Prelim two looms as another cracking contest, between an upstart and an experienced campaigner. The Lions were superb in their win over the Tigers and broke the finals hoodoo of the previous season. They get everything they want this season, a home prelim leading in to a home grand final. What more incentive can they have for the win? For the Cats, well they are facing their own hoodoos. They have been superb for more than a decade, and this will be their 10th prelim since 2007, however their record in them of late is poor. They’ve lost their last 3 and keep falling short when needed. They were superb against the Pies, and weren’t that bad against the Power so their form is solid. Can they break their hoodoo??

How do the Lions win?
Take their chances at goal, especially early. They held strong in front of goal for much of the game against the Tigers, before getting a little shaky late in the game as they were trying to close. Need to hit their shots early. Also need to get ruck dominance out of McInerney and Martin, who’ll be up against a slightly crocked Rhys Stanley and the mobile Mark Blicsavs. Get their mids first use, and it goes a long way to beating the Cats.

What they want:
-Their forwards on their bikes. For the Lions, their forward line is quick and mobile, whilst the Cats defence is generally slow. If they can get the Cats defenders having to chase them, it’s huge. It takes Taylor and co. out of their comfort zone, giving the Lions the upper hand.
-Midfield to break even. If they can stop the Cats getting it out of the middle quickly, and stop their clearance work, then the Lions can beat the Cats across the ground. With Hawkins and Dangerfield up forward, the Lions can’t let the Cats win the centre clearances. They have the talent; they just need to deliver.
-Andrews floating free. Gardner will get Dangerfield, and I think Lester might get first crack at Hawkins, allowing Andrews to play as the spare tall. This will be the ideal scenario, as Andrews will back himself to beat his opponent, and sag off to support Lester as needed. Worst case, Andrews switches on the Hawkins in need, but if he can be loose, it’s huge for the Lions.

What they don’t want:
-Dangerfield to have a run at the footy. Dangerfield was supreme last week. It was almost the perfect forwards’ game. He marked on the lead, he crashed packs, he kicked them from everywhere, and he was a constant threat. They need to stop Dangerfield having a free run at the footy, make him have to body up more.
-Ablett and Selwood to wind back the clock. Both are still quality players, but father time is catching up fast. However, both know how to impact games, especially big games, so the Lions have to be wary. Selwood will simply will himself into every contest. There are few blokes better cut out for finals than him. Ablett, he doesn’t need much of it these days to hurt. If he gets 10 touches, he’ll likely have 5 cracks inside 50, and that usually means 5 shots on goal. Has to be watched around forward 50 stoppages.
-Duncan on his own. The Pies tagged Duncan early, but in a method to stop the carnage, they stopped it and just tried to get all hands on deck. It allowed Duncan to just run around, racking up touches and when he goes at 94% efficiency, he just cuts you apart. Has to be kept under watch.

How do the Cats win?
Last week they were able to win the clearances, especially in the centre, and get it in quickly to their two-pronged forward line of Hawkins and Dangerfield. If they get that, they’ll win more often than not. They need to stop the Brisbane ruck duo, and get Blicsavs free to run. He’s been superb all year, and can play every single role on the ground……and usually does in a game, he’ll be a thorn in the Lions side. Oh, and if Dangerfield goes nuts like last week, they’ll also probably win.

What they want:
-Stanley to stand up. He’s going in under a slight cloud with his knee, but he’s been really strong through the finals since coming back in to the team. He’s not the greatest ruckman, but he competes, he’s mobile, and he has been able to push forward and give another option. He has to limit the impact of the Lions ruckman, otherwise his mids are in for a long night.
-Danger up forward. If Danger is in the forward 50 all night, it means they will be winning. It means that their other mids have stepped up and carried the burden in there, allowing their best mid to play out of the square up forward where he is ridiculously difficult to match up against.
-Control of possession. Where by the Tigers, and to a lessor extent the Lions, can play kamikaze football, the Cats like to control the pace and tempo of the game. They need the ball; they need to control the footy and get space for their forwards to move.

