Who's The Wildcard? Each Preliminary Finalist’s X-Factor

In the blink of an eye, we are down to four teams.

Matches in the finals have been of varying quality, a couple of blowouts paired with two one-point thrillers, while certain players have gone a long way to establishing their legacies in finals folklore.

Stats Insider’s premiership projections are still heavily leaning towards the two teams who had a week off over the semifinal weekend, currently pegging Melbourne as a 33.3% chance of breaking their 57-year drought, while also giving Port Adelaide a 31.6% chance of ultimate glory. 

With two of the season’s biggest games approaching us this weekend, we’ve decided to have a look at a single wildcard player from each club who might make the biggest difference.

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Melbourne – Ed Langdon

We can reasonably expect all of Melbourne’s stars to stand up against the Cats; Clayton Oliver’scareer average against Geelong is 33 disposals, 7 clearances, 7 tackles, 6 inside 50s and a direct score involvement per game will warrant close attention from Geelong.

In Perth, however, this game will be a war of attrition and the Demons have made a name for themselves as running out games better than any other team.

Ed Langdon has enjoyed a solid season that has tapered off, collecting 20 disposals in 14 of the first 16 games, yet only reaching the target just once in his last six matches.

Against a wing group of Sam Menegola, Mitch Duncan and Isaac Smith, who all thrive in the space at Optus Stadium, the Demons need to be able to match the weaponry the Cats have on the spread with their own, high-quality outside work.

In 2019, Langdon averaged 25.4 disposals and 5.6 marks at Optus Stadium and this year for the Demons, he is ranked elite for his average of 426.8 metres gained per game, and 4.1 intercept possessions.

If the Demons are going to put in the effort to win the ball in the clinches or succeed in transitioning the ball effectively out of defence, they will definitely need a vintage, tireless Ed Langdon performance on the wing. This must be a game he spends every second on the ground, as he did against the Lions.

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Geelong – Jack Henry

Unheralded? Yes. Underrated? Not for much longer. 

We knew that the Cats wouldn’t suffer too much from an intercepting point of view when Tom Stewartwent down, mainly due to the herculean efforts of Jack Henry, who happens to also be the number one defender in the AFL for one-on-one defensive wins, although he isn’t caught out in these contests too much.

More than just his reading of the play is Henry’s role as the defensive Mr Fix-It, used in an array of roles within the back 50 to help limit the efficacy of the opposition’s attack.

Henry is rated above average for marks, intercepts, tackles and defensive pressure acts. He’ll jump in front of the likes of Ben Brown and Luke Jackson, but chances are he’ll also need to spend time minding Bayley Fritsch and even Kysaiah Pickett at stages.

The beauty of Henry’s game is how good he is at ground-level, to match his aerial skills. An athlete at heart, the 23-year-old’s mental application to the defensive functions at Geelong, always chasing for a tackle and diving across the opposition’s boot, is as remarkable as it is appreciated.

Henry has had less than six marks once since Round 9 and has had 6 contested marks in the finals series thus far. This is the standard we expect from the 89-game defender and he’ll need to live up to it for the Cats.

RELATED: Can Geelong Win The Premiership Without Tom Stewart?

Port Adelaide – Charlie Dixon

It may be an obvious call, but this is the contest where the Power need their main key forward to step up. 

Having gone goalless in his last two matches, including just nine disposals and no marks inside 50 against the Bulldogs in Round 23, Dixon must make the most of his strength advantage against whoever the opposition throws at him.

Port Adelaide has been the second-best contested marking team in the competition, averaging 13 per game, which has been vital in alleviating pressure from the opposition. Despite no scoreboard impact against Geelong, Dixon pulled down 3 big, contested marks and sent the ball inside 50 on 5 occasions, highlighting the importance work ethic plays in his game.

In Round 9 against this week’s opposition, Dixon finished with 12 disposals, 14 hitouts, 2 goals and 2 marks inside 50. He needs to be able to forget about his worst game of the season in their last contest and get back to dominating to ensure the Power has the best chance of taking full aerial and offensive advantage against a questionable defence.

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Western Bulldogs – Tim English

English has copped a lot of criticism throughout 2021 for his development as a ruckman, yet was arguably the biggest key in turning the game into the Bulldogs’ favour in the second half of the win against Brisbane.

Oscar McInerney’s first half involved throwing Lewis Young around and disposing of the ball directly from the ruck duel, whereas English’s deceptive strength and reach nullified the Lion’s influence, and the 24-year-old’s work around the ground was far more appreciated centrally, rather than being stuck in the forward line. 

What has gone under the radar is that while English has only won 33% of ruck contests, rated below average, he is an above average tap ruckman, rating highly in hitouts-to-advantage.

Against the Power, English will be vital in whatever role he is deployed. His height and marking ability will stretch an undersized defence if they go with the same duo in the ruck, as he did with 6 marks and 2 goals in Round 23. 

If the former first-round pick is needed in the centre bounce, he is good enough to limit the impact of the powerful Scott Lycett, and the athletic Peter Ladhams. English’s work rate around the ground has the ability to run these two off their feet, and simply adds to the midfield advantage the ‘Dogs have.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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