It’s the penultimate weekend of the season for both codes and there is an unprecedented chance at both the NRL and the AFL facing the prospect of having no heartland clubs in either Grand Final.
First up is the Geelong Cats against the AFL minor premiers, the Sydney Swans at the MCG. Geelong is coming off the back of a week off after winning their qualifying final while Sydney have had to do things the hard way after an upset loss in the first week of the finals series.
Still this is one of those games where most neutrals would be hoping both teams could lose because they are sick of seeing them in Grand Finals and winning premierships.
Geelong have rebuilt quickly off of a large number of mature recruits brought in before the beginning of this season but have ridden largely on the back of just one, likely Brownlow Medallist, Patrick Dangerfield. His explosiveness from clearances, long kicking and goals from midfield are key to the Cats chances against the Swans who have arguably the best midfield in the competition.
Along with their high quality engine room, the Swans also have the best key forward in the game – Buddy Franklin. Franklin can do things that other men his size can barely imagine and is a threat from anywhere within 60 metres of goal. The Swans won the most recent match up between the two sides and I would expect it to go the same way tonight.
The Swans were bested in the first week of finals by their home town rival and juggernaut in waiting, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. The Giants have a home preliminary at the boutique Spotless Stadium in front of what may be one of the smallest finals crowds in many years.
They are facing the team that has quickly become everyone’s second team, the Western Bulldogs. Both teams are extremely young and extremely talented but the potential dynasty ahead of the Giants after so many generous start up concessions has much of the AFL shaking with fear.
With the Giants having had a week off and playing at home I expect them to come away with the chocolates and face off against the Swans in the Grand Final for a Sydney derby but with the result going opposite to how their previous finals face off finished.
Friday nights NRL Preliminary Final is the Cronulla Sharks against the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney. The Sharks have been one of the best sides all season putting some lean years behind them. The Cowboys were last years premiers and are very difficult to write off.
Expect it to be a gruelling finals match with the Cowboys formidable defence and large backrowers putting pressure on the Sharks little men. The Sharks right side attack has a very good chance against their inexperienced counterparts for the Cowboys but if it comes down to a tight match at the death expect some magic from Jonathan Thurston to decide the game.
The Sharks won the last time they met but that was in the middle of their record breaking winning streak. These sort of tight games make it very hard to make a call so you would be forgiven for backing finals experience and going for the Cowboys to make it to next Sundays season decider.
Minor Premiers the Melbourne Storm host the Canberra Raiders in Saturday night’s Preliminary final and everyone knows this is the Storm’s time of year. They have as close to an impregnable defence as an NRL team can get but if there is one thing that has the potential of making holes in it the Raiders’ improvised and exciting attacking play is as good a chance as anyone.
The Storm are front runners and if they get out to an early lead there isn’t much anyone can do to drag them back in. If the Raiders can get out to an early lead though, the Storm might have to overextend themselves to drag the game back into reach and that is where they can potentially be opened up and scored against.
Expect neither NSW team to be in the Grand Final at ANZ stadium next Sunday as the Storm are just too good at this time of year.
The best result really will be that both Melbourne and Sydney are swamped by out of towners to celebrate their respective footy festivals this year – well it will be the best result for fans but it’s doubtful whether the respective codes brass will feel the same.