GET set for a low-scoring, high-tackling and full-on contest tonight when Sydney hosts Collingwood on the dead track at ANZ Stadium.
Both sides have good cases to present as to why they should win and go on to next week's grand final. The Swans hold no fears for the Magpies. They have beaten them 11 times in a row, and seven of those victories have been at the soulless Homebush stadium. Sydney, however, will be buoyed by the fact that of the past 24 preliminary finals, 21 have been won by the team that had the week's rest going into the game.
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Real Footy finals: Sydney v Collingwood
Our footy experts analyse the team line-ups for the Friday night clash between Sydney and Collingwood.
After beating Adelaide in week one of the finals, the Swans have had a comfortable fortnight at home; so they should be jumping out of their skins. The Pies, on the other hand, have played well in their two games - a comprehensive loss to Hawthorn and a grinding win over West Coast. These will have boosted confidence, but at what physical toll? A plus for the Magpies will be the inclusion of Dane Swan, Andrew Krakouer, Tyson Goldsack and Ben Johnson. When the Pies beat Sydney in round 20, those four did not play.
The Swans have the meanest defence in the business, allowing on average just 74 points a game to be scored against them. It is an experienced and settled defensive unit, led by All-Australian centre half-back Ted Richards. Heath Grundy will return from suspension to take on the huge task of trying to control Travis Cloke. Ex-Pie Rhyce Shaw has had another outstanding season as a running rebounder, as has Nick Malceski. Alex Johnson and Marty Mattner are strong overhead, be it spoiling or marking. All six have high levels of disposal efficiency and, amazingly, have missed only seven games between them this season. So they know each other inside and out.
The Swans' midfield has always been full of grunt, but the outside speed and class of Lewis Jetta and Kieren Jack make them very dangerous. Warrior Jude Bolton will play his 300th game tonight. He loves his Bloods and spends the lot each time he plays. Another veteran, Ryan O'Keefe, has taken his game to another level. From a hard-running half-forward, he is now an accomplished midfielder who hits hard at the stoppages. Ranked one for tackles in his team and three for clearances, along with Josh Kennedy, Jarrad McVeigh and Jack, O'Keefe will thrive on winning contested possessions against a Magpies midfield that boasts three All-Australians.
Shane Mumford and the improving Mike Pyke will share ruck duties for Sydney. They run in straight lines and follow at ground level after aerial contests to help their clearance players.
The Swans are kicking higher scores than in recent years. There's no reliance on a couple to do the damage, as there was in the days of Barry Hall and Michael O'Loughlin. This season, eight players have kicked 20 or more goals. It's a nice spread. Leading scorer has been Jetta, who has tailed off in the second half of the season, but against that Adam Goodes has improved. Sam Reid always looms dangerously and midfielders Jack, Kennedy and Bolton are always good for a goal each game. A plus for the Swans is their accurate goalkicking. At 64 per cent, they are the best in the AFL.
The Pies have been slowly building. Confidence is up and don't underestimate the importance of returning creative forward Krakouer and the much-loved, hard-working veteran in defence, Johnson. The Pies are working as one, hunting in packs and putting intense tackling pressure on the opposition. Last week they strangled the Eagles, limiting a team that usually kicks 15 goals a game to just nine.
Chris Tarrant and Nathan Brown are disciplined, tight defenders. This allows Ben Reid to take more risks and back himself to take valuable intercept marks. His 10 marks last week were significant in his team's victory.
The Magpies' midfield is its great strength. As good as Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas are, Dayne Beams may have surpassed them. The 22-year-old has had a sensational season, hasn't missed a game and has become a key to his team's premiership hopes. His numbers are incredible - at Collingwood he's one for disposals, clearances and inside 50s, two for contested possessions and three for tackles. His disposal efficiency is better than his mates, and he does what all good midfielders should do - he kicks a goal each game.
As usual, the lion-hearted Darren Jolly will have to carry the ruck responsibilities. Last week, against the Eagles duo of Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox, the Pies were able to control the clearances and much credit for that has to go to Jolly. Another positive for the Pies was seeing goals come from midfield players, with Thomas (three) and Swan (two) the main contributors.
As usual, Cloke will be the main hope up forward. After three games back, Krakouer is looking dangerous and it will be hoped that Alex Fasolo and Tyson Goldsack, two permanent forwards, will be able to return better than their average of one goal a game.
Beams can't be allowed to freewheel, so expect Craig Bird to put the clamps on. The beauty of Jack is that he can be very good offensively and defensively. Coach John Longmire may well direct Jack, at various stages, to put the brakes on Swan or Steele Sidebottom if they have run hot. Grundy will be responsible for Cloke and will get strong spoiling support from Richards and co.
The two Swans ruckmen will be physical on Jolly, trying to wear him out, as they know Chris Dawes' ruck support is suspect. Harry O'Brien's opponents will try to pull him back to the last line of defence to take away his defensive rebound and make him nervous in one-on-ones near the goal mouth.
The Pies have to reduce the Swans' two leading goalkickers, Jetta and Goodes, to ordinary games. Both were important in Sydney's win over Adelaide a fortnight ago. Sharrod Wellingham would be a good fit for the speed of Jetta, and Goodes is likely to have Tarrant when he plays deep forward and the strong-running Alan Toovey when he pushes up to the midfield. All of Collingwood's forwards have to be prepared to work their backsides off to prevent the run and spread the Swans rely on so much out of their defence. Last week, Goldsack put on eight tackles, Jarryd Blair seven and Fasolo four. They will be looking for those numbers again.
Above all, the Pies will want a good start. Sydney is used to being in front in their games - 93 per cent of the time they lead in their games, which is more than any other team. So if the Pies can get in front early, it will put the Swans in foreign territory and silence a 60,000-strong crowd.
Sydney: Goodes. The big man loves the big occasion, and this will be the biggest game in Sydney this year. He was happy with himself in Adelaide, telling everyone he was ''back''. Expect him to fire.
Collingwood: Krakouer. In a game that will be an in-close slog, you need players with class and poise that can take advantage of limited opportunities. Krakouer is one of those. He may only get 10 touches, but is capable of turning half of them into pure gold.
In a dour struggle, the fresh legs of Sydney will get them over the line.
Sydney by 12 points