After the longest Home & Away Season in the history of the VFL/AFL, the time has arrived… It's finals time! It's also time to take a look at the first week of matches, 4 crackers, as well as providing a tip on how the season will finish up.
Geelong vs. Hawthorn – Without a doubt the match of the round and one which I believe will ultimately decide who will play in the 2011 Grand Final. The Hawks have cruised through the season, recording 18 wins despite having numerous stars out due to injury however the Cats are peaking at the right time, despite their slip up against an emotional Sydney side two weeks ago. For the Hawks to win, Buddy and Cyril will need to kick at least 10 between them and I can't see Geelong's defence allowing that to happen. Geelong by a few goals.
Collingwood vs. West Coast – Despite the thrashing the Pies received at the hands of Geelong last weekend, I still think the Pies are the team to beat this year and will take care of West Coast easily. The mid-field and forward line are simply too strong and the backline is as solid as they come. Heath Shaw, returning from 8 weeks on the sidelines, has a point to prove and if selected, he will dominate.
St Kilda vs. Sydney – As much as it pains me to say it, St Kilda are the dark-horse this September and they will easily account for Sydney, especially given it's played at Etihad Stadium, a ground where the Saints have dominated their opponents at in recent years. The Saints will try to shut down Adam Goodes and will also focus on getting the ball in quickly to the likes of Riewoldt and Kositchke, with Milne and Schneider doing the crumbing. The Saints simply have too many scoring options and will prove to be a handful for the Sydney defence.
Carlton vs. Essendon – This game could be an absolute cracker as two arch rivals battle it out in September once again. Despite the hype though, Carlton should easily account for the young Bombers who are still in a development stage and will benefit from seeing finals action. The Bombers, who weren't expected to make the finals this year have achieved more than many could imagine and at times, they can match it with any team in the league. Carlton on the other hand were expected to finish in the Top-4 and almost achieved that expectation. With the likes of Murphy, Judd and Gibbs, it's hard to see the Essendon midfield competing with those silky skills however finals football can produce funny results. Hille and Ryder need to fire and Hurley needs to kick a bag. Sadly, this isn't Essendon's year and the Blues will win by a few goals.
West Coast vs. Carlton – After a likely loss to Collingwood in week 1 of the finals, I expect West Coast to sneak over the line against Carlton simply due to the home ground advantage and an extra days break. On paper, I still think Carlton are a better side however they have been terribly inconsistent this season and after accounting for the Bombers in week 1, they won't be able to back it up against the Eagles in front of a loud Western Australian crowd. West Coast by a few goals.
Hawthorn vs. St Kilda – What a massive game this could be! The Hawks, who have proven to have plenty of depth in their list this season, will have a massive challenge ahead of them in order to overcome a red-hot St Kilda side. Despite the Hawks losing to Geelong in week 1, I believe the St Kilda defence simply won't be able to handle the pressure of Buddy and Cyril like Geelong will do, as the likes of Dawson and Clarke can't be compared to Scarlett and Taylor. Hawthorn, despite the injury concerns, will account for the Saints by about 4 goals.
Collingwood vs. Hawthorn – Another match which has the potential to be a cracker, however I feel the Pies will be too strong, just. Hawthorn, with stars like Mitchell, Hodge, Franklin and Rioli will push the Pies all the way however their second and third tier players will run out of steam after a massive season, covering the loss of key players. As much as I'd love to see the Hawks get over the Pies, I think Collingwood's endless scoring options of Cloke, Didak, Thomas, Dawes, Swan and Krakouer will kick enough goals to see them sneak home.
Geelong vs. West Coast – This will be the most one-sided match of the finals series as West Coast simply won't be able to compete with the best team in 50 years. The Eagles, despite having a fantastic year, will be tired and sore after tough matches against the Pies and Blues and the Cats will beat them by 6 goals, winning contests all over the ground.
Collingwood vs. Geelong – The big one will see the two best sides of 2011 fight it out for the Premiership Cup. Collingwood, despite being the best side all season, simply won't have the pace or skill to keep up with a hungry Geelong outfit and the Cats will inflict a big loss on the Pies in front of 100,000 screaming fans. With the likes of J-Pod, Johnson, Chapman, Stokes, Christensen and Menzel floating around in the forward line, the Cats simply have too many scoring options whilst the backline of Scarlett, Taylor, Hunt, Milburn and Kelly will ensure the Pies forwards won't kick a winning score.
