The AFL and NRL are both into finals this weekend with both competitions whittling eight finalists down to six on the first weekend as the elimination and qualification finals get under way.
Last night already saw the West Coast Eagles ousted by the Western Bulldogs in the first AFL elimination final. Last year’s Grand Finalist fell over at the first hurdle despite a home advantage allowing the Bulldogs, who have been a media darling all year, to survive another week.
The winner out of tonight’s qualification final between the Geelong Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks will get a week off with the loser to face the Bulldogs in a semi-final next week.
The Hawks aging bodies will likely need a week off to ensure a shot at winning their fourth flag in a row while Geelong shouldn’t be written off even if they are unsuccessful against the Hawks tonight with the mix of star power and experience they have.
Like the Hawks and Geelong, Sydney are virtual ever presents in the finals with the three teams holding a near monopoly on premierships for the last 11 years. They will be playing the Greater Western Sydney Giants who are appearing in their first ever final but, unlike most young teams, they are guaranteed a double chance.
Expect the Giants to be overwhelmed by big brother’s class and experience but after this trial by fire they are a good chance to come through their semi the following week to get to prelim. After finishing as minor premiers many expect Sydney to go the whole way again this year.
The Adelaide Crows are hosting the North Melbourne Kangaroos in the other elimination final with the winner likely to face the Giants in the second week. Adelaide only just missed out on the top four by a fairly narrow percentage and their potent forward line is a danger to anyone.
The Kangaroos were preliminary finalists for the previous two years but their form in the back half of the season indicates to most pundits that their window has shut in the most brutal of fashions. They are too old, too slow and lack enough class to go deep into finals this season.
In the NRL the first elimination final is a Queensland derby between the Brisbane Broncos and the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium. The Broncos were losing grand finalists last year and under experienced coach Wayne Bennett should never be taken lightly at this time of year. Lots of Sports Arbitrage action!
The Titans on the other hand have had some very good end of season form and it would be good for the competition to see them have some gambling success. Unfortunately, it is pretty much unseen for a team to come from the bottom of the eight to do some real damage in finals football.
Canberra Raiders versus the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks could be the game of the first week of finals and some even expect it to be a preview of the big dance, unless of course the winner of the first elimination final gets in the way next week.
Cronulla topped the table for much of the year, but don’t be surprised if their patchy form in the last few weeks was actually tapering off to prepare for a tough finals campaign. The Raiders have been in strong form for the last couple of weeks but may not be quite as fresh.
On Saturday night the Melbourne Storm host last year’s premier, the North Queensland Cowboys for a week off. In boxing there is an old saying that “styles make fights” and this is a game that typifies that mantra.
The Storm are the best defensive team in the league but are no slouches on attack while the Cowboys are arguably the best attacking side – even though the Raiders scored more points over the course of the season but are almost as miserly as the minor premiers. Expect a game of punch and counter punch but whoever has a better game out of the two captains and Queensland superstars, Cameron Smith (Melbourne) and Jonathan Thurston (NQ), will likely take the chocolates.
The last game of the weekend and the only NRL game in Sydney is between the Penrith Panthers and The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. This Western Sydney derby is unlikely to have much bearing on the rest of the finals unless the loser of the previous game is completely ravaged by injury.
Both sides at one stage or another looked capable of a double chance but couldn’t quite make it in the end. The Bulldogs are full of fighters but there are question marks over their creative talents’ ability to influence the game. The panthers are full of youth and enthusiasm, but they lack experience in finals football and unfortunately that might not be enough to see them through the first two weeks.