What they don’t want:
-Charlie Cameron to fire. He won last year’s game against the Lions nearly by himself, he was very good in the first final against the Tigers and he’s a player that lights up his team, and the crowd, when on song. They have to keep him quiet.
-Expecting the same as last week. Really, you are not going to get an easier final than against what the Pies produced last weekend. It was a pretty easy effort for the Cats, with the Pies simply out on their feet and broken early. That won’t be the case this week, so they have to be ready for a completely different game.
-Hawkins with the wobbles. He kicked 0.5 against the Power, and 4.1 against the Pies. He needs to replicate the latter and not the former for the Cats to prevail. He wouldn’t want to miss a couple early……

Key Match ups:
Gardiner V Dangerfield – Arguably the match-up that could decide the game. If the Cats are on top through the middle, then Gardiner is going to have to play ridiculously well to beat Dangerfield one on one.

Jed Bews v Charlie Cameron – similar to the above, Jed Bews is likely to get first crack at Cameron, and it’s a massive job for him. He’s had another strong season Bews, but this is the game he needs to produce his best. Cameron is quick as a whip, he knows where to go to get the footy, is dangerous on the lead as well as on the ground, and needs to be watched at F50 stoppages. Massive contest.

Jarrod Lyon V Joel Selwood – Two midfield bulls going at it, with neither likely to shirk any issue. Selwood is a finals master, whilst Lyon is just as honest as the day is long and will work hard from the opening whistle to the last. Should be a great contest in tight.

Lachie Neale v Cam Guthrie – I wouldn’t be surprised if Guthrie is charged with watching Neale very closely on the weekend. Whilst it won’t be a hard tag, he’ll have the job at stoppages to ensure Neale doesn’t get easy touches and also try and hurt him the other way. Guthrie has been in superb form, whilst Neale is the likely Brownlow winner. A key contest

Key Players:
Hugh McCluggage – critical player for the Lions, in their ability to spread wide, and works hard both ways. Has been wayward in front of the big sticks, so is he can clean that up and take his chances, he’s a massive concern for the Cats

Daniel Rich – Kicked a massive goal against the Tigers to get the Lions going in the Qualifying final, and is one of the best users of the footy in the game. Is equally damaging going long as he is short, and has become a crucial leader in defence this season.

Oscar McInerney – Has gone from a second tall forward, to the No.1 ruck for the Lions in the space of a year. When the Lions lost Stefan Martin, they barely lost a beat and it’s because of this kid. Tap work has improved, strong in the air and can hurt when he goes forward. If he has a big game, the Lions will be tough to beat

Sam Menegola – Has been superb on the wing this year for the Cats and will need to be again this weekend if they are to prevail. He’s a big body in the contests, he’s strong overhead, covers a lot of ground and can hit the scoreboard. His kicking can be a bit wonky, but he’s a key component of the Cats link play through the middle and out wide.

Luke Dalhaus – had a strong game last week, and the Cats need it again. Offers the Cats forward pressure and can hit the scoreboard, whilst giving the mids a rest in the middle when needed.

Mark Blicsavs – He’s had mixed results in finals, but if there was a prototype of the perfect footballer, then this guy is probably it. He’s tall and athletic enough to play key position and the ruck, he’s mobile enough to play as a genuine mid, and he’s adaptable enough to do it all in the one game. Cats need him to have a big game.

Outcome:
I’m tipping the Lions, as I have all year, and that’s in no way trying to disrespect the Cats. Home final, chance for a home Grand Final, in form and rested. Not much more they could ask for. Their defence is strong, their midfield elite, and their forward half is a superb blend of pace, height, creativity and hardness. Whilst the Cats best is probably the best in the game right now, I’m not sure they’ll get a chance to show it against this Lions team. Whilst the Lions won’t want to run the Cats down, I think they will go through to their first Grand Final since 2004…. Ironically, against the Power!!

Lions by 15pts