The following are previews with betting tips for Finals Week 1 of the 2021 AFL season.
Friday, August 27
Port Adelaide vs Geelong
7:50pm AEST, Adelaide Oval
Port qualified for a home final with a gripping win over the Western Bulldogs last Friday night, a contest that should have them ready for the rigours of finals football. They’ve hit form at the right time of year, and no surprise it’s coincided with the return of some of their important young stars. One of those stars, Mitch Georgiades, will miss this game due to a hamstring strain, but Port won’t be too inconvenienced since his replacement is the dangerous Orazio Fantasia. Those small forwards in Port’s front half will play a key role in deciding the outcome of this contest, as Geelong can struggle to defend once the ball hits the ground inside their defensive fifty.
The Cats sneakily welcome back Mitch Duncan to provide another boost to their engine room; it was expected Duncan was still weeks away, but the Cats had everyone fooled. It’ll be fascinating to see how he copes, coming straight back in for a final after a long time off, but he’s a genuine star when he’s fit so it’s probably worth the risk. The Cats will need to win the midfield battle if they’re to progress through to a home preliminary final: Port are dangerous running forward in numbers, and will relish every opportunity they get to do so. If the Cats can slow the game down and play their brand of footy, moving the ball carefully and methodically to provide Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron with one-on-one looks then they’ll have the upper hand. As good as Aliir Aliir has been, I’m not sure he and his fellow defenders will be strong enough to contain the double team of Hawkins and Cameron, and that might be the difference in the game. It’ll be a close one I’m sure, but the Cats probably have better credentials against the best teams this year and I think they’ll get the job done in this one.
Saturday, August 28
Sydney vs GWS Giants
3:20pm AEST, UTAS Stadium
These clubs have enjoyed the odd final against each other in recent times, and this one should be another great contest between the two budding rivals. Sydney have been a solid performer all season long, while the Giants took a while to get going but now well and truly deserve their top eight finish. They had to battle hard to make it, but they did enough and now anything can happen. They get some reinforcements back this week with Shane Mumford and Tom Green both back into the team, while the Swans have unfortunately been dealt a cruel blow with Callum Mills unable to get up from his achilles issue.
This is perhaps the toughest game this weekend to pick a winner. Sydney deserve to go in as relatively warm favourites, but GWS are coming in full of confidence and have more than their fair share of players capable of turning the match in their favour. The other issue for Sydney is that without Josh Kennedy and Callum Mills, their midfield is light on for depth, and that is one area the Giants really excel. If the Giants can make the most of some midfield dominance then they’ll be a real chance to knock the Swans off. That said, Sydney are the more cohesive team and have been all year, and for that reason I’m sticking with them to get the four points in a close one.
Betting tip: Sydney to win @ $1.75 (bet365)
Melbourne vs Brisbane
7:30pm AEST, Adelaide Oval
The Lions left it to the very last minute to take hold of a top four spot, but it doesn’t matter; they did what they needed to and now they’ll take on the ladder-leading Demons in a huge qualifying final. They probably didn’t expect to make the top four a few weeks back, but they’re now back in with a huge chance of contending for a premiership. They’ll have to do it without a few of their key players, but they’ve still got enough talent all over the ground. The reliance on star recruit Joe Daniher will be massive this week against a Melbourne defence that has been the best in the competition all year. If the Lions can’t find a way to penetrate through Melbourne’s twin towers of Steven May and Jake Lever then they won’t stand a chance. When they played earlier in the season the Lions played the perfect half of football in the first half, before the Demons clamped down and completely shut down their ball movement in the second.
The Lions will have learnt a lot from that experience, but do they have the personnel to implement a game style capable of stretching the Dees? A lot will be left to the Brisbane midfielders; if they can’t get the job done against a strong Melbourne centre then the Lions are no chance. But if Lachie Neale and company can get the edge over them there then they might be able to put the Demons under enough pressure. But the problem will be in the ruck: can Oscar McInerney go with Max Gawn for a full four quarters of finals football? I’m not confident he can, and for that reason alone I’m going with the Demons to cement their place in a prelim final.
Betting tip: Melbourne to win @ $1.73 (PlayUp)
Sunday, August 29
Western Bulldogs vs Essendon
3:20pm AEST, UTAS Stadium
The Dogs’ horror end to season 2021 continued last weekend when they lost to Port Adelaide by two points after having led for the majority of the match. Not only that, but they watched on during Saturday’s game between Brisbane and West Coast as the Lions took their top four position away from them with under a minute left on the game clock. So, can they finally turn it around? They were one of the very best teams in the competition all year up until three weeks ago, but something has gone awry. They’re being belted in the clearances, and that’s partly due to the fact they don’t have a strong-bodied ruck. But they have managed to win plenty of games this year despite that, so there must be something else that has changed.
This week they host the Bombers in Tasmania, the team that started their fall from grace a few weeks ago. Essendon have been very impressive over the last month, led by two resurgent players in Jake Stringer and Peter Wright. Wright had a career best game in that last match against the Dogs, kicking seven goals from all over the ground. He’ll have a much tougher time of it this week now that Alex Keath is back for the Bulldogs, but he’ll still pose problems for them. Regardless, the midfield is where the battle will be won and lost. The Dogs need to find a way to sort out their problems in the centre or else they’re not going far in September. But regardless of that I think they’ll be too strong for the Bombers either way. Essendon had 16 more clearances than the Dogs last time they met, but the Dogs still had 21 more inside 50s and 19 more contested possessions, and arguably only lost because of their poor conversion in front of goal, and Peter Wright’s inability to miss. If the game is played the same way and the Dogs can improve on their centre bounce work a little, they should have the Bombers covered.
Betting tip: Western Bulldogs to win @ $1.58 (BlueBet)
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