A weekend of comprehensive victories punctuated the first week of the Australian Football League’s four-week finals series.
The Geelong Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks both won in emphatic style over the St Kilda Saints (by 58 points) and the Western Bulldogs (51) respectively. The victories once again highlighted the case for the Hawks to face the Cats in their Premiership defence in the AFL Grand Final on Saturday September 27.
A rest weekend is the reward for finishing in the top four and a subsequent victory in the first week of the finals. After a gruelling 22-match season, the time to freshen the bodies and minds of the players is usually considered beneficial. There is an argument against the advantage of a rest where momentum and focus shouldn’t be flirted with; however, it’s difficult to see this as a problem for the Cats and the Hawks – such is their quality and form that the rest weekend will only serve to make them sharper.
Meanwhile, the Saints and the ’Dogs, who also finished the home and away season in the top four, have another chance this week to bounce back and keep their finals campaign alive. They’ll face the Collingwood Magpies and Sydney Swans who progressed to the second week of the finals when they defeated, and eliminated, the Adelaide Crows (by 31 points) and North Melbourne Kangaroos (35) respectively.
Western Bulldogs vs Sydney
Friday September 12
MCG, Melbourne 7.50pm
Last match: Western Bulldogs 17.11 (113) defeated Sydney Swans 14.13 (97), Round 18, 2008, Manuka Oval, Canberra.
Last five: Swans 3, Bulldogs 2
Last weekend, Sydney defied critics that expected their ageing list to capitulate to North Melbourne, who were playing for the first time ever at the ANZ Stadium in the Sydney Olympic Park. This weekend, the Swans travel to Melbourne and face in an entirely different assignment. The Swans’ shut-down backline flooding approach that dismantled the ’Roos last weekend has been unsuccessful against the fleet-footed ’Dogs in their two meetings earlier this year. Finals experience may get the Swans over the line against the out-of-form Bulldogs.
The Western Bulldogs need to return to their clean delivery, running and contested footy that they produced in the first two-thirds of the season. Appearing to choke and peaking at the wrong end of the season again, they have been pitiful in recent weeks with their confidence taking another hit at the hands of a rampaging Hawks. Their playing list needs a shake-up with under-performing players dropped and replaced by in-form ones who have been pressing for selection in the last month.
The winner will advance to the Preliminary Final next weekend against Geelong, while the loser is eliminated.
St Kilda vs Collingwood
Saturday September 13
MCG, Melbourne 7.30pm
Last match: Collingwood Magpies 14.13 (97) defeated St Kilda Saints 12.11 (83), Round 19, 2008, Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Last five: Magpies 3, Saints 2.
Last weekend, Collingwood executed a game plan that was perfectly tailored to counter the predictable Crows at AAMI Stadium in South Australia. Their contested footy is the exact brand that is required to win finals. Their uncompromising accountable approach also relies on focus and risk-taking. If they can follow-up again this weekend, they could be too much for St Kilda to handle. The strain of finals, however, could expose the young ’Pies – who have probably performed above expectations – against the Saints who boast several dynamic players.
St Kilda should not be too demoralised after failing to challenge the Cats. Apart from failing the biggest test against the competition’s inform benchmark team, several of the Saints faltered on the day and had very little impact. Against the ’Pies, however, we can expect the Saints to rebound, win their share of stoppages and find their way to the goals with more ease. It’s time for the Saints’ senior players to stand up and be counted.
The winner will advance to the Preliminary Final next weekend against Hawthorn, while the loser is eliminated.