Powerhouse clubs Hawthorn and Collingwood will meet in a cut-throat final for only the third time in VFL/AFL history. The clubs have won 25 premierships between them, with the Pies the most recent, winning the 2010 flag.
Friday night’s preliminary final can’t get much bigger, with the stage set for a fight to the death expected.
The Pies are well rested, earning the week off after defeating last year’s wooden spooners, turned 2011 surprise packet, West Coast in the qualifying final.
The Hawks on the other hand, were beaten by Geelong, and had to front up last week and take care of the Swans.
The Magpies are expected to field one of their best sides of the year, and seem to be ready to unleash their best at the right time of the year.
The Pies have an interesting form line leading into the match, after losing to Geelong by 96points in a less than impressive, yet not so alarming final hitout of the home and away rounds. They were much better in the first final though, with their aggression and pressure back to its best, overcoming a defiant West Coast by 20 points.
The Hawks took a different approach to round 24, resting nine of their stars for their final match of the home and away rounds against the Gold Coast.
Upon return, however, their rested big guns were unable to deliver a qualifying final win against the Cats, succumbing to the 2007 and 2009 premiers by 31 points.
Lance Franklin was of course injured in the final quarter of that match, and had many fearing his 2011 was over. He made a remarkable recovery though, and played a key role in their win over Sydney last week.
The Hawks withstood a spirited fightback from the Swans to run out 36 point victors.
Given Collingwood’s rest last week, the Pies will head into the game as favourites with the bookies, and with most of the football public, despite the Hawks putting in an impressive display last week.
But reputations and winning records mean nothing in finals, and both teams will be well aware of that.
Last Time They Met:
Collingwood 15.16 (106) def. Hawthorn 9.11 (65)
Crowd: 83, 985 at MCG
The Magpies put in one of their best performances of the year against the Hawks in their only meeting this season in round 15. There had been much talk about the Magpies and aiming to play their best footy from round 15 onwards, and they certainly delivered.
The Pies held their opponents to 0.4.4 at quarter time, while booting 4.4.28 themselves, and the lead only grew from there. The Pies delivered perhaps their best four-quarter effort since round 10, when they defeated the Eagles, and romped to a 41-point win.
Ben Reid was the standout for the Pies, marshalling the defence and taking a number of marks from opposition kicks. He finished with a career-high 31 possessions in a dominant display.
Collingwood midfield trio, Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas were also dominant, all gathering 30-plus possessions and leading their team to victory.
Leigh Brown had the difficult task of nullifying Hawks’ playmaker Grant Birchall, and did a good job, restricting the Hawk to 16 possessions and only three rebounds from defensive 50.
For the Hawks, skipper Luke Hodge continued his good form against the Magpies, with a dazzling 40 possession effort, which included eight rebounds from defensive 50 and three forward 50 entries.
The story of the day though, was the Hawks’ game plan. Their precise short kicking approach had been highly tipped to be the Magpies kryptonite, by denying the Pies the ball, and the opportunity to cause turnovers through tackling pressure and ball handling errors.
It failed though, on this occasion as spearhead Lance Franklin was basically a non issue for the Pies. The Hawks’ chip passing took Franklin out the play, and allowed the Magpies defenders to avoid a Franklin v Tarrant one out situation.
Franklin booted only one goal for the game.
How they lined up last time
B: Leon Davis, Ben Reid, Harry O’Brien
HB: Alan Toovey, Nick Maxwell, Heath Shaw
C: Dane Swan, Dale Thomas, Sharrod Wellingham
HF: Chris Tarrant, Chris Dawes, Andrew Krakouer
F: Steele Sidebottom, Travis Cloke, Leigh Brown
Foll: Darren Jolly, Scott Pendlebury, Luke Ball
I/C: Luke Rounds, Jarryd Blair, Simon Buckley, Alex Fasolo
B: Brent Guerra, Josh Gibson, Thomas Murphy
HB: Shaun Burgoyne, Jordan Lisle, Grant Birchall
C: Matt Suckling, Sam Mitchell, Shane Savage
HF: Luke Breust, Lance Franklin, Isaac Smith
F: Brendan Whitecross, David Hale, Michael Osborne
Foll: Max Bailey, Luke Hodge, Liam Shiels
I/C: Chance Bateman, Clinton Young, Kyle Cheney, Paul Puopolo
At the selection table
The Magpies selection committee has one of the toughest jobs in football this week, finding the two players who will miss out on a Preliminary Final berth in favour of All Australian pair Ben Reid and Dale Thomas. Thomas is available for selection after serving his two-match ban for rough conduct on Fremantle’s Garrick Ibbotson in round 23. Reid, who sustained a groin and/or hamstring injury at training two weeks ago, seems a certain starter on Friday night after completing a gruelling hit out with his teammates last Friday.
