Four teams take to the field this weekend: two will keep their premiership chances alive, while the other two will see their 2023 journeys come to an end.
For Melbourne, Carlton, Port Adelaide and GWS, there couldn’t be more to play for.
As it stands, the two home sides – the Demons and Power – maintain comfortable, if not overpowering, favouritism; but these are two of the closest-looming semi finals we have had in many a year. In fact, the Blues and Giants, despite finishing the home-and-away season outside the top four, are arguably in better form than their qualifying final counterparts, with the Giants losing just twice since Round 12 and the Blues having claimed victory in 10 of their last 11 matches.
Here’s why each team will win their semi final… and why they will lose.
Why Melbourne will win
Defence wins premierships. For all the discussion on how the Demons botched 69 inside 50 entries against Collingwood, the rest of their line-up was in smashing form.
The Magpies were soundly beaten out of the midfield and restricted to just 15 shots at goal in a typically miserly performance from the Dees’ defence. That has been their strength for the past 30 months, and was a cornerstone to their 2021 premiership triumph; while in midfield, the addition of Clayton Oliver from the team which lost to the Blues in Round 22 is a significant boost as well.
Moreover, with Harry McKay and Jack Martin missing for the Blues, a forward line with Charlie Curnow as its primary target and little else in the way of major goalkicking firepower – no Blue managed more than two goals in an 11-goal collective effort in their elimination final win over Sydney – it’s hard to see Carlton’s forward batch proving more dangerous than that of the Magpies, which the Dees successfully restricted.
It’s a combination lethal enough that, if the Dees can somehow figure out how to fix the cohesion between their midfield and a forward line with the talents of Bayley Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett at its disposal, then this is certainly a team capable of not just winning a semi final, but one or two others in the weeks to come as well.
Why Carlton will win
Form. As we’ve seen often in recent seasons, particularly since the onset of the pre-finals bye, premiership runs are made by the teams in the best form when the whips are cracking regardless of their home-and-away ladder position. In seven of the last nine seasons, a team from outside the top four has won its way through to a preliminary final or beyond: and few of them headed into September in as good nick as the Blues.
With ten wins from their last 11 games, the one loss a final-round dead rubber, Carlton’s turnaround this season has been built on a miserly defence, speedy and damaging ball movement, a powerful midfield, and Charlie Curnow’s brilliance in attack. While Harry McKay and Jack Martin will be significant losses, those four core traits all remain intact, meaning the Blues still take the lion’s share of their full power into this sudden-death game.
The last team to be this imposing from outside the top four was the Western Bulldogs in 2021, who of course won their way through to a grand final – and the Blues have an extra advantage in that this match is played at the neutral venue that is the MCG.
After spending most of the last two decades in the wilderness, this is the Blues’ best chance in eons of reaching a preliminary final: and you dare say it’ll be them who Brisbane would least like to face next Saturday night.
Prediction: Carlton by 7 points
Why Port Adelaide will win
Class is permanent. It has only taken one bad loss for the critics to come out of the woodwork for the Power, many of them among their own supporters. The backline is patchwork. The midfield is inconsistent. The forward line can’t kick straight. The team isn’t dog-hungry enough. You know the drill.
But teams don’t make it this far, let alone into the top four to begin with, without being of excellent quality, and for much of the season, the Power have been a serious premiership contender. During their 13-match winning streak mid-year, only Collingwood were seen as a bigger flag favourite; with their scintillating, ultra-aggressive ball movement, astar-studded on-ball brigade led by Zak Butters and Connor Rozee, and a multi-pronged forward line with the tall presence of Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall and the smaller threat of Willie Rioli, it was a team whose strengths far exceeded its weaknesses.
The Power ran into a red-hot Brisbane at their home fortress in their qualifying final thumping, and were able to hold firm with them for the first half. Back on their home deck, against a team whom it thrashed just a month ago, and with veteran Travis Boak back into the 22 to galvanise the group with his experience and leadership, the Giants should find Port a tougher nut to crack this time around.
Why GWS will win
They’re built for finals. Whether under Leon Cameron or Adam Kingsley, the Giants have a fearsome reputation when September rolls around.
While they’re yet to claim an elusive premiership, in every single September campaign they’ve appeared in, they’ve won at least one match: in 2017 and 2019, of course, they won semi finals to reach the last four, and in the latter made it all the way to the grand final from sixth.
This is a team blessed with talent in all areas – Sam Taylor might just be the best defender in the game, Josh Kelly, Tom Greene and Stephen Coniglio is as good an on-ball brigade as you’ll find, and they just so happen to have a certified premium match-winner in Toby Greene waiting in attack. Throw in the discovery of a brilliant ruckman in Kieren Briggs, and the Giants are a team that lacks for nothing.
While the Power will surely be better than their last outing, the Giants too will be out to avenge their dismal loss the last time they came to the Adelaide Oval. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about this team under Kingsley, it’s that they love nothing more than when their backs are against the wall.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 21 points