Finals Week 1 Review
A tricky weekend of finals proved just that - we thought the Cats would turn up, but they were clearly below their best. The Swans outplayed the Giants everywhere but on the scoreboard and entered the Expected Score finals Hall of Fame.
Melbourne were clinical in the second half even though there was still plenty to like about the Lions. And finally, the weather turned the Dogs v Dons game into a bit of a coin flip - a few fortunate decisions to the Bulldogs and it was all over.
Does the umpiring have to adjust to the conditions as much as the players?
Clearly the intensity goes up in finals, but Port took it to another level on Friday night. Not sure we have ever seen them play that fast. Slick handball, manic pressure and a serious amount of gut running. They were on, the Cats were not.
Get ready for the usual overreaction to the losing sides with the double chance. Geelong and Brisbane don't lose their ability in a week, so they deserve to be clear favourites this weekend.
Toby in trouble again. He's a controversy magnet, unfortunately.
Who Won The Round?
Port Adelaide - a rung below the best teams for most of the year, now playing with close to their best 22 and a game style that is suited to a finals series. A few weeks back we wondered where their improvement would come from. Has it simply been their ability to embrace a smaller forward line? The talls just compete, and let the class at ground level get to work.
Who Lost The Round?
Sydney - should have easily won this game. The Giants were super brave but were very fortunate to escape and head into a Semi Final against Geelong. Expected score says it all...
Port Adelaide 86 def Geelong 43
Expected score: 92 v 57
This was a masterclass from Port Adelaide - we knew they could bring the pressure, and hinted at the fact Georgiades' injury paved the way for Port to set up a little smaller up forward. This has been an issue for the Cats previously, and it happened again - Fantasia, Motlop, Butters and Gray with 8 goals between them. Even the sub Powell-Pepper got in on the act with two of his own.
This game was the perfect Beat the Cats blueprint. Deny their uncontested marks (they dropped from averaging 93 marks in the regular season to only 66 on Friday night), pile a heap of pressure on (a 195 rating from Port, 200+ in the second half) and force the errors in your front half (Port 25, Geelong only 11 themselves). Seems easy, but Port executed things to perfection.
What do we do with the Cats? In most years the losing qualifying finalist is severely underrated the following week. Call it recency bias or whatever you like, but it's a clear pattern. They can beat the Giants of course. Just feel like they are a side carried by their top end talent and let down by their bottom six players far too often.
Port are airborne. Box seat for a Grand Final berth with another home prelim, and the likelihood of even more fans being allowed through the gates in two weeks time.
GWS 74 def Sydney 73
Expected score: 65 v 93
What just happened? We probably missed a trick here in siding with the game style that is more suited to finals football. But that expected score basically confirms the Swans blew it.
The loss of Kennedy and Mills through the middle was probably the clincher for Sydney. Even in the second half, they went -6 at clearances (-8 overall) and just couldn't find the right avenues to score. The ball spent plenty of time in their half (59%, the best of any finalist this week) but the Giants hung in there.
The prospect of a Toby-less Giants up against Geelong isn't a very exciting one. But still, they are built for finals football so anything could happen. The Swans would be gutted to lose after being a clear top-six side this year, yet encouraged by their progress in such a short space of time. Some help in defence might be the off-season priority. Do they give Daniel Talia a call? No one reinvigorates a recycled player better than the Swans. Tom Hickey the perfect example.
Melbourne 93 def Brisbane 60
Expected score: 89 v 66
What a game. We saw the clear flag favourites dismantle the highest scoring offence in the regular season with relative ease. Eight individual goalkickers, another incredibly even performance and not an injury to be seen.
Despite the scoreline (a few late goals blew the margin out a little), we can't underrate Brisbane going into next week. They still found a few holes in the best defence in the league, particularly out the back of the contest. There was enough there to suggest the Lions can still get to a preliminary final by beating the Bulldogs next week on their home deck. The Dogs defence is a world away from the rock solid Dees' back six.
Melbourne get to rest up in WA hotel jail and watch their potential opponents go head to head next Friday night. Most would be sneakily cheering for a GWS upset...
Western Bulldogs 85 def Essendon 36
Expected score: 78 v 59
This one was basically ruined as soon as the rain came down. The early signs for Essendon were quite good - defensively they were intercepting the ball quite well, and backing themselves on transition. Early scoreboard pressure eluded them, unfortunately, with several misses way more crucial than they looked at the time.
Did the Dogs get a good run from the officials? Yeah, probably. In a tough, tight contest in the rain some decisions are magnified with goals at a premium. Still, it wasn't the difference regardless. No side should go goalless in a final across two quarters unless they also keep their opponents in check. That didn't happen for Essendon. Five goals to zero in the final term when things were clearly not going to fall in their favour.
The Dogs might have found a little niche in the wet weather - their ability to knock the ball on or find a quick handball in the tough conditions went unnoticed by many. They are unlikely to get the same conditions in Queensland this weekend unfortunately. 24 degrees and sunny the early forecast.
A Thursday night mega-preview of both games. As usual, we will look at both sides and make a case for them winning. Clearly it looks like the favourites are in the box seat, but stranger things have happened. Can't wait to get stuck in.