Back at the start of August I went through the remaining 4 rounds of the season and predicted the top 8. I ended up with this:
Relevant Ladder after round 23
8 West Coast
9 St Kilda
Not too shabby really. I got the top8 nailed, top 4 too, but just got the order out of whack. Still not too unhappy with it.
Moving on, there are four cracking matches this week:
Hawks v Pies - it should be a good match between the two teams who fought out a classic prelim last year. Hawks having clawed their way to top spot by defeating the Swans in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, the Pies (and Cloke) finding form by beating Essendon. But really, the Hawks are taking all the form in. They've beaten not only the Swans but West Coast, and the Pies recently, and apart from an after the siren loss to their nemesis Geelong they haven't lost since the debacle in May versus Richmond. And they've missed Buddy for 6 weeks in that run. The Pies have been scratchy for awhile, including the win against the Bombers, with losses to fellow finalists North and West Coast.
Whilst Cloke's performance, and the Pies' midfield was good versus Essendon, lets face it, they should be, its only Essendon and they have been shocking for the second half of the season. The Hawks really should win this just on form. Still, the Pies are a class team and can definitely upset.
Crows v Swans - another great game. The Crows have been solid all year without being spectacular, largely because they've played substandard teams more often than not. On paper they look fantastic with a potent midfield which can break lines, two big form targets up forward, and a team immersed in the previous coach's defensive traits. The Swans have generally taken all before them this year, although have hardly had the best finals lead in with losses to fellow finalists the Hawks and Cats in consecutive weeks.
The big factor in this game could well be the Crows impressive record against the Swans; 8 wins from the last 9 games. AAMI may well be a factor too, but the Swans only win in those 9 games was over in SA.
I think the Swans are a very good, honest team who put in every week, but their mids have tailed off and the outside run of Jetta has disappeared and Grundy suspended doesn't help the match up on Tippett and Walker, so I'm going to back Adelaide with that impressive record v the Swans.
Cats v Dockers - Intriguing match. Yes its over here, and it is the amazing Geelong footy club, but there is something pretty impressive about this Freo team. The Cats are in pretty good form, dropping only the one game in the last 7, but interestingly for the year they've never won 4 in a row. And yep, win this one and they get to 4 in a row. In that run they've beaten the Swans, Hawks and Adelaide, so pretty decent opposition and only just lost to West Coast in WA.
Geelong is the better team, and its at the MCG (Freo beat Richmond but lost to the Pies there this year), but Freo has Sandilands, and he exposes Geelong's greatest weakness, the ruck. I'll back Geelong because they are better as a team, but really Freo is very much in this.
Eagles v Roos - Probably the most clear cut of all matches. Quite simply the Eagles are a very good side, and they are significantly favoured by being at home. And Cox and Nic Nat and this game really should be a gimmie to the Eagles.
North has a good ruckman in Goldstein but he was slaughtered by Mumford and Pyke last week (although could have been hurt during the game), and Cox and Nic Nat are even more formidable. Still if the Roos have watched vision of the Hawks, Gale and Roughy last week who were also slaughtered in the hit outs, but with clever play negated the effectiveness of those hit outs, the Roos might be a chance...a very slim chance. Eagles for me.
So in true long range forecast mode...
Week 2 will see the Swans play the Cats at ANZ. So hard to pick this one. The Cats are in better form and have just beaten the Swans, but will travel be a factor? And history is all for the Swans; only twice have teams been knocked out in straight sets from the top 4. I'm going Sydney just because I can't see them losing 4 in a row (2 regular season and this would be the second final). And whilst the Cats have form, their season suggests their not quite good enough to get 5 in a row.
Pies will play the Eagles, and it should be an absolute classic. The Eagles recently belted the Pies at Pattersons and the Pies form is pretty patchy. In that victory Cox and Nic Nat smashed Wood, and I just can't see it being any different this time, even with Jolly in the side instead. Form will kill the Pies and lift the Eagles (and yes go against history). Pies out in straight sets
Week 3 gives us Hawks v Sydney at the G and really it is about the ground more than anything else. The Swans can't play it and will have no chance against the Hawks who love the space the G provides. The Hawks beat the Swans at the SCG playing close in contested footy just like the Swans love too, so I can't see them dropping this.
Adelaide v West Cost in the second prelim, at AAMI, is a toss up. In Jacobs Adelaide has someone to combat the Eagles pair of rucks, and Adelaide has already beaten then easily in Adelaide once this year. I'll stick with the Crows.
So the Grand Final is the battle of the top 2, Hawks v Crows. Whilst Adelaide has Tippett and Walker, and the Hawks are apparently susceptible to big forwards, the Hawks also have the best team defence in their defensive 50. They showed it v the Eagles last week and their tall forwards didn't do anything (well Darling got 3 goals but all crumbing types). Add the G factor, and I can't see an interstate team beating a local side. The last time it happened was when Brisbane beat the Pies in 03, and this Adelaide side aint no Brisbane of the turn of the century. So Hawks to win the Granny.
But man that is a lot of speculation. So many games could go either way and anything is possible.