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Opinion

The Roar's AFL expert tips and predictions: Preliminary finals

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14th October, 2020
153

And then there were four.

We’re right at the sticky end of the season now, with just four teams left in contention for the premiership – and what a quartet of contenders it is. I certainly can’t remember the last time we’ve come into a preliminary final weekend with four virtually inseparable sides.

Port Adelaide have been at the summit all year, but do they have the finals experience to back it up? Brisbane, too, have been in the upper echelon all year, but have they really ironed out all their kinks in time? Richmond have the best finals pedigree of the lot, but is the magic starting to finally run out? Geelong have it all together on paper, but will their preliminary final hoodoo strike once more?

The semi-finals were never going to be at the same level as Week 1’s absurd intensity, but it was a little disappointing to be served up two one-sided affairs after such an incredible weekend. Let’s hope the prelims live up to the billing.

It was a fairly straightforward week on the tipping front, with all of us bar Liam Salter going two for two. His tip of Collingwood over Geelong was so disastrous he almost lost a point for it.

Stirling Coates

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Port Adelaide, Geelong

Did you know, if St Kilda had won their semi-final, we’d be up for an exact repeat of 2004’s preliminary finals? They didn’t however, so we get Port Adelaide vs Richmond instead – mouth-watering.

The scoreboard says the Power triumphed by 21 points when these sides met back in Round 11, but that’s a margin that flattered the defeated Tigers. Port monstered the reigning premiers on that Saturday afternoon, finishing plus-80 in disposals, racking up whopping advantages in inside 50s (55-24), centre clearances (20-5), contested possessions (+43) and uncontested possessions (+52).

Only wayward kicking on the home side’s part – Charlie Dixon finished with 2.4 and five of his teammates kicked 0.1 – coupled with excellent efficiency and accuracy from the Richmond forwards prevented it from being an absolute bloodbath.

The visitors will have some crucial players back that they didn’t have in that encounter – Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards and Jayden Short – meaning the Power won’t dominate like they did in August, but I’m still backing them.

Travis Boak is having a Brownlow-calibre year, Ollie Wines has hit another gear, Charlie Dixon has been phenomenal and Robbie Gray has aged like fine wine. They’ve got a midfield and, crucially, a supporting cast on the wings and the flanks that bats deep enough to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers and I expect, at the comforts of the Adelaide Oval, they’ll get the job done once again.

Ollie Wines of the Power kicks on goal

Ollie Wines starred as Port outclassed the Tigers earlier this year. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Saturday night will be just as mouth-watering, as two teams chasing fairytale premierships go head-to-head. Last time these sides played at The Gabba it was an all-time classic, and I’m confident we’ll get more of the same.

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I’m not putting a great deal of stock into Geelong’s home-and-away triumph over the Lions, mainly due to the venue. The Cats love playing at the SCG, whereas the Lions seem to have an allergic reaction to the ground.

But, by the same token, I’m not giving Brisbane any points for the alleged home ground advantage. Neither of these sides have lost at The Gabba in 2020, with Geelong’s last three losses at the venue being last year’s one-point thriller, 2013’s ‘Miracle on Grass’ and a 43-point bruising back in 2009. They love playing here too, make no mistake about it.

To put it plainly, Patrick Dangerfield looks like a man possessed. The Cats entered October in wobbly form, but they could’ve easily come away with the points against Port before well and truly getting back to their best against Collingwood last week. Dangerfield had his way with the Lions back in Round 6, amassing 26 disposals, eight clearances, seven inside 50s and nine score involvements – all in 16-minute quarters.

Like the match above, they’ve got the midfield deep enough to bat against the Lions, they’ve got the best key forward in the game to negate any advantage Harris Andrews brings and they’ve got a back six more than capable of taking full advantage if Brisbane’s notoriously iffy forward line has a rough night.

All things point to a rematch of 2007.

As for a Shoe-In of the Week, I’ll pick Trent Cotchin to win the coin toss and elect to kick with the wind this time.

Marnie Cohen

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Port Adelaide, Brisbane

Since the end of Round 13, the top five teams have been locked in. Port Adelaide, Brisbane, Richmond, Geelong and West Coast all shuffled within the top five, but never dropped out.

