2019 AFL Grand Final Preview

A lot of the head honchos at AFL HQ would have happily allowed a Richmond-Collingwood Grand Final to unfold, but footy fans around the globe are rejoicing after GWS’ triumph last week. In just their eighth season, Greater Western Sydney has quickly built a tight-knit, formidable list who, regardless of the result this weekend will be a future force of the competition. To complete their 2019 fairytale, however, they’ll have to dethrone a 137-year staple of the league, who are chasing another premiership to couple with their 2017 triumph. You could argue that the 2019 decider resembles a real David vs. Goliath battle, one that could pan out to be a match for the ages.

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RICHMOND TIGERS

Why They Will Win
POISED to claim their second flag in three years, Richmond will enter Saturday’s GF as the clear favourites. It’s hard to build a case against the Tigers following 11 straight wins including scalps against their Grand Final rivals GWS, West Coast, Brisbane, Collingwood, Brisbane again and Geelong during their streak. In their past two finals, Richmond has reminded everyone why they were one of the favourites entering the season, with their team orientated approach helping them account for the top-2 teams on the table with relative ease. If you ask me, giving all the factors pointing in their favour, the 2019 flag is theirs to lose.

Why They Won’t Win
MISSING a key pillar from their defense in Alex Rance will test the Tigers on the weekend. Fellow fantastic backman Dylan Grimes is only able to do so much and my guess is he’ll be sent to Toby Greene leaving David Astbury with the daunting task of combatting either Jeremy Finlayson or more likely the reigning Coleman Medalist. Jeremy Cameron was influential in the Giants’ win against the Collingwood and has kicked eight goals through three finals to date, taking his season tally to 75. If Cameron can get that tally close to 80 then Richmond will be in trouble.

AFL 2nd Preliminary Final - Richmond v GWSImage from thewest.com.au

X-Factor – Dion Prestia
IF Richmond are going to be premiers again on the weekend, they can’t afford the Giants’ midfield to fire on all cylinders. The Tigers are statistically the worst clearance side in the AFL this past season (34.0 per game) while GWS rank No. 1 in that area (42.3 per game), highlighted by winning the clearance battle against the Pies by 19. To quell their influence around the stoppages, Dion ‘Meatball’ Prestia will need to do a lot of the heavy lifting and get his hands on the footy first for the Tigers. If he can do so, not only is he an intriguing Norm Smith selection, but it’ll go a long way to a Richmond W.

GWS GIANTS

Why They Will Win
IT took the Giants just 186 games to reach their first Grand Final, with the AFL’s newest team finally breaking through after suffering prelim heartbreak in the past. One could argue that those previous L’s have galvanised the group and they’ll take a lot of confidence out of last weekend’s win into their clash with Richmond. After a year of fluctuating between ‘genuine contenders’ and ‘making up the numbers’, GWS is peaking at the right time of the season and with a slew of stars set to return to action, the Giants are looking to cap off their amazing finals run with the ultimate prize.

Why They Won’t Win
THE only team to win a final in the last four years has had plenty of experience in big games, but the Grand Final is a different ball game. Matt de Boer and Shane Mumford have previously attended the big dance, however, the other 20 members that will take to the park on the weekend will be out to avoid becoming deer in the headlights. Having dealt with a stack of injuries and suspension woes this season, GWS has been known to drop games they should’ve won and if they aren’t at the peak of their powers as a unit then it could unravel under Richmond’s intense pressure.

X-Factor – Jacob Hopper
NO player has been more important for the Giants during their 2019 postseason run. Ranking first for disposals (25.7), contested possessions (15.7) and clearances (5.7) over the past three games, Hopper will enter the contest in red hot form. His role will be interesting to watch with some big names being included into GWS’ squad and potentially eating into some of his midfield minutes. While the Tigers focus on those premier talents like Josh Kelly, Toby Greene and Lachie Whitfield, Hopper could fly under the radar and swing the result of the 2019 grandy.

