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AFL 2021: All you need to know ahead of the preliminary finals
BT Sport’s AFL expert Josh Gabelich previews one of the biggest weekends of the season with both matches live on BT Sport.
Four teams, two games, one preliminary final weekend. Forget Grand Final day, for football purists, this is the best weekend of the entire season. The four best teams fighting for a spot in the big dance.
This year, we have the four best teams facing off on the penultimate weekend of the season. That doesn’t always happen, but it has this year after Geelong and the Western Bulldogs progressed beyond semi-final clashes last Friday and Saturday night.
With Port Adelaide and Melbourne enjoying the weekend off to freshen up, they are both the clear favourites to reach the decider in Perth on September 25. But nothing is guaranteed at this point of the season.
It all starts inside Australia’s newest, shiniest stadium – Optus Stadium – on Friday when Melbourne and Geelong meet in front of a packed house, after the 60,000 tickets were snapped up in a matter of hours on Friday night.
The two sides met at GMHBA Stadium in Round 23 when the Demons reeled in a 44-point deficit to win courtesy of a goal from Max Gawn after the siren. With the game played behind closed doors, it lacked the atmosphere it would have generated in normal circumstances, but it was still enormous, nonetheless.
Watch the preliminary finals on BT Sport
Both matches will be shown live on BT Sport. Full broadcast details can be found here.
Since then, Simon Goodwin’s men have had five players named in the All-Australian team – Jake Lever, Steven May, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Gawn – with Oliver considered a strong chance to claim the Brownlow Medal Sunday week.
Geelong ensured they didn’t exit the finals in straight sets when they accounted for a dogged Greater Western Sydney in Western Australia last weekend. Superstar duo Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron clicked into gear inside 50 and will provide a mouth-watering contest against Lever and May.
Football returns to the city of churches on Saturday with the Power hosting the Bulldogs in a true home preliminary final. Ken Hinkley’s side made the most of that advantage in the first week of the finals, dispatching Geelong with ease.
Now they return to the same stage – on the same ground – as where they fell narrowly short of beating eventual premiers Richmond this time last year.
But after adding key defender Aliir Aliir – who was named All-Australian for the first time last month – and livewire forward Orazio Fantasia last trade period, the Power look poised to go all the way this September.
The Western Bulldogs will arrive in Adelaide later this week as they continue their trek around Australia. The Dogs left Melbourne late last month for Launceston, travelled to Brisbane to face the Lions last Saturday, before relocating to Perth ahead of the preliminary final at Adelaide Oval.
All eyes will be on superstar midfielder Marcus Bontempelli, the 25-year-old skipper who was received his fourth All-Australian blazer a fortnight ago, this week. He remains in doubt to face the Power after injuring his knee in the dying stages of the stunning one-point win over the Lions at the Gabba.
Luke Beveridge’s side went the long way when they ended a 62-year premiership drought back in 2016. If they are going to do the same in 2021, they will need to win in Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. And that would be phenomenal.