AFL 2020 Week One Finals preview: A long weekend of exciting clashes

We’re down to crunch time. Eight teams are left after a rollercoaster season. Each side has endured through breaks, injuries and a season like no other. On Thursday, we’ll see who is good enough to triumph in the toughest of years.

First Qualifying Final

Thursday 7.40PM

Adelaide Oval

Port Adelaide v Geelong

Just a couple of months ago Geelong dismantled the Power to establish themselves as a flag chance. Now, they must do so again if they are to zip past the minor premiers into a preliminary final.

Will ghosts haunt the Power?

Port Adelaide should head in confident, having barely lost a game throughout the home and away season. Unfortunately, one of these defeats came at the hands of Geelong, when the Cats destroyed them on a Friday night up in Gold Coast.

It’s a big week for Tom Clurey. He has had a wonderful season, but his attacking instincts played straight into Coleman Medallist Tom Hawkins’ hands when they lined up on each other. Will Clurey continue to attack, or will he adjust to handle the star forward better?

The spotlight is also on Port’s midfield. They did a fantastic job all year, but they struggled when coming up against Geelong’s powerful engine room. The likes of Travis Boak and Tom Rockliff must win the ball in contested situations if they are to spread it out to good ball users and deny Patrick Dangerfield and Sam Menegola easy possessions.

This time around Port must stop Patrick Dangerfield (Image by Dave Hunt/ AAP)

Can Charlie stand up?

Charlie Dixon has had a terrific year. Without injuries weighing him down, he has soared into the All-Australian team and proved a headache for opponents.

The big question is whether Dixon can perform in finals. He has a golden opportunity, and his presence means a lot when it comes to Port’s chances. If he can get on top of Mark Blicavs and Harry Taylor, Port will have the focal point they need to score constantly and take the game away from Geelong, who have looked rusty in the last fortnight.

Tip: This is incredibly tough. It all depends on which Geelong rocks up. If they can’t find their spark, Port should win this. But if they can rediscover their damaging touch, they should book a preliminary final date. Cats by 11.

Second Qualifying Final

Friday 7.50PM

The Gabba

Brisbane v Richmond

It’s a rematch of last year’s first final, where Richmond slaughtered the Lions en route to the flag. Will the Lions be haunted by this, or will they turn the tables?

Brisbane’s midfield chance

Unlike a year ago, the talent of Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons has elevated to a new level in 2020. Neale is the clear Brownlow Medal favourite, while Lyons’ underrated nature nearly took him to an All-Australian selection. The pair are the beating heart of Brisbane; if they can win the contested ball and dominate the clearances, they can put Richmond on the back foot early.

To win the battle, they must out-work Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia, Shai Bolton and Trent Cotchin. Martin has been in great form, while Prestia’s return could elevate those around him to a more damaging level. It’ll be a wonderful clash, but Brisbane have the tools available to set themselves up in this massive final.

Two contrasting forward lines

The pressure is well and truly on Brisbane’s forwards. Last year’s straight sets exit cast the spotlight on their dysfunctional forward line. In 2020, Charlie Cameron hasn’t been as consistently brilliant, but Lincoln McCarthy, Eric Hipwood and Cam Rayner have all developed in some way. A more consistent spread of contributors could cover the Lions if Cameron is blanketed by Dylan Grimes.

On the other hand, Richmond must find avenues to goal without Tom Lynch. The star forward has already been ruled out, giving the returning Harris Andrews plenty of opportunity to intercept mark. The Tigers will have to enter forward 50 cleverly if they are to post a winning score.

Without Tom Lynch, can Richmond’s forward line maintain its dominance? (Image by Dave Hunt/ AAP)

Tip: Brisbane will be spewing at this match-up. They should come closer to the Tigers than last year, but Richmond are just too good and balanced. Richmond by 25.

Second Elimination Final

Saturday 4.40PM

The Gabba

St Kilda v Western Bulldogs

After jostling for finals spots in the past few weeks, these two Victorian clubs are the most likely to go on a winding run through the last month of footy. The question is which team is in better touch to win this first final and challenge the league’s top sides?

Which young forward stands tallest?

With the good news that Aaron Naughton is likely to play for the Bulldogs, his inclusion creates a tantalising battle with Saints young gun Max King. Both will line up on newly recruited defenders (Dougal Howard for Naughton, Alex Keath for King), and will have to contribute if their side is to get past week one.

King is an exciting prospect – his first year has shown maturity not normally seen by starting tall forwards. Can his polish come to the fore in finals football? Naughton has more runs on the board, having proven his strong contested marking ability for the past two years. But is he a finals star?

A couple of stars against a scary midfield group

The two on-ball brigades these teams possess are both strong in their own ways. St Kilda’s has improved remarkably after injuries to Jade Gresham and Dan Hannebery during the season. In their absence, Jack Steele, Hunter Clark and Zak Jones have been terrific; these young players can work hard and trouble the Dogs.

Zak Jones has added run to the Saints this year (Herald Sun)

But the Bulldogs have their own system. Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae are the stars, but then there is Lachie Hunter, Tom Liberatore, Josh Dunkley and Bailey Smith. Their depth, even without Toby McLean, is so strong that they have been able to grow Mitch Wallis as a great small forward. The question is whether a group of midfielders can account for various stars who are emerging in front of our eyes.

Tip: This is the hardest one to pick by a long way. The Saints deserve favouritism, so I’ll go with them. But something about the Bulldogs is hard to ignore. Saints by 7.

First Elimination Final

Saturday 8.10PM

Optus Stadium

West Coast v Collingwood

This is the match-up many football fans wanted. These two teams once again clash in finals footy just two years after a pair of magnificent finals, which included one of the greatest Grand Finals of all time.

Who returns from injury?

This question mainly concerns West Coast. They have a bank of players struggling to recover in time for Saturday night – Jeremy McGovern, Josh Kennedy, Jack Redden, Luke Shuey are just a couple of names. Knowing the Eagles, they’ll manage to get them right and bring them all in to haunt the Pies, but this rushed effort, combined with West Coast’s shaky late form, isn’t inspiring for the Eagles.

On the Pies, they have integrated most of their returning players in the last couple of rounds. Brayden Sier is in the box seat for a return on the big stage, while Adam Treloar and Jordan De Goey have adjusted to footy in the latter stages of the home and away season.

Which forward line finds their balance?

A lot of this match depends on whether Collingwood, including Brodie Grundy in the ruck, can match West Coast’s and make this a contest. But if this happens, it’ll come down to which forward line is most efficient.

Grundy must nullify Nic Nat (AFL Crowcast)

West Coast’s is very makeshift – with Kennedy out, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen couldn’t flourish, while Liam Ryan was left as the main target. Up the other end, Mason Cox has found form, and the return of Jordan De Goey makes everything work better. Their main issue is finding the form of Jaidyn Stephenson, who could tear this final apart if he can boot a bag of goals.

Tip: In any other time I’d go the Eagles, as they could easily run away with this one. But something about the injuries and their recent form doesn’t convince me. Collingwood always perform best when under media pressure. Pies by 12.

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