So, who wins it all? In what looks to be the most open finals series for some time, you could mount a solid argument for six teams that could potentially take out the 2016 premiership. Read on for my take on who can win the Aussie rules championship in 2016 and why – and my pick for the two teams that will meet in the biggest AFL match of the year on October 1st.
I’ll start in reverse order of regular season finish, from eighth to top spot.
8th place - North Melbourne Kangaroos
Form: Four losses in a row, just two wins in their last 10 games.
Health: North will be sweating on the potential returns of Jarrad Waite and Scott Thompson to a team that barely hung onto eight spot on the ladder after occupying first place as late as round 12.
First Final: Elimination Final vs Adelaide Crows in Adelaide
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: In their last five games against Adelaide, North Melbourne has won two, both in Melbourne, notably losing all three in Adelaide where the Elimination Final will be played.
Finals X-factors: North’s poor recent form suggests they need to take a chance if they are to upset Adelaide on their home deck. Ben Jacobs hasn’t played since injuring his foot back in May, but has recently appeared in the VFL. If he has recovered sufficiently from his injuries, North will unleash the feisty tagger in an attempt to curb the brilliance of Adelaide key midfielder Rory Sloane. With newly crowned AFL games record holder Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito all recently being told their contracts will not be renewed, this will more than likely be their last chance to play finals footy. There can be no greater motivation for a player than looking their football mortality square in the eye.
AFANA Finals Prognosis: The writing has been on the wall for the Kangaroos for weeks. Right now they are simply not in the class of the best clubs in the competition. A soft draw early in the season had them flying atop the AFL ladder, but a few key injuries and poor form have seen them in a free fall that seems impossible to arrest. It would take something out of the box to see North progress past week one of the finals.
7th place – Western Bulldogs
Form: The Bulldogs have won just three of their last six, including last round’s loss in Perth to a struggling Fremantle Dockers.
Health: Injuries have robbed the Bulldogs of a plethora of talent in the last six weeks of the minor round. Tom Liberatore, Jackson McRae and Easton Wood will be monitored closely as the talented trio would give the Bulldogs a massive boost heading into a very tough contest against a red-hot West Coast Eagles in Perth.
First Final: Elimination Final vs West Coast Eagles in Perth
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: The Bulldogs have won three of the last five contests against the Eagles; however those three wins were all at their home ground of Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. The two wins to the West Coast were both comfortable victories at Domain Stadium in Perth.
Finals X-factors: Marcus Bontempelli and Luke Dalhaus. Such is the talent of “The Bont” and Dalhaus that they can tear a game apart. If the Bulldogs want to mount a serious challenge to the in-form Eagles, these two need to have big games. After a lengthy spell with injury, Dalhaus is starting to round back into his best form as a midfield threat and a goal kicker. Finally, high priced recruit Tom Boyd will need to earn his massive pay check. While showing flashes of brilliance, Boyd is yet to really stamp his authority on a game of footy. Coach Luke Beveridge would love to see him do just that against the Eagles.
Finals Prognosis: Average form, a horrendous run with injuries and the tough task of making the long journey to Perth twice in three weeks should conspire against the Bulldogs in their quest to continue in the finals race. No matter what happens this series, the young Bulldogs have announced themselves as serious contenders for the first time since the 1980’s.
6th place – West Coast Eagles
Form: Four wins in a row against quality opposition, culminating in a great win against the Crows in Adelaide last weekend – effectively knocking Adelaide out of a top four finish.
Health: Despite the unfortunate season ending injury to brilliant ruckman Nic Natanui, the Eagles will have almost a full complement of their best talent available for their finals assault. Backup ruckman Scott Lycett has a sore knee but should be ready to go with a week off before the Eagles take on the Bulldogs in Perth.
First Final: Elimination Final vs Western Bulldogs in Perth
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: As stated in the Bulldogs wrap, the Eagles have stormed to two big wins over the Bulldogs in Perth in recent times, while the Bulldogs have held the edge in Melbourne.
Finals X-factors: Coleman Medalist (AFL leading goal kicker) Josh Kennedy is in ripping form. If the West Coast Eagles can get enough forward fifty entries against the Bulldogs, Kennedy should continue to run riot as he has all season, where he racked up 80 goals. Matt Priddis is as tough as nails, and always seems to produce in important games. If Priddis fires, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out in stopping the Eagles.
Finals Prognosis: The Eagles win against Adelaide in round 23 has set it up nicely gaining a home final against a Western Bulldogs team struggling with injuries and form. The big test for West Coast will come in week two of the finals when they will have to face the loser of the Hawthorn vs Geelong blockbuster in Melbourne.
