AFL Finals Match Previews: PF1, GWS Giants v W Bulldogs

So, the penultimate game of the finals is about to be played, and it looks to be a pretty good one.

On the one hand, we have the GWS Giants. The AFL’s latest team, they are one win away from progressing to a Grand Final that looked out of reach just two years ago.

On the other hand, we have the Western Bulldogs, everyone’s second team, looking to finally wrench free from decades of preliminary final heartbreak.

This will be the first grand final for the winning team in either 55 years or ever.

Let’s get stuck into it.The Basics

  • Who: Greater Western Sydney Giants v Western Bulldogs
  • Where: Spotless Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
  • When: 5.15pm tonight
  • This year: R9, GWS 15.8 (98) d WB 10.13 (73), Sydney Olympic Park
  • Winner gets: To play Sydney for premiership glory
  • Loser gets: Eliminated
  • Watch it on: Seven
  • Listen to it on: 3AW, Triple M, SEN, ABC


GWS Giants

  • FB: Tomlinson, Davis, Wilson
  • HB: Shaw, Patfull, Griffen
  • C: Hopper, Coniglio, Scully
  • HF: Shiel, Cameron, PAtton
  • FF: Palmer, Lobb, Smith
  • FOL: Mumford, Greene, Ward
  • INT: Williams, Whitfield, Kelly, Haynes
  • In: Rhys Palmer
  • Out: Steve Johnson (Suspension)

W Bulldogs

  • FB: Johannisen, Hamling, M Boyd
  • HB: Biggs, Morris, Wood
  • C: Hunter, Bontempelli, Picken
  • HF: Macrae, Cordy, Stringer
  • FF: Dickson, T Boyd, Daniel
  • FOL: Roughead, Dahlhaus, Liberatore
  • INT: Smith, McLean, Roberts, Dunkley
  • In: Fletcher Roberts
  • Out: Matthew Suckling (Achilles)

Mildly Relevant Statistics

  • This is the first time in AFL history that the Bulldogs have been the last Victorian team left. (If you discount 1954, when we won the premiership.)
  • The Bulldogs have never played a final in Sydney.
  • If the Bulldogs win, they will be the first team to make a Grand Final from seventh.
  • 17 wins is the equal most the Bulldogs have ever achieved in a season.

More Relevant Statistics

  • Last 10 Against Each Other: GWS Giants 2, W Bulldogs 4
  • Last 10 At Venue: GWS Giants 7-3, W Bulldogs 0-1
  • Recent Form: GWS Giants WLWWWW, W Bulldogs WWLWW
  • Record v Top 8: GWS Giants 6-4, W Bulldogs 6-5

Finals Against Each Other

See my note from the GWS v Sydney qualifying final.

My AFL Fantasy Matchday Team

  • DEF: Shaw (GWS), Griffen (GWS)
  • MID: Greene (GWS), Bontempelli (WB) (c)
  • RUC: Mumford (GWS)
  • FWD: Daniel (WB), Patton (GWS)

At This Stage

GWS is charging into maiden territory here, so let’s look at the Bulldogs’ sorry preliminary final record.

The first Bulldogs preliminary final was in 1953, losing by 26 points to Geelong. We won the flag the next year, missed the finals by the narrowest margin ever in 1955, and lost by 39 to Collingwood in 1956.

After a 27-point win over Melbourne in 1961, they have lost their last seven, in 1985, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009, and 2010. They have a record of 1-9, the worst preliminary final record in the AFL.

Match Preview

There is a strong rivalry developing between GWS and the Bulldogs, mostly caused by trade. It was bad enough when the Giants poached Callan Ward on their way to entering the AFL in 2012, but the 2014 trade involving Ryan Griffen, Tom Boyd and a number 6 draft pick (Caleb Marchbank) was the final straw for Dogs fans, and there would be payback. Now would be the perfect time to do it, as they strive to achieve their first Grand Final since my grandfather was my age.

Also, I have to share this Twitter dialogue from Ben Pobjie and Nat Southby.

puns.pngAnyway, onto the analyis.

The Bulldogs forward line is the least potent of any of the finalists, and is 12th in the accuracy stakes, according to The Age. Their last game against Hawthorn was their fourth highest score for the season, kicking 10.1 in the last half with ten of 22 players scoring a goal. They’ll need a similar spread to get past GWS.

Liam Picken has been playing as a forward recently, kicking three goals for the first time in his career last week. Him and Jake Stringer were the top contributors against the Hawks, but they can’t do it alone. Tory Dickson, Caleb Daniel, Jack Macrae, and Tom Boyd all need to get plenty of goalscoring action (and in Dickson’s case, kicking straight.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t seen much of GWS, but there’s one thing that has seeped through my Victorian-centric newspaper reading: Heath Shaw is a hell of a player. Last time against the Bulldogs, Heath Shaw got the most kicks in a game since 1981, and had his 36 kicks at 100% efficiency. Something must be working with GWS’s defense, as Adam Tomlinson, Phil Davis, and Joel Patfull have been stopping most players this year. The Bulldog’s attack won’t be good enough here.

GWS is the highest scoring team left in the finals. Spearheaded by Jeremy Cameron throughout their short history, Steve Johnson and Toby Greene are also in the top twenty goalscorers for this year’s season.

The Bulldog’s defense, however, is one of the best in the AFL, conceding an average of 73 points and over 100 just three times, twice against Geelong and once in a game against Adelaide that they won anyway. Jason Johannisen was in All-Australian form before he injured himself early in the season, Matthew Boyd is performing well as a veteran back pocket, and Easton Wood has been serving well as one of the co-captains in Robert Murphy’s absence. However, for me, as strong as the Bulldogs’ defence is, GWS just has a potent edge about their attack that should give them more scoring opportunity.

As it always is in finals, the midfield is what will win the game for one of the Giants or the Dogs.

Shane Mumford will win the ruck battle, no contest. He may have been lucky to get off for his tackle on Kurt Tippett in the qualifying final, but GWS is better for his availability and will beat Jordan Roughead.

Both teams have a strong midfield. The Giants have been able to pick the best young midfielders in the country throughout their short life in the draft, but it’s worth remembering the savvy trading they’ve had in recruiting Ward and Tom Scully. Stephen Coniglio and Toby Greene are top class midfielders, with Greene killing it as an attacking forward.

The Bulldogs have plenty of good midfielders in Luke Dahlhaus (who’s moved from a forward to a midfielder), Tom Liberatore (father-son pick), Lachie Hunter (another father-son pick), and Marcus Bontempelli. The Bont is an outside chance for the Brownlow, and nothing more can really be said about him. They also have Caleb Daniel as an in and out rover.

The midfield battle looks as if it will be pretty even, and I can’t really pick a winner in it. The game will be decided at the ends of the ground, and GWS is on top in both.

What The Numbers Say

We’ve had to do some extrapolating here. There have only been 6 GWS v Bulldogs games, and the Bulldogs have only played once at Spotless, earlier this year. Based on this, this is another game to close to call, but if you really want a tip, GWS has a 54.8% chance of winning.

What I Say

Everyone’s been riding the Bulldogs bandwagon with their recent form, and it would be great for the club if they were going to make their way to a Grand Final. Unfortunately for them, I just feel that GWS will be too strong for the Doggies. They’ll give them a red hot go, but the final margin will be GWS by 19.


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