Spring has sprung, September is here, and the finals are upon us!
18 teams have been whittled down to the best eight, and of those, it’s safe to say five are well and truly in the expected premiership mix. Still, that’s one extra – thanks to Carlton’s hot run of form – from how many contenders we usually have at this point; and with no clear frontrunner given Collingwood’s recent shakes and Brisbane being, well, Brisbane, it’s about as open a year as we’ve had in ages.
So ahead of tonight’s Pies-Melbourne blockbuster at the MCG to kick off the finals, The Roar’s resident AFL experts have gathered to make all the big calls. Who wins the flag? Who claims the Brownlow? What controversies will be in store throughout this month of madness? And, to begin with, who will begin their September campaign with a victory this weekend?
The biggest prize of them all is up for grabs, and the journey starts again now. Let’s begin.
Runner-up: Port Adelaide
Biggest story: The usual suspects will complain when an ARC score review in the last minutes of a tight game takes an eternity to make an inconclusive ruling.
Gut feeling: Bit pessimistic, but after such a great, even season I reckon we’re in for another utterly awful grand final.
Brownlow Medal: I’m feeling a tie – Nick Daicos caught by Marcus Bontempelli in the last round.
Norm Smith Medal: Josh Daicos.
Definitely will happen: An elimination final winner will be talked up as a semi-final favourite, only to be soundly beaten (Carlton, anyone?)
Definitely won’t happen: A Ben Keays-like ARC controversy to decide a match – that was a once every 10-year event, and the measures the AFL brought in to try and stop it from happening are ridiculous.
Who wins Finals Week 1:
Collingwood: I’m still not entirely convinced about Melbourne, and even with no Nick Daicos, the Pies’ run and gun from half-back should be enough to overwhelm a team without the key forward targets that are the minor premiers’ biggest weakness.
Carlton: Who knows how far they can go, but I stand by the Blues being the best team in it right now – the Swans are a tricky opponent, but their Achilles heels – key backs and inside midfielders – are primed to be exploited by a team with huge strengths in that regard.
GWS: St Kilda’s run to the finals has been inspiring, but the Giants hit finals in top form and dispatched a number of top-eight teams along the way. The Saints haven’t beaten another finalist since Round 13, while the Giants are 2-2 since then. Let’s be honest, though: neither is making it past week two anyway.
Port Adelaide: My big call for finals week one is this: the Power to cause a major upset and continue the Lions’ horror finals record. Port smashed them to smithereens back in Round 1, and while that broke a run of five straight losses to Brisbane and haven’t won at the Gabba since 2017, those records are made to be broken.
Biggest story: A draw during finals creates massive discussion for a number of days, overshadowing everything else in sports media.
Gut feeling: Brodie Grundy and Sam Hayes swap clubs – and it’s agreed upon before either Melbourne or Port Adelaide is knocked out of finals.
Brownlow Medal: Nick Daicos (think Zak Butters will under-poll in the same way Robbie Gray did in 2014 when he was one of the favourites, but had no history)
Norm Smith Medal: Darcy Moore
Definitely will happen: Collingwood at least make the Grand Final.
Definitely won’t happen: Brisbane fans reaching out to me in a calm, measured manner regardless of how they fare.
Who wins Finals Week 1:
Collingwood: A really tough one to pick – it’ll just be about who is fitter and who can sustain the tackling pressure for longer if the poor conditions hit. Slight edge towards the Magpies there.
Carlton: Fun fact, these two teams have played each other at the MCG once in the last 37 years and three times in over a century. Going off that form line, the Blues win.
St Kilda: For most of the season, I was firmly against the Saints playing finals. But they’ve changed how they’re playing, should welcome back a number of regulars and they average more shots against GWS in their last three games than any other opponent. Upset alert.
Brisbane: I’ve tossed and turned a hundred times over on this one. I think Port’s tackling pressure can make the Lions crumble as they’ve done a number of times this season and it’s their avenue to winning, but until they actually do it, no Charlie Dixon and an average defence leans it in the favour of the home team. Will be watching this match very, veeeery closely.
Biggest story: There is nothing surer than a goal line review deciding the outcome of a close final.
Gut feeling: Carlton makes a deep run.
Brownlow Medal: Marcus Bontempelli the fast finisher to overtake Nick Daicos who will fly out of the gates. Should be a thrilling count.
Norm Smith Medal: Zac Bailey
Definitely will happen: The umpires will ruin a close final.
Definitely won’t happen: Port win the premiership.
Who wins Finals Week 1:
Melbourne: The Pies have just been a little shaky, and Melbourne is the team that can shut them down, as they proved earlier this year.
Carlton: Going down to GWS in Round 24 was the loss the Blues had to have, and I’m not convinced about the Swans.
GWS: The Saints have found a bit of form again, but there’s something about the Giants in finals: they invariably find a way through the first week.
Brisbane: Have to stick with the home team here, despite their deplorable record in home finals under Chris Fagan. I think the Lions can finally go all the way.
Biggest story: Real crystal ball moment, but a Brisbane-Carlton prelim. It’ll be absolutely insane, with Carlton falling just short and the Lions snapping a rough preliminary final record of late.
Gut feeling: Port disappoint.
Brownlow Medal: Zak Butters. A real dark horse, and will be battling Marcus Bontempelli, with Nick Daicos’ injury ruining his chances here.
Norm Smith Medal: Nick Daicos. No Brownlow this year, but he’ll shine on the last day of September.
Definitely will happen: Umpiring controversy. It’s already kept a team out of finals, and despite the AFL’s pleas of redemption, it’s inevitable.
Definitely won’t happen: Any genuine blow-out wins. Many heart palpitations ahead for a lot of fans.
Who wins Finals Week 1:
Collingwood: Yes, they’ve lost some lustre, and remain Nick Daicos-less, but they’re primed. Expect a bloody tough opposition in the Demons, though, but beating the best is how you win the lot.
Carlton: Round 24’s loss aside, the Blues are very, very ready for the big stuff. Expect it to be close, and given the Swans’ record this year, controversial. Lucky us.
St Kilda: The hardest game to pick, but the Saints are this weekend’s biggest underdogs. Not convinced at all they’ll go deep – or make any impact beyond their elimination final – but they’ll claim the Giants’ scalp.
Brisbane: Sorry not sorry, I’m a contrarian on Port. The Lions simply have not had a better chance at winning a premiership than right here, right now, and they know it.