It's finally time for AFL finals.
As we prepare for an October-fest of footy action, we look at each of the eight finalists and how they are shaping in the battle for the premiership cup.
The injury list: The Power have the smallest injury list of any of the finalists. Ryan Burton (quad) and Tom Clurey (hamstring) are expected to be available but Mitch Georgiades (hamstring) will be touch and go.
Room for improvement: The two areas that stand out for the Power in their three defeats (Brisbane Lions, St Kilda and Geelong) are these: on each occasion they failed to score 50 or more points, and they were crunched in contested possession. Their opponents also put a big score on the board – St Kilda, with 73 points, the least. What they must ensure is that if they are beaten in the contest, this doesn't necessarily mean they are hammered on the scoreboard.
Travis Boak.Credit:Getty Images
Watch out for: A forward line that is clicking. There had been too great a reliance on Charlie Dixon but that has changed in recent weeks. They had 10 goal kickers against Essendon and seven in the final-round win over Collingwood that secured top spot. Dixon kicked only one against the Magpies but his presence was huge. The Power are the best in the league at keeping the ball in their forward half and have the likes of Robbie Gray and Steven Motlop ready to swoop.
Flag chances: The Power are the first team since Essendon in 2000 to sit atop the ladder all season – and the Bombers went on to claim the flag. There is no reason not to think the Power cannot repeat this. A home final against Geelong is a bonus. They boast depth, excellent ball movement and a team-first defence.
The injury list: Key defender Harris Andrews remains a touch and go proposition due to a hamstring injury he suffered in round 15 but he is optimistic he will play against the Tigers. His inclusion would be a gamble but the Lions have a good injury management record.
Room for improvement: Goalkicking accuracy stands out because if the Lions don't improve that area of their game they won't win the flag. They kicked 4.17 against Richmond and 6.14 against St Kilda and can't have a repeat of such profligacy in the finals, having kicked a combined 19.31 in their two finals last season when they were eliminated in straight sets.
Watch out for: It's a lot to ask of a small forward but the Lions' chances rest heavily on Charlie Cameron who has shown sign in recent weeks that he is bouncing back to his best. Dylan Grimes has had Cameron's measure in recent encounters but if the 26-year-old Lion wants to leave a lasting imprint on the season, a repeat of his 2017 preliminary final against Geelong when he kicked five goals would do the trick.
Flag chances: A preliminary final berth would be a step forward for the Lions in the eyes of most although they won't see it that way. Having not left Queensland since July a win over Richmond would guarantee they don't leave the state again in 2020 and give them a rails run into a home grand final. Their forward line doesn't seem to be capable of winning the flag but they will not get more things in their favour this season. In racing parlance they are a chance at odds.
The injury list: The focus is on Tom Lynch, who hurt his hamstring in round 17. Dion Prestia (ankle) continues to push for his first match since round five. Shai Bolton (calf) faces a fitness test.
Room for improvement: Hard to find a major weakness. This may be more about off-field issues, for Damien Hardwick has said his club had tarnished its reputation through a series of well-documented issues. On the field, the respect has never been greater, and having won eight of their past nine matches, it's little wonder the defending champions are favoured by bookies to grab back-to-back flags. A scary thought is that they can improve should Prestia return.
Watch out for: It's hard to go past Dustin Martin. In a season when some of the club's big names have been in and out of the side, Martin has been a constant. He warmed up for the finals with 28 disposals, 16 contested possessions, six inside 50s, six score involvements and almost 500m gained against Adelaide. The dual Norm Smith medallist loves the big stage, and there is little to suggest he doesn't have another six-goal performance in him, as he did against the Lions in last year's qualifying final.
Flag chances: The Tigers are aiming for 16 straight wins over the Lions – and there is no reason not to think they won't prevail in the qualifying final. Three premierships in four years would make this officially a golden era. They are the league's best territory team and have flourished at the Gabba this year. They have two match-winning key forwards, a robust midfield, an organised defence and a game plan built on pressure. The only concern is if ruckman Toby Nankervis gets hurt.
The injury list: Careful management of Joel Selwood has him primed to be in top shape during the finals while Rhys Stanley should be available having battled a groin injury in recent weeks. Tom Atkins was rested for the final game but whether he wins a spot back remains to be seen with Gary Ablett locked in for finals.
Room for improvement: Geelong need to start better than they did in three of the final four rounds of the season with the Western Bulldogs and Richmond keeping them goalless and Sydney kicking the first three goals of the final round match. Slow starts happen when the Cats are beaten around the contest and particularly at centre clearances so they need to be switched on against Port Adelaide or their defence will come under too much pressure.
Watch out for: Patrick Dangerfield's performance will determine the Cats' fate with Geelong once again flirting with the idea of pushing him forward to upset opposition defences occupied with Tom Hawkins, Gary Ablett and Gary Rohan. He has played forward before in finals and had an impact but he must kick straight for the Cats to make enough gains to justify moving him out of the midfield.
Flag chances: Rough but real. They might be the third-best team in it again having revamped their midfield to cover for Tim Kelly's loss and the absence of Selwood through injury and Ablett for family reasons. They have remodelled the midfield on the run and had great performances from Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor at either end of the ground. Making the grand final might be a bigger hurdle than winning it if they get there.
The injury list: The rehabilitation group at West Coast is big, but thanks to the pre-finals bye their inclusions for the elimination final will too be long. Mark Hutchings (hamstring), Lewis Jetta (calf), Josh Kennedy (ankle), Jeremy McGovern (hamstring), Jack Redden (thumb) and captain Luke Shuey (hamstring) are all listed as "test". Elliott Yeo is out for the season and Jamie Cripps is available after baby duties.
