Is there a better week in footy than Preliminary final week?? I mean, yes, the buildup the grand final is huge, and the week leading in to Round 1 is full of anticipation, but Preliminary final week is just huge. You normally get cracking games; the crowd is predominantly fans and not corporates and you get four desperate teams battling their hardest to get a crack at the flag.

First up we get the Power hosting the Tigers in what looms as a cracking contest. The Power have been the best side all year according to the ladder, and when they were tested in the Qualifying final against the Cats, they stood up to the challenge and end up giving it right back to the Cats. They host the Tigers, who are going for their 3rd flag in 4 years the hard way. They were shown up in the Qualifying final by the Lions, but rebounded strongly against the Saints to make their fourth straight Prelim. They’ll go in with the greater finals experience, but this Port side, at home, won’t be a pushover at all.

These two teams produced one of the best games of the season earlier this year. Nothing to say they can’t do that again. If it’s anything like the last one, we’ll be in for a treat on Friday night.

How do the Power win?
For the Power to win, they need to do a few things. Firstly, settle the nerves early. Get their hands on the ball, score early, find their rhythm. Secondly, get the crowd involved. A good start gets their crowd going early and as the home crowd with a partisan crowd, having their up and about early is huge. Finally, stay disciplined. Whilst it’s one thing to go hard early, you don’t want to give up cheap possessions or goals through stupid acts. Actually, just play the way they have all year. Nothing wrong with that.

What they want:
-Dixon to have a big game. Big forwards are huge in finals. They don’t necessarily have to kick a lot of goals, but they have to crash packs, make contests and just be a presence. There are few bigger presences in the game than Dixon. He has to ensure he has an impact, either physically or on the scoreboard.
-Support for the defence. The Power defenders aren’t tall, and they are coming up against two quality talls in Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt. Whilst McKenzie claimed the points against the Cats on Hawkins, Hawkins did kick 0.5 and had 6 shots on goal. They can’t afford to let Lynch have that many shots, so the midfield has to help out McKenzie, Clurey and Jonas otherwise they’ll struggle to contain the Tigers forward line.
-A Gray special. Whilst the Tigers have Martin as their match-winner, the Power have one as well in Robbie Gray. Gray is one of few footballers in the game that can literally do anything. He wins his own ball through the middle, he’s dangerous as a small forward, he can do the freakish, and has ice in his veins when needed. If he can fire, the Power probably win.

What they don’t want:
-Richmond with an extra in defence. The Lions stopped the Tigers by ensuring the winger/midfielder that dropped off at stoppages into defence was always manned up. It stopped the Tigers from having an outnumber in defence, which stopped much of their run from there. If the Tigers get the spare man, then you are gifting them the advantage they want.
-Mosquito fleet dominance. Last week, the Tigers got a huge lift from their indigenous mosquito fleet in Edwards, Bolton and Rioli. They kicked 6 goals between them, created havoc with and without the ball and generally just made things happen. The Power can’t let these three have this sort of influence again.
-Youthful nerves. The Power have been able to consistently get plenty out of their young guys in Butters, Duursma, Rozee, Ladhams and Marshall. Houston hasn’t played many finals, neither has Amon. They are playing against a side that has done this or the last 3yrs. These guys have to hold their nerve.

How do the Tigers win?
The Tigers found real form last week, moving the ball quickly from defence as they were able to the game on their terms. They have the experience heading in to know they can deliver when needed, they produce a ridiculous amount of pressure on the opposition and are playing with an aggressive style that makes the opposition on edge.

What they want:
-Nankervis to stand up. He’s going to be going one-out against the twin talls of Lycett and Ladhams, who have been superb this year. He was superb against the Saints twin talls last week, but struggled against the Lions. If he can halve most contests, then the Tigers midfield should be able to do the rest.
-Balta to hold Dixon. Balta has the athleticism to match Dixon, has the agility to match him, and whilst he’s not quite as strong, he’s not going to be pushed around easily. If he can limit Dixon’s influence, it goes a long way to winning the game. Big responsibility for Balta, but he’s the best option initially.
-Pressure, pressure, pressure. No side pressure’s like the Tigers. They force you to handball through their defence, which plays into their hands. If their pressure is up, then they are every chance. Port matched them last time, but finals are a different game.

