Grand Final Rematch

Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/Phil Hillyard
Sydney won a thriller over the Hawks in last year's decider. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/Phil Hillyard
Last Five Matches

Round 7, 2013 – Hawthorn 119 d Sydney 82 at MCG
Grand Final, 2012 – Sydney 91 d Hawthorn 81 at MCG
Round 22, 2012 – Hawthorn 102 d Sydney 95 at SCG
Round 5, 2012 – Sydney 106 d Hawthorn 69 at Aurora Stadium
Semi Final, 2011 – Hawthorn 122 d Sydney 86 at MCG


Form

     Rd 18       Rd 19       Rd 20       Rd 21       Rd 22   
Sydney    W  W  L  W  L
Hawthorn    W  L  W  W  W

Hawthorn again showed at the weekend why it is the flag favourite, but also why there are a few question marks over whether this group will finish with anything more than the 2008 premiership to show for its dominance in recent seasons. North Melbourne threw plenty at the Hawks, and was two goals up at half-time, but the brown and gold turned on the after burners in the third term to sneak in front, with the ladder leaders eventually winning by 14 points . North’s pace and quick ball movement troubled the Hawks in the opening stanza, in a similar way to how Geelong dismantled Hawthorn in both wins this season.

Last season Sydney entered the finals with losses to Collingwood, Geelong and Hawthorn. If the Swans go down to the Hawks on Friday night, the same thing will have occurred, although it didn’t seem to bother the premiers much during their successful 2012 finals campaign. The Cats were way too good for Sydney last weekend winning by 44 points . Their pressure early on overwhelmed the Swans, who are more accustomed to harassing opponents themselves.

After suffering injuries early against the Cats, Rhyce Shaw and Daniel Hannebery are both out of the side. Retiring forward Jude Bolton comes back in after a week out while youngsters Brandon Jack and Harry Cunningham return. Ankle injuries have sidelined Cyril Rioli and Liam Shiels while Brent Guerra is out with a back problem. Regulars Jordan Lewis and Paul Puopolo come back in to the 22.


Key Men

(Swans) Ryan O’Keefe – He won the Norm Smith Medal as best-on-ground in last year’s grand final win over the Hawks, which capped a stellar finals series, but Ryan O’Keefe isn’t coming in to this September with any great form under his belt. The last four weeks he has averaged just 15 possessions per game, including a horror night against the Cats where he picked up just nine touches. Sydney’s midfield runs deep, but at 32 years of age, you have to wonder how much an endurance athlete like O’Keefe has left to give, even when he’s not getting the attention the likes of Kieren Jack and Daniel Hannebery are.

(Hawks) Brian Lake – He’s not quite playing at the same level as he was a couple of seasons back, but Brian Lake remains one of the AFL’s best all-around defenders. His ability to pick the ball off coming in to the forward line is excellent, and with Luke Hodge’s A-grade positional play coupled with Josh Gibson’s spoiling ability, you would back the Hawks’ backline to be able to withstand most challenges in the AFL.


Prediction

This is a tough one to pick, given the match will probably have little bearing on the make-up of the top four. If Hawthorn wins, Sydney will finish fourth and the teams will meet at the MCG in the first week of the finals. Even if the Swans win, it would take a thumping victory to knock Fremantle out of third place. While not as dominant as Geelong has been against Hawthorn, the Bloods have had the edge over the Hawks in recent seasons winning five of the last eight clashes between the teams, including the biggest one of all in last year’s decider. Alastair Clarkson’s side has prevailed the past two times the teams have met at the SCG, but this match is at ANZ Stadium. The sides have met there once, with Sydney prevailing by 38 points back in 2009. The Swans seem more comfortable on the wider confines of their regular home with a 4-6 record in their last 10 starts at Homebush, excluding matches against GWS. Hawthorn by 12 points .

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