5th place – Adelaide Crows
Form: Things were looking great for the Crows with four wins in a row and second spot on the ladder all but wrapped up. That was of course until their round 23 home defeat against West Coast that cost Adelaide home field advantage and the all-important double chance heading into the finals.
Health: Adelaide has had a dream run with injuries this season, being able to field their best team almost every week with Rory Sloane’s one week suspension the hiccup that may have cost them dearly last week against the Eagles. Sloane will return to the Crows line-up for next week’s final against the Kangaroos, once again seeing the Crows at full strength.
First Final: Elimination Final vs Kangaroos at Adelaide Oval.
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: Adelaide holds a 3-2 win-loss advantage over the Kangaroos in their last five contests with every win going to the home team. North Melbourne has never defeated Adelaide at Adelaide Oval (three games).
Finals X-factors: The Eagles exposed the Crows without major ball winner Rory Sloane. With Sloane back, the Crows look more potent. Taylor "Tex" Walker hasn't had a great season by his own lofty standards, but has the ability to kick a bag of goals quickly. When talking X-factor however, the one player that springs to mind is Eddie Betts. Arguably the most effective small forward in the competition, Betts has had a stellar year and seems to always save his best for the confines of Adelaide Oval. If North Melbourne has any chance of upsetting the Crows at home, it simply must deny Betts the time and space he needs to weave his magic.
Finals Prognosis: The Crows should comfortably take care of a sputtering North Melbourne in week one. The equation gets tougher after that, with an away final looming against experienced finals contenders Sydney or newcomers GWS. The Crows brains trust would be seething that they let the double chance slip in the final minor round game of the season, completely changing the dynamic of their finals assault.
4th place – Greater Western Sydney Giants
Form: The Giants are in great form, winning five of their last six games – the one blemish being a last gasp one-point loss to the West Coast Eagles.
Health: The Giants will head into the first finals series in their short history in great shape with almost a full list to choose form. While they do have to deal with the distraction of an ASADA investigation into young star Lachie Whitfield, the Giants should be primed to shake things up in their first crack at the premiership flag.
First Final: Qualifying Final (non-elimination) vs Sydney Swans at ANZ Stadium
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: The Swans hold a 4-1 lead in the last five contests between the Sydney based rivals. These teams haven’t met at ANZ Stadium since 2013.
Finals X-factors: While the Giants have an emerging midfield led by Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio, and Tom Scully, it is their potent forward line that could shape the Giants finals campaign. Jeremy Cameron (49 goals), Toby Greene (34), and the enigmatic Steve Johnson (43) can provide all sorts of headaches for opposing defenses. The real X-factor for GWS could be monster forward Jonathon Patton (34 goals) who is rounding into some excellent form after his comeback from a serious knee injury. Patton’s size and power combined with the aforementioned three forwards gives the Giants an enticing four-pronged attack that can tear opponents apart when firing.
Finals Prognosis: The only factor working against the Giants is inexperience. They have the talent to go all the way, but may face their biggest test in week one against their crosstown rivals in the Swans. No matter how far they go in 2016, you can rest assured this team will be playing a lot of finals football in the next five years.
3rd place - Hawthorn
Form: Heading into the finals after winning the past three premierships, the Hawks are in reasonable form winning four of their past six games. A narrow one-point win in the final round against Collingwood (their 5th victory of less than one goal this season) was in keeping with their entire year. The Hawks don’t always look like the best team, but they find ways to win because of their experience.
Health: The Hawks were dealt a big blow when ruckman/forward Jonathon Ceglar tore his ACL just under two weeks ago. With star forward Jarrod Roughead (melanoma) all but ruled out for the rest of the season, the Hawks big man stocks have taken a massive hit. While defender Ben Stratton should return to bolster the Hawks backline, the loss of Ceglar looms large in the Hawks quest for four premierships in a row.
First Final: Qualifying final vs Geelong at the MCG
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: Hawthorn hold a 4-1 advantage over Geelong in their last five contests; however that one Geelong win was in the last time these two teams met, in round 1 of this season. The dominance of the Hawks in recent seasons over the Cats is the reason we are talking about a 4-peat for Hawthorn and not Geelong.
Finals X-factors: A team of wily veterans that knows how to win, the Hawks have an even spread of team-first players such as Luke Hodge, Jordan Lewis, and Sam Mitchell that play to a disciplined structure which stands up in the big games. When looking for an X-factor however, you can’t go past the explosive Cyril Rioli. The indigenous tackling machine can take a spectacular mark, break away from packs, and is one of the most accurate goal kickers in the game. He’s the type of player that fans pay their money to watch.
