After waiting a little longer than normal the finals series finally kicks off on Thursday night.
Whilst at times the season appeared to mirror that of a marathon, the final four weeks of the season is more of a sprint to the finish. After running my eye over the eight finalists, here’s how they should be handicapped.
Hawthorn (0.0 metres)
The three-time Premiership winners will be running off scratch, but don’t let this fool you. An astounding six wins by a goal or less this season makes you understand how the winning culture is ingrained into this particular squad of players. Seemingly down and out against Collingwood in their round twenty-three clash, Hawthorn’s ability to rise to the occasion not only saw them win the game but secure an all important top four position. Write this club off at your peril, no matter how much you may want to.
Player to watch: Luke Hodge – Battling injury throughout the season Hodge has been a shadow of his former self, but finals is what Hodge is all about.
Sydney (0.75 metres)
Minor premiers and the best side in the competition, John Longmire’s men enter September as rightful favourites. Sydney appears to have learnt from the mistakes of previous seasons and is hitting form at the right time of the year. Sydney have eased their way through the past fortnight with the week off, following a light training run against eighteen yellow and black witches hats the week before.
Player to watch: Lance 'Buddy' Franklin – Personal circumstances saw his withdrawal from finals commitments last season so we should expect a something special this September.
Geelong (2.50 metres)
Which Geelong team is going to turn up in September? Against the best teams in the competition, Geelong is very good, but losses to Collingwood, Carlton and St Kilda ultimately cost Chris Scott and his men top spot. A first round finals clash against great rival Hawthorn at the MCG gives the football public the mouth-watering clash they have desired all season, albeit three weeks earlier than some were expecting. 2016 could provide a fairytale ending for some Cats, providing they get out of the blocks early.
Player to watch: Steve Motlop turned up to preseason overweight and with a poor attitude and this has reflected on his output. His ‘X’ factor could play a vital role in how far Geelong get with this ageing group of players.
Greater Western Sydney (4.5 metres)
A young group of footballers with a common goal best sums up the Giants. Outshining their expansion counterparts, the Giants have been able to play some exhilarating footy over the course of the winter, but can they reproduce this under finals pressure? A double chance and a home state final gives the Giants a great start to their first ever finals campaign and with a little luck and youthful exuberance this group of footballers are more than capable of creating history and sending shockwaves throughout the competition. Experience could prove the Achilles heel for Greater Western Sydney but a grand final appearance isn’t out of the question.
Player to watch: Shane Mumford gives the Giants midfield first opportunity to the football and also presents an intimidating figure. With other clubs without their first choice ruckman, Mumford could be the most important big man in the finals.
Adelaide (5.5 metres)
A shock loss to West Coast in the final round of the season cost the team a top four place, but a home final and confidence boosting win would provide the needed tonic for their campaign. Adelaide has produced some great footy over the season but appear a little short of form at the business end. A close showdown win illustrated the team were at times vulnerable if challenged, especially against a superior opponent. Everything must go right for the Crows if they want to go deep into September. Sadly I don’t think we will see any Darren Jarman-like efforts this September.
Player to watch: Rory Sloane was a victim of the much maligned match review panel, missing the final game of the season. His importance was obvious as West Coast made Adelaide look second best in an important game.
West Coast Eagles (6.25 metres)
Whilst producing their best footy over the last month, West Coast is a genuine wildcard. Their inability to play great footy at the MCG ultimately cost them a grand final but they have the capacity to upset a few dreams along the way.
Player to watch: Josh Kennedy - Big forwards become game changers in September, whether or not he will be given a chance will be up to his teammates.
Western Bulldogs (8.75 metres)
A campaign hampered by injury could either be a saviour or a hindrance for the Dogs. Luke Beveridge will have to throw caution to the wind if the squad is going to challenge for their first flag since 1954. Plenty of players could enter the game lacking match fitness, but if the Western Bulldogs are to continue their finals dream, calculated risks need to be taken. If a hamstring goes snap you’ve got plenty of time until round one next season.
Player to watch: Jake Stringer has been languishing in the VFL of late but provides that unknown factor which becomes such an asset around finals time.
North Melbourne (10 metres)
The bizarre announcement of how club greats Harvey, Petrie, Firrito and Dal Santo were not offered new contracts still lingers over the club and many question the mindset of this current group. Making the announcement before the conclusion of the season only presents as a white flag for the club who started the season so well, albeit over some pretty soft opponents. Given little chance of success in September, North Melbourne is literally making up the numbers in 2016.
Player to watch: Brent Harvey still believes he has what it takes to play footy at the highest level. What better stage than the finals series.
Week One Predictions
West Coast by 45 points after being challenged early
Geelong by 15 points in a dour affair
Sydney by 37 points whilst teaching its little brother a lesson
Adelaide by 47 points in a performance it should’ve produced last game