Hawks feel the need…the need for speed

The Tigers ending a 37 year premiership drought would have seen Hawthorn’s list management committee with their heads in their hands. It was a victory created by the Richmond think tank’s brilliant use of its abundant pace.

Richmond’s ravenous horde of pacey defensive forwards were the stand out. They served a pivotal dual purpose. In attack, they were responsible for setting up many 2nd and 3rd chance goals. These opportunities were created from the unyielding and relentless pressure they put on opponents. Secondly, their pressure when not in possession stifled the Crows’ ball movement and allowed the Richmond midfield and defence to easily mop up any Crows’ attacks that broke free. The game in this era has a strong emphasis on rebound from defence to facilitate teams attacks. The Tigers rendered the Crows lauded reputation in this aspect of the game null and void.

The speed didn’t cease merely with the Tigers’ ‘mosquito fleet.’ It was evident throughout their 22. The completeness of their fast paced list was a defining aspect of their success. There was not only an abundance of burst speed, as highlighted by the defensive forwards, but also a prevalence of power runners which was the fulcrum of their remarkable success.

Running to position off the ball in support is often lost in the game, but the Tigers’ gut running was elite. This allowed them to transition the ball from crowded inside situations to freedom on the outside, an ability that made them lethal on the spread. They constantly set up space, a factor the Crows had no answer to and were consequently sliced to ribbons.

The AFL is a very reactionary industry, which on the evidence of the Tigers’ blueprint for success will put a real premium on pace along with players with noted ‘tanks.’

After a season where Hawthorn’s lack of pace was a key part of its struggles, this represents a real road block in any attempt to rise from 2018 onwards.

Hawthorn has been linked with the speedy Jarman Impey from Port Adelaide, if rumours are to believed. Impey has indicated that Hawthorn is his preferred club. Also on the Hawks radar is Andrew Gaff from the West Coast Eagles. While not as yet rumored, the club would be wise to chase Adam Saad from the Suns. The blitzing defensive rebounder has made known his desire to return to Victoria.

Any would be ideal. Two of the three should be the focus.

The Hawks weak standing from a trade viewpoint instantly raises the question of ‘how’. The Tigers’ success makes it a seller’s market for any club looking to trade players with any evidence of pace, or sustained run. Hawthorn’s first pick in the upcoming draft is 32. The aforementioned trio in the current climate would certainly dictate as follows:

Jaman Impey- mid second round pick. Or a 20-25 list rated player.

Andrew Gaff- mid to late first round pick. Or, a 10-15 list rated player

Adam Saad- late first round to early second round pick. Or, a 15-20 list rated player.

In estimating the likely cost and attaching a premium to speed, the flip side is how Hawthorn can also exploit this climate.

Billy Hartung and Paul Puopolo become real chess pieces. Hartung exudes both speed and endurance. Despite the club having a real need for both qualities they would be willing to part with Hartung on the back of him being largely frustrating at the AFL level. His stand out flaw is not having the football smarts, or adequate reading of the game to utilise his better qualities. Rather than set up smart play by knowing when and where to run when not in possession or line break with bursts when in possession, he mirrors a dog chasing its tail.

Hartung’s limitations are obvious. Despite this, another club could be enamoured with his qualities and the fact he is still young at 22. They could be persuaded to offer a late 2nd round pick.

Puopolo is an interesting case. He is one of the best small pressuring forwards in the game. What goes against him is his age. The other concern is he has shown his pedigree in some very strong Hawthorn teams, only to struggle conspicuously when the club has waned of late. The club is in an era of transition and he would represent greater value if he could be used to gain a valuable draft pick. He would be coveted by a contending club needing a small pressuring forward such as Greater Western Sydney. This could yield an early 2nd round pick.

Will Langford is also an interesting floater. Most fans would tout his name for trade, way before any mention of Puopolo. The club’s show of faith in Langford is based on his influence in our turnaround in 2017. When placed in the defensive forward role, he showed signs of being a defining influence. His burst speed made his pressuring acts elite. The main downside was his inability to make the most of opportunities in attack. His abysmal set shots for goal have been costly to the team.

At 25, faith needs to be shown in Langford and the club being able to rectify this issue. If it is fixed, Langford’s value to a young team would be immense.

If these deals came to fruition they would give the club the means to nab Impey and Saad.

