The AFL finals are upon us, and the action is sure to be hot as the best teams in the country take centre stage over the next month.
While the premier usually comes from inside the top four, there is no shortage of quality in the bottom half – with the Tigers perhaps most likely on their day to give the top sides a shake.
We’ve cast our eye over each of the match-ups, and reckon we’ve got our four winners.
West Coast v Hawthorn
Friday September 11, Domain Stadium (8:20pm AEST)
It’s difficult to believe, but the last time these two heavyweight clubs played in a final was back in 1992.
The Eagles have been a revelation in 2015, overcoming the absence of key personnel to finish second, while Hawthorn started the season sluggishly before finding their groove mid-season.
Both sides look set to be without a key running cog for Friday night – with Hawthorn’s Isaac Smith and Eagle Chris Masten suffering respective knee and hamstring injuries.
Hawks skipper Luke Hodge will be a welcome inclusion from suspension, while the Eagles will be hopeful Will Schofield gets up after a hamstring injury to help negate Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston.
This shapes up as a beauty and although the Eagles have a significant home-ground advantage, the Hawks’ battle-hardened bodies should be too good for West Coast.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 24 points
Fremantle v Sydney
Saturday September 12, Domain Stadium (3:20pm AEST)
The Dockers will certainly be well rested heading into their qualifying final with the Swans, the third time in three seasons these two have played off in September, with the ledger at 1-1.
Sydney suffered a hammer blow with the loss of Kieren Jack to a knee injury, but the Dockers aren’t guaranteed to have superstar Nat Fyfe back from his leg problem either.
It was against Sydney that the Dockers put in their greatest ever finals performance, when their manic pressure and intensity led them to victory in the 2013 prelim.
Fremantle will be favourites, but their late-season form hasn’t matched their work early in the year.
Thye’re about to find out if form can just be turned off and on like a tap.
They’ve been struggling to score, and Sydney are a very real threat to cause an upset in the west.
In each of the three finals these teams have contested the home side has emerged victorious, but this time we think Sydney will come up with the goods.
Prediction: Sydney by three points
Western Bulldogs v Adelaide
Saturday September 12, MCG (7:20pm AEST)
The odds of one of these teams playing finals before the season would have been lengthy, and the fact both have made it is incredible.
Both the Bulldogs and Crows entered the season with first-year coaches and were expected to struggle to put themselves in contention – but they have both amazed for different reasons.
The Dogs under Luke Beveridge have snared new fans across the land for their run and stun game, while Adelaide have captured hearts for the courageous way they have responded from the tragic murder of coach Phil Walsh.
Under interim coach Scott Camporeale, Adelaide are playing some sizzling football and Walsh would no doubt be proud of the way his men are going about it.
The conventional thinking is that the Dogs might have a bit too much run for Adelaide but we feel the Crows – who let’s not forget were playing off in a preliminary final as recently as 2012 – might have the hardness to get it done.
The Dogs will miss Stewart Crameri if he fails to recover from a knee injury in time for the match, while Crow Brodie Smith is tipped to be fit after he hurt an ankle in their game against Geelong.
Prediction: Adelaide by 12 points
Richmond v North Melbourne
Sunday September 13, MCG (3:20pm AEST)
Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates because you never know what you’re gonna get.
The same could be said for each of these two sides – two of the most infuriatingly inconsistent in the league.
They win the ones they’re meant to lose and lose the ones they’re meant to win. Like Fremantle, North head into the match with a well-rested side, but little form on the board.
They were beaten by the Dogs in round 22 and then Richmond last weekend, albeit with a second-string side.
Richmond have won four on the trot and we’d rather winning form than well-rested form.
For that reason, and the fact that surely, sometime, the Tigers have to win a final, we think they’ll have too many guns for North.
Prediction: Tigers by 16 points