We've finally hit the 2023 AFL Finals series, and the race for the flag is currently wide open.

Collingwood managed to win the minor premiership after a bumpy run home, but are they still the favourites? They'll meet fellow contender Melbourne in week one in a game that could ultimately decide who stands on the dais on the last Saturday of the month.

Or, will the Brisbane Lions find themselves in a grand final? They have been tantalisingly close on multiple occasions and after securing a home qualifying final this season they loom as a strong chance to go on and secure a home preliminary final.

Whilst it is harder for teams outside the top four to find themselves tasting premiership success, Carlton are riding a wave of belief into finals. Most of their players have never played in a final before but will be ready against the experienced Sydney Swans side who will be out to rectify the mistakes they made in last year's decider.

With such a wide open premiership race, we have broken down how every team performs; what to expect from them, their strengths, weaknesses, star player and a player who could break September wide open.



What to expect: Collingwood wrapped up the minor premiership last weekend after a scintillating first quarter against Essendon. Whilst they faded after half time, their eight-goal first quarter showcased some of their best footy and should be a warning to opposition teams of how well they can play when they move the ball fast into their forward half. With key players Darcy Moore, Nathan Murphy and Beau McCreery set to return for the qualifying final and Nick Daicos not too far away, Collingwood should be getting back to playing their style of footy which saw them as the team to beat for most of the year.

Strengths: Collingwood's belief and never say die attitude has the ability to get them over the line in finals, and they play as a better team when they do so. Last time they played Melbourne in Round 13, Collingwood outscored the Demons with 3.3 to 2.7 in the final term, showing they can apply the pressure when it's most needed.

Weaknesses: Once renowned for their defensive efforts, Collingwood's defence was ranked 18th headed into Round 24. Collingwood conceded over 100 points to their opposition three weeks in a row, ranking lower than even West Coast for points conceded. Collingwood seemed to rectify this issue against Essendon, holding them to only 31 points for the game. If they are to beat Melbourne next Thursday, they'll have to hold them to under 100 points. Collingwood also ranks second last in the competition for centre clearances.

Collingwood WON BY 7 POINTS

Star player: Jordan De Goey

Collingwood is a better side when De Goey is fit and firing, as evidenced when he returned from suspension earlier this year. His ability around stoppages raises Collingwood's clearance ability and subsequently their scoring. De Goey is box office, with his finals performance against Geelong last year demonstrating he performs on the big stage in September - he finished the game with 26 disposals, eight clearances, nine tackles, and two goals to arguably be the best on ground. Having sustained a glute injury against Geelong and missing the Brisbane game, the pre-finals bye will ensure that De Goey is feeling much closer to 100 percent.

Breakout player: Jeremy Howe

Howe has been a revelation for the Magpies in recent weeks, kicking seven goals after being thrown forward back in Round 20. Since then, Craig McRae has kept Howe ahead of the ball, with his marking abilities proving potent inside forward 50. Whilst Howe will return to the backline this week as Nathan Murphy is out injured, McRae will be pleased to know that he can throw Howe forward depending on the opposition and players available. The former Demons looms as a wildcard player for September and knows how to perform in the big moments.

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