AFL 360 host Gerard Wyllie believes the pre-finalists are in trouble in a hotly debated pre-season break ahead of September.
Since 2016, a bye week has been held between the final home-and-away round and the first week of the finals. Notably that year, the Western Bulldogs, fortunately returning several stars from injury, won four straight finals to take the flag from seventh place.
But the real problem is how the cultural significance of the four finalists now affects them.
Watch every match before the AFL Grand Final live and ad-break free in-game on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
We have never seen both finalists lose their home pre-final before the pre-final. Since then, it has happened twice.
“If you change one parameter in a scientific experiment and it has a significant effect on your results, you have to at least admit that it happened,” Wiley said on Fox Football.
BYE (on Final Winners) Pre-Final Results
2000-15: Both won their prelim 75% of the time; Both lose 0% of their time
2016-20: Both won their prelims 20% of the time; Both lose 40% of their time
In the year In 2016, after winning the qualifiers, Geelong were well beaten by Sydney and GWS lost to the Western Bulldogs. In the year In 2020, Brisbane lost to Geelong and Port Adelaide fell narrowly to Richmond, both first final hosts.
Since the bye, only in 2017 – when Adelaide and Richmond won comfortably at home in front of large and partisan crowds – have the two finalists made the grand final.
“It was the greatest advantage you could ever get in history. The only way to get breath was to beat breath,” Wiley said.
“You can balance this as much as you want. If you want the bottom four teams to have a better chance, all power to you.
What it does do, however, is materially reduce the odds that the finalists will win the hard way. The only way to get a breather is to win that qualifier and that sets you up from there.
In addition, the team that won the 1st and 4th qualifying finals has lost in five of the last seven seasons in the home preliminary finals.
In the last three seasons, teams finishing 3rd (twice), 4th, 5th and 6th have made the grand final, with only one top-two winner (Melbourne last year).
Whaley pointed out that part of the problem was that the finalists finished a game in around 27 days.
“It was proposed to preserve the integrity of Round 23, but it undermines the real thing,” he said.
This year, Geelong will face Collingwood and Melbourne Sydney in the two qualifying finals.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan defended the pre-final game again on Monday.
“Since we’ve been doing this, all four teams have won every time except once. For a team to win outside the top four, that’s a good thing if that’s what’s going to happen,” he said on Monday.
“I know it’s still better to finish top four than bottom four.
We managed to organize a lot of things – we had an amazing opening weekend for the AFLW.
“In terms of the lack of energy, which is a debate… people are building, they’re talking – it really creates energy. I think it was actually a good thing.
“We have good teams – football is better for it, because people are rested. The only argument I hear – other than that no one likes change and they want to shout about things – is probably less than the concept of the advantage of being in the top four. But a team that season If it means he can stand up and win, I think that’s a good thing.
Whateley and his partner Mark Robinson agreed there could be a financial incentive for the AFL to keep the pre-finals on the ball.
“It definitely helps with ticket sales, no doubt about that,” Wiley said.
“It sells in Brisbane, it sells in Perth, it sells at the MCG and I think one of the main reasons is that it makes that process so much easier. That’s what gets people through the door.”
Or as Robinson puts it simply: “Cash.”