Following the home and away season’s pulsating finish, the opening weekend of the 2022 AFL Finals Series throws up a host of huge clashes.
Brisbane Lions v Richmond @ Gabba
Thursday 1st September, 19:20 (AEST)
|D.Gardiner, D.McStay, D.Rich||B||N.Broad, N.Balta, R.Tarrant|
|HB||B.Starcevich, H.Andrews, K.Coleman||HB||L.Baker, N.Vlastuin, D.Rioli|
|C||Z.Bailey, J.Berry, H.McCluggage||C||M.Pickett, T.Cotchin, K.McIntosh|
|HF||D.Zorko, E.Hipwood, L.McCarthy||HF||M.Rioli, J.Short, S.Bolton|
|F||J.Payne, J.Daniher, C.Cameron||F||J.Riewoldt, D.Martin, T.Lynch|
|FOL||O.McInerney, L.Neale, M.Robinson||FOL||T.Nankervis, D.Prestia, T.Sonsie|
|I/C||D.Robertson, J.Prior, R.Mathieson, D.Wilmot||I/C||J.Gibcus, B.Miller, J.Ross, N.Cumberland|
History: Played 53: Brisbane 18 v Richmond 34 (1 draw)
Last Meeting: AFL R20 2022: Richmond 15.14 (104) dftd Brisbane Lions 14.13 (97) at the MCG
Try as he might to deflect it, but the pressure is squarely on Brisbane and coach Chris Fagan heading into this huge clash to kick off the 2022 AFL Finals series. The Lions have won just one of their last six finals, and on home turf at the Gabba are expected to deliver. At one stage of the year an apparent Top 4 lock, things have undoubtedly dropped off for Brisbane.
Their glaring issue heading into September is their inability to plug holes in defence. The Lions have conceded 90 points or more in four of their last seven matches, which is hardly the profile of a side who might go deep into September. Further, they face two of the game’s most in-form forwards at present in Tom Lynch and Shai Bolton, plus three-time Norm Smith Medalist Dustin Martin who (if fit) would likely spend most of his time inside forward 50. Further still, defender Marcus Adams has now been ruled out of 2022. The loss of Cam Rayner is also a huge blow for Fagan.
They say Finals footy is all about momentum, and Richmond have it in spades heading into September. The Tigers have won their last four in a row — including their last two by over 10 goals — and are ranked the competition’s No.1 team for scores per inside 50 and ball movement over the last six weeks. When you consider Brisbane’s defensive frailties in the last two months and Richmond complete forward line (the competition’s best behind Geelong), Damien Hardwick’s men deserve to go in as favourites despite being away from home.
While they’ve lost two of their last three at the Gabba, it has been a happy hunting ground for the Tigers in recent years, winning 12 of their last 14 games — including a premiership. Arguably the best AFL Finals player of all time, Martin looks set to return in a huge bonus for an already firing Tigers forward line.
Tip: Line, Richmond -5.5 @ $1.90
Melbourne v Sydney Swans @ MCG
Friday 2nd September, 19:50 (AEST)
|T.Rivers, H.Petty, S.May||B||D.Rampe, T.McCartin, N.Blakey|
|HB||A.Brayshaw, J.Lever, M.Hibberd||HB||J.Lloyd, P.McCartin, J.McInerney|
|C||J.Hunt, C.Oliver, J.Melksham||C||E.Gulden, C.Warner, C.Mills|
|HF||C.Spargo, L.Jackson, E.Langdon||HF||I.Heeney, S.Reid, W.Hayward|
|F||K.Pickett, B.Brown, A.Neal-Bullen||F||T.Papley, L.Franklin, R.Clarke|
|FOL||M.Gawn, J.Viney, C.Petracca||FOL||T.Hickey, L.Parker, J.Rowbottom|
|I/C||C.Salem, J.Harmes, B.Fritsch, T.Sparrow||I/C||R.Fox, O.FLorent, L.McDonald, D.Stephens|
History: Played 212: Melbourne 94 v Sydney 116 (2 draws)
Last Meeting: AFL R12 2022: Melbourne 9.7 (61) lost to Sydney 10.13 (73) at the MCG
After a mid-to-late season wobble that inexplicably had them on the verge of missing the Top 4 despite starting the season at 10-0, the Dees have hit their straps and are well placed to go back-to-back in 2022. Simon Goodwin’s side are a contested team, and that style of footy is back. In the last six weeks, Melbourne have been the AFL’s No.1 side for contested possession differential.
