The following are previews with betting tips for the Preliminary Final of the 2021 AFL season.
Friday, September 10
Melbourne vs Geelong
7:50pm AEST, Optus Stadium
The penultimate week of the 2021 season is here and the only teams remaining are the four best teams from the regular season, so we should be set for a couple of ripping preliminary finals. The first of those sees the Demons host the Cats in Perth, and there will be plenty of pressure on both sides. The Demons will be feeling the heat because last time they were in a preliminary final, 2018, they were absolutely mauled by the West Coast Eagles. They’re also attempting to break a 56 year premiership drought, which probably takes the external pressure up another gear. Meanwhile, the Cats are under the pump to capitalize on their recent period of dominance and their aging list. They continually play deep into September, but haven’t won a flag since 2011. If they aren’t eventually able to win one off the back of recruiting the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Jeremy Cameron then they’ll be bitterly disappointed.
That pressure should result in the start of this game being extremely hot, and perhaps we’ll see quite a few skill errors and rash decisions in the early stages. The Cats have plenty of finals experience so should be able to settle, but the Demons might just panic if they don’t get off to a good start. That said, no matter what happens the Demons will take great confidence from their comeback win over the Cats in round 23. Even if they do fall a few goals behind they’ll know they’re able to chase the Cats down. Geelong will look slightly different this time around though, with Esava Ratugolea set to provide another tall option in the hopes of curbing the intercepting and rebounding abilities of Jake Lever and Steven May. If the combination of Hawkins, Cameron and Ratugolea can consistently bring the ball to ground while also snaring a handful of goals, then the Cats will be every chance to win this one.
But Melbourne’s defence has proved impenetrable for much of the year, and it would be a shock if they were to lose that dominance on Friday night. It’s likely that this will be a fairly low-scoring affair, and I think it’ll ultimately come down to the midfield battle. If the Cats aren’t able to clamp down on Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca, then the Demons will salute. But if Patrick Dangerfield and co. can find another gear and beat the Demons in the clinches, then the Cats are good enough forward of centre to make the most of it. Melbourne’s forward line is the only area of the ground that’s been questioned this year, but they’ve been pretty good for two months now so I think they’ll be okay for finding scoring avenues.
It should be a great game of finals footy, but it’s too hard to look past Melbourne in this one. The Cats have the experience, but everything else seems to be pointing Melbourne’s way: they are fit, firing, and hungry, and I think they’ll get the job done by three or four goals.
Betting tip: Melbourne to win @ $1.50 (Sportsbet)
Saturday, September 11
Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs
7:40pm AEST, Adelaide Oval
The Dogs have managed to scrounge their way into a preliminary final after fearing they had wasted their great season at the conclusion of round 23. They haven’t done it the easy way, and the miles traveled both on and off the field might cost them a chance of winning this one, but it’s given them a chance to re-gain some of their better form. The Dogs were floundering after losing to Port Adelaide in the final game of the regular season, but two consecutive wins has them looking very dangerous once again. Their midfielders are back on top, and they’re playing as a hungry, cohesive unit, just like they did back in 2016. The problem for the Dogs is on the injury front: dangerous forward Cody Weightman will miss this due to concussion, skipper Marcus Bontempelli will be sore from the leg knock he copped in the dying stages of the semi, and worst of all, defensive lynch-pin Alex Keath has been ruled out with a hamstring strain. I like the way the Dogs are playing right now, but that’s going to make things difficult.
Port were at the very top of their game in the qualifying final against Geelong a couple of weeks ago: they went to a gear that they hadn’t displayed all season long. The Power had mostly been flat track bullies for season 2021, but they played as strong a brand of finals footy as you could hope for against the Cats. Their pressure was through the roof, and they were skillful and creative when they had the ball. If they play a similar brand of footy this week the Dogs will find it very difficult to stay with them. It was Port’s small-to-medium forwards that feasted on the Geelong defence, but Charlie Dixon will be licking his lips at the news of lining up against a Dogs side without Keath. He should be able to take advantage of that, though the forecast of possible showers might make it slightly more difficult for him to dominate the air. Nevertheless, if he can clunk a few while providing a contest for his smalls to rove from, then the Port Adelaide forward entries are going to be supremely dangerous.
Stefan Martin is an interesting inclusion for the Dogs; Luke Beveridge has for weeks claimed the big man isn’t ready, but he’s rolling the dice on him now. That’s probably in part due to Keath’s absence: the Dogs will know they are not going to win this by defending. The only way they win this game of footy is by dominating the midfield and keeping the ball in their forward half as much as possible. Martin gives them a greater chance of doing that, but it’s a big risk. A worthwhile one, but a risk nonetheless. I think it should be a great game, but the Dogs need too many things to fall their way to secure the win. Much like Melbourne, Port are fit and well-rested, and I think they’ll be too good on their home deck.
Betting tip: Port Adelaide (-15.5) @ $1.92 (UniBet)
Best Bets of the Round
Port Adelaide (-15.5) @ $1.92 (UniBet)