Hawthorn v Collingwood
Hawthorn were more than convincing for most of the season and, more importantly, are almost back to full fitness (yes, Brent Guerra fell last week with a hamstring).
Collingwood are far harder to gauge. Their tail end of the season was disappointing — big losses in round 21 and 22 against North and West Coast really threw off the radar.
The good news is that Travis Cloke returned to form last week with the forward line all to himself in a four-goal performance. The bad news is Buckley has brought Chris Dawes back into the side (kick a goal mate), which will probably hurt the sensitive Cloke’s feelings.
Hawthorn looks like they’ll get up in this one. It would take a massive turnaround for the Magpies to win week one.
Adelaide v Sydney
Sydney lost a lot of ground — and respect — in losing their final two home and away games against Hawthorn and at Geelong. They’ll have to get past at least one of those teams to get to the Grand Final, and like Collingwood, we’ll need a big turnaround this week to believe it.
Adelaide flew under the radar for much of the year, but they are as elite as they come. If you are an opposing coach looking at that midfield — Thompson, Dangerfield, Sloane, Van Berlo — and not having aneurysms, then you’re doing well, but then to look at the guys down back and the pairing of Walker and Tippet forward, with some good smalls beneath them, is simply too much. Adelaide are dangerous. Watch out.
Geelong v Fremantle
Geelong come into this one as the heavy favourites, but let’s not get too hasty.
Many will point to 2010 when Fremantle played their last finals game and were thumped, also against Geelong, also at the MCG. But this time, the circumstances have changed; they have a stronger midfield, they defend and they’re healthy.
Both clubs suffered blows early in the week when they learned Stevie Johnson (suspension) and Luke McPharlin (hamstring) would miss. Freo’s double ruck combination of Sandilands and Griffin was given the axe and the possibly underdone Alex Silvagni comes in and will get the assignment on either Hawkins or Podsiadly — a huge win for Geelong.
Expect Fremantle to fight, but it will be a huge ask for them to win this one. Regardless, it’s been a great season for the Purple Army.
West Coast v North Melbourne
Had North turned up against GWS in round 23 and won by a realistic target of around 100, they would have given themselves a chance of playing a home final against Geelong. Instead, they have the very difficult task of travelling across the country to take on the Eagles in Perth. Ouch.
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