As cold as the Swans were in starting 2017, they have finished equally hot. The same can be said for Essendon – just over the course of two years, and largely due to non on-field factors.
On paper, the Swans finished the year as a considerably better side than the Dons – which isn’t a knock on the Dons at all. Through their play all year the Bombers showed they deserved to play finals footy, however we would suggest that they wished they had drawn either the Power or Eagles in their return to finals.
After starting the year extremely strongly down back, Essendon’s defence rating took a hit over the second half of the year. Instead of having a top four defence, they ended closer to the middle of the pack – and more in line with most subjective analyses of their performance there. By contrast, the usually staunch Swans defence started out like a sieve, before remembering how to stop opposition forwards from scoring.
We can’t emphasise this enough – they remembered, and you better think long and hard about how you move the ball forward against this vice-like unit. Fortunately for the Dons, their forwardline, anchored by PAV All-Australian Joe Daniher, has scored efficiently and effectively throughout the season. Whilst the Dons have a clear anchor, it’s the variety of contributions from across the forward cohort that have done the most damage – players like Fantasia, Hooker and AMT stepping up to the plate and presenting alternate paths to goal.
Essendon are picking a mostly full strength side – with the exception of Cale Hooker. The Bombers have chosen to go with only one ruck, and Bellchambers is clearly the pick of the three options. Matt Dea and Mitch Brown are perhaps a touch stiff – with Baguley, Kelly and McGrath on the edge of the 22 according to PAV. Despite much being made of Josh Green’s absence, PAV suggests that the Bombers will be better without him, with the aforementioned forward options providing more value across the year.
The Swans are also picking a side more or less in line with their best 22 according to PAV. Aliir Aliir is rated as being one of their better defenders this year, albeit from a small sample size – and he hasn’t played since the Swans’ defence returned to league-leading levels. Whilst the omission of Tippett was one of the bigger talking points of the week, it was probably the right move (or at least according to PAV:
The HPN Team Ratings model sees the Swans winning the inside 50 battle by about half a dozen entries, and their staunch defence preventing Essendon from scoring effectively. That model predicts the Swans winning by about 17 points.