Published on September 13, 2018 8:53 pm

PREVIEW: VFL Preliminary Finals

A Peter Jackson VFL Grand Final berth is up for grabs in this weekend’s ‘Love the Game’ Preliminary Finals, with the Casey Demons taking on Essendon and Williamstown facing the Box Hill Hawks.

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CASEY DEMONS vs ESSENDON – Saturday 2.10pm @ Stannards Stadium

[LIVE on Channel 7 + listen on Aussie Digital]



Rd 13 @ RAMS Arena: Casey Demons 8.6 (54) d Essendon 6.10 (46)

The Demons caught Essendon napping by kicking the game’s first five goals by midway through the second quarter and weren’t headed again, their fierce tackling pressure ensuring a late charge from the Bombers fell short.



The Demons (15-4) lost back-to-back games to the Box Hill Hawks and then Williamstown in the last two home-and-away rounds before responding emphatically with a 91-point defeat of Geelong in their qualifying final. / Essendon (11-9) has kept its season alive in four straight weeks with victories over Footscray, the Northern Blues, Collingwood and then Richmond by five points last week.



Can Casey resist the momentum of the Bombers? Essendon’s season was on life support following a sixth straight loss in Round 19 that sent it down to 10th position on the ladder. However, the Bombers have effectively won four elimination finals in a row to steam into the season’s penultimate week, bringing back memories of their run to the 2015 preliminary final against eventual premier Williamstown from fifth position. The Demons arguably have more to lose with their AFL affiliate potentially entering its own preliminary final next week and will have to overcome a spirited team with a particularly vocal supporter base in order to reach a second VFL Grand Final in three years.



This clash is going to be red-hot at the coalface. Both teams rank in the VFL’s top three for inside-50s per game, but their methods of winning the ball to drive it forward differ. Casey ranks first for tackles (Essendon ranks 12th) and excels at generating opposition turnovers thanks to pressure kings such as James Munro and Corey Wagner, while the Bombers rank second for clearances (the Demons rank 9th) on the back of Sam Draper’s rapidly developing ruck work. If Casey’s makeshift ruck division can’t compete, Essendon ball-winners like Kobe Mutch and Aaron Heppell – who torched the Tigers at stoppages last week – could run riot.

WILLIAMSTOWN vs BOX HILL HAWKS – Sunday 2.10pm @ Stannards Stadium

[LIVE on Channel 7 + listen on SEN, 3WBC radio, ABC Radio and Casey Radio]



Rd 1 @ Williamstown Football Ground: Box Hill Hawks 14.21 (105) d Williamstown 9.14 (68)

The Seagulls kicked five goals to one in the first quarter and still led by 22 points five minutes into the third term, but Box Hill clicked into gear to power to victory with the game’s last nine goals.



Williamstown (14-5) extended its winning streak to seven games with a 25-point defeat of minor premier Richmond in their qualifying final. / The Hawks (14-6) have strung together four wins against quality opposition, finishing the home-and-away season by knocking off the Casey Demons and Geelong before finals victories over Port Melbourne and then the Cats by 29 points last week.



Which team has the bigger point to prove? These teams are among the most consistent VFL performers of the last decade or so, but both could perhaps be ultimately seen as unfulfilled in that time. The Seagulls haven’t missed September since 2006 – and will be playing in their ninth straight preliminary final – yet have just the 2015 premiership (a win against Box Hill) and a Grand Final appearance in 2011 to show for it. Meanwhile, the Hawks have missed the finals once since 2009 but have also claimed only one flag in 2013 from three Grand Final appearances. A second premiership triumph would greatly enhance each club’s legacy from the recent era.



Don’t be surprised if this match is a battle between two quality back lines. Key Seagulls defenders Joel Tippett and Leigh Masters helped keep the Tigers to eight goals from 51 inside-50s two weeks ago (Williamstown kicked 11 from 50 entries), while Kaiden Brand and Tim O’Brien controlled the air in defence last week as Box Hill conceded nine more inside-50s to Geelong but gave up five fewer goals. The quality of each team’s ball use going forward will be crucial, with the Hawks perhaps holding the edge in this regard – they rank second in the VFL for goals scored per inside-50, compared to a ranking of eighth for the Seagulls.

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