September dreaming: How the AFL eight finalists are shaping up

Form, injuries and selection are all magnified at the business end of the AFL season. We take a look at how the finalists are placed heading into what will be a September to remember.

Geelong

First qualifying final: MCG, Saturday, September 3 v Collingwood, 4.35pm

Last time they met: Round 3, Geelong 16.8 (104) d Collingwood 13.13 (91) at the MCG.
Jeremy Cameron booted six goals for the Cats.

Patrick Dangerfield has been managed through the season, and appears ready to explode in September in a bid for an elusive premiership.Credit:AFL Photos

Last finals appearance: 2021. Beaten by Melbourne in a preliminary final at Optus Stadium.

Form: The Cats finished two games clear as the minor premiers and, as coach Chris Scott says, are ideally placed for a premiership tilt. Veterans Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood have been managed through the season and are firing. Tom Hawkins is in career-best form. They have a robust defence and can now play at different gears.

Injuries: All eyes are on Cameron, the star forward having strained a hamstring against Gold Coast in round 22. However, he is making good progress. Cam Guthrie (shoulder) will be monitored after being subbed off against West Coast. Ruckman Rhys Stanley (adductor) is expected to be fit. Defender Jake Kolodjashnij (concussion) is in 12-day concussion protocols.

Selection table: Must decide whether Stanley or Jon Ceglar, the latter among their best on Saturday, will be their No.1 ruck. Sam Menegola was a late out (managed) but is a likely inclusion. Cameron will return should he be fit, meaning Esava Ratugolea is the likely out.

Melbourne

Second qualifying final: MCG, Friday, September 2 v Sydney, 7.50pm.

Last time they met: Round 12, Sydney 10.13 (73) d Melbourne 9.7 (61) at the MCG.
Max Gawn and Bayley Fritsch had three goals each for the Demons.

Last finals appearance: The 2021 grand final, defeating the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium.

Form: The Demons have been scratchy but finished second, rediscovering their best form with a 58-point win over the Lions on Friday night. Gawn remains the league’s pre-eminent ruckman, Clayton Oliver is a midfield machine and in line for the Brownlow Medal, while Kysaiah Pickett is in brilliant touch.

Injuries: Luke Jackson (knee) was subbed off on Friday night and is a close watch. Christian Salem (groin) will be monitored but is likely to be fit. Tom McDonald (foot) is lifting his training loads and is pushing for a recall.

Selection table: The Demons appear settled. If half-back Salem returns, Jake Bowey, a premiership player last year in only his seventh game, is likely an out, having replaced Salem on Friday.

Sydney

Second qualifying final: MCG, Friday, September 2 v Melbourne, 7.50pm

Last time they met: Round 12, Sydney 10.13 (73) d Melbourne 9.7 (61) at the MCG.
Sam Reid and Logan McDonald booted three goals apiece for the Swans.

Last finals appearance: Beaten by a point by Greater Western Sydney in an elimination final in Launceston last year.

Lance Franklin is one of the greats of the game but is still chasing his first flag with the Swans.Credit:Getty Images

Form: The Swans head into September on a seven-game winning streak, having beaten three fellow finalists on the way. However, after finishing third on the ladder, coach John Longmire says his team needs to lift its pressure rating.

Injuries: Small forward Tom Papley was concussed on Sunday and is in a 12-day concussion protocol. The Swans are confident he will play, but he will be monitored. Josh Kennedy (hamstring) is due to start running this week, and will hope for a fairytale return late in September – should the Swans advance.

Selection table: The Swans appear settled but are sweating on Papley, who has booted 26 goals.

Collingwood

Qualifying final: MCG, Saturday, September 3 v Geelong, 4.35pm

Last time they met: Round 3, Geelong 16.8 (104) d Collingwood 13.13 (91) at the MCG. Darcy Cameron, Brodie Mihocek and Jamie Elliott booted two goals each for the Magpies.

Last finals appearance: The Magpies were thumped by 68 points by the Cats in a 2020 semi-final at the Gabba.

Form: The Magpies have enjoyed as big a leap year-on-year as they have ever had, vaulting from 17th to fourth. They have become the great escape artists, winning 12 of their past 13 matches. Nine of these have been by seven points or less, including a one-point thriller against Carlton on Sunday to secure the double chance.

Injuries: Taylor Adams has been battling a groin issue, with coach Craig McRae saying he is no guarantee to return to face the Cats. Nathan Kreuger (shoulder) is expected to be fit for week one or two of the finals.

Selection table: Adams is an automatic recall should he be fit, possibly in place of Finlay Macrae.

