Finals Week 1 Blowtorch, preview, tips and predictions from On The Couch team

Hello and welcome to the most wonderful time of the year for footy fans.

Eighteen teams have turned into eight, with the first round of the finals series commencing on Thursday night.

Fox Footy’s On The Couch crew — with some help from Brisbane coach Chris Fagan — on Monday night dissected every club’s biggest question and challenge, most important player, player built for finals and September wildcard.

Watch every match of The 2023 Toyota AFL Finals Series before the Grand Final Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo Sports. Join now and start streaming instantly >

Healthy Pies nurse selection headaches | 02:31


Collingwood v Melbourne (First Qualifying Final)

Thursday September 7, 7.20pm at the MCG

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 6.30pm on Channel 504, hosted by Sarah Jones, with Jason Dunstall, David King, Leigh Montagna, Brad Johnson and Jon Ralph.


Big question: Can they find another way to score?

Nathan Buckley says: “It’s been shown a little bit more up in the last six weeks … they’ve been so reliant on their back-half scoring and their back-half moment that they’ve lost their front-half game a little bit. So against one of the best front-half defending sides in Melbourne, who stifle opposition ball movement, can Collingwood maintain that and take their strength into the game?

Biggest challenge: Imposing a greater front-half game

Nathan Buckley says: “Can they get more territory against Melbourne than they have against sides in the back half of the year? In the first 10 rounds of this year, they were the second-highest team at being able to force turnovers in their front half – and then after Round 10 it’s flipped and in the last 13 games they’ve been in the bottom three. Now that hasn’t stopped them winning games of football because they’ve been so good from the back. But against Melbourne, you need to give your defence a breather … If they can keep the ball there (in their front half), it gives the back six a bit of a breather.”

Most important player: Darcy Moore

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s the guy that sets them up from the back. Whether it’s wet or dry, if it’s wet he’s going to kill contests and turn the ball around with his offence … the front-half game helps him. You’ve got to force the front-half game for your interceptors to become more damaging and more dangerous.”

Made for finals: Taylor Adams

Nathan Buckley says: “The way he goes about it … the game goes into a more contested style and this bloke, when the game goes into that mode, he finds another leg and goes to another level … He’s going to be a player that’s really going to stand up for Collingwood.”

September Wildcard: Bobby Hill

Nathan Buckley says: “He wasn’t in the side last year – and they had close losses against the Grand Finalists – but Bobby Hill becomes a bit of a value add. I expect one of those smalls – or Oleg Markov – to be the sub, but you’re still going to have a lot of legs and grunt in that front half to potentially play a front-half game.”

Gawn blames himself for Grundy axing | 01:30


Big question: What have they learned from last year’s straight-sets exit?

Garry Lyon says: “I was interested to read and hear a few players speak about that. Max Gawn called themselves boring and they got boring towards the end of last year and one or two of them said they hit the wall. I think this year they’ve experimented a bit more, they’ve pushed a few more numbers through the middle, so I think they’re better prepared.”

Biggest challenge: The forward line

Garry Lyon says: “Everyone in footy knows this. The backline is so well settled and how it holds up, their midfield is elite, so the forward half is still a battle. Over the last six weeks – and the broken record is coming back – they’re still 18th in the competition for that kick inside 50. I know it looks better when Bayley Fritsch is playing, but Melksham out – trying to get the mix right is going to be a great challenge. They know that.”

Most important player: Max Gawn

Garry Lyon says: “I know there’s Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, Steven May and Jake Lever, but when Max Gawn plays well they win, I reckon. When they made the decision on Brodie Grundy and he went back to the VFL, Max had a month for the ages and established himself as the best ruckman in the competition again. Brodie came back and Max struggled a bit. I don’t reckon it’s a great rucking finals group … but I still reckon this bloke, with a weekend off, is going to have a big, big say.”

Made for finals: Jack Viney

Garry Lyon says: “When we say ‘made for finals’, the theory behind it is who can you look at and go: ‘I know the gap between his best and worst is minimal.’ Jack Viney plays the same way in the Under 12s at Ashburton, when he first started at Melbourne, in a final – and if there was state footy he’d be doing the same thing.”

