AFTER 206 games of footy, just two teams remain. Surprisingly the two teams who are left standing are the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies, two underrated squads who have defied the odds to make it to ‘the big dance’. The last time both teams featured in a Grand Final they were forced to take second place, with one team set to drop to 0-2, while the other will get sweet revenge. Who takes out the 2018 AFL Grand Final?
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WEST COAST EAGLES
Why They Will Win
ADAM Simpson has had a dramatic impact on the Eagles since he first arrived at the club. The head coach has helped steer the team to a 76-41 record since he took over the reigns from John Worsfold in 2014. Simmo’s versatile gameplan revolves around his big men in front of the sticks in Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling. This season the star duo have been bolstered by cameo appearances from the likes of Mark LeCras, Jamie Cripps and Willie Rioli. With such a wide variety of weapons, the Eagles have excelled in making the most of their possessions and are happy to slow the game down and maintain possession. If they can keep the footy and catch fire in front of the sticks on the weekend it could get ugly quickly for the Collingwood defense.
Why They Won’t Win
THE challenge in front of West Coast is a daunting one. Not only do they have to worry about their previous Grand Final demons from 2015, but they also have to face them without some of their key personnel. We all know why Andrew Gaff isn’t suiting up an ACL injury robbed Nic Natanui of a chance to redeem himself. Injuries to Brad Sheppard and co mean the pressure is on youngsters like Liam Ryan, Willie Rioli, Daniel Venables and Thomas Cole.
THAT bunch along with the rest of their teammates will be aiming to prove they have no trouble winning away from Perth. After tying for the second-best interstate record (8-3) in the home and away season, they might be ready to rewrite the narrative. This isn’t just any old road game though, with Collingwood AT the MCG one of the toughest tasks in footy. Does anyone want to guess when West Coast last won a final in Melbourne?
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X-Factor – Dom Sheed
SHEED’S place in the side has hardly been safe throughout the year, but he has well and truly earned his spot in this Grand Final team. He has stepped up in a big way, since Andrew Gaff’s suspension, averaging 27.4 disposals over the five matches. His ability to get a ton of contested footy helps the Eagles add another string to their bow in the engine room. After gathering just 11 touches in his previous Grand Final appearance Dom Sheed’s performance will go a long way in determining the result.
Why They Will Win
COLLINGWOOD’S ability to get their hands on the ball and then run and attack has seen them storm into premiership contention. That attacking play style is boosted by the Magpies bevvy of youngsters like Will Hoskin-Elliot, Jordan DeGoey, Brody Mihochek, Jaidyn Stephenson and Josh Thomas, who are more than capable of kicking a huge score if they are let off the chain. Don’t think that Collingwood can’t match West Coast’s firepower if this turns into a shootout. And of course, how can I forget the Big Texan Mason Cox! Everyone’s Collingwood fans new favourite Yank will be keen to stay hot after playing the best game of his young career in last weekend’s win over the Tigers.
Why They Won’t Win
IF Collingwood can’t control the tempo of the game and accumulate a lot of the footy things could go pear-shaped. Relying on a lot of possession footy, the Magpies were able to quell West Coast’s ‘kick-mark’ style of play last time they met but still failed to get the win. Things will be different at the home ground this time, however, they can’t afford to give the Eagles breathing room. Mark Hutchings has been doing a stellar job this season as a tagger and shutting down Pendlebury, Treloar and/or Sidebottom would make winning nearly impossible for Collingwood. They need to get their stars involved and firing from the opening bounce.
X-Factor – Jeremy Howe
IF Jeremy Howe is healthy and ready to go he could go a long way in helping the Pies win, especially if he can shut down Jack Darling. West Coast’s key big man has arguably been their most important player this season, winning the goalkicking award (47) for just the second time in his career. Howe has the athleticism and the defensive prowess to help stop Darling’s influence on the game, but an injured ankle might slow down Howe’s bounce.
5 BURNING QUESTIONS
1. WITH both team inside the top two for contested possessions this September who will win the crucial battle for the hot footy?
2. EVERYONE is playing hurt at this time of year, with some form of injury or niggle but Jeremy McGovern’s health is a huge factor. After injuring his hip last week can the pillar of their defense survive four more quarters?
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3. THERE is a high chance of rain in Melbourne on Saturday (shocker). With a chilly, wet day forecasted, which team will respond to the conditions the best?
4. STEELE Sidebottom has been generating a lot of buzz this Finals series. We all know about his 10-goal performance in the TAC decider, does Sidey have another big game up his sleeve?
5. SIX of those seven times these two sides have met in the finals the margin has been 20 points or fewer. Are we in for another tight contest?
I don’t know if it’s the Sandgroper in me, but I think this is perfectly set up for West Coast to claim the flag. To do so though, they will have to do something they haven’t pulled off in the 21st century. Win a final against a Victorian team at the MCG.
ULTIMATELY the home of footy will be Collingwood’s trump card and could go a long way into deciding the result. The Magpies 22 named for the Grand Final have a collective 1,549 games of experience at the MCG, while the Eagles have just 262 games between them. That being said, I still have faith that this isn’t the same West Coast Eagles side that lost to the Hawks three years ago. Boasting 10 new players from the losing 2015 team means the Eagles have a very different look this time around.
AS is the way every year, the game will be determined early by which team settles and how the younger players react to the big stage. Don’t rule out left of field types like Jaydin Stephenson or Liam Duggan making a name for themselves with a big game, but my prediction is the Norm Smith will go to a big name player. The contest should be close and I genuinely think we are in for a wicked game. We could see our first single-digit decider since the famous drawn 2010 Grand Final, but I have a hunch a few late West Coast goals will push out the margin as Luke Shuey claims BOG honours.
West Coast by 18 points
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