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Opinion

It's winners vs losers: AFL finals Week 2 preview

(Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)
Roar Guru
31st August, 2021
37

Only six teams remain in the race for this year’s AFL premiership, with four in action this weekend to determine who will face Melbourne and Port Adelaide in next week’s preliminary finals.

Before we start, it has been announced that the AFL grand final will be staged at Optus Stadium in Perth, making this the second consecutive decider to be played outside of Victoria, after last year’s historic night-time grand final at the Gabba.

The pre-finals bye, which was removed this year, will also now move to the weekend in between the preliminary finals and the grand final, during which the Brownlow Medal count will take place.

Having lost their qualifying finals last weekend, the Geelong Cats and Brisbane Lions will be out to hit back when they face the Greater Western Sydney Giants and Western Bulldogs respectively.

The Cats are coming off a poor loss to Port Adelaide at the Oval, while the Lions were outplayed by Melbourne to leave their flag hopes hanging by a thread.

Meanwhile, in Tasmania, the Giants outlasted the Swans to beat their Harbour City rivals for the third time in as many finals matches, while the Bulldogs extended Essendon’s finals woes with a 49-point win, reversing their Round 21 loss to the same team at Marvel Stadium.

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The Lions will be the only team with the true home-ground advantage this weekend, with their semi-final match against the Western Bulldogs to be played at the Gabba. The Dogs fly into Brisbane from Tasmania this Friday.

Geelong Cats vs GWS Giants
Friday, September 3
7:50pm (AEST)
Optus Stadium

This season: GWS Giants 13.6 (84) defeated Geelong Cats 8.17 (65) at GMHBA Stadium in Round 21.
Last meeting in a final: never

The Cats’ poor Week 1 finals record continued last week, booting just five goals as they lost to Port Adelaide by 43 points.

It was their eighth first-week finals loss since the club’s 2011 premiership, of which two were elimination final losses to Fremantle and Melbourne, in 2012 and 2018 respectively.

The only first-week final they won in that period was when now-Cat Isaac Smith missed a set shot at goal after the siren for Hawthorn in the 2016 qualifying final.

It was a disappointing way for the club to toast Tom Hawkins, who was playing his 300th game and is one of just four active premiership players remaining from the noughties period (the others being his teammate Joel Selwood, as well as Grant Birchall and Lance Franklin).

Tom Hawkins of the Cats celebrates kicking a goal

Tom Hawkins of the Cats (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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After being written off following a 0-3 start to the season, Leon Cameron’s men have done extraordinarily well to last this far, finishing seventh on the ladder and outlasting the Swans by a solitary point to preserve their record of never exiting a finals series in the first week.

But it also came at significant cost, with Toby Greene, who has deputised as captain for the balance of the season, copping a season-ending three-match suspension after it was ruled he intentionally bumped into umpire Matt Stevic at three-quarter time.

This means that regular captain Stephen Coniglio, who has struggled with an ankle injury this year, as well as a host of others will need to step up more than ever if the Giants are to continue on their finals journey.

Overall, their record in the west is woeful, with only three victories and several other heavy defeats including those by over 100 points against Fremantle in 2013, and to the West Coast Eagles in 2014.

The club’s last trip west resulted in a 31-point loss to the Dockers in Round 2, in which they kicked the first goal inside the first 30 seconds through Jacob Hopper but were terribly outplayed thereafter, resulting in savage criticism of Leon Cameron’s coaching.

Though they lost to Melbourne the following week it could be considered as a turning point in the club’s season as a crisis meeting proved to be the catalyst for a stunning season turnaround that could continue with a win against the Cats.

It was in the teams’ only regular season meeting last month that the Giants pulled off an upset 19-point win at Kardinia Park, a result which the club built on to make the finals against all odds.

The recent result will be fresh in the minds of the Cats’ players and surely they will want some revenge as they eye a preliminary final showdown against Melbourne next week.

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For the winner: remain in Perth to face Melbourne in the preliminary final next Friday night.

For the loser: lights out for 2021 and a long trip back across the Nullarbor.

Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.

Brisbane Lions vs Western Bulldogs
Saturday, September 4
7:20pm (AEST)
The Gabba

This season: Western Bulldogs 10.13 (73) defeated Brisbane Lions 8.6 (54) at Mars Stadium in Round 4.
Last meeting in a final: Western Bulldogs 16.11 (107) defeated Brisbane Lions 8.8 (56) at the MCG, second semi-final, 2009.

Having beaten West Coast by just enough in the final round to sneak into fourth spot, Chris Fagan’s side were worn out over four quarters by the Dees, losing by five goals despite a finals-record 46 disposals from reigning Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale and five goals from Charlie Cameron.

It was their fourth loss in their past five finals matches under Fagan, with the only win in that period being against Richmond in last year’s qualifying final at the Gabba.

Their season now goes on the line against the Dogs, who finished the season poorly but rediscovered their season-long form to thrash Essendon by over eight goals in the elimination final, keeping the Bombers goalless after halftime.

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Young gun Cody Weightman kicked four goals, all of which came from free kicks, but also found himself embroiled in controversy when he was bumped by Bomber Zach Merrett while disposing of the ball in the third quarter.

Cody Weightman of the Bulldogs is congratulated

(Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

It marked the first victory for the Bulldogs since winning the 2016 flag, but it was also just their second win in a first-week final since 1998 (when they defeated Collingwood in an elimination final in 2006).

They now head to Brisbane with reason to believe that they can replicate their 2016 finals run, but will be wary the Lions side they face will be a different proposition to the one they beat by 19 points in Ballarat in Round 4.

It will be the first time since 2009 that the two sides have met in September; on that occasion, the then-Rodney Eade coached side won by 51 points before losing a preliminary final heartbreaker against St Kilda the following week.

As with the other semi-final, this one could go either way, but the Lions’ home ground advantage should give them the edge. Last year’s preliminary final loss to the Geelong Cats aside, the northeners have never lost a home final.

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For the winner: a trip to Adelaide to face Port Adelaide in the preliminary final next Saturday night.

For the loser: season over.

Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 18 points.

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