Welcome to the Penultimate Weekend of the season,
The incorrectly monickered Preliminary finals are upon us in what is now seen as the real fans final day with the Grand Final now being virtually overrun by the corporate theatre attendees. But there are a myriad of issues in the news.
Not the least being the situation the Tigers find themselves in with Dustin Martin. I saw him play his debut against the Blues and from that game it was obvious he is loaded with talent – probably enough to be able to win games off his own boot. Such a commodity is rare and the Tigers are justifiably concerned about losing such a talent. But it is a double-edged sword that Dusty brings to the table and from the word go it was also clear that he was different, unusual or in other words high maintenance. Not that I wish any goodwill to Richmond, but I reckon they are best served by cutting their losses and getting the best deal they can for Dusty. The other interesting aspect from my perspective is the interest from Melbourne, Paul Roos would have been one of the Sydney leaders who helped build the “Bloods” culture. That culture is famous for the adherence to “Rule Number 1”, I reckon at this stage of his life Dustin Martin breaks that rule. I note now that the interest has waned!
Much has been said of the surface presented for the Sydney – Carlton game on Saturday night with all sorts of commentary that the league should never schedule finals there again. As a Blues fan it would be easy to lay some blame to the surface, but both teams had to play on it and Sydney adapted better. From a spectacle the game was rubbish mainly due the surface. However rather than bemoaning the stadium and moving all finals to the smaller SCG, I think the question needs to be of the AFL. What it is doing to ensure that the surface is up to AFL standard for future encounters. Moving to the SCG is a retrograde step, despite being a better surface it will only ever hold 48,000 and one day the Giants will host a final. ANZ Stadium holds 80,000 and is second only to the G for capacity in Australia – it should be hosting AFL finals – the AFL just need to ensure they have greater control of the facility and the surface to be presented. It may cost more but worth it in the long term.
Then we come to the ultimate AFL capitulation and dropping of all charges against Doc Reid. The Doc might be Bambi to many, but he knew what was going on but was only prepared to raise alarm bells inside the club. Once his letter was dismissed and the Dank regime rolled on he did nothing to prevent it, just using the excuse that he was marginalised. I remember back to my discussion with the Sage who suggested limited tenure of medicos at clubs to ensure their interests remained player first, player second, player third and then the club! He is not called the Sage for nothing. The Doc put the club before everything rather than forcing its hand and bringing the whole episode to a head and potentially even saving his hero in the process. By the same token that hero might be a bit niggled that he did not push his case all the way to court now that the AFL has succumbed to the threat from the Doc.
Results from last week once again going to plan with the top 4 proving they finished there for a reason – the odds were short but for good reason.
Port took it right up to the Cats early and were able to establish the ascendancy against what appeared to be lethargic opposition. But the main break got in the way, the lethargy disappeared and was replaced by Geelong football as we have been accustomed to over recent years. They were back in the game in a flash with huge 3rd quarters from Chapman, Selwood and Stokes. Varcoe was dangerous but wasteful. Whilst getting out to a game controlling lead, this Port team is made of the real stuff and snatched a couple of late goals to make it interesting. Ultimately experienced told, however take nothing away from Port who had a fantastic season and the game is better for teams who play in their style.
Sydney demonstrated what a proud and determined unit they are, after their poor performance against Hawthorn and despite being undermanned and injured they showed a level of desire and commitment that was too much for the ninth placed team to handle. Jarrod McVeigh had his own Sherrin for much of the game and especially in the second quarter. I heard him say he got plenty of cheapies behind the ball in the last quarter – in the second quarter he got them all contested and took the game away from Carlton. The Blues missed Kruezer more than expected and once again showed a lack of midfield depth. Eight blues delisted– none of them surprising and none from the finals team.
But that was last week – this week we don’t have the preliminary finals we expected but we do have the four teams playing that we expected. How does history play here – the stats are eerily similar to the semi-final stats. Only 3 semi-final winners have been able to turn the tables and go on to stake a place in the Grand Final. The spooky thing being each of them (Brisbane 2003, Sydney 2005 and West Coast 2006) went on to defeat the opposition that defeated them in the qualifying final to claim the flag! This preview has been completed prior to team announcements.
