AFL Finals Week 1 Preview and Betting Tips

The following are previews and betting tips for week 1 of the 2012 AFL finals series.

Season tally so far

Bets = 224 units
Won = 221.56 units
Profit/Loss = -2.44 units (1.1% loss)


Andy’s bet: 1 unit on Hawthorn, Geelong and West Coast to win by 16 points or more @ 4.33 (Sportsbet)

Friday Night

Hawthorn (1st) v Collingwood (4th)

7.50pm AEST

Background: The 2012 finals series kicks off with this glamour Friday night clash between Minor Premiers Hawthorn and last year’s beaten Grand Finalist, Collingwood. I’ve been present at the ground both times these teams have battled each other this season, witnessing the Hawks triumphing on both occasions. Hawthorn beat Collingwood by 22 points in a high scoring Round 1 encounter, with Lance Franklin playing a storming last quarter to turn the match in his side’s favour. In their most recent encounter, the Hawks class shone through as the brown and golds posted a commanding 47 point victory.

Team news: Both teams have made two changes for this match. Hawthorn has been forced into their selection swaps as rugged defender Brent Guerra and damaging wingman Clinton Young both picked up injuries during last week’s win over West Coast. Thomas Murphy and Xavier Ellis are the incoming players, and are both like for like changes, meaning the Hawks feel they’ve got a good team balance and are not going to mix things up too much. Much-maligned Collingwood spare parts man Chris Dawes has been recalled to give Darren Jolly some assistance in the ruck, while pint-sized Jarryd Blair returns from a groin injury to help the Magpies apply more tackling pressure in their forward line. Pies forwards Tyson Goldsack and Jamie Elliot have been left out of the team due to injury and poor form respectively.

Who will win and why? Having seen Hawthorn’s dominance over Collingwood first hand this season, I’m confident the Hawks have got the Pies measure. Collingwood’s manic forward press that was a cornerstone of the club’s success during 2010 and 2011 has been less effective this year as opposition coaches have gradually devised strategies to get through it. Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has instructed his players to kick through the forward press, which has been successful due to the amazing array of precise field kickers rotating through the Hawks backline. With Collingwood players rushing at them, Hawthorn has been able to use expert foot skills to kick past the press, allowing them to find loose men through the midfield as their Magpie opponents have gone to put pressure on further up the field. Once they get that uncontested ball through the middle of the ground, Hawthorn has been able to score against Collingwood with ease and this hypothesis is supported by the Hawks kicking at least 20 goals against the Pies both times the clubs have met during 2012.

The pressure and intensity is sure to go up in the finals, and I expect Collingwood’s pressure to be slightly more effective on Friday night, however Hawthorn has the talent to overcome that and should win by at least 3 goals.

Finally, Collingwood midfielder Dale Thomas has proven himself to be a very good finals player during recent seasons, collecting at least 20 possessions in each of his previous six finals matches. Thomas has also gathered at least 20 disposals in his last 3 games, so I’m going to chuck a few coins on Collingwood’s number 13 to get the most disposals in TAB Sportsbet’s second group.

Andy’s Bet: 1 unit on Hawthorn to win by 16 points or more @ 1.68 (Sportsbet)

Andy’s Bet: 0.5 units on Dale Thomas for most disposals in Group B @ 3.75 (TAB Sportsbet)

Saturday Afternoon

Adelaide (2nd) v Sydney (3rd)

AAMI Stadium
3.15pm AEST

Background: If the previous match between these teams is anything to go by, then this clash should be a beauty! Adelaide and Sydney have only played once this season and the Crows were victorious by 5 points, coming from behind at three quarter time to snatch a sensational win in the Harbour City. The result should have come as no surprise though, given Adelaide has now beaten Sydney in 12 of the past 14 matches between the clubs.

Team news: There is some really big selection news for this game as each team’s key marking forward returns after sitting out last weekend’s action to nurse some niggling injuries. Adelaide’s leading goalkicker Taylor Walker is the main inclusion and the man with the mini-mullet will be hoping for a repeat of his five goal haul from earlier in the season when these teams met. The Crows will be also boosted by the return of smooth moving midfielder Bernie Vince, while Matthew Jaensch and Tom Lynch are the unlucky players to be omitted. Sydney high flier Sam Reid returns for the red and whites, while underrated half back flanker Nick Smith also returns. Unfortunately for the Swans, dependable defender Heath Grundy misses through suspension.

Who will win and why? The home ground advantage for this match is massive and Adelaide has got it, so I reckon the Crows will get the win. A passionate and one-sided crowd is likely to turn out in support of the home team and that could be a crucial factor if the game is tight during the last quarter. The other essential element is the inclusion of Adelaide goalkicking machine Taylor Walker and the absence of Sydney key defender Heath Grundy. With Grundy out, either Lewis Roberts-Thomson or Alex Johnson will be required to fill in as a tall defender to mark either Walker or the big beanpole that is Kurt Tippett. Adelaide has the better attacking options, and a solid defence led by Ben Rutten and Daniel Talia, so the Crows should only need to hold up in the midfield to do enough to claim victory. Even though Sydney’s strength is winning the contested ball, Adelaide is also accomplished in this area with ruckman Sam Jacobs and clearance kings Scott Thompson and Paddy Dangerfield forming a centre square trio that is as good as it gets.

