By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash.
The 2021 AFL Finals Series begins on Friday night. Photo: AFL
After 23 rounds of AFL we have reached the finals. Eight teams remain, who will be crowned the 2021 Premiers? It all starts this weekend with four huge finals, Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash take a look at each matchup and give their prediction as to who wins and why.
Port Adelaide will host Geelong at Adelaide Oval on Friday night to begin the 2021 AFL Finals Series. Photo: Port Adelaide FC
Second Qualifying Final:
Port Adelaide vs Geelong
Adelaide Oval, Friday August 27 7:50PM AEST
It would be easy to assume Port Adelaide enters this game favourites after the weekend we have just witnessed. The Power coming back from 19 points down at half-time in a low scoring affair against the Western Bulldogs to win and Geelong conceding 9.4 to its 2.3 in the second-half to lose to Melbourne after the siren. However, let’s not forget the dominance that Geelong can possess in games. For the first-half on the weekend, the Cats suffocated the visitors. They set up superbly behind the ball and played the type of offensive footy that suited the state of the game. At times, agonisingly slow but also fast when required to catch Melbourne’s intercept defenders one-on-one. This was ultimately effective, hence the 8.1 to 1.2 second term. Granted, Port Adelaide have been in great form, however, its forward line has not seemed as potent as it has been in the past. If this doesn’t change this weekend, Geelong would own that half of the ground and won’t let up, especially considering the loss it just suffered. The Power are a strong chance to win, don’t get me wrong, and the home crowd will make a difference.
Where the match will be won
It’s the old cliché ahead of a final, but the midfield battle will ultimately decide this game. Port Adelaide is at its best when it pressures its opponent inside the forward half. This aspect of their game nearly got the Power into a grand final last season, and considering Geelong’s defensive dominance when it’s allowed to set up behind the ball, it becomes even more vital for Port. Geelong on top in the midfield is a recipe for disaster for its opposition. Its defence is incredibly hard to break through once the ball is locked in and seems to suck the life out of teams (or maybe that’s just me as I sink into my couch bored of the Cats chip, chip game). Geelong enters favourites for mine as its commitment to its game style has shone through all season and should hold it in good stead in the grit and grind that is a final. What will give Port Adelaide its biggest chance of a victory is winning the midfield battle. Being able to keep the ball inside its half of the ground would prevent Geelong from setting up defensively and make it susceptible to being scored against quickly. Winning the midfield battle throws out everything I have talked about before this paragraph and especially considering Tom Stewart’s injury and inability to play, makes Geelong’s defence nervous.
Key match-up: Geelong forwards vs Port defenders
Super general and broad, I know, but have a look at the last time these sides met. Jeremy Cameron five goals, Tom Hawkins four and Gary Rohan three. The end margin? 21 points. All-Australian Aliir Aliir and Tom Jonas become so vital in slowing down the tall-forward duo of Hawkins and Cameron. If they can, it makes life a lot harder not only for those two, but also the small forward at their feet. As a Richmond supporter, I’ve watched Geelong’s forwards give us a bath twice this year. If Port let the Cats get on top in that area, it’s game over, there is simply too many players that can hit the scoreboard.
Prediction: Geelong by 15 points.
The Swans will host the Giants in Tasmania in the Second Elimination Final on Saturday Afternoon. Photo: Sydney Swans
Second Elimination Final:
Sydney Swans vs GWS Giants
University of Tasmania Stadium, Saturday August 28, 3:20PM
Sydney will take on GWS on Saturday in what will be the third time the crosstown rivals have met in the finals in the space of five years. In 2016, it was a Qualifying Final, 2019 an Elimination Final and now in 2021 another Elimination Final. The Swans and Giants have played twice this season, with GWS defeating Sydney at the SCG in round five by two points before the two teams met again in round 18 where it was the Swans who took home the chocolates, defeating the Giants by 26 points at Metricon Stadium. The Giants are in a purple patch, while the Swans have been consistently strong throughout the year winning seven of their past eight games to finish the season. It’s 6th vs 7th, however on form both of these teams are well and truly in the premiership race so expect a hotly contested battle from the opening bounce.
Where the match will be won:
With Josh Kennedy and Callum Mills likely unavailable due to injury you’d expect the Giants to win the battle in the midfield, however Sydney have shown they can win games without winning the battle in the middle of the ground. They are the number one turnover team in the competition, their pressure all season has been relentless which is where teams have struggled against them. If GWS’s delivery inside 50 is at a high efficiency they will go very close to winning this game as you would expect them to win the midfield duel. However, if the Swans bring the pressure they’ve brought all year, force the Giants into turnovers and efficiently move the ball from their defensive half to their forward half, they will be very hard to beat. Both defenses have genuine assignments ahead of them going into this one as well. For the Swans it’s Toby Greene, the gun Giant had 18 disposals and kicked 1.7 in their round five match-up and is a genuine match winner for GWS. While down the other end it’s Lance Franklin who will be causing nightmares for the Giants backline. Franklin has kicked nine goals in his two matches against the Giants in 2021. The match could also very well come down to these two players.
Key Matchup: Lance Franklin vs Sam Taylor:
Lance Franklin has had an incredibly successful 2021 to date, especially against the Giants. In round five Franklin booted five majors, while in round 18 he kicked 4.2. His likely opponent Sam Taylor has had a breakout year and grew up idolising Franklin. Last time the two met Buddy even offered the young GWS defender advice on how to beat him one-on-one. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out, with Franklin averaging 4.5 goals per game against the Giants across two meetings in 2021. If he can get in space and Sydney’s delivery is spot on it’s hard to see how Taylor stops him.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by six points.
