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AND then there were four.
After one of the best opening weekends of finals football in years, the follow-up was not as fulfilling, but just as enlightening with the two remaining Victorian teams flying the flag for the state.
The Hawks roared back into premiership reckoning with a resounding victory, while the Roos defied the odds yet again to find their way back to a preliminary final for the second year running.
We are getting to the business end of the finals so let’s take a look at the semi-finals and how the two winners progressed.
Semi-final weekend – The Roos roll on while the Hawks slip into top gear
Week two of the 2015 finals series began on Friday night at the MCG with the Hawks making an emphatic statement, hammering the Crows by 74 points.
Hawthorn shrugged off any doubt that their premiership defence was over in a blistering first quarter, kicking eight goals to two to creat a 38-point lead at quarter time.
The Hawks ended up with 21 goals for the game in a brutal display which helped ease the fears of Hawthorn supporters that the three-peat may be outside of their grasp.
The manner in which Hawthorn dismantled the Crows will give coach Alistair Clarkson huge confidence going into Friday night’s preliminary final against Fremantle, with several key players finding their top form at the right time of the season.
Luke Breust was instrumental up forward, booting six goals, James Frawley was terrific on Taylor Walker, limiting the Adelaide captain to just one goal while Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge’s four goal, best on ground performance reminded everyone just how damaging he can be.
In further positive news for the Hawks, injured forward Jack Gunston is set to return for Friday night’s massive clash after sustaining an ankle injury in the qualifying final loss to the Eagles.
As a consequence of their dominant win, Sportsbet have moved the Hawks into second favourite for the flag at $2.60 – only ten cents shy of favourites the West Coast Eagles.
They also travel to Perth as strong favourites to defeat the Dockers on Friday night, with Crownbet keeping the reigning premiers very strong at the $1.60 mark.
Saturday night in Sydney saw the Kangaroos become the first team in AFL history to progress through to a preliminary final from eighth position after defeating the Swans by 26-points.
The Roos will play in back-to-back preliminary finals against all odds after grinding out the win against the injury-hit Sydney Swans, who were depleted through the middle and up forward.
Nick Dal Santo and Ben Cunnington dominated through the middle, while hard-nosed on-baller was fantastic for the visitors, ending the game with 25 disposals and eight tackles.
With captain Kieran Jack and Luke Parker missing through injury for the Swans the home side struggled to match the Roos through the middle; especially with prolific ball winner Daniel Hannebery limited to just 20 touches.
The Roos led at every change and will take great confidence going over to Perth, even though the red-hot Eagles await.
North Melbourne coach Brad Scott was pleased with his side’s September response after struggling at times through the regular season.
“I’m really proud. A great ex-coach of mine once said it’s not about the qualifying period of 22 rounds, it’s about the best team in September,” he said.
“We’ve been working really hard on producing our best at this time of year and we feel we’re pretty close to it.
“We’re going there (to Perth) with a method that we think stacks up in the heat of September and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
Despite spirited performances against the Tigers and the Swans, the Kangaroos are the only team in double figures in the premiership market, with Sportsbet placing the Roos at $15 to win the 2015 flag.
Brad Scott’s men also head into the match against West Coast on Saturday night as $4.65 outsiders with Crownbet, with flag favourites the Eagles the favoured bet of the weekend at $1.20.
West Coast: Positive news on the injury front for the Eagles heading into their home final on Saturday night, with Matt Priddis and Chris Masten both declared fit to play against the Kangaroos.
Jeremy McGovern and Luke Shuey trained strongly on Monday, allaying concerns raised over the weekend that the duo will be unavailable.
Fremantle: Mixed news for the Dockers with superstar midfielder and Brownlow medal favourite Nat Fyfe fit to play against the Hawks Friday night.
There were fears a lower leg injury would keep the 24-year old out of Friday night’s preliminary final, but Fremantle are confident their stud on-baller will be good to go.
A calf injury has ruled important defender Luke McPharlin out of the match with the Dockers toying with the idea of bringing back Ryan Crowley after his ASADA suspension ended this week.
Hawthorn: While he is yet to be confirmed as a definite starter, versatile forward Jack Gunston looks set to at least travel with the team across to Perth.
