Just like every other fan of the game, even when my team isn’t playing on the last Saturday in September, the Grand Final draws me to it like a moth to the flame.

I know there are some who tune out of footy once their team is no longer in the race – I am a footy tragic. I’m still sorting through stats, listening for trade news, looking at draft picks and reminiscing about games long past well after the final siren that sees a new premier crowned.

But as of right now, my focus is on the big game, and I found myself screwing my nose up when some nuffy on Twitter suggested during the week that this didn’t feel like a “regular” Grand Final. He said it lacked the stories of your traditional clashes, and really… that guy is either deliberately not paying attention, or one of the biggest idiots covering our game. There is a mountain of stories to play out in this one, and if that clown is going to give you the negative of the GWS v Richmond Grand Final, I’m here to give you the positive.

Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to seeing play out this Saturday.

THERE’S A BIG, BIG SOUND…

I am unreasonably looking forward to the Giants emerging from the race, breathing in the atmosphere, milling around the banner and bursting onto the field. I’m sure as a player it’s something you look forward to on Grand Final day.

But more than that, I am looking forward to the crowd response once they hear the “big, big sound” of the GWS theme song blaring through the MCG speakers. If you’re a non-Richmond fan, my guess is after the last couple of days of meme-filled fun, you’ll be singing along and stamping your feet to the sound of the Mighty Giants, right?

But I reckon this will have another effect, too. The Tiger supporters are a competitive bunch, and as good as the GWS theme song is, is it as good as the one belonging to the team from Tigerland? I expect the Richmond supporters to be in fine voice.

It’s the “big, big sound” versus the “yellow and black”. Which song gets the best reaction?

THE DE BOER FACTOR

Will he go to Dusty? Will he try to stifle the clearance work of Prestia? Or will Leon Cameron pull one from left field and send him to mind Bachar Houli to stem the Tiger run off half back?

Wherever de Boer plies his trade in this game, it is bound to provide a compelling storyline. Will the Tigers leave his target to fend for himself, or will they refuse to allow de Boer to tighten the screws on their teammate?

Matt de Boer has shut down Bont (a season low 13 touches), Lachie Neale (a season low 17 touches) and Scott Pendlebury (a season low 18 touches) coming into this one, and it’s a fair bet that whoever gets his full and undivided attention will be having a tough day at the office. Could another season low number be on the cards?

THE BATTLE OF THE BIG MEN

We have a few legitimate marquee match ups in this one, with Grimes looking most likely to get the job on Jeremy Cameron, particularly given his ability to cover the ground at a speed to match Cameron. Either Nathan Broad or David Astbury (now the most underrated defender in the game after Grimes’ rise to prominence) are left to cover Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg (who really needs a good finals outing).

 At the other end we’ll see any combination Phil Davis, Sam Taylor and Nick Haynes attempt to shut down the rampant Tom Lynch and the much less rampant Jack Riewoldt. The Giants’ defence has been able to repel absolute barrages in recent weeks, but Lynch would be the most formidable opponent they’ve encountered throughout the finals.

Can Cameron get off the chain? Can Lynch bust open the GWS defence? Will Nick Haynes stamp his authority on the 2019 Granny? Or will the stingy Tiger defence be good enough to strange the life out of the GWS forwards?

THE DEBUT

Talk about pressure on a bloke – Marlion Pickett becomes the first bloke since 1952 to debut in a Grand Final in the V/AFL, and his performance and influence has the potential to be one of those instances that define how a coach, or team is remembered.

If he has a blinder, Hardwick and his staff are looked on as geniuses. If he fails and the Tigers fall over, the knives will come out for playing an inexperienced player.

So how he performs is a story unto itself.

THE TOBY GREENE ARC

We’ve all seen the storm following Toby Greene around over the last few weeks. From Bont, to Neale to a week off, to taking his mum to the Brownlow and finally to the Grand Final.

A lot of focus will be on Greene in this one. He is a lightning rod and will no doubt push his luck and the boundaries at some stage of the game. But unlike other guys who have pushed, shoved, kicked and face-massaged their way through finals series in the past, Greene is a brilliant player, capable of turning a game with his sheer skill as much as his physical… pressure.

Here’s the thing – I am pulling for Toby Greene. A couple of weeks ago, I lost patrons because I was staunch in my defence of him, and I stand by it. I understand why he was suspended – I just didn’t agree with it. Right now, the pressure is on him, and he gets to write the end to his own September story this season.

Does he stand up under the pressure and put the Giants on his back? Does he make a difference with the ball in his possession as well as his actions away from the footy? Or does he shrink on the biggest stage with the Richmond faithful raining a chorus of boos down on him?

How Toby Greene fares in this would be worth the price of admission if it weren’t so damned expensive to get a ticket!

 A BIT OF NIGGLE / THE SPIRIT OF THE GAME

This “spirit of the game” business has really muddied the waters, hasn’t it? Is Lachie Whitfield fair game, even though he had his appendix out just last week?