What they don’t want:
-The Crowd involved. They’ll be loud, feral and will create a bloody hostile atmosphere. The Tigers need to quiet them and quiet them quickly.
-A lack of discipline. It burnt them the last time they played, it burnt them in the qualifying final, and whilst they kept their cool (generally) against the Saints, they can’t let it boil over again.
-Riewoldt quiet again. Whilst Hardwick pumped his game up from last week, he was soundly beaten. Whilst it didn’t hurt them in the game, they can’t afford to have him have another quiet one. They need him to get on the scoreboard, prelims are huge and to have a key player down means you are well behind.

Key Match ups:
Brad Ebert V Bachar Houli – I can see Ebert having a role to quell Houli’s influence, and the Power need to ensure that it’s done well. Houli is a gun, rarely fails in finals and is a key driver in the Richmond defence. Ebert can tag, is hard at it, and can hit the scoreboard. Should be a great contest.

Trent McKenzie V Tom Lynch – McKenzie was good against Hawkins, but not great. They’ll likely give McKenzie first crack, allowing Jonas to float and support where needed. Lynch was superb against the Saints and the Power need to hold him or risk being hurt badly.

Ollie Wines V Dion Prestia – Two tough mids going head to head in what looms as pivotal in the outcome of this game. Both are capable of winning plenty of the ball, they apply pressure through the middle and can hit the scoreboard.

Key Players:
Tom Rockliff – Incredibly, playing in his seconds finals game of his career and showed in his first against the Cats that he is more than suited to finals action. He’s been superb in the clinches and his tackling is first rate.

Robbie Gray – Genuine class player who can both rack up the footy and hit the scoreboard. Creative, uses the footy well, gets into the right spots and has done it on the big stage in the past. Gun. If he has a big game, the Power are every chance to win it.

Travis Boak – Former captain who is playing arguably the best footy of his career. He’s led from the front and is one of the key reasons why the Power are where they are. The Power need him to have another big game for them to win.

Shane Edwards – Proved last week how much of a key driver he is for the Tigers. He’s just got natural footy smarts. He knows when to dispose of the footy, when to hold and wait, hits the scoreboard and his work rate is outstanding.

Kamdyn McIntosh – Strange one here, but he’s been really good over the last couple of months. He’s taller than you think, works hard up and down the wings, and has hit the scoreboard too. He gives the Tigers width which they need when they are able to break.

Dylan Grimes – He’s the Tigers best defender, will be needed to lock down on the Power forwards and has developed an incredible ability to know when to leave his man to support his team mates. He’ll be needed to support Noah Balta against Dixon, and will likely get the Marshall match-up which will allow him room to roam.

This is a huge game, and I must say, I’m really torn on who to pick. I like the Power, and whilst I was an early doubter, I’ve become a believer. They’ve been tested against the best and regularly stood up when needed. Then you have the Tigers, the reigning champs, a proven finals team with a truckload of experience in big games.
However, I’m still not convinced of the Tigers form. Whilst they looked great at times last week, the Saints butchered early chances and were regularly on top against them. The Lions knocked them around and took them off their game, and I think the Power can do the same. The Power have tough midfielders in Wines, Boak, Ebert, Rockliff and Powell-Pepper. Add in Butters, Hartlett, and Houston and you have a group of players who’ll never take a backwards step and can match the Tigers pressure and hardness. Add to that the crowd, and I have a feeling the Power can cause an upset. It’s probably being a touch disrespectful of the Tigers who are the reigning champs, but I just think the Power might get the choccies here.

Power by 9pts