After what’s been widely regarded as the best first week of AFL Finals this century, semi-final weekend is set to carry the momentum with two huge contests.
Friday 9th September, 19:50 (AEST)
|C.Salem, S.May, H.Petty||B||D.Gardiner, D.McStay, D.Rich|
|HB||A.Brayshaw, J.Lever, M.Hibberd||HB||B.Starcevich, H.Andrews, K.Coleman|
|C||T.Sparrow, C.Oliver, E.Langdon||C||Z.Bailey, J.Berry, C.Ah Chee|
|HF||J.Melksham, M.Gawn, J.Harmes||HF||D.Zorko, E.Hipwood, L.McCarthy|
|F||A.Neal-Bullen, B.Fritsch, C.Spargo||F||J.Payne, J.Daniher, C.Cameron|
|FOL||L.Jackson, J.Viney, C.Petracca||FOL||D.Fort, L.Neale, H.McCluggage|
|I/C||T.Rivers, J.Hunt, K.Pickett, B.Brown||I/C||D.Robertson, C.Rayner, N.Answerth, D.Wilmot|
History: Played 51: Melbourne 29 v Brisbane 22
Last Meeting: AFL R23 2022: Brisbane Lions 8.9 (57) lost to Melbourne 18.7 (115) at the Gabba
The Dees were battered and bruised, physically and mentally, from a tough Qualifying Final against the Swans last Friday night. But in finishing second they’ve earned the right to go again at home, and will back themselves over a Brisbane side they themselves have bullied on two occasions this season in winning by 58 and 64 points respectively. It’s a huge night at the selection table on Thursday night for the Dees, who have concerns around three players in reigning Norm Smith Medalist Christian Petracca (corked calf, hairline leg fracture), Charlie Spargo (throat) and Bayley Fritsch (knee). Petracca and Spargo are very much touch-and-go and will be a watch even if picked. Fritsch (three goals against Sydney), however, has all but been cleared.
Coach Simon Goodwin has obvious areas he will be looking to sharpen up in this clash. The Dees went inside-50 a total of 56 times against the Swans (who went in 50 times) and kicked just 10 goals. Goodwin simply needs Ben Brown to offer more in the air, and at least will be buoyed by the fact the key forward booted three first half goals against the Lions last time out. Luke Jackson, too, needs to lift in the ruck if Melbourne continue using skipper and fellow ruckman Max Gawn in an increased capacity up forward. There’s conversely few issues through the midfield and particularly down back: Melbourne’s defence coughed up just 110 points in two outings against the Lions this season.
For the first half of the 2022 AFL season, Brisbane occupied the second-favourites position in the flag market just behind Melbourne. That was until they dropped off as the campaign went on, but a stirring win as underdogs over Richmond last week has kept their outside hopes of premiership success alive. Chris Fagan had two players who were enormous against the Tigers, and they will more than likely have to star again for Brisbane to cause an upset win at the MCG, where they haven’t won since 2014. Lachie Neale (39 disposals, 15 clearances) was simply remarkable in a best-on-ground effort, and only one touch from a $7.25 40-disposal effort while Zac Bailey (24 disposals, one goals, eight score involvements and five inside 50s) has rediscovered his 2021 red-hot form.
By captain Dayne Zorko’s own admission, the Lions simply haven’t brought four-quarter pressure in both occasions they’ve played (and been brushed aside by) the Dees, something that needs to change if they’ve any hope of an underdog win. Sydney have created a template on how to beat Goodwin’s men, and if they replicate the heat the Swans brought around the ground, they will be a huge chance. Cam Rayner and Noah Answerth are both available following one-match suspensions. Rayner, in particular, is a huge x-factor inclusion.
Tip: Margin, Melbourne by 1-39 @ $2.15
Saturday 10th September, 19:25 (AEST)
|B.Maynard, D.Moore, J.Howe||B||J.Aish, B.Cox, B.Walker|
|HB||N.Daicos, N.Murphy, J.Crisp||HB||H.Young, A.Pearce, L.Ryan|
|C||W.Hoskin-Elliott, S.Pendlebury, J.Noble||C||J.Clark, A.Brayshaw, B.Acres|
|HF||J.De Goey, D.Cameron, B.McCreery||HF||L.Schultz, S.Switkowski, H.Chapman|
|F||A.Johnson, B.Mihocek, S.Sidebottom||F||J.Amiss, R.Lobb, M.Walters|
|FOL||M.Cox, J.Elliott, J.Daicos||FOL||S.Darcy, W.Brodie, C.Serong|
|I/C||P.Lipinski, I.Quaynor, T.Bianco, J.Ginnivan||I/C||M.Frederick, D.Mundy, N.O’Driscoll, G.Logue|
History: Played 34: Collingwood 20 v Fremantle 14
Last Meeting: AFL R10 2022: Fremantle 6.8 (44) lost to Collingwood 12.8 (80) at Optus Stadium
The Pies were a whisker away from knocking off the flag favourites at the MCG last week, and deservedly start as favourites. Stats-wise, they more than matched it with the Cats in signs that translate well ahead of this one. Collingwood won uncontested possessions (226-182), inside 50s (56-53) and marks inside 50 (13-9). And in a hugely positive sign for Craig McRae in the pressure-cooker that is the AFL Finals, his side finished with 85 tackles — 22 more than their season average and 15 more than Geelong. Jordan De Goey was also enormous against Geelong (26 disposals, two goals, eight clearances, six inside 50s, nine tackles).
But they’ll likely be pushed deep against a dogged Fremantle outfit who possess one of the AFL’s best defensive structures. Despite all the positives of 2022 (in moving from a lowly 17th all the way up to fourth in the McRae renaissance) a straight-sets exit would burn for Pies fans who believe the side is bound for something special this September. As a result, the pressure is squarely on Collingwood in a role-reversal for much of their big games throughout 2022. Can they can handle that mentally, and execute the same level of pressure as they did against the Cats? If they can, they’ll more than likely book an AFL Preliminary Final against the Swans at the SCG.
The belief instilled in a young Dockers after dragging themselves back from 41 points down last Saturday can’t be underestimated. And the travel-factor will hold few worries for coach Justin Longmuir, as his side have won seven interstate games in 2022. At the MCG in Round 11 they downed reigning premiers Melbourne to snap a 10-game winning streak, and enjoy the wider expanses at the home of footy, similar to their home at Optus Stadium. Fremantle legend Matthew Pavlich has pinpointed the area the Dockers can get on top against the Pies. “What Freo did exceptionally well after the 10-minute mark of the second quarter against the Bulldogs was win the contested possession,” he said on SEN Radio this week. “They were getting smacked early, but they shifted that, and Collingwood aren’t good at that. They’re ranked 17th, the second worst team in the AFL at contested possession differential.
Midfielders Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong both finished with over 30 disposals against the Western Bulldogs but it was Luke Ryan (31 disposals, $7.25 pre-game to finish with 30+) that was hugely influential down back, and Collingwood may even consider putting a lockdown forward on the dominant defender. It was the experience of Michael Walters who got the Dockers over the line last week. The small forward has now booted 3+ in Freo’s last four AFL finals, and looms as crucial again here.