The problem is though, who makes way? Reid and Thomas are undoubtedly in Collingwood’s starting 18, and there was always going to be a hard luck story at the Magpies this season. Exciting first year player Alex Fasolo seems one likely omission, despite playing a crucial role in his side’s win over West Coast. Tyson Goldsack is the other player facing the axe, with the Magpies already boasting a plethora of defensive options including skipper Nick Maxwell who made a miraculous recovery from a broken thumb. Alan Didak has also been touted as a possible omission, but his x-factor and reputation as a finals game breaker may just see him retain his spot.
IN: D. Thomas, B. Reid
OUT: A. Fasolo, T. Goldsack
B: Alan Toovey Chris Tarrant Nick Maxwell
HB: Leon Davis Ben Reid Harry O’Brien
C: Heath Shaw Dane Swan Dale Thomas
HF: Steele Sidebottom Travis Cloke Alan Didak
FF: Leigh Brown Chris Dawes Andrew Krakouer
Foll: Darren Jolly Scott Pendlebury Luke Ball
I/C: Jarryd Blair Sharrod Wellingham Dayne Beams Ben Johnson
*Possible changes to team selected in round 15
IN: Alan Didak, Ben Johnson, Dayne Beams
OUT: Luke Rounds, Simon Buckley, Alex Fasolo
The Hawks are in pretty good shape leading into Friday night’s match after sustaining no serious injuries against the Swans. All eyes will once again be on superstar Lance Franklin’s ability to recover from a bout of gastro. All reports suggest his knee has pulled up well after Friday night, but some are speculating that his gastro may have been a front for a visible limp that would have been on show at the All Australian awards, which he did not attend, on Monday night.
The only other concerns for the Hawks are Paul Puopolo and Ben Stratton from the weekend. Puopolo suffered a hamstring cramp in the final term, while Stratton was substituted after playing in only his second AFL game since dislocating his knee in round 3.
Cult figure Luke Breust and exciting midfielder Shane Savage are in line for a recall if there is any change at the Hawks.
B: Thomas Murphy Josh Gibson Brent Guerra
HB: Grant Birchall Ben Stratton Shaun Burgoyne
C: Jordan Lewis Sam Mitchell Isaac Smith
HF: Cyril Rioli Lance Franklin Paul Puopolo
FF: Brendan Whitecross David Hale Michael Osborne
Foll: Max Bailey Brad Sewell Luke Hodge
I/C: Chance Bateman, Liam Shiels, Matt Suckling, Ryan Schoenmakers
*Possible changes to team selected in round 15
IN: Cyril Rioli, Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell, Ryan Schoenmakers, Ben Stratton
OUT: Jordan Lisle, Kyle Cheney, Clinton Young, Luke Breust, Shane Savage
Possible key match-ups
Travis Cloke v Josh Gibson: The All Australian centre half forward looms as the key to the Magpies’ chances on Friday night. With the Hawthorn tall defensive stock widely viewed as their Achilles heel, the Pies champ needs to make the most of his opportunities against the under-sized Gibson. Cloke enjoyed 16 possessions, 12 marks and booted 3.3 last time they met, and will be looking to replicate that on Friday.
Chris Dawes v Ryan Schoenmakers: Hawks’ defender Ryan Schoenmakers would be buoyed by his effort against the Swans. But one thing that is certain, he will not get the help from Gibson he received last week.
Alan Didak v Brent Guerra: While the mercurial Magpies’ half forward hasn’t been at his scintillating best this season, he has copped a hard tag every week. Expect it to happen again on Friday night. Guerra could be the man.
Lance Franklin v Chris Tarrant/Ben Reid: Expect both Tarrant and Reid to spend time on the Hawthorn superstar, although Tarrant will get first crack. The Pies’ full back did a stellar job last time they met, but as was discussed earlier, the slow ball movement forward really limited Buddy’s chance to have an influence.