September wildcard: Trent Rivers

Garry Lyon says: “There’s a strange name to pick … Trent Rivers is a back flanker who’s been sneaky good when he’s gone into the middle of the ground. He’s part of that group that they’ve tried to introduce. In four weeks’ time, we might be sitting here going ‘we just saw a star emerge’ – and it might be Trent Rivers.”


Jonathan Brown: Collingwood

Nathan Buckley: Collingwood

Garry Lyon: Melbourne

Curnow claims second consecutive Coleman | 00:56

CARLTON v SYDNEY SWANS (First Elimination Final)

Friday September 8, 7.50pm at the MCG

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 7pm on Channel 504, hosted by Garry Lyon with Jonathan Brown, Nathan Buckley, Jordan Lewis, Kath Loughnan, Nick Dal Santo and Jon Ralph.


Big question: Do they play all three talls – Marc Pittonet, Harry McKay and Tom De Koning?

Jonathan Brown says: “I think McKay is off the table, we know he’s going to play. So it’s probably whether Pittonet comes back in after he didn’t play last weekend. They’ve played together seven times this year, those three men – and the Blues are 5-2. So their record is actually quite strong. But as the coach, do you think: ‘It’s the MCG, the size of the ground, does it allow you to play bigger blokes there? Does the fact that Pittonet got the job done against Collingwood and Melbourne in their biggest wins of recent times – he was in those sides even though McKay wasn’t there – does that convince you? If we specifically talk about this week, Sydney has really struggled in and around the contest. So if it was me coaching, I think I’d bring Pittonet back in and try and bulldoze them.”

Biggest challenge: The turnover game

Jonathan Brown says: “We know about their one-wood – their stoppage and clearance game – but the last six weeks, they’re rated 17th in the competition for turnover differential. I just think there’s been a lot of mental lapses over the last few weeks … I’d call them unforced errors – and I reckon Carlton’s game has been riddled by this. In the week off, this is something they would’ve addressed and things that can be fixed up. If they can get rid of these mental errors, it can help turnaround their turnover game.”

Most important player: Charlie Curnow

Jonathan Brown says: “Absolutely no question about it. If Curnow fires, I just can’t see Sydney beating them and he can probably help carry them through a few weeks.”

Made for finals: Patrick Cripps

Jonathan Brown says: “He’s never played a final. He’s the big bull. He epitomises his coach, so I think ‘Vossy’ will be able to give him a couple of big tips.”

September wildcard: Jack Martin

Jonathan Brown says: “Since he’s come back into the line-up and they’ve been 8-2, he’s been a very important player. He’s a good contested player, he can take a strong mark and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could pop up to kick three or four goals in a final as well.”

‘Un-Swans like’ fade out concern | 01:45


Big question: Can they run out the game?

Nathan Buckley says: “Even within games, they’ve struggled to finish off … Six times this year they’ve led at three quarter-time and been run over – and those fade-outs have been concerning. They’ve acknowledged it, so what are they going to do about it?”

Biggest challenge: Nullifying Carlton’s stoppage game

Nathan Buckley says: “Their transition game is probably an opportunity against Carlton … but the inside midfielders become really important.”

Most important player: Chad Warner

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s the guy that’s going to have the most impact for them. I could have Errol Gulden in there 100 times over, but I think Chad Warner needs to bring more of his best. The burst from the inside to the outside is going to differentiate whether Sydney get the game on their terms or whether Carlton control it.”

Built for finals: Luke Parker

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s the guy that is going to get the job done in there.”

September wildcard: Tom Papley

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s the wildcard in Sydney’s side all the time. Will he come back in and be injury-free? Because if you allow him to get his head and momentum up, he’s going to do some damage.”


Jonathan Brown: Carlton

Nathan Buckley: Carlton

Garry Lyon: Carlton

Full strength Saints set for field | 02:35

ST KILDA v GWS GIANTS (Second Elimination Final)

Saturday September 9, 3.20pm at the MCG

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 3pm on Channel 504, hosted by Garry Lyon with Jonathan Brown, Nathan Buckley, Leigh Montagna, Ben Dixon and Jon Ralph, followed by Bounce with Jason Dunstall, Cameron Mooney, Bernie Vince and Ben Dixon.


