ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 21: The rows players celebrate after scoring a goal during the round 18 AFL match between the Adelaide Crows and the Geelong Cats at Adelaide Oval on July 21, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Finals fever is in the air as the race towards the 2017 premiership is as close as it has ever been before.

We are just a year removed from the Bulldogs' fairy tale 2016 triumph, where they climbed the tallest premiership mountain possible, winning from seventh position on the ladder.

There are five teams that look most likely of winning this year’s flag, however, each have equal likelihood of missing out. We look at why the chief contenders can and can’t win the holy grail.


Why they can: Adelaide has been the ladder leader for the majority of the 2017 season and will get a double chance at Adelaide Oval to make the big dance. No team has looked better with the ball in hand, or possessed the same killer instinct from defense to attack that the Crows have. Having lost key personnel in recent years, they have shown great spirit and a lack of reliance on one or two players to get them over the line.

Adelaide boast the strongest team on paper at either end of the ground. The Crows' versatile backline means they have a suitable match-up for every forward line in the competition. They are also the best rebounding side, a skill which is paramount in the modern game. They execute sling shot plays better than any other side.

Equally, they possess a deadly dangerous forward line with weapons everywhere. If it’s not Eddie Betts’ day, it’s Josh Jenkins’. If Tex Walker isn’t firing, Tom Lynch or Mitch McGovern are. This exceptional balance of defense and attack is reflected by their league-best percentage of 139.86.

Why they can’t: The Crows bat thin through the midfield. Although they use a range of youngsters to support Rory Sloane and the Crouch brothers, they lack genuine A-grade match winners who can individually turn games.

Sloane has been shut down on a number of occasions and the rest of the midfielder are all one-speed type players. This lack of explosiveness inside may cost them in a tight, congested finals game with plenty of stoppages.

They also play their best footy when its fast and open, but have not necessarily displayed an ability to win in tough, grinding matches. These are exactly the type of conditions they can expect in September and they might be exposed to not having a plan B.


MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 11: Toby Greene and Nathan Wilson of the Giants celebrate after winning the round 21 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Etihad Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Why they can: Hurting from their narrow preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs last year, the revamped Giants were the raging favourites to win the flag during the pre-season. Boasting the most talented side on paper from the top down, the Giants' make-up has been carefully constructed for the September stage.

Through shrewd drafting and recruiting, the Giants have topped up with leaders in every area of the field to an already powerful young core, making them the deepest, most balanced side in the league. Every player brings an aspect of hardness, competitiveness and enthusiasm. The Giants are literally built to win a flag.

Their midfield brigade is dynamic and multidimensional and their coach, Leon Cameron is known as one of the best tacticians in the game. They only know one way to play – tough and boldly and they move the ball as daringly as any side.

Jonathon Patton has finally delivered on his potential and forms arguably the most dangerous two-pronged forward attack in the competition alongside Jeremy Cameron. After a minor drop off mid-season, they have rediscovering their best form again.

Why they can’t: Injuries and undisciplined behavior, and these might be the only two things that can stop them. Injuries have cruelled GWS this season, losing a host of key personnel through important stages of the season. While the majority of their list is finally healthy, it has potentially tampered with their chemistry and affected the durability and conditioning of their players.

The Giants have also lost players to suspension this season for unnecessary acts. It has led to speculation that they are not disciplined enough and are easily irritated. This lack of focus could prove costly as they must remain 100% focused on winning games and not engaging in other combats when under the intense pressure of finals football. It could also lead to suspensions of key players. Imagine if a Shane Mumford or Toby Greene was suspended for the Grand Final.

You could also argue the Giants are too inexperienced on the big stage, having only played in two finals as a football club. The kids may struggle to fire under the added pressure.


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 22: Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates a goal during the round 18 AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the St Kilda Saints at Sydney Cricket Ground on July 22, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Why they can: Since Round 6, the Swans have gone on a 13-2 streak, making them the best team in the competition over that period. Having lost to the Western Bulldogs in the Grand Final last year, despite being favourites, you would have expected it to act as motivation for them to come back hungrier than ever (think Geelong 2008, Hawthorn 2012), it has just taken them a while to get there.

The Swans lay claim to arguably the deepest midfield in the completion, with heavyweights like Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney. Any one of these guys have the ability to have 30 plus disposals and kick multiple goals, giving them match winning midfielders unlike no other side.

Then there’s the Buddy factor. Buddy Franklin is the most dominant forward of the modern era and only needs a quarter to turn a game on its head. He is arguably the deadliest weapon any team has, winning Hawthorn and Sydney countless games off his own boot.

Why they can’t: Should Sydney finish the home and away season outside the top four, they would need to win four consecutive games, including two away from home to win the premiership. The 1998 Adelaide Crows were the last team to accomplish this rare feat before the 2016 Bulldogs.

