H&V Finals Week 1: Did Scott's coaching clanger cost the Cats?

The first week of finals lived up to the hype with four blockbuster games (okay, maybe just three) in the space of 48 hours.

Here are this week's Heroes & Villains.


'Pendles' (for about the 300th time): We're not sure the game has ever seen a more consistent, A-grade talent than Scott Pendlebury and on Friday night the Collingwood champion put on a clinic as his side rolled minor premier Geelong at the MCG.

In his 300th game, the Pies skipper led his side brilliantly and was clearly the game's best ball user. He finished the night with 24 disposals at 83 percent efficiency - 17 percent higher than the game's average.

But it wasn't his clearance work, classy evasive skills or precise kicking which will be remembered, instead his superb running goal from 45 metres late in the third quarter. The six-pointer could not have come at a better time for Pies fans as it stopped a run of Cats goals and gave Nathan Buckley's side breathing room heading into the last.

Pendlebury now holds the record for the most disposals through 300 AFL games (7,971) and no player in history has ever played in front of 70,000 fans more often than him.

So good has Pendlebury been over the journey that he actually has serious claims to being the player of the decade. One flag (who knows, maybe two in a few weeks' time), one Norm Smith Medal, six All-Australian guernseys, five club best and fairest awards and three Anzac Day medals say it's not an outrageous statement.

Matt de Boer: He may not get as much credit as the likes of Lachie Whitfield, Tim Taranto, Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper, but Matt de Boer's influence on the second elimination final should not be underestimated.

The star tagger, who was on track for All-Australian selection before going down with a shoulder injury in Round 13, completely nullified one of the competition's hottest players in Marcus Bontempelli and that's no easy task.

'The Bont' looked ominous early, but de Boer tightened up and managed to restrict the Brownlow Medal fancy to just two disposals in the second half. With Bontempelli effectively out of the game, the Giants began to click into gear and motored ahead in the second half to record a 58-point win.

The Bontempelli scalp is just another in a long line for de Boer. Earlier in the season he completely shut out Dustin Martin, Patrick Cripps, Clayton Oliver and Tim Kelly.

Leon Cameron's Giants will now face Brisbane in next Saturday night's second semifinal at the Gaba.

Eagles forwards: West Coast put their Round 23 disappointment behind them on Thursday night with a dominant 55-point win over Essendon at Optus Stadium.

While the usual midfield brigade of Luke Shuey, Elliott Yeo and Dom Sheed were all impressive, it was their dynamic forward line which stole the show.

The front six of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling, Liam Ryan, Jamie Cripps, Willie Rioli and Jake Waterman combined for a staggering 16 of the team's 17 goals in a performance that is sure to keep plenty of defensive coaches up all night.

Cripps set the tone early with three shots on goal inside the first 15 minutes before Kennedy took over, producing a career-best finals performance. Both players finished the game with four goals to their name, while Ryan contributed three. Darling and Waterman each kicked two.

What's made the Eagles so dangerous in recent years is their ability to score heavily. Adam Simpson's forward line is a difficult one to contain given the combination of one-on-one marking threats, lead up targets and speed at ground level.

If West Coast can replicate that performance next week the Cats might be going out in straight sets yet again.


Zach Merrett: Every time you watch, it just looks worse and worse.

We're not sure what Essendon ball magnet Zach Merrett was thinking when he tugged on Nic Naitanui's glorious locks. Talk about picking a fight way outside of your weight division.

In the third quarter of Thursday night's elimination final between the Bombers and Eagles, Merrett and Naitanui began to tangle on the boundary. But instead of backing away from the scuffle, Merrett did something we've never really seen before by grabbing Naitanui's hair.

Obviously the the star ruckman disapproved and responded by completely manhandling Merrett into the fence. Fortunately for Naitanui, and the Eagles, he escaped suspension for the shove and is free to play against the Cats next week.

Oh, and a special villain mention to the unruly fan who poured his drink on the pair. Stay out of it!

Chris Scott's muddled thinking: Games are rarely won and lost at selection but Scott's decision to drop Rhys Stanley for Sam Menegola just ahead of Friday night's qualifying final against Collingwood was bizarre at best and a game-changer at worst.

Scott said the late change was due to forecast rain, but the rain stayed away and Grundy sparkled as the Cats limped to another sorry September defeat.

With no Stanley to contend with, Grundy dominated with 21 disposals (15 contested), 47 hitouts and seven clearances but the domino effect went much further - the use of star defender Mark Blicavs in the ruck upset Geelong's defensive balance, and Esava Ratugolea was forced to also chip in through the ruck, which robbed the Cats of another tall target and piled the pressure on Tom Hawkins, who failed to kick a goal.

After the match, Scott said he had "agonised" over the decision but also downplayed Grundy's influence as a decisive factor in Collingwood's win.

He will surely backflip for Friday night's semifinal against the Nic Naitanui-inspired Eagles.

It's not the only issue that will keep Scott awake this week - he will also have to find a way to get his team firing from the first bounce after another insipid opening term cost them dearly in September. In fact, in their past six opening quarters in finals, the Cats are down 172-46.

It's a huge concern and Scott must find a way to fix that if the Cats are to fight on this September.

Wasteful Lions: What could have been an eight-goal win turned out to be an eight-goal loss, leaving Brisbane on the canvas and having to front up next week against GWS instead of enjoying the smooth path to the preliminary finals.

The Lions absolutely dominated the first quarter of Saturday night's qualifying final at the Gabba, finishing the term +17 in inside 50s, +14 in contested possessions and +6 in clearances.

But for all of the territory advantage and shots on goal, Chris Fagan's side kicked a wasteful 4.6, which by halftime became 4.10. The Tigers didn't need a second invitation to the game and from then on bossed the contest, eventually running out 47-point winners.

By fulltime, Brisbane had kicked 8.17 to Richmond's deadly accurate 18.4.

There's a reason accuracy in front of the big sticks is still the most important statistic in football.