What Curse? ($1.42) vs Of Curse They Can ($3.35)
For the fans it is great that we get this game in the Preliminary Final, but what will we be dealt up. The forecast for wet weather through to game time is usually good for Geelong – they have several excellent wet weather players but will be missing two of them in Chapman and Enright. Poor conditions do not suit the Hawthorn precision game either, however they also have their inside players who can revel on a heavy surface.
The Geelong defence is certainly weaker without Enright, however the usual key matchup of Lonergan on Franklin will be in place. That has usually been a key for the Cats success over the Hawks over the last few years, but Hawthorn have actively tried to spread the load. Gunston, Bruest, Roughy, Rioli, Hale – plenty of other options up front the rested Hawks – if they can get enough supply and don’t suffer from sphincter tightening they can provide the winning score.
Up the other end Brian Lake was recruited to deal with the perceived deficiency in a strong one-on-one defender – not sure what is happening all the time on Planet Brian, but for the most part he has done his job. Up against the hobbled Tomahawk I suspect he will be able to curtail his influence and possibly provide a path out of defence. The Cats will have their hands full in looking after the set up defenders in Mitchell and Birchall, Mitchell never really has to defend his man as he is too busy with the footy in his hand. Geelong must restrict his influence. By the same token Motlop, Varcoe and Christensen all looked dangerous forward last week. Although capable, not sure the big Geelong forwards will be able to provide the contest required to either mark or provide crumbs for the scavengers and register a winning score.
In the middle of the park the Hawks don’t have the inside pace, but they are bulls and do not give in easily with Hodge, Sewell, Lewis and Mitchell (when he is in there) as strong as any in the competition. Geelong match it with the strength of Selwood and Corey in particular but get more pace also particularly with Stokes. If Hawthorn can get the ball out to their runners they can control this area, my concern being that their outside runners don’t provide much inside assistance. The rucks are interesting with the Cat pair making a better account of themselves last week. Bailey is under an injury cloud but Hale provides that extra dimension of being a more than capable forward.
A Geelong victory would be great to continue the curse. However based on form and player availability Hawthorn have the fitness and firepower to put an end to the curse and expect them to do so by 43 points. There are a couple of provisos, first of all the thought of the curse will be playing on their minds whether they like it or not, secondly if the weather is poor Geelong’s game is much better suited.
The Purple Haze ($1.33) vs Wounded Ducks ($3.90)
Jack Little would be very excited about this one, we could fit all 36 players in a cage and just move it around Subiaco! Whilst I might not share Jack’s enthusiasm it will be a worthy contest. Freo have built a real fortress at their home and Sydney have an impressive record at the ground also winning their last four at the venue, but they have only defeated Fremantle in 2 of the 7 meetings ever at the venue. Importantly the Dockers are almost at full strength, whereas Sydney played last week on a heavy surface and suffered further injuries.
Statistically the Swans have been good without Tippett and have spread the goalkicking load – but in big finals having the get out bomb to a big forward has been an advantage. Sydney must have their resting rucks and White ensure they get a big contest up forward. Perhaps with Ted being let off, LRT may return forward and not many give a contest like him! As importantly they also must enter the forward 50 with a few smarts and ensure they are not lulled into the trap of kicking to the obvious places as Geelong did. Freo sets up their defence with great pressure on the ball and rely on the “get out of jail” kick to the top of the square, that “get out” kick needs to be angled and not to the nest of Dockers ready to pounce. Easier said than done against the purple swarm, but critical not to play into Get Stuffed Lyon’s trap.
At the other end is where the Fremantle defence begins with their rabid chase and harassment, Malceski and McVeigh will not have the time and space that Carlton gave them last week. Added to that in Pavlich, Main, Ballantyne and Walters there is enough talent to kick enough goals in what is bound to be a defensive battle.
