First qualifying final
Sydney v Fremantle
Saturday 2.45pm ANZ Stadium
Sydney is set to bolster its line-up with A-graders Lance Franklin (knee) and Josh Kennedy (hamstring), in-form Ben McGlynn (calf) and ruckman Mike Pyke (ill). The Swans are pessimistic that one of their sidelined players, believed to be underrated midfielder Craig Bird (knee), will recover in time for the match. Fremantle will be stoked to recall Nat Fyfe after the completion of his two-match suspension, while creative defender Michael Johnson is expected to overcome back stiff ness to hold his place. With the Swans boasting an array of tall targets, and Luke McPharlin expected to be out of contention due to a lingering calf injury, little-used Alex Silvagni is a good chance of earning a recall.
The teams' only meeting came in round five. At that stage the Swans had won only one of their opening four matches, and were on the brink of their worst start to a season in 15 years. After a tight opening quarter the home team kicked seven out of the next nine goals to surge to a 35-point lead that, despite a late Dockers' comeback, proved insurmountable, with the final margin 17 points. That win was the start of a 12-match winning streak which transformed Sydney from being reputed to be in danger of missing the finals to the overwhelming premiership favourite.
Who will win and why
Sydney has been the clear premiership favourite for more than half a season, is playing at home (its city, if not favoured stadium) and is welcoming back four of its most important players. All points to a Swans victory and a week off , but with Ross Lyon nothing can be taken lightly. That Fremantle has only played once at ANZ Stadium, in its 2006 preliminary-final loss, would ordinarily be considered a hindrance, although Richmond undermined that notion with its finals-sealing win at the weekend.
The Dockers have travelled well of late against the Swans, notching two wins and a draw in their last four matches at the SCG. Given Sydney's paucity of ruck options it's vital that Pyke is able to return. Fremantle has not impressed as much this year as it did last year in reaching the grand final. The return of Michael Walters has given the Dockers a dynamism they badly needed in their forward half. If the Dockers are to win, however, it will more so be due to a frenetic pressure they are able to impose all over the ground to stifle Sydney. This could be one game in which coach Lyon's tactical and motivation powers prove most vital. Fremantle by 7.