Just eight teams remain. In one of the tightest finishes in AFL history, the final regular season round had footy fans reaching for their calculators until the last few minutes of the final game of the year between the Adelaide Crows and the West Coast Eagles. Incredibly, the 29 point Eagles victory was enough to see them through to the final eight, while Melbourne, sitting a game and percentage inside the final eight prior to the round, saw their finals dreams shattered on the back of a shock loss to Collingwood and the Eagles win.
For 10 teams, the season is over. They now have plenty of time to review what went wrong and how to get themselves back into finals contention in 2018. For the eight teams heading into finals action, there is much to be excited and nervous about.
AFANA runs the slide rule over the final eight in an attempt to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Below is my AFANA Finals Power Poll, with some thoughts on what needs to go right for each team to hold the premiership cup high in October.
1. Adelaide Crows (Last time - 1)
The Crows limped to the line in losing to West Coast in round 23, but in reality they had nothing to gain by winning the last game played at Subiaco Oval. With the minor premiership already sealed, the Crows rested some key players for the long trip to Perth. With home ground advantage sealed, the Crows are the team to beat. The rabid home support combined with the most explosive forward line in the AFL will make Adelaide very tough to beat. First up, they face the Greater Western Sydney Giants at home. The only concern for the Crows is the health of key midfielder Rory Sloane, coming of keyhole surgery to have his appendix removed.
Prediction vs Giants: Crows to win by 24 points.
2. Sydney Swans (2)
The Swans narrowly missed out on finishing top four when Richmond took care of the Saints in round 23. No matter for the Sydneysiders who are the hottest team in footy after their abysmal start to the season. A home final in week one against Essendon will kick off the Swans campaign, which should be a solid springboard for a deep run into the finals. Can the Swans win the premiership after losing their first six games of the season? A deep midfield of Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker plus young stars in Isaac Heeney and Tom Papley says yes. Add in the most dynamic forward in Lance Franklin, fresh off a ten goal haul, and you can be sure of one thing. None of the other seven teams in the finals want to play Sydney.
Prediction vs Essendon: Sydney wins by 30 points.
3. Geelong Cats (4)
The Cats will be sweating on the return of spiritual leader Joel Selwood for their first final – a massive blockbuster – against Richmond at the MCG on Friday night. All indications are that Selwood will be back, giving the cats a massive boost heading into the game against the Tigers. Whilst playing at the MCG gives Richmond a boost, it has to be noted that Geelong have owned the Tigers in recent times, winning 21 of their last 22 contests. If there is a crack in the Cats premiership chances, it would be their defense. They can leak goals at times. Geelong took care of Richmond at Simonds Stadium just a few weeks ago without Selwood and key forward Tom Hawkins, so they will have no fear about playing the Tigers in week one of the finals. This promises to be a cracker of a game.
Prediction vs Richmond: Geelong by 16 points.
4. Greater Western Sydney Giants (3)
The Giants were extremely disappointing in round 23, going down to Geelong by a whopping 44 points at Simonds Stadium. The prize for such a terrible outing for the Giants is a trip to Adelaide to take on the Crows. Top to bottom, the Giants have as much talent – if not more – than any other team in the competition. While they have threatened to take the competition apart all season, they still have lapses where they break down under intense pressure. They are the hardest team to get a feel for in the finals. I expect them to win a final, but I don’t think it will be in Adelaide in week one. They will however be the benchmark in the next few seasons; they simply have too much young talent not to be.
5. Richmond Tigers (5)
The most unlikely of finalists given most predicted a finish in the 12-15 range. The Tiger turnaround in 2017 has been nothing short of remarkable. Club CEO Benny Gale and President Peggy O’Neal showed faith in coach Damien Hardwick when most were calling for his head after a disastrous 2016.
Backed by a revamped coaching squad including Blake Caracella and the returning Justin Leppitsch, the Tigers totally changed their playing style to a free-flowing model built around a small forward line that applies relentless pressure. The results have been better than advertised, with Richmond’s third place finish giving them the double chance, with the added bonus of playing at their home ground, the MCG.
With a rampant fan base, if the Tigers can turn around 13 straight losses against Geelong and upset the Cats on Friday night, the lid will be well and truly off.
6. Port Adelaide Power (6)
Port Adelaide, like Sydney, knocked on the door of the top four but was denied by the Tigers in round 23. Finishing with solid wins against the Bulldogs and a thumping of the Gold Coast Suns, the Power is coming into its best form at the right time of the season. With key forward Charlie Dixon and ruckman Patty Ryder in career best form, the Power has the tools to go deep into September – provided they can maintain consistency. All season the Power have threatened to show they can mix it with the best, only to fall over when facing the AFL’s best teams. Getting West Coast at home – despite the Eagles’ good record at Adelaide – should allow Port to get through and deliver on their significant promise.
Prediction vs West Coast: Port to win by 19 points.
7. Essendon Bombers ( 8 )
The Bombers return to the finals after a season in the wilderness on the back of the WADA substance abuse scandal. While their form at times had been sporadic, they have played some brilliant games, and are justifiably competing in the finals. Jobe Watson will be hanging up the boots after a solid career, but how far can the Bombers go? Up against a rampaging Sydney at the SGC, Essendon can take some solace in the fact they should have beaten the Swans at the same venue a couple of months ago, if not for some Gary Rohan late heroics. It is hard to make a substantial case for the Bombers to get through to the second week of the finals, but didn’t many say the same thing about the Bulldogs last season?
8. West Coast Eagles (10)
Melbourne fans look away now. At the start of round 23, the Eagles needed a lot of things to go right for them to make the final eight. When they took the field against Adelaide on Sunday, pretty much everything up to that point, in particular Melbourne’s capitulation against Collingwood, meant the Eagles had their destiny in their own hands. All that was required was a four goal win over the Crows, and they were in. In amazing scenes, the Eagles hadn’t sealed the deal until the last couple of minutes of the game, but in the end, all that mattered was that they were there.
Can the Eagles get past Port in Adelaide? There is no doubt Port is the more talented squad, but the Eagles have a good enough record at Adelaide Oval that they will can comfortably go into the game with a “nothing to lose” mentality.
Let the games begin!
Article last changed on Thursday, September 07, 2017 - 12:12 PM EDT