The 2020 AFL Finals series is finally upon us and what a season it has been to get us to this point.
For our Finals predictions, we are taking a slightly different approach by making a case for either side before agreeing on a prediction.
See our analysis of the eight teams and four games below.
All times AEST
Thursday, 7:40pm, Adelaide Oval
Making a case for the Power
All the talk is over – Port Adelaide’s premiership ambitions face their first test on Thursday night against Geelong and they couldn’t be in a better place to begin their assault on claiming their second ever flag.
Ken Hinkley’s side will be hellbent on proving the doubters wrong and in front of near enough 30,000 fans at Adelaide Oval, this promises to be a very different clash to when the two sides met at Metricon Stadium earlier in the year.
While the Power were easily beaten by the Cats on that night, they would’ve learnt plenty from what turned out to be one of several finals dress rehearsals for them across the course of the season.
Speaking of learning things, defender Tom Clurey will be back for the match and would’ve also taken a fair bit out of the last time he played on Tom Hawkins, who soundly beat him on the night.
Rather than playing in front of the 2020 Coleman Medal winner and allowing him to take prime body position in the contest, Clurey should be able to adjust with the benefit of facing off against the same opponent already this season.
There’s no mistaking just how important this game is for the legitimacy of Port Adelaide but after finishing on top of the ladder this season, they’re well placed to take care of Geelong and lock in a home Preliminary Final in a fortnight’s time.
Making a case for the Cats
Geelong’s finals record since their 2011 premiership makes for poor reading.
The Cats have won just four of 15 finals and lost five of their last six opening finals heading in Thursday night's Qualifying Final against Port Adelaide.
But they can take plenty of confidence from their 60-point thrashing of the Power the last time they met in Round 12.
Coleman Medallist Tom Hawkins monstered Port's undersized defence and feasted on some superb delivery from the Cats midfield, kicking a season-high six goals and taking seven contested marks.
With a star-studded on-ball brigade, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood now cherry ripe, and a wealth of finals experience across every line, there’s simply no excuses for Chris Scott’s side.
Overall prediction: Geelong by 10 points.
Friday, 7:50pm, Gabba
Making a case for the Lions
Yes, Richmond has beaten Brisbane 15 times in a row and yes some veteran Tigers have gone their entire careers without experiencing a loss to the Lions and yes they’re up against the dominant finals team of the last four years, but that doesn’t mean the Lions can’t flip the script.
When they met in last year’s Qualifying Final, the Lions kicked 8.17 to Richmond’s 18.4. They led at quarter-time and had enough scoring shots to drastically alter the result, but couldn’t capitalise on their opportunities.
That trend has continued throughout the 2020 season with Brisbane being one of the least accurate teams in front of goal. With a bit of luck and big-moment execution, they could give themselves a huge boost against their bogey match-up.
Richmond crushed Brisbane earlier in the year, but the same problem arose again, with the Lions kicking 4.17 to Richmond’s 12.10. It seems a simple thing to bring up, but the Tigers have forced Brisbane into taking tougher and wider shots, denying them the corridor and taking their style away from them.
Another key factor is Dustin Martin, who has made a habit of feasting on the Lions throughout his career. He’s kicked 14 goals in his last four games against them and found as much of the footy as he has pleased. A potential tagging role for someone like Mitch Robinson or Jarryd Lyons could at least disrupt the two-time Norm Smith Medallist. Whether making Dusty mad is a good strategy or not, who knows, but sending Robinson to him to do so seems worth a shot.
With Tom Lynch officially out, the Lions must get creative with Harris Andrews. Andrews would have been forced to man Lynch tightly, but he can now delegate the Jack Riewoldt match-up to Darcy Gardiner and fill dangerous space. Send him to someone like Jake Aarts and allow Andrews to read the flight of the ball and pick off the Tigers’ forward thrusts.
Brisbane must get aggressive and take the fight to a team that has completely owned them for a decade if they are to have any chance of winning. There’s no point talking about playing their way or backing in their system because, frankly, the Tigers have blown it away more times than they can count.
Making a case for the Tigers
Richmond enters a fourth straight Qualifying Final and the second in a row against the Lions in Brisbane.
The venue and the opposition hold no fears for the Tigers who have beaten Brisbane in their last 15 meetings and have not lost at the Gabba in nine attempts, dating back to their last loss here in 2004.
Clearly, a one-off final in isolation is much more difficult to assess than a simple head-to-head equation but there’s no hiding away from their recent dominance.
Damien Hardwick has some selection headaches to worry about with key forward Tom Lynch ruled out and reigning best and fairest Dion Prestia available to return having not played since Round 5 due to a syndesmosis injury. If the Tigers bring in both Prestia and Shai Bolton, which is expected, they will need to make a decision on two players who were in the 22 that beat Adelaide in Round 18.