David Hale v Ben Reid/Chris Tarrant: Like Franklin, Hale can expect to share the company of both Tarrant and Reid at various stages of the night. Reid will most likely line up on the Hawks’ second ruckman at the first bounce. Reid was one of the Pies’ best last time they met, so Hale will need to ensure he gets in dangerous positions to avoid Reid zoning off and being third man up with Tarrant and Franklin.
Cyril Rioli v Alan Toovey: Rioli didn’t play against the Pies in round 15, but he will most certainly be a factor on Friday night. Toovey has played on him in the past and done a good job, but he will need to be at his defensive best to limit Rioli’s influence because he is one of those players who only needs five touches to change the game.
In the middle: Sam Mitchell v Luke Ball, Luke Hodge v Sharrod Wellingham, Dane Swan v Jordan Lewis, Scott Pendlebury v Brad Sewell, Dale Thomas v Isaac Smith.
It all starts in the middle for the Pies, with Jolly expected to have the wood over max Bailey. Jolly has been under scrutiny in recent weeks, with some suggesting he is carrying a knee injury, which has limited his output on game day. He put those critics to bed against the Eagles though, with a brilliant display against Nic Nat and Dean Cox. Jolly helped the Magpies midfield to 53 clearances, a staggering 22 more than the Eagles. He had 23 hitouts for the match, with 10 going to a teammates’ advantage (43.5 per cent). Jolly will need to replicate that performance on Friday night to give Swan, Pendlebury and Ball the opportunity to break clear from the middle, and give Cloke and Dawes a chance to exploit the Hawks’ defence
Quick ball movement is the key to the Pies’ game plan, and isolating Cloke and Gibson, and Dawes and Schoenmakers/Stratton will put the Pies in the box seat. Expect Mick Malthouse and his team to isolate Schoenmakers’ opponent close to goal. We saw the Pies employ this tactic to great effect on Queen’s Birthday against Melbourne. On this day, Malthouse and his forwards targeted Jared Rivers to great effect. Cloke booted 6 goals that day, 5 of which were kicked on Rivers before he was moved onto Dawes. Dawes was then isolated close to goal and had an immediate impact.
In defence, the Pies will be keen to have their skipper, Maxwell zone off his opponent and sit in front of Buddy Franklin. The focus for the Pies and Malthouse though, will be restricting the ability of the Hawks to isolate Buddy and Tarrant. This will come down to the Pies’ forward pressure, forcing the Hawks’ to kick long to a contest, and forcing a turnover before the ball enters the forward 50. The Pies are masters at marking opposition kicks, and Reid was the standout with 11 in round 15.
With the Magpies likely to have the advantage in the ruck, the likes of Mitchell, Sewell and Hodge will need to ensure that they get their fair share of clearances, by sharking Jolly’s hitouts. If the Hawks can gain the ascendency, particularly in the centre clearances, then that will result in quick, one on one contests in their forward 50. Coach Alistair Clarkson would be delighted to see the ball heading quickly to a one out contests between Buddy and Tarrant.
In round 15, the Hawks trialled their precise, short kicking game against the Pies but failed. The issue was, that the movement from player to player was too small. If the Hawks can get this right, and kick their way through the Pies’ zone quickly, it will lead to an isolation of the Magpies’ back six.
The Hawks’ backline will be severely undersized against the Magpies big men, Cloke, Dawes and Leigh Brown. Clarkson would have learnt a lot from their match against the Cats though, who have a similar forward set up, with three tall forwards. His defenders would have learnt some valuable lessons too. The question is though, will they be good enough to stop them. Well, that rests with the pressure on the Pies’ midfielders who will be delivering the ball lace out to their forwards if the Hawks’ pressure isn’t up to scratch. Clarko’s cluster won the Hawks a premiership in 2008, if they get it right on Friday night, it may well just give them a crack at another.
A grand final berth will not be delivered on a platter to the winner on Friday night. Both teams will be as committed as ever, after all, a chance at a premiership is on the line. The game will be won in the midfield, with pressure the key to either team’s ability to isolate their opposition’s backline.
Will it be Dawes Open for back to back or Buddy Beautiful?
Crowd prediction: 88,763
Written By: Kate Salemme