After an incredible AFL home-and-away season, another season with COVID-19 disruptions, disrupted fixtures, limited crowd numbers across most states and some games without crowds again, we are down to the final eight teams for 2021.
After all the drama, the die has been cast for an incredible finals series.
First up, Port Adelaide will take on Geelong on Friday night at Adelaide Oval, in what looks an intriguing repeat of last year’s qualifying final between these two sides. Port have come in second, following a late-season surge where they won their final six games.
This included a thriller against the Western Bulldogs last Friday night, where after they trailed all night, and only kicked one goal for the first half. They would hit back in the second half, with Robbie Grey kicking the winning goal late, as Port claimed second spot, with a 17-5 record.
Geelong have had another incredible season, coming in third place with 16 wins and five losses. Geelong cost themselves the minor premiership, after they blew a 44-point lead against Melbourne, with Max Gawn kicking the winning goal after the final siren.
The players that could make a difference to both sides based off Round 23 performances and recent form:
Travis Boak, with 31 disposals, 18 kicks, 13 handballs and two goals.
Connor Rozee, with 21 disposals, 12 kicks, nine handballs and two goals.
Robbie Grey, with 25 disposals, 13 kicks, 12 handballs and two goals.
Ollie Wines, with 34 disposals, 14 kicks, 20 handballs and a goal.
Charlie Dixon will want to have more of an impact this week. This season he has averaged 2.1 per game and will want to help hit the scoreboard for Port.
As for Geelong:
Tom Hawkins, with 12 disposals, nine kicks, five marks and, most importantly, four goals.
Jeremy Cameron, with 10 disposals, seven kicks, three handballs, four marks and two goals.
Joel Selwood, with 28 disposals, 17 kicks, 11 handballs and a goal.
Patrick Dangerfield, with 23 disposals, eight kicks, 15 handballs and a goal.
Issac Smith, with 24 disposals, 20 kicks, four handballs and 11 marks.
Cameron Guthrie, with 30 disposals, 16 kicks, 14 handballs and eight marks.
Last time these teams met, Geelong outclassed Port in the end by 21 points in Round 13 at Adelaide Oval. With Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron kicking nine goals between them. But no one will forget when these sides met in last year’s qualifying final, how inaccuracy cost Geelong, as they kicked 5.12.42, and Port were able to qualify for the preliminary final with a 16-point victory.
Geelong will be feeling pretty hungry after surrendering that lead to Melbourne last week, they will also be desperate to avenge not only the qualifying final defeat against Port from last year, but to make it back to another grand final this year after coming runners up last year.
If Port cannot stop the influence of Hawkins, Cameron, Dangerfield and Selwood, they will have a hard time getting over the line. Port will have the home crowd behind them, but I do feel Geelong are the stronger side overall.
Prediction: Geelong by 25 points.
We then turn to our first elimination final, another Sydney derby final to take place, with the Sydney Swans taking on the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) at the UTAS on Saturday afternoon. These sides are meeting for the third time in a final, with GWS prevailing on both occasions.
These sides come into this clash with Sydney sitting in sixth position, with a 13-7 record. GWS sit in seventh position with 11 wins, 10 losses and a draw.
The players that could make a difference to both sides based off Round 23 performances and recent form:
For Sydney, they have incredible firepower.
Lance Franklin, with 13 disposals, nine kicks, four handballs and, most crucially, six goals.
Issac Heeney, with 20 disposals, 12 kicks, eight handballs and three goals.
Tom Papley, with 15 disposals, 13 kicks, seven marks and three goals.
Hayden Mclean, with 10 disposals, eight kicks, six marks and two goals.
Jordan Dawson, with 33 disposals, 24 kicks, nine handballs, 16 marks and a goal.
Jake Lloyd, with 36 disposals, 22 kicks, 14 handballs and eight marks.
Justin Mcinerney, with 29 disposals, 22 kicks, seven handballs and 13 marks.
George Hewett, with 23 disposals, 10 kicks, 13 handballs and six marks.
Luke Parker, with 23 disposals, 11 kicks, 12 handballs and three marks.
These are all players that GWS will need to stop, in order to have a chance. But the players that could make a difference for them include:
Jesse Hogan, with 10 disposals, seven kicks, four marks and three goals.
Callan Ward, with 28 disposals, 15 kicks, 13 handballs and two goals.
Toby Greene, with 20 disposals, 15 kicks, five handballs, 11 marks and a goal. He will however, need to hit the scoreboard a bit better for GWS as he had four scoring shots for only one goals.
Jacob Hopper, with 21 disposals, 13 kicks, eight handballs and a goal.
Josh Kelly, with 29 disposals, 19 kicks and 10 handballs.
Tim Taranto, with 29 disposals, 16 kicks and 13 handballs.
It’s fair to say that Sydney have been a bit of the dark horse this year. Not many expected them to be in the eight and in premiership contention, but people should not underestimate the sixth-placed Swans.
No one will forget they against all odds started with four wins straight in season 2021, only to have their streak ironically bought to an end by GWS themselves in Round 5.
Josh Kelly kicked the match winner with a little over a minute left on the clock, as Tom McCartin’s kick after the final siren fell short. Last time they met however, the Swans were good enough to win by 26 points, with Franklin and Papley kicking eight goals between them.
Given the fact that Sydney have won seven of their last eight games, and GWS only scraped over the line against the struggling Carlton last week, it’s fair to say that Sydney are the team to beat in this one. If Franklin and Papley can be on fire again, they will be unstoppable, and they are keen for some vengeance for the previous finals defeats against GWS.
