The 2023 AFL Grand Final is finally upon us!
As Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions prepare to do battle at the home of football, there's also an opportunity for the fans to get involved on game day!
We've listed our best bets and tips for Saturday's blockbuster decider at the MCG.
Aside from the more obvious names from both sides, we've tried to assess some left-field names who could be first on today's scoresheet.
Fan-favourite Magpie Jack Ginnivan was inserted into Craig McRae's starting 22 ahead of Saturday's contest at the expense of midfielder Patrick Lipinski, and he could be in the thick of things through the early stages. Whilst having not booted a major in his two finals appearances this year, the 20-year-old seems to love the attention of the big stage and will be looking to make an immediate impact against the Lions.
Meanwhile, for the Lions, the obvious options are Charlie Cameron and Joe Daniher. Aside from that potent duo, though, the likes of Lincoln McCarthy and Eric Hipwood pose as potentially valuable options, with McCarthy tending to cause the opposition trouble around the goal face as it tries to contain the likes of Cameron.
Brisbane's Charlie Cameron has averaged five goals across a pair of meetings with the Magpies this season, prompting the suggestion he could be the first in today's goal tally. The Lions livewire, in addition to being a menace around the big sticks, applies manic opposition pressure in Brisbane's forward half, creating goal-scoring chances for himself and his teammates. He'll be hard to miss in Brisbane's forward 50.
Key-position Lions forwards Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood will also be targeted frequently by Brisbane's midfielders going inside 50, as they shape to have a significant impact on Saturday's outcome. Small forward Lincoln McCarthy and forward-midfielder hybrid Cameron Rayner are also more likely than not to get on the scoresheet.
With Collingwood utility Billy Frampton entering the fray in place of injured key forward Daniel McStay, Brody Mihocek figures to be the Magpies' main marking option inside 50 on Saturday, meaning he should be targeted early and often. Mihocek is typically reliable in front of the big sticks, so look for him to hit the scoreboard against the Lions. Bobby Hill, Jamie Elliott, and Jack Ginnivan are all feverishly dangerous around goals, so they also present as options to throw backing behind on Saturday.
Collingwood's Daicos and De Goey and Brisbane's Neale and Dunkley pose as a handful of the more obvious ball-winners on Saturday, but who else could rack it up in the decider?
Veteran midfielder Steele Sidebottom has showcased vintage glimpses throughout Collingwood's finals campaign; averaging 23 possessions across the Pies' pair of games. The 308-gamer is no stranger to the big stage, having played in Collingwood's drawn Grand Final against St Kilda in 2010 and the subsequent replay victory.
Like Sidebottom, Collingwood ex-skipper Scott Pendlebury has strutted his stuff in the big dance previously, having claimed the 2010 Norm Smith Medal for his efforts against the Saints. Both Sidebottom and Pendlebury also played in the Magpies' 2018 Grand Final defeat to the West Coast Eagles. While Pendlebury (15 disposals) was quiet in Collingwood's qualifying final win over Melbourne, he turned it up a notch in last weekend's prelim, registering 25 possessions and asserting himself on the hot contest.
McCluggage registered 26 disposals against Port Adelaide in their qualifying final. Aside from maybe Zac Bailey -- who may also be among Brisbane's prolific ball-winners on Saturday -- McCluggage is also probably Brisbane's biggest goal threat from a midfield position. The 25-year-old's heavy involvement in the Lions' link-up from the back half should play into his accumulative ball-winning impact against the Pies, who will need to also answer to the likes of Cameron and McCarthy across Brisbane's half-forward line.
Veteran utility Dayne Zorko and underrated engine-roomer Jarrod Berry could also see plenty of the Sherrin on Saturday, with more attention likely to go to Brisbane's bigger names. Zorko, who has been around a while and knows how to stamp his influence on a contest, enjoys gaining uncontested possessions across the backline, as does left-footed half-backer Keidean Coleman, who put in an admirable shift against the Blues last week and was arguably best-on-ground.
Norm Smith Medal winner
Nick Daicos shapes as the most popular option in this market, and for pretty good reason. The Magpies' ball magnet averaged 31.1 disposals per game throughout the 2023 home-and-away season up until his Round 21 injury, stamping himself in the Brownlow Medal conversation.
Upon his return in Collingwood's preliminary final win against GWS, Daicos substantiated his season average with 28 possessions against the Giants. The 20-year-old has proven an ability to hit the scoreboard, too, as we saw in the final quarter of his match-winning performance against Essendon in this year's Anzac Day game, where he went on to win best-on-ground honours. Against the Lions at the Gabba earlier in the year, 'Daics' claimed 38 possessions and two goals.
While not an incredible value option due to his favouritism, the father-son prodigy seems the likeliest recipient of this year's award, especially if his Pies get over the line.
While Jordan De Goey appears to have slightly longer odds to win the Norm Smith than prolific teammate Daicos, the thunderous midfielder should still figure in the conversation if Collingwood topples Brisbane on Saturday.
De Goey was at his scintillating best for Collingwood last weekend against GWS, notching 34 disposals and 13 clearances in an outcome-altering performance to put the Magpies in this year's big dance. While he is likely to be paid close attention by big-bodied Lion Josh Dunkley on Saturday, De Goey's match-winning capability is undeniable and could surface again in the Grand Final.
Two-time Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale is the obvious option among the Brisbane players if you're wanting to throw your backing behind a Lion on Saturday.
The in-and-under midfield bull came from nowhere on Monday night to claim his second league best-and-fairest title over the likes of Collingwood's Daicos and Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli. After registering 23 possessions, eight clearances, and five inside 50s against Carlton last Saturday, Neale shapes as every chance of continuing his immense 2023 form into the season finale.
While Josh Dunkley is likely to be playing a predominantly negating role on the aforementioned De Goey, the ex-Bulldogs accumulator deserves to be in the Norm Smith Medal conversation, as his foremost ball-winning abilities have got the Lions over the line numerous times in season 2023. In particular, if Neale's influence is stemmed by likely opposition number Tom Mitchell, Dunkley's importance and game impact on the day could end up enhanced.
Lions 'smokeys' for this year's Norm include the aforementioned likes of Charlie Cameron, Keidean Coleman, and Hugh McCluggage, while the under-the-radar Pies that might present some better value are Josh Daicos and Jack Crisp, who also figure to win plenty of the ball and are extremely capable of doing damage with the Sherrin in hand.