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AFL Preliminary finals: And then there were four

With only four teams left in contention, we take a look at what each of them brings to the table, and why they could win the flag.

As we come to the pointy end of the season, four teams will fight it out for two tickets to the big dance next Saturday at the MCG. Each contender has established their credentials, but there can be only one ultimate winner. We look at what each team brings to the table, and why they are a chance.

Adelaide Crows


The Crows have been the most consistent side this season and have performers across the board. The emergence of the Crouch brothers and the support they received from the likes of Richard Douglas, Rory Laird and Rory Atkins has ensured that the Crows are no longer just relying on Rory Sloane. Sam Jacobs has been a great presence, and their forward line is the envy of the competition. They have also managed to defend really well, with Jake Lever justifying his hefty price tag and high demand with some stellar performances.

Why they can win

Simply put, they are the most balanced side. When they get going, they operate like a well-oiled machine, and when going gets tough, they seem to find another gear. The mercurial Eddie Betts and the reliable Taylor Walker form a formidable partnership with Josh Jenkins and Charlie Cameron in the forward line, creating a deadly four man attack. With most AFL defences stretched by efforts to contain two good forward, the Crows set up is particularly difficult to withstand. They are also happy to share the load too, as they demonstrated against the Giants, and this will prove difficult to contain if they get on a roll. Averaging 15.9 goals a game, a score that should win you most games of footy, if the Crows can replicate this over the next fortnight they will be well on their way to a flag.

What they need to watch out for

The absence of Mitch McGovern and Brodie Smith can be covered by other players, but their influence stretches beyond just numbers. For a start, they played key roles in giving the Crows the balance that has helped them win games this season. Secondly, McGovern’s marking and Smith’s kickouts have been crucial in setting up their attack. If this is thrown out of kilter, it might be the slight misfire that costs the Crows a crucial game.

Player to watch

For me, the player who provides the Crows with the X-Factor is Eddie Betts. Sometimes, it takes something special to win prelims and grand finals, and if there is one certainty, it is that Eddie can provide that spark. He has enjoyed a stellar season so far, and will look to kick a bag or two to help his side on their way to the flag.

Geelong Cats


Geelong have had an interesting season, finishing second despite having blooded some youth in the latter half of the season. Dangerfield has been at his best, and Selwood was firing before his injuries. Together, they have held the side together as other players have performed around them.  They have had a good spread of goal scorers, with Daniel Menzel, Tom Hawkins and Dangerfield doing the bulk of the scoring, while the supporting cast of Harry Taylor, Steven Motlop and Sam Menengola have chipped in with timely goals.

Why they can win

They have a genuine weapon in Dangerfield, and Selwood is no muck either. If they get going at the same time, the effects will be telling, as will be the delivery into the forward line. Hawkins is a hard matchup for most defenders, and is well complemented by Menzel. The likes of Duncan, Motlop and Menengola provide good run and grunt work in the midfield, and also kick important goals. This versatility will be key for them in a prelim or a grand final.

What they need to watch out for

The Cats have been notorious for their slow starts this year, and will need to rectify it on the big stage. They also need to avoid overly relying on ‘Dangerwood’ to get them the win, and will look to spread the workload more evenly.

Player to watch

This is a no brainer – Dangerfield. He is strong, dynamic and versatile, and can provide some great presence in clutch situations. He will be a hard one to stop, and will look to impose himself in the prelims and take his side to a grand final for the first time in his Geelong career.

Richmond Tigers


The Tigers have handballed the pretenders tag off to Port, and have shown that they mean business. They are a classy outfit with a gun midfield, and have a top-class defender in Alex Rance who single-handedly saves them a handful of goals every game. Their forward line is undersized but performs beyond expectation. Riewoldt provides a good marking presence, but the smaller forwards also loom as a threat to crumb and goal at any opportunity.

Why they can win

The Tigers have peaked at the right time, and have peaked well. Dustin Martin is in career-best form, and has single-handedly destroyed opposition sides this year. Trent Cotchin has also led from the front, and the unpredictability of their undersized forward line works in their favour. In defence, the Tigers have been stingy, with Rance being a formidable presence. On their day, they have all the elements required to win a big game and a flag.

What they need to watch out for

Richmond’s accuracy in front of goal has been poor this year, and they are also behind the other three contenders with 13 goals a game. They are also not a high clearance winning side in comparison, and lag well behind on the hitouts count. In a tight game, this could count against them as the midfield that gets first use of the ball usually causes most damage. They will also need to erase their horrible memories of losing close games, and be prepared to take the game on.

Player to watch

Dustin Martin has had a stellar year, and has been the barometer for Richmond’s performances. When he gets going, they usually follow suit. It will be crucial for him to get his hands on the ball and insert himself into the contest early. If he strings together two good games, the Tigers will be a good chance to win the flag.

GWS Giants


By far the most unpredictable side of the four, the Giants have impressed and confused their supporters in equal measures. They are a young side full of talent, but injuries have cruelled them this season. They have done well to keep going and make top four, and have reaped the benefits of a double chance. 

They are a strong attacking side, and the best clearance side in the competition. Jon Patton and Toby Greene have had good seasons in front of the sticks, and their midfield is filled with talent. The trio of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Dylan Shiel have had plenty of the ball this year, and have been well supported by Lachie Whitfield, Callan Ward and Tom Scully. When their midfield is firing, they are an exciting side to watch.

Why they can win

They are a prolific attacking side, and have no dearth of goalkicking talent even with their injury list. They are also the best rebound 50 side out of the four sides, and can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds. If they can keep their clearances up, and their midfielders provide top level service to the forward line, the Giants will be a hard proposition to beat.

What they need to watch out for

Being the aggressive attacking side they are, the Giants have a tendency to get caught on the counter, and this can hit them hard in a big game. The absence of long term ruckman Shane Mumford will also play a crucial role, and it forces Rory Lobb to do more work in the ruck. While he seems to be holding up well, the Giants are left a genuine big man short in the forward line. They will also need to keep an eye on accuracy in front of goal, and make sure they make their chances count.

Player to watch

The potential return of Stevie J to the MCG two weeks in a row will excite Giants fans as well as the footy world. When he gets going, Johnson is capable of winning games off his own boot. His experience on the hallowed turf, as well as his record in finals make him the player to watch for GWS.

  1. Who will win the 2017 AFL Premiership?

    1. Adelaide
    2. Geelong
    3. Richmond
    4. GWS
    41 votes
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Sudi Chandrasekharan

Sudi is RealSport’s Aussie Rules Editor, and a passionate Hawthorn supporter. He is a big advocate for more fan-based writing in sport, and works with his team of dedicated writers to bring some good analysis and opinion to AFL fans across the globe. Sudi is also currently working on creating weekly AFL podcasts for RealSport, so stay tuned!

AFL Preliminary finals: And then there were four

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