THIS is what we like to call the business end of the AFL season.
After 23 rounds of football, only eight teams are left standing.
And one of those teams, despite only finishing third on the ladder, is the favourite to win it all.
They’ve won the past two flags and, although they have a tough trip to Perth in week one of the finals, Hawthorn are still red hot $2.75 favourites with CrownBet.com.au to be the last team standing at the end of the finals series.
The Hawks will face off against second placed West Coast on Friday night after accounting for Carlton on the weekend, 17.11 (113) to 8.8 (64).
Despite losing speedster Isaac Smith to a knee injury, the Hawks have an otherwise clean bill of health and will be hoping they can replicate their win over the Eagles – who beat St Kilda, 18.17 (125) to 4.6 (30) in round 23 – on the road earlier this season.
Hawks coach Alistair Clarkson has urged his charges to focus on the “here and now” ahead of the clash, with captain Luke Hodge set to return from a two week suspension, despite being nabbed for drink driving last week.
“It’s difficult, but no club is foreign to this stuff,” Clarkson said of the media hype surrounding Hodge’s indiscretion.
“We have become as a footy club really resilient at being able to deal with these (issues) in an appropriate manner”.
Meanwhile, shaky minor premiers Fremantle will be hoping they feel no ill effects of the whacking their second string side copped at the hands of Port Adelaide on the weekend, 18.14 (122) to 8.5 (53), after the Dockers rested 11 of their best players for the road trip.
One of those players who will return is Brownlow Medal favourite Nat Fyfe, who has missed the past fortnight.
Dockers coach Ross Lyon says the midfielder told him he feels like a million dollars.
“I spoke to him (and) he said he feels a million bucks,” Lyon said yesterday.
“And the conditioners and physios are really confident that he’ll be fine.
“But the next hurdle is he’ll train over the next few days and do our main session on Thursday, and then he’ll need to declare himself (fit) like he basically declared himself today.”
They will take on fourth placed Sydney in Perth on Saturday afternoon, after the Swans cruised to a 19.13 (127) to 9.10 (64) win over the lowly Gold Coast Suns.
Despite losing both games in Perth this season accumulator Tom Mitchell says there’s a good feeling among the group.
“As a team, we do really enjoy getting away as a group and it is a really good feeling when the whole opposition crowd is against you and you can silence that crowd,” Mitchell said.
“It is always good to get across to Perth; we feel like we play well over there and hopefully we can get a win.”
Speaking of the Suns, their season is over, but their torrid time has continued with the revelation under fire midfielder Harley Bennell was involved in an alleged altercation with a bouncer on the Gold Coast on the weekend.
Bennell has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this season and this indiscretion has proven to be the end of his time at the Suns.
The Suns will trade Bennell, following his latest foul up.
Chief executive Andrew Travis said it was a unanimous decision following meetings with club administration, coaches, the leadership group and Bennell’s management.
“Despite the incident this morning being relatively minor, it’s the view of the club, our coaches and player leadership group that Harley is unable to make long-term change required to remain with the Gold Coast Suns,” Travis said.
“When Harley returned to football we outlined a program and a series of actions that he needed to follow to have a future at the Suns.
“We also made clear to Harley and our entire playing group the expectations we had of them as players and representatives of this club.
“No matter what we say, we will be judged on our actions, not on our words and it is important to say today that the player leadership group has fully supported the actions of the club in regard to this matter.”
Two of the AFL stories of the year in the plucky Western Bulldogs and the determined Adelaide Crows will square off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday night.
And neither side goes in with winning form, with the fifth placed dogs inexplicably failing to bring any form of defence north, suffering a 19.16 (130) to 19.8 (122) loss to cellar dweller Brisbane.
Despite this, no one thought they would get any where near the finals this season, so to finish just outside the top four is a remarkable achievement.
The Crows also copped it at the hands of Geelong down at Simonds Stadium, 17.17 (119) to 11.14 (80).
But their season has been one of tackling adversity head on, following the horrible death of then coach Phil Walsh.
The Cats were too good for the Crows, though, farewelling three of their favourite sons in Steve Johnson, Matthew Stokes and James Kelly, with none of the three set to wear the hoops next season.
And the last final pits the Tiger Army up against North Melbourne in a match that will either delight or devour the Richmond fans.
They’ve all been here before and they know the heartbreak their charges can serve up.
But this year feels a little different. They don’t have to travel in week one of the finals and they go in with a big win over a depleted Roos side, 16.12 (108) to 10.7 (67).
It’s the same match up twice in two weeks, can the Roos turn it around when they bring all their stars back in? Time will tell.
All the important AFL betting markets
2015 AFL premiership winner
Hawthorn ($2.75, out from $2.60 with CrownBet.com.au)
Fremantle ($4, steady)
West Coast Eagles ($4, in from $4.50)
Sydney Swans ($8, in from $9))
Richmond ($21, out from $17)
Adelaide Crows ($26, steady)
Western Bulldogs ($41, out from $34)
North Melbourne ($51, steady)
AFL Finals – Week one markets
West Coast Eagles ($2.20) (line: $1.92, +6.5) vs. Hawthorn ($1.68) (line: $1.92, -6.5)
Fremantle ($1.45) (line: $1.92, -14.5) vs. Sydney Swans ($2.75) (line: $1.92, +14.5)
Western Bulldogs ($1.88) (line: $1.92, -1.5) vs. Adelaide ($1.95) (line: $1.92, +1.5)
Richmond ($1.65) (line: $1.92, -7.5) vs. North Melbourne ($2.25) (line: $1.92, +7.5)
AFL Rising Star battle a two horse race: Sportsbet
In other AFL betting news, the intriguing Rising Star battle continues to be neck and neck, with sportsbet.com.au’s Christian Jantzen reporting the hulking Melbourne forward Jesse Hogan ($2) is chasing young Carlton hard man Patrick Cripps ($1.80) for a piece of the coveted award for the AFL’s young guns.
He said punters money indicated is was a two horse race for this year’s AFL Rising Star award.
“Their nearest rival, Swan Isaac Heeney, isn’t even in the frame at $34,” Jantzen said.
“One punter was shrewd enough to have $300 on Hogan at his longest price of $12, while the biggest bet on him was $1000 at $5.
“Cripps got out to as much as $21 at one stage, and one customer wagered $70 on the Blues’ midfielder at that price. The largest bet on Cripps was $1700 at $1.55.
“Cripps and Hogan have been the standouts all season long according to the market, but we’ve taken 20 per cent more money on Hogan overall.”
Nat Fyfe is still the heavy favourite for the Brownlow Medal at CrownBet.com.au, odd on at $1.85, but he is being chased by last year’s winner Matt Priddis ($4.50), whose 35 touches and 11 tackles against the Saints on the weekend impressed punters enough to back him in from $5.50.
Crows superstar (for how long?) Patrick Dangerfield is the only other player in single figures to win the AFL’s most coveted individual award, at $7.50.
AFL Rising Star market:
Patrick Cripps ($1.80 with sportsbet.com.au)
Jesse Hogan ($2)
Isaac Heeney ($34)
Dom Sheed ($41)
Brownlow Medal market
Nat Fyfe ($1.85, steady)
Matt Priddis ($4.50, in from $5.50 with CrownBet.com.au)
Patrick Dangerfield ($7.50, out from $6.50)
Dan Hannebery ($10, in from $12)
Todd Goldstein ($12, out from $7.50)
Sam Mitchell ($13, in from $17)
Josh P. Kennedy ($15, in from $21)
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