The Western Bulldogs and St Kilda will do battle in a winner-takes-all contest at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon, for a chance to lock in a Semi Final berth.
Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know ahead of the Elimination Final:
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HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Bulldogs were on the bottom of the ladder after two rounds. They slowly recovered and stormed into the top eight by Round 17, eventually overcoming a plucky Fremantle outfit in Round 18 to secure seventh spot for a second successive year. The Saints, conversely, shot out of the blocks in 2020 and have occupied a position at the top end of the ladder for most of the season. In the end, the Dogs and Saints each recorded 10 wins and seven losses for the campaign.
The Bulldogs have saved their best footy for the back-end of the season, winning five of their last six, with that loss coming against a Geelong team which had to reel in a six-goal deficit in Round 14. The Saints have won two of their last three games, including a 52-point thrashing of GWS in the last round.
LAST TIME THEY MET
The red-hot Saints were far too good for the Bulldogs in Round 2 this year, in the first game back from the 11-week AFL season hiatus. St Kilda won each of the first three quarters to lead by 40 points at the final change, eventually winning by 39. Jack Billings (three goals and 24 disposals) and Zak Jones (29 touches) starred for the Saints, while Bailey Smith (29 possessions) and Josh Dunkley (27 disposals and a goal) held their own for the Dogs.
RECENT FINALS HISTORY
This will be the Bulldogs’ fourth appearance in the finals in the last six years. An Elimination Final in 2015 was followed by that fairytale premiership the following year. Two years outside the top eight has been followed by back-to-back Elimination Finals. The Dogs will be looking to redeem themselves from last year’s finals exit against GWS.
This will be St Kilda’s first final since 2011, where they were defeated by Sydney in the first week. That result followed two years of finals heartbreak on the biggest stage – in 2010 the Saints lost the Grand Final replay to Collingwood, and in 2009 they lost the season decider to Geelong.
The Bulldogs received a couple of injury scares from their Round 18 game, with Aaron Naughton (cheekbone) and Mitch Wallis (shoulder) under immediate fitness clouds. Thankfully, both are on track to play the Saints if they get through training this week. Laitham Vandermeer and Matt Suckling are both recovering from hamstring injuries and are in the mix for selection.
The Saints have already ruled out utility Josh Battle, who is nursing a sore foot, but Zak Jones is a chance to return from a hamstring strain.
For the Bulldogs, Naughton is capable of tearing any game to shreds. He has vice-like hands, loves the big stage and has a six-goal haul to his name already this season. His likely inclusion also means there’s less pressure on Josh Bruce to kick a winning score.
Saints’ small forward Dan Butler has been a revelation in 2020, kicking 27 goals after crossing to Moorabbin from Richmond. He is lightning quick, gets to the right spots and has kicked multiple goals on nine occasions already this year.
WHAT THEY SAID
“This is essentially why you play the game, you want to play in these big games. The ladder position reflects what our season’s been like, so we’ve earned nothing more than just the first week and that’s how we’ll approach it.” – Bulldogs’ defender Alex Keath.
“It’s been a long time for our footy club, a long time for our fans. It’s something you want to be a part of every year. We want to make sure we perform really strongly this week and hopefully have a bit part to say in the next few weeks.” – St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary.
‘Hub bubs’ have become a thing of late, and the Saints and Dogs have both welcomed new babies into their extended footy families over the last fortnight. St Kilda skipper Jarryn Geary and Dogs spearhead Josh Bruce each have had Queensland-born baby boys, and had to deal with a period of isolation away from their team-mates due to the AFL’s covid-19 protocols.
St Kilda vs Western Bulldogs
Saturday October 3, 4.40pm AEST
Live on Channel 7 (from 4pm), Fox Footy (from 3.30pm) and AFL Live