When it comes to the second week of the AFL finals, history is well written. It’s been six years since a beaten qualifying final side was defeated in a semi-final, and Collingwood still needed extra-time to score that win over West Coast at Subiaco back in 2007. Overall, a staggering 93% of qualifying final losers have emerged victorious the following week. There are three simple reasons – 1) the bounce back factor; 2) they’re playing at home and; 3) they’re generally playing a side with a significantly inferior record. And aside from three celebrated examples from the last decade, winning qualifying final sides have an equally high likelihood of reaching the Grand Final, with the week’s rest and a home final crucial elements.
Back in 2003, the Lions were chasing a third successive flag but stumbled to Collingwood in a low scoring qualifying final slog. But with history beckoning, Brisbane smashed its next three opponents (Adelaide, the Swans in Sydney and the Magpies) the secure a ‘three-peat’. Two years later, Sydney and West Coast played two incredibly tight Grand Finals. In 2005, the Swans lost the qualifying final then won the flag with West Coast following the same pattern in 2006. The four finals those sides played in those two years were decided by a total of 10 points! But historically, it’s been bloody tough for elimination final winners to get past the second week of the finals, and equally hard for semi-final victors to reach the Grand Final. Could 2013 buck the trend?
• One particularly buoyant Freo supporter questioned me last week on the value of “finals pressure” in handicapping AFL post-season games. For AFL finals, I use a data set going back to 2000 (as opposed to just five years for the home and away season). Otherwise, the sample size is just too small. Even then, the stats for qualifying finals (where sides have a double chance) have to be considered separately from the “knockout” elimination, semi, preliminary and grand finals. Data reveals that the underdog reduces the scoring ability of favoured teams by approximately nine points (100 to 91).
The underdog’s score is also expected to fall from 84 to 81 but this net reduction equates to a net increase in the likelihood of an upset victory for the underdog. The only contrary stat to this general trend is that games with a higher than average number of stoppages tend to, bizarrely, generate higher scores than during the home and away season. Perhaps this can be explained by the extreme effort of players early in finals matches, leaving them more fatigued in the second half (a factor I considered in last week’s Geelong v Fremantle match-up, which fell eight points short of covering the line of 167.5).
Second Semi-Final: Geelong (18-4) v Port Adelaide (12-10), MCG, Friday, September 13, 7.50pm AEST – odds: Geelong $1.22, Port Adelaide $4.35; line 26.5; game total line 170.5
Port Adelaide will return to the MCG full of confidence after a stunning upset of Collingwood. Based on my ratings, the Power’s win was the greatest upset in finals history! However I’m not expecting them to progress further than this. Credit to the Power, but they defeated a side that was little more than a disorganised rabble and threatened to break the record for direct kicks to the opposition. Kudos to Ken Hinkley on what he’s achieved this year, taking a team bereft of any confidence and mourning the loss of a teammate and turning them into a hard-working and surprisingly skilled outfit. An added bonus is that they are unchanged from last week, and will have benefitted from the routine established in the lead-up for last week’s game. The pain of that 119-point loss to the Cats in the 2007 Grand Final (the last time they met in September) may provide some incentive but Port have lost nine in a row to Geelong stretching back to that year.
The Cats were comprehensively torn apart by Freo but should find this easier. I’m expecting changes to the Cats’ ruck and forward set-ups while the loss of Corey Enright will be tough to overcome as Port, like the Dockers, can go tall or small on the forward line. Favourite whipping boy Tom Hawkins returns, which is a massive ‘in’. Regardless of his form, he’ll take a decent defender and will have plenty of incentive to prove his critics wrong. Josh Hunt and Taylor Hunt also return while Josh Caddy is out with an ankle injury. Geelong won both matches against Port this year with the Power struggling to find effective match-ups for Steve Johnson and Joel Selwood (both of who played forward of centre and kicked crucial goals in those games). Kane Cornes can only do so much in a tagging role. The Port forwards simply won’t have the space they were afforded last week, and I expect the Cats to progress fairly comfortably here.
Tip: Geelong. Suggested bet: Geelong -27.5 (best of the week)
First Semi-Final: Sydney (15-1-6) v Carlton (11-11), ANZ Stadium, Saturday, September 14, 7.45pm AEST – odds: Sydney $1.35, Carlton $3.25; line 21.5; game total line 176.5
If there’s to be an upset, it’s more likely to be here. The Swans’ injury problems are so bad, there was serious consideration being given to the recall of Adam Goodes – he’s been out for 13 weeks and hadn’t had a full week on the track. Ben McGlynn, Jude Bolton and Jarrad McVeigh picked up injuries in last week’s defeat to Hawthorn, while Gary Rohan (omitted), Daniel Hannebery and Lewis Jetta are clearly below their best. I’d be staggered if there were not late changes to the Sydney side – Bolton’s cork looked particularly nasty. No Franklin and no Rioli proved no worries for the Hawks as they held Sydney to just seven goals for the game while booting 11 goals to three after half-time. There was clear frustration among the Sydney players in the second half, and I’m expecting that will be channeled positively by John Longmire here. In a brutal game at the SCG in round 14, the Swans were at their resilient best as they weathered Carlton’s challenge and ran away with the game in the last quarter.
Momentum is key in the finals and the Blues have it. They’ve run over the top of Port Adelaide and Richmond in successive weeks and are playing their best footy of the season. Michael Jamison and Lachie Henderson stifled the Tiger forwards while Nick Duigan (a late call-up for Brock McLean) proved a perfect foil in attack, booting 4.0 from 10 kicks. Matthew Kreuzer makes way for Levi Casboult meaning the Blues still have the timber to match the Swans’ myriad tall options. Carlton has yet to win at ANZ Stadium, and has only played there on three occasions, most recently 2010, going down by five points in an elimination final. The Swans haven’t enjoyed their second home all that much in recent times either, losing their last two matches at the venue this season and relying on fixtures against GWS to bolster their overall record. But with two days’ extra rest, a proven record at this level and a 10-3 record against Carlton in their past 13 games, I like the Swans to bounce back. Late money is coming for the Blues, so I expect the line to fall by one, maybe two, more points.
Tip: Sydney. Suggested bet: Sydney -21.5