AFL great Leigh Matthews says a pre-finals bye is only helping teams who finish without the double chance, as debate over the week off continues to rage.
The pre-finals bye was brought in for the 2016 season after Fremantle coach Ross Lyon made a whopping 12 changes to his Round 23 Dockers side in 2015, stating he needed to manage player loads heading into finals.
Last year the bye was amended to a pre-grand final bye, to allow for WA quarantine laws ahead of the decider in Perth.
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Matthews, a four-time premiership coach and four-time VFL premiership player, fears sides like Geelong will be disadvantaged in 2022 if they win through to a prelim under the current bye format.
“They go to the Collingwood home ground (MCG for the qualifier), and if they happen win that, they have another fortnight off,” he said on 3AW.
“Then you start to get concerned with how ready are you, after playing the one game in the four weeks?
“The bye weekend, it certainly helps the teams in the bottom four that just have to keep winning if they are good enough to keep alive.”
Footy commentator Kane Cornes also felt sides that finished fifth to eighth get the biggest advantage from the bye.
“The argument against it is the teams that finish up the top and win the qualifying final, then it’s another week off and it’s not enough footy,” he said on the Sunday Footy Show.
“It doesn’t give you the advantage of finishing up top as it once did.”
Fremantle became the first minor premier not to reach the grand final in a decade back in 2015, despite opting to rest half their team for that infamous Round 23 match.
The pre-finals bye was subsequently introduced in 2016 and saw the Western Bulldogs become the first team, under the current finals format, to win the premiership from outside the top four.
Adelaide won the 1998 premiership from fifth – but that was not using the current finals schedule.
Since 1994 when the top eight was introduced, the eventual premier has come from outside the top three just three times.
AFL commentator Tim Lane told 3AW the pre-finals bye had been a “huge leg up” for the Bulldogs in 2016 – as they became just the second team in AFL history to win four consecutive finals for a premiership.
Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli said his side held no fear of facing four straight do-or-die clashes to win in 2022, after just sneaking into eighth.
The Dogs made the decider in 2021 after finishing fifth but fell short against Melbourne.
“We are where we are and we understand the aspects of our game that will need to be better, but the season starts again – that’s our mentality,” he said.
“We’ll be able to shift up a gear or two and need to, to be able to beat Fremantle and hopefully beyond that.
“We’ve played in finals before. We’ve got a relatively experienced group when it comes to finals football.
“Ultimately last year we did probably did something similar when you consider we finished in fifth, outside the top four and still had to travel around and go where we needed to, to win and give ourselves a chance.
“We’re probably somewhat familiar in that situation.”
AFL commentator Matthew Lloyd said he was a fan of the pre-finals bye, especially if it meant injury-hit sides like Richmond and Geelong would have a better chance of being at full strength.
“I think the quality of the finals come Thursday will be even better, even if we missed finals this weekend,” he said on 3AW.
“I’m backing in that the quality of finals, by giving another week from a mental aspect, a physical aspect, I have no issues we have a break.”