It's the biggest weekend in Aussie sport this weekend with the AFL Grand Final being played on Saturday and the NRL Grand Final on Sunday. With big events comes a plethora of betting markets to keep the public interested all the way through and the betting volumes going through the roof. Drafted in for his look at the Norm Smith Medal, which for those of you who don't follow the greatest sport on the planet, is the prize awarded to the player deemed to be the best and fairest in the AFL Grand Final, is Michael Courts, @mtcourts. Not sure what he does for a living to be honest, but he can certainly write very well!
For folks in the UK timezone, the match will be screened on ESPN, coverage commencing at 0430 with first bounce around 0530. Don't be too concerned if you miss some of the traditionally dreadful pre-game entertainment by setting the alarm clock a bit later...
The Norm Smith Medal
Punting is Australia’s national pastime, and there’s nothing Australians love more than a flutter on a big event. While Melbourne Cup day remains popular for the once-a-year punters, the rise of sports betting in this country has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of dollars invested on AFL Grand Final day. Corporate bookmakers are reporting record turnover every year, and last year punters landed a plunge on Geelong to beat Collingwood, backing the Cats in from $2+ during the week to around $1.80 favourites as the ball was bounced.
Putting the straight head-to-head market to one side, the Grand Final exotic bet I love, and will be previewing here, is the Norm Smith Medal, awarded to the best player on the ground as judged by a panel of five judges drawn from the ever-widening pool of television, radio and newspaper commentators. Before I (hopefully..!) tip you this year’s winner, it’s pertinent to take a look at a historical perspective, as much of my analysis is based on what’s taken place in recent years.
Interestingly, the same media commentators who vote on the Norm Smith Medal often bemoan the fact that the other cherished individual honour handed out this week, the Brownlow Medal, has become an award won solely by midfielders. While this may be true, it’s important (and lateral) from a punting perspective to note that the Norm Smith too, since its inception in 1979, has been dominated by midfielders. Looking back, the last definitive non-midfielder to win it was North’s Glenn Archer all the way back in 1996, and though it can be argued past winners like Luke Hodge, Steve Johnson and Andrew McLeod (twice) played in defence (or forward, in Stevie J’s case) during the particular Grand Final, the roles they had involved more to do with setting up play than simply stopping an opposition forward or kicking goals.
Recent history also dictates that high-profile, seasoned players tend to win the Norm Smith Medal. While my wallet and I are still bemused as to how Brendan Goddard missed out in the drawn Grand Final to his team mate Lenny Hayes in 2010, a similarly predictable result followed the next week with Collingwood midfielder Scott Pendlebury matching his team’s success. Last year, Geelong Brownlow medallist Jimmy Bartel was the subject of a successful plunge (from $15 into $9 with one bookmaker) and duly added a Norm Smith Medal to his already bulging trophy cabinet. Perhaps we have to go all the way back to 2001 when the underrated little workhorse of Brisbane’s midfield, Shaun Hart, saluted. Since 2000, five Brownlow medallists (Hird, Buckley, Black, Judd and Bartel) have also performed on the biggest stage to win the Norm Smith Medal – two (Buckley and Judd) in losing sides.
Enough with history: to this year, then. My betting strategy that has served me well in years past is to back one player from each side with equal stakes. Given I can’t see this year’s Grand Final being a blowout either way, it’s all the more appropriate to have a few bob on one Hawk and one Swan to take home the Norm Smith Medal. In my view, there’s also no point trying to look for enormous value (yet to find anywhere that offers each-way betting, either) so my top selection from a Hawthorn perspective is their midfield general Brad Sewell. Though occasionally overlooked for plaudits with the media instead focusing on skipper Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis (among others, from a solely midfield perspective), Sewell comes into the Grand Final having had arguably his finest year, capped by polling a solid 13 votes in Monday night’s Brownlow count. At $13 (currently), he looks a far more attractive bet than the short odds of $5 available for Sam Mitchell, and his finals (and Grand Final form from 2008) stack up nicely. I think the tireless Sewell will finally receive some due individual recognition on Saturday afternoon in what looms (to my eye) as likely tight Hawks win.
Meanwhile, on the opposing Sydney side, I think there is a standout player to punt on. Ryan O’Keefe comes into the Grand Final having played two ripper finals in the lead-up, collecting 37 and 34 disposals against Adelaide and Collingwood respectively, and like Sewell, has probably had his most consistent year to date – which says something for a veteran of now over 250 games experience. One of the few surviving members of Sydney’s back-to-back Grand Final sides of 2005-06, O’Keefe now has the versatility to go back and provide a steadying hand in defence having once made his name as a half-forward flanker who could play stints in the midfield. At his current quote of $15 he is an even better bet than Sewell (should the Swans cause an upset) to win the Norm Smith Medal in my view, particularly if he can get forward and snag a couple of goals. Last year’s winner Jimmy Bartel starred at both ends of the ground – kicking three vital goals – as well as in the middle, and should O’Keefe turn in a repeat performance of the Cats #3 from last year he would be very hard to beat.
One caveat, though, to close. If Melbourne’s fickle weather delivers a wet day as is predicted, it may be worth having a small investment on Sydney’s popular veteran Jude Bolton ($21) to be judged best-on-ground as a saver. Playing his 301st game this weekend, Bolton is still regarded as one of the best tacklers, contested ball winners and mud-runners in the league, all of which will be extremely important in the tight arm-wrestle on the MCG that will naturally come with a wet weather game. Good punting!