Just four teams remain in the hunt for this year’s premiership.
Preliminary finals are tough to tip at the best of times, but these matches are a pair of Round 23 rematches that were both decided by under a kick!
Every club has an intriguing storyline behind them, as well as strong reasons to back their premiership bids and alleged fatal weaknesses that will see them fall short.
It’s sure to be a memorable weekend.
Let’s get tipping.
Melbourne, Port Adelaide
Melbourne are looking to break the longest active grand final drought and appear in their first decider since they were Essendon’s sacrificial lambs in 2000.
Standing in their way is their age-old rival in Geelong, who have taken great delight in inflicting some of the worst defeats in the Dees’ prolonged darkest era.
It would be perhaps be fitting if, therefore, Melbourne were able to exorcise their demons against the Cats in a prelim.
Recent form suggests they can do it. Simon Goodwin’s charges are riding a five game winning streak that includes the recent scalp of Geelong, and have emphatically rediscovered their minor premiership calibre touch after some mid-season wobbles.
They’ll be buoyed by the fact they have defeated the Cats in consecutive matches for the first time since 2005 – although they’d be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. That year, the Demons’ two wins over Geelong included a late-season thriller at Kardinia Park, but they were then belted when the sides met in a final.
Chris Scott’s team has been well below their best in their two finals so far. They were completely blown away by Port Adelaide in the qualifying final and were lucky to come up against the banged-up Giants in the semi.
They look to have gone cold at the complete wrong time of the year – again – and I don’t see their season progressing any further.
Melbourne fans, you can dare to dream.
I was surprised that the Western Bulldogs ended up having as much trouble as they did with Brisbane last week. It felt like the Dogs were well on top in general play, but they were continually stung on the counterattack by the plucky Lions.
The similarities between 2016 are becoming irresistible, however, and you’d be a fool to proclaim the Dogs had played their grand final already. They always seem to find a way.
They’ll take enormous confidence from their win over the Power in Adelaide earlier this season, although that game was played with Scott Lycett sitting on the sidelines.
The Bulldogs have the midfield depth to cope with getting dominated in the ruck normally, but that game saw Port forced to play Charlie Dixon in the ruck more than they’d like and it ruined their forward structure.
The last time Dixon has had ten or more hitouts in a game that Port Adelaide have won was Round 6, 2018. Bet you won’t see that fact anywhere else.
With an intact key position group, I’ll back the Power to get on top and set up an intriguing decider.
Melbourne, Western Bulldogs
And we’re down to four.
It’s been an up-and-down finals series for the viewer, but having a one-point contest in each of the first two weeks of finals has left a more positive imprint on us as a whole.
Melbourne and the Cats play off in a really intriguing contest, one that ought to be a much closer contest than their previous encounter was through three quarters.
We remember that the Demons pulled of an astonishing comeback in the final quarter to sneak over the line, but we cannot forget that the Cats had managed to get seven goals clear and look utterly dominant.
The Perth fixture doesn’t necessarily favour one team more, but it certainly gives the Cats the best chance of running out four quarters against the fittest team in the competition, particularly with how Isaac Smith, Sam Menegola and Mitch Duncan are playing.
Ultimately, this comes down to which team plays through the four quarters, and which team can lower their eyes the best to avoid the opposition’s interceptors. Forward 50 pressure to hurt counter-attacking ball use is vital too.
Regular readers won’t be surprised that I’m continuing to tip Melbourne, from February until they’re done.
Port Adelaide deserve to be seen as the favoured team against a Bulldogs team looking to pull off a magical run to the grand final, now without Cody Weightman and with the skipper potentially only half-fit at best.
Team selection once again plays a big part in this contest. Both Charlie Dixon and Marcus Bontempelli played arguably their season-worst games in Round 23, while the Power may well have both a fully fit Mitch Georgiades and Orazio Fantasia.
It’s a tough spot for Lewis Young, many Bulldogs fans will be hoping that the more established ruck is available to replace the encouraging young key defender who was hopelessly outplayed by Oscar McInerney last week.
Ultimately, both teams will look to stretch the defence of their opposition, the Power hoping to capture take advantage of shaky key defenders, and the Dogs to make Aliir accountable.
The home ground advantage is lessened by just how good the Bulldogs play at Adelaide Oval, and if they’re at their best, the midfield is the best in the league.
I’ve just got a feeling about the Bulldogs. They don’t do things the easy way.
Melbourne, Port Adelaide
After an enthralling finals series thus far, it’s all come down to a pair of absolutely massive games. Preliminary finals in Perth and Adelaide, featuring three teams on the road from Melbourne, all leading into a grand final in Western Australia.
If that doesn’t sum up the year…
The first of those two games is Melbourne ‘hosting’ Geelong at Perth’s Optus Stadium.
It’s been said before, but Melbourne have surpassed every expectation this year. We weren’t sure if they’d vanquish every doubt to make the finals, but they finished minor premiers.
It was far from guaranteed that they would beat the Lions a fortnight ago in their qualifying final, but it was never really in doubt.
Here lies their most significant challenge yet, however: beat Geelong and they’re through to a premiership decider.
The Cats had a fine season themselves, and even an unsurprising stumble in their qualifying final wasn’t enough to stop them bouncing back with strong semi-final win over the Giants.
But I can’t shake the feeling that the Cats, even with last weekend’s win, still are not really impressing. When the likes of Patrick Dangerfield are performing well below par, what might be excusable against a wounded GWS side is bound to be a problem against the Demons.
As has been proven: history may be a fickle thing, but the Demons have already beaten the Cats twice this year, including their comeback in Round 23.
That simultaneously epitomised how expectation-shattering the Dees are and how unimpressive the Cats can look. Expectations are no longer a worry for this team. Melbourne look glorious at the moment, and a grand final looms.
Saturday night’s final is very, very appealing, with Port hosting the Bulldogs at the Adelaide Oval. The Doggies will be up and about after their superb win over the Lions last weekend and, on that evidence, should be hard to tip against.
But Port aren’t the Lions, and this will not be the same Dogs squad we saw last weekend: Marcus Bontempelli will be in, but Cody Weightman will be missing.
Weightman’s loss is Port’s gain, with the magnificent youngster a solo encapsulation of just how well the Dogs can perform: aggressive, ferocious, astonishingly good.
The issue is, those very same adjectives can be applied to Port, and their smashing of the Cats proved that a fortnight ago, as did their narrow win over the Dogs at this very ground the week before that.
An unbelievably hard tip this one is. The Doggies are close to replicating their miracle run in 2016, but their injuries and Port’s home advantage is swaying me towards the South Australians.
A Melbourne versus Port Adelaide premiership decider awaits. Hell yes.
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