Gunston missed last week’s match with a twisted ankle, but the Hawks are confident it was only a one week injury and he will be free to line up against the Dockers.
Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake will be given up until the bounce to prove his fitness after sustaining an abdomen injury, but the reigning premiers are expecting the veteran defender to play.
North Melbourne: In what would be a huge boost for the Roos, coach Brad Scott has declared dashing midfielder Daniel Wells ‘a chance’ to make a shock return against the Eagles.
Wells has not played since injuring his Achilles tendon back in round two.
There are two key concerns for North Melbourne heading into Saturday night however, with key forward Drew Petrie and defender Robbie Tarrant both in doubt.
Petrie landed awkwardly on his knee in Saturday night’s win over the Swans, but played out the match after the incident early in the third quarter.
Petrie was cleared of any structural damage in the aftermath, and while he might be restricted in his full range of motion, the important forward is expected to play.
Robbie Tarrant, who was a late withdrawal last week with a slight abductor tear is an outside chance to play dependent on an incident-free week.
The injury occurred on the kicking side of his body, which could prove problematic, but the strongly built defender is still a good chance of playing Saturday night.
Sydney Swans: Fourth
North Melbourne Kangaroos: Eighth
Sydney Swans: 16-6-0
North Melbourne Kangaroos: 13-9-0
Last five matches
Sydney Swans: WWWWL
North Melbourne Kangaroos: WWLLW
NORTH Melbourne will feel it has every chance of taking a big scalp when it heads to Sydney for a clash with the wounded Swans.
But the Swans ($1.57 with CrownBet.com.au) are experts at finding something when their backs are against the wall.
The Roos will be wary, but confident after destroying the souls of Richmond supporters with a 17 point win in last weekend’s elimination final, 15.15 (105) to 14.4 (88).
North bounced the Tigers out of the finals in the first week for the third time in three years, coming back from two points down early in the last term to take it out.
The ferocious Roos whacked the Tigers around the packs and won the contested ball 149-115, the work of unheralded stopper Ben Jacobs a feature, holding Richmond captain Trent Cotchin to just nine disposals – the equal fewest of his career.
The ageless Brent Harvey was the difference for the Roos, cleaning up with 31 disposals – eight more than the next best player on the field Jack Ziebell (23) – to go with two goals.
Jarrad Waite went some way to vindicating his often criticised recruitment with four goals from his 16 disposals and eight marks and big men Drew Petrie and Ben Brown bagged two each.
Defender Jamie Macmillan was the only casualty from the clash, but North’s director of football Geoff Walsh said the 23 year old was all but certain to take his place against the Swans.
“Jamie will be monitored throughout the week, but we are expecting him to train fully with the rest of the squad and will be available to travel to Sydney,” Walsh told NMFC.com.au.
Exciting rookie Kayne Turner will stick his hand up after being given the all clear by the doctors, despite missing the elimination final after copping a heavy knock against the Tigers in round 23.
But the big news is that veteran spark plug Daniel Wells could be a shock selection.
The gun midfielder hasn’t played a game of AFL footy in five months, but will be given the chance to prove his fitness.
Captain Andrew Swallow says he’d like to see the silky midfielder in the side.
“He’s an exceptional player and the perfect guy to be able to come in and maybe play that sub role and come on in the second half and maybe turn the game,” Swallow said.
Swallow’s men have not beaten the Swans since 2007 and they will need to turn around the 71 point belting they copped in last year’s preliminary final in Sydney.
It’s been a fortnight of turmoil for the Swans, with first the revelation that multi million dollar superstar forward Lance Franklin was suffering from mental illness and then later the news that he would miss the entire finals series.
But, despite the turmoil and being beaten by minor premier Fremantle, they won plenty of fans for their effort in a tight match on the road in Perth, 10.9 (69) to 7.18 (60).
Really, they should have won.
The had more inside 50s and more tackles, but poor kicking in front of goal killed them.
They had eight set shots in the first half, the result – 1.7.
They were all over the Dockers in the last quarter, kicking the last four scores of the match – all of them behinds, when the game was there to be won.
