The 2021 AFL Grand Final is finally here!
Following a two-week wait since Preliminary Final weekend, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will do battle for premiership honours at Optus Stadium on Saturday night.
Who will win and why? See our predictions below:
MELBOURNE v WESTERN BULLDOGS
Saturday night - Optus Stadium
It’s 1-1 this season, with Luke Beveridge learning plenty from the earlier Round 11 defeat in the Round 19 rematch.
The Bulldogs are also better equipped now personnel wise than they were then.
Stefan Martin’s presence should make some sort of difference for their contested ball woes against the Demons. Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley are also handy inclusions from their last meeting.
Simon Goodwin’s side has the best team defence going, and will make scoring difficult for the Dogs, but they certianly found a way to pile on the goals in the prelim.
Remember the Dogs were in the top two for most of the season and on top of the ladder after Round 20. They should not be such underdogs.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 12 points
Most goals: Cody Weightman and Ben Brown (three each)
Norm Smith Medal: Jack Macrae
Luke Beveridge has had two weeks and two previous encounters with Melbourne to solve the Jake Lever/Steven May equation and after successfully neutralising Aliir Aliir in the Prelim, he will get it done again here.
With the Demons’ backline unable to setup their usual intercept game, and both star-studded midfields taking turns in control, the game will then come down to which team’s forward line makes the most of their opportunities.
The Bulldogs’ forwards are more trustworthy than Melbourne’s. Ultimately, that could be what decides this encounter.
You know what you’re going to get from both teams, but the Dees have far more weight on their shoulders. They’ve also had two weeks to think about a near 60-year drought and the goodwill of a nation of supporters and ex-players ready to pop the champagne.
The Bulldogs have been here, and done this before.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 19 points
Most goals: Kysaiah Pickett (3)
Norm Smith Medal: Adam Treloar
Having split the home and away clashes one apiece, it appears that neither side has a clear edge over their opponent. While that sets us up for a potentially classic encounter, it does make it a difficult one to pick.
As a result, I’ll be siding with exposed form, and Melbourne’s has been slightly better than the Dogs despite their trouncing of Port Adelaide a fortnight ago.
The Demons set up behind the ball better than any side in the competition, and with their forwards firing, you’d imagine they can score more than 80 and keep their opposition to less than that. With the midfield battle on paper being a nil-all draw, it’s then down to the key position match-ups, with Aaron Naughton needing to have a big say if the Dogs are to win.
It’s hard to see All-Australian duo Steven May and Jake Lever’s form failing them at the final hurdle, and Max Gawn looms as too big a task for Stefan Martin and Tim English.
Dees to break the drought in a tight one.
Tip: Melbourne by 12 points
Most goals: Bayley Fritsch
Norm Smith Medal: Max Gawn
Everything is falling into place for Melbourne to break their agonising 57-year premiership drought.
From securing the minor premiership after the siren, to having a near clean bill of health, there’s a sense of destiny about the Demons heading into their first Grand Final in 21 years.
Melbourne’s defence, marshalled by Steven May and Jake Lever, has been a tough nut to crack all season, while Max Gawn’s ruck supremacy has brought the best out of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver.
One game in 27 days isn’t ideal heading into a game of such importance and the Bulldogs are riding a wave of momentum of similar nature to their 2016 flag triumph.
But Melbourne’s game style has held up all year and I’m expecting no different in Saturday’s premiership decider in Perth.
Tip: Melbourne by 20 points
Most goals: Kysaiah Pickett
Norm Smith Medal: Kysaiah Pickett
We’re finally here after a season that proved to be as chaotic and tumultuous as 2020. Arguably the best two teams in the competition will meet in front of 60,000 raucous fans at Optus Stadium, in a game that will define history and create legacies.
On the face of it, this year’s Grand Final pits the game’s best defence against one of the competition’s best midfield groups. Melbourne has to be favourites for this one considering their dominance over the course of the season, but they’ll need to be wary of the Dogs breaking the game open in the middle.
If Stefan Martin is able to control Max Gawn and give the likes of Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae first use, they stand a decent chance of winning their second flag in six years.
There’s a sense of destiny about these Demons and they couldn’t be any better placed to break their 57-year premiership drought.
Tip: Melbourne by 31 points
Most goals: Bayley Fritsch
Norm Smith Medal: Christian Petracca
What a Grand Final it’s shaping to be. There’s something about Luke Beveridge and the Bulldogs, the us against the world mentality that makes me feel they've got something up their sleeves for this battle against the Demons.
For me, if the Dogs can stop the influence of Steven May and Jake Lever, they’ll win this game of footy. Beveridge has had two weeks to conjure a plan to stop these All-Australian defenders, and judging by how tactical he is, he’ll have something sorted.
Furthermore, if Stefan Martin and Tim English can split the ruck battle against Max Gawn, whereby we won’t be seeing Christian Petracca or Clayton Oliver bursting away from the centre at ease, the power of the Dogs’ midfield will shine through and the men from the west will win their second flag in the last six years.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 22 points
Most goals: Aaron Naughton
Norm Smith Medal: Marcus Bontempelli
Luke Beveridge is about to replicate the perfect fairytale, five years apart. The Dogs were written off in 2016, as they have been this season, but the master coach has his side embracing their underdog status.
These sides are so close on paper that it might come down to individual contests and coaching masterstrokes from Beveridge and Simon Goodwin.
Can Bailey Smith replicate his finals form so far and run Ed Langdon off his feet? Can Aaron Naughton announce himself as a key forward who will become one of the greats? Can the Dogs forwards find a way to combat Jake Lever and Steven May?
There are too many fascinating contests to predict, but when the whips are cracking, Beveridge’s men might just be a little more in sync than their Demons counterparts.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 16 points
Most goals: Bailey Smith
Norm Smith Medal: Jack Macrae