It has been a time-honoured theory since the AFL’s eight-team finals series came into vogue in 1994: you can’t win the premiership from outside the top four.
Yet heading into the 2017 finals series, punters have backed sixth-placed Sydney Swans into equal-second favourites with GWS Giants to claim the flag at $4.80, behind only minor premiers Adelaide ($3.30) in the AFL premiership futures betting stakes.
From 1994-2015, the fifth-placed Adelaide Crows’ successful title defence in 1998 – beating minor premiers North Melbourne in the grand final – was the only exception to the repeatedly proven rule. Sixth-placed Carlton, who lost to the second-placed Kangaroos in the ’99 decider, was the only other club to even reach the grand final from outside the top four during that period.
The Swans’ back-from-the-dead effort to qualify for the September action has been arguably the story of the 2017 season, creating history by recovering from a dismal 0-6 start to drop just two of their remaining 16 games.
The Swans come into the playoffs as the competition’s form team and the only 2017 finalist to win their last four regular-season games, but can they parlay that momentum into a sudden-death charge to grand final glory?
History suggests not – teams finishing fifth to eighth have just two premierships between them in 23 seasons of eight-team finals footy – but punters continue to throw their support behind the Swans despite the overwhelming stats against their claims.
Western Bulldogs’ record-breaking run from seventh to end a 62-year premiership drought in 2016 has clearly altered the perception of what most thought possible during the AFL post-season.
Sydney must overcome Essendon at home this weekend, then Geelong or Richmond away in week two, and Adelaide or GWS on the road in the preliminary final for their shot at lifting the trophy on the last Saturday of September.
The Swans may be better credentialed than the Bulldogs to walk the finals tightrope, but the odds John Longmire’s side has been backed into to win four straight sudden-death games is remarkably skinny. Their 14-2 run under immense pressure has built confidence amongst the betting public, but it also must have taken a physical and emotional toll on the team.
In the Swans’ favour, their squad is laced with finals experience: the club has missed the finals just once in the previous 14 seasons, including five grand final appearances for premiership wins in 2006 and ’12. The pain of last year’s decider defeat to the Bulldogs should spur the Swans on this time around.
The irrepressible Buddy Franklin won the Coleman Medal and All-Australian selection courtesy of some sparkling late-season form; he shapes as tremendous value on the seventh line of betting at $14 for the Gary Ayres Medal as the player of the finals series, but stiff competition will come from teammates Josh Kennedy ($10), Luke Parker ($21) and Daniel Hannebery ($34) if the Swans go deep into September.
No rival team will be relishing the prospect of taking on the ‘Bloods’, but their chances of winning the premiership must be treated carefully. It’s important the Bulldogs’ 2016 triumph is remembered as the miracle that it was and not a sign that low-ranking teams are suddenly a genuine premiership threat. Punters continue their love affair with the Swans in betting but the stats oppose them staunchly.