On Saturday afternoon, what has arguably been the most unpredictable and thrilling AFL premiership season will come to a close, with a Grand Final that is buzzing just as much as it was last year, when the Western Bulldogs were vying for their first premiership in over 60 years in their first Grand Final in over 50 years.
This year the stage is entirely different. The city of Melbourne has found itself draped in yellow and black as the Richmond Tigers play in their first Grand Final since 1982 – 35 years ago. The Football club and their supporters have endured so much since that afternoon, and have never been in a better position to win their first premiership since 1980. It was only a year ago that coach Damien Hardwick's ability to coach a side effectively had been under pressure more than ever and you must give him credit where it is due – he has taken Richmond from 13th last year into the Grand Final this year. It's been quite the remarkable turnaround and are without question, the fairytale story of 2017.
What has set Richmond's season up this season is their unrelenting pressure towards anyone and everyone not wearing the yellow and black. People ridiculed the fact that Richmond were unable to close out game midway through the season, because of the amount of youth and inexperience that Damien Hardwick has opted to play. Seven of Richmond's 22 that took the field against GWS last weekend have played under 50 games, but these guys have proven that they can mesh it in big-time scenarios, just look at Daniel Rioli's performance last week – A 20-year old who kicked four match-winning goals is just a huge return from someone so young.
However, they run into a foe on Saturday afternoon that is unmistakably the favourite in this contest. The Adelaide Crows have been the team to beat for the majority of the 2017 season, but over the past couple of seasons, their road to rise back up the ladder has had more than it's fair share of set backs. It started with the unfortunate passing of then-Adelaide coach Phil Walsh in 2015, as it not only rocked the Crows hard, but the rest of the AFL community. The Crows could've easily rolled over then and there, but they didn't. This team takes a lot of pride in their resilliency and not only did they make the Finals that year, they got up to the semi-final with a gutsy win over my Western Bulldogs.
Shortly after the 2015 season concluded, the club farewelled superstar Patrick Dangerfield as he returned to play in his homeland of Victoria. Many so-called 'experts' predicted this would begin a huge downward spiral of the Adelaide football club, but this wasn't the case, as they had many other midfield options to look out, which brought out the emergence of the Crouch brothers – Matt and Brad. The following 24 months have seen the Crows get stronger and stronger with each game and at the end of it all, have reached their first Grand Final since 1998, which was also their last premiership. Their defence is nearly impenetrable, conceding an average of 80 points per game in the home and away season – ranked fourth in the league and their forward line is amongst the most exciting in the league, averaging 110 points per game – the highest ranked club in the league in scoring.
We only have to look at last year to show that fairytale stories do exist in the AFL. Will we see another one unfold on Saturday? Richmond have won 11 of 13 games at the MCG this year, whilst Adelaide haven't lost a game from three attempts at the home of football – winning two and coming back from a 50-point deficit to draw with Collingwood. Something will give on Saturday and a premiership drought will be broken – will it be the Crows or will it be the Tigers?
How These Teams Made It
The Crows were arguably the best team all-year long, claiming their first minor premiership since 2005. The opening week saw them play host to the Greater Western Sydney Giants at the Adelaide Oval. The Crows thumped the Giants at the same venue in round one, and on this occasion, the Crows put them to the sword yet again, setting up an eight-goal to one first half to defeat the Giants by 36 points.
With the week off, the Crows came back to the Adelaide Oval in the third week to host Geelong, who had thumped Sydney by 65 points in the week previous. The match was just about over by quarter time, as the Crows blew open a 31-point lead with a six goal opening quarter. Geelong would mount a small challenge, getting to within 27 points in the second quarter after it had been down by as many as 48 points early in the second term, but the Crows would flex their muscle in the final quarter, booting seven goals to two to run out 59-point winners.
Finishing in the top four for the first time since 2001, the Tigers found themselves at the MCG to take on Geelong in the Qualifying Final. This match would draw enormous controversy as Geelong – the home team for this match – wanted the game at Simonds Stadium, but was ignored, as a crowd over 95,000 flocked to the MCG to watch Richmond dominate the Cats, not allowing Geelong to kick their first goal until the 25th minute of the second quarter, however because of poor accuracy, the Tigers were only nine points ahead at half-time. A 13-point lead was blown out in the fourth quarter as Richmond started to click, as they kicked seven goals to run out 51-point winners, earning them a week off.
In the Preliminary Final, they were back at the MCG to host the Greater Western Sydney Giants in a match that had many Tigers fans thinking they were already half a shot to get into the Grand Final. After a tight opening half that saw Richmond lead by a point at the main break, the Tigers busted the game wide open in the proverbial premiership quarter, kicking six goals to one to open up a 31-point deficit – a margin that the Giants would not recover from, as the Tigers ran out 36-point winners, granting them their first Grand Final appearance in 35 years.
B: Rory Laird, Kyle Hartigan, Jake Lever
HB: Paul Seedsman, Daniel Talia, Luke Brown
C: David Mackay, Rory Sloane, Rory Atkins
HF: Charlie Cameron, Josh Jenkins, Eddie Betts
F: Tom Lynch, Taylor Walker, Richard Douglas
FOL: Sam Jacobs, Brad Crouch, Matt Crouch
INT: Riley Knight, Jake Kelly, Hugh Greenwood, Andy Otten
EMG: Wayne Milera, Alex Keath, Reilly O'Brien
The Adelaide line-up goes into the Grand Final unchanged from last week's 59-point belting to the Crows. The big heartbreak is forward Mitch McGovern, who was ruled out with a hamstring strain last week and didn't go too well at training by all reports. The brother of West Coast's dual All-Australian Jeremy McGovern has kicked 20 goals in just 13 appearances this season after breaking out in 2016. It's not a massive blow to the Crows' forward structures as they still have most of their group still in tact.
