This AFL season we are down to just six contenders.
Sydney: Darkhorse contenders
The Swans did have a first-round win over the Lions, then burst on the scene with a nervous but impressive win over Richmond.
They have since backed this up with some good wins over good teams, including one absolute belting of West Coast. Their style includes manic handball in congestion until they can break free and then hit a tall or high-marking small forward.
They seem to breed dangerous, spectacular forwards in Sydney. Team pressure when opposition have the ball has been impressive. Their recycled ruckman, Tom Hickey, has had a magnificent year.
But maybe the longest road trip will take its toll?
They will win at least one final if they finish fifth or sixth. If they finish fourth, they will be beaten in their first match but win the sem-final.
They will be back in 2022 but Buddy Franklin will have to do some heavy lifting to justify his S1.5 million millstone.
The Lions have exciting, brilliant players including Lincoln McCarthy, Dayne Zorko, Hugh McLuggage and Lachie Neale.
They deliver frequently and, along with tough nut (or is that nuts?) Mitch Robinson, they can play hard at the ball, delivering to some pretty good marking forwards.
But there are issues.
Eric Hipwood is out for the season, leaving Joe Daniher to take the lead. Joe can do awesome things but he cannot consistently kick the ball though the big sticks.
Charlie Cameron is a spectacular player, the new Eddie Betts. He can find the big sticks. But he doesn’t always turn it on.
The other issue with the Queenslanders is their backline. Some of their older imported back men are cooked.
Their forward unreliability has begun to be reflected in their results. They jumped the Cats and then went down to a resurgent but lowly St Kilda. A week later the succumbed to a tepid Richmond, who had just come of a four-game losing streak. Their last game, against Gold Coast, even had a wild lead swing in the game.
Brisbane was a contender but they look fragile and are gone. I can’t see them beating any of the contenders.
Port Adelaide: Not quite there
Port levered open their premiership window last year. With excellent rucking, their powerful midfielders get the ball and project it forward. Charlie Dixon is a dominant forward capable of huge marks and average kicking at goal. I am not sure he has enough support at centre half forward. And with Robbie Gray on the sidelines, it is hard to get the goals against top quality opposition.
The Power’s backline seems to be missing one or two strong tall men to nullify the opposition’s power forwards.
Last year’s minor premiers are a consistent team but have dropped off the pace this year. Ensconced at number four, they can’t seem to manage a win over the teams above.
Unless something changes, that’s what they will do during the finals. A serious threat but unless they pull some magic, they just don’t quite cut it.
The Demons have had a terrific resurgence this year, with enormous drive out of the centre. They have the big men up back and on the forward line and, until recently, they have beaten the other contenders.
They have stood up to other team’s pressure. They have stood up to pundits predicting their implosion. But after Round 13, they started losing to cellar dwellers: first the Magpies, then GWS and finally a draw to the Hawks.
And then the Bulldogs put a nail in the coffin.
The Dees were a contender but peaked early and have fallen into a trough (unless of course Western Bulldogs got lucky and won because it was wet).
Geelong: Going all the way
The Cats have been the bridesmaids the last nine years. They have been the minor premiers once, made the finals eight times, made the grand final once, and have a spot in the trophy cabinet that is gathering dust.
This year, they leave the minor premiership and expectation with the Bulldogs.
Geelong have been developing a two-paced game to take on all challengers. They use short, sharp passes to get the ball to beyond the centre. Now from the centreline, there are two options: take it on with verve or keep the short, precise game until it reaches a big beast at full forward. This can change during the game.
Of course, if the ball is won in the centre or on rebound, they hit back fast and hard. The backline is reminiscent of the 2007-12 unit – tight, helping each other out, great and consistent intercept marks, and awesome pressure.
The Cats want the premiership badly and they fear no other team. They have beaten the Bulldogs after losing Jeremy Cameron. They had the Swans game stolen in Sydney by a non-call. Melbourne has dropped away and will probably be thumped in the last round at Kardinia.
Geelong are almost guaranteed a spot in the grand final.
Western Bulldogs: Minor premiers but no cigar
The Westerns play a swashbuckling game. The huge engine, Marcus Bontempelli, ensures they get the ball, then sublime kicking and handball get the ball forward at speed, where their forwards can convert. Surely Josh Bruce cannot be the same player who could kick nothing but points last year.
The hard running Bulldogs have had a magnificent year, with losses to just the Tigers, Demons, Cats and Swans, they are rightly at number one on the ladder after accumulating an impressive percentage.
The Dogs have always been short of a strong, tall, key-position player in the backline, and injury has forced them to dip into their seconds team and recycle Josh Schache, who has been disappointing since being traded from Brisbane. I wish him luck but he is still an unproven and risky project.
The Bulldogs’ defence will need to come up against the scoring might of Geelong. Can they handle the Cats’ Holy Trinity?
The Bulldogs will go close but they will take the bridesmaid’s mantle.
Hopefully not for the next nine years.