a classic.

QFs & EFs Stirling Marnie Daniel ADocker The Crowd
WCE vs ESS WCE WCE WCE WCE WCE
GEE vs COL COL COL COL COL GEE
GWS vs WB WB WB GWS GWS GWS
BL vs RCH RCH BL BL BL RCH
Last week 6 8 8 7 8
Total score 124 128 120 127 132
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