Midfield dynamo Josh Kennedy had a monster with 39 possessions, his 11th straight game over the 30 mark, an AFL record, Brownlow Medal fancy Dan Hannebery had 34 and accumulator Tom Mitchell picked up 29 touches.
But Adam Goodes put a season of controversy behind him with a brilliant 25 disposal effort and monstrous key forward Kurt Tippett played perhaps one of his best matches in a Swans’ jersey, booting three goals from 15 disposals, with six marks, six tackles, six frees for and 12 hit outs pinch hitting in the ruck.
If the Swans are going to get past the Roos, they will have to do it without key men Luke Parker, Sam Reid and, in all likelihood, co-captain Kieren Jack.
The last time these two teams played, Buddy booted four goals – and five in the preliminary – and Parker had 33 touches – that’s a big dint to fill.
But the Swans did win that round 11 clash by 16 points, 14.7 (91) to 10.15 (75).
They did hold a 29 point lead at one point, but the Roos pegged it back in a tight affair that should make this one similarly hard fought.
Jarrad McVeigh had 28 and Kennedy 27, while Goodes kicked three.
The possession count was low for the Roos, led by Ben Cunnington with 23 and Harvey with 22. Robin Nahas, Shaun Higgins and Lindsay Thomas booted two goals each, but Todd Goldstein had a field day with 17 disposals, seven marks, six tackles and 37 hit outs.
He will be a key figure in this one, after finishing second in the AFL Most Valuable Player award to Brownlow Medal favourite Nat Fyfe.
As far as the bookies go, sportsbet.com.au’s Richard Hummerston says punters reckon the Swans could be staring down the barrel of a straight sets exit from the finals.
“After opening at $1.38, news of Buddy Franklin and Sam Reid missing Saturday night’s clash has caused the punters to stay well away from the depleted Swans,” Hummerston said.
“Sportsbet has taken five times the amount of money on the Kangaroos, causing the Swans’ price to drift out to $1.54.
“The absence of Franklin and Reid has also seen the Swans premiership odds take a dive, they’re now paying $15 to lift up the premiership cup while West Coast are favourites to be crowned champions at $2.60 after their comfortable win over Hawthorn.
“Without Reid and Franklin playing, Tippett has a mountain of work to do up forward and the punters aren’t convinced he can get the job done.”
Match result: Sydney Swans win ($1.57 with CrownBet.com.au)
Line: North Melbourne Kangaroos +10.5 ($1.92 with CrownBet.com.au)
We’ve been tossing and turning on this match since the final siren blew on the first week of the finals. First we though North had the momentum to get the job done. Then we were on the Sydney experience bandwagon. We worried about the Swans’ injury list and then had concerns over the Roos’ travel. What that all amounted to was a vision of an inspiring Sydney win by less than 10 points in a low scoring, but brutal contest that we’re expecting to be a war of attrition against two sides who pride themselves on winning the hard ball and pressuring their opponents. We reckon this match has thriller written all over it. The injuries and absentees bring the Swans back to the Roos level. It’s going to be a case of who wants it more. For all that Shinboner spirit, we reckon that edge lay with the wounded Swans and we’re backing them in to just make it over the line against a side many think over achieved in winning even the first final.
First goal scorer tips
Kurt Tippett ($7 with sportsbet.com.au)
Just a tower and an absolute handful for any defender in the game. We feel sorry for whoever goes to the former Crow in this one, because he is playing his best footy since crossing to the Swans three years ago. Has 42 goals for the year, with 13 of those coming in his last month of football. And he’s getting on his bike two. That four weeks of footy features two games of 20 or more disposals – something he had never done in a Swans jersey. If the Swans want to win this game, Tippett simply must step up to fill the Buddy void. The gun, who won’t play again in the finals, kicked 47 goals in just 17 games this year and leaves perhaps a bigger hole than any other player in the AFL.
Adam Goodes ($11 with sportsbet.com.au)
Forget about the boos, Goodes wound back the clock on the weekend. The 309 game superstar had done it all in this league. But he still obviously has the hunger, after churning out his second highest possession count of the season. His highest came just a month ago and his form lines over the past month really mirror Tippett’s in the way he has lifted his footy to another level. Has 23 goals for the season and is more than capable of sending the first one through at double figure odds.