Youngster Jack Ross looks the obvious to come out while it remains to be seen if Mabior Chol or Josh Caddy will keep their position, given Lynch’s absence calls for a forward to play.
Regardless of that, the Tigers are still dangerous in attack, especially if their midfield is deepened by the likely inclusions. That will provide the chance for Dustin Martin to spend more time forward and we all know what he is capable of when that is the case.
Richmond is the most organised team in the competition from a defensive viewpoint and will have things set up to deny the Lions in attack, while supplying pressure at ground level that will cause turnovers, which is their bread and butter.
At their best, the Tigers will be too imperious for the Lions, and even if slightly off their game, they still have the quality to win. Brisbane will need to improve greatly from their recent encounters, especially in front of goal.
While there is no doubting it will be hot from the start, as it should be in a massive final with so much at stake, the Tigers have the experience and finals know-how to navigate the Lions successfully and book a fourth Preliminary Final in four years.
Overall prediction: Richmond by 22 points.
Saturday, 4:40pm, Gabba
Making a case for the Saints
St Kilda will look to carry the momentum from their final round win over GWS into Saturday's Elimination Final showdown against the Western Bulldogs.
The Saints got the better of the Bulldogs in their previous two meetings, including a 36-point win in Round 2.
While the Dogs boast a superior midfield on paper, St Kilda’s ruck pair of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall will look to dominate lone Bulldogs ruckman Tim English.
Ryder and Marshall have worked beautifully in tandem and will look to give the likes of Jack Steele and Zak Jones first use.
Quelling the influence of Marcus Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel will also be crucial so respective lockdown roles could be designated to Seb Ross and Jarryn Geary.
If the Saints are to progress, winning the midfield battle and giving their dangerous forwards enough supply will be vital.
Making a case for the Bulldogs
Despite going in as the lower ranked team, the Bulldogs will enter this clash with St Kilda with a lot of confidence. The Dogs are a young team, but boast a lot of finals experience, including numerous players who were a part of the dream 2016 finals run and players who took their lumps last year against GWS.
On the flip side, St Kilda has Dan Hannebery, Paddy Ryder, Brad Hill and a few players from other clubs who have experienced finals success, but for the majority of their side this will be a new experience.
The last time these teams met was back in Round 2 where St Kilda comfortably dispatched the Bulldogs. However, Luke Beveridge’s men started the year slowly and were far from their best, while the Saints were firing on all cylinders at the time – it’s hard to take much out of that particular game.
The midfield battle will be absolutely crucial to this one and the Dogs have the firepower to control the game. They run deeper on-ball and can match St Kilda’s speed and spread on the outside.
Ultimately, the difference in this game will be who stands up in the big moments and the Bulldogs have more proven big-game winners at this stage than a St Kilda side still finding their way.
As long as the Bulldogs keep control of the ball and don’t allow St Kilda to hurt them off mass turnovers, they should have the firepower to overwhelm the Saints.
Overall prediction: Western Bulldogs by 7 points.
Saturday, 8:10pm, Optus Stadium
Making a case for the Eagles
The Eagles are hot favourites for their clash with the Magpies and there are no surprises why.
Adam Simpson’s men get back on Optus Stadium after a second stint in a Queensland hub where they dropped two of five games. The return to their home comforts is a major boost as they are unbeaten in seven matches there in 2020.
West Coast will also have the luxury of recalling star defender Jeremy McGovern, who is expected to be available after a hamstring injury, as well as the club’s all-time leading goal kicker Josh Kennedy, who is fit to play following an ankle issue. Add to that captain Luke Shuey, Jack Redden, Mark Hutchings and Lewis Jetta and there could be six changes for the Elimination Final.
While all six may be a risk, at least three of those are enormous inclusions and will only give the Eagles further impetus to win.
West Coast also holds a 5-1 record over Collingwood of late, with their most recent victory coming at this venue in Round 8 to the tune of 66 points.
While you can never discount the Magpies, they would have to play out of their skins to win this against a strengthened Eagles side back on its home turf.
Making a case for the Magpies
It’s unlikely Collingwood will ever face a stranger build up to a do-or-die final.
Rather than flying into Perth to face West Coast on the day before the game as has been the case in recent years, the Pies are currently undergoing a strict seven-day quarantine at a Joondalup resort ahead of Saturday night’s clash.
While there’s no shying away from the onerous restrictions being a burden – only being allowed to leave the resort to train and play – what it could do is galvanise the playing group ahead of a clash against a side that despite being a formidable opponent at home, has shown their frailties at times this season.
West Coast is the not the same side that won the 2018 premiership and while they did beat Collingwood quite comfortably earlier in the year, coach Nathan Buckley is right when he acknowledges the freak nature of that clash, where just about everything went right for the Eagles and very little worked for the Pies.
Finals footy is a different beast altogether and buoyed by an us-against-them mentality, Collingwood remain a chance of causing an upset and keeping their premiership hopes alive.
Overall prediction: West Coast by 26 points.