Grand finalists Hawthon and Fremantle will take center-stage as the two battle it out for the most coveted prize in the AFL season – the premiership flag. Whilst early on in the grand scheme of things, today’s post will devise an in-depth preview into the showdown between these two titans – may the best team win!
Saturday’s preliminary final between Fremantle and Sydney wasn’t solely a frightening sight for Swans supporters, but also for Hawks, whom were mending their wounds following a desperate clash against the Cats the previous night – narrowly escaping with a five point victory. Will the Hawks be able to maintain their elite disposal efficiency? Or will the Dockers’ immense pressure force them into crude mistakes and cost them premiership success?
Personally I can’t see Hawthorn winning with their current gameplan unless their kicking in front of goal drastically improves and they provide an unforgettable performance.
Overall: Fremantle’s ruckmen, namely Sandilands and Clarke are going to give their midifled first use of the ball – they’re extremely agile and provide quality clearance to the likes of a strong Docker midfield outfit. Hawthorn play possession football, and in the moments in which the Fremantle ruckmen struggle to achieve a clear tap, the game will be tight and restricted by immense defensive pressure. Despite the wider dimensions of the MCG in contrast to Kardinia or Subiaco Oval; Fremantle will lock the ball in their forward 50 frequently, as we witnessed against Sydney. Despite Ross Lyon’s gameplan deemed ‘defensive’, the above will result in the potent Fremantle forward line receiving more scoring shots than the Hawks.
Ruck: We’ve already touched on this above, and whilst it was a rather one sided affair in the battle between these two teams earlier this year, Freo was without Sandilands and Clarke – as Griffin went up against Bailey and Hale. And boy has the ruck proven to be an important position in defeating Hawthorn this season – as we saw in the matchup between the Hawks and Geelong throughout the home and away season in contrast to the preliminary final. Freo looks set to dominate in this department, offering first ball use to their midfielders.
Stoppages: Expect Hawthorn’s first touch to be under immediate pressure. Clarkson will most likely instruct the handball option, attacking through the wings – however, with the firepower of Gunston, Buddy and Roughead, the long kick option may be the go. If the long bomb fails, Fremantle will swamp and create an easy turnover goal – the Hawks really need to capitalise each time they stream forward. Both Rioli and Hodge went missing against Geelong – against a slow Fremantle midfield outfit, both players along with Burgoyne will need to break their big-team-shackles if Hawthorn is to get over the line. I’ll assume Crowley will take Mitchell – an extremely important contest for both teams.
General play: Hawthorn’s gameplan relies upon maintaining possession and exceptional disposal into the forward 50. Clean lateral kicks across their backline, diagonal pin-point kicks through the midfield and passes to hit up key forwards. A turnover can see a direct pressing attack from Hawthorn, from one side of the ground to the other. And we know, when it works, it’s brilliant – and they’re the best at it in the competition. But it relies upon clear possession, in which the player in question has a moment to weigh up their options and hit a target. Ross Lyons setup intends to counter that exactly – making it difficult for Hawks players to find space and targets. The mounted pressure may be too much for a Hawthorn backline used to hitting up easy midfield targets streaming forward.
Birchill was impressive against Fremantle last time as Hawthorn’s primary playmaker, and his disposal efficiency was something to be marveled obliterating the Fremantle midfield finding direct targets across the center. And we’re well aware that Lyon won’t allow that to happen again, pressure, pressure and more pressure is key – I see De Boer taking Birchill in an attempt to shut him down, whilst Mzungu will take Smith.
Hawthorn’s Strength: Hawthorn has an elite forward line, one that will leave the Freo defensive line stranded at instances throughout the game – if Gunstun, Franklin and Roughead can kick straight – as well as the likes of Rioli can turn it on – Hawthorn is a strong chance. However, if I was a Hawthorn supporter, I wouldn’t be expecting the same level of scoring shots they’ve come to see across the home and away season – Freo simply won’t allow that. Last time round, Fremantle was without McPharlin, Sandilands and Pavlich, key defensive, ruck and forward positions respectively – the Hawks will meet a full strength Freo line-up this time.
Dawson and McPharlin provide for an adequately strong yet slow backline, if Hawthorn can find a speedy forward press (ie an in form Rioli and Franklin), goals will begin to flow. In terms of the Norm Smith medal, most attention will be directed towards Mitchell and Sewell/Hodge/Birchill, which leaves Rioli and Burgoyne to turn it on. A quality Burgoyne will be crucial to a Hawthorn win, they’ll need his agility if they’re to break the lines in the midfield. If Fremantle get the win, look to the likes of Mundy, Barlow or Fyfe to pick up the Norm Smith.
Prediction: I’m backing Fremantle, by two to three goals, and possibly more if Fremantle can exploit Hawthorn where they’re weakest and dominate in the one on one battles I’ve mentioned above. If Birchill is shut down, Gibson will need to play his role, and I don’t think his kicking is up to scratch to fulfill an essential portion of Hawtorn’s attack. Hawthorn will need to practically kick at 100% efficiency when moving the ball from their backline, forward. The ruck duo of Hale and Bailey will struggle against Clarke and Sandilands, a lot of pressure will be placed upon Sewell, Mitchell, Smith and Lewis to perform. With a strong tag from Crowley on the most likely victim Mitchell, and Mzungu on another, up against the quality both Mundy and Barlow provide – the Hawks will need to dispose of the footy effectively at every opportunity they get to stand a chance.