Preliminary finals week has arrived in the Australian Football League with the two games this weekend to decide the grand finalists for the 2010 season.
Collingwood and Geelong will lock horns today in a mouth-watering, do-or-die contest between the two best-performing sides of the year.
Tomorrow, a well-rested St Kilda take on the Western Bulldogs, who are lucky to be alive after sneaking home against the Swans last week in a coin flip.
Collingwood v Geelong
Today at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – 4:45pm (Cambodian time)
This is the match-up that many believe will decide the premiers.
Both teams are in red-hot form, and with few injury concerns will field near-full-strength teams.
A disciplined Collingwood, with a sturdy, adjustable game style and an often impassable forward press, have won 10 of their past 11 games by an average of 48 points.
Celebrated stars such as Didak, Swan, Maxwell and Pendlebury are being well supported by a fleet of improving young players all over the ground.
After a close loss to St Kilda in the first week of the finals Geelong hit back hard with an emphatic 69-point win over an inexperienced Fremantle side last week.
Their eight-goal first quarter was a timely reminder of how dominant the Cats can be.
Regular performers, including Selwood, Ablett, Scarlett, Chapman, Johnson and Bartel, were all at their best.
This is a tough one to call.
Collingwood will be well rested after having the week off, but the Cats may have gotten more out of an easy, moral-boosting win against the Dockers.
Both teams have great midfields and depth with contributors all over the ground.
This one will come down to the forwards, particularly the small forwards, who can make the most of their opportunities inside 50.
That said, the Cats boast a plethora of opportunistic goal sneaks that I believe will prove the difference in a low-scoring affair. The prediction: Geelong by 7.
St Kilda v Western Bulldogs
Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – 4:20pm (Cambodian time)
The Saints are in great shape for this one. Having earned a week off last round due to a tough win over the Cats in the qualifying final a fortnight ago, they will go into this match confident, well rested and with almost a full list.
Steven Baker is being considered despite not playing for 11 weeks.
The Dogs may have pinched a win against the Swans last week but they remain in questionable form, having suffered three heavy losses in the past five weeks.
Several of their more experienced players, including Murphy, Griffin, Boyd, Hall and Harbrow, are now contributing well and gun defender Dale Morris returns from injury.
However, they lack the depth to compete with the top three sides and will need a big form turnaround from their lower tier of players to overcome the Saintly machine.
The Saints have beaten the Bulldogs in their past four encounters, including a preliminary final in the same week last year.
Add current form to that, and the Saints are close to a sure thing here.
The Dogs will have gained some confidence from a win last week, and I expect them to come out firing and give Saints fans an early scare.
However, it’s hard to see the Dogs playing four quarters and with question marks on the health of several key players, it won’t be too long before the Saints take over the game. The prediction: Saints by 33.