What a finals series we have in store for us. Will the Lions produce another fairytale premiership? Can Geelong produce when it matters? Are the Pies set to go one better than last year? There are so many storylines across each team.
But while game plans, structures and myriad team dynamics go a long way to determining each team's premiership hopes, there are several individual X-factors at each club.
Here are my eight finals game-breakers who could singlehandedly win games for their team this September.
Round 23 provided Geelong fans with the assurance that their side is September- primed, with Dangerfield leading the charge. His 34 disposals, four goals and 12 clearances proved the Brownlow medallist is ready to be the game-breaker as he chases a premiership medal to add to his bursting trophy cabinet. The menacing Geelong midfield will be pivotal if the Cats are to push deep into the finals.
This young exciting side is brimming with talent and confidence, but it is their skipper who exudes plenty of both. Zorko is relishing the chance to lead Brisbane back to the glory days of early 2000s. The Gabba will be packed for the Lions' finals and I expect Zorko to be as dangerous as ever, hunting forward for goals and providing relentless pressure.
This is an easy choice when you consider the most damaging player in the game is hitting great form prior to September. Having proved himself in many big games, Martin will take great confidence from the growth in many of the players around him as Richmond sit primed for the finals. Martin has the ability to impact at the centre bounce or exploit a matchup one-on-one inside forward 50 to kick vital goals.
Collingwood were oh-so-close in 2018, and despite injuries threatening to derail this season, have found themselves with a double chance and they are a side coming into good form. Mihocek isn't the Magpies' biggest star but he has been a big contributor this season with 36 goals to his name. With Brodie Grundy getting dominance at centre bounces, expect a Collingwood midfield to provide Mihocek with the supply to impact in a big way in September.
With all reports suggesting Naitanui will be right to play after being out of action since Round 17 due to an ankle injury, the big ruckman looms as a huge weapon for West Coast. He may take a little to get back into the groove but he presents West Coast with enormous upside. The reigning premiers stumbled in Round 23 but have the home elimination final and if successful, head on the road with gametime into Naitanui. A true game-breaker at top flight, Naitanui uses his leap to provide first use to his midfielders but it is his follow up that can open up games. The deeper West Coast go, the more influence Nic Nat will have.
Greater Western Sydney
It was the signing of Stephen Coniglio that further highlighted there is something special about the culture and spirit that this Giants outfit is building but it is Kelly who will shape his team's finals chances. He has missed large parts of the season but has now had two important hit outs (averaging 26 disposals the past fortnight) prior to the finals and poses as a Giants' matchwinner. Silky skills, tough in the contest and able to hit the scoreboard, there is no doubt opposition coaches will be considering their tagging options to nullify his influence.
An #AFLDraft special! The team is joined by @ChrisDoerreESPN— footytips (@footytips) December 7, 2020
and @championdata's Christian Joly to chat:
🦠 COVID curveballs
🧐 A top 20 phantom draft
📈 Risers and sliders
👀 Ranking the No. 1 picks since 2000
Stream the latest @ESPNAusNZ#AFL pod herehttps://t.co/XHlrbAAC7Y
An inspired move into the middle of the ground after Round 6 has elevated Dunkley to one of the premier on-ballers in season 2019. Dunkley's hardness at the ball and thirst for the contest, coupled with his ability to accumulate and bring his teammates into the game, will be important for the Bulldogs' hopes. With teams often focusing on Jack Macrae or Marcus Bontempelli, Dunkley has been free to roam - often at their rivals' peril.
'AMT' has the composure, skill and intensity to cut a finals game apart. The diminutive forward plays big, and Essendon fans will be hoping he lets his talent shine on Thursday night - and beyond. A real barometer for for the Bombers, McDonald-Tipungwuti finds space to set up forward movement for his team but will also need to bring his pressure if Essendon are to cause a big upset on the road.