With the AFL Grand Final being played this Saturday to conclude the 2022 season, we have written our annual analysis to breakdown how each side could look to strategically play. This will help you formulate your Grand Final prediction by using some of the information these AFL teams would be using. We will identify trends and then discuss how each side can nullify their opponents strengths and then exploit their vulnerabilities to understand who is most likely to win the game.
The most critical phase of the game in football is forcing the opposition to lose possession and then how you turn that into a score for you. It’s called scoring from turnover, the modern name for scoring from counter attack in the AFL. History says that 60 per cent of scores come from turnover, making it the highest scoring source in the AFL. Luckily for passionate football followers both Sydney and Geelong are ranked #1 and #2 for score from turnover this season, which means we could all be in for a high scoring spectacle between the two sides.
Strike rate is a stat we use for per every 100 times something happens what do you get in return for it, per 100 turnovers the AFL average return score is 70 points. But Geelong and Sydney are so good at defending turnover, they have forced teams to only score 45 (Cats) and 49 (Swans) when you win the back the ball since round 18.
According to each grand finalist since 2014 the points against the premiership side have been within 311 points but the points for have been within 666 points. The difference between the premiership sides from 2017-2019 has been 27 points against overall for the season, but the points for have varied from 120 points overall. As defence has evolved every season since 2017, the competition is becoming more even, but the differences between the best sides isn’t who has the best defence, it’s the sides that can force turnover and exploit the best defences.
For context, if you have a top six ranking it is a premiership profile, but since these two teams are top six in most aspects of the game, top two is then critical to seperate their differences.
Sydney’s Strengths & Vulnerabilities
From the coaches box, this is what each team could be considering. At the start of this season, Sydney were ranked top two for defending opposition ball movement and attacking ball movement, to round 18 they were ranked top four again this season which has been very impressive. But if you’re basing your information from then it could be misleading. Since round 17 Sydney have dropped from 4th to 10th in the competition for attacking ball movement, which is because they are taking the second fewest intercept marks in D50 – so they aren’t getting the control ball movement they want to rebound the ball, which is why their ball movement has suffered off the back of less interceptions. But they have tightened up in the contest and stoppages since this has happened as a plus. It’s not that they aren’t capable of producing this again, but they are now facing the #1 ranked team at defending opposition score upon turnover and #1 at defending opposition ball movement in Geelong, and if your not in form in all areas come finals, often your vulnerabilities find you.
Sydney are the ranked the best post-clearance contested possession team in the competition. Often you lose these contests because the defence has extra numbers in the back half so it’s harder to win the ball yet the Swans average a +29 winning margin. Only four teams have an average of winning contest in this half of the field and it’s Sydneys edge. Geelong have always struggled in the past at winning ground ball in D50 and the personnel changes to the back line has been to support this. They have filled voids in the past by playing the likes of Atkins down back to support this but Geelong are more covered to counter this now, but are they capable of it if the Swans shut down Stewart with Reid going to him and making the forward entries more chaotic?
Geelong’s Strengths & Vulnerabilities
Geelong has had the best turnover season the competition has seen since 2015 with a differential of +24.1 from turnover per game, they always out score the opposition on turnover. The last team that had this record was Hawthorn who won the grand final by 10 goals in 2015. Geelong is the best at forcing a turnover into a score and #1 at restricting their own turnovers and denying opposition scores. Geelong are are ranked first for denying the opposition from rebounding the ball from D50 into inside 50 since round 18. Sydney will need to find other ways than turnover to score to beat Geelong and nullify their strengths. Centre bounce and stoppages will be crucial. But if Sydney wins the centre bounce battle with 6 vs 6 ahead of the ball, there are no guarantees for the Swans. In they’re last 73 one vs one contests the Cats have only been out marked three times – De Kooning 19 times hasn’t been out marked once, the Swans must bring the ball to ground.
Pressure is where the ball is living and Geelong are ranked 14th since round 18, in the preliminary final last year Geelong’s midfield struggled with the Demons fast transition out of the contest and if the pressure isn’t high could the Swans do the same to them in this final? Since Geelong has added more speed to the the flanks and wings but not so much to the midfield this season Sydney’s pressure will be an indication to look for. Sydney’s pressure is averaging 196 per game over their last nine games, the AFL average is 180, it’s rare to see that over a nine game period. But does Sydney have been dealt with a one day less break and travel, so does this contribute to fatigue and soreness to apply this amount of pressure? When Geelong have received a pressure rating above 180 there record is 5-4 but when they face pressure under 180 Geelong are 15-0.
Key Match Up’s
Tom McCartin’s record on Tom Hawkins in the last three occasions is very impressive, McCartin has only conceded 1, 1 and 2 goals in their last three encounters. With Dane Rampe also having an edge over Jeremy Cameron, his record on Cameron in their last five encounters is 0, 1, 3, 1 and 0.
We are likely to see Reid to go to Tom Stewart to deny him from intercepting the ball, Stewart has generated 135 points off the back of his interceptions this year making him the #1 interception to score involvement player in the AFL and he missed five games. Swans need to tag him. Ryan Clarke will likely tag one of either Duncan, Isaac Smith or Max Holmes since they are the first players to help outnumber Geelong in defence. It is important they are followed so the numbers always stay equalised, then Geelong can never generate a spare in defence, or rebound through a spare. Very similar to teams tagging Ed Langdon.
Trends Are Your Friends
In football stats are used to most often to reinforce what we see, we use them to identify trends. Since trends are your friends then Geelong should be leading at quarter time because they have been the highest scoring first quarter team this season along with winning the most first terms this year also, history says if you win the first quarter you will go on to win 70 per cent of games. But expect a tight tussle finish, Sydney and Geelong have won the most quarters this season to, both sides will continually take risks to score.
The last three premiers have been the ranked #1 team at winning contested possession in their front half, but yet 14 of the last 15 premiers have been the highest scoring team from turnover that season including finals, so in this game since both teams share the number one rank in different premiership indicators who is your friend?
Picking The Pattern
If you can pick the pattern, it often gives you a better chance at predicting the outcome.
If Sydney are applying manic pressure; that is troubling Geelong to take marks or rebound the ball quickly they are in control of the game, it is likely we will see a blend of slick corridor bias ball movement. But their focus will be to win stoppages and the next contest post winning clearances by outnumbering further down the ground closer to their goal to equalise the Geelong spares in defence. If we see chaotic forward entries that deny Geelong’s chances of taking intercept marks and a significant loss in contest in their back half or at clearance then Geelong are losing control of the game.
Geelong will rely on their wingers to come back and support their defence quickly to ensure Stewart can get free from an opponent to intercept the ball, which is why it is important for Holmes to be healthy. If Stewart or Duncan are intercepting and rebounding the ball Geelong are in control of the game, Geelong are the better ball movement team and they can defend it to, if Geelong can breakeven around clearance and stay within 15 contested possessions of Sydney through out the game, Geelong will be likely to consider themselves in control of the game.
Now you decide.