I’m of the opinion that if you’re out on the ground and you’re fit, but umpire Shaun Ryan saw things differently when he opted to protect Charlie Cameron as the Giants rolled over the Lions.

What happens if the Tigers get a little antsy with the Matt de Boer’s treatment of his designated opponent? What happens if Toby Greene decides to take matters into his own hands, physically (that sounds a bit dirty…)? What happens if someone drops a shoulder into the midsection of Lachie Whitfield? Will the niggle be compromised by the enactment of the “spirit of the game” clause? Or will the interpretation be relaxed a little as the whistles are put away in the hottest game of the season?

I’d love to see the teams play on the edge, with an intent to do what it takes to win at all (or most) costs.

But I’m not sure we’ll see that. Here’s hoping for a good, hard and (mostly) fair contest.

THE REDEEM TEAM, OR HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Not enough good stories? That damn Twitter bloke… I should look him up and stalk him. What a dumb thing to say.

So you’ve either got the Tigers making good on a failed 2018 campaign where they were clearly the best team of the season…until they weren’t. Or you have the Giants winning their first ever flag after coming back from a couple of deplorable weeks toward the end of the season.

It’s the team that lost Alex Rance against the team that lost Cal Ward. It’s the teams for whom Brett Deledio toiled away for, and now he’ll sit in the stands watching his mates battle it out without him.

This game has subplots galore

THE UNDERRATED MIDS

We come into this game with two excellent midfields who did not find a spot in the 2019 All-Australian team.

The Tigers boast the superstar, Dustin Martin, but it is the consistent work of Dion Prestia that has been the engine room of their clearance work all season. Prestia’s second half of the season has been excellent, and I would not be surprised to see him rewarded with the Jack Dyer Medal this year, with Dylan Grimes probably his biggest threat.

But even the superstar couldn’t crack the AA team this season, and nor could any of the Giants either. Amazing that now we have these two midfields powering their teams in a Grand Final, and none of the individuals could make the best team of the season.

Prestia was 8th in total disposals, 9th in total clearances and 7th in total inside 50s for the season.

Martin was 10th in total centre clearances, 5th in total inside 50s, 7th in total goal assists and 5th in total score involvements.

On the flip side, most AFL fans could walk, smack bang into Tim Taranto or Jacob Hopper and you wouldn’t recognise them. That may be all about to change.

Taranto is a beast, and at just 21 years old finds himself as one of the emerging stars of the competition. He was ranked 5th overall in total disposals, 4th in total tackles and 5th on total kicks.

Alongside him, Hopper is starting to get recognition as the inside player many teams are missing. At 22, he is 8th in the league in contested possessions and 14th in total clearances.

These two should have at least a couple of All-Australian blazers by the time they’re done in the game, but as of now they’re in the process of establishing themselves. Both are still in the running for the Gary Ayres Medal for the best player in the finals.

THE NORM AND THE GARY

As highly as the Norm Smith Medal is regarded, the Gary Ayres Medal is just as underrated. Think about it – the best player in finals… quite the accolade.

But in this finals campaign, there is a wrinkle. With 14 players still eligible to win the award, it is wide open, which is a far cry from last season where just Steele Sidebottom and Jack Redden remained eligible on Grand Final day.

I’ve written a bit more about it here – https://themongrelpunt.com/afl/2019/09/27/ayresmedal

As it stands, we may once again have the same player win both the Norm Smith and Gary Ayres awards, which would add to a legend if it was a bloke named… hmmmm, Dustin Martin.

WHEN DUSTY GOES FORWARD

Speaking of Dusty, there is so much talk that he’ll be spending more time forward than on the ball – I don’t buy it.

Whilst Dusty is a weapon when he does go forward, to remove him too often from that midfield rotation completely robs the Tigers of that scintillating burst from the centre he provides. In an earlier article for patrons, I speculated that the Giants shouldn’t bother about switching too often, and instead force Martin to contend with periods where he has his midfield opponent (de Boer) and a defender to contend with.

When Dusty gets a one-on-one, it spells trouble. The Giants have to do something to shake things up and prevent it from happening. Like Joe Ganino on a good night, Dusty requires a double team.

THE EMERGENCE OF ZAC WILLIAMS

Do you keep Williams as part of the midfield rotation? Or do you send him to half back again with the return of Lachie Whitfield and Toby Greene to give you the drive from there?

His 29 touches and ten inside 50 deliveries were huge in their nail-biter against the Pies, and as much as you gain with Whitfield returning to the guts, are you willing to lose what you’ve got in Williams?

Maybe Whitfield to the wing and Williams remaining in the middle is the answer? That way you protect Whitfield from the hustle and bustle, and you allow Williams to continue his run of good form.

A RIOLI IN THE GRANNY

GWS, I hate to break this to you – the last five teams to have a Rioli in their team on Grand Final day have won, and Daniel Rioli heads back to the ‘G for a crack at his second flag to make it six from the last six for the family.