2011 Premiers – Geelong
Norm Smith Medalist – Steve Johnson
Mark Bruty's Tips;
Geelong vs. Hawthorn – This is sure to be a cracker. I am convinced that the Cats are back on track after quite a sub standard month of footy really. The Hawks are flying but their decision to rest their stars for the final round of the home and away could come back to bite them. The Cats are up and about and their defensive unit will ensure that Buddy doesn’t get loose and tear them apart. The battle of the midfield will be interesting but if the Cats single out the Hawks players like they did against the Pies and take them on, it’s Geelong by 23 points.
Collingwood vs. West Coast – Unfortunately the weather looks like it could be pretty piss poor for this one and I think that takes away from the advantage that West Coast have over the reigning premiers. The ruck combo of Cox and Nic-Nat is superior to Jolly and Wood. Plus, the West Coast have the tall forwards that can cause some problems. The Eagles form has been quite good and with Collingwood trying to integrate stars back into the line-up, they seem most vulnerable now. I think the Pies will get across the line but the margain will be only 9 points and Collingwood will be less than convincing.
St Kilda vs. Sydney – St Kilda are no doubt in cracking touch. They have switched on throughout the second half of the year and with good result. Their win over Carlton last week showed they are ready for September and aren’t just going to limp in and make up the numbers. Sydney on the other hand have been very hit and miss, but took a massive scalp when they beat Geelong at Skilled. come finals time, the Swans know how to lock down a game of footy and get the win. Grundy is a concern and hopefully young Sam Reid will take his spot. Swans by 14 points.
Carlton vs. Essendon – Carlton have a wretched history in September of late. There loss against St Kilda on the weekend won’t do the punters or their fans any favours either. Always hard to tip but harder to tip against, this looms as a real challenge. Will Kreuzer play? Waite? Can Judd break a hard tag from Hocking? The Bombers seemed to just do enough to make the 8 almost losing to Port Adelaide, but showed some grit and determination which goes a long way in finals. I still can’t see Marc Murphy, Judd, Gibbs, Scotland and Yarran losing to the younger and inexperience Bombers though. Carlton too strong and run out 20 point winners.
West Coast vs. Carlton – This is where the run for Carlton ends. I doubt they will be able to beat the West Coast Eagles over there. West Coast have been a solid side all year and they will just be too tough to beat. They have the majority of their team in form and playing good footy and have been more consistent than the Blues. The top 5 for each side are fairly evenly matched but from 5 – 22, the Eagles have a bit more to offer, especially at home. West Coast by 13.
Hawthorn vs. Sydney – The Hawks tore the Swans apart during the year at the SCG on the way to a 8 or 9 goal victory and the result could be similar again here. The backline of the Swans may be able to do enough to get by St Kilda, but with Franklin and Rioli it is a totally different game. The midfield battle will be good to watch and hopefully the younger players for the Swans have their finals jitters out of their system after last week. It is hard to see them locking the game down long enough to keep pace with the Hawks and the dream will end here for Sydney. Hawthorn by 31 points.
Collingwood vs. Hawthorn – This will be a full throttle affair and if the Hawks can start strongly and keep the pressure on the Pies, then they have the personnel and game style to make the Magpies pay. Fresh off a week’s break though, the Pies will be ripe and ready to go. Little niggling injuries will have had an extra week to recover. They both match up very well on paper boasting a couple of the games finest forwards. I am going to go against the grain and give the win to the Hawks by 3 points.
Geelong vs. West Coast – Simply put, Geelong will brush aside the Eagles with minimal worry. They will be flying and looking to put them to the sword ahead of the Grand Final. It may be close for the first half, but if Geelong play like they did against Collingwood in Round 24, it’s hard to see the Eagles getting close. Too much class through the midfield and reliable defenders sees Geelong home by 35 points.
Hawthorn vs. Geelong – In a rematch of the 2008 Grand Final, the Hawks and Cats will occupy the MCG in the first weekend in October. Unlike 2008, I expect the Cats to take home the chocolates in 2011. I hope (and expect) to see a very tough encounter with each side playing hard-nosed footy and high scores being kicked. Hawthorn are extremely dangerous when they go forward and have some of the most athletic blokes going around. Geelong have a stellar midfield, terrific run from half back and some excellent experience. The stage will be set for a cracker of a day and Geelong will do enough to get across the line by 11 points.
2011 Premiers – Geelong
Norm Smith Medallist – James Kelly (31 touches)
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