Geelong v Fremantle Elimination Final

Image courtesy of the Herald Sun
Tom Hawkins will spearhead Geelong's forward line against Fremantle. Image courtesy of the Herald Sun
Geelong comes in to the finals on the back of not just winning form, but winning form against tough opposition. Victories over top-three outfits Adelaide, Hawthorn and Sydney over the past six weeks have the Cats primed to defend their premiership.

Fremantle has been on its own winning run of late, posting eight wins from its last nine starts. It’s no coincidence that five of those victories, including decisions over West Coast and North Melbourne away from home, were achieved after young star Nathan Fyfe  returned from a long-term shoulder injury. Their only slip up in that period, against Adelaide at AAMI Stadium, came when Fyfe was a late withdrawal after he tripped over a suitcase in his hotel room. The 20-year-old has averaged 26 disposals per game since he came back.

Another common denominator in Freo’s late-season surge is giant ruckman, Aaron Sandilands, who has been the catalyst for the Dockers getting first use of the ball over the past three weeks, where they have averaged 40 clearances per game to their opponents' 31. Across the entire season, the Dockers have averaged one less clearance per game than their opponents, underlining Sandilands’ dominance. The main beneficiary has been David Mundy , who has lifted his clearance rate from 3.8 across the season to 6.7 since Sandilands returned. His disposal rate has also gone from 21.8 over 2012 to 30 per game over the past three weeks. Michael Barlow’s  possession count is also up by four per game across the same period.

Whether Geelong will afford Freo the same amount of space as the Tigers, ‘Roos and Demons is another story. Against Sydney last week, Geelong produced a finals-like performance applying a suffocating 89 tackles. Not only were James Kelly  and Joel Corey  two of their team’s best ball-winners, they also laid 16 and 13 tackles, respectively, to smother the Swans.

But this match is as much about who isn’t playing, as who is. Creative genius Steve Johnson will miss the match due to suspension, but Freo have suffered arguably a bigger blow, with likely All-Australian fullback Luke McPharlin set to miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.

Where it Will be Won - The Dockers were going to have a hard enough job trying to stop the Cats’ two-pronged attack of Tom Hawkins  and James Podsiadly , even with McPharlin’s services, but they’ll now be severely undermanned. Hawkins is coming in to form at the right time of the season. Take out his sub-affected performance due to a concussion against the Eagles, and he has kicked 20 goals in his past four full games.

By the Numbers - It’s likely to be tight early, but open up after halftime. The Dockers score 29% more points in the second half than the first. Geelong isn’t quite as prolific, but the Cats still come home strongly, averaging 5.2 points more in the final quarter than any other term. Geelong holds a 9-2 win-loss advantage over the Dockers since 2006, but Freo has won two of the past four.

Prediction - No matter who is playing, expect fireworks. Geelong gave away six 50-metre penalties in their four-point loss to Freo in Round 1, and Matthew Scarlett clocked Hayden Ballantyne in a fiery encounter. Geelong 25+

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