Big question: Can their midfield stand up?

Jonathan Brown says: “We’ve looked at them throughout the year and been critical and thought that’s potentially a weakness of theirs. Seb Ross will come back in there, Jack Steele is starting to get back into form as he’s got healthier.”

Biggest challenge: Taking the sting out of the Giants’ game

Jonathan Brown says: “Can they get the marking game going? Because if it turns into a real athletic contest that it’s going to suit St Kilda – even though St Kilda are a great running team. When they’ve taken 110-plus marks in a game this year, they’re 7-0. When they have been below that, they’ve been 6-10. There were some good signs back in that Round 10 game (against the Giants) when they were just able to take a little bit of heat out of it, still keep the ball moving forward – I think that’s how they’d like to set the game up on the big MCG.”

Most important player: Jack Sinclair

Jonathan Brown says: “I think Ross likes to use him as an impact player and keep him off half-back, help get the running game going. Against GWS in Round 10m that’s where Sinclair was playing for the majority but went into the middle late when it was time for St Kilda to win the game, which they did. He’s a critical player, All-Australian calibre player.”

Made for finals: Mitch Owens

Jonathan Brown says: “There’s always a young bloke that finds his way in September, even though he hasn’t had the experience out there – and I feel like it’s Mitch Owens. Finals are built for contested players. In his first year was rated sixth for post-clearance contested footy, which is the real contested footy when you’re out in open space and in genuine one-on-ones. He’s made for it. He’s another impact player that can go into the centre square, take a big contested mark forward.”

September wildcard: Ross Lyon

Jonathan Brown says: “The man in the box … We’ve spoken about him all year. His finals record is almost square – 9-10 with a draw – but he’s taken two different teams to Grand Finals. That’s not luck. This man can just drag you into deep water and turn it into a game where 10 goals to eight wins you the game. I feel like he’ll have something up his sleeve and make it a real dogfight.”

Bedford missing finals as ban upheld | 03:31


Big question: Can they burst Ross Lyon’s bubble?

Nathan Buckley says: “The bubble has been that part of the field that Ross has owned defensively. The Giants have done so well at creating run and carry off their back-half.“

Biggest challenge: Generating enough run without Toby Bedford

Nathan Buckley says: “With Toby Bedford out, it takes away some of that run and carry that he, Brent Daniels and a few others have been responsible for. That’s the query: Can they get that game going often enough to challenge St Kilda’s team defence?”

Most important player: Toby Greene

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s been so good for them. To be franked as the All-Australian captain was a worthy recognition.”

Built for finals: Callan Ward

Nathan Buckley says: “In the first half of the year, he played 55 per cent midfield and 45 per cent forward. It’s like Adam Kingsley as he’s built and developed this side, he just understands this guy needs to be in the guts – and he’s played 99 per cent of his time in the midfield in the last six weeks. When he’s not in there, he’s having a breather.”

September wildcard: Callum Brown

Nathan Buckley says: “He’s big, strong, he’s so clean, left foot and right foot, he’s great with his hands, he can get involved at ground level and he plays with an enjoyment of the game. I feel like he’s a guy who’s going to meet the challenge, meet the opportunity and rise, rather than get overawed by it. I’m really looking forward to seeing him go about it.”


Jonathan Brown: St Kilda

Nathan Buckley: St Kilda

Garry Lyon: GWS Giants

Rich to retire at end of Lions’ season | 01:15

BRISBANE LIONS v PORT ADELAIDE (Second Qualifying Final)

Saturday September 9, 7.25pm at The Gabba

How to watch on Fox Footy: From 7pm on Channel 504, hosted by Kath Loughnan with Dermott Brereton, Brad Johnson, Eddie Betts, Alastair Lynch and David Zita, followed by First Crack with Anthony Hudson, David King and Leigh Montagna.


Biggest question: Is this their best chance?

Chris Fagan says: “That group of young players that started playing finals three or four years ago – guys like Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Brandon Starcevich, Jarrod Berry, Cam Rayner – they’re all mature AFL players now into their sixth and seventh years. I think with the improvement and maturity of those guys and the men we’ve recruited to the club, I think this is our best opportunity without doubt. We won 17 games this year, which is the best we’ve ever done. So the ladder doesn’t lie.”