B: Brandon Ellis, Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes
HB: Bachar Houli, David Astbury, Nick Vlastuin
C: Kamdyn McIntosh, Trent Cotchin, Jacob Townsend
HF: Kane Lambert, Dustin Martin, Josh Caddy
F: Dan Butler, Jack Riewoldt, Daniel Rioli
FOL: Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia, Shaun Grigg
INT: Shane Edwards, Jack Graham, Nathan Broad, Jason Castagna
EMG: Shaun Hampson, Corey Ellis, Jayden Short
Like the Crows, Richmond go into the Grand Final with an unchanged line-up from the side that beat Greater Western Sydney last Saturday. It's been a good week for the Tigers leading up to this massive game, with Tigers' captain Trent Cotchin cleared by the match review panel on the Monday afternoon for his hit on Dylan Shiel that left the Giant concussed and out of action. Following that was Dustin Martin's Brownlow Medal after what has been a stunning season and lastly, the news on Wednesday from the AFL, granting Richmond an AFLW license for 2020.
Recent History (Past 10 Meetings)
Round 6, 2017 – Adelaide Oval: Adelaide 21.14.140 def Richmond 10.4.64
Round 3, 2016 – Etihad Stadium: Richmond 13.14.92 def by Adelaide 19.14.128
Round 19, 2015 – Adelaide Oval: Adelaide 11.22.88 def Richmond 8.4.52
Round 21, 2014 – Adelaide Oval: Adelaide 9.15.69 def by Richmond 10.19.79
Round 12, 2013 – MCG: Richmond 16.14.110 def Adelaide 10.12.72
Round 14, 2012 – AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 17.4.106 def Richmond 13.9.87
Round 23, 2011 – AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 15.9.99 def by Richmond 17.19.121
Round 18, 2010 – MCG: Richmond 15.10.100 def Adelaide 11.14.80
Round 7, 2010 – AAMI Stadium: Adelaide 15.14.104 def Richmond 7.12.54
Round 14, 2009 – Metricon Stadium: Richmond 13.7.85 def by Adelaide 15.12.102
Players To Watch
Matt Crouch has risen his game to another level in 2017, averaging a career-highs of 32 disposals and six clearances across 24 games this year, and he was also recognised for his outstanding year, being named in the All-Australian side. Averages 31 disposals and 6.5 clearances in this year's Finals Series and averages over 30 disposals and seven clearances a game against Richmond. Along with Rory Sloane, Matt Crouch looms as the midfielder that could bust this game open for the Crows.
Will this be the final game we see emerging defender Jake Lever in Adelaide colours? His out-of-contract status has had people talking for most of the year, and with things not any clearer, looms as a player to watch on Saturday. Lever is a defender that can take intercepts, stop direct opponents and provide drive out of defence, so his value to the team is enormous. He is heavily linked to a move to Melbourne, will this be a distraction to an emerging star that is only 21 years of age?
Captain of the Crows, Taylor Walker is a crucial component in Adelaide's forward line and has enjoyed a fine season up forward, kicking 52 goals for the season and averaging 15 disposals, six marks and four inside 50s per game. A very big match-up with arguably the game's best defender in Alex Rance looms on the horizon. Dominated Richmond last time they met, kicking five goals from seven marks and 15 disposals.
The reigning Brownlow medallist has enjoyed an amazing 2017, backing up his impressive 2016 season, averaging 30 disposals, six inside 50s and six clearances, along with booting 33 goals in 24 games for the Tigers. He sounded all business when he was interviewed up at the Brownlow, which is very indicative that he's ready to go and he could very well put in a match-winning performance. He must if the Tigers are to pull off an upset.
Perhaps one of the unheralded recruits of the year. Whilst some will point at Tom Mitchell and say what a magnificent recruit he has been for the Hawks, Nankervis' first year since coming over from Sydney has been very underrated, averaging 24.5 hitouts, 14 disposals, three marks per game and kicking 11 goals this season. I'll be looking forward to seeing his match-up with Sam Jacobs in the ruck – it may just determine who gets up for this game.
One of the biggest sub-plots in Richmond's 2017 story is the out-of-nowhere emergence on former Giant Jacob Townsend. Facing a near-certain delisting, he came into the side in round 22 and kicked six goals on Fremantle and then backed it up with five goals on St. Kilda. Has been a very handy presence in the forward line as a negating forward. He took care of Lachie Henderson in the first week and then rattled the GWS' defenders. Massive game this week – who would've guessed we'd be seeing this guy play in a Grand Final?
This is about as hard a game as I can predict here. Some may not hesitate to go with Adelaide because of how they smashed the Tigers back in Round six. But a lot has changed since then and that was played at the Adelaide Oval – a venue in which the Crows thrive on. Expect a sea of yellow and black supporters in the stands roar for their beloved Tigers.
Will it be enough to rattle the Adelaide avalanche?
My heart wants to go with Richmond, because of how they have fought to get this position, but Adelaide's run from defence – particularly Rory Laird – must be stopped and the influence from the forwards must be kept at a minimum. Eddie Betts and Nick Vlastuin would be a dream match-up as would seeing Rance and Walker go head-to-head again.
I think the Crows should get the job done, they've been the best side all year long, but it won't come without a massive Richmond challenge. If Dustin Martin can kick a bag down forward, then the Tigers will be considered a huge chance, but it looms as a massive challenge for the Richmond defenders to quieten down the influences of Taylor Walker, Eddie Betts and Tom Lynch.
Adelaide By 16 Points
Norm Smith Medallist: Rory Laird
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