Just three weeks to go this season, with every match from here on out being win or go home.
Last week was one of the most exciting opening weekends to a finals series I can remember, and it threw up plenty of upsets.
I was chuffed to correctly pick two of those surprise results, giving me a score of three for the week, while Liam Salter correctly picked the others to score two.
That saw The Crowd unusually finish third with just the one point, while Marnie Cohen unfortunately finished with zero, although I suspect she wasn’t the only person around the country to suffer the ignominy.
They may have come up 15 points short on Friday night, but Richmond played very well for the majority of their qualifying final against Brisbane and they’re still just as dangerous in my books.
They’ll have to do it the hard way, but the Tigers are still a premiership contender and they look to easily be a class above the sides in the elimination final bracket, even if St Kilda did defeat them in the home-and-away season.
That win, in Round 4, saw the Saints kick a scarcely believable 15.3 in a 26-point triumph. I can’t see them doing that again.
While they did get out to a solid lead towards the end of the third quarter against the Bulldogs, they couldn’t stop the Doggies when they were on and I don’t like how that translates against the vastly superior Tigers.
St Kilda will make it interesting, but it’s hard to see any outcome other than the reigning premiers flexing their muscle and moving on.
The other games this weekend is the harder one to pick. It’s no secret Geelong aren’t in the best form after looking like premiership favourites towards the end of the home-and-away season.
Round 17’s loss to Richmond was bitterly disappointing, their six-point win over Sydney in Round 18 was uninspiring, while they’d be disappointed with going down against Port Adelaide last week.
But they were more in it than their return of five goals suggests. They copped a loss in the clearances but had the edge in contested possessions, finished with the same number of inside 50s, had identical disposal efficiency numbers and came out well ahead for marks inside 50.
They were just let down by miserable conversion in front of goal.
They’ve dropped their last two matches against the Magpies, but I’ll back the Cats to regroup and get through to the penultimate week with a solid win.
It’s time to get creative with the Shoe-In of the Week, so I’ll back Tom Hawkins to nail his first set shot of the evening.
All I can say is ‘wow’. What a start to the 2020 finals series that was! When was the last time we had such an exciting and unpredictable first week like that?
I certainly didn’t predict it to go that way – both the high entertainment factor and the results – and it has certainly set up two incredibly interesting semi-finals.
Given the way last week went, I’ll start off by saying these games are probably quite even. Both St Kilda and Collingwood took their games up a notch to match the finals heat. Whether they can do it two weeks in a row will be a different story.
I will cover Friday night’s game in more detail in my game preview, but I suppose the big question here is around Richmond. Do you think, given their recent record against Brisbane and at the Gabba, they already had their eyes on the prelim?
I would say that might’ve been the case, even if just a fraction. It certainly seemed to be the case for West Coast, but more on them later.
Richmond will really look to rebound against the Saints and make a big statement. While the game isn’t out of St Kilda’s reach, they will really miss the influence of Paddy Ryder, Jake Carlisle and Ben Long.
With Tom Lynch back for Richmond, the Tigers will be boosted and very eager to make amends for their disappointing qualifying final performance.
Then there’s Collingwood, who pulled off one of the greatest finals victories in recent times.
They are an interesting unit because, while they don’t look as threatening as previous seasons, they almost appear more dangerous now than ever when travelling in as the underdogs.
The question here is whether they’ll be able to refocus on Geelong or if they will get carried away from the hype that has followed them back from the west.
Either way, this is going to be a cracker. I like Geelong, though. They weren’t good enough to grab the win on Thursday night against Port but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough.
A very average two out of four tips correct for me last week, as I failed to predict Brisbane and the Saints winning their clashes. I’m super pleased in my ridiculous Collingwood tip coming to fruition though.
We’ve got two must-win clashes this week as the finals field narrows further.
Friday night’s final – Richmond hosting St Kilda on the Gold Coast – immediately seems like bad news for the ‘visitors’. A litany of headlines this week – Paddy Ryder’s injury, Ben Long’s suspension, Jake Carlisle departing the team for the birth of his child – don’t immediately bode well for the Saints.
While they were sensational against the Bulldogs, Richmond are extremely tough finals competitors. The Tigers will be bolstered by the return of Tom Lynch, which will trouble the Saints’ Carlisle-less defensive unit.
If you’re looking at it optimistically, Brett Ratten hasn’t ever lost to Damien Hardwick and the Saints beat Richmond earlier this season. But this is finals, and Richmond are Richmond. They’ll win.
Saturday night’s clash is more intriguing, and even before picking a winner I’ll bet it’ll be close – it wouldn’t surprise me if the result were within a goal or two.
The Pies produced a brilliant upset last weekend against the Eagles and Nathan Buckley’s men are riding a wave of momentum at precisely the right time. The Cats, though, will be eager to arrest what could be yet another early finals exit.
It’s unlikely Tom Hawkins will be as terribly wayward as he was last week, so expect to see the Cats try and turn this into a shootout – something that might not help the Pies.
While we’re yet to see whether Buckley will use the tall forward trio he did last week, the Pies nonetheless usually flourish as an underdog.
Geelong are a smarter tip, but the Pies are appealing. I’m gonna back up a dumb tip last week with a slightly less dumb tip this week: the Pies will head through to a surprise preliminary final.
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