IT has taken 23 long rounds, but the finals are about to begin and it’s time to get excited.
Never has the premiership window been as wide open as it is right now, with premiership favourites Hawthorn facing the toughest trip in football first up in Perth, a loss could deal their flag hopes a huge blow.
The Tigers and the Kangaroos face each other in consecutive weeks – both at full strength after a farcical exhibition match in which the Kangaroos rested half their best side and Richmond played at full strength.
We will find out Sunday evening whose approach worked best.
Eagles vs. Hawks
Friday, September 11th, Domain Stadium, 8:20pm
West Coast – (+2.5) $1.92
Hawthorn – (-2.5) $1.92
Last time they met: Hawthorn overturned a three-quarter-time deficit in the West to record a 14-point victory over the Eagles.
The first match of the 2015 finals series sees the first and second teams in premiership betting meeting in the West to determine who will host a home preliminary final.
The Eagles come up against reigning premiers Hawthorn at Domain Stadium – the stakes haven’t been this high between these two sides since the 1991 Grand Final.
There are two important ins for the home side with versatile defender Will Schofield proving his fitness after missing several weeks with a quad injury and vice captain Scott Selwood also getting his chance.
In a blow to their midfield stocks, important Eagle on-baller Chris Masten will miss Friday night’s game with a hamstring injury, while Jackson Nelson has been omitted.
There are three huge inclusions for the Hawks. Captain Luke Hodge resumes after a two-game suspension, while livewire forwards Cyril Rioli and Luke Bruest reclaim their places.
The three unlucky men to make way for the flag favourites are Angus Litherland, Daniel Howe and James Sicily.
Going across to the West has consistently been the hardest trip to make in football, but if there is any team capable of bringing back the points from Perth it is Hawthorn.
If there last meeting – in which the Hawks overturned a deficit in front of a hostile crowd to record a huge win – is any indication, the Hawks harbour no fears in making the long trip west.
That night the Eagles were without All-Australian ruckman Nic Naitanui, and subsequently dominated in the ruck.
The inclusion of Naitanui swings the scales back in the Eagles favour, and they should earn themselves a week off and a home preliminary final.
Tip: West Coast to win $2.00 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Most possessions/most goals Matt Priddis/Josh Kennedy $11.00 via Sportsbet
Dockers vs. Swans
Saturday, September 12th, Domain Stadium, 3:20pm
Fremantle – (-19.5) $1.92
Sydney – (+19.5) $1.92
Last time they met: A fast-finishing Sydney failed to overturn a 48-point half time Docker lead way back in round four.
The second of two games in the west this week sees the minor premiers Fremantle hosting last year’s Grand Finalists Sydney.
Both teams took different approaches in the final round of the season.
The Dockers, who already had top spot locked down ahead of the final match of the season elected to rest over half of their starting team for last week’s trip to South Australia.
The end result did not matter to Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, with over half the team that started against Port Adelaide making way for Saturday’s clash with the Swans.
Amongst the changes for the Dockers is Brownlow medal favourite Nat Fyfe, who has missed the last fortnight of football with a groin injury.
Fyfe is one of an unfathomable 14 changes to the side that fell to Port, with Stephen Hill, Matthew Pavlich, David Mundy and Aaron Sandliands amongst the inclusions.
The Swans have made just two changes to the side that smashed the Suns in Sydney last week with captain Kieran Jack set to miss potentially the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Lance Franklin is also out indefinitely through illness.
Two important players set to return for the Swans with Jarrad McVeigh and Ben McGlynn making their way back into the team.
The loss of Franklin makes it extremely hard for the Swans to kick a winning score against one of the best defences in the league.
Without the big ‘Bud’ this match looks to be one of the easier ones to pick this weekend. The Dockers look set to march to a preliminary final in comfortable fashion.
Tip: Fremantle to win 1-39 points $1.98 via William Hill
Exotic: Most disposals group 1 – Lachie Neale $8.00 via Sportsbet
Bulldogs vs. Crows
Saturday, September 12th, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 7:20pm
Western Bulldogs – (+0.5) $1.92
Adelaide – (-0.5) $1.92
Last time they met: The Bulldogs blew away the Crows early in the contest to announce themselves as a genuine finals contender, running away with a huge 57-point victory.
One of the more interesting match ups of this year’s finals series takes place on Saturday night with two teams that were not expected to be vying for a premiership facing off at the MCG.
The Bulldogs were predicted by many to be in the bottom-four prior to the commencement of the season, but a stunning 2015 has seen them score an unlikely finals berth.
Adelaide have dealt with adversity all throughout the season and have emerged through as a genuine September contender.
Luke Beveridge has made five changes to the team that sensationally lost to Brisbane in the final round with captain Robert Murphy, Matthew Boyd and Will Minson all coming in to add some much-needed experience.
The Dogs defence has taken a hit with Jordan Roughead and Jason Johannisen both set to miss the cut-throat final through injury.
The Crows have made two changes, bringing back experienced duo Kyle Cheney and David MacKay.
Jake Lever and Jarryd Lyons are the two men to make way.
Cheney looms as the match up for superstar Dog Jake Stringer.
Stringer has been on fire this season, and will be keen to guide his side to their first finals win in almost a decade.
The Dogs will have their hands full quelling the multi faceted attack of Adelaide. The Crows are averaging the third most goals per game in the league across the entirety of season 2015.
If this game was played at Etihad Stadium it would have been foolish to bet against the Dogs, but given it is played at the MCG – where the Bulldogs have struggled this season – the edge has to go to the Crows.
Tip: Adelaide to win $1.83 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Rory Sloane to get 30 or more disposals – $3.70 via Sportsbet
Tigers vs. Kangaroos
Sunday, September 13th, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 3:20pm
Richmond – (-9.5) $1.92
North Melbourne – (+9.5) $1.92
Last time they met: The Tigers overran a depleted North Melbourne to record a 41-point victory at Etihad Stadium in the final Friday night match of the home and away season.
Richmond and North Melbourne close out week one of the finals action at the MCG with both teams in dire need of a win.
If Richmond wants to prove they have made significant improvements not just as a team, but as a club in general, they simply must win this match.
This will be the third consecutive year that the Tigers have made the eight and if they were to be eliminated again in the first week of the finals, serious questions will be asked of their mental resolve.
Much was expected of North Melbourne after their unexpected preliminary final finish last season, and while they failed to secure a double chance, the Roos proved last year you can still make an impact from outside the top-four.
Brad Scott elected to bring in a multitude of mature aged recruits with the plan of challenging for a premiership, and if the Kangaroos fail to even win a final Scott’s job may very well be in danger.
Ben Griffins, Reece Conca and Steven Morris have made their way into the extended squad for the Tigers, with no omissions named at this stage.
The Kangaroos have made 10 changes to the team that fell to the Tigers last week, with captain Andrew Swallow, Brownlow medal fancy Todd Goldstein and classy on-baller Nick Dal Santo all expected to take to the field on Sunday.
The two teams took vastly different approaches to their elimination final, with the Tigers playing their best available 22 while the Roos chose to rest as many stars as they could.
Managing his stars was a shrewd move from Brad Scott and it should prove dividends come Sunday.
Expect the Kangaroos to advance through to the semi-finals commending Richmond to a third consecutive first week finals exit in the process.
Tip: North Melbourne to win $2.30 via Sportsbet
Exotic: First goal scorer – Jarrad Waite $17.00 via Sportsbet
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