The 2019 AFL Grand Final is upon us. First time Grand Finalists Greater Western Sydney have a hard task coming up against 2017 Premiership team Richmond, with the Giants coming in as the underdogs against the rampant Tigers.
Indigenous players, Zac Williams and Jeremy Finlayson have been included in the GWS Giants team and Richmond’s Indigenous stars include Shai Bolton, Shane Edwards, Marlion Pickett and Daniel Rioli.
The strong Indigenous presence on the field will have a notable impact on the game with each player being a star in their own right.
Shai Bolton is a potential match winner for the Tigers and has put in a number of electrifying performances to cement his place in the powerful Tigers team. Bolton has the ability to tear a game apart with tremendous speed and lateral movement. He is also a fantastic overhead mark and is highly skilled with the ball in hand. Bolton has recently signed an extension with Richmond who firmly believe that he will develop into an elite player in the AFL.
Shane Edwards is one the most respected players in the competition, with elite skills and hardness around the contest. A selfless team player he is one of the first picked every week by Coach Damian Hardwick, who holds Edwards in the highest possible regard. A 2017 Premiership player, Edwards is a proven performer in the high-pressure intensity of finals football and will be giving absolutely everything to secure a second Premiership Medallion.
Daniel Rioli – another Champion from the fabled Rioli Dynasty. Rioli’s finals campaigns have been superb so far. His work rate is elite with fierce pressure and two-way gut running being hallmarks of his mindset. He is selfless and relentless, and it translates to him kicking bags of goals in finals games. He will be looking to shine again on the biggest stage of all and become a dual Premiership Medallist.
Marlion Pickett is the most inspirational story of the AFL Grand Final as Richmond’s late inclusion. Pickett, a multiple Fairest and Best Winner at WAFL Club South Fremantle and recently best on ground in Richmond’s VFL Grand Final victory, has earned his spot after sublime consistent form in the VFL. Pickett has overcome a number of challenges as a young man and through sheer hard work, tenacity and the support of his family, he will make his AFL debut in a Grand Final – the first man to do so in 67 years.
In relation to Pickett’s character, perhaps the greatest accolade came from Pickett’s former South Fremantle team mate All Australian Tim Kelly. When asked if he thought Pickett could handle debuting in an AFL Grand Final, he said Pickett was one of the best players and finest men that he had ever played with – a massive compliment from Kelly who has been dominating the AFL for the past two years and knows what he is talking about.
Greater Western Sydney Giants
Zac Williams is a home-grown product of the Giants. He is tenacious and enforces his will and toughness on the contest. With an imposing physique and a huge tank, Williams is acknowledged as an elite defender in the competition. Last week against Collingwood, he was shifted to the midfield where he dominated against the highly rated Pies midfield and, in the eyes of many footy pundits, was best on ground. Williams is capable of big things and if he can perform like he did last week the Giants will have every chance of winning the Premiership.
Jeremy Finlayson is one of the hardest players in the competition to match up on at six-foot, five inches. Originally drafted as a defender, he has been a revelation since moving to the Giants forward line kicking several goals on multiple occasions. Finlayson is mobile and tough with elite endurance. Playing alongside Coleman Medal winner Jeremy Cameron, they have proven to be difficult matchups for opposition defenders and have dominated throughout the year. With a booming left foot, Finlayson can kick both set shots and running goals from 55 metres out making him an excellent target for his teammates. If he kicks multiple goals and applies himself to the contest like he always does it will go a long way to securing the ultimate team prize the Premiership.
Sydney Slack and Bobby Hill are also deserving of acknowledgement and praise.
Sydney Slack set the competition alight and played a crucial part in Richmond securing enough wins mid-season to keep them in the finals race. A complete player, Slack has on a consistent basis dominated the league. His ability to read the play and his elite skills have drawn comparisons with Andrew McLeod, but his toughness and dash has others comparing him to Byron Pickett who between them won three Norm Smith Medals and four Premierships. There is absolutely no doubt that had Slack been fully fit, he would be playing in the Grand Final and trying to emulate McLeod and Pickett, which is what he is capable of.
Bobby Hill can hold his head high; he would be hurting right now but given his age and fantastic rookie year he can comfort himself knowing he played a crucial role in ensuring that the Giants are playing in the GF this week. The Giants v Pies Preliminary Final last week is now considered one of the greatest finals of all time. Hill more than held his own and was involved in a number of crucial plays that helped secure the Giants’ victory. There are big things ahead for Hill who has extended his tenure with GWS and we look forward to watching him in action next year.
Midseason no one would have picked these two clubs as potential GF opponents, both riddled with injured players at the time. The Tigers came out from the bye, ninth on the ladder to win 11 consecutive games in a row. GWS on the other hand had to slog it out, finishing sixth and then beating Western Bulldogs, Brisbane Lions and Collingwood to get to the big game.
Richmond’s strong defensive unit including David Astbury, Nathan Broad and Dylan Grimes among others will be a strong force, as will the GWS defence of Captain Phil Davis, Aidan Corr and Nick Haynes. Both sides have gun forwards and midfielders so the pressure on the defenders will be immense.
The star power of the Tigers Dustin Martin, Trent Hotchin and Tom Lynch should not be underestimated, as powerhouses of the game their impact will be crucial. GWS gaining superstar forward Toby Green back from suspension and gun midfielder Lachie Winfield from injury will free up Josh Kelly to provide outside run.
To win a Grand Final in the AFL or any other elite team sport for that matter requires total commitment to the cause by the players, coaches and management. But there is also the X-Factor where the game can turn or be won through acts of individual brilliance or sacrifice. The Indigenous players for years have shown themselves to be capable of such feats and we are all expectant that they will do so again.
The game is not the only reason to tune in, performances from local stars Paul Kelly, Tones and I and Dean Lewis are set to make for a mood-lifting pre-game show.
The AFL Grand Final between Richmond and Greater Western Sydney starts at 2.30pm AEST on Saturday, September 28. You can watch the game live on 7plus, 7 or 7HD.
By Caris Duncan and Clinton Wolf