Footy fans across the land are eager and expectant for some high quality football this weekend. Season 2011 has been one of the most lop-sided in recent memory, with the top 4 teams – Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn and West Coast – losing a combined total of just 14 matches. Drill that statistic down even further and you find the ‘big 4’ have mostly lost to each other, being defeated by lower ranked sides only 6 times from 72 such matches this season. The best have never been better! But disappointingly, the worst have rarely been poorer. Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and Brisbane have propped up the rest of the table, winning a combined total of only 10 matches all season, none of which were against top 8 teams.
2011 is the first time in many years the home and away season has lasted 24 rounds. In this season of predictability the last few weeks have been very underwhelming, as the whole football world has waited for the real stuff to begin. This was perfectly illustrated last Friday night, as the top two teams clashed on the MCG in front of a packed house in September, a month previously only reserved for finals football. Geelong trounced Collingwood and the match quickly turned into a fizzer, with both teams going through the motions trying to avoid key injuries. The finals may have arrived fashionably late this season, but the 2011 edition promises to be one of the best ever. Strap yourself in!
Season Betting Tally (After Round 24)
Wagered = $2570 – $10 per suggested bet
Collected = $2996.50
Profit/Loss = + $426.50
% Profit/Loss = + 16.6%
Finals Week 1 CHEEKY AFL MULTI
Geelong @ 1.70
Collingwood @ 1.22
Sydney +39.5 @ 1.26
Carlton @ 1.40
Combined Odds @ 3.65 (Sportsbet)
GEELONG v HAWTHORN – MCG (7.45pm AEST)
PREVIEW: Wow! Nobody saw Geelong’s 96 point defeat of Collingwood coming, and now it has happened, nobody has been able to explain it. Was it a sneak preview of the Cats’ finals form? Was it a first glimpse of Magpie frailties? Or was it irrelevant? I favour the latter aided by the slightest hint of a Collingwood wobble. On to the action this week and I am really excited about this one, as Geelong and Hawthorn have a famous recent history. The Hawks were the young upstarts when they bullied their way to a Premiership over Geelong in 2008. The Geelong playing group vowed never to lose to the brown and gold again. The six matches since have made for extraordinary viewing as the Cats have clawed their way out of impossible positions to win on each occasion. Hawthorn certainly won’t permit Geelong an uncontested passage through the central corridor, as Collingwood allowed last week, and with some showers forecast, the scoreboard should be close all night. Both sides have big bodies in the midfield positions and will easily adapt to wet-weather football. Any rain will reduce the impact from Hawthorn’s gun forwards Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli. Franklin is at his best taking soaring marks and Rioli does his best work swooping up a loose ball at pace. Both of these skills are hard enough in the pressurised finals environment and they are near impossible in the wet.
Geelong’s trump card is Paul Chapman. The bald number 35 will be an intimidating presence on the Cats half forward line and has a game style perfectly suited to finals. In what I expect to be a low scoring match, Chapman is a huge chance to kick the 3 or so goals he will need to top the goalscoring chart. I also suggest having an interest on Cameron Ling to collect more disposals than his teammate Mathew Stokes. Playing as a midfielder, Ling should see a lot more of the ball than Stokes, who will only feed on scraps from the forward flank.
TIP: Geelong to win by 13 points
ANDY’S BET: Geelong to win by 39 points or less @ 2.40 (TAB Sportsbet)
ANDY’S BET: Paul Chapman to kick the most goals @ 17 (TAB Sportsbet)
ANDY’S BET: Cameron Ling more disposals than Matthew Stokes @ 1.80 (Centrebet)
COLLINGWOOD v WEST COAST – MCG (2.20pm AEST)
PREVIEW: Aberration; noun, a deviation from the proper or expected course, a departure from the normal or typical, and most recently, Collingwood’s performance in Round 24 of the 2011 AFL season. If the margin of the Magpies’ defeat was difficult to fathom, the manner in which it occurred was a lot easier to explain. The players in black and white jerseys seldom chased when they did not have the ball and, after quarter time, refused to put their head over the ball in a contested situation. It will serve as a reminder to the Pies that their whole game plan is based around defensive pressure and a small drop in work-rate can mean a massive drop on the scoreboard. I was in the stands at that match and noted some new tactics employed by Geelong. The Cats dropped two numbers behind the ball. Collingwood prefer to attack down the wings using the extra space, so Geelong would sit their first spare player in front of Collingwood’s main leading target, usually Travis Cloke. The second free Geelong player would be stationed on the defensive point of the center square, in a big patch of space. Using their extra man to win the contest on the wing, Geelong would direct the football to their second loose player, who would then run unopposed through the middle of the ground and deliver the ball deep into Geelong’s attack. Given the uncontested nature of their attacking thrusts, the Geelong players were able to kick the ball with enough precision to avoid Collingwood’s spare players. Like a seasoned poker player hiding behind a pair of dark sunglasses, Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse refused to alter the pattern of the match and kept any aces up his sleeve.
