2018 AFL Grand Final Preview

Two thrilling teams to watch, two quite remarkable paths to the MCG, and two teams hell-bent on taking that crucial final step — for the West Coast Eagles and Collingwood, the 2018 premiership is on the line.

 

SUMMARY

Just who is this year’s Grand Final favourite? Is it West Coast, the higher-ranked team and winner of both clashes this year? Or is it Collingwood, which gets to play at the MCG, will have an extra day’s rest and is fresh from ending Richmond’s hopes of back-to-back flags? The Eagles will have to defy history to win their fourth premiership, having not won a final at the MCG since their last flag in 2006, and the drought at the ground lingers to 1999 if you remove non-Victorian opponents. On top of that, the past five non-Victorian Grand Finalists lost the decider. Beyond that, the contested possession battle looms as critical to the final result, with West Coast and Collingwood the top two in that statistic in September.

WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Saturday, September 29, 4.30pm NZT

 

Read more: Where to watch the 2018 AFL Grand Final in NZ

 

WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?

Round 17:  West Coast 15.12 (102) d Collingwood 9.13 (67) at the MCG

This was the game in which Nic Naitanui’s knee buckled and his season ended, but the Eagles stamped their premiership credentials with a rare victory at the home of Australian football. The Pies led by 20 points in the first term and would have led by more if not for some wastefulness. West Coast kicked six of the last seven goals to power away.

Qualifying final:  West Coast 12.14 (86) d Collingwood 10.10 (70) at Optus Stadium

Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling came to life as the Eagles, who kicked the first three goals of the night, came from 10 points down at three-quarter time to book a preliminary final berth. Defender Brad Sheppard suffered a season-ending hamstring injury, while Lewis Jetta gave West Coast the lead for good with a great snap, followed by a Ronaldo-inspired celebration.

LAST FIVE TIMES

2QF, 2018, West Coast Eagles 12.14 (86) d Collingwood 10.10 (70) at Optus Stadium
R17, 2018, West Coast Eagles 15.12 (102) d Collingwood 9.13 (67) at the MCG
R18, 2017, Collingwood 13.15 (93) d West Coast Eagles 13.7 (85) at Etihad Stadium
R19, 2016, Collingwood 13.13 (91) d West Coast Eagles 11.6 (72) at the MCG
R6, 2016, West Coast Eagles 18.16 (124) d Collingwood 9.8 (62) at Subiaco Oval

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

West Coast

1. The Eagles won’t be afraid to turn this into a contested game despite ranking only seventh in contested possession differential in the home and away season to Collingwood’s second. They belted pacesetting Melbourne in that area on Saturday and are No.1 in the finals.

2. Mark Hutchings will go to Steele Sidebottom, who enhanced his Mr September tag with another outrageously good performance on Friday night. The tagger took the honours in round 17 – holding Sidebottom to a season-low 18 disposals – but the Magpie was prolific with 27 possessions in their qualifying final.

3. West Coast did a good job of quelling Jaidyn Stephenson and Will Hoskin-Elliott in the two earlier clashes this year, but Josh Thomas got off the leash both times. Does Tom Cole get that match-up on Saturday in Brad Sheppard’s absence?

Collingwood

1. Will Chris Mayne go to Jeremy McGovern again? Mayne gives up 7cm in the match-up and won’t want to get involved aerially too often, so his positioning will be crucial. The other school of thought is to try to engage McGovern with the often-targeted Mason Cox.

2. The Pies did a great job of limiting the Eagles to only 84 marks in the qualifying final, 17 below their AFL-leading average. Stopping West Coast from controlling the game in that way will be a priority.

3. Tyson Goldsack (193cm) and Jeremy Howe (190cm) had the big jobs on Josh Kennedy (196cm) and Jack Darling (191cm) respectively in the qualifying final, so does Nathan Buckley back them in again? Or does Tom Langdon (190cm) go to Darling and release Howe as the third man in and interceptor? The resting ruckman, either Scott Lycett or Nathan Vardy, must also be accounted for.

THE SIX POINTS

1. The Eagles’ key forwards were the difference between the sides both times this year. In round 17, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling kicked three goals each, then in the qualifying final they booted two apiece. Collingwood had more disposals on both occasions.

2. There is a significant contrast in game styles in the Grand Final. Collingwood ranks No.1 for disposals, averaging 401.5 per game this season, including 31.4 more than its opposition. West Coast is 16th, with only 356.6. The Eagles win 11.7 fewer than their rivals in direct match-ups.

3. West Coast and Collingwood meet in a Grand Final for the first time, but their finals history is far from boring. The Magpies won four of the clubs’ previous seven post-season meetings, with the Eagles winning two and there being one draw. Six of those seven clashes were decided by 20 points or fewer.

4. Both teams can pile on big scores and have a variety of weapons in attack. Only two clubs average more goals than West Coast’s 13.5 this season, and four Eagles boast 32 majors or more, led by Jack Darling’s 47 from 20 games. Collingwood is right behind West Coast, averaging 13.4 goals, and has four players with at least 36 majors, with Jordan De Goey’s 45 from 20 matches leading the way.

5. The Eagles will play in their seventh Grand Final and are aiming for their fourth premiership, their most recent coming in 2006 against Sydney by one point. No club has contested more Grand Finals than the Magpies’ 43, for 15 flags. They defeated St Kilda in 2010 to win their 15th premiership.

6. Collingwood’s eight players in the top 100 of the Schick AFL Player Ratings – led by Brodie Grundy at No.5 – is double as many as West Coast, which doesn’t have a single player in the top 20. Triple All Australian Jeremy McGovern is the top-ranked Eagle at No.21.

WHAT THE COACHES SAY

Adam Simpson: “We are different to 2015 (West Coast’s last Grand Final). It’s a different style of play, it’s a different maturity amongst our players. Does that mean anything with the build-up? I don’t know. But our leaders have been carrying a lot of the responsibility this year and they’ve really grown, spread the load and on-field gone to another level … last time was a little bit of, ‘What’s going on here?’.” – after beating Melbourne in last week’s preliminary final

Nathan Buckley: “We’re not done yet; we’ve got another game to win. We’ve really been strong on exploring ourselves (and) finding out what we’re capable of – and we still don’t know. We’ll relax, we’ll embrace it, we’ll share it with each other, we’ll have a laugh, (and) we’ll absorb all of that, because it’s enjoyable to do. But all the while, we know we’ve got a job to do and we’re really looking forward to that challenge.” – after beating Richmond in last week’s preliminary final

IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR…

Scott Lycett might be playing his last game for the Eagles and his current side will hope, if it is, he goes out with a bang. West Coast’s ruck understudy-turned-No.1 was superb against Melbourne’s All Australian big man Max Gawn in their preliminary final and now Magpie Brodie Grundy awaits.