Thursday, September 5
West Coast vs Essendon
8:10pm AEST, Optus Stadium
The 2019 AFL finals series kicks off with the Bombers travelling to Perth to take on the reigning premiers, West Coast. It’s the one game this weekend that most people feel will have a predictable result, with the Eagles set to go in as warm favourites. That’s completely understandable given the Eagles have been one of the best sides all year and the Bombers struggled in the last four or five weeks of the season. That being said, Bombers fans will have some reason for optimism after watching the Hawks dismantle the Eagles in Perth two weeks ago. As well as exposing some holes in their structure, it also shows that perhaps the Eagles aren’t at their best right now. That, along with Essendon’s solid history in Perth, will give the Bombers something to base their confidence on. But that will be about all they’ve got going for them; everything else points to an easy West Coast victory. The Eagles are a significantly better team than Essendon, and their home ground advantage is huge, as we all know. The Bombers will be bringing in a host of players that haven’t played for a few weeks, some of which have struggled with injury and continuity throughout the majority of the 2019 season. Their tall forward line options are limited, and if they don’t focus on hitting up a lead and choose to instead bomb the ball long then Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn will ensure the Eagles win with ease.
I’m really not sure there’s any way the Bombers can win this. Earlier in the year when they played the Eagles in Perth the scoreboard indicated it was a respectable loss, but the margin should have been close to 100 points; the Eagles were just incredibly wasteful. I can’t find any particular area of the ground where the Bombers have an edge: the Eagles have a stronger midfield, their defence will prey on any haphazard kicks inside 50, and their forwards will trouble the Essendon backline, particularly if Michael Hurley doesn’t get up to play on Josh Kennedy or Jack Darling. The Bombers will have to pull something out of the hat to get close, and they’ll also need the Eagles to be a bit off their game. After the dismal round 23 performance against the Hawks, and with so much on the line, I can’t see it happening again. I suspect the Eagles will start the game with intent and lead the whole way through, running out winners by at least six goals.
Betting tip: West Coast By 25+ @ $1.77 (TopBetta)
Friday, September 6
Geelong vs Collingwood
7:50pm AEST, MCG
The Pies were the biggest winners from round 23, with West Coast’s shock loss to Hawthorn seeing Collingwood snag a top four finish and a ‘home’ qualifying final against the Cats. It would’ve been really difficult to win the flag from fifth, but they’re now as good a chance as anyone. The Cats have had their top four finish locked in for a while now, but a big win over Carlton in the final round cemented a top two spot and gave them a confidence boost heading into the bye week. They’ve struggled in finals recently, as well as in the first game back after a bye, but they’ll head into this one as the more settled team, with the Pies set to bring back a number of injured stars. That could work against Collingwood if they’re not fully fit, but you would expect Steele Sidebottom to be fine, and players like Jordan De Goey and Jaidyn Stephenson to have an immediate impact if they’re right to go.
The last time these teams met was in the opening round of the season when the Cats won a thriller. Much has changed since then, but I’m expecting a similarly tight contest. The Cats have been the more consistent team throughout the year, but their form has dropped off in recent weeks, while Collingwood’s seems to be in an upward trend. Form and confidence at this time of the year is the most important commodity in footy, and I feel like the Pies have it more than Geelong right now, particularly with the boost they’ll get from their returning stars this week. It should be a cracking game of footy, but I think the Collingwood midfield will get on top — led by star ruckman Brodie Grundy, who the Cats have no answer for — and drive the Pies to a narrow victory.
Betting tip: Collingwood to win @ $2.12 (BetFair)
Saturday, September 7
GWS Giants vs Western Bulldogs
3:20pm AEST, Sydney Showground Stadium
The Dogs, somewhat stunningly, will enter this away final against the Giants as favourites, due to a late-season hot streak which saw them win eight of their last 11 games. One of those wins was a demolition of GWS at the same venue just three weeks ago, but the Giants team they’re set to face this weekend is a very different outfit from that one. GWS were missing a bunch of key players, the most important of which were the two Jeremy’s: Cameron and Finlayson. Those two are important for GWS every week, but particularly against a team like the Dogs who don’t have a great selection of key defenders. The Dogs were able to shut down a GWS forward line led by Harry Himmelberg, but this week they’ll have Cameron and Finlayson to deal with as well, and that should completely change the complexion of the game.
That being said, if the Dogs dominate in the midfield like they have in recent times then it won’t matter too much. Their forward line has improved dramatically over the last two months, now making the most of the inside fifty entries that the likes of Bontempelli and Macrae have been generating all year. If the Giants can somewhat subdue one of Bontempelli, Macrae, and Dunkley, they’ll be in the box seat to win, but if all three continue to do as they please, as they have for a number of weeks now, then the Dogs will be too strong. I think the Giants will surprise a few people and come out fiercely in this one: if they can’t win, they’re going to make the Dogs earn it. They regain Toby Greene, Nick Haynes, Jacob Hopper, and Brett Deledio, all of whom are top quality AFL footballers, and on paper, the GWS team now looks very strong. I suspect it’ll be incredibly close, but I’m going with the home team to progress to the semi-finals.
Betting tip: GWS to win @ $2.05 (BetEasy)
Brisbane vs Richmond
7:25pm AEST, The Gabba
2019 has seen the return of the blockbuster game at the Gabba, but none of those will compare to this Saturday night when the stakes go up a notch. Regardless of what happens, Brisbane have made giant strides from last season to now, but the next few weeks presents them with a chance to make the most of their great season and achieve something meaningful. It’s not going to be easy; their first-up opponent is the Tigers, who are still the favourites to win not only this game, but the flag as well. The two teams got a good look at each other when they faced off in round 23, and while the Tigers won that battle fairly comfortably, it’s going to be a different ball game at the Gabba.
Brisbane apparently took enough away from that last contest to give them the confidence to turn things around at home, but that’s easier said than done. The Tigers are the form team of the competition, and their stars are firing. Brisbane will need to make the most of their opportunities if they’re to win; last time they matched Richmond in nearly every facet of the game but they just couldn’t convert their inside fifty chances to scoring opportunities. You’d suspect they will have worked on that and they’ll be more efficient this week, but I’m still thinking the Tigers will be too good for them. It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics work with Richmond’s decision to play the two ruckman; will having Toby Nankervis and Ivan Soldo make the Tigers slower than usual, or will it enable them to achieve midfield dominance and give their forwards plenty of chances to kick a winning score? I’m expecting the latter, but the ruck battle will definitely be a fascinating contest within the game. The Tigers by 12 points.
Betting tip: Richmond to win @ $1.72 (BetFair)
Best Bets of the Round
Collingwood to win @ $2.12 (BetFair)