Sydney is a very defensively minded team, so I’d be surprised if Adelaide is able to blow them away, so I’ll try and get a bit more value by taking the Crows to win by 39 points or less.

Andy’s Bet: 1 unit on Adelaide win by 39 points or less @ 2.30 (Sportsbet)

Saturday Night

Geelong (6th) v Fremantle (7th)

7.45pm AEST

Background: Similarly to the Adelaide and Sydney matchup, these teams have only clashed once during the home and away season, with the result decided by less than a goal. A couple of late Matthew Pavlich majors secured the win for Fremantle over Geelong before a packed Patersons Stadium in Round 1. Pesky Fremantle small forward Hayden Ballantyne successfully managed to get under the skin of Geelong’s experienced backline that night and Cats full back Matthew Scarlett was subsequently suspended for flooring Ballantyne with a left fist. The niggle between the teams would not have been forgotten and the heat will surely be on at 7:45 this Saturday night when the umpire slams the ball into the turf to get the game underway. Expect fireworks early.

Team news: Unlike other matches this round, the team news for this game is all about big-name players who are going out of their respective sides. Geelong’s freaklishly talented forward flanker Steve Johnson, the man revered by Cats fans for his footballing exploits during September, misses this match after incurring a 1 match suspension for an off the ball bump on Sydney’s Dan Hannebery last weekend. Johnson’s loss is an especially big blow for Geelong given his replacement, Jonathan Simpkin, has only played 3 career games. Fremantle have also copped a selection bullet as key defender Luke McPharlin has succumbed to a hamstring injury. Alex Silvagni has been promoted in McPharlin’s absence and will be in for a tough night with a likely matchup on James Podsiadly or Tom Hawkins.

Who will win and why? It would take a brave, possibly stupid man to bet against Geelong at the MCG in September. Especially when Fremantle is the opposition. For all their improvements in recent seasons, the Dockers playing an MCG final is still a bit of a novelty, while Geelong has owned this ground and this month for the past five years. Still, Fremantle should get a massive advantage in the ruck from the tap work of Lurch-like figure Aaron Sandilands. Matthew Pavlich is also capable of booting a bag of goals to turn the match Freo’s way, while young midfielder Nat Fyfe constantly amazes with his poise and balance in heavy traffic. The problem for Fremantle is that, even though they possess some quality players, their depth is not quite as good as Geelong’s and those bottom-ranked players tend to get exposed in finals football.

Geelong has played a good month and a half of football, notching three wins against top 4 opposition (Hawthorn, Adelaide and Sydney) and look to be peaking at just the right time! Furthermore, the Cats have got plenty of players that know what is required to win big finals matches, and I expect stars like Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman, Joel Selwood and James Kelly to propel the hoops through to a Semi Final.

Andy’s Bet: 1.5 units on Geelong to win at the line (21 points or more) @ 1.92 (Sportsbet)

Sunday Afternoon

West Coast (5th) v North Melbourne (8th)

Patersons Stadium
1.10pm AEST

Background: These teams have met twice already this season and West Coast won both times, although the matches were reasonably tight. When the clubs met at this venue in Round 6, the Eagles were 25 point winners, but the margin could have been much bigger as John Worsfold’s men had 15 more scoring shots. The second meeting was played on neutral turf in Tasmania and North Melbourne let slip a 35 point second quarter lead as they succumbed to a second half West Coast charge and ended up 2 point losers. After a fairly barren run during the middle to latter stages of the home and away season, West Coast enters the finals series in good form following recent wins over Geelong and Collingwood, while North Melbourne has won 10 out of 12 matches since the mid-season bye.

Team news: West Coast has made a straight defensive swap with Eric Mackenzie returning from injury in place of Mitch Brown. It is tough on Brown, who battled manfully to curb the influence of a rampant Lance Franklin after quarter time last Friday night, but it does highlight the impressive defensive depth the Eagles have. North Melbourne make two important inclusions, strengthening their side with the addition of silky midfielder Daniel Wells and underrated defender Nathan Grima. Given this match is being played on a Sunday afternoon, the Kangaroos are yet to cull their extended bench, so no omissions have been confirmed at the time of writing.

Who will win and why? A bit like the Adelaide game, home ground advantage is going to have a massive influence on this match. The West Coast fans are incredibly parochial and create an incredibly intimidating atmosphere that often overwhelms visiting opposition. Sometimes the umpires get caught up in the theatre too, and the Eagles have a very favourable free-kick record in home matches during recent seasons. Another thing in West Coast’s favour is finals experience. There are still a few survivors from the Eagles 2006 Premiership team, while the new breed got a taste of September action during the club’s run to a Preliminary Final last year. For North Melbourne, many players haven’t played in a final before, so the step up in pressure and intensity may take a little getting used to.

I’m expecting West Coast to get on top early, with the clearance work by Nic Natainui, Dean Cox, Daniel Kerr and Matt Priddis likely to give creative players like Luke Shuey and Andrew Embley plenty of chances to drive the ball deep inside 50 where talented key forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling will be waiting. North Melbourne’s youngsters will hopefully show some flair and keep fighting on, but West Coast should be far too strong at home.

Andy’s Bet: 1 unit on West Coast to lead at the end of every quarter @ 1.80 (Multiple Sites)

Andy’s Bet: 1.5 units on West Coast to win by 25 points or more @ 1.80 (Centrebet, Sportingbet)

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