It became clear that these would be the teams to beat come finals time, with the rest just making up the numbers.

Sorry to once again be a bit of a fence-sitter, but I genuinely think both of these games could go either way. We have four quality sides fighting for premiership glory and they are all in with a very good chance. But two of these sides have an advantage that could be the difference between grand final glory and falling at the final hurdle.

There’s no doubt a home ground advantage will really help both Port Adelaide and Brisbane over the weekend. They are in the box seat for their first grand final appearances in over a decade.

Let’s start with Friday night – and let me tell you something; Richmond are looking far from their best at the moment. They looked ordinary in their qualifying final loss to Brisbane and despite defeating St Kilda in last weekend’s semi-final, it wasn’t a mind-blowing display.

Trent Cotchin reacts

Richmond were good, but not that good against St Kilda. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Most of the game was shaped by St Kilda’s inaccuracy in front of goal and inability to capitalise when momentum swung their way. They look slightly off pace, which isn’t where they’d want to be when coming up against Port Adelaide, who are having their best season in years. There’s a great mix between old and young stepping up to the plate week in, week out and they’ll get the job done again on Friday night.

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It’s the same story for Brisbane. I believe Geelong is the better of the two teams, but the home ground advantage is bound to have some pull. Having said that, Geelong are in a seriously good position. Unlike last year’s prelim, they will go in with star forward Tom Hawkins in the side. Don’t discount the impact that will have.

If Patrick Dangerfield plays anything like he did against Collingwood last weekend, he will be near impossible to stop. But when all 22 Lions come together, the belief among the group becomes virtually impossible to stop and I cannot wait and see what they bring on Saturday night.

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Liam Salter

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Port Adelaide, Brisbane

We’re into the penultimate weekend of the year and let me start off by being honest – I have no idea who is going to win. I do have an idea on one thing though: it turns out that tipping Collingwood in their semi-final last weekend wasn’t a particularly smart plan.

Tomorrow night is far and away one of the most exciting clashes in recent times – ladder leaders Port hosting the reigning premiers in Richmond. Ooh boy, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if the team I’m most (reluctantly) confident in – the Power – stumble, and vice versa.

The Tigers have had to do finals the hard way, tripping up against the Lions before comfortably beating St Kilda last weekend. That’s allowed them to refine form that had been lacking but returned in last week’s victory, and given this is their fourth consecutive preliminary final, the Tigers are the more intelligent tip. Also almost guaranteed: more controversy about Richmond’s discipline woes, win or lose.

The South Australians do have a couple of key advantages though. They’ve not played in a fortnight – allowing their medicos to declare Xavier Duursma and Todd Marshall both a-okay to play – and have a win at this ground both this season (Round 10’s upset) and in 2014 (that massive elimination final) at hand over the Tigers.

The Power were sensational in their qualifying final, and while there was some hesitance about them then, you’d be foolish to underestimate them anymore. Port fans, you’ll be watching your team next Saturday after they sneak a close win tomorrow night.

On Saturday night – a timeslot I’ve both successfully picked (the Pies, a fortnight ago) and not picked (the Pies, last week) – we’ve got Brisbane taking on the Cats. There’s incentive here for both teams; the Lions will almost certainly never again get a grand final opportunity at their home ground; Geelong will likely not get another chance to produce a premiership for Gary
Ablett Jr.

Gary Ablett

This is certainly Gazza’s last chance. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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If we’re going on recent form, the tip gets no easier. The Cats’ monstrous win over the Pies last weekend sent them into this prelim – their tenth in fourteen years, an insane record.

Meanwhile, the Lions vanquished what had been a significant problem, Richmond, and booked themselves a slot in this game.

Geelong were at their best in the sensational Round 6 win against the Lions, but that was well before finals and well before the consequential announcement of the Gabba grand final. The Lions could yet stumble, and the Cats aren’t likely to capitulate – but you just can’t imagine the Queenslanders letting the opportunity slip: they’ll win.

Preliminary finals Stirling Marnie Liam Crowd
PA vs RCH PA PA PA PA
BL vs GEE GEE BL BL BL
Last week 2 2 1 2
Total 105 94 98 109
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