Swans at short odds for lightning to strike twice

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.

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#1 Warriors blow massive lead at Penrith

The inscrutable New Zealand Warriors, famous for finding new ways to lose the unloseable, created more unwanted history on Saturday as they suffered their worst-ever collapse against a resurgent Panthers outfit. The Warriors made the most of their opportunities to lead 28-6 at halftime, but they were immediately caught on the back foot by the fired-up home side after the resumption. The Panthers scored four tries in a phenomenal 12-minute flurry to take their first lead of the match, before sealing a 36-28 result and breaking a five-match losing streak via Tyrone Peachey’s late try. The comeback was the equal-10th biggest in premiership history.

See how it all unravelled for the Warriors HERE.

#2 Mundy sinks Tigers after the siren

Fremantle’s David Mundy showed nerves of steel to kick an after-the-siren goal and snatch a two-point win over Richmond at the MCG on Sunday. The Dockers led by 30 points after a four-goals-to-none third quarter, but the Tigers stormed back with five unanswered goals to take a late four-point lead. Mundy’s ice-cool angled shot clinched a vital victory, however, and consigned the Tigers to their third straight loss. Incredibly, Mundy also kicked an after-the-siren winner against Richmond less than two years ago.

Catch Mundy’s heroics HERE.

#3 Wall takes Wizards to Game 7 with clutch three

Boston Celtics had one foot in the Eastern Conference Finals door in the dying stages of Game 6 against Washington Wizards, leading by two points with time almost up. But mercurial Wizards guard John Wall added another chapter to his stunning post-season story by stepping up to drain a match-winning three with just 3.5 seconds on the timepiece. The rivals now head back to Boston for Tuesday morning’s (AEST) Game 7 decider.

Relive John Wall's super-clutch effort HERE.

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Sydney FC crowned champions after dramatic decider

Sydney FC capped the most dominant season by any club in A-League history by defeating Melbourne Victory in a grand final penalty shootout. The Sky Blues’ unprecedented campaign was in danger of coming to a sour conclusion when Victory marksman Besart Berisha put the underdogs 1-0 up after 20 minutes. Rhyan Grant finally levelled for Sydney in the 69th minute to force the decider into extra-time, which failed to produce another goal – though Melbourne’s James Troisi agonisingly hit the woodwork after beating keeper Danny Vukovic. Sydney FC prevailed 4-2 in the nerve-shredding shootout, with Vukovic producing the decisive save.

Relive a grand final for the ages HERE.

Roos roll table-topping Crows

Upsets reigned in Round 7 of the AFL premiership, headlined by struggling North Melbourne’s 59-point drubbing of previously unbeaten Adelaide. The Kangaroos led the scoreless Crows by 64 points at the end of a stunning first quarter. Meanwhile, St Kilda marked their first Friday night game in two years by downing heavyweights GWS by 23 points, Geelong sunk to their second straight shock loss via a 25-point defeat to Gold Coast, and fallen superpowers Sydney and Hawthorn chalked up pressure-relieving wins over Brisbane and Melbourne respectively.

See how a wild weekend of AFL action unfolded HERE.

TOP 3 MOST SHOCKING MOMENTS

#1 Glory foiled by new VAR rules

Runaway premiers Sydney FC stormed into the A-League grand final via a 3-0 thrashing of Perth Glory in Saturday’s semi, but not without a little help from the Video Assistant Referee. Controversially introduced late in the regular season, the VAR – a world first in football – overturned two disallowed Sydney FC goals to see the title favourites take a three-goal lead and effectively wrap the match up by halftime. Melbourne Victory clinched the other grand final spot thanks to a Beshart Berisha strike in the 70th minute, which got them home 1-0 over Brisbane Roar.

Check out the VAR controversy HERE.

 

#2 Pearce goes from hero to villain

Mitchell Pearce overcame a long-running field goal hoodoo to boot Sydney Roosters to a golden point win over St George Illawarra on Anzac Day, and just five days later he looked certain to repeat the does with a 76th-minute one-pointer against the Warriors in Auckland that broke a 12-all deadlock. But the Tricolours halfback was sensationally ruled offside during a late Warriors attacking raid, allowing opposite number Shaun Johnson to step up and bury a clutch penalty goal from out wide with one minute remaining, which snatched a one-point win for the hosts.

Watch the wild Mt Smart finish HERE.

 

#3 Joshua KO’s Klitschko in classic

It was the most anticipated heavyweight boxing bout in a decade, and the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko blockbuster delivered in spades. In front of a 90,000-strong Wembley crowd, British boxer Joshua recovered from the first knockdown of his career to knock out Ukranian legend Klitschko in the 11th round with a ferocious uppercut. Heavyweight boxing has enjoyed a resurgence since the controversial Tyson Fury ended Klitschko’s 11-year reign in 2015, and Joshua’s triumph – which saw him add the WBA belt to his IBF and IBO titles – with a punch already being described as one of the greatest in boxing history has given the sport another shot in the arm.

Relive the epic fight and the rapturous worldwide reaction HERE.

