Sunday 18 March 2018 / 03:24 AM

Preview: First week of the finals

The business end of the season is finally here. In comparison to last year, we have the same top four, North Melbourne in the eight at the expense of Collingwood, and Essendon being allowed to keep its spot, as well as Richmond coming back from a 3-10 start to the season to claim eighth position in an emotional final round of footy.

Thankfully, the match-ups in the first week of the finals are all likely to be ripping games; let’s take a look at each of them.

Hawthorn vs. Geelong


A great modern rivalry, but Hawthorn is an infinitely better team than Geelong this year. That’s not to say the Cats are awful, but they can consider themselves lucky to have finished in the top four after sneaking home in too many games to be a thought of as a real threat.

Geelong coach Chris Scott’s comments after their loss to the Hawks in Round 22, that it was “mission accomplished”, were odd to put it mildly, and smacked, perhaps, of forced bravado. Hawthorn will win this comfortably, and the Cats should then suffer the ignominy of being bundled out in straight sets by the winner of the Essendon v North Melbourne elimination final.

Hawthorn will accomplish the mission – by 40 points.

Sydney vs. Fremantle


All the talk so far has been about whether the Dockers’ injury-depleted backline can handle the Swans’ giant forward line. But as they showed in last year’s preliminary final, the Dockers’ strength is in making sure their defenders aren’t severely tested, with their midfielders and forwards putting on extreme amounts of opposition pressure up the field.

With the game to be played at a soggy, soulless ANZ Stadium, Fremantle will fancy their chances much more than if the game was being played on a sunny afternoon at the SCG.

And naturally, so do I – Fremantle by 15 points.

North Melbourne vs. Essendon

It really seems as though North Melbourne has been there or thereabouts for a while, without actually getting close to the pointy end of the ladder. And that’s because it’s true. The Kangaroos finished between eighth and tenth in the four years from 2010-2013.

This year they’re sixth. And although the oft-quoted statistic is that “no club outside the top four has won the premiership during the era of the current finals format”, North have the feel of a team that might just give that stat a shake.

Or they’ll lose narrowly. They’ve come a fair way since their rollercoaster-like inconsistencies of earlier this season and last year, but the jury’s still out on whether they’re the real deal.

North to prove the doubters wrong – by 19 points.

Port Adelaide vs. Richmond


It’s hard to believe the Tigers were sitting in 16th spot on the ladder after Round 14. Just to clarify, that’s third-last. And now they’re playing off in an elimination final with the team that spent longer at the top of the ladder (to clarify, that’s first) than any other club this season.

It has truly been a monumental effort, but this is where the road will end for the yellow-and-black. Port are a very good football team, compared to Tigers outfit that has ridden a wave of emotion to get to where it is now, and will run out of steam.

Considering where they came from, it’s been a remarkable turnaround indeed, but let’s not forget that if they get bundled out in the first week of the finals, expectations of the Tigers were significantly higher in 2014 than a sneaky eighth spot.

Port Adelaide is the better team – by 28 points.

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Gary Ausbruch

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