The Tigers are gunning for their first grand final in 37 years. The Giants are hoping for their first in their six-year AFL history. There is much to debate heading into Saturday's sellout preliminary final at the MCG. Jon Pierik tackles the big questions.
What can we take from their clashes this season?
As we pointed out earlier in the week, the Tigers should have beaten the Giants twice this season. They seemingly had the game in hand in round nine, leading by five goals late in the third quarter. But the Giants got on a roll in the final term, capped by the Tigers' capitulation in the final minutes when they forgot to man-up properly after a Shai Bolton goal was disallowed. The Giants went long and direct from the kick in and Jeremy Cameron capitalised. Cameron will be missing on Saturday, injury forcing him to the sidelines. The Tigers learnt much from that defeat. They rebounded in round 18, cruising to a 19-point win in the wet at the MCG despite managing only nine goals. Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin found plenty of the ball, while Brandon Ellis also got busy. Jason Castagna, with nine tackles, reinforced his value inside attacking 50. Josh Kelly was held to a modest 23 touches but, importantly, went at less than 70 per cent efficiency. Rory Lobb, with Shane Mumford in the side, had a dirty day, having just seven touches.
What's happened recently?
The Tigers have got on a roll and their pressure at the man and ball was instrumental in their qualifying-final win over Geelong. They have the one tall – Jack Riewoldt – inside attacking 50, relying on Castagna, Daniel Rioli and Dan Butler to provide the heat required to lock the ball in and ensure multiple shots at goal. They had 21-4 inside-50 tackles against the Cats. Josh Caddy, a mid-sized forward, has also emerged as an important marking option. They have won seven of their past eight games, the only loss to Geelong at Simonds Stadium in round 21. They boast arguably the league's best defence, conceding 74 points per game. The Giants will have to find a way to curb the rebound of Alex Rance and Nick Vlastuin, the latter with 10 intercept possessions and 10 marks against the Cats. The Giants regained their mojo against the tired West Coast Eagles, moving the ball at will through the corridor. But the Tigers will ensure this is a far more difficult process. The Giants have weapons on every line, for they boast more than a dozen first-round draft picks. However, their scoring has been a concern. Heading into the Eagles' clash, they had been averaging 78 points per game since round 15 – the fourth lowest in the league. They put 125 points on the board against the Eagles but face a major challenge to replicate that.
The Tigers will have the benefit of not only local support but an intricate knowledge of the MCG. The Giants have won only once at the home of football since joining the league in 2012 – and that was against Melbourne in 2014. The Tigers are 10-2 this year alone (losses by two and nine points) and understand how to play the wide venue. Despite this, Giants coach Leon Cameron – a former Tiger – said the venue was irrelevant. "As soon as that ball bounces, it doesn't matter whether there's 85,000 Richmond supporters and 10 or 15 Giants supporters, it's got nothing to do with the result. The result will be determined by who has the best 22 on the day. We've won games in Perth this year. We've won games in places that no doubt the crowd is bigger than our home crowd. But I think our guys are absolutely itching to get to the MCG."
What about the Dusty factor?
Leon Cameron will have to decide whether to embrace a hard tag on Martin, or perhaps hand Stephen Coniglio a run-with role where he is also free to get his own ball. Coniglio is more defensively minded than several of his teammates but still had 35 disposals against the Eagles. Martin was brilliant against the Cats – his penetrating kicking to targets inside 50 a feature of the night. Where the Giants could get the Tigers is in the clearances, for they rank No.1 (42.5 a game) and No.2 for centre clearances (14.0). Injuries to Mumford and Jeremy Cameron have forced the Giants to play to their strength, which is speed.
What about the Stevie J factor?
There had been much debate as to whether Steve Johnson, battling a sore knee, should play. The focus has been on his ability to back up, as his record the second game back after returning from injury or a rest through the year is not great. His six goals against the Eagles showed his scoring nous is as strong as ever, and his experience cannot be underestimated. However, it's his ability to run out a game, particularly against a fresh opponent, which is questionable. Regardless, the Giants had to select him.
Tip: Greater Western Sydney by two points.