No, not a blog post about Australia’s spectacular Davis Cup failure, Bernard Tomic’s callow disrespect for the legendary Tony Roche, or Lleyton Hewitt’s body breaking down like a 1968 Monaro that just has too many miles on the clock.
Rather, with both major footy codes on the same finals system, the fact that none of the week one losers went out in straight sets. A bruised Manly ousted North Queensland with the help of a sparse crowd and an extremely generous video refs box, while Souths cruised past Canberra. Adelaide unravelled Ross Lyon’s Freo and a talented, if stuttery, Collingwood beat the highly-fancied West Coast.
It should have come as no surprise. The AFL has used this system – adopted by the NRL this season – since the turn of the millennium. In the 12 ensuing Septembers, the top four have filled the preliminary final places on all but two occassions: when sixth-placed Hawthorn eliminated third-placed Port in 2001, and again in 2007 with another No.6, Collingwood, knocking off third seed West Coast. Historically, teams never go out in straight sets. Losing top four teams have won 22 of their 24 games … make that 26 from 28, taking into account last weekend. It’s easy to be seduced by sides who cruise through elimination finals convincingly, but it’s worth remembering that teams make the top four for a very good reason.
But can we glean anything from recent AFL history to suggest what might happen this weekend? Yep.
In nine of the 12 series, the two qualifying final winners made the grand final. 21 of the 24 grand finalists since 2000 won their week one, top four final. In the other three years – 2003, 2005 and 2006 – the eventual premiers defeated their week one vanquishers on the last Saturday in September – Brisbane over Collingwood, Sydney over West Coast, and West Coast over Sydney.
The AFL finals system has proved a bit of a bore, really. In the first week, teams 5-8 vie for the chance to be eliminated in week two by the top-four sides that lose, before those top-four losers are bundled out in the prelim by the qualifying final winners who got to put their feet up over the second weekend.
But it’s a fair bore. It gives apt reward to the teams who work hard all year. It ensures week one finals are competitive: top four teams who win have one foot in the grand final, while bottom four teams are given a nice little reward despite, ultimately, being cannon fodder. Clubs are clearly and justly differentiated depending on where they finish.
Although giant-killing, FA Cup-style runs – a la Warriors 2011, Roosters 2010 and Parra 2009 – are less likely than under the McIntyre System, the other major advantage of the AFL system is that it guarantees blockbusters. You only need to look at how full Homebush will be this Friday and Saturday, or how intense the action is bound to be at AAMI Park on Friday night, for proof.
So this weekend, the teams with the week off have very good reason to feel confident. That means Swannies fans can book their flights to Melbourne to face Hawthorn, and Storm fans should anticipate a crack at post-scandal redemption against Canterbury. But if anyone can upset the applecart, they should fancy their chances in the big one.