2015 finals week one:
Friday September 11
West Coast V Hawthorn
Second qualifying final, Domain Stadium, 6.20pm (All times local)
Hawthorn faces its toughest finals campaign in some years, with a first up trip to Perth to face a red hot West Coast. The Eagles haven’t beaten the Hawks in their last five attempts, but in Perth and against the current West Coast side is a completely different story. West Coast was missing Nic Nat when these two sides met in round 19 at Domain Stadium and the home side managed to get huge early lead, before Hawthorn pegged back the undermanned Eagles.Both sides will take confidence from that for different reasons.
Hawthorn welcome back captain Luke Hodge after a two-week suspension and Isaac Smith is under an injury cloud. West Coast will most likely be without Chris Masten, while Will Schofield is set to return after missing the past three weeks with a hamstring injury. Backman Jeremy McGovern was not at his best last week due to a recent shoulder injury, but should take his place in the side.
The ruck battle looms as one of the key match ups for the game. If Ben McEvoy and David Hale can somehow curb the influence of Nic Nat then it will go a long way to helping the Hawks win. However, if Naitanui dominates then the Eagles will win the game. It will go down to the wire, but at home, West Coast should just get the job done with the carrot of a week off looming.
Prediction: West Coast by 13
Saturday September 12
Fremantle V Sydney
First qualifying final, Domain Stadium, 1.20pm
Unfortunately injuries may have killed Sydney’s chances of a win this week. Kieran Jack, Luke Parker, Nick Smith and Lance Franklin will all miss. Fremantle on the other hand are still yet to confirm Nat Fyfe as a starter, however, he should be named. Other than that, only Jon Griffin will miss with a hamstring injury.
Fremantle won the only meeting between the two teams this season, beating the Swans by 14 points in Perth in round four. The Dockers will be well rested and raring to go after making 11 changes last week against Port Adelaide. Fremantle is the AFL’s best clearance side this season, averaging 41.8 per game and with key midfielders Parker and Jack out, the Swans could be smashed through the middle of the ground. Kurt Tippett faces a massive challenge. With lance Franklin out, Tippett must take up the responsibility of the team’s key forward and it’s about time he delivered for the Swans.
Prediction: Fremantle by 28
Western Bulldogs V Adelaide
Second elimination final, MCG, 7.20pm
Possibly the toughest game to call, with two fast paced, attacking and evenly matched teams. The Dogs are everyone’s second team this season with their meteoric rise capturing the hearts and minds of every football fan.
However, Adelaide has obviously had a tragic season and is also a fan favourite to do well this finals series. On the game front, Jordan Roughead and Jason Johannisen are out injured for the Bulldogs. But if the Doggies have shown anything over the past 12 months, it’s that they are brilliant at overcoming the odds. Adelaide’s only injury concern is Brodie Smith, who rolled his ankle last week against Geelong.
The Crows were smashed by the Bulldogs by 57 points at Etihad Stadium in round four this season as the Dogs began to stun the football world. The game will be played at the MCG, which has caused plenty of discussion this week, with the AFL not allowing the Bulldogs to play at their home ground of Etihad Stadium. But it shouldn’t worry the Dogs if they play they natural attacking game, as the forecast for Saturday is a beautiful 20 degrees. Taylor Walker looms as a crucial player and he will want to try to take advantage of the Dogs’ inexperienced key defenders.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 10
Sunday September 13
Richmond V North Melbourne
These two sides will face off for the second time in a week, after Richmond beat North by 35 points last Friday night when the Roos rested nine players in anticipation for the finals. A loss for either coach would spell big trouble and heavy scrutiny, with the Roos meant to be fresh and rested and coming off a preliminary final last season. Richmond has now made three finals appearances in as many years, but gone out in the first week the past two years and must finally advance further into September.
Both sides are near full strength with Reece Conca likely to return for the Tigers and only Lindsay Thomas still in doubt with a foot injury. The Goldstein-Maric ruck dual will be an intriguing one. Goldstein is arguably the best ruckman in the game at the moment, but Maric has the strength and size over his opponent that could worry the Roos’ big name. Richmond has had some brilliant wins this season, upsetting the likes of hawthorn and Fremantle, which will hold the side in good stead and should help them get the win.
Prediction: Richmond by 22