The weekend began with two massive match-ups, and ended in two upsets. After a tumultuous season, Richmond and Geelong defied all odds to claim Grand Final spots and establish one of the more intriguing clashes in recent history.
First Preliminary Final
Port Adelaide 6.4 (40) defeated by Richmond 6.10 (46)
Young Power players turn it on
It was a high-pressure game that took its toll on seasoned stars. Instead of Tom Rockliff, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak bullying the sleeker Tigers, wiry youngsters in Xavier Duursma and Connor Rozee shone.
Port Adelaide have been underrated all year, and only in this finals series have they proven how strong and versatile they are. Charlie Dixon was well-held by Noah Balta all night, with Dylan Grimes lending terrific support, but Port kept finding avenues to goal. With Port’s other big men struggling in the slippery conditions, Rozee was the livewire up forward. His two goals exhilarated the crowd and kept Port on top in a tiring first half.
Richmond do just enough, again
The Tigers found themselves in a hole yet again. Every season they slip behind in certain times and rally in dramatic circumstances. Last season they were well behind the Cats, only to rally behind Tom Lynch and fire their way into another Grand Final. This preliminary final was their big challenge, having to travel to the minor premiers and take on a seasoned Port outfit.
With the match in the balance at the start of the final term, it was Dustin Martin and Shane Edwards who had controlled the middle. They needed help, and the answer came from Toby Nankervis and Kane Lambert. Nankervis lifted to a new level, taking vital marks and beating Scott Lycett around the ground. Lambert booted two handy majors, one coming from a controversial deliberate out of bounds call. In a frantic finish, Richmond did everything to hold on.
In a rugged season, it’s a remarkable effort. Once again, the Tigers got out of jail and secured one of their great finals wins to book a shot at back-to-back flags.
Verdict: Port didn’t lose any fans after a great effort, but Richmond deserve all credit for a brave win.
Second Preliminary Final
Brisbane 6.6 (42) defeated by Geelong 11.16 (82)
Too much to carry
Brisbane have had a wonderful season, but their young list may not be quite ready for premiership glory. In front of a packed home crowd willing them towards a Grand Final, the Lions did everything they could to match it with the seasoned Cats.
Despite being outplayed by Geelong in the first quarter, Charlie Cameron took advantage of his mis-match on Jake Kolodjashnij, kicking two early goals to thrill the crowd. But when Chris Scott switched Jed Bews onto him, the Lions forward line lacked potency.
Tom Stewart, Lachie Henderson and Harry Taylor all worked to lock down Lincoln McCarthy, Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay, and without these contributors the Brisbane midfield was left with too much to do. Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons and Dayne Zorko did everything possible to turn the tide, but Brisbane’s young stars who had evened out their list couldn’t lift when it countered. Unfortunately, only Daniel Rich and Harris Andrews thwarted consistent Geelong attacks. The Lions have the game and the effort to win a flag, but they need more contributors across the park. It may come with natural development, or from a prize recruit.
Cats solid across the board
It was a performance Geelong signalled at the start of the season. It had taken time, but finally Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and Sam Menegola were all ready to consistently shoulder the load, leaving elders Selwood and Ablett to manage their bodies and roam where they pleased. After out-classing Collingwood last week, the Cats turned up the pressure and quickly disarmed Brisbane’s potent midfield. Brandan Parfitt was key – the emerging ball-winner dominated.
This consistency allowed Patrick Dangerfield and Ablett to swing forward, making their attacking group deadly. Ablett lit up the park in the third term with two thrilling goals that pushed the margin away from Brisbane’s reach, while Dangerfield freed up Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan to pounce.
In defence, nothing could get past the Cats. With Mark Blicavs occasionally being tossed back to help out, they have a perfect mix ready to entertain the Tigers. If they copy this effort, they are an incredibly hard team to beat.
Verdict: Brisbane aren’t far away, but lack the reliability that comes with experience. Geelong are in-form and have a golden chance to send Ablett off in style.
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Richmond v Geelong
Can Geelong’s defence make one final stop?
For the majority of the year the Cat’s back line has been remarkably sturdy. With the likes of Bews and Mark O’Connor solidifying their spots to aid Stewart and co, their defensive unit has managed to pull off some great finals wins. They are adaptable and reliable, but how do they go against the strongest forward line in the game?
Harry Taylor and Henderson are perfect match-ups for Riewoldt and Lynch, but they will cherish the third tall intercept option that Blicavs can bring. Kolodjashnij should be the preferred candidate to take Martin when he ventures forward, while Bews and O’Connor will have their hands full trying to stop Jason Castagna and Daniel Rioli from getting off the chain.
Dusty v Danger
It’s the mouth-watering battle we’ve all wanted to see for some time. Martin is arguably the best finals performer of the past few years – he now gets the chance to go for a record-breaking third Norm Smith Medal. But he will face sterner opposition with Dangerfield raring to perform in his first Grand Final. He has matched Dusty as the most consistent star player of the last few years (alongside Nat Fyfe), and he can now make Dusty hurt if he roams forward and kicks a bag.
Both should start in the midfield, and may go head-to-head at certain stoppages. I expect a lack of defence from these two, as they’ll instead try to get on the outside and wreak havoc across half-forward. When both go forward, Danger should be the biggest threat, but don’t doubt Dusty’s ability to kick bags of goals in massive matches.
Who takes Ablett?
Despite being aged, Gary Ablett Jnr is still one of the largest threats in the game. He is a known performer in Grand Finals, having already won two flags. Now he has a chance to cap off a fairy tale finish that befits the proud Ablett name.
It’ll be interesting to see who takes Ablett down back for the Tigers. Bachar Houli may be given a chance to nullify him and then make him hurt on the rebound, but it could backfire if Houli isn’t able to roam free. If Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan command attention, then Ablett may instead receive Jaidyn Short or Liam Baker with Dylan Grimes busy with other forwards.
It’s an interesting dynamic – Richmond will be relying on Geelong’s forwards, much like Gryan Miers, to have a shocker so Ablett can command all attention from Richmond’s elite defence.
Strength v athleticism
Both teams possess high amounts of pressure and work rate, but their styles in attack vary. Geelong are precise and have an amazing structure; the role players in Parfitt, Duncan, Guthrie and Menegola are all key – if they have prolific games, Geelong will have enough superiority throughout to win the crucial midfield battle.
Two other keys are Rhys Stanley and Tom Hawkins – if Stanley can match Toby Nankervis in the ruck and prevent him from taking marks around the ground then the Cats can stand taller. If Hawkins can continue to out-body opposing ruckmen in the forward line and bring Miers and co into the game then Geelong should get enough on the board to bring home a flag.
On the other hand, Richmond play with dare and spirit. They will the ball forward – a style that’ll do them well if the rain comes down. Players like Shai Bolton, Shane Edwards and Kane Lambert are key – they can become x-factors and lift to accompany Martin and Trent Cotchin on their merry way. But if Selwood and Ablett out-play these role players then Richmond may struggle to win clearances and give their potent forward line the opportunity required.
Tip: Befitting of the season, it’s a tough one to tip. If the rain comes down, the dew kicks in and the humidity is high, then Richmond will win this one. But if dries up, Geelong learn from their lessons and continue their high-pressure/ strong structure game then they might squeeze home. Cats by 10.
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