The chase for Andrew Gaff is more problematic. His signature would rely on the use of a valued player(s) due to the club’s absence of high draft picks. It certainly brings into focus how ill advised the club was in using their first round selection for 2017 as a means to seal the Jaeger O’Meara trade at the end of 2016. No doubt O’Meara will be a star, but trading another player would have been a better way to finalise that transaction.

An interesting name to offer up would be Ben Stratton. The re-invented backline in the second half of this season gives this idea credence. He is an elite marking backman that is capable on all types of forwards. He could bring in a late first round pick that could be used in a package to gain Gaff.

The club would ideally like to keep a respected player such as Stratton, but the reality is that you need to give something of value to receive similar. This needs to be embraced on the back of the club needing to address its obvious need for speed.

If it does not, a similar absence from the finals in 2018 is likely.

Advertisements

Jeff Kennett back at Hawthorn helm

 

In looking at Hawthorn’s recent history, I am a firm believer that Jeff Kennett was the difference between winning and losing the 2012 Flag.

The Hawks finished the Home and Away season as minor premiers , which should have seen them earning  a top seeding in the finals.  It would have represented a crucial advantage in Preliminary Final week where the Hawks would have been given the early game rather than the later one.  When Sydney gained that benefit (after finishing third in the Home and Away Season) it  made all the difference  because the extra recovery time gave them an enormous advantage and played a huge role in their eventual Grand Final win.

There is no way the AFL would have pulled this if Kennett was still President at the Club. The former Victorian Premier was always known for his vocal outbursts, often intrusive, disruptive and ill advised.  He was a force to be reckoned with, and he gave the impression that anything going against the Hawthorn Football Club would have consequences.

This decision was shamelessly biased towards Sydney. It would have been greeted by Kennett going on a war footing with the AFL,  to the extent  that he may have taken legal action against the AFL.

The irony is this demeanour is not “the Hawthorn way”, a term coined by the immortal Ron Cook whilst serving as President (1980-87). He defined the culture of the club with his old fashioned sternness and was a completely modest and selfless figure. He was the driving force in so many capacities for the Club.  A stand out example was beating the Blues in the recruiting war over Peter Hudson in the 1960’s.

The famed sausage sizzle was Cook’s doing, on face value a small event.  But what it symbolized was profound, as it underpinned the Hawks reputation as the “Family Club”.  There were no boundaries between star players to the people from the back blocks.

Cook  was behind procuring Allan Jeans as coach in 1980.  He was also pivotal in getting Ian Dicker to command the fight against the Melbourne takeover of the club in 1996, both of these instances highlighting the modest character of both men. Both figures were averse to any flashiness, further defining the “Hawthorn Way”.

Kennett on many levels defies this. His return to the club as President in the wake of current events leaves me torn.  Kennett has been re-installed after a previous 6 year term as President  (2005-11). After the current President Richard Garvey tendered his resignation,  the failed venture of Tracey Gaudrey as the club’ s CEO was pivotal in Garvey’s departure.

In regard to the running of the club, Kennett will be exceptional. The concern I have with him is from a cultural viewpoint. As the club sits now there needs to be a real focus in mending the fracture felt in the supporter base.

The news of Luke Hodge joining Brisbane on a two year contract after retiring from the Club leaves a bitter taste,  and one question remains as to why the club was willing to let him retire, rather than knowing about his desire to play on.  In a time of transition for the club with many youngsters still green, he still would have been a pivotal figure in their growth.   Instead, he will serve the same role for the Brisbane Lions. The same concern existed last year in response to the Club shunting other legends, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis out the door.

This will not be easy. It will rely on Kennett delving into some old style Hawthorn values or getting some real Hawthorn people into the Club to assist.

Despite these concerns, no doubt there will be many fans happy to have this colourful but professional leader back at the helm.

Will Hawthorn hold firm?

The predominant talk coming out of Hawthorn is that it will remain fairly inactive this trade period. It seems the Hawks are choosing to hold firm this year, after last year’s trade period which left us all in a state of stunned shock.

Based on the team’s results from the second half of this season, where it ranked 6th in the AFL, it is a sound strategy. After a very disappointing first half to 2017, Hawthorn’s revival was inspired by a heavy injection of youth, borne out of necessity given the number of injuries to its experienced players.