Luke Shuey.Credit:Getty Images
Room for improvement: It's been difficult to judge the Eagles because of their heavy injury toll towards the end the season. But if they want to win they flag they will likely have to beat Richmond, and based on their round 14 loss there is room to get better there. Richmond were far too swift for the Eagles at ground level and kept the ball out of the Eagles' aerial zone.
Watch out for: Hard to know where to look when it comes to the Eagles. You need to stop McGovern marking everything (he is the most in doubt to make the first final), stop Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Liam Ryan dominating the forward 50 and, most of all, somehow negate the influence of Nic Naitanui's ruck supremacy, which then flows onto their midfield stars getting off the chain. Naitanui has been transformative with his tap work and follow-up contests.
Flag chances: West Coast are the best chance of any team from outside the top four to win the premiership. They've done it before and in that dismantling of Collingwood earlier in the year played arguably the best footy seen all season. But, they haven't brought their best to Queensland and hub living. To win the flag they'll at least need to stay there for two weeks and win two games away from home.
The injury list: The Saints have had a fairly good run of injuries this season, save for the campaign-ending back injury for midfield/forward spark Jade Gresham. The one concern is the absence of midfield speedster Zak Jones, who injured his hamstring on September 10. However, with the pre-finals bye, he is expected to be fit ahead of the clash with the Western Bulldogs. Jack Lonie (knee) and Josh Battle (ankle) are listed as "test" but both played in the Saints' final round match.
Room for improvement: The Saints should have qualified for the finals before the last match of their season, which speaks to the fact they missed reasonable opportunities to win games and shore up their first top eight finish since 2011. This is the concern then, that they will be in a winnable position against the Dogs but will fail to close out the game. This happened against the Eagles in the season's penultimate round when they were defeated from a position of strength, holding a lead and playing a side smashed by injury.
Watch out for: Dan Butler. He somehow missed All-Australian selection, but anyone who watched at least a handful of Saints games this season knows his matchwinning abilities. His speed and cleanliness around goal as well as his pressure in the forward 50 were elite. Another recruit, Brad Hill, has been eye catching this season but hasn't taken a game by the scruff of the neck. Admittedly that might not be his style, but if he can use his significant finals experience and raise his out put slightly, the Saints will be dangerous.
Flag chances: The Saints winning would be the most extraordinary effort of any side in the eight. That's based on their finals inexperience and the club's premiership drought. It would give the Western Bulldogs' 2016 fairytale a serious nudge. However, even when challenged this season – particularly when they missed chances to secure their finals spot – this side has responded. Their chances remain slim, but if all their weapons fire and they get some out-of-the-box efforts from capable youngsters like Hunter Clark and Max King, then who knows?
St Kilda’s Dan ButlerCredit:Getty Images
The injury list: All eyes here are on Aaron Naughton, the key forward who had his cheekbone fractured against the Dockers. Mitch Wallis (shoulder), Laitham Vandermeer (hamstring) and Matthew Suckling (hamstring) are also in a race against time. Callum Porter, Rhylee West, Toby McLean and Lin Jong won't play. Josh Schache (Achilles soreness) is expected to be available.
Room for improvement: It's difficult to pinpoint a major issue considering they have won five of their past six matches but the forward line will need to lift if Naughton is ruled out. He remains hopeful of playing but his absence would hurt. There could be more change if Josh Bruce, whose wife is due to give birth in early October, is out. Key defenders Zaine Cordy and Alex Keath could be thrown forward, while another option is to go small.
Watch out for: The Bulldogs need Tim English to have an impact – and not only in the ruck. Luke Beveridge has thrown him forward more late in the season and the rewards have been telling. He booted two goals against Hawthorn and added two more in the must-win clash against Fremantle in round 18. He was manhandled by Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall in round two but Bulldogs onlookers say English continues to develop, and this could be a breakout campaign should the Dogs get past the Saints.
Emerging Bulldog Tim English.Credit:Getty Images
Flag chances: If there is one team that can do it the hard way, it's the Bulldogs, set for their fourth elimination final in six years. They head into the finals with momentum and there are shades of their magical premiership run of 2016. They are No.1 for ground balls and loose balls in the past five weeks and have a super-slick midfield featuring the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore and Lachie Hunter. Naughton needs to be fit if they are to go deep.
The injury list: Another year of horror Magpies injuries, but there's some light. Chris Mayne (cheek) is expected to be available, as is Will Kelly (elbow), Trey Ruscoe (hip) and Brayden Sier (quad). However, Jeremy Howe (knee) is done for the season, Steele Sidebottom – not injured but a new father – won’t return to the hub and Tom Langdon (knee) is at a career crossroads. Getting Jordan De Goey and Adam Treloar back from long-term injuries for the last two rounds was a blessing.
Room for improvement: Collingwood have the cattle to win the flag, save for an extra key forward, but with De Goey and Mason Cox in acceptable form it's their method that could hurt them more. They seem to be stuck either looking to control the ball through considered possession, or over-handballing their way into pressure and turnovers. Fans implore their side to play a more direct style and if they can do this with enough clever and direct ball inside 50 their unconventional forward mix could be more dangerous.
Watch out for: De Goey is crucial. His strength, marking ability and smarts at ground level make him a nightmare match up, and his penchant for kicking big bags make him the Pies' clear matchwinner. That run to the 2018 grand final was his benchmark, and he has performed to it in two of his last three games (albeit game one and two was split by injury).
Flag chances: Other than the win against Geelong, the Pies haven't really looked like a team capable of winning the premiership since the resumption of the season post the coronavirus shutdown. There isn't enough clicking with game plan and personnel – guys like Tom Phillips, Brayden Sier (both now injured), Brodie Grundy, Jaidyn Stephenson and Will Hoskin-Elliott are no longer playing out of their skins. They'd need to step up and support those having standout seasons for the Pies to win the flag.
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