West Coast stand in the way of a swift return to form for the Pies and the Eagles cannot be underestimated. John Worsfold’s side have had a remarkable climb up the ladder over the past twelve months, ascending from the bottom rung last year to 4th from top this season. The rise has been mostly due to the form of their big men. Rucks Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui, key forwards Josh Kennedy, Quentin Lynch and Jack Darling, plus veteran defender Darren Glass. Unfortunately for the Eagles, rain is forecast for this Saturday and that would nullify much of the threat these big men present. Collingwood’s tattooed ball magnet Dane Swan spent long periods of time on the bench last week and I think he was purposefully rested with this game in mind. He only had 25 touches last week after gathering at over 30 in each of his previous 10 matches. Expect him to lift for this one.
TIP: Collingwood to win by 37 points
ANDY’S BET: Collingwood to win by 29 points or more @ 1.91 (Sportingbet)
ANDY’S BET: Dane Swan most disposals in Group A @ 1.90 (TAB Sportsbet)
ST KILDA v SYDNEY – ETIHAD STADIUM (7.20pm AEST)
PREVIEW: The two most defensively minded sides will go into lockdown mode on Saturday night for their elimination final. Both teams average 86 points per game in 2011, at least 15 fewer than all other teams in the top 8. At first glance this might appear to be a game of who has the best defence. But delving slightly deeper I am getting very excited by the prospect this match could be decided by two forwards and both are modern day superstars. Sydney’s Adam Goodes has rocketed into Brownlow Medal contention after a string a late season best on grounds, while St Kilda talisman Nick Riewoldt is the barometer for his side in the big games. From 2008-2010 the Saints have played in 10 finals matches, winning 5 times, losing 4 and drawing once. Riewoldt has averaged 4 goals across those victories, while managing just an average of 1.25 sausage rolls in the defeats. Sydney will crowd his space and make it difficult for him to get the ball unless he goes on searching leads up to the wing, however if Riewoldt has to go that far up the ground, he won’t impact on the scoreboard. Sydney are in great form and look a big chance to win this, but I am sticking with the Saints due to the venue for the match. St Kilda plays Etihad Stadium better than anyone.
TIP: St Kilda to win by 10 points
ANDY’S BET: St Kilda to win by 1-24 points @ 3.45 (Centrebet)
ANDY’S BET: Sydney +24.5 @ 1.65 (Centrebet)
CARLTON v ESSENDON – MCG (2.40pm AEST)
PREVIEW: Two of the competition’s traditional rivals renew finals hostilities in a cracking match to round out the weekend. Another chapter in the rivalry will be written this Sunday. In 1999 it was Carlton, entering the match as massive underdogs, who upset Essendon in the Preliminary Final by a point. Wind the clock back even further and the baby Bombers of 1993 beat the Blues in that year’s season decider. The pair have clashed twice already in 2011. The first meeting ended in an amazing draw, while a Carlton second half rampage decided the most recent contest in favour of the Navy Blues. Carlton should be advantaged by playing against St Kilda last week, with the Saints attacking that match with a finals like intensity. Contrastingly, Essendon come off the bye and are fresh from a week of rest.
Carlton tall Matthew Kreuzer was subbed out of last week’s match with a mysterious foot injury. The big man lost feeling in his foot and it was reported on Monday that a cyst on an artery was blocking blood supply to the foot. The club claimed all was well and publicly cleared Kreuzer fit to play in this, the Blues’ first final in Melbourne since 2001. It was a big surprise when Kreuzer’s name was not among the Carlton line-up on Thursday night. Kreuzer is a big loss for the Blues and things are set to get worse with Essendon’s Heath Hocking returning to the Bombers team just in time for a tagging role on Chris Judd. Hocking has done well on Judd in the past and was absent when the Carlton champ ran riot the last time these teams played. With Judd set to be padlocked, Marc Murphy is the key for a Carlton to victory. The ever improving midfielder has made the transition to elite player this season and will be the main man for the Blues on Sunday. For Essendon, Michael Hurley is the one Bombers player capable of providing a presence in the forward line. Hurley can take big marks, split packs and bring the smaller forwards into the game. Carlton’s Lachie Henderson has performed nicely in a defensive role this season and should limit Hurley’s influence. After a see-sawing first half, I’m on the Blues to kick clear after the long break.
TIP: Carlton to win by 27 points
ANDY’S BET: Carlton to win by 16 points or more @ 1.81 (Sportsbet)