Assuming a full list, this could be the starting 22 for 2018:

B: Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, Blake Hardwick
HB: Grant Birchall, James Sicily, Ben Stratton
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara
HF: Jack Gunston, Tim O’Brien, Cyril Rioli
F: Luke Breust, Jarryd Roughead, Will Langford
R: Ben McEvoy, Ryan Burton, Liam Shiels

INT from- Taylor Duryea, Jonathan Ceglar, Ryan Schoenmakers, Kaiden Brand, Paul Puopolo,Ricky Henderson

On paper, this team looks very impressive. It is a line-up that should be capable of challenging for a return to the finals.

The only stand out weakness is the absence of outside pace. This was a key issue for the Hawks in 2017, as exposed late in the season by a slick Tigers outfit, which sliced the Hawks to ribbons with their lethal run. It would be in keeping with the Hawks’ form guide to address this need. After all, they have a recruiting ethos of never sitting on their hands and addressing immediate issues.

The club suffered badly after Brad Hill left to Fremantle at the end of 2016. Billy Hartung was a logical replacement however he has been largely frustrating and only shown glimpses of brilliance. This created a domino effect that ultimately crashed on Isaac Smith, who had a down season without the support that Hill used to provide.

In order to rectify this problem, it was surprising the club wasn’t active in pursuing Lachie Whitfield, the young outside runner who recently re-signed with GWS. The reticence to approach Whitfield could be attributed to worries about his past issues. The greater reality is that the club is limited in its trading capacity this season with an absence of attractive high draft picks to facilitate such a trade. There are a few young players that could set up such a deal, however rather than hand these over to a rival club, these are all players that the club would want to build a present and future around.

If rumours that Sun Adam Saad is available are to be believed, he would represent a perfect fit for the team. He is a young, skilled player with blistering pace. In mentioning Saad, the same frustration exists. The Suns would want a top 10 draft pick in return, or a player they deem as worthy of such an exchange and the Hawks are unlikely to want to give up one of these players.

Players such as Paul Puopolo, Will Langford, Taylor Duryea, Billy Hartung and Brendan Whitecross, amongst others, are sure to be available, but would represent little value.

Floating a player such as Luke Breust would offer an attractive bargaining chip but the small forward vetoed any trade attempts during the 2016 Jaeger O’Meara dealings. The club re-signed him on a long term basis earlier this year and has showed many statements of support throughout this season in how valued he is at the club.

Looking at past evidence, the club would be wise to address its pace issues like when they drafted Isaac Smith who had, at the time, been burning it up for North Ballarat in the VFL. The VFL has many untapped gems such as Nelson Lane at Box Hill, for example. He is the type of player the Club should look at drafting with a later pick, or picking up through the rookie draft. Scouring the WAFL and SANFL is another good course of action. Young defender Harrison Petty from Norwood is one to focus on at the draft table.

Two interesting names linked to the club are Devon Smith from GWS and Rory Thompson from the Suns. The mention of Smith seems to indicate that Puopolo is on borrowed time. Smith would offer a younger replacement in the small forward role and has the benefit of also being a competent midfielder. Both could swap places in a direct exchange however Hawthorn would have to add something to seal the deal. It seems both clubs are interested in these respective players.

Thompson’s link to the club is intriguing due to the abundance of tall backs we already have. It could mean one of the trio of Frawley, Brand or Heatherley being traded. A more tantalising prospect is the club looking to reinvent Thompson as a contested marking forward. The failure of Ty Vickery in his first year at the club makes this a possibility.

Away from trades, or drafting, free agency is the club’s best option.

Tom Rockliff should be a potential target. He is a player that would add much needed depth to the club’s midfield as well as reinforcing the team’s leadership. The new leadership group of Jarryd Roughead as a first year Captain supported by deputies Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith were largely uninspiring and disappointing throughout the 2017 season. The retirement of Luke Hodge brings this into direct focus. No one can come near to replacing the lauded ‘General’. But Rockliff would represent a similar presence that Russell Greene did for the club after joining from St. Kilda in 1980. Like Greene, Rockliff offers the club a player with real versatility – one that is able to operate with similar distinction in either a defensive or attacking role.

Acquiring the ex Captain of Brisbane and previous All-Australian would come about merely by meeting Rockliff’s financial demands, which going on the touted $300,000 that the Lions offered him would not be at great expense.