Their skipper Max Gawn stands as the most important player in this one. Despite Melbourne going down the last time they played the Swans (in Round 12 at the MCG), Gawn was by far the best player on the ground and took a whopping six contested marks around the ground. “The player I’d want to take into the finals series with me is Max Gawn,” Bombers legend Matthew Lloyd said this week. “I think he is different. He is better than any other ruckman in the comp by a long way.” Should Gawn dominate Swans ruckman Tom Hickey around the ground, John Longmire could have some huge headaches.
If the Swans are to book a home Preliminary Final berth, they know what they need to do. When they knocked off the Dees in Round 12, the young Swans were dominated around the contest early, which gave Melbourne plenty of inside 50 entries and the continuous supply was reflected on the scoreboard. However as soon as they shut that off — and the likes of Callum Mills, Luke Parker and James Rowbottom brought the heat at the contest — things began to sway. From there, Sydney’s impressive ball movement was on show on the larger spaces of the MCG, and they claimed a season-defining win.
While it might be cast off as cliche to say this clash ‘is won in the midfield’, that’s exactly how Longmire sees it. “Oliver, he’s clearly a star, but Petracca is another one, Viney is in great touch, Brayshaw in their midfield group” he said this week on 1170 SEN. “We’ll be making sure it’s really us versus them in a midfield group sense. We’ve got to make sure that our midfield group gets it done against their midfield group.” The Swans head into the AFL Finals Series with a healthy list and few injury issues, as Tom Papley is free to play having (just) served his 12 days on the sidelines for concussion.
Tip: Margin, Melbourne by 1-39 @ $2.18
Geelong Cats v Collingwood @ MCG
Saturday 3rd September, 16:35 (AEST)
|Z.Tuohy, S.De Koning, J.Bews||B||B.Maynard, D.Moore, J.Howe|
|HB||M.Duncan, J.Henry, T.Stewart||HB||J.Crisp, N.Murphy, S.Pendlebury|
|C||I.Smith, J.Selwood, M.Holmes||C||J.Noble, T.Adams, I.Quaynor|
|HF||B.Close, J.Cameron, G.Miers||HF||J.Elliott, D.Cameron, B.McCreery|
|F||T.Stengle, T.Hawkins, G.Rohan||F||N.Daicos, B.Mihocek, J.Daicos|
|FOL||R.Stanley, M.Blicavs, P.Dangerfield||FOL||M.Cox, J.De Goey, S.Sidebottom|
|I/C||Z.Guthrie, J.Kolodjashnij, C.Guthrie, T.Atkins||I/C||P.Lipinski, W.Hoskin-Elliott, J.Ginnivan, A.Johnson|
History: Played 238: Geelong 103 v Collingwood 134 (1 draw)
Last Meeting: AFL R3 2022: Collingwood 13.13 (91) lost to Geelong 16.8 (104) at the MCG
Despite Geelong’s dominance throughout 2022 in which they comfortably claimed the minor premiership, September footy — as they well know — is a different ball game. They start this year’s series as $3.00 flag favourites, and it’s not hard to see why. Each club still alive in 2022 has several stars, but it’s Geelong’s more unsung heroes around the ground that makes them such a well-rounded side. And while there’s few blemishes in their best 22, the pressure is undoubtedly on. The Cats have finished inside the Top 4 in seven of the last 10 seasons, and walked away as Premiers in none.
Looking past recent history, all indicators suggest Geelong are cherry ripe for their first flag since 2011. In the last six weeks Chris Scott’s men have been the league’s No.1 ranked side in: points against (conceded the fewest), opposition scores per inside 50 and inside 50 differential. Those metrics suggest that they’re particularly humming in defence — a quality that flag tilts are built off. Add to that their class through the midfield and especially up forward, and they start deserved favourites in this one.
