H&V, Preliminary Finals: Coxy's big break; Tigers, Dees embarrassed

And just like that the grand final is set. Collingwood and West Coast will square off for the 2018 premiership next Saturday afternoon at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Unfortunately, neither preliminary final lived up to the hype and both, for all intents and purposes, were over by half time. The Magpies steamrolled reigning premier Richmond on Friday night at the MCG before West Coast turned in an equally-impressive display at Optus Stadium, thrashing Melbourne by 66 points.

Here are the Heroes and Villains from preliminary final weekend:


Mason Cox: We asked him to lift after two mediocre finals outings and the big Texan delivered in spades, playing a colossal role in Collingwood's shock win over reigning premier Richmond.

Cox produced arguably his greatest marking display on Friday night at the MCG. He clunked almost everything that came in his direction, finishing the game with 11 grabs (eight of which were contested). The American also slotted three goals from his 15 possessions in what was Collingwood's first win over Richmond in a final since 1937.

So good was Cox that he had the Magpies faithful chanting "USA, USA, USA" during the second and fourth terms. He even received multiple standing ovations when he came to the bench to take a breather.

Cox is now just one win away from completing a remarkable fairytale of transitioning to the AFL from the United States, and winning a premiership in what would be just his 44th career game.

West Coast's forwards: It was a complete performance from the league's most versatile forward line. Led by talls Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, and ably supported by Willie Rioli, Mark LeCras, Liam Ryan and Jamie Cripps, the Eagles' forward line was simply a class above the young and somewhat inexperienced Demons backline.

Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith and Sam Frost all appeared nervous early and it allowed the Eagles to make a quick break. Kennedy kicked four goals (all in the first half when the game was on the line), while Darling, LeCras, and Cripps all kicked three apiece. Liam Ryan, Daniel Venables and Willie Rioli also contributed a goal each.

Kennedy's match-winning first half performance was excellent. He did it in front of the big sticks but also worked hard at ground level. By half time he had racked up more tackles (3) than any Melbourne player, while he had also clunked the most marks (5) of anyone on the ground. Not bad for a key forward.

Does Collingwood have the defensive stocks to stop such a dynamic forward line?

Nathan Buckley: Collingwood wasn't a popular pick to make the top eight at the beginning of the year, let alone finish top four and progress to the grand final.

But in the space of 12 months the Magpies have gone from 13th place finishers to potential premiers and all while facing a wretched run with injuries. While the players deserve a heap of credit for the stunning turnaround, head coach Nathan Buckley also deserves enormous praise.

Many had been calling for Buckley's head after a few lean seasons at the helm but the former club champion has done a remarkable job in devising a game plan that suits his personnel and, most importantly, is effective.

Buckley has given his troops the confidence to back their skills and they can often be seen handballing their way out of trouble and using their leg speed to find space forward of centre. They've also taken a leaf out of Richmond's playbook by plonking Mason Cox in the forward 50 and surrounding him with a bunch of classy, speedy small forwards.

Take a bow, Bucks.


Shell-shocked Tigers and Dees: Many had Richmond and Melbourne in the grand final at the start of the week but by half time in their respective matches it was their opponents who had booked a place in the big dance.

Both the Tigers and Demons were convincingly outplayed, particularly in the first halves where combined they managed to score just two goals while conceding a staggering 22.

On Friday night, Richmond continued their trend of not being an elite clearance team but their usual inside 50 dominance, which saw them cruise to the minor premiership, was non existent. Collingwood won the inside 50 count (58-48) and when the Tigers did go forward it was often rushed and lacking composure and precision.

For the Demons, the lack of intensity was concerning. They finished with just 34 tackles (compared to West Coast's 59), a number which is simply unacceptable in a preliminary final.

It's a real shame given that there was so much hype heading into weekend. To this point, the finals match-ups of 2018 have promised so much but have fallen well short of expectations.

Jordan Lewis: Paging Jordan Lewis. The Jordan Lewis who has played in seven preliminary finals and with four flags to his name. The Jordan Lewis who was a best and fairest winner in Hawthorn's 2014 premiership year.

In Melbourne's horror showing on Saturday afternoon, it was one of the Demons' most experienced players who failed to provide a cool and calm head in the chaos.

In the first five minutes of the game, Lewis gut punched Willie Rioli off the ball which resulted in a free kick inside 50. He then gave away the first goal of the day after looping a terrible handpass 25m out from goal which was duly chopped off by Josh Kennedy who saluted and kick-started the onslaught.

Lewis was by no means the only senior player who failed to stand up on the day -- by half time, he along with Melbourne leaders Nathan Jones and Jack Viney had combined for just one tackle. However, for a man who has played in four flags and seven preliminary finals it was simply not good enough.

The MCC: The expectation was that for a game between two clubs with a combined 180,000 members, the MCG would be packed to the rafters. Instead, and disappointingly for the thousands of members and fans who missed out on tickets, there were entire rows of empty seats high up in the MCC Members Reserve.

Throughout the week, the MCC and the AFL used what can only be described as scare tactics to warn members of incredibly long lines, non-guaranteed seats and a potential lockout. What occurred on Friday night was that the MCC reaped what it sowed, and all the while there were thousands of Collingwood fans crammed into a live site at Margaret Court Arena just down the way.

Contingency plans need to be in place when a game which should be a packed house is not a packed house. It was an ugly look to say the very least, and an embarrassment to put it into slightly harsher words.

It's not often footy fans would be disappointed seeing a crowd figure of 94,959 flash up on the scoreboard, but Friday night was one such occasion, and it should be a massive wake-up call for the MCC and AFL.