Biggest challenge: Learning from past finals experience

Chris Fagan says: “You look at it in a holistic way. You say: ‘We’ve had nine opportunities over the last four years and saluted in three of them but weren’t able to win six of them – and some very close losses as well that kept us out of prelims.’ You talk about that, you face up to it, you talk about the lessons you’ve learned and understand these opportunities don’t keep coming along. Our players are really clear on that and very keen to do as well as we can this year … I’m a great believer in all those experiences harden you and prepare you to produce your best in September. I’m sensing that with them at training, I’m sensing that in conversations around the club that they’ve really matured and they know these opportunities don’t last forever. I think they’re craving the opportunity to put their best foot forward in finals – and hopefully that’s what we can do.”

Most important player: Lachie Neale

Chris Fagan says: “When he gets his fast feet moving – which he has over the last couple of weeks – and plays with real energy, he’s very difficult to stop. It would be fair to say a few weeks back he’d been carrying an injury. He was able to freshen up and this little break we’ve had over the last couple of weeks has helped even more. He’s jumping out of his skin to play finals. He’s such an important player for us … his ability to win contested ball and clearances is exceptional and you obviously need that to win finals.”

Built for finals: Charlie Cameron

Chris Fagan says: “He went through a bit of a patch where, I think it was against Richmond, he ran into the centre bounce and he had a collision and knocked two of his front teeth out and fractured a bone just below his nose. He had a brilliant job to keep playing, to be honest. But he’s fully recovered from that now – albeit he’s got to have some new teeth put in when the season is over. That really did knock him around for a few weeks with his confidence, even though he kept playing. He’s back to putting his pressure on, which is the key to Charlie’s performance. When he’s doing that, other things seem to fall into place. He’s an excitement machine, he plays his 200th AFL game this weekend, he’s brought a lot of joy and excitement to the Gabba since he’s been at his club.”

September wildcard: Joe Daniher

Chris Fagan says: “He’s had a great year. He’s been able to hit the scoreboard, he’s been terrific for us in the ruck – especially his around the ground play – his aerial contests have been strong. Probably he and Eric Hipwood started a little slowly earlier in the year, but they’ve been really good for us as the year has gone on. He’s been a great acquisition to our club. He’s a different person, he’s a little bit laid-back, but he cares deeply about the club and how we go. I’m sure he’s looking forward to a big September.”

Bailey Smith to stay but Grundy to go | 00:52


Big question: Can their defence stand up to Brisbane’s offence?

Garry Lyon says: “They started to get their act together by Round 12. But Port Adelaide have just stumbled a little bit later in the season and been stuck between being here nor there defensively and offensively.”

Biggest challenge: Protecting the back six

Garry Lyon says: “Once they get it in their front half, it doesn’t come out, which is a great strength of theirs. But the defensive half is going to be a big challenge for them. It’s such a talented Lions forward line group … we’re talking about possibly the best forward six against arguably the most vulnerable back six. One-on-one they’ve been a poor team – 17th in the competition all over the ground.”

Most important player: Aliir Aliir

Garry Lyon says: “He’s going to have to stand tall – and he will. Trent McKenzie is not back there, but I’d imagine the Lions would put a lot of work into Aliir, try and take him away and isolate him. That would make the rest of the defenders a little vulnerable. He’s got a big, big job to do.”

Made for finals: Zak Butters

Garry Lyon says: “I’m so happy we’re going to see Charlie Curnow and Patrick Cripps play finals, but we’re also over the moon we’ll see Zak Butters play finals – and Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis. This bloke here, this is part of their brilliance and why they are where they are in the top four. They’ve got this extraordinary talent group and he’s at the front of them.”

September wildcard: Jeremy Finlayson

Garry Lyon says: “With Charlie Dixon not there, he could kick five goals in a final – he’s that sort of player. He‘s a bit mercurial. I don’t know whether I’d want all my chips in on him, but he’s a wildcard that could and it’ll be interesting to see him bob up.”

Jonathan Brown: Brisbane Lions

Nathan Buckley: Brisbane Lions

Garry Lyon: Brisbane Lions

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