THE 2021 Toyota AFL Grand Final is locked in with Melbourne to meet the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium on September 25. It is the second meeting between the two sides in a premiership decider and promises to be an absolute classic.
What happened this year
Round 11: Western Bulldogs 8.11 (59) lost to Melbourne 13.9 (87) at Marvel Stadium
The much-anticipated clash between two teams that had won nine and only lost once didn’t quite live up to the hype and not only because it was played without fans in the stadium. The Demons kicked the opening goal after 21 seconds and were never headed, leading by 27 points at quarter-time and controlling the game from there to confirm their premiership credentials.
Round 19: Melbourne 9.11 (65) lost to Western Bulldogs 13.7 (85) at the MCG
The teams were back in the top-two positions for their next meeting but this time it was a closer contest and the Bulldogs that eventually ran away as winners. The Dogs led from halfway through the first term but had to kick the final three goals of the match to fight off a late Demons’ comeback that had reduced the margin to four points, with Marcus Bontempelli (31 disposals, two goals) standing up late in the game.
Last five meetings
Melbourne 9.11 (65) lost to Western Bulldogs 13.7 (85), MCG, round 19, 2021
Western Bulldogs 8.11 (59) lost to Melbourne 13.9 (87), Marvel Stadium, round 11, 2021
Western Bulldogs 12.8 (80) defeated Melbourne 7.10 (52), Metricon Stadium, round 13, 2020
Western Bulldogs 10.14 (74) defeated Melbourne 9.12 (66), Marvel Stadium, round 17, 2019
Melbourne 18.11 (119) defeated Western Bulldogs 10.9 (69), MCG, round 17, 2018
Grand Final history
The Demons have the most reliable Grand Final record of all Victorian teams, with 12 premierships from 17 visits to the decider giving them a 71 per cent success rate. They also share the record for the most consecutive Grand Finals with seven in 1954-60. The problem is the Dees' last flag came in 1964. The Demons have rarely even played off in Grand Finals since then and their only two appearances were against formidable teams in Hawthorn (1988) and Essendon (2000). As a reminder of their former glories, breaking the longest current premiership drought of 57 years would move Melbourne to equal-fourth on the all-time winners list.
Western Bulldogs (2-1)
The Bulldogs have only won two premierships since joining the VFL/AFL for the 1925 season, breaking through in 1954 when they beat Melbourne by 51 points. It was the start of a record-streak of seven consecutive Grand Finals for the Demons that ended when the Dogs returned to the decider in 1961 but went down to Hawthorn by 43 points. The Bulldogs broke the third-longest premiership drought in history when they upset Sydney by 22 points to win the 2016 premiership after finishing the home and away season in seventh place.
Steven May had a tight hamstring early in the preliminary final and was later subbed out as a precaution. The pre-Grand Final bye will give the key defender valuable time to rest and recover. Jayden Hunt and Joel Smith will hope to find a way back in after recent injuries.
Electrifying forward Cody Weightman was concussed in the Dogs’ semi-final win and missed the preliminary final but will be available again if he passes the standard protocols. Key defender Alex Keath missed the win over the Power due to a hamstring issue that he now has two weeks to overcome. Laitham Vandermeer was subbed off at three-quarter time with hamstring tightness so there will be a watch on him, while prelim inclusions Zaine Cordy and Jason Johannisen were impressive.
Max Gawn - The Demons' and Therabody AFL All-Australian captain again proved in the preliminary final that he is the most influential big man in the game. The 208cm ruckman dominated the third term with eight disposals, three clearances and four scintillating goals in a stunning display.
Christian Petracca – The precocious talent has become a star across the past two seasons. The 25-year-old's ability to win the ball, burst away from contests and hit the scoreboard is now a significant weapon made for finals.
Jake Lever – The intercepting master is crucial to the way the Demons play as he regularly turns defence into attack. Will be even more important if Steven May is restricted by a hamstring issue.
Marcus Bontempelli – The Bulldogs' captain carried knee soreness into the preliminary final but was still able to have an impact with 20 disposals and two goals. The 25-year-old will benefit more than most from the pre-Grand Final bye and might even have a Brownlow Medal to his name by then.
Jack Macrae - The three-time All-Australian is arguably the most consistent player in the League and has only dropped below 30 disposals twice this season. The prolific 192cm midfielder has an impact too and has been one of the Dogs' best in their three finals so far.
Aaron Naughton - The high-flyer is vital to the Dogs' forward structure especially in the absence of Josh Bruce. The 21-year-old has averaged almost two goals a game this season and looks primed to deliver on his huge promise on the biggest stage.
Took charge for 2017 and the next season led the Demons to their first finals series in 12 years, but was widely seen to need a strong 2021 to ensure he would hang onto his position. This will be Goodwin's first Grand Final as a coach after winning two as a player with Adelaide in 1997-98.
Will forever be part of Bulldogs' folklore after coaching them to a second-ever flag in 2016. This is only the second season the Dogs have won finals during Beveridge's seven-year reign but if he can repeat the four finals wins of the premiership year he will truly be entrenched as a club legend. Started his playing career at Melbourne with 42 matches in 1989-92.