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Drew Petrie ($9 with sportsbet.com.au)
is Drew Petrie the most under rated tall forward in the game? We say yes. It feels like he’s well respected, but never seems to be mentioned up there with the big boys like Tom Hawkins and Travis Cloke. And test he hasn’t kicked less than 40 goals since his injury hit 2010 season when he only played two games. You feel like the Roos have more goal kicking options than the Swans, so it’s not all on his shoulders, like it is with Tippett, but we still feel he is the man the Roos midfielders aim their kicking boots at, above all others.
Shaun Higgins ($17 with sportsbet.com.au)
Higgins was somewhat an enigma at the Western Bulldogs. Uber talented, but oft injured, he played just 129 games in nine seasons at the Dogs. But the move to the Roos has reinvigorated the goal sneak, playing in 22 games in 2015. And he has rewarded the faith, booting 37 goals, the most of his career. This guys is just so silky with the footy and has at least open goal in each of his last six games. Let’s hope he slots the first one in this match.
Friday, August 14, 2015, 7.50pm AEST, Sydney Cricket Ground, Watch on Seven Network, Fox Footy
Sydney Swans: Fifth
Collingwood Magpies: 11th
Sydney Swans: 12-6-0
Collingwood Magpies: 9-9-0
Last five games
Sydney Swans: WLLWL
Collingwood Magpies: LLLLW
NORMALLY this one would have the billing of a blockbuster.
The Bondi Millionaires up against the most popular club in the AFL in the Harbour City.
But this one feels a little flat.
The boys from Collingwood ($3.35 with CrownBet.com.au) hadn’t been able to buy a win before they had a horribly ugly victory over the utterly hopeless Carlton on the weekend, while Sydney ($1.33 with sportsbet.com.au) has been nothing short of disappointing, dropping three of its last four in a worrying stretch that has it in a tough battle to get that double chance.
On the field it hasn’t been great for the Pies, but that’s nothing compared to off it, where, again, they were under the microscope, forced to deny it has a problem with illicit drug use after youngsters Lachlan Keeffe and Josh Thomas copped two year suspensions for taking a banned substance.
The pair tested positive to Clenbuterol, a banned substance they believe may have been laced in illicit drugs that they admitted to taking on a day off.
Coach Nathan Buckley defended the clubs culture and denied drug use was rife, calling the Keeffe-Thomas situation an “isolated event”.
“It’s an AFL issue, that it’s a societal issue, and we need to have these open discussions to get to the bottom of it – I didn’t feel like it was a Collingwood issue at all,” Buckley said.
“And if it was, we wouldn’t be doing the right thing by every other person in the environment to maintain connection with these boys.
“From day dot, half of me has been angry with the decision that they made and half of me has been shattered for the situation they find themselves in.”
The pair was fined $50,000 each and has been delisted by the club, but Buckley clearly plans to take another chance on them.
But back to the footy.
The Magpies played out a very ugly first half and just managed to sneak away with a 16.9 (105) to 13.9 (87) win over the Blues.
Ben Reid was up and about for his 100th game, snagging four goals – emulated by the talented Alex Fasolo – as the Maggies arrested a six game slide.
The set up men, though were their two best players, Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan.
The former was as slick as ever, moving like a Rolls Royce all over the ground to pick up 37 disposals and nine tackles, while his tattooed running mate wound back the clock, only just checking out of hospital with leather poisoning after collecting 41 touches and booting three goals.
It’s been 15 years since Collingwood faced the swans at the SCG and that night Buckley led his side to victory.
This Friday, Bucks will giving the orders to the Pies, who are expected to welcome back gun full forward Travis Cloke.
A calf injury has kept him out of their last three contests, but football manager Neil Balme says he is a good chance of making his come back.
“Travis is going pretty well with that calf,” Balme said.
“Certainly, he has to get through training but we remain pretty confident that he will be available to play.
The Swans are sweating on Teddy Richards after the key defender was charged with rough conduct in the Swans’ loss to Geelong, 14.11 (95) to 9.9 (63).
Lewis Jetta was the only multiple goal kicker with two goals, and the midfield was stifled, apart from Josh Kennedy with 32 touches.
