Geelong v Fremantle
Friday 10 September, 7:45pm AEST at MCG, Melbourne (Channel 7)
Last Time They Met: Fremantle 18.17 (125) defeated Geelong 17.16 (118) by 7 points, round three at Subiaco Oval
Recent Form: Geelong suffered a devastating four-point loss at the hands of St Kilda last Friday night in yet another classic match between the two sides. The Cats played ordinary football during the first half, allowing the Saints to get out to a 33-point lead early in the third quarter. They managed to claw their way back to within a goal during the second half but failed to make the most of crucial opportunities in front of goal during the final quarter.
Conversely, an inspired Fremantle outfit ended Hawthorn’s premiership aspirations last Saturday afternoon with a 30-point win at Subiaco Oval. It was the younger players who impressed the most for the Dockers, with the speed of Stephen Hill, David Mundy and Anthony Morabito a crucial element to the win. Now that they have won a final, their season is officially a success and anything it does from now on is a bonus.
Key Players: Geelong desperately needs the out-of-form Tom Hawkins to stand up tonight. With Mark Blake dropped for the game, he will have to give solid support to Brad Ottens in the ruck, especially because they will be up against the best there is in Aaron Sandilands. Hawkins needs to use his size and athletic jump to his advantage and provide a strong contest in the ruck at stoppages. If he does that and is also able to push forward for a couple of goals, the Cats will benefit enormously.
Stephen Hill is quickly becoming one of the most exciting players to watch in the competition. His ability to break a game open with run and carry make him the perfect asset to counteract Geelong’s zone defence. Hill is likely to get the dreaded Cameron Ling tag, but if he is able to break free and gather 20 plus touches, the Dockers’ chances of upsetting the Cats increase significantly.
Who Wins?: Geelong coach Mark Thompson was furious after last week’s loss. ‘If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what would ever be one,’ Thompson said in his post-match press conference. ‘I said [to the players after the match] the next game we play we better make sure if you are not prepared to play well at the start, then don’t turn up and play for this club.’ After that cook, surely the Cats will be determined to make amends.
Fremantle will also be full of motivation and confidence going into this match. The Dockers have already won a final at home, so to participate in a final at the MCG will only benefit their younger players for the future years. They will go into this game with a nothing-to-lose mentality and enjoy the fact that it will be played on the wide open spaces of the MCG, similar to that of Subiaco Oval.
But there are too many negatives for the Dockers. The concern is that it will be the first time they have played a final in Melbourne in the club’s history and, even worse, it will be the first time they’ve played at the MCG in over a year. With a massive query over the fitness of Sandilands, his team’s most important player, it’s hard to find a reason to tip the inexperienced Dockers. Cats cult figure James Podsiadly also returns to the side after a two week suspension and will be a handful for Fremantle’s defensive setup. While it will be closer than many expect, a hungrier and more experienced Geelong outfit should bounce back strongly form last week and advance through to the preliminary finals.
Prediction: Geelong by 18 points
Western Bulldogs v Sydney
Saturday 11 September, 7:20pm AEST at MCG, Melbourne (Channel 10)
Last Time They Met: Sydney 17.12 (114) defeated Western Bulldogs 10.10 (70) by 44 points, round 21 at SCG
Recent Form: Last Saturday night was a total nightmare for the Western Bulldogs, who went down to Collingwood by 62 points in the first qualifying final. The Dogs were terribly disappointing and comprehensively besieged by a rampant Magpies outfit. Their kicking efficiency was atrocious; in fact the normally reliable Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross had 20 possessions between them at one stage, but none of them had hit a teammate.
Sydney will be full of confidence after a terrific five-point victory over Carlton last weekend. The Swans allowed Carlton back into the game during the second half but still found a way to win, a quality that has been a trademark of the Swans for the last five or so years. Their ugly and congested-style game plan that was so successful during the mid 2000s has long gone and they now move the ball with more aggression and pace than ever before.
Key Players: It’s simple – no Barry Hall, no Western Bulldogs. The big man has to fire if the Dogs want to stay alive in this year’s finals series. He was down on his usual efficient output last weekend, but he can be forgiven because the delivery he was receiving was extremely ordinary. Big Barry will face a tough opponent in Heath Grundy tomorrow night, so he needs to kick goals early on in the game to increase his confidence levels and get the Dogs off to the best possible start.
No one epitomises the Sydney culture better than Brett Kirk. The 34-year-old is the team’s heartbeat and always plays with an unbelievable amount of dedication. Kirk will retire when Sydney’s campaign is over, which could possibly be tomorrow night, so he will be doing everything in his power to make sure his career lives on for another week. He must shut down one of the Bulldogs’ dangerous midfielders, like a Ryan Griffen, for the Swans to win.
Who Wins?: The Dogs will be very familiar with the situation they currently find themselves in. Over the last two years, they have lost their opening qualifying final matches but have managed to bounce back with a win the next week. In fact the Bulldogs will know that back in 2008, they defeated Sydney in a semi-final clash at the MCG to advance through to the preliminary final stage.
The Dogs have pulled a big selection surprise, choosing young Andrew Hopper for his first AFL game. It is the first time a player has been selected to debut in a finals match since North Melbourne selected Paul Spargo for a semi-final clash against Footscray in 1985. Hooper is a “pocket dynamo” according to coach Rodney Eade and he will inject some much needed pace into the Bulldogs’ side.
But if you look at recent form, Sydney is the best team in the competition. Since a horrendous 73-point loss to Melbourne in Round 17, the Swans have turned their season right around to win their last five games. They are playing with an enthusiasm and style that very few teams can replicate. With Daniel Bradshaw and Ben McGlynn returning to the side and the Dogs decimated by injury, it’s very hard not tip the Swans. They are more than familiar with the MCG and should thrive on the finals atmosphere. Sydney to keep the Kirk-Paul Roos fairytale alive for one more week.
Prediction: Sydney by 24 points
Ben Waterworth is a regular contributor to upstart and a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can read more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought. This article also appears on Sportingbet Australia’s website.