Has men’s tennis become boring?

‘Boring’ is a term that I never thought I would associate with men’s grand slam tennis, but that was my overwhelming reaction to watching this year’s US Open, one that saw Rafael Nadal prevail in a straight sets surgical dissection of South African Kevin Anderson.

The victory was yet another example of the renaissance of tennis’ ageing icons. Incredibly, in recent times Roger Federer and Nadal have split the four grand slams between them. The unexpected success of the beloved duo has set social media ablaze with rejoicing. Amidst this adulation, debate has again raged over who is considered the greatest player of all time with Nadal’s 16 grand slam victories three shy of Federer’s astonishing haul of 19.

Unfortunately this obsession for individual glory has been at the expense of the men’s game as a whole. There was the promise of new talent coming through at the beginning of 2017 with young phenoms Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev touted to lead the charge of ‘generation next’. The rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov was seen by many as finally living up to his nickname of ‘Baby Fed’. Incendiary Aussie Nick Kyrgios was also viewed as a grand slam threat, if he could only discover the dedication and drive to bring his outrageous skills to fruition.

The hope of any of these players ushering in a new generation has been exposed as a false dawn. Of these, only Thiem and Dimitrov have made it to the semi finals at a grand slam, only to fall short. The Bulgarian was desperately unlucky to lose to Nadal at the Australian Open in a 5 set thriller after failing to convert match points in the decider and Thiem was smashed by Nadal in a 3 set romp at the French Open. A grim precursor for the young Austrian was in the 4th round at the recent US Open, when Thiem had an obviously stricken Juan Martin Del Potro there for the taking but failed to put him away.

It brings to mind the struggles of the previous generation of players that were touted as being the ‘next big things’. Names such as Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Gael Monfils from France, Kei Nishikori from Japan and Tomas Berdych from the Czech Republic were all viewed as certain stars. These players came so close but failed to live up to their hype. Only Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic from that generation have delivered on the biggest stage.

Excuses for failing to reach the top were valid when Federer and Nadal were at their peak. During this period it was an impossible mission to usurp the two masters for grand slam glory. 2017, however, offered no reason for a youngster not to make a championship run. Federer and Nadal are playing fine tennis but are hardly the invincible players they were in the past. With both players well into their 30’s, it’s almost surreal that Federer is still winning championships at 36. Djokovic has been injured and seems to be lacking the relentless drive that saw him first break the stranglehold of the aforementioned icons and then go on to dominate with 11 majors over a 5 year period and 12 in total. Past winners and perennial threats, Andy Murray and Wawrinka have also been plagued by injury and have missed multiple grand slam events.

The reality is any of these ‘great hopes’ have been exposed as merely hype and this has damaged the appeal of the men’s game. Let us hope a much needed phase of transition is ushered in, led by the name on every pundits lips of late, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.

View from the Outer, Week One, Finals

Adelaide versus Greater Western Sydney

The Crows accentuated their billing as flag favourites by smashing an insipid Giants outfit.

They were commanded by ruckman Sam Jacobs in a dominant display where he controlled the taps and was very effective in his around the ground work. Jacobs lorded over his direct rival, Giants’ ruckman Shane Mumford in what turned out to be the decisive dual in the game. This deprived the Giants of Mumford’s crucial purpose as an enforcer that is usually a source of inspiration for his fellow teammates. With his influence being tamed, the Giants stood out for how meek they were in succumbing to the cauldron-like atmosphere of Adelaide Oval.

Adelaide used similar tactics to those used by Geelong against the Giants. They caged their exit out of defence which in turn stifled their lethal defensive rebounders. This pressure caused many decisive turnovers which led to Crows’ goals as well as skewing the Giant’s entries into their forward 50. This facilitated the Crows’ skilled rebounding backmen who sliced the Giants to ribbons in transition on the spread.

Adelaide’s forward line was reminiscent of a murderers row with Eddie Betts having a field day on Heath Shaw. The veteran Giant is a brilliant defensive rebounder however is too exploitable in finals due to him playing too loose. The danger of Betts was enhanced by the unyielding work rate of the other forwards.

The Crows’ defence dominated the Giants vaunted forward line and their midfield, led by Matt Crouch, was superb.

