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Opinion

The Roar's AFL grand final expert tips and predictions

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22nd September, 2021
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It’s been another long, disrupted and entertaining season – but we’ve finally reached the end.

Just Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs remain in contention for this year’s premiership. One side is desperate to end a mammoth drought for a premiership, the other keen for a second sip of glory after decades of pain themselves.

There can be no arguments that we’re not seeing 2021’s two best teams up against one another on the final day – but there is plenty of argument as to who will actually salute.

I can’t wait for the ball to bounced and I’m sure you can’t either.

Let’s get tipping.

Stirling Coates

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Western Bulldogs by 23 points. Norm Smith to Marcus Bontempelli. First goal to Tom Liberatore.

Melbourne are the heart’s tip for this one. Everyone wants to see a long drought broken and I’m sure Dogs fans will be somewhat happy for their opposite counterparts should that take place.

Unfortunately, for Demons fans, I think the wait extends for another year.

The Western Bulldogs are just too good. Their midfield, when fully assembled and firing on all cylinders like it has all finals, is unstoppable to the point where just about any other advantage is negated.

Melbourne have some of those advantages. Max Gawn is a vastly superior ruckman to all of the opponents he’ll face on Saturday and I like the Demons’ key position stocks a lot more.

But midfield domination throws all that out the window. Your key forwards can’t do much if they’re getting no (or poor) supply. Your key defenders can only hold out for so long when the ball’s coming back three times a minute.

Both sides enjoyed disgustingly one-sided wins in the preliminary final, but the Dogs did it on the home deck of a side coming off a bye.

We won’t get a one-sided grand final and I don’t want my effusive praise for the Bulldogs to give the impression I’m supremely confident in a comfortable win. This is anyone’s game.

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They ask me to put my tips up, however, and I just can’t tip anyone else but the white-hot Western Bulldogs right now.

Bailey Smith of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Norm Smith could go to any one of a number of players should the Bulldogs get up, but I sensed immense disappointment in Marcus Bontempelli when he fell short of the Brownlow on Sunday night and think that energy will be channelled into a monstrous grand final performance.

Tom Liberatore has been able to get off the chain early in matches all season as work gets put into Bontempelli and Jack Macrae. I’ll back him to bob up at another forward stoppage and snap the game’s first goal through traffic.

Dem Panopoulos

Melbourne by 14 points. Norm Smith to Jake Lever. First goal to Mitch Hannan.

Well, we’re down to two.

Let’s be honest, the two best teams have made the grand final and in terms of a pure matchup, this should be the most eagerly anticipated flag decider in years.

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The weather looks great for Perth, which will be ever so slightly disappointing for the Bulldogs who will want to neutralise the aerial dominance of the Demons.

We’re lucky to have so many talented players in the final game of the season, showcasing their abilities to the largest popular audience possible.

A statistical anomaly to consider is that the last five premiers have only kicked two goals in the first quarter of their eventual success.

Given the strength both clubs have at the start of games, it’s hard to believe that we’ll be faced with another slow beginning.

We know that these teams split the two fixtures throughout the home-and-away season, and that the narrative of each game was completely different.

Perhaps the fanfare around the grand final will wreak havoc with some players, or the size of the ground will have an effect.

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Truthfully though, what we have learned in 2021 is that these two teams are not only the best, but also the most professionally run outfits without too many glaring issues.

Personally, it’s been a pleasure to watch the Demons become a team steamrolling towards a dynasty with a system that’s proven incredibly effective against the best teams.

Even when tipping the club as a genuine contender at the start of pre-season, this level of strength across the entire ground didn’t seem possible.

And while we’re going with personal reflections, it’s been a pleasure to see coach Luke Beveridge bring this Bulldog team back to the top.

He has this charm, almost a magical spell, over his playing group once it gets to September that makes it seem as though the players will run through brick walls to create history.

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This will be a fun footy end to what’s been another tough year for us all.

Liam Salter

Melbourne by eight points. Norm Smith to Max Gawn. First goal to Cody Weightman.

It is difficult not to be excited by the calibre of Saturday’s grand final, coming to you in a foreign timeslot from a land apparently foreign to many in the league’s hierarchy: Perth.

Melbourne hosting the Western Bulldogs is a clash of historical proportions. The Demons haven’t played in a grand final since 2000 and haven’t won one since 1964. Simon Goodwin was 14 years away from being born at the time they last won a premiership.

In many ways, making this year’s grand final is reminiscent of the journey of their opposition. Until the Doggies won the 2016 grand final, they had endured a 62-year wait for a premiership.

Melbourne’s season has been impressive from day dot, with the Demons managing to surpass expectation after expectation. Their most recent game – a demolition of Geelong – was a powerful reminder that this team was properly serious, with an earlier (tougher) win over the Lions a reminder of their midfield prowess.

Clayton Oliver, Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw are names that would be permanent markered on the Dogs’ whiteboard: fail to stop them, and Luke Beveridge’s day gets significantly harder.

Christian Petracca celebrates a goal

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

That compliment overload for the Dees is not meant to disparage the Bulldogs, who absolutely can win this. One look at their travel this finals series proves he Doggies – much like they did in 2016 – have proven they can win anywhere, against anyone. Their midfield ain’t too shabby themselves, with an evisceration of Port evidence enough that this is a team that is even better than in 2016.

On a day full of achievement for teams, there are individual accolades too.

Key amongst those is the Norm Smith Medal, and I’m predicting the Max Gawn will win best in ground honours on Saturday. Gawn’s been a fixture of the Demons’ ascendence into premiership contention, and his preliminary final performance was stupid good.

He’ll have competition from midfield duo Petracca and Oliver, but Gawn stands tall as my pick.

As for the first goal scorer, I’m going to throw a dart at a dartboard while blindfolded. Cody Weightman’s my man for this one, and he’ll get the party going with an early major

As good as the Bulldogs have been this year, and especially during these finals, the Demons are irresistible here. Screw history, their 2021 has been awesome, and as much as the Dogs can stake a reputable claim, the Dees are my tip. It’s going to be close but Melbourne will, at long last, be victorious in what should be an incredible grand final.

Grand final Stirling Dem Liam Crowd
Winner WB MEL MEL ?
Margin 21 14 8 ?
Norm Smith Bontempelli Lever Gawn ?
First goal Liberatore Hannan Weightman ?
Last week 1 2 1 1
Total 126 126 128 128

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