Finals Week 1 AFL Preview - Qualifying & Elimination Finals


Here we are at the pointy end of the season.  Not quite the tip of the spear, but the long handle and grip of the spear is behind us now and we are at the bit where the spear widens into a blade like structure before compressing to a tip, and this is exactly the part of the spear that leaves us wondering why we chose spears as an analogy for the season in the first place. 

Perhaps if we consider the Phalanx, which hold the spears…nope.  That’s no good either. 

The season is a lot like a Trireme as we row towards the Port of Cyrene

In any event, the season is over and just as spears have been replaced by more exciting weaponry, the regular season has been replaced by a more exciting and cut-throat version we call finals.

The All-Australian team was announced in the week off and was met with the usual joy and derision that accompanies it every year.  It’s a great idea in principle.  Name a team of players that will never play a game and let everyone tell you that you got it wrong because someone they liked wasn’t in there or someone they don’t like was in there, or that you got it right for the same reasons.  It’s a story that writes itself.  Sometimes I feel like the AFL media industry operates in much the same ways as PwC writing Tax policies or KPMG consulting to Defence departments.  A single initial piece of work can, by its very nature, spawn hundreds more consulting/editorial hours.  Even this is a prime example.  Now that I’ve opened the door, next week I can write all about Pikes, Halberds, Tridents and even Britney’s.

Turning our eye to the footy and we have four tantalizing match ups to dive into as we look to turn 8 teams into 6 by weeks end.  Some dubious scheduling sees us start on a Thursday Night which I’m not all that impressed about and no Sunday action either which is like a double blow.  But I’ll get over it and the excitement of the games within the games will make for compulsory viewing.

Collingwood vs Melbourne  MCG    Thursday Night

Minor premiers Collingwood will get a chance to prove their worth against 4th place Melbourne in the first of these match ups.  The Pies credentials are not that great, having lost twice to 2nd place, once to 4th place and once to 5th place which is an indicator that they struggle a bit against some of the top teams.  Melbourne have also had some struggles through the year, falling victim to 2nd, 3rd and 5th but throw in a few lower ranked teams there too.  We’re going to need to dive into this true 50:50 match to try and get some insight, and this is a worrying thing to do before the team is announced.

One End of the Ground

May and Lever are the Key posts and then the floaters in defence are Salem, Bowey, Turner, Smith, McVee among other options.  They’ll be up against the key posts of McStay and Mihocek with fleet footers Johnson, Ginnivan, McCreery, Hill and Elliott.  In this part of the ground, Melbourne has the more adept key defenders, but I’d give the nod to Collingwood for having more impactful small forwards.  Melbourne will also have to deal with Collingwood midfielders coming through who can also hit the scoreboard.  Collingwood will need the ball coming in quickly to get past the solid defence that May and Lever can orchestrate while Melbourne will rely on a talented midfield slowing up that ball movement to allow the defenders to work into positions.  Elliott is probably the danger man as you can’t even just push him wide as he is just as accurate out there.  The Pies need to nullify May.

The Other End of the Ground

Van Rooyen and Fritch are the main targets up forward, but Melbourne have a host of other support acts in Spargo, Schache, McDonald, Neal-Bullen, and Pickett to name a few with excellent support from a midfield that knows how to score.  Collingwood will rely on Moore and Murphy to try and shut down the main targets and be supported by Quaynor, Maynard, Noble and Howe.  The remaining small defenders in the Collingwood arsenal are more like attaching half-backs so this is a point that Melbourne may be able to exploit.

The Middle

Both teams have talented midfields all with household names.  Melbourne with the best ruckman in the caper feeding some real bulls.  Collingwood have not been the best centre clearance team this year, relying on that attacking halfback and repel from defence to launch their forward sorties.

Other Stats

Collingwood have won 3 of the last 5 over Melbourne so no help there.  Collingwood have 3x All-Australian Team 2023 players versus Melbourne’s one.  Although one of the Collingwood ones isn’t playing…no help there either.  The only stat that matters that I can find is that Collingwood versus Melbourne in Finals reads 22 finals, Melbourne 16 wins, Collingwood 5 wins and 1 draw.  In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1958 to find the last time Collingwood beat Melbourne in a final.

The consequences for this match are polar opposites.  Win it and you get a week off and (likely) face Port Adelaide in a Prelim at the MCG.  Lose it and you (likely) will face Carlton at the MCG in an elimination Semi-Final.  Get though that and you (likely) have to play Brisbane at the Gabba.  Now that’s a tough path.

I’ve looked at the stats, rubbed the lamp and consulted the Magic Mirror.  All I found was that stat’s lie, Genie’s don’t exist and I’m not the Fairest of them all.  So, I’m left with a blind stab in the dark.  Melbourne by 1 point…in Overtime.

Carlton vs Sydney     MCG    Friday Night

What crazy machinations the season threw up for us.  Were it not for a dodgy ‘touched’ call for that Petracca goal, Melbourne would have been hosting Brisbane at the MCG in week 1 and Carlton would have been travelling to play GWS.  But, when a train is in motion, it takes something the size of the Carrington Event to stop it…assuming the train is electric and not Diesel…but Williams retired long ago so I’ll go with electric.  Carlton started the season well and halfway through, Voss had his measurements taken for his funeral suit and casket.  But then a juggernaut started rolling and here we are at the finals.  A blip on the way in, in a game that didn’t mean a lot to Carlton but that shouldn’t slow the train much if they show the same tenacity they did for the previous 9 matches.  The question will be, given it’s their first Finals appearance in a while and first for many of the current players, is, will they get stage fright?  One thing is for certain that Sydney will not.  They have been here before, and they know what to do and will be seeking deliverance for a poor Grand Final display last year.  This will be a ho-holes barred, no backward step, no quarter given, no quarter asked kind of contest and will be great couch time.