But it was in the middle where Freo pounded the Cats – or more specifically in the rucks. Herman was completely dominant over the undersized and inexperienced Geelong pair and controlled the game setting up two goals directly from forward line stoppages. Mummy and Pyke have more size and experience to counter Sandilands and “The Good Zac”, but it will be a crucial contest. If the Freo rucks can provide the like of Hill, Mundy and Fyfe first use of the ball the game is done, if the Swans can make it a contest in there they give themselves some chance. The other factor is Crowley, hate him or hate him, he is the leading tagger in the competition and will make life difficult for whoever he is assigned to. It is imperative that Sydney counter this as a team and ensure that Crowley knows he is up against all of Sydney and not isolate his opponent in a scragging war.
Again I would love the underdog Swans to prevail. However the rested Dockers are primed and got their home final, as stated if their rucks dominate it will be a procession if Sydney can split it then the game will be tight. I suspect the result will be somewhere in the middle with Freo to push through to next week by 25 points.
Last week’s vanquished
Port Adelaide – A season that can only be described as outstanding, they now shine as a beacon to the teams at the lower end of the table as to what can be achieved in a short period of time. Importantly they play a great brand of footy to watch, let’s hope that more teams adopt such a style and have success. Next season they look forward to a new home at the Adelaide Oval, but they will also have to look forward to a tougher draw. That should be exactly what they want to truly measure the advances made in 2013.
Carlton – was the defeat of Richmond a poisoned chalice with the Blues also likely to be recipients of a more difficult fixture? If you want to win a premiership you have to beat the best teams at some stage – something they have not been able to do. 2014 will be serious test for the club and for Malthouse, but also the best test they can have and a true measure of where they stand against the elite of the competition. Mick has started the cleanout with 8 departures, but none of any real surprise. They might come at the bargaining table.
Underwood – but not the undercard.
What a field we have for the main event on Saturday at Caulfield – where there is free entry – the Underwood Stakes (G1, 1800m, WFA). We have the ruling favourites for the Cox Plate (Atlantic Jewel) and Melbourne Cup (Puissance de Lune) going head to head, that is doing some disrespect to the remainder of field. They are not too shabby in their own right with Foreteller who defeated PdL plus plenty of other well-credentialed rivals including the reigning Melbourne Cup winner. Atlantic Jewel is undefeated and is closer to her Grand Final so as such is the top pick, for PdL he is gearing up for 3200m with the Cox Plate there for the picking on the way through. Whilst beaten last start it may have been of benefit as weights for the cup had not been assigned. They have now, he has 54.5kg and a WFA campaign from here in will ensure he gets no penalties and is high enough in the order of entry to ensure a start. Primed to chase Atlantic Jewel home in front of Foreteller who is great form and It’s a Dundeel – but there are plenty of other above average contenders that could feature.
Caulfield Race 9 – 12-8-4-11
At Randwick the feature is the George Main Stakes (G1, 1600m, WFA). Hawkspur dominated last start and looks a deserving favourite, however I suspect some of his rivals may not have quite as wound up at their last starts and will strip fitter. I reckon the stable mate Sacred Falls closed off well last start and could upset the favourite. Fawkner did also but I suspect his target will the big handicaps and Streama is high quality.
Randwick Race 5 – 5-6-7-4
Caulfield Quaddie – Coming home on Atlantic Jewel – just hope we are still alive for her.
Leg 1 – 3,5,6,14,15
Leg 2 – 1,2,8,9
Leg 3 – 3,4,7
Leg 4 – 12
$30 investment, 60 combinations, 50% Dividend
What an outstanding season from the Friar Under 19s culminating in an epic Grand Final victory that took overtime to separate them from their willing opponents in Ajax. The Jakkas controlled much of the game but were wasteful, but I doubt it would have made a difference, the young Friars were desperate and knew that letting the opposition get too far in front would have spelt doom. They never let the gap open up by more than 16 points and incredibly the game was all tied up at both half time and full time. Ajax again peppered the goal front in the first 5 minutes of extra time but could only register 4 behinds, whereas the Friars were able to snare a major and go into the end change with a two point advantage. The final 5 minutes was frenetic with neither team giving a centimetre, but with 90 seconds to play Tim Baker took a towering grab nailed the goal and the Friars prevailed by 8 points.
All up to the Hammers now for me,