by Katie Lambeski
Finally, that nastiness that has stained the 2013 Premiership season is over (for now). One can’t help but believe a new season will kick off this Friday night as finals roll around. What will happen?
Hawthorn vs Sydney
Friday September 6th, 7:50pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Hawthorn should take one step to, what I believe, their eleventh Premiership tonight. The headlines to start the week surrounded the competition’s star forward Lance Franklin, who accepted a one week ban for a high bump on Nick Malceski. It should prove a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. With or without ‘Buddy’, the Hawks can prevail. Jack Gunston and Jarryd Roughead have come into their own and can pick up the slack.
The most concerning thing for Sydney in the “phoney war” last Friday night, was Hawthorn’s ability to withstand some great pressure from the Swans to eventually finish winners. Hawthorn will enter the healthier of the two, as the Swans are only starting to have key players in Lewis Jetta, Daniel Hannebery and Adam Goodes on the way back.
Both Alistair Clarkson and John Longmire have some of the league’s best across their boards, more so in the midfield. Sydney’s ability on the outside pips Hawthorn’s, but none can match the foot skills of the Hawks. The Hawks’ leg speed issues are likely to be exacerbated if Cyril Rioli doesn’t come up. Expect plenty of pressure early on, a contested ball affair, although it should open up as legs begin to tire.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 20 points.
Geelong vs Fremantle
Saturday September 7th, 2:20pm
It is refreshing to see the AFL make a “what’s best for footy” decision rather than a decision based on how much cash can be made. Geelong finish second on the ladder, giving them a home final and Kardinia is the Cats’ home ground. It will be great to see history made and an even contest, the Dockers can win this. 250 tickets remained on Thursday evening, so how many are really missing out?
Ross Lyon decided to rest an abnormal amount of players, as is his right to. Being in the position they were in last weekend, they were allowed to look further ahead, and they will be judged on how they fare this Saturday.
Freo were taught a football lesson last time they visited Geelong. They have concerns, they have scored the least of the finals team in 2013. On the other side of the coin, they are the best defensive side in the league, conceding considerably less than any other team this season. Geelong have shown a worrying trend of susceptibility to not being able to stall opposition momentum and lapses in concentration. Tom Hawkins is another injury concern, but remains important to the structure up forward.
Chris Scott conceded this week on AFL 360 that there was a genuine squeeze for places in this week’s team, so team selection proved interesting as the only change was Nathan Vardy for Trent West. Freo regain ten of their best twenty-two, while Luke McPharlin wasn’t selected.
Geelong should have the perfect blend of youth and finals experience to account for the Dockers.
Prediction: Geelong by 15.
Collingwood vs Port Adelaide
Saturday September 7th, 7:45pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Collingwood are the only team outside of the top four that can win the flag. Unfortunately, a tricky task is first up in Port Adelaide. The visitors will head to the MCG with nothing to lose, have exceeded all expectations in a season that has seen them remarkably turn from laughing stock to finals side.
Collingwood had plenty of options to choose from, giving the football department selection dilemmas this week as Luke Ball and Harry O’Brien come back in, while Darren Jolly misses out. It has been the quiet story of Collingwood’s season, as Nathan Buckley has overseen a generational change in his line-up without a massive fall away in results. This has seen up-and-down performances from the Pies, perhaps to be expected. Ken Hinkley did go through the same thing with Robbie Gray, Hamish Hartlett and Alipate Carlile all coming back this week.
Port will need to deal with Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury. Both will get plenty of the ball, but blunting the effectiveness of that will go a long way to an unlikely Power win. This has the potential to be the game of the round, Port (just like they did against Collingwood earlier this season) will give them a real fight. If the Pies that beat Sydney and Collingwood convincingly show up, they should win. If they don’t, they may be looking at the early exit.
Prediction: Collingwood by 10.
Richmond vs Carlton
Sunday September 8th, 3:20pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The game I’m most looking forward to, both sides have finally gotten what they’ve been starved of and are back to where they feel they belong. Neither of these two will win the 2013 flag, but they will put on a spectacle and a sold-out crowd will only add to it. Carlton are lucky to be there after being the main beneficiary of the Essendon saga. Richmond have built up to this since the beginning of the Hardwick era, resulting in their first finals series since 2001.
Much of the Carlton focus from the outside has been a ‘will he’, ‘won’t he’ on Chris Judd’s knee injury. Mick Malthouse can do little wrong by starting him as the sub. The risk becomes lower while the reward is greater. As the game opens up as it gets older, a fresh Judd can break the game open. Richmond have included Jack Riewoldt and Chris Newman have been included in the squad of 25, it is hard to see either of them missing this.
Apart from that effort against the Bulldogs in Round 20, Carlton have been an honest team lacking that class to get them to finals, you can’t deny their efforts. Richmond have grown up and won games that they should have and were expected to, a key difference in 2013. Carlton can go in confident, they outworked the Tigers last time they met, they can do it again. The two are inseparable.
Prediction: Richmond by 6.