After a blistering opening week of the finals, the teams that didn’t bring the intensity required were shown up in emphatic fashion.
North Melbourne’s inexperience on the finals stage saw them blown away by a physically imposing and skilful West Coast Eagles outfit, whilst Geelong’s failure to respect a hardened Fremantle unit saw both the Kangaroos and the Cats falter to early exits.
Now to return our attention to two clubs that are facing an enormous embarrassment if they fail to show this weekend.
Collingwood, in the midst of a week of emotion and soul searching, need to flick the switch and ignite a side that is too good to be eliminated in the second week of the finals.
The Adelaide Crows were completely written off by critics as beneficiaries of a ‘soft draw’, and their disappointing loss at home to the Swans only fuelled this assumption further. Time is on Adelaide’s side in years to come, but a powerful showing is needed at home to quell the doubters.
Everyone is playing for keeps, so it’s time to put everything on the line for another week as we march deeper into September.
First Semi-Final: Adelaide vs. Fremantle
Lower the eyes
Both neutral and regular supporters would have wanted to strangle the Crows’ ball carriers whilst watching their Qualifying Final. After so many breaks wide from defensive their 50 and effective run and carry down the wing, the Crows seemingly found new ways to bungle forward entries. Entries were lobbed too wide, too high, too short and to, at times, opposition defenders alone in the goal square. The Crows squandered all the hard work around the clearances by their midfield unit and rebound plays from the defensive half. Hit targets inside 50 and the scoreboard should tick over enough to trouble Ross Lyon’s men.
Win it in close and break free
The secret to beating Fremantle is winning the footy at the contest. In Round 10, the Dockers had 37 extra uncontested disposals, playing keepings off for most of the game on the wide outer of Patersons Stadium. This didn’t matter, because the Crows annihilated the Dockers around the ground, winning 21 more clearances and the encounter comfortably. Round 20 saw a similarly staggering result, with the Crows winning a whopping 67 extra uncontested possessions whilst murdering the Dockers at the contest with 17 more clearances. If the Crows can win enough of it in close and find players wide of the stoppage, the Dockers don’t seem to have any other tricks in the book to prevent them from marching onward. Patrick Dangerfield’s immense 34 disposals along with Matthew Wright’s 37 saw the best from both inside and outside players.
Keep the key forwards quiet
James Podsiadly and Tom Hawkins were rendered null and void by supreme efforts from Alex Silvangi and Zac Dawson in Fremantle’s Elimination Final. Even when the key forwards looked to win the ball in space, the pressure from the other defenders removed their influence in the game. They were pushed wide, harassed and ultimately locked down. Kurt Tippett failed to provide a target last weekend for the Crows, leaving Taylor Walker to do all the work and draw most of the attention by third men up at contests. The Dockers are still without the services of Luke McPharlin, but that shouldn’t be an issue. Keep the key forwards quiet and Adelaide will find it difficult to score with numerous Freo players sitting in the hole, preventing smaller targets from getting the space to generate a shot on goal.
Amend the clearance issue
First use is vital for the Dockers. Sam Jacobs will be put on the back foot with Aaron Sandilands in sensational form, alongside the handy and talented Zac Clarke. Hitouts to advantage are required to beat the Crows in this area, and with Nathan Fyfe and Sandilands available for the first time against Adelaide this season, the Dockers have a massive chance to win this area of the game. Ryan Crowley’s tagging jobs on Scott Thompson have been superb, so the burden will shouldered on Patrick Dangerfield. If the Dockers swarm enough contests and win most of them, the Crows’ offensive game can be neutralised entirely.
Prediction: Dockers by 12.
Second Semi-Final: Collingwood vs. West Coast
The absence of Nick Maxwell will hurt Collingwood, contrary to popular belief. With the Eagles playing the tallest forward line in recent football memory, the Magpies will be up against the ropes this weekend. Harry O’Brien and Heath Shaw, whilst being very good rebound players, have struggled immensely against bigger opponents. One of them or even both will be forced to play on taller and stronger players that will look to spread and prevent a third player coming over the top. Maxwell may struggle in similar situations when isolated, but he is Collingwood’s designated third man up at contests. His influence must be filled or the Pies run the risk of being completely overwhelmed.
At some point, Nathan Buckley’s philosophy on the tagger at Collingwood must change. This season, Sharrod Wellingham and Jarryd Blair have occasionally played run-with roles to little success. Against the Eagles, the Magpies must curtail the influence of the West Coast midfielders and look to apply the clamps. Dale Thomas has had a poor season and hasn’t had any influence offensively, and could play a tagging role on Matthew Priddis with the tank he possesses. Daniel Kerr should look to be shut down when he’s looking to win the ball in tight, with Wellingham being a good enough option to negate Kerr’s influences at contests.
Land of the giants
At every opportunity, the Eagles must ensure that their tall forwards lead into space, both towards and away from goal. The quick ball movement of the Eagles ensures that they are able to get one on one contests with the desired matchups. The resting forward-ruckman, being either Dean Cox or Nic Natanui, will take their opponents to the goal square most of the time, with Quinten Lynch leading up the ground, which ultimately leaves the dynamic duo of Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling to find space in each pocket. Get the one on ones inside 50 and the Eagles will kick a winning score.
Replace Beau Waters
The loss of vice-captain Beau Waters, who will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury, will be felt by the whole team, but perhaps most keenly by half-back Shannon Hurn. Waters and Hurn have formed a strong double act this season, with at least one usually working free to launch the Eagles’ attacks. Waters ranks number one at the club for marks and rebound 50s and has been shortlisted for All-Australian selection. Hurn was superb against North Melbourne and he is another player the Magpies could look to shutdown with Waters sidelined. Matt Rosa is one the Eagles could look to, as he played a defensive winger/half-back role by dropping back during the middle of the year, with Andrew Gaff playing the offensive winger role. Rosa would drop back behind the play occasionally and filled the dangerous space. Although he doesn’t have the aerial prowess or contested marking skills of Waters, he is an option nonetheless.
Prediction: Eagles by 35.