TOP 3 MOST SHOCKING MOMENTS

#1 Bunnies undone by Bunker howler

South Sydney was on track for a momentous win over Brisbane on Friday night, fighting back from a 10-point halftime deficit to take a 24-18 lead in the NRL Round 8 clash. But with 10 minutes to go, the Broncos were awarded a highly dubious try by the Bunker when Anthony Milford – who appeared to be held on the Rabbitohs’ line – flopped the ball back for Tautau Moga, who dived over for the equaliser. To compound Souths’ frustrations, Milford looked to have knocked the ball on before snapping a left-footed field goal to clinch a 25-24 win, but he was not pulled up by the on-field officials.

Check out the fallout from the most controversial game of 2017 HERE.

#2 Waratahs crash to shock loss

The Waratahs sunk to one of the lowest points in their 22-season Super Rugby history, stunned at home by lowly South African side the Kings 26-24. The hosts led 17-0 during the first half, but inexplicably conceded 26 straight points to a Kings outfit that looks almost certain to be axed from the revamped 2018 competition. The Waratahs have lost six of their eight games in 2017 to virtually extinguish their semi-final hopes with half a season to go, sitting in 16th spot overall in the competition.

See how one of the unlikeliest results Super Rugby has ever produced unfolded HERE.

#3 Hawks get off the mark with emphatic upset

Under fire after a disastrous first month of their 2017 campaign, perennial heavyweights Hawthorn Hawks avoided their first 0-5 start to a season since 1970 with a 50-point caning of West Coast Eagles at the MCG. The Hawks produced some vintage form to lead by 27 points at the main break, and finished off a rousing victory with a seven-goals-to-four fourth quarter. The result continued a woeful run at the ’G for West Coast, who have lost five of their last six at the premiership’s marquee venue.

Relive the win that could kick-start the Hawks’ season HERE.

TOP 3 MOST SHOCKING MOMENTS

 #1 Bucks kick off playoffs with away upset

Toronto Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland Cavaliers last season and have designs on a similar showing in this post-season after finishing third in the regular season, but Milwaukee Bucks threw a spanner in the works with a rousing 97-83 win in Game 1 of the teams’ first-round series at Air Canada Centre. Giannis Antetokounmpo starred for the sixth-seed Bucks with 28 points and eight rebounds, giving the underdogs a huge leg up in the series. Meanwhile, the Jazz also carved out a 1-0 lead with an away win over the Clippers, and the Cavaliers eked out a one-point home win over the Pacers.

See how the ‘Greak Freak’ inspired the Bucks to a boilover HERE.

#2 United thump Chelsea to keep title race alive

After Chelsea appeared home and hosed in the Premier League title race a few weeks back, a 2-0 loss to Manchester United has opened the door even wider for the chasing pack. Despite resting veteran superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United took the lead through teenager Marcus Rashford after just seven minutes, while Ander Herrera scored just after halftime. After losing just 3 of their first 28 games, Chelsea have lost two of their last four and are now just four points clear of second-placed Tottenham, who crushed Bournemouth 4-0 on the weekend.

Check out the wash-up from United’s storming win HERE.

#3 Umpire poleaxed at the Gabba

Richmond Tigers powered to a widely anticipated 52-point away win over Brisbane Lions on Sunday, but goal umpire Alistair Meldrum got more than he bargained for during the second quarter when he was accidentally ironed out by Daniel McStay. To the young ump’s credit, he quickly got to his feet and brushed the brutal collision off. The Tigers’ big win saw them remain unbeaten after four rounds, while the Lions are struggling at 1-3.

Watch the incident HERE.

TOP 3 MOST SHOCKING MOMENTS

#1 JT injured as Tigers roll Cowboys

Ivan Cleary enjoyed a dream start to his tenure as Wests Tigers coach, with his embattled side pulling off a 26-16 upset of heavyweights North Queensland in Townsville. The Tigers surged to a 14-point halftime lead before overcoming an error-riddled second half to record arguably the biggest NRL upset of 2017 to date. The loss was compounded for the Cowboys when linchpin Johnathan Thurston was assisted off with what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the dying minutes. Cowboys, Maroons and Kangaroos fans are on tenterhooks as they await JT’s scan results.

Catch a full wrap of the Round 6 action – which saw six away teams salute – HERE.

#2 Dockers and Suns headline round of boilovers

Teams threw the form-guide out the window in an extraordinary Round 3 of AFL matches. Under-pressure Collingwood Magpies kicked thing off with a one-point win over Sydney Swans on Friday night, while Richmond Tigers continued their unbeaten start by outlasting heavyweights West Coast Eagles on Saturday. Struggling sides Fremantle Dockers and Gold Coast Suns vied for the ‘Upset of the Week’ gong with unlikely triumphs over Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn Hawks respectively, and Carlton Blues continued the theme with a low-scoring defeat of in-form Essendon Bombers.

Relive the highs and lows of a remarkable weekend of footy HERE.

#3 NFL star Tebow hits debut home run

Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow carved out a fairytale introduction to the baseball minor leagues, blasting a home run in his first at-bat for the Columbia Fireflies in their clash with Augusta in the New York Mets lower grades. The crowd went crazy as Tebow – who rose to fame with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets earlier in the decade before his pro-football career fizzled – connected for a two-run drive and rounded the bases. Tebow’s dream run continued in his third appearance, hitting a three-run homer as experts predict the Mets will fast-track the cross-code star through their farm system.

Watch Tim Tebow’s unforgettable debut moment HERE.