Where the grand final will be won and lost

We’ve reached another decider: the 2022 grand final between the Sydney Swans and the Geelong Cats.

There are plenty of sub-plots to this one. Can Geelong champion Patrick Dangerfield cement his greatness and legacy with a premiership? Or Will Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin prove the doubters wrong and win a premiership with Sydney in his ninth year?

All that aside, we’re going to preview the systems and pure match-ups which will decide this grand final.

The rebound game

It will be fascinating to see how this one plays out. When the Swans get their rebound game going, especially at the MCG, they’re incredibly hard to stop. The likes of Nick Blakey, Jake Lloyd and Ollie Florent have been fantastic at this part of the game this season, and the beauty of these three is that they all use the ball incredibly well, which most of the time sets up scoring opportunities.

Geelong is brilliant at not allowing those rebounds from their own defensive 50, which is something they’ve improved on dramatically this season. The likes of Tyson Stengle, Brad Close and Gryan Miers are applying terrific defensive pressure, which makes it hard for their opposition to construct any meaningful attack from their own defensive 50.

This will play a big part in the game. If the Swans can break the lines and attack from their defensive half and use the wide expanses of the MCG, they’ll put the Geelong defence under pressure.

If they can’t, we have seen what Geelong can do once they can set up defensively, and that is completely choke the life out of a side and crush them slowly with the likes of Tom Stewart, Sam De Koning and Mark Blicavs intercepting.

Isaac Heeney is tackled by Jed Bews.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

The midfield battle

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As is the way with modern football, the midfield battle will go a long way to winning and losing the game. Both teams are relatively similar in this regard, but two match-ups might decide who wins in this area.

One of those is Patrick Dangerfield and Callum Mills. Mills did a terrific job on Dangerfield earlier in the year and has been arguably the best defensively minded midfielder in the competition this season. Dangerfield, on the other hand, has had a brilliant finals series to date – 22 disposals and eight clearances in the qualifying final followed up with 28 disposals, eight clearances and two goals in the preliminary final is an outstanding return.

If Mills can quell the Geelong champion’s influence, the Geelong midfield lacks clearance winners, but if the Swans let him stamp his authority on the game, they’ll go a long way to winning it.

The other match-up is Luke Parker and Joel Selwood. I predict both sets of teams will allow their leaders to go head to head, and Sydney probably have the upper hand here. Parker was quiet in the preliminary final, but it’s not often you see him have two average weeks in a row. He leads the Swans in clearances this season and he’ll need to again on Saturday if the Swans are to win.

Joel Selwood and Chris Scott

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

For Selwood? He is the Cats inspirational leader. He isn’t the player he used to be, but in the big moments there’s nobody else you would rather have in your side. Can he become a premiership captain and lift one more time? If he does, I think the Cats win.

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Jeremy Cameron versus Dane Rampe

This is the biggest one-on-one on the day. Rampe has a good record on Cameron, but I don’t think he’s ever played on him in the type of form he is in at the moment.

He is arguably the hardest match-up in the competition at the moment, and if Rampe can stop him, it will put more pressure on Tom Hawkins, who has been beaten by Tom McCartin in recent times, and the Geelong smalls.

If Cameron explodes, he’s damaging not only by kicking goals but also by the way he sets them up with his elite ball use. He could easily take the game away from the Swans.

Dane Rampe Sydney Swans AFL 2017

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The smalls

If there’s a position or area on the ground that’s going to decide this grand final, I think it is both sets of small forwards. With Rampe most likely going to Cameron, the Swans don’t have any pure lockdown small defender, and at the other end of the ground, outside of Jed Bews, the Cats don’t have one either.

The last time these two played each other it was the smalls and medium-sized forwards who did the damage. Isaac Heeney kicked five goals for the Swans, while Will Hayward and Errol Gulden kicked three and two respectively.

At the other end of the ground Brad Close kicked four goals for the Cats. Tyson Stengle was very quiet that night, recording only six disposals, and he will need to contribute much more than that if the Cats are to hold up a cup at 6PM.

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Prediction

All signs point towards an instant classic with two evenly matched teams squaring off in the decider of what has been a great season.

The reason it’s so hard to predict is that we don’t know what to expect from these Sydney youngsters on the big stage. Players like Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, Nick Blakey, Ollie Florent and Callum Mills have been terrific all year, but grand finals are a different kettle of fish.

I think the experience of the Cats will get them over the line. Guys like Hawkins, Dangerfield, Selwood, Stewart, and Mitch Duncan will be able to steady the ship and compose themselves in the big moments, and that will be enough to get them over the line – but only just.

Winner: Geelong by eight points.

Norm Smith: Brad Close or Isaac Heeney.

First goal: Jeremy Cameron.

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