Looking ahead:

Adelaide– It will require a powerful team to beat the Crows for this year’s flag, particularly when you consider that Rory Sloane is set to come back into their team.

Greater Western Sydney– The Giants are in trouble with opposition teams now figuring them out. They also have a few passengers on their bus when the heat is at its most intense. Next week at home should see them beat the Eagles, but it is hard to see them getting past a rampant Richmond outfit at a packed MCG, full of rabid Tigers fans, in the preliminary final.

Geelong versus Richmond

This final reminded me of the old boxing adage – work on the body to take an opponent’s mind. The Tigers hit the Cats hard and often in every contest which led to numerous turnovers due to Geelong players being pressured into skill errors by foot.

The other stand out was that Geelong was exposed as being good merely as a home and away team. This loss sealed a 3/9 win and loss record in recent finals which highlights how they come up short against quality teams when the pressure is at its most intense.

As for the Tigers, one cannot come up with enough superlatives. Dustin Martin stole all the headlines for one of the best finals games seen in the modern era. It was certainly up there with Anthony Koutafides’ performance in the 1999 preliminary final when Carlton played Essendon. Trent Cotchin and Alex Rance deserve similar acclaim.

However the victory was more about the evenness throughout Richmond’s 22. Whilst many of the Geelong team were found lacking, the Tigers had 22 red hot goers that all played their role. In defence of Geelong, their prospects were not helped by Joel Selwood obviously playing whilst unfit and Cam Guthrie being injured early in the contest.

The relentless pressure by the Tigers was intense and unyielding which exposed the many weak links in the Cats’ team and exploited them to the hilt.

An interesting aside was the Tigers forward line. It was reminiscent of when Hawthorn made Buddy Franklin a decoy forward which enabled greater scoring avenues. A similar scenario was created by Richmond with Jack Riedwoldt going from being the key forward that the Tigers live or die by to being still a dangerous entity but one that the team no longer has an unhealthy reliance on.

Their defence is also superb, commanded by the stellar Alex Rance and surrounded by a host of defenders who are also very effective in shutting down attacks.

Looking ahead:

Richmond– Through to the preliminary final and a warm favourite to make the grand final.

Geelong– Look like dead men walking, and will be eliminated by a red hot Sydney team next week.

Sydney versus Essendon

There was an air of inevitability about this game which saw a young Essendon team, who had exceeded expectations by making the finals, come up against a finals-hardened Swans outfit. Sydney has been in blitzing form throughout the second half of the season and the game stuck true to the script with the battle-hardened Swans smashing the Dons.

The key was the raft of Sydney midfielders led by Captain Josh Kennedy dominating the contested football stakes. They obliterated the Essendon midfielders in tight, in the process hitting them hard and often and overpowering their senses.

The pressure was relentless and it exposed the Dons’ inexperience. The young team was not able to stand up to the finals intensity and instead cowered in its wake.

Looking forward:

Sydney– It is hard to see how they will stumble against a Cats team on borrowed time next week. This should set up an epic preliminary final in Adelaide against the Crows.

Essendon– The Dons will dust themselves off and challenge again from 2018 onwards. Depending on their trading period, they are a threat for top 4 next year.

Port Adelaide versus West Coast Eagles

The victim mentality galled in the wake of this game, with many attributing Port’s loss to the last second free kick to Luke Shuey- an incorrect decision which set up the match winning goal.

This focus took away from Port Adelaide’s inability to execute adequately in key moments. The stand out was their dreadful goal kicking highlighted by Charlie Dixon kicking 3.6. It was not just their inexplicable kicking for goal but also some dreadful turnovers in key moments.

The focus on Port Adelaide takes away from the very accomplished performance by the Eagles that was full of grit and defiance in the face of being written off before this game. It was a performance commanded by a trio of soon to retire veterans, Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis and Drew Petrie.

Looking ahead:

Port Adelaide– An off season of soul searching is required in the wake of this unacceptable performance.

West Coast Eagles– Will be facing the Giants “away” in a game that few will give them a hope in. The key will be whether they can back up last night’s momentous performance.

The evolution of Nathan Lyon’s bowling

Playing in Asian conditions, Australian off spinner Nathan Lyon has had a remarkable turnaround this year. It has reminded me of that age old baseball cliché about the difference between ‘hurlers’ and ‘pitchers’. Like a performer embracing the subtleties of their profound craft, Lyon has impressed with his spin bowling in recent times.

