Why the Demons have no choice but to tag Lachie Neale this Friday night.
Plus, just for something different, why another close Collingwood game looms.
Here’s every club’s burning question ahead of the first week of the finals and commentators for every Fox Footy game in our ultimate weekly preview: The Blowtorch!
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AFL FINALS WEEK TWO (all times AEST)
MELBOURNE V BRISBANE LIONS (Joel Macdonald Cup)
Friday September 9, 7.50pm AEST at the MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 6.50pm, hosted by Garry Lyon with Jonathan Brown, Nathan Buckley, Nick Riewoldt, Dermott Brereton, Kath Loughnan and Jon Ralph.
Demons’ burning question: Will Melbourne click in the 50m arcs?
The Demons face a tough call at selection with Tom McDonald looming large. The premiership forward didn’t get a second chance to prove his fitness last weekend in the VFL, but took part in a vigorous training instead.
Against the Swans last weekend, Melbourne’s attacking woes were identified with the move of Max Gawn starting forward again failing to pay off. The skipper has kicked just two goals in his past nine games in a worrying sign for their use of Gawn as an extra forward.
McDonald was in great form before his injury blow earlier this season, but he hasn’t featured at AFL level for more than three months, so his selection in a semi-final could prove a massive risk.
While Steven May performed a brilliant lockdown role on Swans veteran Lance Franklin in their qualifying final loss, questions are also being asked of the Dees’ back six.
Melbourne conceded 90-plus points just once in its 2021 premiership campaign. But in their past eight games, the Dees have conceded that amount four times — and three of those were against teams still currently in the premiership race.
“This is an issue that’s becoming more of a problem,” Fox Footy’s Garry Lyon said on On the Couch.
Working in Melbourne’s favour is Michael Hibberd’s dominance of key Lion Charlie Cameron in 2022. In the two matches they’ve faced off, Cameron has been goalless and targeted just twice inside 50 in those games.
Lions’ burning question: Can Brisbane handle the heat?
Lions midfielder Lachie Neale “dragged” his team across the line against Richmond in a shootout of an elimination final. But Fox Footy’s Garry Lyon believes if not for Neale’s heroics, “their season is gone”.
Neale had nine of Brisbane’s 23 clearances at half-time and finished with a career-best 15 clearances — the second-most ever recorded in a final — to go with 39 disposals, 21 contested possessions and nine score involvements.
“It’s the greatest no-brainer of all – he’s been got before (by a tag); he’s been quelled,” Lyon said of Melbourne’s approach for Neale on On the Couch.
Melbourne and Brisbane famously faced off in Round 23, with a sledge by Lions skipper Dayne Zorko leaving Dees defender Harrison Petty in tears at the three quarter-time huddle. It was a fierce contest, with spotfires breaking out across the match as tempers threatened to boil over. But against the Tigers, it was a more composed Brisbane outfit that got the win and kept their season alive.
Nick Riewoldt has warned the Lions need to prepare for similar style of game against the Demons after being afforded “time and space” in the clash with the Tigers.
“That Round 23 game, where Melbourne’s ball use looked great, probably said more about Brisbane’s inability to defend rather than Melbourne fixing that part of their game,” he warned. “Melbourne are a team that, at times this year, they’ve needed to bash you to beat you.”
Melbourne are proving to be a bogey team for the Lions in 2022. While the Lions are +7.3 for contested possession differential this season, they’ve finished -38 and -10 in the two matches against the Demons.
Lyon urged Brisbane to forget trying to match Melbourne’s physicality off the ball as it didn’t come naturally to them. Instead, he said the Lions should focus on exposing the Lions through the corridor.
“I think this stuff in the lead-up to this game that they went over the top and tried to be something they’re not,” he said.
“They’re probably not going to out-tough Melbourne this year. They’re not going to win this battle.
“Be braver (instead) – take the corridor on like they did against Richmond. Not bomb down the line.”
Jason Dunstall added: “You won’t score 100 points if they just bomb it in – you’ve got to divide and conquer the Melbourne defence.”
COLLINGWOOD V FREMANTLE (Jack Anthony Cup)
Saturday September 10, 7.25pm AEST at the MCG
How to watch on Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 6.20pm, hosted by Sarah Jones with Jason Dunstall, Jack Riewoldt, Jordan Lewis, Brad Johnson, Nick Dal Santo and Jon Ralph.
Magpies’ burning question: Will the stars who stood up last Saturday get more help?
Collingwood’s season has been all about small margins – mostly on the scoreboard. Against Geelong, it was small moments in a tight game — a situation the Magpies train so frequently for — that proved costly.
Tiny slip-ups cost the Pies a chance at a home preliminary final after a monumental evening from some of their biggest names, namely Jordan De Goey, Scott Pendlebury and Darcy Moore. The latter in particular drew heavy praise from St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt.
“Darcy Moore was brilliant. Coming into the game, he was a player who at various stages this year, you look at him and his greatest strength be his greatest weakness – that he tries to read it, that he rolls off,” Riewoldt said on On the Couch.
“Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron loomed large and I thought if he gets it wrong today, he could be made to look, not silly but second-rate. Well he just took the game over, particularly early when there was pressure on the ball.
“Hacked kicks, it was getting rushed forward — his anticipation and ability to complete his plays were a big reason why they jumped out of the blocks.”
Instead it was mistakes in those late moments – a fumble by Beau McCreery in the final minute on the wing, a defensive lapse that saw Gary Rohan break free and set up an open Max Holmes for the game-sealing goal – that cost the Magpies dearly.
“They were winners in the sense they gave themselves every opportunity just by giving unconditional effort, but sometimes there are just no guarantees,” Riewoldt said.
Given that nine of Collingwood’s last 10 games have been decided by less two goals – and given Fremantle isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse – it should be another close one on Saturday night.
This time the Pies cannot make those same mistakes, or a straight-sets finals exit looms.
Dockers’ burning question: Can their smaller fleet outwork Collingwood’s interceptors?
At their best when they’re taking the game on, backing their speed and applying relentless pressure, the Dockers are exhilarating to watch.
Against the Dogs in their remarkable elimination fight back, the two talls in Rory Lobb and Jye Amiss contributed four of the 11 goals kicked, with small forward Michael Walters topping scorers with three goals.
The Dockers will need their smaller targets in Walters, Sam Switkowski, Michael Frederick and Lachie Schultz to come to the party against the Pies if they are to move on in the premiership race.
“They play a really athletic style in the front half,” Nick Riewoldt praised.
Garry Lyon added: “When they are at their best, they are so hard to score against.”
But Collingwood’s gun intercept defenders, like Darcy Moore, Jeremy Howe and Braydon Maynard, will be a tough wall to pass for Freo.
“He was brilliant (against Geelong),” Riewoldt praised of Moore.
“Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins loomed large. (Moore) could have been made to look second rate – but he just took the game over, particularly early when it was hack-kick, pressure on the ball. His anticipation and ability to read the plays was a big part of the reason they were able to jump out of the blocks.”
Howe and Moore had 16 intercepts between them the last time the two sides met in the wet back in Round 10. Coach Justin Longmuir will need to find a way to keep the duo engaged and away from the contest.