Eight key questions as the AFL finals begin

Richmond v Geelong at the MCG tomorrow night is the biggest match of the first week of the AFL finals, but big questions hang over both teams.

By LAURENCE ROSEN

With another finals series rapidly closing in, there are eight key questions that surround this year’s top sides. 

What can be learnt from Adelaide’s last two games?

When they are on, there is no side that can match Crows. But the question remains: can  Don Pyke’s side recapture their form and put together a month of football good enough to win them the flag? Adelaide threw everything at the Swans in Round 22 and still found themselves on the losing side.

As the finals series opens tonight, Adelaide’s last two games will give GWS confidence that they can upset the minor premiers on their own turf. 

Can Geelong conquer the MCG?

The Geelong Simonds Stadium blueprint is simple. Tom Lonergan and Lachie Henderson sit off the contest, protect the narrow defensive pockets and expose teams going the other way using the long corridor of their home ground. But it’s a different story at the MCG, which is 1m longer but 31m wider. Despite their early-season matchup against the Hawks, the Cats have largely struggled at the home of football this year. They have faced two losses to Collingwood and Essendon respectively, while in their return match against Collingwood, they trailed by 23 points at quarter time before grinding out a win against the 13th-placed Pies. There was also a scratchy win against Hawthorn, but at no point, bar round four, have the Cats looked comfortable defending the wide expanses of the MCG.

They beat Richmond in Geelong only a few short weeks ago, but this is a very different proposition. Conquer the ‘G and the Cats have a good chance of earning a home preliminary final against an interstate side and, if successful, another grand final.  

Will Richmond exorcise their finals demons?

Richmond’s finals woes have been well documented – they haven’t won one since 2001 and have lost their past three. But the 2017 iteration of the Tigers is built differently, with a defensive edge that should hold up in finals. The Tigers have conceded the third-least points during the season and that’s on the back of David Astbury’s and Dylan Grimes’s career-best years.

The football world holds its breath as the Tigers come up against Geelong tomorrow night. In what is the most important final of week one, Richmond have a chance to exorcise their past finals woes and push towards their first premiership since 1980.

Does Steve Johnson’s form warrant a place in the finals?

Can GWS put together a month of good football and win their first flag?

It’s one of the hottest debates in football now – are the Giants a team of gifted footballers or can they effectively combine to make a serious impact in September? Bar Matt Buntine’s and Adam Kennedy’s season-ending knee injuries, GWS have a full list to choose from.

There’s no doubt this side has the talent to win their first premiership but there’s more than few questions they’ll have to answer before they taste football’s ultimate success. Can you play Jeremy Cameron, Jon Patton and Rory Lobb in the same team? Does Steve Johnson’s form warrant a spot in a finals side? Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval is one of football’s toughest assignment. It is time to find out whether these Giants can lock down the game defensively and use their attacking weapons to notch up a landmark victory.

Are Port Adelaide flat track bullies?

Out of all the sides in the finals race, Port Adelaide are the team who have beaten the fewest sides in the eight. Their only two wins against top-eight oppositions were against an injury-ravaged Sydney in Round 1 and their elimination final opponent – who finished eighth – in Perth earlier in the season. So where does this leave the Power?

They’re a side heavily reliant on All-Australian ruckman Paddy Ryder, so if he can get on top of the undermanned Eagles rucks, they’re a good chance to win. But even if they do beat West Coast, questions still linger. Coach Ken Hinkley comes out of contract in 2018 so Port Adelaide has much to ponder in a busy off-season, regardless of how far they go in September.

Are Sydney the best team in it?

The only side to have beaten Sydney since round six – Hawthorn – has failed to make the finals for the first time since 2009. The Swans have become the first side in history to make the eight after losing their opening six games, and loom as 2017’s big floater. Their path to making the grand final is tough. Assuming they beat Essendon, they’ll face the loser of Richmond and Geelong in Melbourne. Success there would see them face the winner of GWS or Adelaide for a spot in the grand final. Sydney could very well be the best team in the finals but there’s more than a few obstacles to encounter before they can dream of a fairytale premiership.

Orazio Fantasia has been a big loss for Essendon.

Can Essendon replicate their form against Sydney at the SCG from earlier this year?

The last six weeks has seen Essendon grind out results without looking threatening in the process. The Dons have had a tough injury run through the majority of 2017 but since Orazio Fantasia hurt his hamstring against Carlton in Round 20, they’ve lost Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker and their form has tailed off. All three are pushing to be fit for finals and they will be needed if Essendon are any chance.

It’s been a 13-year finals drought for John Worsfold’s side and they’ll be desperate to try and find the form that had them leading the Swans by 19 points at the SCG earlier this year with under five minutes left to play.

Are the Eagles any good?  

It’s a superficial question to ask, but most of the discourse surrounding the Eagles this year has centred on whether they are a true premiership threat. Luckily for Adam Simpson’s side, they will be facing an equality flaky side in the elimination final. The Eagles are yet to lose to Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval in their three meetings, so they should take great confidence in their recent record.

But are they any good? They will be hoping Adelaide win in Thursday’s qualifying final, which would see them face the Giants at Spotless Stadium – a ground in which they too have a good record at. West Coast could do with a deep finals run to settle the doubters as they look to rebuild their team.