As the pointy end of the season approaches, the four teams that occupied positions one to four at the end of the home-and-away season will play off for a chance to make the main event, the grand final.
The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis (handled extremely well by the AFL) couldn’t stop the cream from rising to the top and the four best performing clubs from making it into the penultimate week of the finals.
The first preliminary final pits the best-performing team of the last three years – Richmond – against the best performing team of 2020 – Port Adelaide. Port’s efforts in 2020 have been outstanding with them leading the competition all year from Round 1 and losing only three games for the season.
Their coach, Ken Hinkley has put together a well-balanced team of senior, mid-level and young talent that would match their 2004 premiership team.
On the other hand, Richmond have gradually built up over the season to a level close to their best team ever.
The current team includes eight of the Tigers’ top 100 game players of all time despite losing two other top 100 players in recent times with the retirement of Alex Rance and the departure of Brandon Ellis.
Heading the list is Jack Riewoldt, who will join former champion full forward Matthew Richardson as the sixth-highest game player of all time at Richmond. While not yet achieving the goal tallies of the top three goal scorers who appear above him on the club’s top 100 goal scorers list, Riewoldt is still a handy contributor, having kicked 30 this season.
No longer the focal point of attack, Riewoldt has handed this role over the Tom Lynch who – in only his second season at the club – has already moved to equal 78th position on the top 100 goal scorers list, passing stalwarts Kevin Sheedy and Bill Barrot in recent times.
Trent Cotchin will bring up his 250th game at the Tigers while David Astbury, Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli, Dustin Martin and Shane Edwards will all improve their ranking on the top 100 game players list.
For Richmond, it will be their 2300th game of AFL/VFL football and for their most experienced coach of all time (Damien Hardwick, who passed the legendary Tom Hafey in games coached at the start of the finals series), it will be his 14th final.
For Port Adelaide, Ken Hinkley – who sits at number two on Power’s games coached list – has a much more modest total of seven finals, but this includes his one win in the only final played by the two coaches against each other.
Travis Boak, Power’s longest-serving captain who relinquished the position two years ago, has been in career-best form this year and will be a big factor in the result. Now the second greatest game player of all time at the club – having passed Justin Westhoff, the club’s oldest ever player, during the year – Boak will be joined by five other players over 30 years old and the Power will not lack experience.
Neither will the umpires. Matthew Stevic – currently the second most experienced umpire – will become the sixth umpire to have officiated at 400 or more games and fellow umpire Simon Meredith will blow the whistle in his 387th game. Both have been regular grand final umpires and no doubt will be hoping for one more this year. The junior umpire in this game, Curtis Deboy has already umpired three finals but not yet a grand final.
Hopefully, the result will be close like the games in week one of the finals, but the better team will win and go on to a great grand final.