The VU Data Lab looks into the performance of players using the AFL Player Rating, thanks to Victoria University and Western Bulldog’s List and recruitment Analyst, Sam McIntosh, PhD.

To follow on from last week’s summary of the Western Bulldogs’ comprehensive Preliminary Final win over Port Adelaide, we’re going to have a look at some of the key factors and players for this weekend’s 2021 AFL Grand Final.

The Western Bulldogs and Melbourne both go into the Grand Final with a very similar accumulation of rating points in most areas. There are however two main areas which differentiate their successful performances. Melbourne typically rates higher in their ability to win the ball, which is predominantly a result of their increased ability to intercept in their defence. On the other hand, the Bulldogs typically rate higher in their ability to use the ball by both hand and foot. In their two previous encounters this season these narratives have been consistent, with the Bulldogs having the higher ‘ball use’ rating in their Round 11 meeting despite losing, and Melbourne having a higher ‘ball winning’ rating in the Bulldogs Round 19 win. These games were rather determined by the team with the more impactful shots at goal and defensive pressure.

Critical in dictating the eventual premier is each team’s ability to score from stoppages. Both the Bulldogs and Melbourne are lauded for having a strong midfield contingent, but the way they perform at stoppages is actually quite different. The Bulldogs have a very low hit-out rate (28%), but are nonetheless the number one team for clearances (+147 total clearance differential across the season). Conversely, Melbourne have the best hit-out rate of any team (44%), but barely break even for winning clearances (+5 total clearance differential across the season).

Despite the Bulldogs winning clearances more often, both teams score from stoppages at almost an identical rate. However, Melbourne concedes goals substantially less frequently than any other team in the league when they lose stoppages. Despite their form throughout the home and away season, both teams have had a substantial improvement during the Finals series. The Bulldogs have improved on the defensive side, conceding just seven goals directly from stoppages across their three Finals games. On the other hand, Melbourne has had an improvement on the offensive side, scoring a league high 101 points from stoppages in their preliminary final against Geelong. The first figure below highlights the improvements seen for both teams throughout the Finals series. The second figure emphasises the magnitude of Melbourne’s dominance at scoring from stoppages in their Preliminary Final.

The two 30+ Brownlow voters

There’ve been many individual stars in both the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne teams this year, with six players from the two teams rated amongst the top 12 players in the competition. The figure below outlines the cumulative AFL Player Ratings of these top 12 players across the home and away season.

Two players of note are Marcus Bontempelli and Clayton Oliver, who not only rated as second and third for total AFL Player Ratings in 2021, but correspondingly finished in the same place in Sunday night’s Brownlow medal count (polling 33 and 30 votes, respectively). Further to this, these two players recorded the maximum three Brownlow votes in their respective teams win against each other during the home-and-away season (Clayton in Round 11 and Marcus in Round 19). The below figures outline each of their 2021 seasons and highlights the relationship between their AFL Player Ratings with respect to the matches where they were also awarded Brownlow votes. Both these players are going to be pivotal this weekend in their teams fight for the 2021 AFL Premiership.

Tune in for the VU Data Lab segment in the Grand Final special show

Fans will be able to tune into a special pre-game Grand Final Show, delivered by Western Bulldogs on Friday 24 September. Please visit the Western Bulldogs website to find out more details on how to watch the show.

Hosts will share more insights from the VU Data Lab and feature a number of guests in the lead up to the 2021 AFL Grand Final.

Good luck to the Bulldogs!