Their 0-6 start to the season also cannot be ignored. They did not look like the modern day Swans we have come to expect and one bad loss could relapse them back into that early season slump. John Longmire’s leadership was questioned, with younger coaches looking more adept at tutoring the modern game. Some of their younger players were failing to contribute too, labeled as passengers.

Finally, the Swans' veterans have struggled at times this season, both because of form and injury. Jarrad McVeigh and Kieran Jack are prime examples of players who have not had their body right and have struggled to consistently play their best footy in 2017. Any premiership side must be firing on all cylinders and have 22 contributors.


GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - MAY 25: Joel Selwood (left) and Patrick Dangerfield of the Cats celebrate during the 2017 AFL round 10 match between the Geelong Cats and Port Adelaide Power at Simonds Stadium on May 25, 2017 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Why they can: Everyone thought Geelong’s glory days were over, following the recent exits of names like Steve Johnson, James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright. The Cats instead keep on keeping on and have built a sustainable culture as the most successful club in terms of win/loss over the past decade. Credit Chris Scott for that as they have again occupied the top four through the entire season.

Geelong is constantly reinventing itself and tweaking its game plan. The Cats have refurbished their side with a crop of exciting, young players, but are well balanced with veterans Lachie Henderson, Andrew Mackie, Tom Lonergan, Harry Taylor and Tom Hawkins, forming an elite spine. The kids are hungry to taste success, while the big names have played in finals before and know what it takes to win. This combination of youth and sturdiness makes them a tough match-up for any side.

The midfield combination of Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield is the most devastating in the league. Selwood is a contested ball king, while Dangerfield’s electrifying line-breaking abilities can single handily turn a game. They complement one another perfectly and are both ruthless tacklers and proficient two way runners, giving their midfield defensive equilibrium. If Selwood can make it back from his foot injury in time for the finals, the Cats could do some real damage.

Why they can’t: Geelong would need to win both the Preliminary and Grand Final away from Simonds Stadium to become premiers. The Cats play their best footy at their trusty home base of Kardinia Park. They have an 80% win rate at Simonds Stadium this year and 66.6% away. This reflects that they are an elite side in the confines of the Cattery, but are just a good side elsewhere.

There are still a lot of players on the Cats' list who are unreliable and you do not know what you are going to get out of them each week. Steven Motlop, Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley are examples of senior players who have not produced a good string of consistency this season. So as long as these guys struggle to find their niche, Geelong are beatable.

This lack of accountability ties into their final flaw, and most documented one – a dependence on Selwood and Dangerfield to carry the team. When either of the two are not playing or are down on form, Geelong has a tendency to struggle and can not replicate its best form. Given Selwood’s injury, we may not see him again this season, which means opposition teams will put the clamps on Dangerfield and make it harder for him to have an impact.


MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Dustin Martin (left) and Trent Cotchin of the Tigers celebrate during the 2017 AFL round 02 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 30, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Why they can: The Tigers have come from nowhere to charge into premiership calculations for the first time in the modern era. Damien Hardwick has done a superb job of flipping the Tigers game plan and playing a more adventurous brand of footy, a style Hawthorn perfected during its three-peat.

Not only have Tigers corrected their game plan, they have also given their side a make-over and gotten younger in the process. Trading Brett Deledio was brave and represented their willingness to move into a new era. They brought across Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia, who have added midfield depth, as well as Toby Nankervis, who has revitalized his career and may be the pick-up of 2017. Dan Butler, Daniel Rioli and Jason Castagna have all breathed new life into a buzzing, dangerous forward line, mimicking the Bulldogs' undersized attack in 2016.

At the other end, they are tough to score against. Richmond has conceded 1,603 points this season, ranking second in the league. They boast a stout back six, led by Alex Rance, the game’s most elite defender. Along with Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Dustin Martin, the Tigers’ top end talent is as good as any other team, if not better. Martin particularly has enjoyed a break out campaign, where he is the red hot favouite to win the Brownlow Medal. Cotchin has been widely praised as a candidate for All Australian captaincy.

Why they can’t: The Tigers have shown an inability to close out games or perform on the big stage. Narrow losses to the Bulldogs, Fremantle and GWS through the middle part of the season are games they could easily have won and would have catapulted them all the way to the top of the ladder. Instead, they will have to do it the hard way and will likely finish outside the top two. This shows the Tigers are yet to truly mature as a football club. Finals are usually tight and tough and Richmond has failed to perform in these conditions this season.

The Tigers are crying out for another key forward to pair with Riewoldt. Richmond has scored 1,870 points this year, ranking last in the top eight. As dangerous as their forward line is, there is still a reliance on Riewoldt to kick a bag of four or five every week. Outside of him, they have no real aerial presence or goal kicking power.

The Dustin Martin off-season speculation may also be wearing them down. While he has been producing stellar footy on the field, constant media gossip off it may have some type of affect on the playing group. If he does not have full the full trust of his teammates, it’s hard to envisage the Tigers winning a Grand Final with him as their star player.