Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Jesse Robinson dissect all of the main talking points ahead of the first week of finals.
Should Gary Ablett pull the pin?
NS: It almost feels like I'm shooting Bambi but I think it might be time for the Little Master to call it quits. I realise he's had a very strong season but there were signs during the qualifying final loss to Collingwood that Ablett wasn't up for the fight - he was tentative, went to ground easily and had minimal impact. He's been such a legend that any decision for next year should be his call but I think it's always better for champions to retire one year early instead of one year too late.
JM: Retire!? Two weeks ago we were saying that it was an outrage he wasn't in the All-Australian team. Look, one poor game or one poor finals series doesn't define Gary Ablett and I'm sick of these overreactions whenever he's not at his devastating best. He's proven time and time again that he's one of the greatest talents the game has ever seen and I'm confident he'll bounce back ... again ... and again.
JR: While this is ultimately a decision for Gary and his family to make, based on form it would be crazy to think he isn't suiting up next year. Ablett was in the All-Australian squad and was arguably unlucky to miss out on making the team. Why should one below average game where he was expertly tagged by one of the league's most underrated stoppers in Brayden Maynard mean his career is over? He was a vital cog this season, who perhaps is unfairly judged by his own ridiculously high standards.
How important is a finals win for Brisbane?
NS: Super important. A straight-sets finals exit will only fester in the minds of the Lions players all offseason and be a bogey for them next time they reach September. They've had a superb year but it won't count for much if they lose to the Giants at the Gabba this weekend. Plus, you know, if they keep winning ... they might just win a premiership!
JM: As crazy as it sounds, I don't mind the idea of Brisbane going out in straight sets. They can then review the season, one which really has been exceptional, and they can come back hungrier in 2020. Don't forget, this list is super young with so much upside. They really should be contending for Grand Finals for the next three or four years. Having said that, I do expect them to bounce back this weekend and edge the Giants in a tight game. Not sure if they'll get to the big dance, though.
JR: The Lions got a real whack in the mouth from the Tigers, and how they respond this weekend against the Giants may determine a lot about their future success. The big question mark over this team was the lack of finals experience, and getting that monkey off their back will be massive. If they don't win a final this season and enter September next year coming off two finals losses, the same questions will remain and the task will be much harder.
What should the Bombers focus on this offseason?
NS: With it all-but confirmed John Worsfold will coach on next year, the Dons' coaching group must find a way to build a sustainable, consistent game style that holds up week to week. Highly respected assistant coach Blake Caracella has joined Ben Rutten as Worsfold's right-hand men and their task is a simple one: find a way to shake the inconsistencies that have blighted this team for so long. The other big focus has to be Joe Daniher - do the Dons look to trade him to maximise his value now, or lock him in as a centrepiece of their attack for the next five or six years?
JM: Consistency. Not so much overall consistency, although that would surely please their fans, but more forward line consistency. I'm never quite sure how the Essendon front six is going to look and that can't be easy for the players. Key forward Joe Daniher has barely played in two years, while livewire Orazio Fantasia has also been in and out of the side with various injuries. At times Cale Hooker has played forward and other times it's Mitch Brown. I want to know what I'm getting each and every week and if it means trading Daniher, then so be it.
JR: Task No. 1 for the Bombers is to get healthy. They made finals, which is a huge win for them but were massively hindered all season by injury. The fitness staff needs to evaluate how to get their superstar Joe Daniher on the field for 22 matches and keep the support pieces around him fit and on the park. If they can field close to their best 22 every week, with Hurley and Hooker locked in the backline, Shiel, Merrett and McGrath running through the middle with Daniher and Stringer up forward, they will seriously compete next year.
Who was the player of the first week of finals?
NS: A midfielder doesn't always dominate his opposition with 24 touches but that's exactly what Scott Pendlebury did to Geelong on Friday night. He does what he always does - find time and space in congested situations and release teammates in damaging positions. On a night where pressure caused even the most skilled players to make errors, he had an 83 percent disposal efficiency, had three clearances, nine tackles and a goal. It was a performance of extreme quality over quantity.
JM: He won't get the plaudits like Dustin Martin or Scott Pendlebury, but Matt de Boer's game against the Western Bulldogs was superb. The Giants tagger completely nullified Marcus Bontempelli -- one of this year's Brownlow Medal favourites -- keeping him to just two disposals after halftime. The result? A game which was neck-and-neck blew out and GWS went on to win by a mammoth 58 points. It's a shame he missed so much football this year, it would have been interesting to see if he made the All-Australian team.
JR: When was the last time a midfielder kicked six goals in a match, let alone in an away final against one of the best teams in the competition? After a quiet first quarter, Dustin Martin tore the Lions to shreds to the tune of six goals. He outmuscled, outran and outworked the Lions defence and even got a cheeky underarm goal assist. There has been a trend over the last few seasons to throw star midfielders forward, such as Patrick Dangerfield, no one does it anywhere near as well as Martin and Saturday night was proof of that.