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.

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Carlton

What to expect: Carlton are riding belief heading into their first finals series since 2003, having beaten Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Melbourne in an incredible second half of the season. Despite losing to GWS last weekend, the Blues will have the home ground advantage over the Swans on Friday night and will have the return of captain Patrick Cripps to welcome.

Strengths: Carlton's forward line, specifically twin towers Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow, will create headaches for teams in September. Having played the majority of fellow finalists since the bye without McKay, Curnow proved enough of a problem and inspired a nine-game winning streak. With McKay back in the team, no doubt many teams at training will be trying to think of a way to combat the pair, a difficult feat regardless of which team it is.

Weaknesses: Hardly any of Carlton's side have played in finals, whilst the Swans are an experienced outfit and will have learnt their mistakes from last year's grand final. The MCG won't hold any fears for Sydney as they typically play well away from home. Carlton will have to get on the front foot early and avoid letting any lead extend by too much.

 2023-09-08T09:50:00Z 
Carlton WON BY 6 POINTS
MCG
CARL   
74
FT
68
   SYD

Star player: Charlie Curnow

Coleman Medallist Charlie Curnow will be a headache for opposition defenders, particularly for the undersized Swans. Whilst he wasn't the most accurate the last time the two teams played, Sydney still allowed Curnow four shots on goal in what could've been a very different scoreline had he capitalised on his opportunities. When the two teams played last season, Curnow managed six goals for the game in an effort he will be looking to replicate, ensuring Carlton moves into September's second week.

Breakout player: Nic Newman

Newman has been one of Carlton's most consistent performers this season and does not get as much credit as he probably deserves. Newman has averaged 23.1 disposals, 7.8 marks and 3.6 tackles for the year to rank as above average and elite respectively, whilst his performances between Round 20-23 saw him score at least 123 AFL Fantasy points on all five occasions. Newman looms as a real game changer for Carlton this finals series, particularly against his old side.

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