Melbourne host Brisbane at Adelaide Oval on Saturday Night in the First Qualifying Final. Photo: Getty Images
First Qualifying Final:
Melbourne vs Brisbane
Adelaide Oval, Saturday August 28, 7:25PM
It’s 1st vs 4th in this massive Qualifying Final at Adelaide Oval, and while usually there is a big gap between the minor premiers and the fourth best team at the end of the Home and Away season the Lions are a genuine chance in this one. The two teams have met once in 2021 where it was the Demons who were too strong for Brisbane. The Lions led that game by 20 points at halftime, before Melbourne kicked nine goals to three after halftime to complete a 42-point turnaround and win by 22 points at Giants Stadium. Christian Petracca finished with 26 disposals and two goals in a best on ground performance. While Zac Bailey kicked four goals for the Lions, and Kysiah Pickett and Tom McDonald kicked three majors each for the Demons. Both teams enter the finals in strong form, with Melbourne winning their past four games to finish minor premiers for the first time in 57-years, while Brisbane won their final three games of the home and away season by at least six goals or more to scrape into the top four and secure a double chance. Melbourne have been the most consistent team throughout 2021, while the Lions are roaring right now. Can the Demons put themselves one win away from a Grand Final berth or will the Lions continue their hot run of form?
Where the match will be won:
If Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca are at their best Melbourne will be very hard to beat as they are arguably the best midfield combination in the AFL right now. While the Lions have their own very handy duo in 2020 Brownlow Medalist Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons. The Demons have the best defensive system in the league headlined by Steven May and Jake Lever, if Brisbane aren’t efficient with their ball movement from the middle of the ground going inside 50 they’ll struggle to kick a winning score. There are key matchups across the ground that will decide the result of this match, it will be highly contested and could very well be low scoring. Melbourne have a number of scoring options inside 50 as do the Lions, it sounds cliché but both teams are strong all over the ground and it may very well come down to who takes their chances, this one will be a lot closer than some may think.
Key matchup: Max Gawn vs Oscar McInerney
McInerney has a massive task on his hands this week matching up on the number one ruckman in the competition. While Gawn also has a young apprentice on his side in Luke Jackson, he is still the Demons number one choice at the opening bounce. In round 12 Gawn was way too strong for McInerney finishing with 31 hitouts to 18, but also was much more influential around the ground with 17 disposals, four tackles and a goal to McInerney’s eight disposals, zero tackles and a behind. McInerney must be better this week and it is vital he does what he can to limit Gawn’s influence, otherwise Melbourne’s midfield will likely get on top, making it extremely tough for the Lions to get first use of the ball out of the middle.
Prediction: Melbourne by 12 points.
The Bombers defeated the Bulldogs on the back of Peter Wright's seven goals in Round 21. Photo: AFL
First Elimination Final:
Western Bulldogs vs Essendon
University of Tasmania Stadium, Sunday August 29, 3:20PM AEST
Who would have thought three weeks ago the Western Bulldogs would be in an elimination final in week one of the finals? Certainly not me, the top four seemed an absolute lock. This is where the Bulldogs are now though and they need to fight their way out of the mess they have created. The best part about this match-up is that the two sides faced off in round 21, resulting in a 13-point victory to the Bombers, the beginning of the Bulldogs’ fall. The good news for Bulldogs fans is that their side had every right to win the game. Plus two scoring shots, +49 disposals, +21 inside 50s, +19 contested possessions, +40 uncontested possessions, plus seven marks inside 50, plus eight intercept possessions and plus seven tackles inside 50. The difference in the game? Essendon got on top of the Bulldogs in the midfield. The Bombers were +16 clearances, plus six centre clearances and +18 tackles. If the Dogs fix this part of their game, which after becoming such a threat early in the season, has become a space in need of fixing, it will go a long way to a win. As simple and dumb as it may sound, goal-kicking would carry the Bulldogs a long way also. The final score line of 12.12 (84) to 15.7 (97) and the fact the Bulldogs had 10 more shots than Essendon (33-23) proves some accurate and efficient attack on the scoreboard will take the Dogs a long way.
Where the match will be won
Luke Beveridge described his midfielders performance against Essendon in round 21 as nearly one of the worst he’s experienced since joining the Bulldogs as coach. That probably explains the importance of the midfield battle this weekend better than I could. All the stats are mentioned in the paragraph above and paint a pretty clear picture. Whoever gets on top in the midfield will get the job done. Each forward line is potent enough that if enough ball gets in there, they will hit the scoreboard strongly.
Key match-up: Jake Stringer vs Bailey Williams
The midfield is the clear big “key match-up” in this game. However, Jake Stringer versus whoever the Dogs assign to him could be the other pivotal match-up. Stringer’s in a rich run of form and is a proven match winner so far this season. With Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy able to lock up the key forwards, it frees someone like Bailey Williams up to take Stringer. You take Stringer out of the game and in my opinion, you take Essendon out of the game. This is assuming the Bulldogs midfield responds strongly, which I think it will. We watched teams refuse to take Dustin Martin out of finals games for four years and look where it got them. Stringer has the potential to have a stinker by himself even without close attention but why take the risk? Put the fire out before it even starts and get the ball rolling in your direction, Bulldogs.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 30 points.
Cover Photo: AFL