Wednesday, August 31, 2011

AFL Finals predictions

by Matthew Wood and Ben Roberts
Collingwood - undoubted number 1 chance for the premiership. Thomas missing the first week will not hurt them that much.

Matt's take:  The most fancied side to repeat since the Lions' against the Pies in 2002.  There's not a single weakness in their squad and, crucially, they have depth in their lower list - a "foot soldier" can be adequately replaced, rather than bringing in real rookies. 

Geelong - Realise I could end up with egg on my face on this one, but their second place on the ladder is a bit of a furphy promoted by a true home ground advantage at Kardinia Park. Have watched them a few times this year and they look old, coupled with being shorn of Abletts they lack the 'zazz' that made them unstoppable at times during 2007-2010. Its no shame - they have had their period in the sun and based on the AFL model may have gone longer at the top than reasonably expected. (EIC Matt currently yelling 'tag me in, tag me in!' WWF-style). That being said as Nick Davis once tried to say 'Form is temporary, class is permanent' (still not sure who he was referring to). Despite age, there is still class at the Cattery and they remain a chance. Number 4 challenger for Collingwood.

Matt's take:  I reckon the Cats have peaked for the year, but still probably have what it takes to be reckoned Collingwood's greatest threat.  They have a multitude of forward options - who never seem to fire at once, unless we're playing Melbourne/Gold Coast - and a defence which, while aging, can shut down the best.  The midfield - formerly a strength - is now the greatest question mark no matter how good Kelly, Bartel and Selwood are.  Strangely, stalwart fringe players David Wojcinski and Shannon Byrnes may be the players most vital to a successful finals campaign.

Hawthorn - I saw the Hawks last weekend and have pegged them as the Number 1 challenger for Collingwood. They are as hard at the ball as any side, their weakness is in their skills. If their skills are good, they have the best chance of beating anyone. They were awful by hand and foot on Saturday, but by force of effort just kept pushing the ball forward. Hodge is brilliant at winning the ball in close and Franklin is amazing, particularly when the game needs him to do something amazing. Then they have 20 other 'foot soldiers' playing as harder football as I have seen.

Matt's take:  If only they weren't injury-prone.  I can't agree with Ben's lack of skill comment as they are perhaps the most precise mid-to-long range kicking squad in the league.  Their trump card, as always, is Buddy Franklin and if he gets quality supply from Lewis, Sewell et al, the Hawks leap the Cats as threats.  Jam the midfield and Buddy doesn't get the chances - it's all so easy in theory, isn't it?

West Coast - Surprise packet of the season. Helped by fortress Subiaco - but only will get one final there at most. Number 2 Challenger for Collingwood. Inexperience will also count against them but they are pretty much assured of a preliminary final spot. Prelims and Granny's are far more a lottery than the other finals - in fact I don't think coaches can do much after semi-finals which is why I reckon the dogs sacking Eade is the wrong call an completely unfair. If the weather is fine, Nick Nat puts on a show for the ages they could do the business.

Matt's take:  Famously, half-way through the 1996 season, Rodney Eade was asked if his Swans could go all the way to the Grand Final.  His reply was "No, I don't think so - history says you need to have a few seasons in the finals before you make [that] leap".  The Swans surprised, but my guess it actually applies here - the Eagles have to travel and don't do that as well as in their 2004-07 heyday. If they surprise Collingwood in Week One, they're a chance to go all the way but, with Collingwood, that's a really big "if".

Carlton - For the first time in ages, a team outside the Top Four may be a decent chance (say, greater than 5%) to win it all.  And there are two (StK is the other)! Can challenge Collingwood in the midfield, but are let down by a strictly-average defence and the fact Brett Thornton still gets a game. Inconsistent as any team in the finals. On their day, devastating, but when they're not on they are abysmal and too reliant upon Chris Judd. Number 3 Challenger for Collingwood is a a choice of youth over experience (Geelong), but I'll go with it. Believe Brett Ratten (like Dean Laidley was) is a coach who can only develop a team so far, and he has hit his ceiling. Trade tip - Bryce Gibbs back to Adelaide (hometown and club needing class), for Kurt Tippett (Carlton needing a stronger key forward than Waite).

Matt's take: They'll make a Preliminary Final, at least - because one of the teams above them will slip up.  They have the beating of Essendon in Week One (cop that, Bomber!) and, should their Top Four opponent not be on the ball - I'm looking at you, Corio Bay - then they will surprise.  Partly also because Judd/Murphy is becoming the New New Judd/Cousins, replacing Ablett/Bartel.  I love Ben's trade idea, as well. 

St Kilda - When I saw the Cats play the Saints at the 'G in June, it was perhaps the most painful night of my life. They were horrible and I vowed they would never win the flag with as morose an individual as Ross Lyon as coach. They had no second gear, plan B or creative vision that night apart from setting records for the number of taggers they employed. They have improved, winning six straight, and are even showing some attacking flair. This though only rates them Number 5 Challenger for Collingwood.

Matt's take: It will take superhuman efforts from Nick Riewoldt and co. to vault them into Preliminary Final week.  In opposition to Collingwood, their recruitment policy has been shown up for its horrible flaws - they have great blue chip talent (Riewoldt, Goddard etc) but players 30-40 on their list may as well play for Balwyn in the EFL.  

Sydney - Only the spirit that they can show when not the favourites gives them a whiff, but Adam Goodes is petulant when things aren't going his way. Number 6 challenger for Collingwood.

Matt's take: Can we play every game in Sydney?  No, not at the Olympic Stadium, at the SCG.  No?  OK, FOOTY TRIP TIME!!  Everyone remember to make sure both your girlfriends don't turn up at the same time to pick you up from the airport.

Essendon - Riddled with injury and too inconsisent. No hope. Number 7 Challenger for Collingwood.
Matt's take: As long as Hird has the team playing the way they  should, even making the finals in a strong season is reason to be satisfied.  Jimmy won't omit all his ruckmen, as Knights did two seasons ago, and nor should he as with mobile big men like Paddy Ryder and Tom Belchambers, the Dons look better set up in the middle than at any time since the late '80s when Simon Madden was in his pomp.

1 comment:

  1. Hawks are leading the league in effective disposals (wish I'd looked at this before I wrote the above!). They however were above their own average on the weekend and there isn't much of a spread between first and last on this ranking which begs the question how do you define an effective disposal?

    Maybe alter for the Hawks though even when their skills are off they can still force the ball forward better than any team.