The home and away season has finished and eight teams remain in contention to win the premiership in Week 1 of the AFL Finals series.
Reigning premiers West Coast Eagles contest the First Elimination Final as they host Essendon at Optus Stadium on Thursday night. The Second Elimination Final will be between the GWS Giants and the Western Bulldogs at Giants Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Geelong Cats finished atop the ladder and will play Collingwood in the First Qualifying Final at the MCG on Friday night. The Second Qualifying Final will be played at the Gabba on Saturday night between the Brisbane Lions and Richmond.
We preview all four finals matches:
West Coast Eagles v Essendon
West Coast head into this as strong favourites but come off a Round 23 loss to Hawthorn by 38 points and will need to be at their best against an Essendon outfit that can surprise on their day. The Eagles were the better performed of the two sides over the course of the home and away season, winning 15 of their home and away games, while Essendon registered 12 wins. Last year’s premiers have a quality midfield and will just need to link better with their key players at either end of the ground to make it hard for the Bombers. They boast four All Australian players in Elliot Yeo, Jeremy McGovern, Shannon Hurn and Jack Darling. That quartet shape as key players. For Essendon to cause an upset they will need to get off to a fast start. The Bombers have shown that they are a confidence side and were competitive in their 11 point Round 23 loss to Collingwood, despite the fact they were missing a number of key players. Zac Merrett and Darcy Parish are among their midfielders that come in with good form, while Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Jake Stringer will look to produce big games in the forward half. It is hard to see how Essendon can pull this off. Look for West Coast to bounce back.
Prediction: Eagles -31.5 ($1.98 TopBetta)
Geelong Cats v Collingwood
Geelong finished the home and away season on top of the ladder with 16 wins, while Collingwood ended in 4th position with 15 victories for the season. The two sides were the pacesetters in the early parts of the season before producing some inconsistent performances after the mid season bye. However, they head into this with good recent form. Geelong have won two of their past three and their loss in that time period was by a solitary point over Brisbane at the GABBA. The Cats come off a 68 point win over Carlton. Collingwood have won four on the trot and were 11 point winners over Essendon in Round 23. Both sides have a host of midfield stars and the battle in this part of the ground will be absorbing. Tim Kelly and Patrick Dangerfield are a couple of Geelong’s mids that gained All Australian selection but Collingwood are likely to get first use of the footy via Brodie Grundy in the ruck. The Magpies also have a number of match winners up forward including Jamie Elliot, who heads in with good form but Geelong conceded fewer points than any other side in the league this season and Elliot and co will need to be at their best. Collingwood loom as value in the head to head betting and come in with good form. If they are able to effectively manage the return of some big names into the forward line, they can take this one out.
Prediction: Pies ($2.08 TopBetta)
GWS Giants v Western Bulldogs
GWS finished the home and away season in 6th position with 13 wins, while the Western Bulldogs ended in 7th with 12 victories. However, it is the Bulldogs with the superior recent form. The 2016 premiers head in with a three game winning streak and have averaged a whopping 128 points in those games. They come off a 34 point victory over Adelaide in Round 23, while the week prior they defeated GWS at Giants Stadium by 61 points. . Following the loss to the Dogs, the Giants have since registered a 72 point victory over the lowly Gold Coast. Jeremy Cameron starred with nine goals in that win and subsequently took out the Coleman Medal for most goals by a player in the season. Cameron was absent fro the Giants line up in the Round 22 match against the Dogs. For the home side to turn the tables on the Dogs they will need to restrict their scoring. Leon Cameron will need his side to nullify the Dogs inside 50 dominance as they conceded 63 of these in the Round 22 outing. Look for Toby Greene, Lachie Whitfield and Tim Taranto to have a say on proceedings in the middle. That trio will need to match the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae, who were rewarded for their fine seasons with All-Australian selection. GWS can bounce back from their Round 22 loss.
Prediction: Giants ($2.05 TopBetta)
Brisbane Lions v Richmond
This shapes as a beauty. Brisbane are the new kids on the block and line up in the first finals series since 2009. The Lions have ridden a wave of new found confidence to produce 16 wins this season, 11 more than their 2018 total of five victories. They come up against the seasoned Richmond outfit that won the 2017 Grand Final before being unable to reproduce that effort in 2018, missing out in the Preliminary Final last year. The Tigers have recovered from some early season form and fitness issues to also chalk up 16 victories this year. Interestingly, the two sides faced each other in their last match of the home and away season with Richmond claiming that by 27 points at the MCG. That was the ninth win in succession for the yellow and black. Brisbane won their nine games prior to that loss. The Lions can take some lessons out of the recent encounter. After a nervous start they were good after quarter time. Lachie Neale registered a staggering 51 possessions but the home side will need more from their forwards in Charlie Cameron and Eric Hipwood, who combined for just three goals. Key players for Richmond include Bachar Houli off halfback, as well as Dustin Martin and Dion Prestia in the middle. Jack Riewoldt will be out to match his Round 23 total of four goals. The winner of this game will advance to the Preliminary Final, while the loser will face a sudden death clash against either the GWS Giants or the Western Bulldogs in week two. This could go either way but the recent clash against Richmond should hold the Lions in good stead, while their record at home this year is hard to ignore.
Prediction: Lions ($2.30 TopBetta)