By Ross Stapleton

The AFL can only rub
their hands with glee at how its final series is shaping up,
although you would not want to be a scalper if it’s a Sydney-Perth Grand Final.

Four teams from four
states to play off tonight and tomorrow to decide the two Grand Final
combatants – and with no clear favourites, these are the most open preliminary finals in
years.

Even better for the
AFL at tonight’s St Kilda v Sydney Swans game (at a rebuilt MCG that for the
first time will see the new northern stand accommodate patrons to ring the
entire stadium at ground level) is the anticipated turn out of around 30,000
Sydney-South Melbourne fans in the hope the Saints won’t come marching in. The acceptance by traditional South
supporters of the Swans has long been an established fact, more so than the
Brisbane Lions-Fitzroy merging, but it will still be uplifting to see that sea
of red and white at headquarters tonight.

I already declared
before the finals started that I believed St Kilda would win the flag
and while
I still believe that, I say it with no confidence given the way Sydney
got up against all the odds last week to decimate Geelong
psychologically
with the last kick of the game, after being unlucky to lose to West
Coast in
Perth a week earlier.

With showers and
possibly even hail predicted tonight and Sydney promising its usual
winning ugly, defensive shut out, the notion that it’s going to be a
very bleak night at the
office won’t faze the Saints. But given their injuries and the week
off, which may leave Sydney better placed
to hit the ground running, the Swans fancy their chances. However, the
Saints have the deepest list in the country and like the
Swans – premiership destiny beckons. It
may well be ugly tonight but as arm wrestles go, it looks a beauty!

As for West Coast now
potentially going out at home to Adelaide, it would have seemed unthinkable
just six weeks ago, but the Crows are coming home with a wet sail and the
Eagles can be undone in another game that promises to be a last man standing
encounter. Again, this might not be a
goal feast but as tension-packed and ultra competitive football – where to fail
is to kiss the season goodbye – I fancy Adelaide has built up a head of steam that is going to
prove tough to stop. But either way,
whichever team turns up a week later in Melbourne – this is one Grand Final
where a strong favourite is only possible if either the Saints or the Swans
belt the other by a big margin – and that just isn’t going to happen unless
Sydney does a Melbourne and has gone one war too far.

Peter Fray

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