Prediction: Sydney by 36-points.
Saturday night is the night that Melbourne fans are longing for. They will take on the Brisbane Lions in the qualifying final at Adelaide Oval, in a game that could well set up the Demons for a tilt at premiership glory.
Melbourne managed to win their first minor premiership since 1964, with 17 wins, four losses and one draw. They managed to secure the minor premiership with a most incredible 44-point comeback against Geelong last week. Melbourne kicked the last nine goals of the game, include seven straight in the last quarter, with Max Gawn taking the mark and kicking the match-winning goal after the final siren.
Brisbane have made the top four for the third consecutive year, holding an impressive 15-7 record, and will be looking for another chance to make the grand final, after going at in the prelim to Geelong last year.
The players that could make a difference:
For Melbourne, last week the best performers who could step up again include:
Kysaiah Pickett, with 14 disposals, 12 kicks, four marks and three goals.
Clayton Oliver, with 37 disposals, 17 kicks, 20 handballs and two goals.
Charlie Spargo, with 10 disposals, seven kicks three handballs and two goals.
Ben Brown, with nine disposals, seven kicks, five marks and two goals.
Max Gawn, with 25 disposals, 17 kicks, eight handballs, 39 hitouts and of course, the match-winning goal last week.
Christian Salem, with 27 disposals, 16 kicks, 11 handballs and nine marks.
James harms, with 26 disposals, 10 kicks and 16 handballs.
Christian Salem, with 26 disposals, 13 kicks and 13 handballs.
As for the Lions, the players that could have an impact include:
Joe Daniher, with 12 disposals, 10 kicks, five marks and four goals.
Jarrod Berry, with 15 disposals, eight kicks, seven handballs and three goals.
Charlie Cameron, with 14 disposals, 10 kicks, seven handballs and three goals.
Lincoln McCarthy, with 14 disposals, seven kicks, seven handballs and two goals.
Lachie Neale, with 29 disposals, 12 kicks, 17 handballs and a goal.
Daniel Rich, with 29 disposals, 24 kicks, five handballs and a goal.
Daniel McStay, with 15 disposals, eight kicks, seven handballs and a goal.
Dayne Zorko, with 27 disposals, 15 kicks, 12 handballs and a goal.
So the Lions certainly have firepower and plenty of people they can get a score out of. Last time these teams met, it was Melbourne who managed to grind out a 22-point victory, after an ominous second half performance to outscore the lions by 42 points in the second half.
Again, Melbourne will expect a challenge, but it should be a similar game, and I expect Melbourne will stand up when it matters most. They have the best chance to win a flag since 1964 this year and if they can get past the Lions, they are well placed for a grand final appearance.
Prediction: Melbourne by 36 points.
Finally, week one of the finals will be wrapped up with Sunday’s elimination final between the Western Bulldogs and Essendon at UTAS stadium. The Bulldogs, after a slump in a season where they were in the top two for the vast majority of it, have dropped to fifth place.
Essendon managed to claim eighth spot, after an 11-11 record, in an impressive first season for Ben Rutten, where it’s fair to say the Bombers have exceeded expectation.
The Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back from being eliminated in the first week of the finals last year at the hands of St Kilda by three points. Whilst Essendon start as underdogs, aiming to finally win their first final since 2004.
The players that could make a difference based off last week and current form include:
Bailey Smith, with 25 disposals, 14 kicks, 11 handballs and three marks.
Tim English, with nine disposals, seven kicks, six marks and two goals.
Adam Treloar, with 20 disposals, 10 kicks, 10 handballs and a goal.
Lachie Hunter, with 22 disposals, 17 kicks, 10 marks and a goal.
Marcus Bontempelli, with 15 disposals, 11 kicks, three handballs and a goal- he will want to have more of an impact in this weeks final however.
Josh Dunkley, with 17 disposals, seven kicks, 10 handballs and a goal.
As for the Bombers:
Peter Wright, 13 disposals, nine kicks, four handballs and four goals.
Alec Waterman, with 13 disposals, seven kicks, six handballs and four goals.
Devon Smith, with 23 disposals, 14 kicks, nine handballs, and two goals.
Jake Stringer, with 24 disposals, 17 kicks, seven handballs and two goals.
Mason Redman, with 21 disposals, 16 kicks, five handballs, 10 marks and two goals.
Darcy Parish, with 21 disposals, six kicks, and 15 handballs.
Zac Merrett, with 27 disposals, nine kicks and 18 handballs.
Last time these teams met, it was the Bombers defeating the top of the table Bulldogs by 13-points in Round 21. It was the game that most likely made the difference in Essendon making the eight.
Peter Wright had a field day, kicking a decisive seven goals. Before then, the Bulldogs had won their previous six clashes with Essendon. They were sitting on top of the ladder, before losing their last three games to drop to fifth. But you would expect that the Dogs will be more aware of Essendon’s game, considering the Round 21 defeat.
You would expect that with the champion side the Dogs are, they will find form when it matters most. I expect they will be able to get back to their best footy facing Essendon on Sunday.
Prediction: Dogs by 25-points.
It comes down to eight teams, two will be gone at the end of this weekend. But excitement is starting to build. So sit back and enjoy what looks to be an intriguing first week of 2021 AFL finals action. Best of luck to all eight teams, we fans are raring for finals action.