WITH one week until the finals begin, we finally have a completed list of the eight teams that will play off in the 2015 finals series.
The only question that remains is: who will play who?
The Crows crushing win over the Eagles leaves the door ajar for an unlikely home final if they beat Geelong this week and results go their way.
The Kangaroos and the Bulldogs played off in a match worthy of the potential final the teams may play in two weeks time, while the Hawks still remain the team to beat in the eyes of the bookies.
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The round began on Friday night with Collingwood ending Geelong’s finals aspirations in a resounding 48-point victory at the MCG.
The game was effectively over at quarter time with the Pies piling on seven goals to Geelong’s one, ending a stellar period for the Cats which has seen them make the finals for nine consecutive years.
One positive for the Cats was the return of David Menzel.
Menzel, who had missed almost four years of AFL football with four separate knee reconstructions, kicked four of his team’s nine goals in was one of the best in his side’s defeat.
Geelong’s loss handed Adelaide the final spot in the eight and spells the end of the line for a lot of the Cat’s veteran stars – up to four premiership heroes from 2007/09/11 are now set to retire at season’s end.
Saturday afternoon in Tasmania saw the Hawks bounce back into top gear with a crushing 72-point victory over the Brisbane Lions.
The Lions jumped out to an early lead with a four goals to one opening term, but from then on the Hawks scorched their opponents on the back of a blistering 10-goal second quarter.
The home side will be buoyed by the form of Jack Gunston, who was the leading goal scorer on the ground with four majors.
Gunston had been erratic previously in front of the sticks for much of 2015, but if he is able to find the range going into the finals series, the Hawks forward line is vastly more dangerous.
Another standout performer was Jarryd Roughead, who ended the game with 30 disposals and three goals on the way to a best on ground performance.
Despite the likelihood of the Hawks having to travel in the first week of the finals to face West Coast, the punters’ faith in the reigning premiers has not been dented.
The Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne played out a dress rehearsal to their potential elimination final next week, with Luke Beverage’s pups prevailing by 23-points at Etihad Stadium.
The game was played as if the finals arrived a fortnight early. The momentum and scoreboard ebbed and flowed right up until the final quarter, with the Dogs jumping out to a 23-point margin early in the last, only to have a three-goal Kangaroo burst get hearts pounding.
It was the Dogs who steadied though and ran away with the contest, kicking four of the last five majors to snap the Roos’ seven-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs at their frenetic best are capable of matching it with any side in the league, but will need to draw on the experience of their veterans to settle their finals nerves heading into the September action.
Sunday saw a boil-over in South Australia with the Crows dismantling the second-placed Eagles to the tune of 57-points.
The game, which would have been a finals-deciding game had Geelong won on Friday night had the threat of being a bruise-free encounter with finals positions sewn up for both sides, but the Crows were ruthless.
The standout performer in the match was Patrick Dangerfield, who again shrugged off speculation about his future with a magnificent 28 disposal, one goal game.
Dangerfield has been terrific in the last month of football and has been instrumental in his team’s meteoric rise from finals outsiders to genuine contenders.
As a result, Sportsbet has moved the Adelaide superstar in to joint second favourite for the Brownlow Medal, with West Coast’s Matthew Priddis at $5.00.
A home final is now within Adelaide’s grasp. The Crows can leapfrog both Richmond and the Western Bulldogs with a win over the Cats, if results go their way.
With the Tigers facing North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium and the Crows travelling to Geelong to take on the Cats, it is more than possible that the Crows could earn themselves a home final.
The $2.50 on offer for the Crows stage of elimination to be the semi-final looks a good investment with Sportsbet. The Crows are good enough to win a final, but lack the talent to compete with the teams inside the top four.
The Sydney Swans have been dealt a cruel blow ahead of a likely qualifying final match up with the Dockers, with All-Australian defender Nick Smith ruled out for at least the next two weeks with a hamstring injury.
The versatile Smith left the field early with a right hamstring injury, and while the injury is not a high grade strain, it still could cost him up to a month of football.
Richmond on-baller Brett Deledio should be fit to face the Roos on Friday night after sustaining a jarred neck after a vicious sling tackle from Essendon’s Courtenay Dempsey.
The Tigers have dismissed any talk of a concussion out of the incident, but the Richmond vice-captain will still have to prove his fitness with the short turn around likely to have an impact.
In better news for the teams of the West, both Docker Nat Fyfe and Eagle Jeremy McGovern will be fit to take to the field for their respective qualifying finals after shaking off injury concerns.
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