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Who's playing finals in 2021?

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Roar Guru
15th March, 2021

As the eve of the 2021 season descends on to the horizon, the pre-season has been about one thing among every pundit and expert: predictions.

We love hearing different opinions and the more outlandish, the better. However, in a business as serious as finals, the serious hat must be put on. Let’s dissect the teams which aren’t just the best eight teams in the competition, but the way the finals could be looking.

Double chance
For a competition that bleeds the want for equalisation and unpredictability, in the pre-season, the best four teams in the competition seem to be pretty clear cut and from four different parts of the country: the boys from Alberton, Punt Road, the Gabba and down the Victorian highway seem to be the general consensus – Port Adelaide, Richmond, Brisbane and Geelong.

They are also my top four sides, but deciding an order was a different story. Richmond have won all three of their flags from third spot and after playing finals in South Australia and Queensland last season, won’t be fussed if they have to travel and the minor premiership, psychologically, doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

Port Adelaide did win the minor premiership last year and they are my selection again, with Adelaide Oval still a fortress, they travel well and their ability to have a squad of B+ or better players is just enormous.

Geelong get the nod at second as they are better prepared for injuries than Brisbane. Geelong’s kids are better than an average stop gap and they are almost in a position to have a ‘soldier in, soldier out’ mentality, especially in Round 1 with Mitch Duncan out, but they’ve got the midfield depth to cover.


Don’t underestimate their fortress at GMHBA stadium either – and yes, they did lose to Carlton last season – Brisbane, West Coast, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs, Essendon, GWS, St Kilda and Melbourne are all tough match-ups but that advantage of the stadium is genuinely huge.

Brisbane at fourth, but a comfortable fourth, and should absolutely still be taken seriously. They don’t really have confident goal kickers, barring Charlie Cameron and perhaps Dayne Zorko if he’s fully fit, but the bubble has burst on the Gabba as a fortress as more teams used it than a nightclub bathroom in 2020, so the psychological mystique is just done.

Charlie Cameron of the Lions celebrates a goal

(Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

There could be games where inaccuracy costs them, but come September, they’ll be very dangerous as they’ve had two years straight in the business end of the season.

Bottom of the top end
Barring 2016, the only massive relevance of the teams finishing between fifth and eighth is the fairytale of the fans that support the clubs hoping for a Dogs-style run. However, let’s get stuck in.

You can’t win a flag in pre-season, but you can lose it. I had St Kilda as a potential fourth around New Years, but injuries have decided to just smack the Saints and they have the things every club strives for: fantastic coach, very good list, stability off the field but Rowan Marshall and Ben Paton having long-term injuries and James Frawley and Max King just having innocuous injuries pushes them down.

I wrote that West Coast are a dark horse to win the flag, but Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo’s injuries aren’t great. That home ground advantage puts them above the Saints for mine, barely, but it’s a bee’s appendage between them.

The Bulldogs are seventh – hello 2016 – but the weakness that stops them from being a flag contender is the forward line. Marcus Bontempelli could lead their goal-kicking, which isn’t what will give them a flag.

Marcus Bontempelli

‘The Bont’ – as his mother calls him – is in for a milestone year in 2021. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Josh Bruce hasn’t delivered, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is just a kid, it is not his job to run a forward line and their smalls are all young, barring Mitch Wallis. If they rely on their midfielders to win them games on the scoreboard, they’ll struggle against the teams above them.

So, we’ve reached eighth, which weirdly, seems to be the most controversial pick across all the experts’ pieces and has the public talking. In alphabetical order, taking out Adelaide, North, Sydney, Hawthorn and Essendon, we’ve got Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Gold Coast, GWS and Melbourne fighting for eighth spot.

Carlton is the only club in that bracket that has tall forwards you can trust, but do they know how to win? I’m counting them out by a game or so. I’m not sold on Melbourne at all, as their strength’s in the ruck with Max Gawn as he’s been the best ruck for a while and they’ve only made the finals once in the last 15 years.

Their contested midfield is a strength but stoppages were extremely down in the AAMI series. Add in Ben Brown’s knee being as a fragile as a teenager’s self-esteem and I’m not going near them.

I had Fremantle originally, but the injuries they’ve had are significant and their forward line isn’t okay either. Nat Fyfe playing forward isn’t because of fitness, it’s for a lack of options and Matt Taberner needs help.

Rory Lobb is injured, Josh Treacy has been at the club for three months and their ruck stocks are buggered. It sucks to take them out but I have.


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Leaving us with Collingwood, Gold Coast and GWS, Gold Coast are a year away from making their maiden finals appearance and Collingwood’s lack of forward-line cohesion leaves us with GWS.

The Giants’ last 18 games have been disastrous, really, from the 2019 grand final loss, to the abhorrent year last year and then the departure of the best forward they’ve had in their history, so the skepticism is justified.

My reasoning is that Harry Himmelberg is a better-than-average tall forward and rarely gets out marked, Toby Greene and Josh Kelly are stars, their midfield is still very good, as is their defence with Phil
Davis, Sam Taylor, and Nick Haynes and they’ve got plenty of young guys who are hungry to be successful.

My top-eight
Port Adelaide
West Coast
St Kilda
Western Bulldogs