Buddy sinks boot into hapless Tigers with seven of the best
Sydney has the know-how, Geelong the momentum, Hawthorn the hardened experience and GWS Giants wide-eyed youthful exuberance ahead of the 2016 AFL Finals Series.
Those are the top-four sides with the double chance. And while historically the eventual premiers have come from the top four, Adelaide (5th) and West Coast (6th) remain genuine contenders; West Coast in particular with strong victories over Hawthorn and the Crows in the past fortnight.
Questions remain over the Western Bulldogs (7th) and North Melbourne (8th) who make up the remainder of the top eight.
For the first time, the league will have a bye-round before the finals, a move designed to maximise rest and recovery for the finals aspirants.
During the weekend’s final-round Round 23 action, Sydney and Geelong had 100+point victories over their respective opponents, while Hawthorn had to scrap its way to a 1-point win over Collingwood to secure the double chance and the Giants fine-tuned its run with a 37-point win over the Kangaroos.
Buddy Franklin booted a season-high seven goals in the Swans’ huge victory over the Tigers. He gave the Coleman Medal a big shake but fell shy by six goals to West Coast’s Josh Kennedy (80 goals).
After a quiet night against the Eagles in Perth last week, Hawks maestro Cyril Rioli turned on the skills against the Magpies at the MCG on Sunday. His defensive pressure in the forward 50 and deft touches in and around the packs led to several turnovers that often led to goals.
Team-mate Brad Hill increased his prospects for a good asking price at the trade table at seasons end with a welcome return to form, and the class of Shaun Burgoyne shone through in another commanding performance.
Week 1 of the AFL Finals will see Sydney (1st) play the Giants (4th) in the first-ever Sydney finals derby, and long-time finals foes Geelong (2nd) will play Hawthorn (3rd) at the MCG.
In another first, there will be a Thursday night final and that will be West Coast hosting the Western Bulldogs in Perth. Adelaide will have a full-house at the Adelaide Oval when they host North Melbourne.
In the NRL, the Broncos have given ladder leaders Melbourne a rude wake-up call with a commanding 26-16 in Melbourne at the weekend.
Title favourites the Storm were expected to cruise past the Broncos but they were other plans.
Man of the moment Sam Thaiday, in his 250th game, rose to the occasion with a classy one-handed off-load to set up his team’s opening try, three minutes in. It was the fast start Broncos coach Wayne Bennett wanted. His side kept up the pressure and the Storm subsided.
The win was the Broncos’ third in succession and they are building for a serious tilt at the title.
Another side with three wins in a row were Canberra, but only after surviving a late surge from Manly, 44-30.
Sentimental favourites Cronulla kept its minor premiership hopes alive with a strong 37-12 win over the lowly Roosters.
The win was the Sharks’ 11th from 12 matches at home and the battle for No. 1 spot comes down to a mouth-watering clash against Melbourne in next week’s final round.
Ben Barba corrected the ship just before half-time with a try that was converted to level the scores. From that point, it was all one-way traffic.
North Queensland kept the Bulldogs at bay after defeating their fellow finals aspirants 24-16.
Johnathan Thurston’s boot was true as the inspirational captain converted truly all night.
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