The 2019 AFL Finals series is upon us and will feature four mouthwatering matchups in Week 1.

West Coast Eagles vs Essendon Bombers

First up, the action will head to Perth as the West Coast Eagles title defence begins against the Essendon Bombers.

West Coast have limped into the finals on the back of two straight defeats and it’s ultimately cost them a double chance. In Melbourne a few weeks back, they played in a potential finals preview against the Tigers and blew a huge first-quarter lead in the 88-82 defeat. While last week, Hawthorn dominated the contest at Optus Stadium with a 38 point drubbing of the home town Eagles.

Despite that performance, the Eagles did record 8 wins from their 11 home games in 2019 and beat the Bombers in mid-June at this venue, 106-71.

It’s been a strange old season for the Bombers with injuries and inconsistent form. But to their credit, they have bounced back from two horrible losses against the Bulldogs and Power in Melbourne. They convincingly beat Fremantle at Optus and competed with the Pies last Friday night with a few stars on the sidelines. They’ll be desperately hoping the likes of Heppell and Hooker can return for this one.

If the Bombers can get Hooker back, they have a real chance of causing an upset. Hurley can stop Darling but they’ll need Hooker to take Kennedy out of the game. While in the forward inline, McDonald-Tipungwuti is a real barometer for this side and he’ll need to kick 2+ goals. So I wouldn’t mind a crack at the Bombers line. Their awful finals record will be used as motivation and they get the Eagles on the back of 2 straight losses.

TIP: Bombers to cover the handicap

Geelong Cats vs Collingwood Magpies

Friday night footy will be a cracking contest as the Cats tackle the Pies.

Obviously, Geelong are disappointed to play a home final at Collingwood’s home ground, but there’s no way the AFL would play this at Kardina Park. The positive will be gaining vital finals atmosphere experience at home of the Grand Final.

Geelong ended the season with an easy win over the Blues and claimed the minor premiership in the process. Patrick Dangerfield will likely poll 3 votes in a BOG performance, which could ultimately win himself a Brownlow. The Cats played in a perfect warmup for this clash a few weeks back up at the Gabba and they’ll be ready for the Pies pressure.

Collingwood have hit the finals in perfect fashion after four wins on trot. However, you can say they only played one top 8 side (Bombers) over that span. So they need to start quickly and quell the influence of Dangerfield/Selwood/Kelly. In great news, Stephenson returns from his betting suspension and he’ll be super important for the Pies forward line. Especially with De Goey also likely back after a hamstring issue. Darcy Moore’s frustrating season continued as he left the game early last week and will be touch and go for the first final.

Geelong has won each of the last 3 meetings against the Pies, including a 72-65 victory in Round 1 this season. But I think Collingwood will be dangerous with a better forward line structure that will worry the Cats. The other problem for Geelong will be Brodie Grundy in the ruck. The Cats have had problems all year finding a reliable ruckman and Grundy is in superb touch at the moment. However, Geelong’s midfield is the main reason why they finished atop the ladder and they should be able to game-plan for Grundy’s influence.

So this matchup has a real chance of being decided by a kick and I would suggest backing either team by under 15.5 points in what’s expected to be a Friday night classic.

TIP: Either team by under 15.5 points

GWS Giants vs Western Bulldogs

Saturday’s doubleheader begins in Sydney with the Giants and Bulldogs reigniting their modern-day rivalry. The two sides met recently in Round 22 at this venue as the Bulldogs midfield went wild in a 126-65 victory. As a result, they take early favouritism into this clash.

The Bulldogs are arguably the most dangerous side in the bottom half of the 8 and it feels a lot like 2016. They finished 7th in 2016 as well and momentum carried them through to the decider where they defeated the Swans. Coming into the finals, the Bulldogs have smashed the Bombers, Giants and Crows. Their midfield through the likes of the Bont, Macrae, Dunkley and Hunter love to possess the footy so they’ll be super confident of repeating their last performance against GWS.

Round 23 for the Giants was basically a training run on the Gold Coast. They fed Jeremy Cameron the footy and he proceeded to kick 9 goals and claim the Coleman Medal. But previous large losses at home against the Dogs and Hawks are more of a form guide. They haven’t been playing great footy over the last month but they are starting to get their best 22 on the park. Injuries have been a problem all year and they’ll hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them in this clash.

It’s pretty hard to back against the Bulldogs red-hot form at the moment. As mentioned, this feels like 2016 and the fact they easily beat the Giants just a few weeks ago is a huge plus. Can’t go past the Doggies here.

TIP: Bulldogs WIN

Brisbane Lions vs Richmond Tigers

After an exciting clash at the MCG in Round 23, the Brisbane Lions and Richmond Tigers will face each other once again. But the difference will be the venue. Richmond obviously loves playing at the MCG but it’s a similar story for the Lions at the Gabba. There’s no doubt Brisbane will be fired up for the Lions first finals game in a long period.

It’s been an incredible season by the Lions after finishing 15th in 2018. The additions of Lachie Neale and Jarrod Lyons to the midfield countered the loss of Dayne Beams. Meanwhile, Mitch Robinson has been superb. Not to mention, Charlie Cameron up forward and inspiration skipper Dayne Zorko. While they couldn’t beat the Tigers at the MCG, it was a perfect tune-up for the finals. They beat the Cats at the Gabba in Round 22 and should be confident of rebounding.

Since the Round 14 bye, the Tigers have won 9 straight and will enter the 2019 finals series as a real Premiership threat. This is despite missing Alex Rance for most of the season and an injury-riddled year for Cotchin. But it goes to show that their depth is well setup. Obviously, Dustin Martin is the key to their success. But they’re all about playing team-first football. Tom Lynch will be ready for his first AFL finals experience and this is the reason why he joined the Tigers. But I’m sure the Brisbane crowd will be into the former Sun all night.

Richmond’s record against the Lions makes for impressive reading. They haven’t lost against them since 2009 and have won the last 8 meetings at the Gabba. So travelling away from the MCG shouldn’t trouble this well-coached side. Credit goes to the Lions for finishing 2nd but it’s hard to back against the Tigers in finals footy. Brisbane also haven’t played a finals game in 10 years and inexperience could be their downfall.

TIP: Tigers WIN