The smell of spring is in the air and finals football has arrived.
September is a dream whispered between footballers, coaches and fans. It’s a time when boys become men and legends are born.
Eight AFL clubs have fought valiantly over the past 23 weeks in order to qualify for the finals.
The Richmond Tigers will continue their quest for back-to-back premierships as the $2.35 favourite, atop the ladder with guaranteed home finals. The seven challengers in order of ladder position include West Coast, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Sydney, Greater Western Sydney and Geelong.
Let’s take a look at the finals pathway, the first week of encounters and the odds you can get for the contenders.
Can anyone stop the Tigers in 2018?
Richmond vs. Hawthorn qualifying final – MCG, Thursday, September 6, 7.50PM AEDT
The Tigers finished the home and away season with an imposing 18-4 record, two wins clear of the Eagles in second place.
Damien Hardwick’s men have won 21 games straight at the MCG — where they will play all of their finals this post-season, beginning with a qualifying final clash on Thursday against the fourth-placed Hawthorn.
The winner goes straight to the preliminary round and has a week’s break, while the loser receives a second chance in a semi-final against the victor of the Melbourne vs. Geelong elimination final.
After starting the season as joint second favourite to go all the way at $7, Richmond’s current $2.35 is the shortest it has been all season to win the flag. Given their clean bill of health and form, punters would be wise to get on, unless they smell a big September boil over.
After a torturous 18-month rebuild, the Hawks are back in the frame for a fourth premiership in the decade.
With master coach Alistair Clarkson behind the helm, the Hawks have engineered a remarkable charge inside the top four and must now be considered a legitimate premiership contender.
Hawthorn started the season at $23.00 for the flag and then yo-yoed from $14.00, to $34.00 in July, before finally sitting on $9.00 this week.
Beating Richmond is a tough task for any AFL side, but the Hawks will give it a red-hot crack. Losing the qualifying final will not be the end for the Hawks as they can use the second chance to give it another shot.
Can the Eagles or Magpies be a true challenger?
West Coast vs. Collingwood qualifying final – Optus Stadium, Saturday, September 8, 8.10PM AEDT
West Coast: $1.63
The second favourite in premiership betting is the West Coast Eagles. Adam Simpson has done an incredible job getting the Eagles in a position worthy of competing, given the club’s premiership odds were as high as $41.00 in January.
After an amazing season in which they have won 16 matches, the Eagles will give themselves every chance at making a grand final, given they have home field advantage in the qualifying and possibly prelim final. Their odds of $7.00 to win the premiership are not to be scoffed at.
West Coast will host the Collingwood Magpies at Optus Stadium on Saturday night, with the winner earning a home preliminary final. The loser will play the winner of the Sydney vs. GWS elimination final.
A real dark horse entering this finals series, the Magpies have been up and down in premiership betting this year, starting at $21.00, jumping to $26.00 after a poor start and eventually becoming the $8 fancy they are now, despite a number of key injuries and obstacles along the way.
While the Eagles will missing key ruckman Nic Naitanui and wingman Andrew Gaff for this final, the Magpies will consider themselves every chance to pull off the upset and continue their unlikely charge at silverware.
A piece of trivia on Collingwood’s side: The last two teams that won the flag finished 13th the previous season — which is where the Magpies placed in 2017.
Can the Demons break the drought?
Geelong vs. Melbourne elimination final – MCG, Friday, September 7, 7.50PM AEDT
After winning their final two matches of the season, the Demons ended a 12-year absence from September football, finishing fifth and earning a home final.
The Demons were widely expected to be a finals contender in 2018 and started the season at $13 to win the flag. After hot mid-season form, they dropped to as low as $7.00, before key injuries and patchy form has now seen them at $10 entering finals.
This match will be the first Elimination Final and it will be played at the MCG against the Geelong Cats.
It’s do or die at the MCG this Friday night. The loser doesn’t receive a second chance. The winner will progress to the Semi Finals and will take on the loser of the Richmond and Hawthorn Qualifying Final.
The Cats finished in eight position after winning 14 matches on the season — the most wins an eighth-placed team has registered in the history of the AFL’s final eight system.
Geelong overcame Melbourne in two thrillers this season, with the final kick deciding both matches in dramatic fashion.
After recruiting home-town legend Gary Ablett Jr back to the club in the summer, the Cats were widely tipped as a premiership fancy, starting the year at $9 to win the flag. The golden trio of Ablett, Dangerfield and Selwood has not reaped the rewards the club had hoped and after a patchy, inconsistent season, they enter the finals as a $12 shot to go all the way.
A tantalising match-up with long-time nemesis Hawthorn awaits if Geelong can do the business in this one.
Who wins the battle of the bridge?
Sydney vs. GWS elimination final – SCG, Saturday, September 8, 4.20PM AEDT
After looking dead in the water a month ago, Sydney turned its season around, winning three of their last four matches and secured a home elimination final against the Giants.
The Swans’ premiership odds fluctuated drastically throughout the season. Starting as an equal favourite for the flag at $6.00 in January, Sydney dropped out to $24 in July and now sit at $16.00.
The winner of this second Elimination Final will play the loser of the West Coast and Collingwood match.
The Giants have played in the last two Preliminary Finals and lost both to the eventual Premiers. The men from the west of Sydney offer the longest odds of any finals participant this season at $18.00, a disappointment considering they were as low as $8.00 earlier in August.
The Giants managed 13 wins and a draw, which just put them two points ahead of the eighth position Cats. Losing their last two matches ruled them out of any top four chances and they could be eliminated due to their extensive injury list.
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