With just one round to go and the eighth Open remaining, two big games are set to determine who will play where in September.
Brisbane-based Melbourne finished fourth, while Carlton lost to the Magpies on Sunday and crashed out of the competition.
AFL360’s David King and Leigh Montagna examine the keys to the two biggest games in Round 23.
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If Melbourne can head north and beat Brisbane at the Gabba, their premiership dreams are “back on the radar”, says David King.
King said the Demons’ game plan to deny Lions star Lachie Neal was key to a win and a top-four finish.
“(The last time the two teams met) the Lions didn’t let them have the ball,” he said on AFL360.
“I think if you’re in Melbourne this week… now is the time.
“Get out there in a group, fly, bash, get out. Hold the victory, stay in all four.
Over the past three meetings, Melbourne have averaged +24.6 contested possessions.
“I think they know Lachie Neale is their midfield. They got a good match with Neale in James Harms. If he does (recall), it will go straight to Niall and they will attack the rest of them (Brisbane mids),” King said.
“The pressure they put on the Brisbane media forced them to throw the ball forward and it was the best game we’ve seen from Jake Lever – his ability to just elude those forwards.
“Bring the effort, the intent and the fury. When they fly, the Caen Premiership is back on the radar.
Leigh Montagna has warned that there is one area the Devils need to avoid: “Melbourne will not be able to have a shootout with Brisbane”.
Fox Footy’s Leigh Montagna says the Lions will be “jaggers” when they come home to the Gabba, having won 18 of their 20 matches.
With an average of 109 points and a margin of victory of 42.5 points, the home field advantage has never been greater.
Montagna said, “They grow completely in the house.”
“They are a juggernaut at Gabba. This can be a big difference in this game for me. What he said is true for me.
“Brisbane are a different team at home when they play somewhere else.”
Montagna said Friday night’s clash will turn into a game of “cat and mouse” with the Lions looking down the stretch and the Devils trying to force a wideout.
Statistics show that the Lions are fourth in the alley-oop competition and first within 50 entries of the alley.
“That’s why they’re the number one scoring team in the game,” praised Montagna.
But Melbourne are the number two team in the competition to deny corridor ball movement and in 50 entries.
“They force you wide and that’s what makes divers like Lever,” he warned.
“Melbourne doesn’t allow it – they give you a gift, they invite you to the pocket.
“It’s a Melbourne game – the kick is long over the line.
“It will be a real cat and mouse war. Brisbane must be prepared to pull the trigger.
If the Blues are to take their place in September, they will want to boost their big-name players. And none more so than defenseman Jacob Weiting, David King.
“I’m looking at Jacob Waiter. He was probably the caliber of an All-Australian in rounds 1-10,” praised King.
“(However, after returning from Waiter’s injury) Lewis Young participated in one-on-one tournaments. I think you need more influence in games than your special players.
Fox Footy’s Mark Robinson warned Waiting had “lost his edge” after suffering a shoulder injury in Round 11 against Collingwood.
“You must go again. He must return.
Blues v Magpies – Should Mark Pitonet or Tom de Congin take a big gamble at the selection table ahead of their clash at the Rock?
If Carlton say “there’s no tomorrow” if they lose on Sunday, it’s a tough call to make.
With Pitonet sidelined through injury, the figures show, De Kong has taken the Blues to fourth place and secured the points from the transfer to become the number two team in the competition.
The Blues were placed 10th and 14th in qualifying as the pitot returned in laps 20 to 22.
“At the beginning of the year (Pittonette) was very good,” Montagna said.
But (De Kong) has got that X-factor.
The vision of Pitonet struggling to run against Melbourne’s Luke Jackson was enough for the Mountaineer Blues to call on De Kong instead.
“It’s going to be a fast game. Looking for Pitonet in a quick game against Collingwood?
PS are the fewest of the four clubs to lose, as they are confirmed to have made the finals and sit outside the top four – as do Melbourne and the Lions.
The Pies had their 11-game winning streak ended at the hands of the Swans last weekend and have injury concerns for Jordan de Goey and Jack Guinevan for Sunday’s match.
Coach Craig McRae said both players’ names would be released but they would need to confirm their fitness before the game.
David King has warned Collingwood to watch five-man Ash Johnson.
The mid-season recruit has booted 11 goals since making his debut in round 18, including four in the impressive win over Melbourne.
“I didn’t snooze Ash Johnson out there,” King said.
“He is an amazing player.
“What a slip! They are bound to find people to hire next.