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The stakes are high for both the Melbourne Demons and the Geelong Cats in their preliminary final in Perth, with a grand final ticket the reward for the winner. Join The Roar for live scores and commentary from 7:50pm (AEST).
For the Demons, they’re trying to end a 57-year wait for a premiership: a win would leave them just one triumph away from breaking the AFL’s longest current drought.
And for the Cats, they’re aiming to erase the memory of the tough defeat to Richmond in last year’s big dance.
After looking ragged and slow against a sharp, youthful Port Adelaide, the Cats were able to make light work of Greater Western Sydney in last weke’s semi-final, who were missing several star players including Toby Greene. The Cats held the Giants to only five goals in the first three quarters; they will need to bring that same defensive game – and maintain it for four quarters – to have any chance against a rampaging Demons outfit.
Since coach Brad Scott took the reins in 2011, Geelong have appeared in finals every year except 2015. But their preliminary finals record of 1-4 in that time suggests they might be up against it. But perhaps they found another gear against the Giants, and gained further belief that their finals experience will get the job done this time around?
The Demons look impenetrable with their steely defence and quick, open play that cuts teams open. They played with a confidence in their qualifying final win over Brisbane that, even when challenged, sent the Lions into their shells.
Their deep midfield with a mix of speed, skills, grunt and height have been troubling teams all year. Led by the likes of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw, Ed Langdon and Jack Viney, it’s a ridiculously long and talented group who have proved nigh on unstoppable for most teams this year.
Geelong’s key forwards in Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron will have a big role to play, as will Melbourne’s defenders Steven May and Jake Lever. It’s this end of the ground that will draw the most intrigue. Hawkins and Cameron only need half an inch to turn small opportunities into goals, while 2021 All Australians Lever and May have been ruthlessly repelling forward attacks all season long.
These battles will put pressure on the Cats’ small-to-medium forwards like Gary Rohan, Gryan Miers and Sam Menegola crumbling at the feet of the giants, who haven’t had much impact during their last two finals.
Dees forward Bayley Fritsch has been enjoying a breakout year with 51 goals, becoming their go-to player for contested marks inside 50. But their forward set-up is more than just Fritsch. It almost has more variety than their midfield; with Ben Brown, Luke Jackson and Tom McDonald as key marking talls, then Alex Neal-Bullen, Charlie Spargo and Kysaiah Pickett all there for the crumbs. Do Geelong, shorn of star back Tom Stewart, have the flexibility in defence to match the dangerous alternatives Melbourne have at their disposal when it gets inside 50?
The last time these two teams met, in the final round of the home-and-away season, Max Gawn kicked a goal after the siren to win the game and claim the minor premiership for the Demons, who had trailed by as much as 44 points.
Michael Hibberd comes in for the luckless Joel Smith, who injured his hamstring at training, in the Demons’ only change. For the Cats, Brandan Parfitt’s season-ending hamstring injury sees him replaced by their semi-final medical sub in Zach Guthrie.
There have been periods during the finals where Geelong looked dangerous as a team, and it’s usually when they veered away from their standard possession-style game and attack through the corridor. If they can do that and take some risks, they’ve got a shot at winning this. If not, eventually, Scott’s plan of trying to avoid turnovers in the finals pressure-cooker will unravel. Put simply they’ll need to take the game on.
Melbourne has been the best team this year for good reason. If that Lions win a couple of weeks ago is anything to go by, they’re ready to embrace the big moments and tackle head-on whatever the Cats have in store for them.
Melbourne by 36 points.
Catch all the action on The Roar’s live coverage of this knockout final from 7:50pm (AEST).
FB:  Christian Salem,  Steven May,  Jake Lever
HB:  Jake Bowey,  Harrison Petty,  Trent Rivers
C:  Tom Sparrow,  Christian Petracca,  Ed Langdon
HF:  Bayley Fritsch,  Tom McDonald,  Jack Viney
FF:  Alex Neal-Bullen,  Ben Brown,  Charlie Spargo
FOL  Max Gawn (c),  Clayton Oliver,  Angus Brayshaw
I/C:  James Harmes,  Luke Jackson,  Michael Hibberd,  Kysaiah Pickett
EMERG:  Nathan Jones,  Jake Melksham,  James Jordon,  Kade Chandler
IN: Michael Hibberd
OUT: Joel Smith
FB:  Jack Henry,  Lachie Henderson,  Zach Tuohy
HB:  Jake Kolodjashnij,  Mark Blicavs,  Jed Bews
C:  Mitch Duncan,  Cameron Guthrie,  Isaac Smith
HF:  Esava Ratugolea,  Jeremy Cameron,  Gary Rohan
FF:  Sam Menegola,  Tom Hawkins,  Gryan Miers
FOL:  Rhys Stanley,  Joel Selwood (c),  Patrick Dangerfield
I/C  Tom Atkins,  Zach Guthrie,  Max Holmes,  Brad Close
EMERG:  Luke Dahlhaus,  Sam Simpson,  Darcy Fort,  Shaun Higgins
IN: Zach Guthrie (SF medical sub)
OUT: Brandan Parfitt