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After two drawn-out weeks, we’ve finally reached the 2021 grand final. There’s just one more game between the Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogs as they vie for the coveted premiership cup. Join The Roar for live scores and commentary from 7:15pm (AEST).
While some fans loved the idea of having the two-week break, others loathed it. That’s now a debate for next year because the big dance is finally here. Most of the major press conferences are done and dusted. Training is over.
The last game of the year pits the best team and favourites — the Demons — against a team that was largely the second-best unit in the AFL this season, the Bulldogs. If the Demons win it all, they break a 57-year premiership drought — their 13th flag. If the Bulldogs win, it’ll be their first since 2016, when they broke their own 62-year premiership drought.
Both teams have endured dark days, droughts, and years spent drifting in football obscurity, but stellar years have brought them head-to-head in the decider, with a shot at claiming a sacred and often hard-to-win premiership in the new locale of Perth.
This is billed as a match-up for the ages. The Demons boast five All-Australians in Max Gawn, Jake Lever, Steven May, Clayton Oliver, and Christian Petracca; three of them make up Melbourne’s dominant midfield. The Bulldogs had three of their own, with Bailey Dale, ball magnet Jack Macrae and skipper Marcus Bontempelli all making the year’s best 22.
Both teams stack up well against each other from top to bottom, from defence to forward line. Thanks to the two-week break, both teams are at full strength, with Demon Steven May overcoming a hamstring niggle and important Dogs Alex Keath (hamstring) and Cody Weightman (concussion) both fit to play.
Melbourne have won their last six games, which includes a 98-point win over the Suns, by 41 points over the Crows, 33 over the Lions and 83 against the Cats in the preliminary final. They beat the Bulldogs by 28 in Round 11, but lost to them by 20 in Round 19 at the MCG, their last encounter. Remarkably, thanks to Melbourne’s twin COVID-19 outbreaks this year, this will be the first time since a pre-season clash that the Dees and Dogs will lock horns in front of a crowd.
The Bulldogs are 3-3 in their last six games, infamously losing there in a row before the finals series. However, they have since turned around their shoddy form with stunning finals wins on the road against Essendon in Tasmania (by 49), the Lions at the Gabba by a solitary point, and the demolition in Adelaide against the Power by 71 to reach the big dance.
For the Dogs, Laitham Vandermeer and Ryan Gardner have been dropped for the returning Keath and Weightman. For Melbourne, who head in unchanged, Jack Viney will play his 150th game.
We’ve been talking about how good both have been all year. Now we get the chance to see who can settle this debate.
There’s personnel on both teams that will worry coaches Luke Beveridge and Simon Goodwin. The Bulldogs will have their hands full with Dees ruckman Max Gawn, and will be hoping Stef Martin can contain him along with some help. Then there’s Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver to consider, as well as the defensive duo of May and Jake Lever.
The Demons will have concerns over players like key forward Aaron Naughton and midfield maestros Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli, who are all match-winners in their own right. Weightman and Keath’s returns add an extra layer of goal-kicking and mark intercepts respectively.
The Bulldogs have defied the odds. After a disastrous finish to the home-and-away season to slide out of the top four having sat in the top two for months, they somehow found a spark against the Bombers, were lucky against the Lions – a result that could have gone either way — and were just incredible against the Power. Three wins in three different states. All knockout finals. If they salute today, few premierships will ever have been so well-earned
But there’s a collective gut feel that the Bulldogs’ run, and luck, is about to finish. Truth is: the Demons haven’t struggled in the finals. They’ve played two stellar games of their own — that Geelong win in the prelim was ‘nuclear’ mode. When you’re confronted with two teams that stack up well and there are inches separating them, you look hard into form and Melbourne just has it. Their form is simply better and more consistent.
It’s not to say the Bulldogs can’t win it all — they can — but all the signs point to a Melbourne flag. They’ve developed ruthlessness and learned how to be a better football team for longer periods than the opposition.
Melbourne by 28 points
Catch all the action on The Roar’s live coverage of the Grand Final from 7:15pm (AEST).
FB:  Michael Hibberd,  Steven May,  Jake Lever
HB:  Christian Salem,  Harrison Petty,  Trent Rivers
C:  Angus Brayshaw,  Christian Petracca,  Ed Langdon
HF:  Alex Neal-Bullen,  Tom McDonald,  Tom Sparrow
FF:  Bayley Fritsch,  Ben Brown,  Charlie Spargo
FOL  Max Gawn (c),  Clayton Oliver,  Jack Viney
I/C:  James Harmes,  Luke Jackson,  Jake Bowey,  Kysaiah Pickett
M/S:  James Jordon
EMERG:  Jake Melksham,  Jayden Hunt,  Kade Chandler
FB:  Easton Wood,  Alex Keath,  Bailey Williams
HB:  Caleb Daniel,  Zaine Cordy,  Bailey Dale
C:  Bailey Smith,  Tom Liberatore,  Lachie Hunter
HF:  Cody Weightman,  Aaron Naughton,  Adam Treloar
FF:  Josh Schache,  Tim English,  Mitch Hannan
FOL:  Stefan Martin,  Jack Macrae,  Marcus Bontempelli (c)
I/C:  Josh Dunkley,  Taylor Duryea,  Roarke Smith,  Jason Johannisen
M/S:  Laitham Vandermeer
EMERG:  Ed Richards, 28] Anthony Scott,  Ryan Gardner
IN: Cody Weightman, Alex Keath
OUT: Ryan Gardner, Laitham Vandermeer (to medical sub), Anthony Scott (PF medical sub)