When Covid hit and the reality set in that this season was going to look, feel and smell very different to previous ones, many questioned if this season really counted.  We have had less games, a new venue for this year’s AFL Grand Final and hubs.  But for me this absolutely feels like a legitimate season and on the eve of qualifying final weekend I am as excited as ever to see how it all unfolds.

For those of you that are new to the sport or perhaps need a quick refresher, the sides that finished in the top four positions on the AFL ladder play off in qualifying finals (1v4 and 2v3).  The winners of these games advance straight to the preliminary final stage held in week three of the finals. Win a preliminary and you are into the Grand Final.

Lose the qualifying final and you are afforded a second chance and play the winner of one of two elimination finals (5v8 and 6v7).  As the name suggests lose an elimination final and you are out.

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Qualifying Final 1 – Geelong $2.15 v Port Adelaide $1.71

  • Line Geelong (+5.5) v Port Adelaide (-5.5)

Port Adelaide host the Geelong Football Club at the Adelaide Oval in the first of the qualifying finals.

These two teams play strong uncompromising contested football and both sides have big inform full forwards – Tom Hawkins (Geelong) and Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide).  Their ability to impact this game will no doubt have a big influence on the result.  Tom Hawkins has been excellent with his conversion in front of goal this year, Charlie Dixon has not, and this could again be a major factor in the outcome of this game.

The Power enter the finals series on the back of five straight wins and we have to look back to round 12 for the last time they lost a game of football.  That was to Geelong, and they were embarrassed by the Cats to the tune of 60 points.  That game was held at Metricon stadium on the Gold Coast and they would have learnt a lot from it.  Port Adelaide has the advantage of a hostile home crowd this time around.

Geelong has won seven of their past eight matches but did not finish the season as they would have liked.  They played poorly in round 17 against Richmond and then almost squandered a top four opportunity in round 18 against middle of the road side Sydney.  Is this cause for concern?

It will be interesting to see how Geelong uses Patrick Dangerfield.  He has spent a lot more time forward this year than in previous years. Will he start forward on Thursday night or will he start in the centre bounce where he has made his name? My guess, the centre bounce.

Many of the Port Adelaide players are playing finals footy for the first time and it is yet to be seen how they will handle the occasion.  Geelong on the other hand has just a few players who have not played in a final and this experience has to count for plenty.

I marked these sides equal favourites so at the current odds I am backing Geelong at the line.

Qualifying Final 2 – Brisbane $2.1 v Richmond $1.72

  • Line Brisbane (+3.5) v Richmond (-3.5)

Brisbane will host Richmond at the Gabba on Friday night in the second of the qualifying finals.  This is a replay of last year’s qualifying final.  To refresh, Richmond made easy work of a young and inexperienced Brisbane team on that occasion.

Huge injury news broke on Monday with Richmond declaring star forward Tom Lynch would not be available for this game due to an ongoing hamstring injury.  To an extent, this nullifies Brisbane’s loss of All Australian defender Harris Andrews who also remains on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.

Richmond won the 2017 grand final without Lynch; he was still a Gold Coast Sun at that stage.  Jack Riewoldt was the main focal point of the Tigers forward line then.  Now in the twilight of his career, I have my doubts whether Jack can have the same impact solo as he did in 2017.

Chris Fagen’s Lions have won seven straight and are full of confidence.  They have backed up their 2019 season with another terrific year and have a huge opportunity this year to play in a home Grand Final, were they to make it.

The knock I have on the Lions is their recent history against the Tigers.  Not only did the lose poorly in a final last year but when met in round 10, Richmond were far too good again, 41 points the margin.

In summary, the Tigers form has been faultless towards the back end of the season and they have an incredible finals record in recent years; the Lions on the other hand are yet to prove themselves in finals or against Richmond.  With the odds so close the bet for me is Richmond at the Line.

Elimination Final 1 – St Kilda $2.05 v Western Bulldogs $1.77

  • Line St Kilda (+3.5) v Western Bulldogs (-3.5)

Footy returns to the Gabba on Saturday afternoon for the first of the elimination finals; lose this and it’s home time.

The Saints are back in the finals for the first time in 10 years and have given their fans plenty to cheer about this year.  The combination of a new coach, good recruiting and natural improvement from young players such as Hunter Clark, Nick Coffield and Max King can all be attributed to the Saints success.

The Western Bulldogs finished the year with a wet sail winning five of their last six games and take good momentum into the final’s series.  Many of their players have finals experience that the Saints players do not, and as I talked about in my Geelong/Port Adelaide preview this must count for something.

These teams met in round two, the Saints won that game easily by 39 points under the roof at Marvel Stadium.  One of the most influential factors in that clash was the ruck dominance of St Kilda over young Bulldogs ruckman Tim English.  English has improved since then but so have the St Kilda rucks and I am sure both clubs will be putting a lot of time into this area of the ground.

Bulldogs defender Caleb Daniel was named in the All Australian team last week and I am interested to see if St Kilda looks to lock down on him.  Fremantle was successful in limiting Daniel’s impact in round 17 and Daniel was forced into the midfield to break that tag.

Brett Ratten has shown he is not averse to using a forward tag, the most recent example being Josh Battle’s defensive roll on Nick Hynes from GWS. This proved successful so I expect he might attempt the same with Daniel.  St Kilda skipper Jarryn Geary looks the likely candidate for this role.

A hard game to attack with any confidence but I think the Western Bulldog’s experience might be enough to get them over the line.

Elimination Final 2 – West Coast $1.42 v Collingwood $3

  • Line West Coast (-13.5) v Collingwood (+13.5)

The final game of the round will be played at Optus Stadium and is a replay of the 2018 AFL Grand Final.

Collingwood made a strong start to the season but not much has gone right since round five.  Injuries, Covid breaches, lack of form – you name it, Collingwood has seen it.  In particular the loss of Jeremy Howe and Steele Sidebottom for much of the year has hurt them badly.

On the flip side, the Eagles started the year poorly but quickly turned things around once they exited hub life and returned to their home state Western Australia.  They have lost just two games since round five and clearly bring in the stronger form of the two sides.

These sides met in round five and it got ugly.  After starting well Collingwood fell away badly to lose by 66 points at this venue, Optus Stadium.  It should be noted that the Pies were without many of their better players on that occasion.

As is so often talked about, the beginning of finals is like the beginning of a new season and much of what has gone before counts for little.  It is for this reason I think Collingwood can be competitive here.  They have had the week off to reset, have regained some players and historically have a very good record on the road.  On their day Collingwood is a very good football side and the line is too big in my opinion.

No knock on the Eagles but the bet for me here is Collingwood at the line (+13.5).

Lewis’ Betting Strategy

Geelong v Port Adelaide – Geelong Line (+5.5)

  • 1 unit @ $1.91

Brisbane v Richmond – Richmond Line (-3.5)

  • 2 unit @ $1.91

West Coast v Collingwood – Collingwood Line (+13.5)

  • 1 unit @ $1.91