Optus Stadium, 8:10pm (AEST), Thursday September 5
Team News: The defending premiers named their ins and outs last night, bringing some much needed experience into the lineup. Premiership hero Will Schofield has been included for Liam Duggan, while defensive midfielder Mark Hutchings gets another chance with speedy Victorian Jack Petrucelle omitted.
The big news, star ruck and cult hero Nic Naitanui will return be added alongside Tom Hickey, to help cover the injured Oscar Allen (knee soreness). Norm Smith medalist Luke Shuey will run out for his 200th game in this must-win encounter.
For the Bombers, they will attempt to break the 15-year hoodoo during September action. John Worsfold has also added some required stars to the mix as he does battle with the club he coached to a flag. Captain Dyson Heppell and leaders Jake Stringer and Cale Hooker will give Essendon fans a gust of relief. Also added to the team, small forward Orazio Fantasia and mid-season recruit Will Snelling.
Prediction: With the Eagles just about at full strength I can’t see them losing two-in-a-row at home. Eagles by 13.
Collingwood (59%) vs Geelong (41%)
Team News: Probably the most anticipated game for neutral supporters, this one will see two elite midfield brigades go head to head in a mouth-watering contest. For Collingwood, their inclusions come in the form of Jordan De Goey, Steele Sidebottom and after a lengthy ban, Jaidyn Stephenson for his first game since Queen’s Birthday.
The skillful trio all missed some considerable amount of football in recent weeks, but the availability may not stop there. Star defender Darcy Moore is expected to face tests, so to James Aish and Matt Scharenberg who will both be close to selection. There’s a chance any of Trav Varcoe, Rupert Wills or John Noble will make way, so to Jack Madgen.
Sam Menegola and Charlie Constable have done their chances of a recall no harm with dominant displays in the VFL. Both of Jake Kolodjashnij and Tom Atkins missed round 23 with injuries, but might be squeezed back in. It’s a tough side to break into, with Jed Bews, Zac Tuohy, Jack Henry, Lachie Henderson and Gary Rohan all battling for spots.
Prediction: Geelong to feel the pinch, as we continue to discuss home-ground advantage. Pies by 9.
Giants Stadium, 3:20pm (AEST), Saturday September 7
Team News: Expected to be fit, adding to an already strong lineup is Nick Haynes, Toby Greene, Jacob Hopper and veteran Brett Deledio. The first three walk straight into the side, while Deledio will be hoping he hasn’t played his last game at senior level. The next to go, Bobby Hill, Isaac Cumming and Lachie Keefe – given the star quality to return. Matt de Boer will likely face the challenge of stopping Marcus Bontempelli.
After chosing to extend his club contract during the pre-finals bye, Stephen Coniglio is tracking well for a return for the third week of finals if the Giants can get there.
Dead-eye forward Tory Dickson is expected to have fully recovered from hamstring soreness, while Jackson Trengove and Bailey Williams did all they could playing for Footscray over the weekend. With last in, first out usually the case – young Rhylee West might have to wait a little longer until he gets a taste of finals fever.
Prediction: Many are expecting a remake of the 2016 prelim, but the Giants’ inclusions will surprise the red-hot Bulldogs. Giants by 7.
Gabba, 7:25pm (AEST), Saturday September 7
Team News: Chris Fagan has been gifted with a flurry of players to chose from each week, and this week is no different with Ben Keays, Lewy Taylor, Ryan Bastinac and Rhys Mathieson all competing well in the NEAFL. Fagan declared small forward Allen Christensen fit, who has appeared in seven finals since debuting in 2011. With the like-for-like Cedric Cox expected to be pushed out, the Lions currently boast many dual-club players with finals experience, none bigger than Luke Hodge.
We simply expect the Tigers to turn it on around finals time, and the form suggests they will. It’s now time for Damien Hardwick to select two of Ivan Soldo, Noah Balta, Mabior Chol and Toby Nankervis. Nank’s experience and Soldo’s form are the obvious factors here.
Sydney Stack is recovering slowly, but may need another week of two to ensure he is 100%. Hanging over Hardwick will also be the option of debuting Marlion Pickett – who looked a class above at VFL level with 22 touches and 2 goals.
Prediction: Making up for the round 22 loss, the Lions will shock everyone and escape with a win. Lions by 2.