The big question, and the big unknown heading into this one, is how Collingwood’s pulsating game style might stack up in September. Cats coach Chris Scott himself questioned it earlier this year, and said it was “unsustainable”. Fremantle legend Matthew Pavlich similarly cast doubt on their run-and-carry style this week, against the best pressure sides in the competition like Geelong. But the key factor is, Craig McRae’s side will bring it in return. For 13-straight rounds — in which they incredibly won 12 games — the Pies brought the heat on their opposition. In fact in the last six weeks, they’re ranked the AFL’s fourth-best side for pressure, and third-best side for opposition scores per inside 50. It’s nothing to be sniffed at.
On a selection front, it’s touch-and-go for Taylor Adams, who hasn’t played since AFL Round 20 due to a groin injury. But in a great signs for Pies fans, the experienced midfielder is expected to be fit and available if he gets through Thursday’s main training session.
Tip: Line, Collingwood +17.5 @ $1.90
Fremantle v Western Bulldogs @ Optus Stadium
Saturday 3rd September, 20:10 (AEST)
|J.Aish, B.Cox, J.Clark||B||E.Richards, R.Gardner, Z.Cordy|
|HB||H.Young, A.Pearce, L.Ryan||HB||B.Williams, A.Keath, B.Dale|
|C||M.Frederick, A.Brayshaw, B.Acres||C||L.Hunter, J.Dunkley, J.Macrae|
|HF||L.Schultz, S.Switkowski, H.Chapman||HF||A.Treloar, J.Ugle-Hagan, J.Johannisen|
|F||J.Amiss, R.Lobb, M.Walters||F||C.Weightman, A.Naughton, S.Darcy|
|FOL||S.Darcy, W.Brodie, C.Serong||FOL||T.English, M.Bontempelli, B.Smith|
|I/C||G.Logue, D.Mundy, N.O’Driscoll, B.Walker||I/C||L.Vandermeer, C.Daniel, T.McLean, R.Smith|
History: Played 35: Fremantle 17 v Western Bulldogs 18
Last Meeting: AFL R21 2022: Western Bulldogs 11.12 (78) lost to Fremantle 14.11 (95) at Marvel Stadium
At one stage in 2022, Fremantle look a strong Top 4 chance and some pundits even had them as a smokey for the flag. And while that’s still possible, the Dockers undoubtedly dropped off from Rounds 15 to 20 this season. However in recent weeks things have started to correct themselves. The Dockers knocked off the Dogs fairly comprehensively only a matter of weeks ago in AFL Round 21 (in Melbourne no less) and should fancy themselves to progress to a semi-final against the loser of Geelong versus Collingwood.
In another bit of positivity for Fremantle fans, the strong form we saw in the middle part of the season has started to return. In recent weeks, Justin Longmuir’s side have been one of the competition’s top-ranked sides for both points against, and for opposition scores per inside 50. It’s a defensive profile that stacks up well for finals footy. In a blow for the Dockers, though, two-time Brownlow Medalist and club captain Nat Fyfe has ruled out of the crunch clash with a hamstring injury.
Last season’s grand finalists the Western Bulldogs are in the finals by the skin of their teeth; Collingwood’s last-gasp one-point win over Carlton in AFL Round 23 allowing Luke Beveridge’s side to remain inside the Top 8 by just 0.6 per cent. While some might think the Dogs will view this finals foray as somewhat of a free-hit, let’s not forget that they’ve caused serious damage outside the Top 4 before — last season, for instance, and in 2016 when they finished seventh and went on to hoist the premiership cup aloft.
The issue for the Dogs is certainly not their midfield, which continues to hold its own even against the best. In fact, in the last six weeks the Dogs have been the AFL’s No.1 clearance differential side, and No.3 contested possession differential side. The issue, though, is their over-reliance on this part of their game. “They go how their mids go, it’s as simple as that,” Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy this week. If the Dogs are any chance of an upset in Perth, their defence first and foremost needs to hold up against an impressive Dockers forward line, and their prominent men up forward in Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle Hagan need to stand tall.