Freo Fighting For First Flag

Picture: Getty Images/adelaidenow.com.au
Matthew Pavlich is playing in his first grand final. Image courtesy of adelaidenow.com.au/Getty Images
Last Five Meetings

Round 4, 2013 – Hawthorn 118 d Fremantle 76 at Aurora Stadium
Round 8, 2012 – Hawthorn 119 d Fremantle 63 at Aurora Stadium
Round 19, 2011 – Hawthorn 95 d Fremantle 44 at Patersons Stadium
Round 11, 2011 – Hawthorn 111 d Fremantle 89 at MCG
Elimination Final, 2010 – Fremantle 94 d Hawthorn 64 at Patersons Stadium


Form

At the end of the third quarter in Friday night’s preliminary final, it looked as though the Kennett Curse was going to continue with Geelong 20 points ahead of Hawthorn . The reality was the Hawks probably had the better of the contest for the majority of it, and they finally started making an impact on the scoreboard in the final term. Despite kicking 4.8 in the last period, it was enough for the Hawks to stumble over the line and end the Cats’ recent domination.

Fremantle had a much easier time of it against Sydney as Ross Lyon’s team put in one of the most forceful performances in a preliminary final for some time. It took the Swans almost the entire second quarter to gain a possession inside their attacking 50. The game was almost over at half-time as Freo built a 39-point lead, and only after they switched off in the final term was Sydney able to bring some respectability to the scoreline with the home side running out a 25-point victor.

Hawthorn has selected Jonathan Simpkin to replace the injured Brendan Whitecross. Simpkin was best-on-ground in the VFL grand final with Box Hill last weekend, but he hasn’t played an AFL game since round 20. Luke McPharlin , Michael Johnson and Chris Mayne have been cleared to play after missing training during the week.


Key Men

(Dockers) Aaron Sandilands – He has played just nine games this season but an elongated injury-enforced rest could be just what Aaron Sandilands needs come grand final time. The biggest big man in the AFL has been outstanding in ruck in the finals wins over Geelong and Sydney. The Dockers won the clearances 42-34 against Sydney and 43-22 versus the Cats, although it has to be remembered the Cats tend to commit less players at stoppages. Regardless, his tap work more often than not gives his big-bodied midfielders first use of the ball. Sandilands and partner-in-crime Zac Clarke offer more flexibility compared to Hawks duo David Hale and Max Bailey .

(Hawks) Sam Mitchell – After playing across half-back for much of the latter half of the season, Sam Mitchell has been back in the thick of it in the middle at the business end of the year. He was simply superb against Geelong racking up 38 touches. Only once in his last five finals matches has Mitchell been kept under 29 possessions, and that was in last year’s decider when Sydney restricted him to 24 disposals; is it any coincidence that is the only finals match the Hawks have lost in that period? He marginally won the match-up with Dockers nuisance Ryan Crowley in round four picking up 25 touches in a lopsided contest, although there are plenty of players the Freo tagger might pick up on Saturday.


Prediction

In similar contrast to last season’s grand final, the decider features the AFL’s best attacking team against the league’s best defensive outfit. The teams have met twice since Ross Lyon took over in the west and Hawthorn has won easily on both occasions; 56 points was the margin in 2012 and this season it was a 42-point victory. Both of those games were played in Launceston at Aurora Stadium, a venue where the Hawks are almost unbeatable, and one which is a long, long way away from Perth. It must be remembered, too, that Matthew Pavlich , Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin – Fremantle’s three key bigs – weren’t playing in the round four clash this year.

Using Geelong as a form line, Fremantle probably claim to have put in the stronger performance after knocking off the Cats by 15 points in the qualifying final three weeks back at Simonds Stadium. Hawthorn stormed home to win an absolute thriller against Geelong last Friday night by five points , but the margin should have been greater with the Hawks’ errant kicking allowing the Cats to kick away.

Hawthorn has won eight of its 11 starts at the MCG this season, with the three losses the only defeats of a stunning season. Those losses came against Geelong (twice) and Richmond. The Dockers also went down to the Tigers at the home of football, but in their only other appearance there they thrashed Melbourne by 95 points in round two.

The Hawks haven’t lost to a Ross Lyon-coached side since 2009, although they drew with the Saints in 2010. Only twice this season have teams kicked 100 points against Freo; once came in the final round shambles against St Kilda, while the Hawks passed the ton in round four. Both teams have improved markedly since then and Sydney showed last season Hawthorn’s famed foot skills can falter when put under enormous pressure. The Hawks have scored 100-plus in six straight matches against some top quality teams, while Hawthorn is the only top eight team to score over 85 points against the Dockers all season. Hawthorn by 12 points


Norm Smith Medal

In the last four weeks the quartet of Kieren Jack, Steve Johnson, Travis Boak and Nathan Jones has managed just 40 possessions in 337 minutes of football with Ryan Crowley shadowing their every move. While he’s unlikely to win the Norm Smith Medal, he’s likely to have a big say in who does come up trumps. You would expect him to go straight to Sam Mitchell , but Crowley tends to match up on outside midfielders and players who push their teams in to the forward 50. Best advice is to stay away from any player Crowley is going to match up on.

The vast majority of medal winners, much like the Brownlow, are inside midfielders who are under the umpires’ noses throughout the contest. Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge were both quiet against Geelong but brilliant against Sydney the previous week, in a match which is probably more similar in style to what will be seen on grand final day. Hodge won the medal back in 2008 and his positional work across half-back is second to none. He collected the three votes in Brownlow counting on four occasions this season. Sewell would have almost been a lock for the Norm Smith in last year’s decider after 33 touches, had either of his late snaps gone through for a goal.

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