AFL GRAND FINAL PREVIEW: Demons v Bulldogs

It all comes down to this. Who will prevail in the 2021 AFL Grand Final?

For the second straight season, two Victorian teams will play the Toyota AFL Grand Final outside of Melbourne. 

Although they’ve taken different paths through the finals, minor premier Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs have been the best teams for much of the year, occupying the top two spots for 16 of the 23 rounds. Melbourne is trying to break a 57-year premiership drought, while the Bulldogs are trying to emulate their remarkable 2016 flag by coming from outside the top four to sweep their way through September.

WHERE AND WHEN: Optus Stadium, Saturday September 25, 5.15pm (local time), 9.15pm NZT

Where to watch it: Sky Tv will be broadcasting the game LIVE from 8.15pm. You can also purchase a Grand Final pass at www.watchafl.com.au

WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR

Round 11: Melbourne 13.9 (87) def. Western Bulldogs 8.11 (59)
Both teams entered this match 9-1 and it was the Demons who walked away as premiership favourites following a dominating win at an empty Marvel Stadium. Their pressure was suffocating, with Christian Petracca revealing post-match a mantra to “trust the tackler” playing a huge role. Bayley Fritsch and Tom McDonald kicked three goals apiece, while Clayton Oliver (32 disposals) and Petracca (24 and a goal) were also important. The Bulldogs were missing Josh Dunkley, Adam Treloar, Stefan Martin and Mitch Hannan.

Round 19: Western Bulldogs 13.7 (85) def. Melbourne 9.11 (65)
The Bulldogs made it one-all for the season – this time at an empty MCG – with a strong performance in the wet. Led by Marcus Bontempelli’s three-vote outing, in which he kicked two goals among 31 disposals, the Dogs led most of the way and staved off a fourth-quarter surge from the Demons. Jack Macrae (38) and Caleb Daniel (34) were also important in a victory that put the Bulldogs on top of the table. Alex Keath injured his hamstring in the win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Melbourne
The Demons love to control the game and generate their scoring from the contest. Against Geelong in the preliminary final they scored an unthinkable 101 points from clearance wins – the fourth-most points from that source by any side on record. It was no fluke. Led by Max Gawn in the ruck, Melbourne has been the AFL’s most prolific team from centre bounce all season, outscoring opponents by an average of 6.3 points a game. In the home and away season, they won the contested possession count by an average of 11, which has increased to a mind-blowing 25 in the finals. Combined with the most frugal defence in the competition, it’s a lethal combination.

Western Bulldogs 
It’s a genuine ‘battle of the midfields’, with the Bulldogs’ engine room of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Tom Liberatore critical to their success. They love to chain handballs from stoppage wins, averaging 25 disposals a game more than their opposition through the home and away season. The Dogs have also been beasts around the contest in September, winning the contested possession count by an average of 21 through the finals. Luke Beveridge loves to assign specific jobs to players, so watch for a forward, possibly Josh Schache as he did against Port’s Aliir Aliir in the preliminary final, to negate Jake Lever, and Josh Dunkley to get a midfield run-with assignment.

WHAT THE STATS SAY

– Jack Macrae is having an unbelievable finals series. The prolific Bulldogs midfielder is averaging 37 disposals a game – the equal-most of any player in finals history – and 17.3 contested possessions, which is third all-time.

– Not only is Melbourne good around the clearances, it’s also the best team in the AFL for winning post-clearance contested possessions, with a differential of plus-10 a game.

– Tom Liberatore and Clayton Oliver are the top two players in the competition for total clearances this year. Liberatore has won 182 and Oliver 181.

– If the Bulldogs turn the ball over in the middle of the ground, they’re the best equipped of any team to defend it, conceding a score from just 24.2 per cent of these mishaps.

– Jack Viney is stepping his game up when it matters the most. The rugged Demon averaged 4.3 clearances a game during the home and away season and has upped that to eight a game during the finals.

– Stefan Martin has a bigger influence than meets the eye. In games when the veteran ruckman has played, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents from clearances by 14.9 points a game, compared to just 5.9 points when he hasn’t played.

– When Alex Neal-Bullen kicks the ball inside 50 for Melbourne, it’s good news for the Demons as they mark it 25.9 per cent of the time. That success rate is the fifth best in the League among the top-50 for total kicks inside 50. 

IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR

Melbourne
Last off-season the Demons decided they needed more key forward scoring punch and recruited Ben Brown. After knee troubles slowed his progress early in the season, Brown has hit form when Melbourne needed it most, kicking 17 goals and averaging six marks in nine matches since being recalled in round 17. Brown doesn’t need to dominate, but providing the star-studded midfields are relatively even, it’s important he occupies in-form Alex Keath and provides a strong presence for the small and medium forwards to work around.

Western Bulldogs
It’s been a patchy finals campaign for Adam Treloar, but the former Magpie will be as hungry as anyone to win on Saturday. Treloar was terrific in the second half of the elimination final triumph against Essendon, was down against Brisbane, and then absolutely superb against Port, racking up a game-high 13 score involvements. After falling short with Collingwood in heartbreaking fashion in 2018, and then controversially forced to change clubs during the off-season, a premiership medal would be oh so sweet for the 28-year-old.

Prediction
Melbourne by eight points. Max Gawn’s red-hot form, coupled with the Demons’ stingy defence might give them the slightest of advantages.

Story – AFL.com.au