And then there were four. A spot in the grand final is up for grabs as a truly unique season is drawing to its conclusion.
St Kilda and Collingwood were the latest teams to be eliminated after Richmond and Geelong won their respective semi-finals.
The first preliminary final will take place between Port Adelaide and Richmond at Adelaide Oval at 7:50 pm on Friday night. Richmond took care of the Saints in last week’s semi-final in a comfortable 36 point-victory to earn their place against Port, who earned a week off after their thrilling win over Geelong in the qualifying final.
Port have clearly been the best side of the year so far, but that all can be taken away from them if they can’t beat their strong superior opponent in Richmond to advance to this year’s grand final. Richmond has made their fourth consecutive preliminary final and do have the experience.
They will be desperate to have a chance of advancing to their third grand final in four years and win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1973-74.
Port do know how to beat Richmond – they took care of them this year. The Power won a thrilling 22-point contest at the Adelaide Oval in Round 11. Port came out of the blocks early, getting out to a 26-point lead in the first quarter. Richmond hit back in the second and third quarters to lead by a point at the final change.
What was most impressive about Port’s victory was that they were able to control the last quarter completely, keeping the Tigers scoreless and kicking the only three goals of the quarter to send a statement to the competition. Robbie Gray led the way with three goals and 22 disposals, along with Charlie Dixon and Peter Ladhams, who kicked four goals between them.
These sides last met in a finals match back in 2014 in the elimination final. Richmond will remember that Port Adelaide blitzed them by 57 points at the Adelaide Oval. Port kicked the opening seven goals to set up being in control right from the offset.
Richmond will be looking to avenge that loss and this year’s Round 11 defeat. However, since 2014 the Tigers have only missed the finals once, gaining two flags in that time and therefore, are vastly more experienced since then when it comes to finals.
The teams remain unchanged for both sides, but Richmond pose some scary names down forward including Tom Lynch, Jack Riewoldt, Daniel Rioli, Kane Lambert, Jason Castagna and of course Dusty Martin. Port will rely on their defenders such as Hamish Hartlett, Tom Jonas and Darcy Byrne-Jones and hope they can stand up, or they will have a hard time getting past this powerhouse forward line.
Down the other end, Port will rely on Dixon and Gray to repeat their performance of last time’s outing between these two – they’ll want to kick a winning score.
Port know how to do it against Richmond and have proven they can win, the best side all season will have the home crowd behind them raring to go. They should be able to make their first grand final in 13 long years, but only if they can cope with the occasion against a very strong and finals experienced side with plenty of firepower.
Lions fans must be in awe with their rise in just two seasons, from 16th to making a preliminary final in that amount of time after their impressive 15-point win over Richmond in the qualifying final. They will host Geelong in Saturday night’s blockbuster at the Gabba.
Geelong earned their place in the last four after dismantling Collingwood in last weeks semi final by a whopping 68 points. They kept Collingwood to only 1.1.7 for the first three quarters.
Last time these sides met back in Round 6, Geelong was able to outlast the Lions. After trailing by ten points at halftime, the Cats kept Brisbane goalless and went on to kick seven goals in the third quarter to set up the win. Geelong stars Tom Hawkins, Gary Rohan, Gary Ablett and Sam Menegola kicked nine goals between them.
Last week, after struggling against Port in the qualifying final Hawkins broke the shackles and kicked four goals, along with Patrick Dangerfield who booted four as well. These players listed above will need to on fire if the Cats are to cause an upset and reach their first grand final in nine years.
However, they have plenty of finals experience compared to Brisbane over the last 11 years. Since their last flag in 2011, Geelong has made four preliminary finals and lost all of them. They will be hoping with that experience they can finally get past that stage.
Brisbane has a perfect record at the Gabba this year so far and will hope to continue that trend. This would mean almost the completion of a fairy tale for them, reaching a grand final after being 16th in 2018 as mentioned and a decade-long finals drought being broken last year, along with this year breaking an 11-year finals win drought as well.
They beat Geelong by a solitary point when these sides last met at the Gabba, Lincoln McCarthy taking a spectacular screamer before converting the winning goal.
Lions fans will be hoping for more of the same. In their win over Richmond in the qualifying final, Charlie Cameron led the way with three goals, along with Lachie Neale, who gathered 19 disposals and kicked a monster goal late in the second quarter to put the Lions up by an astonishing 15 points.
Geelong do have the experience at this stage and will want to break through, but with the home crowd behind them, Brisbane should advance to their first grand final since 2004. They will look to continue their perfect record at the Gabba this year and this is a huge opportunity for them to make one of the biggest turnarounds in recent times.
If somebody had told you at the end of 2018 that Brisbane had a chance to make a grand final in 2020, what would you have said?
All in all, us fans can’t wait for the preliminary finals. Eyeballs will be glued to television sets around the country as we eagerly await who will be playing in the 2020 AFL grand final.
It could likely be a replay of the 2004 grand final between Port and Brisbane, unless the sides who are more experienced at this stage of finals have anything to say about that.