Sydney was actually up by 13 points at half time, but gave up the goat after the break, allowing Geelong to beat them in almost every facet of the game.
Well, they’re probably not thinking about Richards too much, they’ll be more worried about their $10 million man Lance Franklin.
The key forward missed the Geelong game with a back injury, which also forced him out of the loss to West Coast in Perth three weeks ago.
Franklin is expected to train with the main group on Wednesday.
Prickly midfielder Ben McGlynn pulled out late on the weekend. He’s set to play, while Gary Rohan and ruck Mike Pyke will also come into consideration.
“Our aim is to get better this week, it’s about a consistency of effort across the board from all of our players,” coach John Longmire said.
“We haven’t played the way we want to play – you can’t shy away from that.
“We’ve spoken about it but now it’s about making sure we put it into actions.
“We haven’t come up to scratch over the last month, it’s time to get going.”
They’ll want to do it quickly. Finals are around the corner and it’s near on impossible to win the flag from outside the top four.
Match result: Collingwood wins ($3.35 with CrownBet.com.au)
Line: Collingwood Magpies -21.5 ($1.92 with sportsbet.com.au)
Fun fact: Collingwood has beaten Sydney 13 times in the past 15 matches. It’s the Swans version of the Kennett curse. It doesn’t seem to matter where it is, or what the ladder positions are, the Pies just have the wood over them. And, call us crazy, but we reckon they’re going to do it again. They’ve been so gallant in so many games against sides at the pointy end, but have gone away with honourable losses that have killed their season. They’ve got the Swans at the right time. They know how to beat them and, with the return of Cloke, we’re backing them to get over the line again and make it 14 from 16. The bookies always have them at long odds, but we reckon the $3.35 represents serious bang for your buck. And if you’re not so confident on the Pies getting over the line, that 21.5 points is also tasty – they held that line against Fremantle, Hawthorn, the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide. Sydney haven’t been playing as well as at least three of those four clubs. Have a crack at the Pies and watch them bely their ladder position and seasonal performance, getting over the top of the Swans by a couple of goals.
First goal scorer
Lance Franklin ($8 with sportsbet.com.au)
Will the superstar play? That’s the big question. Franklin, on his day, is the best forward in the competition. But he’s been battling that injury and it remains to be seen whether he will recover in time after the six day break. Has only managed 15 games this year, but has still booted 45 goals and he tends to slam big bags towards the end of the season as he shapes up for finals. Has booted three goals in each of his past three games – actually, exactly 3.2 in each of those games – but it will be good to see him back in a Swans uniform and kicking goals again, after he was sorely missed against the Cats on the weekend.
Sam Reid ($13 with sportsbet.com.au)
One of the reasons why the Swans couldn’t hit the scoreboard against the Cats is because Reid was well held in Franklin’s absence. He only kicked one against the Crows, but was well held and before that he kicked a wasteful four behinds against the Eagles. This doesn’t exactly instil confidence. But we just feel like he’ll benefit from being back on the SCG with a full complement of forwards. The attention is off him when Buddy and Tippett play and we get the feeling that’s how he likes it. Three goals against Port Adelaide is his best effort this year.
Ben Reid ($11 with sportsbet.com.au)
First game back, Reid celebrated his 100th game by sending four of the best through the big sticks and, if his fragile body holds up, he’ll only benefit from the attention Cloke will take off him. Here’s another fun fact: the last time the talented Reid kicked four goals was in round 22, 2013. The week after, he kicked five. Could he repeat history? The first goal of the match would definitely set him on his way to emulating the feat – and winning readers who follow our tip a bit of dosh.
Travis Cloke ($10 with sportsbet.com.au)
Another one with an injury cloud, but must be considered, purely for the fact he is in the top two power forwards in the game. Can’t kick to save himself, but gets so many chances because the Pies players are always trying to kick it to him. Three weeks out is a bit of a concern and you obviously have to wait and see if he actually gets selected, but whenever he’s on the ground he is every chance of that vital first one. Had been really struggling before his injury and will be keen to come back and make an impact after being subbed out of the West Coast game and only botting one goal in the previous three. Look for a big bounce back in his return.