He has resembled a wrecking ball in Asia this calendar year, taking 41 wickets at an average of 19.39 with an economy rate of 2.69. These figures seem even more remarkable considering they include a 4 test series against a dominant Indian team playing in home conditions. This is a far cry from his previous struggles in Asia where he has averaged 42.57, with an economy rate of 3.67.

Most have attributed Lyon’s previous struggles to the fact he lacks a ‘doosra’ in his bowling arsenal. But the key has been more due to him getting caught up in the accent on spin rather than the embrace of guile. It is reminiscent of the common mistake visiting quick bowlers used to make on the old style fast and bouncy WACA pitch. Often being colluded by the conditions and bowling too short and going for plenty of runs. While witnessing those who pitched it up having the best success.His previous approach revolved around his characteristic heavy over spin style attacking an off stump, or just outside off stump line. He would try to accentuate his spin by bowling at around 80-85km. These tactics made it too easy for batsmen to rock onto the back foot and turn the spinning ball to the leg side or sweep Lyon’s fuller length balls.

Lyon’s recent success has revolved around a similar line, supported by a subtle upping in speed, which has been made more lethal by him bowling more arm balls. The irony of this change in tactics is that he would have witnessed the Australian batsmen struggling in Asia, falling predominantly to the ball that goes gun barrel straight, rather than the one that spins square.

It stood out in the recent test held in Chittagong where the first 4 wickets in Bangladesh’s first innings fell LBW to Lyon. Each time there was a wicket, the commentators exalted how the batsman was dismissed due to them ‘playing for spin’ rather than straight ones. The seed of doubt it planted in the rest of the batsmen was profound as they knew they must guard against this lethal variation, making Lyon an even more dangerous force when he did spin the ball. The sublime deception that Lyon bowls with reminds this old sage of the great Indian off spinner Erapilli Prasanna with his devastating arm ball delivery. In fact he would bowl with a duo of arm balls, both with no discernible change in action, but one, ever so slightly turning the other way.

With Lyon showing he is a profound student, it is clearly a case of imitation. If he could master the Prasanna variation of the arm ball it would make him even more devastating. For unlike the stand out change in an off spinners’ delivery when bowling the ‘doosra’, this would remain undetectable as most batsmen already show they have no clue at picking Lyon’s straight ball.

From a career stand point it is often lost on onlookers that at 29, Lyon is a virtual babe in spinning parlances. One only has to look at the success that great Sri Lankan left arm spinner Rangana Herath has enjoyed since turning 30, with 353 of his 389 test wickets coming after his 30th birthday. With his recent successes in Asia and after being a respected force in a noted graveyard for off spinners back home, it would not surprise me to see Lyon end his test career with 600 test wickets.

Back to the here and now – Lyon completed the 2nd innings with 6/60 to finish the test with 13 wickets. In fact, his match figures of 13/154 in the recent test were the best figures by any Australian in Asia.

Who will win the 2017 AFL flag?

Spring means the beginning of the AFL finals, which morphs everyone and anyone into an expert on who will make the Grand Final and who will ultimately triumph.

I am part of that throng and here are my thoughts on the eight teams that have a chance at glory this year.

Adelaide Crows

The Crows have the team to win it, aided by having a home advantage through to the Grand Final if they win. They are a breathtaking attacking force. They excel at quick football that is set up by a lethally skilled rebounding defence which culminates into a murderer’s row type attack. If you allow them to get out into space, they are nigh on unbeatable.

The main question mark against them is whether they have the mindset to get it done when it matters most. This was put to the test recently in their finals-like game against the Swans where they failed to win.

Key man – Rory Sloane – A great player, but is in doubt for the first final against GWS after recently having his appendix out. If he is out, it will be a huge blow for the Crows.

Verdict– will win the first week to go directly though to the Preliminary Final but then will be taken out by Sydney.

Geelong Cats

The Cats were impressive in dispatching GWS in the final round. This result was achieved without their inspirational skipper and key play maker Joel Selwood. It alleviated concerns about their over reliance on too few of their players in big games. The depth in their 22 has been enhanced by the likes of Menegola, Guthrie, Parfitt and Buzza stepping up along with recruits such as Zack Tuohy adding to their line up.

