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The 2021 AFL Grand Final: Who Are The Contenders & Who Will Win It All?
The 2021 AFL season has already passed the halfway point, and a number of teams have put their hands up as Premiership contenders over the past few months. Some of these, like the Tigers and the Cats, were expected, while a couple of others have come from the clouds to sit atop the ladder entering the back half of the season. Let's take a look at all the Premiership contenders as we edge closer to the finals series.
The proven entities
Over the last few years, all four of Richmond, Brisbane, West Coast and Port Adelaide have become regular features in the upper echelons of the AFL ladder, and this year is no different. The Tigers entered the season looking for a fourth flag in five years, but things haven't gone their way. A raft of injuries saw them head to the bye in eighth place and with a record of 7-6, and since then things have gone from bad to worse. With key personnel gradually filtering back in, however, expect them to make a big push in the run home.
The sole Premiership the Tigers haven't won since 2017 went to the Eagles, and they've been finals participants both years since - albeit failing to make it past the semis. Earlier this season they were looking like arguably the team to beat, but like the Tigers, injuries have derailed their year and they've got their work cut out to challenge for the top four. They are extremely tough to beat in Perth - as always - but if they end up in the bottom half of the top eight, the travel they will be forced to endure could prove their undoing.
The Lions are no longer the new kids on the block, having made a semi and a preliminary final over the past two seasons, and there is a suitably harder edge to this exciting young side in 2021. Despite a medium-term injury to last year's Brownlow Medalist Lachie Neale, they have switched it on after a slow start to the season and now find themselves in with a good chance of securing a top four spot for the third successive year. If they do that, look out.
The final team in this list is the Power, who went agonisingly close to a Grand Final appearance last year when they were beaten by less than a kick by the eventual Premiers. This experienced unit, led by what has so far been a brilliant season from Ollie Wines, is again challenging for a top four spot, but their form has faltered a little in recent weeks. Losses to Brisbane, the Bulldogs and Geelong are expected for most teams, but the Power are chasing a Premiership and will need to beat sides of that ilk if they are to challenge.
The top of the ladder is occupied by two teams that few would have predicted to be there at the beginning of the season. The first of these is the Demons, who have been brilliant up until the bye, losing just two games - bizarrely to the lowly Crows and Magpies. Invariably question marks about teams' legitimacy as a contender arise when they improve so quickly, but the Demons were preliminary finalists just three years ago. They are solid on every line and deserve to be taken seriously as a Premiership chance.
The Bulldogs are not in a dissimilar position. They have shown rapid improvement this season, but it's worth remembering that they still possess a number of players who were pivotal in their 2016 Grand Final victory. Their midfield is as deep as any in the league while Aaron Naughton is leading a lethal forward line, and when they are at their best they look every part a Premiership team. Whether they can execute their slick, fast-moving game style under finals pressure against the best teams in the league, however, remains to be seen.
The team to beat
Each of the above teams has a genuine shot at the Premiership, but the Cats are gradually positioning themselves as the team to beat. Last year's runners-up had an excellent off-season, and the additions of Higgins, Smith and in particular Cameron are proving to be every bit as valuable as they'd hoped. They tick all the boxes - they have quality players on every line and plenty of finals experience, and the three-headed monster up forward of Hawkins, Cameron and Rohan looks nearly impossible to stop. There's a long way to go just yet, but they will be really tough to beat come September.
A few teams sit just behind this group and would no doubt like to be included in the discussion, but the $51 Premiership odds of GWS, Sydney and the others vying for the last couple of finals spots suggest the race is more likely to be battled out by the above teams. And while each of those listed sides is a legitimate contender, it's the Cats who deserve favouritism heading into September.