Fremantle

First elimination final: Optus Stadium, Saturday, September 3 v Western Bulldogs, 8.10pm (AEST)

Last time they met: Round 21, Fremantle 14.11 (95) d Western Bulldogs 11.12 (78) at Marvel Stadium. Rory Lobb booted four goals and Michael Frederick three for the Dockers.

Last finals appearance: The Dockers are back in the finals for the first time since losing to Hawthorn by 27 points in a 2015 preliminary final.

Form: Fremantle won seven of their first eight matches but have been inconsistent since. However, they have finished with three straight wins, regaining momentum at just the right time.

Injuries: Lobb (shoulder) is a close monitor, as is Griffin Logue (leg). Both missed the Giants clash. Nat Fyfe left Canberra with a sore hip but is expected to be fit for the elimination final. Coach Justin Longmuir said the pre-finals bye had come at a good time. “The derby last week was a really physical game and we’ve got some sore boys, so the week off will do them a lot of benefit,” Longmuir said.

Selection table: Matt Taberner is expected to return for the finals, while Lobb and Logue are also needed if the Dockers are to advance.

Brisbane

Second elimination final: Gabba, Thursday, September 1 v Richmond, 7.20pm

Last time they met: Round 20, Richmond 15.14 (104) d Brisbane 14.13 (97) at the MCG. Eric Hipwood kicked four and Joe Daniher three for the Lions.

Last finals appearance: The Lions were beaten by a point in a semi-final at home to the Western Bulldogs last year.

Form: The Lions have won only two of their past five matches, slipping from a top-four spot. Defeats to fellow flag hopefuls the Demons and Tigers are a growing concern, with club great Jonathan Brown labelling the loss on Friday night “insipid”. Defensively they have been poor, conceding too many goals in a hurry, adding to the pressure coach Chris Fagan is under with a 1-5 finals record over the past three seasons.

Injuries: Jarrod Berry (ankle) will be monitored, while Callum Ah Chee and Marcus Adams, who both missed last weekend with concussion, are expected to be available.

Selection table: Cam Rayner and Noah Answerth were each given one-match bans by the match review officer for incidents on Friday night. Rayner is appealing, but should the suspension remain, he will be a major loss, for the medium-sized forward is a match-winner up forward.

Richmond

Second elimination final: Gabba, Thursday, September 1 v Brisbane, 7.20pm

Last time they met: Round 20, Richmond 15.14 (104) d Brisbane 14.13 (97) at the MCG. Noah Cumberland booted five goals and Tom Lynch four for the Tigers.

Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch, the latter nursing a groin issue, hope to deliver the Tigers another premiership cup.Credit:Getty Images

Last finals appearance: The Tigers claimed their third flag in four years after toppling Geelong in the 2020 grand final at the Gabba.

Form: The Tigers were “killing themselves” through the season, coach Damien Hardwick lamented, through their mistakes, but four straight wins to end the season have eased those worries. Dion Prestia has been superb in the midfield, while Cumberland – too quick for tall defenders, and too fast for small defenders – has been a revelation. They need Shai Bolton to dazzle through September.

Injuries: All eyes are on Dustin Martin (hamstring), who, according to coach Damien Hardwick, turned a corner on Saturday and is lifting his loads. Star forward Lynch strained a groin against Essendon on Saturday and will be eased through the next fortnight. The Tigers say his scans are good and have said he will be available to play. Co-captain Dylan Grimes (hamstring surgery) will make a late play for September – should the Tigers launch a deep run. Jack Graham (foot) is expected back.

Selection table: Martin and Graham are automatic recalls should they be fit, forcing a squeeze at selection.

Western Bulldogs

First elimination final: Optus Stadium, Saturday September 3 v Fremantle, 8.10pm (AEST)

Last time they met: Round 21, Fremantle 14.11 (95) d Western Bulldogs 11.12 (78) at Marvel Stadium. Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman delivered three goals each for the Bulldogs.

Last finals appearance: The Bulldogs were the road warriors through September last year, enjoying a stunning run until they were bulldozed by the Demons from midway through the third term of the grand final at Optus Stadium.

Form: Patchy. There were scenes of joy among players and supporters after the Blues lost on Sunday, gifting the Bulldogs eighth spot by 0.6 per cent. They beat the Giants and Hawks over the final fortnight. They need their vaunted midfield, led by Marcus Bontempelli, to drive their September campaign, and hope an undersized defence can stand tall.

Injuries: Laitham Vandermeer (knee) was subbed off on Sunday and will be monitored.

Selection table: Josh Bruce returned to face the Hawks but does he retain his spot after a goalless, five-disposal afternoon, particularly after Sam Darcy thrived up forward? Rhylee West will look to force his way back after a strong season. Jason Johannisen is also looking for another chance.

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