Ahead of the 2023 AFL Grand Final, we look back at Collingwood and Brisbane’s season and how they reached the last Saturday in September
Pre-season: Lions expected to fire, questions linger on Pies
A model of consistency in recent years, almost every expert expected Brisbane to fire again in 2023 before the first ball was bounced. Having made a semi-final or better in each of the previous four seasons, Chris Fagan’s men were $1.17 to feature in the finals again, and third-favourites (behind Geelong and Melbourne) to go all the way. Aiding their efforts was the big acquisitions of Josh Dunkley in the off-season from the Western Bulldogs, bolstering an already strong midfield, and nabbing one of the most highly touted youngsters ever in the draft in Will Ashcroft — son of triple AFL premiership player Marcus — as a father-son selection.
For the Pies, however, there were more question marks over their credentials. Craig McRae’s men had an incredible back-half of 2022, which culminated in a devastating one-point preliminary final loss to the Swans. But that run was underlined by a series of single-figure-margin wins. Many questioned whether they simply had the coin fall their way, and asked whether they could do it again.
Palmerbet’s AFL Premiership odds prior to Round 1:
- Brisbane Lions $7.50
- Collingwood $10
The skippers have had their say 👨✈️
— 7AFL (@7AFL) March 9, 2023
Halfway mark: Collingwood’s fast start, Brisbane’s mixed results
Any doubts over the Pies were vanished almost immediately. In fact, it took only one round for Collingwood to overtake the Lions in premiership betting. McRae’s men defeated reigning premiers Geelong to kick off their 2023 campaign while Brisbane were thrashed by Port Adelaide. And the Pies didn’t stop there. In the first half of the season, they sealed comfortable wins over would-be finalists Port, Sydney, GWS and Carlton. By the halfway mark of the season, they’d become just the 15th side in the AFL era to go 11-1 or better.
While still making their way to 8-4, things were comparatively rockier at the Lions. After going 1-2 Fagan implored his side to be better. And they were, winning seven on the bounce, a run that started with a 33-point win over Collingwood— the only side to knock off the Pies in the first half of the AFL season. However after this run, back-to-back defeats to Adelaide and Hawthorn brought them back to the chasing pack.
Palmerbet’s AFL Premiership odds after Round 13:
- Collingwood $3.50
- Brisbane Lions $7.00
The step from Charles 🤤
— AFL (@AFL) April 6, 2023
Back-half: Lions roar, Pies suffer blows
Brisbane shook off the shock loss to Hawthorn by winning their next four, including an impressive win over Sydney and a thumping victory over Richmond. A shock loss to the Suns in Round 20 — their first QClash loss in five years — saw them pushed back again in the flag market. However they bounced back strongly to head into the finals with four straight wins. One of those victories was against the Pies, a 24-point win at Marvel Stadium in AFL Round 23. It was their second win over their Grand Final opponents for the season, which bodes well for Saturday’s third encounter for the year.
While the Lions entered September on a high, Collingwood by contrast won just two of their last five home-and-away matches. The aforementioned loss to the Lions compounded earlier defeats at the hands of Carlton and Hawthorn to stall momentum heading into the most important part of the year. It wasn’t just the losses that gave McRae headaches, too. Injuries to arguably their two most important players in captain Darcy Moore and young star Nick Daicos (which all but cost the 20-year-old a Brownlow Medal on Monday night) put some question marks on Collingwood’s credentials. Despite these setbacks, they still finished a game clear as minor premiers, something they were $12 to do prior to the season’s start.
Palmerbet’s AFL Premiership odds after Round 24 (prior to Finals Week 1):
- Collingwood $3.50
- Brisbane Lions $3.75
It wasn’t his greatest night, but the return from injury for Nick Daicos is a scary sight for next week 🌟 pic.twitter.com/hxJAOQAibS
— Triple M Footy (@triplemfooty) September 23, 2023
Finals Series: Both go two from two
While Collingwood lost two finals by a kick or less in 2022, in 2023 their fortunes have reversed. The Pies edged Melbourne in the qualifying final by seven points despite being dominated in the inside-50 count, before outlasting a gallant GWS in the preliminary final by a point in a classic. Both these tight wins, of course, came in front of a raucous crowd at the MCG. It’s a factor that simply cannot be underestimated ahead of Saturday.
The Lions, too, have made the most of their top finish. And they’ve reached the AFL Grand Final in more straightforward fashion. Fagan’s side dominated the Power in the qualifying final and, despite conceding the first five goals to Carlton in last Saturday’s prelim, came home with a wet sail at their Gabba fortress. Now, 20 years on from their last premiership success, can the Lions repeat the dose?
2023 AFL Grand Final odds:
- Collingwood $1.75
- Brisbane Lions $2.10
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) September 26, 2023