Jacob HopperImage from canberratimes.com.au

2019 MEETINGS

Round 3 – GWS 19.11 (125) def. RICH 10.16 (76)
Round 17 – RICH 13.16 (94) def. GWS 9.13 (67)

BOTH sides split the regular-season meetings one apiece, with two very different contests taking place earlier this year. Early in the 2019 campaign, GWS recorded a giant win over the Tiges with Jeremy Cameron and Jeremey Finlayson combining to kick 12 goals. Dusty made headlines in that match for all the wrong reasons, after he was shut down by tagger Matt de Boer and found himself suspended following an off-the-ball incident with Adam Kennedy.

IN the latter meeting a few short months ago, Stephen Coniglio went down in the opening minutes, which definitely impacted the Giants’ output. With Jack Riewoldt returning for his first game since Round 6, Richmond flexed their muscle by rolling out to an early lead that they never surrendered. A unified Tigers outfit controlled the contest, sewing up their third straight win and in the process re-installing their premiership credentials.

5 BURNING QUESTIONS

1. Who misses out for the Giants? Toby Greene and Lachie Whitfield are expected to take two spots and GWS has said they won’t roll the dice on Stephen Coniglio, who hasn’t played since Round 17. Which begs the question, who will get the unlucky tap on the shoulder and miss out on the Grand Final?

2. Speaking of changes, we already know that Jack Graham won’t be playing this weekend with Nathan Broad’s future also cloudy. Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross are waiting in the wings having been withdrawn from the Tigers’ VFL Grand Final side and face a nervous wait over the next few days. Just what moves will Richmond make at the selection table?

3. Can Dustin Martin join rarified air by claiming a second Norm Smith Medal? Through two finals, Dusty has had a profound impact, especially on the scoreboard accounting for over 40% of the Tigers’ scores against Brisbane and Geelong. With a 2017 BOG to his name already Martin can become the fourth multiple Norm Smith winner if he claims a second such honour on Saturday.

4. While we’re on the subject of Dusty, will he be tagged again by Matt de Boer? He did a number on the Brownlow Medalist earlier this season and has claimed some big scalps this finals campaign, shutting down Marcus Bontempelli (13 touches), Lachie Neale (17 touches) and Scott Pendlebury (18 touches).

5. Each of the last seven Grand Finals has seen a Victorian-based club do battle with one hailing from another state, with the Vic’s winning five times. Can the Giants cause an upset and swing the ledger back in the visitors’ favour?

PREDICTION

TAKE nothing away from Greater Western Sydney, who have become just the third team ever to make the season decider from sixth or lower on the ladder. Their list is one of the most impressive in the entire AFL and along with the likes of the Bulldogs and Lions, I could see the Giants contending for years to come if they stay healthy.

WITH that being said, the task ahead of them is an almighty one, with not many clubs capable of dethroning a Victorian powerhouse club, who’re technically playing on their home deck. The MCG hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for GWS in the past (4 wins from 19 tries) and they’ve never actually topped Richmond at the venue. The Tigers, on the other hand, are built to perform at the ‘G winning 34 of their past 37 matches held at the home of football and they will enter the game well-rested, having left Melbourne just once since Round 16.

BOTH outfits boast premier superstars of the competition and yet their greatest strength lies in how deep their teams are and how the 21st or 22nd best player can have a huge impact on the game. Whoever can settle first and control the momentum of the contest usually goes on to win the Grand Final, but as we all know, this isn’t always the case (sorry Pies fans). I expect a hot, furious start with very few goals kicked, especially if the forecasted rain does fall, paving the way for a tight first half. A few late goals from Richmond could wrestle momentum away before the main break and while I don’t expect the Giants to cower if that unfolds, those few majors could prove to be the difference by the end of what should be a physical, gruelling, captivating contest.

Richmond by 20 points

Peace ✌

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