By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Just like that, preliminary final weekend has arrived and with it, two cracking contests. The rising Demons, minor premiers for the first time since 1964 and seeking their first grand final appearance since 2000 up against Geelong, playing in its fifth preliminary final in six years.
On Saturday night, the beat-up Western Bulldogs facing the fit, firing and intimidating Port Adelaide Power. Two huge games that loom as classics. See what Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash think of the two games below.
Clayton Oliver and Cameron Guthrie will play big roles for their respective sides. Picture: AFL Media
Melbourne vs Geelong
Optus Stadium, Friday September 10, 7:50pm AEST
Melbourne will face Geelong on Friday night in a preliminary final at Optus Stadium. The two sides met in the final round of the home and away season less than three weeks ago. It was a clash of two halves, Geelong led at half-time by 39 points and looking destined for the minor premiership. However, after the main break it was all Melbourne, with the Demons outscoring the Cats 58-15, including six goals to none in the final quarter. Fittingly the result was eventually decided with Demons skipper Max Gawn kicking the match-winning goal after the siren to break Geelong hearts, and give Melbourne their first minor premiership since 1964.
Melbourne defeated Brisbane in a qualifying final two weeks ago by 33 points in a very impressive performance, while the Cats fell to Port Adelaide in a qualifying final by 43 points before turning it around last week to defeat the GWS Giants by 35 points. It will be Geelong’s fifth preliminary final in six years, while for Melbourne it will be just its second since 2000. Will the Demons find themselves one step closer to breaking their 57-year premiership drought, or will the Cats spoil the fairytale and make the grand final for the second consecutive year?
Where the match will be won:
It sounds cliché but the midfield battle is key to deciding which team will be the first to book their place in the 2021 Grand Final. Clayton Oliver ran rampant in the round 23 clash collecting 37 disposals and two goals in a best on ground performance, while Max Gawn wasn’t far behind with 25 disposals, 39 hit-outs and a goal. Rhys Stanley must do all he can to limit Gawn’s influence in the ruck, and give the Geelong midfielders the best chance at getting first use of the ball out of the middle. Both teams are strong all over the ground, while the Cats must be efficient with their delivery inside 50 as Melbourne’s backline is the best defensive system in the league. It will come down to who is more efficient with their opportunities, as both teams have the superstars to propel their side to the big dance.
Key match-up: Tom Hawkins vs Steven May
It’s the All-Australian center half-forward up against the All-Australian full-back. In round 23 Hawkins booted four goals on May with three of them coming in the second quarter. Hawkins has kicked 11 goals across his past three games including five last week in arguably his best game of the season to date against the Giants. While May has his work cut out for him, he has been the most consistent one on one key defender all year and stopping Hawkins is something he is clearly capable of if Melbourne’s pressure up the ground is at a strong level. The Demons defence is the most dynamic in the league, while the three-headed monster forward line of Geelong being Hawkins, Cameron and Rohan is equally as strong. Hawkins vs May is the nucleus of this battle, but which group wants it more?
Prediction: Melbourne by four points.
Ollie Wines and Bailey Smith will need to be in good form for their sides to win. Picture: AFL Media
Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs
Adelaide Oval, Saturday September 11, 7:40pm AEST
Aside from the fact the Western Bulldogs were a top four side all season and threw it all away in the last three weeks, this 2021 side is eerily similar to the 2016 premiership winning group. Backs against the wall playing in elimination finals on the hunt for an unlikely premiership from outside the top four. Add into it the injuries the Bulldogs have copped, losing Alex Keath and Cody Weightman this week, it’s again mirroring the 2016 campaign, when they lost a core group of senior players throughout the season. It means the pressure is all on Port Adelaide. Playing at home, in front of a crowd with a week’s rest up its sleeve and its opponent in injury trouble. It’s a lot different to 2020, when the Power came up against dynasty side Richmond and entered slight underdogs. The time is now for Port Adelaide and this is as good a chance as any to qualify for its first grand final since 2007.
Where the game will be won
If Port Adelaide are to win through to the grand final, its edge will be found in the forward line. With Alex Keath now out of the side, the door is wide open for the Power’s forwards, specifically Charlie Dixon, to have a day out. Zaine Cordy is a handy in, an experienced defender with a premiership medallion already, but Keath’s shoes are big ones to fill. Last weekend, Brisbane had 14 more inside 50s than the Bulldogs and six more marks inside 50, yet only managed two more shots on goals. Considering the Keath injury, the Power need to take advantage of the smaller defence of the Dogs and be efficient going inside 50. If they can’t, the Bulldogs have proved that they can hurt you at the other end through their dynamic midfield. It happened against the Lions, the Dogs were able to turn missed chances from Brisbane into attacking opportunities and hurt them on the other end. Not giving the Bulldogs a chance to do this will be objective number one for Port Adelaide.
Key match-up: Ollie Wines vs Jack Macrae/Marcus Bontempelli
Jack Macrae was superb against Brisbane and set the scene from the outset with 13 first quarter disposals. Enter Ollie Wines. The stoppage bull needs to assert his dominance on the game and if he does, he’ll be able to diminish Macrae’s influence on the game. In the process, if he can beat Bontempelli inside, that will go a long way to Port Adelaide winning the game. With a slight injury cloud hanging over Bontempelli’s head, a couple of tough, hard contests to start the game might just play in the back of his mind slightly and knock him off his game. Even if he’s off by just 10 per cent, that’s a huge plus for the Power. Overall, this midfield battle is key to the game. Both sets of midfield groups have been in stellar form and as is the case in finals, whoever wins the midfield battle will win the game more often than not.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 24 points
Cover Picture: AFL Photos