One End

The Coleman medalist plus some minor support staff go up against a rag-tag team of defenders held together by a bit of craft glue and some duct tape.  Duct tape is strong stuff, but Curnow is a one-man wrecking ball.  Which way will that go?

The Other End

Weitering and Marchbank trying to contain a rag-tag team of forwards who lost their key post along the way to the scourge of all footballers – old age.  But this rag-tagness makes Sydney unpredictable.  Weitering learned last week that unlike Basketball the instruction for defenders is not to “keep that hand in his face.”

The Middle

For this match, the game will be won or lost right here.  Cripps, it would seem is a man who operates at Finals level match.  When recording centre clearances, the record keeper needed take his finger off the button…just hold it down.  Nimbly supported by a classy group of names like Walsh, Acres and Cerra and this is a very difficult unit to stop.  But Sydney have themselves a rag-tag team of midfielders that are not too shabby in a pinch.  Gulden, Mills, Rowbottom and Warner to name a few.  No need for long sleeves out there.

Other Stats

Carlton are one of the higher disposal teams, whereas Sydney prefers to move the ball with a bit more efficiency.  This could be the one chink in the Carlton armour that only a rag-tag team of NSW misfits can exploit. Carlton haven’t played Sydney at the MCG for about 6 years, and it might surprise you that the time prior to that was in 1986 and that’s it.  Only twice.  Even if you throw in the South Melbourne era, the total meetings at the MCG can be counted by any regularly appendaged individual.  Ten times in total and 9 times in a final.  As good as Sydney are at the MCG, it can be said that Sydney (as Sydney) have never beaten Carlton there.  Carlton by 16 points.


Saint Kilda vs Greater Western Sydney      MCG    Saturday Afternoon

Another day, another tantalizing contest.  Footy is better with Ross Lyon in it and he has made great inroads to get Saint Kilda back to finals immediately.  Meanwhile Kinglsey’s men have had a powerful finish to the season and, not to big-note myself, but you may remember as far back as 9 weeks ago I said GWS would make the finals and I was right.  I shouldn’t big-note myself.  Really, it was my statistical leviathan that made the call.  Anyway, the main point of interest here is that these two teams have never met on the hallowed turf of the MCG.  With no real history to go on, lets look at the field.

One End

The All-Australian Full back (Wilkie) versus the All-Australian Forward and Captain (Greene).  It could be said that Wilkie benefits from Lyon’s team defence approach and Toby has taken some kind of illegal substance, I think.  No-one can get that mature in such a short space of time, can they?  He gets support from Hogan who has found some form and Wilkie gets support from other All-Australian Jack Sinclair.

The Other End

GWS have a handful of great defenders who will have their hands full with the likes of Phillipou and Caminiti. 

The Middle

Saint Kilda are the highest possession team of them all, averaging 34 possession per goal whereas GWS averages 30 which is also very high.  Will this be the biggest game of keepy-off yet seen in all of space and time?  We will see.

The home ground advantage for Saint Kilda has been taken away from them with the need to hold this match at the MCG.  They’ve only played there twice this year, but that’s one more time than GWS and that was not a pleasant experience for them, but in the later part of the year they certainly seemed to have more of an anywhere/anytime attitude, and I think their brand stacks up better than Saint Kilda’s in a final.  GWS by 9 points.

Brisbane vs Port Adelaide    Gabba Saturday Night

They got there in the end.  Brisbane was able to secure the second spot and the coveted home final that could see them not have to travel to Melbourne until Grand Final Day.  But first, they need to get past Port Adelaide who won’t go up to Brisbane thinking they are all but lost.  It’s been 6 years since Port Adelaide have won at the Gabba, but with a team brimming with All-Australian selections and a potential Brownlow medalist, perhaps this is the year to roll the Lions.  Brisbane was rather snubbed by the All-Australian committee which either indicates they aren’t that good, or Brisbane is a much more even team of contributors.  This makes it hard to shut them down and with a stand full of maroon, gold and blue behind them, they’ll be hard to stop.

One End

Daniher, McCarthy, Hipwood, Cameron versus Jonas, Houston, Aliir and Bergman.  It’s a tantalizing match up but I don’t think pivotal to the outcome.

The Other End

Rioli, Finlayson, Marshall, Powell-Pepper (not sure if Dixon plays) versus Starcevich, Andrews, Adams, and Gardiner.  Again, good match ups but not pivotal to the outcome.

The Middle

This is the battle we are waiting to watch.  Both teams have elite midfields with a host of names that could be reeled off; Rayner, Rozee, Neale, Butters (really spreads well), McCluggage, Horne-Francis.  This midfield battle is dripping with intrigue.  On a humid Brisbane Saturday night, this is a real two teams enter, one team exits scenario.


The consequences for this match are Win and it’s a home preliminary final in Brisbane or Adelaide and to lose would mean the long way around against Saint Kilda or GWS and if through that, the daunting task of facing Collingwood or Melbourne at the MCG.  The pundits have this as squarely in Brisbane’s favour, but I don’t think it will be that easy.  You see they may have won all of their games at the Gabba this year but only 4 of those games were against top eight sides.  Their average margin at the Gabba may be 35 points, but it’s only 18 points against top eight sides.  I give Port Adelaide a good chance here, but only a fool would tip against Brisbane at home.  Brisbane by 11 points.


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