Heading into the first week of the finals, their prospects would have been helped if they had a home final at Simonds Stadium but having the game against Richmond scheduled at the MCG could prove decisive.

Key Man: Sam Menegola- A player that always sneaks under opposition radars with his cleverness coming to the fore in key moments.

Verdict: I think the Tigers will beat them in a heart stopper in week one and then the Cats will go out in straight sets to the eventual Premiers, Sydney.

Richmond Tigers

The Tigers could emulate the Bulldogs from last year by ending their 37 year premiership drought. They have a brilliant midfield commanded by Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin. Their forward line is a very dangerous one with many scoring avenues and is also hard working from a defensive stand point. Their defence is arguably the team’s strong point with the peerless Alex Rance viewed by many as being the best player in the game. David Astbury has accentuated the might of Rance by consistently dominating in the key defensive post. The backline is completed by a whole host of no name defenders that rarely receive due praise for how effective they are.

Key Man- Shaun Grigg – The Tigers have only played one ruckman all season by using Grigg as the second ruck. It is a high risk but high reward ploy which accentuates the Tigers’ speed orientated game style but leaves them susceptible to getting smashed in the ruck and associated clearances. This is a key factor in finals and means that Grigg has to be adequate as a second ruck.

Verdict – Will beat Geelong in the first week to go directly through to the Preliminary Final. They will make the Grand Final but fall to the Sydney Swans.

Greater Western Sydney

This team should be on the verge of a dynasty with their outrageous talent and depth to match.

The worry for the Giants is that oppositions have countered them with new tactics by caging their lethal running rebounders out of defence. The young team has struggled with this in the Home and Away season and it is doubtful whether they can prevail against it in the cauldron of finals.

If they can counter this, they still have the team to win it all. The key will be beating Adelaide in the first week which would set up a home final.

Key Man– Shane Mumford- The big ruck is, in a sense, this team’s godfather. He could pick up the team and carry them on his back if he dominates.

Verdict– Will make the Preliminary Final through the long way around but their dream will end here.

The Sydney Swans

After starting 2017 7-nil, the Swans ended the season firing on all cylinders. They have been there and done that and will have a real fire in their belly to salute once more after coming up short in recent years. Their midfield is full of multi faceted types that can cut you with their attacking instincts as well as suffocate with their defensive acumen. Their defence is very solid and disciplined and well supported by their hard working midfielders. In attack, they used to have an unhealthy reliance on Buddy Franklin in previous seasons. This has, however, been alleviated with the likes of Sam Reid and Tom Papley becoming trusted avenues along with the likes of Isaac Heeney and Gary Rohan who are dangerous when floating forward.

Key Man- Gary Rohan– The only concern is their weakness against teams with real pace. They lack outside runners which will place a great deal of pressure on Gary Rohan.

Verdict– Will win the flag from 5th.

Port Adelaide

The Power are hard to get a grasp on. They have a team on paper that should be a match for anyone, only to be found out when they come up against other rivals in big games.

Despite this, they still have match winners on every line to give hopes of a run deep into September. With All Australian ruckman Patrick Ryder and many other proven performers such as Boak, Gray and Wingard, they are a dangerous sleeper that could take the finals by storm.

Key Man- Charlie Dixon– When the big forward performs, it takes the Power to another level.

Verdict– Will dispense with the Eagles in week one, but their dreams will end in the next round.

Essendon Bombers

Essendon has become this year’s feel good story by making the finals after being penalised last year due to drug suspensions. They are a young team on the rise that are sure to challenge in the next few years.

Verdict: Every fairytale has a big bad meanie in it. The Dons will discover this at the hands of a red hot Swans team that will eliminate them.

West Coast Eagles

In truth, the Eagles were lucky to make the finals.

If Nic Natanui was fit and able, I would list them as a dangerous sleeper team. But, without their difference maker, they lack an X-factor needed in finals. This could be provided by players like Darling or Gaff starring in the midfield.

Also forward, they have an unhealthy reliance on Josh Kennedy for their goals. To have a chance in the finals, they need to find some other avenues to goal.

Verdict -Their luck will run out against Port Adelaide.

Prediction:

Sydney versus Richmond Grand Final with the Swans winning by 4 goals and Isaac Heeney winning the Norm Smith Medal.