Finals Prognosis: While it is hard to dismiss a team that is coming off three premierships in a row, Hawthorn looks to me more vulnerable this finals series than they have for years. At their best they are incredible, but the injuries to Roughead and Ceglar leave Jack Gunston to do a lot of the heavy lifting up forward. Those key injuries will make the tough task of four consecutive premierships even tougher.
2nd place – Geelong
Form: Geelong come into the finals series with six wins in a row.
Health: While the Cats are carrying a few players with niggling injuries, the week off before the finals start should help them to have almost a full list of their best players to pick from in week one against the Hawks.
First Final: Qualifying final vs Hawthorn at the MCG.
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: 1-4 record in last five against the Hawks.
Finals X-factors: The Cats have a balanced midfield led by Brownlow medal favorite Patrick Dangerfield, backed by an experience defense that boasts talent such as Harry Taylor, Corey Enright, and Jimmy Bartel. The X-factor for Geelong is up forward. While Tom Hawkins is the focus, the enigmatic Stephen Motlop is the spark that can help run up the score for the Cats. They can’t rely on just Hawkins. If Motlop can kick 2-3 goals and Daniel Menzel hits the scoreboard, Geelong is in good shape to challenge for the premiership.
Finals Prognosis: Geelong have performed well in the big games this season, bizarrely dropping games to lowly Collingwood, Carlton, and St Kilda. Coming into the finals on a six game winning streak with a healthy list, the Cats are in very good shape to make a deep run into this year’s finals series.
1st place – Sydney Swans
Form: Six wins in a row for the Swans who look in great shape heading into the finals.
Health: Sam Reid is the only potential first-22 player not to be available for Sydney. With Kurt Tippett already back in the fray after a long-term injury, the Swans are loaded and ready to roll with home field advantage sewn up for the run towards the Grand Final.
First Final: Qualifying final vs Greater Western Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
Recent Record vs First Final opponent: 4-1 record in last five games against crosstown rivals GWS.
Finals X-factors: The Swans have so much talent that it is tough to pick one out of the box as an X-factor. A midfield boasting elite ball winners such as Dan Hannebery, Tom Mitchell, Luke Parker, and the other Josh Kennedy combined with the sublime talent up forward of Lance “Buddy” Franklin can be considered favorite to win most games that they play. The solid Dane Rampe and Heath Grundy hold things together down back, while emerging talent in Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney are the envy of every other club in the competition. The X-factor may be speedster Gary Rohan who is a tough matchup due to his size and pace. Rohan is also in career best form, coming off a four goal haul in round 23.
Finals Prognosis: The Swans are in the box seat to go all the way to the Grand Final on October 1st. Ironically their toughest game may come against the upstart Greater Western Sydney Giants in week one. Finals experience and hot form should see them defeat the Giants and earn their second home final on their way back to the Grand final after missing out last season.
So, to the big question. Which teams can go all the way? I’m calling it as the most wide open finals series in recent memory, with any one of six teams some chance of taking home the premiership cup. I think form and injury will make the journey impossible for both the Kangaroos and the Bulldogs, however the remaining six teams, if everything goes right, could take home the big one.
Looking into my crystal ball, here is how I see it shaking out.
Boris’ Week One Finals Predictions:
Adelaide to defeat North Melbourne.
West Coast to defeat the Western Bulldogs.
Geelong to defeat Hawthorn.
Sydney to defeat Greater Western Sydney.
That will mean the Bulldogs and the Kangaroos are done for the season, leaving our Week two matchups looking like this:
Boris’ Week Two Semi-Finals Predictions:
West Coast vs Hawthorn (MCG)
Adelaide vs Greater Western Sydney (Sydney)
In two very tight affairs, I think Hawthorn and Greater Western Sydney will take out narrow wins, setting up the following finals in week three:
Boris’ Week Three Preliminary Finals Predictions:
Sydney vs Hawthorn (Sydney)
Greater Western Sydney vs Geelong (MCG)
I’m calling the Hawks to fall short of a fourth premiership in a row as they lose in a tough battle with Sydney at home. The experience of Geelong will get them over the line against a very good GWS team who will dominate in 2017 and beyond.
Boris’ Grand Final Prediction:
Sydney to defeat Geelong by 5 points in a classic.
As I stated before, you could mount a solid case for six of the teams to win the whole thing, and there will no doubt be upsets along the way. Whatever happens, it should be an enthralling finals series so check your local guides, stock up on strong coffee and make sure you are watching!
Note: To keep up to date on TV schedules for the AFL in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, check the link below:
Article last changed on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 9:24 PM EDT