Mallinder's Musings for the preliminary finals
CATS V SWANS
At the MCG, 7.50pm
RECENT RECORD: Geelong 5 Sydney 5
LAST TIME: R16 2016: Sydney 15.8 (98) def Geelong 9.6 (60) in Geelong
LAST WEEK: Geelong bye; Sydney (118) def Adelaide (82)
TOMORROW night's match is the one that has captured everyone's imagination - a mouth-watering match-up between two new excitement machines. In contrast, while it's not quite as ho-hum as Hawthorn advancing yet again, this clash will mean either opponent matches the Hawks with a fifth grand final in 12 years. It could also be far more of a dour arm-wrestle.
That said, the battle in the midfield will be worth the price of admission alone - well, depending on where you're getting your tickets from - with Josh Kennedy (pictured) and Patrick Dangerfield, numbers one and two for contested disposals, going head-to-head. At either end, veteran defenders Heath Grundy and Tom Lonergan will have their own man-mountains to climb, in Tom Hawkins and Lance Franklin, respectively.
History of the two playing at the MCG suggests a Sydney win. Okay, the last time they met there was 82 years ago. But the Swans are four from four in finals against Geelong and, most importantly, were the last team to beat the Cats, in round 16, before Geelong went on a eight-match winning streak.
Geelong will be well rested and more settled. Forward Daniel Menzel has an adductor injury, but Lachie Henderson is ready to return and can certainly provide a marking target in place of Menzel in attack. For the Swans, coming off a six-day break, it's been a case of will they or won't they when it comes to injured stars Jarrad McVeigh (calf), Gary Rohan (knee) and Kurt Tippett (jaw). Callum Mills (hamstring) simply won't.
GIANTS V BULLDOGS
At Spotless Stadium, Sydney, 5.15pm
RECENT RECORD: GWS 2 Bulldogs 4
LAST TIME: R9 2016: GWS 15.8 (98) def Bulldogs 10.13 (73) in Sydney
LAST WEEK: GWS bye; Bulldogs (107) def Hawthorn (84)
WE'LL be guaranteed a fairytale grand final for either team in this fascinating contest, though for some it could be more like a Brothers Grimm story if the "AFL-created monster” that is GWS progresses to a first premiership decider in its fifth season over those long-suffering Dogs aiming for their first in 55 years.
While they play with similar gay abandon (an expression that would have felt right at home in 1961), they go in with vastly different preparations. The Dogs have had those back-to-back finals against last year's grand finalists, not to mention two trips to Perth either side of the pre-finals bye, and while they have built incredible momentum, will it take its toll? The Giants have sat back in Sydney, playing one game in 28 days. They'll be refreshed but may need a few cans of rust remover among the liniment oil.
Certainly the Bulldogs will find it a little tougher around the contest against the Giants than they did against the Eagles and Hawks. Marcus Bontempelli (with a game-high eight clearances last week) is a 20-year-old dynamo for the Dogs, and Jack Macrae a quiet accumulator (39 touches last week). But the Giants' on-ball brigade, headed by Stephen Coniglio, Dylan Shiel and Josh Kelly, looks too strong and too deep.
The Giants have had to find a replacement for the suspended Steve Johnson, but they still have an array of scoring options - and ones that can actually kick straight after the ex-Cat slotted 0.5 against the Swans - namely Jeremy Cameron (pictured), who kicked five goals last time against the Dogs. Good luck Joel Hamling.