The good news is that if we extend the catchment by one more year, we find Cyril on the losing end of a Grand Final in 2012, so it’s not as though this is the determining factor in the big game. That said, an 85.7% strike rate for Riolis in the Grand Final in recent history is a pretty good one.

Daniel Rioli hasn’t been a standout this season at all. His numbers are down across the board this season, but one big game, in the biggest game of the season, and that is how you’re remembered. Big game players are remembered for moments just like this weekend.

BRANDON ELLIS’ LAST GAME AS A TIGER

This is a very strange situation. Ellis has agreed to sign with the Gold Coast Suns for next season, giving them a mature body, and an experienced head to aid their youngsters’ development, but there is something about a player going into a Grand Final knowing he won’t be there next season, and everyone else knowing where he’s headed… it’s a tough situation.

I wonder how this impacts the way he plays, and the way his teammates respond, whether he does something great, or does something that… well, may be a little on the softer side? Could there be a little bit of resentment if that happens? Could there be some questioning of where his head is at?

Look, chances are it all goes off without a hitch, but part of me just wonders how this sort of impending departure impacts the group.

Then again, I guess the Giants are in the same position with Adam Tomlinson, right?

AND HERE’S A FEW RANDOM STATS AND OTHER THINGS I’VE BEEN TOYING WITH OR KEEPING AN EYE ON DURING THE SEASON

THE DENNIS RODMAN AWARD

The best rebounder in the game, you see? I could have called it the Wilt Chamberlain award, but then whoever led the game in rebounds would have had to lead it in scoring, assists, smothers, spoils and basically every major statistical category as well. Wilt was a monster.

So, the Rodman award it is then and we’ll focus only on rebounding. Which player will collect the footy off half back and send their team heading back down the field the most? Houli would have to be the favourite, but after another solid season, it seems as though Nick Vlastuin is flying under the radar. Do they Giants put some work into Houli? And if so, does that open up opportunities for Jayden Short and Vlastuin?

On the other end, Haynes has been supreme this finals series, but with the two big Tiger forwards to occupy him, someone else may have to fill the void. If Zac Williams spends time in defence instead of in the midfield, maybe he is the one to have the most rebounds for the game, but I wouldn’t put it past old Heater Shaw to surprise everyone and rack up a heap of metres gained running out outside 50 or throwing it on his boot. He is just the second highest rebound 50 player in the competition this season.

The old fella can still go.

THE REAL ESTATE AGENT AWARD

I love a good long kick, but more than that, I like a good long kick that actually hits the target. 600 metres gained in a game is around the mark I use to assess who has been most effective with the footy, but I like to combine that with disposal efficiency. Usually, I like a bloke to travel at about 80% efficiency, particularly those who get the ball off half back. So if 600 metres is an excellent game, about 500 metres is the distance you’d want from a running defender on average.

Here’s the members of the 500/80 club this season.

Jake Lloyd (Sydney)

Daniel Rich (Brisbane)

Tom Stewart (Geelong)

And that’s it. 500 metres at 80% is difficult to do, but if a bloke achieves it, their team gets clean use of the footy. Bachar Houli, Zac Williams, Lachie Whitfield and Jayden Short are all capable of hitting this mark, but with the pressure of the Grand Final, time and space to hit both those marks are limited.

THE DIRK DIGGLER AWARD

The award for the best tackle?

Okay, it’s for the best tackler on the park. Taranto loves wrapping an opponent up, and usually, Jack Graham would be right in the mix here too. You’d expect de Boer to be right up there as well with his close attention, and Zac Williams is a ferocious tackler as well.

THE DEFENSIVE 20 AWARD

This is a really simple stat I’ve been looking at over the season. If you can combine one-percenters and intercept possessions to total 20 for the game, you have yourself one hell of a defender.

Bachar Houli had 21 in the Preliminary Final in what was his best defensive performance of the season (14 intercepts, seven 1%ers).

Amazingly, the Tigers have no one else that has hit that mark this season, with Dylan Grimes having 19 on three occasions, and Nick Vlastuin getting to 19 twice.

For the Giants, Phil Davis has hit 20 five times, with the semi-final win over the Lions being the last time. He also had a mammoth 17 one-percenters and ten intercepts against the Kangaroos in Round 13. He’s the only Giant to hit 20 this season.

DROPPING 50 AWARD

Here’s an easy one. Effective disposals + marks + tackles + goals. If it totals 50, you’re in rare air.

The Giants have two players who have achieved it, and as far as I have been able to record, it’s only been achieved 13 times since effective disposals have been kept. Sadly, one of the Giants who has achieved it will not be in the team.

Stephen Coniglio had 30 effective touches, 13 marks, eight tackles and three goals for a total of 54 in Round 11 this season.

Lachie Whitfield is the other, with 31 effective disposals, 18 marks, three goals and four tackles to get him to 56 overall points.

Seem silly? Maybe it is, but when a player has a cumulative 50, it’s something that doesn’t happen very often

There’s a bit more about it here https://themongrelpunt.com/afl/2019/05/20/redux