AFL writer Nick Francis analyses Friday night’s Preliminary Final featuring Geelong vs Sydney. Will one match in three weeks give the Cats the physical edge late in this match, or will Sydney’s ferocious attack on the ball carry over from last week. Find out all in our latest AFL Predictions!
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The Cats will be feeling fresh after just one match in three weeks, defeating Hawthorn in their week one Qualifying Final to secure a home Preliminary Final. Their match against the Hawks was the definition of an up and down encounter, with the Cats happening to be in front as the final siren went. They were absolutely dominant in contested possession, winning 170-188, but high uncontested possession numbers from Hawthorn kept them in the contest. It was Corey Enright playing loose at half back that denied the Hawks on many of their inside 50s, so expect him to play a similar role with the dangerous Lance Franklin looming as a real threat. Patrick Dangerfield was once again their best player with 35 disposals, while Joel Selwood and Cam Guthrie were influential.
The Swans bounced back in a big way on Saturday night, defeating Adelaide quite comfortably after a first-quarter seven-goal blitz. Aside from inside 50s, the Swans were dominant in the key statistical areas, leading disposals by close to 100, winning the clearances 47-38 and the contested ball 166-146. Josh Kennedy had one of the greatest finals matches in recent history, gathering 42 possessions and 10 clearances. On top of that the Crows had to deal with Dan Hannebery with 31 touches, Isaac Heeney with 32 and Tom Mitchell running rampant in the centre corridor with 32 of his own. Injury concerns for the Swans were aplenty after the match, but after some relatively good news early in the week, both Jarrad McVeigh and Gary Rohan could potentially line up on Friday night.
Head to Head this Year
Round 16: Simmonds Stadium – Sydney by 38 points
The Round 16 clash between these two was an excellent display of what the Swans can do when they play at their best. Their efficiency was the main reason for the large deficit in the final margin, despite the statistics suggesting it was a very even affair. While Sydney won the clearances and contested possessions by very slim margins (one and four), the inside 50 numbers suggests their defensive setup was perfectly suited to this matchup. The Cats led the inside 50s 52-43, but Sydney’s back line of Dane Rampe, Heath Grundy, Nick Smith, Jarrad McVeigh and Aliir Aliir held what can potentially be a dangerous forward line to just nine goals.
Individually, Patrick Dangerfield was held by Tom Mitchell after a very strong first quarter, keeping him to 34 touches after a blistering opening 30 minutes. With his influence diminishing and the rest of the Geelong midfield losing their individual matchups to Sydney’s mids, it’s very easy to see how the Swans got on top.
Patrick Dangerfield vs Tom Mitchell
As the leader of his new team, a lot will fall on Dangerfield to set the tone of the match. While he had 18 disposals in the first quarter in Round 16, Tom Mitchell was given the job to shut him down. While he added another 16 touches, you would argue that is a big win for the young midfielder. With Joel Selwood struggling this year a lot will fall on Dangerfield to lead the way. If Mitchell and the rest of the Sydney midfield deny him any easy ball, a lot of the drive and pace he creates will be gone from the Geelong midfield that relies heavily on ball movement.
Dan Hannebery vs Scott Selwood
Dan Hannebery’s influence on a game is well known. As one of the premier ball movers in the AFL, if he is allowed to play as the vital link in the chain through the midfield Geelong will have a very tough time. While he didn’t play last time they met, Scott Selwood will get arguably the toughest on Friday night. The biggest question then becomes whether he has the tank to go with Hannebery. Stoppage influence can be restricted, but the pace at which Hannebery covers ground for the entire match is almost impossible to match up on. Because of this, don’t be surprised to see Mark Blicavs take over, pitting the two fittest players in the AFL together in what will be a great battle of endurance.
Where the Match will be Won
Bye vs Six Day Break
A lot has been made about the scheduling of the finals giving the winner of Sydney vs Adelaide an eight day break versus the winner of Hawthorn vs Bulldogs having eight. While it’s definitely an issue that needs to be corrected in future years, the Swans will feel confident they can turn around quickly. Probably the most interesting part about this match is the parallel in scheduling for their Round 16 match. Geelong had the mid-season bye the week before, while Sydney came in from a six-day break having played Saturday night week before. On top of that, the contested nature of their loss the Bulldogs in Round 15 rivals that of their match against Adelaide last week. While it’s certainly a talking point, it’s likely not to impact on any side with the professionalism of a modern AFL team.
Midfield Depth and Influence
While we’ve covered two of the bigger midfield matchups, it likely the depth of each side’s midfields will play a role across the four quarters. As far as tier one elite midfielders goes, you have Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood against Sydney’s Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker. Tier two you have Cam Guthrie, Jimmy Bartel and Mitch Duncan against Kieran Jack, Tom Mitchell and Isaac Heeney. Clearly you have two solid midfields, but based on their Round 16 encounter, the Cats have an issue with keeping so many quality players down at once. No doubt both sides will have a plan for keeping the other midfield down, so look early to who gets on top early.
Like all matches at this stage of the season, they are extremely hard to predict. Their Round 16 match was telling not just on the final result, but the bye vs six day break leading into it. Sydney’s best game will win this match, it’s just whether they bring it or not. While they finished the season at the top, every few weeks they threw up a bad game. This was against the Giants in the first week of finals, but it could extend to this one here. If this is the case, the Cats themselves need to be on their game to take full advantage of this. Geelong too have had some odd losses this year – namely against Carlton and Collingwood, and if either team is off, the other needs to capitalise early. Expect a tight opening quarter and then Sydney’s consistency across the park to take them to a win.
Sydney by 16