AFL finals week 1: Battle of the Bridge, and an interstate spectacular

Embed from Getty Images

Callum Sinclair of the Sydney Swans and Jonathon Patton of the GWS Giants pose with the cup this week in Sydney. 

By BEN GIBERRY and ADAM FOSTER

Two huge battles – a Sydney derby and an interstate blockbuster – set the scene for a big finish to a huge weekend of finals. 

Elimination Final: Sydney Swans vs GWS Giants

Saturday September 8, 4.20pm at the SCG

The stage is set for an almighty 16thBattle of the Bridge between two finalists from last year in the Sydney Swans and GWS Giants.

Both teams will benefit from the finals bye with Toby Greene, Luke Parker and Lance Franklin all making a return to the big stage.

The last time the two sides met it was a three-quarter arm wrestle with the Swans streaking away to a 20-point victory in the final term, aided by a Phil Davis injury, allowing Franklin to roam free in the forward line.

The giants ended up with four more scoring shots in round 22 yet their inaccuracy proved costly as the Swans secured a season-defining victory.

Talking points

Swans dominance

The Swans have had the edge in recent times winning the last three encounters and will not be shy of confidence going in.

In round 22 Lachie Whitfield’s usually dangerous presence was severely constrained by the Swans’ offensive defenders. Lachie will have to break free of the shackles if he wants to influence the game and provide the Giants the spark they need.

 SCG struggles

In past seasons, the AFL was used to Sydney having a formidable record at the SCG. With the ground size significantly smaller than other grounds such as the MCG and Optus Stadium, other sides have struggled with the lack of space on offer.

However, this season Sydney have a poor record at the ground losing more games at the SCG compared to wins. As a result this will give the Giants some hope that they can get the job done.

Players to watch

George Hewitt (Sydney Swans): Not one of Sydney’s big-name superstars, but Hewitt will play an important role in the midfield. If he can mitigate the impact of the league’s No.1 clearance team, the rest of the game will follow Sydney’s plan.

Phil Davis (GWS): Davis has another massive job on Franklin, if he can tame the league’s premier forward for four quarters the Swans will struggle to kick a winning score.

BEN GIBERRY'S PREDICTION 
With some key inclusions for the Swans and their recent record over the Giants, it is hard to look past the Swans. Expect Sydney’s big stage players to get the job done in this cut-throat battle.
Sydney by 18 points

Embed from Getty Images

An athletic and in form Brodie Grundy is key to Collingwood’s hopes.

Qualifying Final: West Coast vs Collingwood

Saturday September 8, 8.10pm at Optus Stadium

West Coast will look to continue its dominance in Perth as it hosts a resilient Collingwood side determined to cause an upset. The last time these teams met was in round 17 when the Eagles finished strong to run away with a 35-point victory. West Coast have been criticised for how they play on big grounds, but on this occasion they were able to use the space of the MCG much more effectively than their opponents.

Talking Points

Eagles attack vs Pies defence

One of the biggest factors for this game will be how Collingwood’s forward line deals with West Coast’s defence. The Eagles conceded 75.3 points per game on average during the season, the fifth best in the league. Last time these teams met, Eagles’ defender Jeremy McGovern had 14 intercept possessions as the Eagles conceded 67 points – Collingwood’s equal-second lowest score of the season. Limiting McGovern’s influence requires Collingwood players to lower their eyes when entering inside 50 and not kicking high balls towards their forwards.

Ruck Battle

Another important battle in this match will be the ruck duel. Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy capped off a career-best year by making his first All-Australian team. Grundy has the task of going up against a rare combination in today’s game with two pure ruckmen combining to battle him. Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy are not considered among the top rucks in the league, but they will work together in attempting to limit Grundy.

Players to watch

Jeremy McGovern (West Coast): A proven game changer, good on the ground but most importantly for the Eagles continues to prove himself as one of the best one-on-one defenders. He is very strong in the air as demonstrated by his intercept marking.

Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood): Rewarded with his first All-Australian honours in 2018, Sidebottom is one of only a couple of players remaining from the 2010 Collingwood premiership side. This experience will prove valuable along with his elite disposal and tackling ability which will be critical in giving his teammates first use of the ball going forward.

ADAM FOSTER'S PREDICTION 
Both teams have key players out but with the likely return of Josh Kennedy combined with the strong home crowd, West Coast might just have the edge over Collingwood.
West Coast by six points.