The following are previews with betting tips for Finals Week 1 of the 2018 AFL season.
Thursday, September 6
Richmond vs Hawthorn
7:20 pm AEST, MCG
The first week of finals kicks off with a massive clash between the reigning premiers in Richmond and the most successful club of the past decade in Hawthorn. It’s set to be a ripping game of footy; the Tigers have been the best team all year but have shown signs of weakness over the past month, while the Hawks finished the season off fairly strongly. They’ll head into this game as significant underdogs, but with Alastair Clarkson at the helm and plenty of experience and talent out on the field they’re always going to be a chance of causing an upset. I like Hawthorn’s inclusions as well: James Sicily and James Frawley return to the team to help bolster the defence and the rebound off the half-back line, while Jonathon Ceglar comes in as the second ruckman to assist Ben McEvoy; the two of them will look to work over Richmond ruckman Toby Nankervis from the opening bounce you’d suspect.
The Tigers have made only the one change, with Kane Lambert back in the team and Brandon Ellis the surprise omission. It’s probably difficult for Damien Hardwick and the Richmond selection panel to drop anyone, but I would’ve thought Ellis would have been in front of a few other Tigers such as Reece Conca and Nathan Broad. Nevertheless, they’re putting out a very strong team, and I expect they’ll get over the line, but not without a massive scare. The Hawks are very experienced and well-drilled, and that’s obviously going to hold them in good stead in a game like this. They’ll have a plan to make life difficult for the Tigers — as some other opposition clubs seemed to have worked out over the past month or two of the regular season. I still think the Tigers are talented enough to overcome it, but I expect the Hawks will take it right up to them and it’ll be an incredibly close contest.
Betting tip: Richmond By 1-24 @ $3.10 (Sportsbet)
Friday, September 7
Melbourne vs Geelong
7:50 pm AEST, MCG
Friday night brings the Demons long-awaited return to the finals when they host the Cats in the second of the two blockbusters at the MCG. They finished the season incredibly well to banish the pain of last season to a mere distant memory, but there’s much work to be done — they’ve got an opportunity to do plenty of damage this September if they bring their best footy each week. The Cats are a very experienced finals team, and they got over the Dees in both of this year’s encounters between the two clubs, but I think it’s fair to say that the Demons have the potential to go further than Geelong do this year. The Cats still have the same issues — they rely on their star players much too heavily and that doesn’t work against the best teams in the competition in the heat of September.
It might be enough for them to beat Melbourne, since the Dees have shown a tendency to be a touch shaky during the big moments, and I’m expecting the same thing might happen here — the Dees have more talent, but I’m yet to be convinced they have the mental strength to win a game like this against an experienced Cats outfit. If the game is on the line in the final quarter, you can be sure that Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins and Gary Ablett will all find another gear, but will the younger Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney — coming back from a long lay-off — be capable of doing the same? I’m not convinced.
Max Gawn will clearly be a huge factor in the game, but if the Cats can nullify his output by 10-20% they’ll be well placed to progress through to the second week of finals. I expect it’ll be close, and that the Demons will have plenty of opportunities to win, but it could be another season that ends in heartbreak for Melbourne.
Betting tip: Geelong to win @ $2.10 (Neds)
Saturday, September 8
Sydney vs GWS
4:20 pm AEST, SCG
The budding rivalry between the two Sydney-based clubs continues in 2018, with the two teams set to meet in the first week of finals for the second time — the first being in the 2016 Qualifying Final when the Giants upset the more fancied Swans. The Swans are again favourites to win this weekend, but it’s expected to be a very tight contest. Neither team would be absolutely thrilled with how 2018 has panned out so far, but they’ve both given themselves a chance at playing off in September and what happens from here is all that really matters now.
The Swans will once again be relying heavily on Lance Franklin to be dangerous up forward and get them over the line, as he did the last time these two clubs met. The difference then was that Phil Davis was injured midway through the game and couldn’t man Franklin for the second half, so Buddy got off the chain. If Davis plays the whole game on him on Saturday — and barring another injury, he will — Franklin’s afternoon will be infinitely more difficult. And despite Buddy’s huge influence, this game is likely to be won in the middle; if Sydney get on top in the contested ball and provide their forwards with enough options, they’ll be hard to beat, but if the Giants can break even in the centre and feed the ball to their outside runners they’ve got plenty of talented users capable of making life difficult for the Swans.
As with most of the four games this weekend, I reckon it’ll be close and can see either team getting up, but I feel like the Giants are the slightly stronger side in 2018 — especially with the inclusion of Toby Greene and Zac Williams, as long as he’s fit enough to run out the game —and will sneak over the line to keep their season alive for another week.
Betting tip: GWS to win @ $2.15 (Ladbrokes)
West Coast vs Collingwood
8:10 pm AEST, Perth Stadium
This is the only game this weekend I think has the potential to be a blow-out. As good as the Pies have been all season, and as much as they’ve played some of their best footy when their back is against the wall, a trip over to Perth in such a huge game might be too much for them. The Eagles have been preparing for this for a number of weeks now, and despite having a few key players unavailable, should be absolutely cherry ripe.
I’m a little concerned with the Pies bringing Adam Treloar and Tyson Goldsack back into the team with so little game time in recent weeks; if they go a man down early in the contest it would take a herculean effort to stay in the match, and even if they don’t go down, it’s going to be mighty tough for those guys to run out four quarters at full pace.
The Eagles have also rolled the dice on full forward Josh Kennedy’s fitness, but he’s not required to cover as much ground as Treloar and Goldsack. Sure, they’d love him roaming up the wings if necessary, but they’d be perfectly happy with Kennedy staying inside 50 for the whole contest — he and Jack Darling are going to really test the makeshift Collingwood defence, and I expect that might end up being the difference.
The Pies will give their all for much of the game but I reckon the flood gates might open in the last quarter and the Eagles will kick a flurry of goals to make it seem like an easy seven or eight goal win.
Betting tip: West Coast to win @ $1.66 (PalmerBet)
Best Bets of the Round
West Coast to win @ $1.66 (PalmerBet)
All Bets: -11.69 units
Best Bets: -2.93 units