Greater Western Sydney are into their first ever grand final, having won a classic preliminary final over Collingwood, 56-52, in an all-time classic at the MCG.
The Giants had to withstand a ferocious last-quarter comeback from the Magpies. After a Jeremy Cameron goal early on in the fourth put the margin, Collingwood kicked four goals straight – one a controversial non-call after the ball seemed to have been touched off the boot – to bring it back to a one-kick game, but the hosts were unable to find a winning goal despite dominating play in the closing stages.
Collingwood had only managed three goals for the entire first half – and none in the third term – in what was a tight affair early on. They led at the major break 20 points to 17, some wayward kicking from the Giants contributing to that margin.
But GWS kicked 5.2 to 0.3 in a dominant third quarter to take a stranglehold on the game, and when Cameron converted truly from a set-shot just four minutes into the last and added a behind shortly after to stretch the lead to 33, it seemed the result was decided.
Three goals in just six minutes for the Magpies changed that, a massive momentum swing putting the game right back into balance.
The second of those was particularly controversial, with Josh Thomas’s effort appearing to have flicked at least one set of fingers en route to goal. However, the AFL’s new review centre seemed oblivious to the evidence shown on TV screens and allowed the goal to stand.
Thomas added his second, and Collingwood’s fourth of the quarter, with around ten minutes left to play to put just six points between the two sides. However they could only manage two further behinds for the game – one of them rushed, the other an effort from Taylor Adams which crashed into the post – to fall agonisingly short of a second consecutive grand final appearance.
GWS were dealt an early blow with captain Phil Davis sustaining a leg injury which forced him out of the backline and into the forward goalsquare for much of the match. With Toby Greene out suspended and Lachie Whitfield a mid-week scratching with appendicitis, it made the Giants’ task a tall one.
Zac Williams was outstanding for the victors, the regular halfback pushed into the middle of the ground, where he enjoyed one of his finest performances for the side. Tim Taranto and Nick Haynes were also excellent, while Cameron was his usual lethal self up front with three goals.
With Greene and Whitfield almost certain to come back into the side for the Giants’ maiden grand final appearance next Saturday, coach Leon Cameron has the unenviable task of having to drop two players after a victorious preliminary final.
The side will also be sweating on Davis’s fitness, with the key defender set to play a crucial role against Richmond’s strong forward line in next week’s decider.