The following are previews with betting tips for the first week of the 2017 AFL finals series.
Thursday, September 7
Adelaide v GWS
7:50PM AEST, Adelaide Oval
The 2017 AFL finals series is upon us, and what a game we have to kick it off. The top-of-the-ladder Adelaide Crows host the GWS Giants—who have spent a good portion of the year as premiership favourites—in a contest that will have huge ramifications on how the remainder of the year pans out. The winner of this one books themselves into a home preliminary final and will rightfully become outright premiership favourites. The Crows are set to welcome back Daniel Talia, Taylor Walker, and Hugh Greenwood from injury layoffs, but unfortunately star midfielder Rory Sloane hasn’t yet fully recovered from recent surgery to remove his appendix. He’ll be a huge loss for the Crows; while their midfield has improved over the course of the year, they still lack some depth in that area if Sloane or one of the two Crouch brothers aren’t available. To make things worse, they’re up against a club with a deep midfield and the Giants will no doubt look to take advantage. GWS have had their own selection issues over the course of the week, the big one being whether to play mercurial forward Steve Johnson. They’ve decided against it, which is probably a fair decision given his current form. Fellow small forward Devon Smith will miss due to a knee, while journeyman Matt de Boar comes into the side to provide some flexibility.
It’s going to be a fascinating contest overall, with intriguing match-ups all over the ground. There will be plenty of dangerous tall and small forwards at both ends of the ground, with capable defenders to match. Two of the best rucks in the competition, and two very strong midfields. The home ground advantage will be a factor, especially considering the Giants have only played in two finals—both last year, both in Sydney. How will they cope in a massive final in front of a hostile crowd? I expect it won’t bother them too much, but you never know.
I’m thinking this one will go right down to the wire—the Crows should probably get over the line at home, but I’m concerned that the Giants might gain the ascendency in the midfield at times and really push the Crows all the way, so I’m going with GWS at the line.
Betting tip: GWS (+15.5) @ $1.70 (UniBet)
Friday, September 8
Geelong v Richmond
7:50PM AEST, MCG
Every game at this time of the year is huge, but there will be no bigger contest this weekend than the Cats and Tigers doing battle at the MCG on Friday night. The excitement around the Tigers right now is ridiculous, and the Cats are desperate to go one step further than last year to give themselves a chance to run out on grand final day. As with the Crows v GWS clash, there are plenty of stars all over the ground—Tom Hawkins will tangle with Alex Rance, and Lachie Henderson will likely get the job on Tigers’ spearhead Jack Riewoldt. If Joel Selwood gets up for the contest—and it looks like he will—the Geelong skipper and his Richmond counterpart Trent Cotchin will play vital roles in gaining the ascendancy in the midfield. But all eyes will be on the two best midfielders in the competition, Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield, who are unlikely to line up on each other but will be looking to out-do each other in the middle and when resting forward. Both players are consistent and reliable, and will no doubt play extremely well, but it could come down to just a moment or two of brilliance from Martin or Dangerfield late in the game to lift their team over the line.
The weather looks like it will play a significant role, with heavy rain expected to fall in Melbourne. Richmond already have a smaller forward line so it won’t affect them too much, but it’s given the Cats something to think about, and they’ve decided to leave Wylie Buzza out considering the conditions. He’s unfortunate as he has been impressive over the last few months, but even more unfortunate is goal sneak Dan Menzel, who has been sensationally dropped despite being second in their goal kicking tally for the year. It’s a strange decision, but they clearly feel they need their forwards to apply serious pressure for them to go deep in September, and that’s not a strength of Menzel’s game.
I do give the Tigers a chance to cause an upset in this one, but I think the Cats are the better side and their experience playing in big finals surely gives them an edge over the Tigers, a team who have shown in the past that they haven’t been able to cope with finals pressure. Still, in wet conditions it’s likely to be a low-scoring, tight contest, but I’m backing the Cats to put themselves into a home prelim final and prolong Richmond’s finals misery for at least another week.
Betting tip: Geelong to win @ $1.80 (Ladbrokes)
Saturday, September 9
Sydney v Essendon
4:20PM AEST, SCG
While the two qualifying finals look like they could easily go either way, the two elimination finals appear to be much more one-sided. The Swans are heavy favourites to beat the Bombers in Sydney, and Port Adelaide are in a similar position in their clash against West Coast. But funny things happen in finals, and the Bombers need only look to last year when the Western Bulldogs travelled to Perth to play the Eagles in an elimination final. The Eagles were the form team of the competition and almost unbackable, but the Dogs hit top form at the right time and stormed over the Eagles and all the way to the flag. The Swans are the form team of the competition this year, and the Bombers will need to beat them on their home deck to progress to the second week of the finals. The issue for the Bombers is that the Swans are a proven finals performer and must know they are in with a real chance of going all the way this year considering how open the competition is. It would be a real wasted opportunity if the Swans didn’t give themselves a chance to have a crack at either Geelong or Richmond next week.
Michael Hurley and Orazio Fantasia look like they’ll be back for the Bombers, but Cale Hooker hasn’t come up in time. That might not be such a bad thing for Essendon; he’s been up and down throughout the year as they’ve tried to find a spot for him to flourish in. The Swans will be stoked to get Dan Hannebery and Tom Papley back into the side, and like the Cats, they’ve pulled a big move at the selection table, dropping Kurt Tippett for Sam Naismith. It’s a big call, but I think it’s a good one—I’m not sure Tippett’s body is up for a tough finals campaign.
I expect the Swans are going to hand the Bombers a reality check here, which should really come as no surprise considering Essendon just scraped into the top eight, while the Swans stormed home and are every chance of winning the flag. Regardless of the result, the Essendon footy club will be stoked to have actually made it to this point considering what they’ve been through over the last few years, and it will hold them in good stead for the future.
Betting tip: Sydney (-34.5) @ $1.95 (Ladbrokes)
Port Adelaide v West Coast
7:50PM AEST, Adelaide Oval
The last game of the opening week of finals sees Port Adelaide hosting the Eagles on Saturday night. They’ve played each other twice already in 2017, splitting the points between them for one win each. Funnily enough, the Eagles won in Adelaide and Port got up over in Perth. That’s probably not much to read into, but it does mean the Eagles will head into this clash with confidence in their ability to beat Port in Adelaide.
And I do think this one might be closer than many people expect. The Eagles have waited all year to atone for their poor performance in last year’s elimination final, and I expect we won’t see a repeat of that effort—they’ll leave everything out there. Sam Mitchell adds finals experience and a much-needed cool head to their midfield, and they don’t seem to have a problem playing in Adelaide like they do in Melbourne. I also think we’ll see a strong performance from Jack Darling; he copped a lot of flak over the off-season due to his record in September, but I think he’s good enough to turn things around with a bang.
The issue the Eagles will have is in the middle of the ground. Their ruck division is one of the weakest in the competition without Nic Naitanui, and they’re up against Paddy Ryder, who is probably the most damaging ruckman in the league. Not only does he win the ruck, he gets around the ground and has an impact forward as well. If they can quell Ryder they’ll be in with a chance, but I just don’t see who could go with him. Ryder, along with Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard, will prove themselves just too good for the Eagles, and should be able to drag Port home and set up a clash against the Crows or GWS next week.
Betting tip: Port Adelaide By 1-39 @ $2.13 (TopSport)
Best Bets of the Round
GWS (+15.5) @ $1.70 (UniBet)
All Bets: -26.89 units
Best Bets: +6.80 units