Finals footy five months early

Where and When: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Friday 30 March, 7:50 pm

If this match is half as good as their preliminary final encounter from last year, then tonight’s clash between Hawthorn and Collingwood will be match of the round.

Although both captains are missing – Nick Maxwell through an ankle injury sustained in the NAB Cup and Luke Hodge with bleeding in the calf muscle received yesterday at training – the game’s elite are still on show.

On the other hand, both teams have some fresh blood, with four debutants named for the Pies and a few recruits in for the Hawks.

Whatever happens, one of these two teams will find itself outside the top eight for the first time in at least two years.

Hawthorn

Prior to last year’s two losses to the Pies, the Hawks had won five of the past six between the two teams, with some tense and some huge.

Lance Franklin has generally been the key factor, kicking goals every time he plays Collingwood, and with Ben Reid the only recognised key defender and named to play against him, expect him to kick a few.

Add to that David Hale, who has been in brilliant form up-forward and Jack Gunston as the highly-touted youngster from Adelaide and the Hawks have plenty of avenues to goal.

Stephen Gilham is still on the road to recovery despite playing for Box Hill recently, but Ben Stratton, Josh Gibson, Ryan Schoenmakers and big debutant Jarrad Boumann are all named and there might be some double teaming heading towards Collingwood’s power forwards.

Hawthorn look great, except in the ruck, where 25-year-old former Lions ruckman Broc McCauley is set to take on Darren Jolly, and although he performed well last year, he has a huge task in front of him.

Collingwood

Collingwood aren’t playing their best side – Chris Tarrant, Nick Maxwell, Sharrod Wellingham, Dayne Beams, Ben Johnson and Andrew Krakouer are amongst those missing – but they have some exciting youth to introduce.

Jackson Paine, Peter Yagmoor and Paul Seedsman will debut while Marty Clarke makes his return to the Pies in what is overall an undermanned side. Luke Rounds and Ben Sinclair will also play.

Although Hawthorn’s defence appears tall, Collingwood’s small forwards are down to Alex Fasolo, Jarryd Blair and Peter Yagmoor, and they will have to be big contributors if Cloke and Dawes get heavily manned.

They will also need goals from the midfield, from acting captain Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Dale Thomas, Luke Ball and Steele Sidebottom all needing to hit the scoreboard to take the pressure off the forwards.

Collingwood’s youth in recent history has slid into the side well, but one must wonder if this team is too depleted to top the Hawks.

Players to Watch

Jack Gunston: This is his chance. Gunston was highly rated at Adelaide before requesting a trade to Hawthorn and the young but impressive tall forward has the perfect opportunity in front of him: 90,000 at the MCG under lights, an undermanned defence against a team that has played in the last three grand finals, winning one. He has to seize it.

Jarryd Blair: Likewise for Blair – the most experienced small forward in the side brings the X-factor to the black and white forward line and against a tall defence he’ll need to use his crumbing and roving skills to kick a few goals – he has the capability.

Prediction

Collingwood are young, they have been for the past few years, but one has to wonder how much youth is too much, regardless of how many senior players are missing.

Proven performers on the big stage are still there, but the Hawks have more of them, and will win, but not comfortably by any means.

Hawthorn by nine points

Teams:

Hawthorn

B: Brent Guerra, Josh Gibson, Jarrad Boumann

HB: Grant Birchall, Ryan Schoenmakers, Ben Stratton

C: Isaac Smith, Sam Mitchell, Chance Bateman

HF: Shaun Burgoyne, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli

F: Luke Breust, David Hale, Jack Gunston

R: Broc McCauley, Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis

Inter: Michael Osborne, Shane Savage, Matt Suckling, Brendan Whitecross

Emerg: Cameron Bruce, Xavier Ellis, Jarryd Roughead

New: Jarrad Boumann (Dandenong Stingrays/Western Bulldogs/Box Hill)

Milestones: David Hale – 150 games

Club Debut: Broc McCauley (Brisbane), Jack Gunston (Adelaide)

Collingwood

B: Harry O’Brien, Lachlan Keeffe, Heath Shaw

HB: Alan Toovey, Ben Reid, Tyson Goldsack

C: Dane Swan, Luke Ball, Marty Clarke

HF: Dale Thomas, Jackson Paine, Ben Sinclair

F: Travis Cloke, Chris Dawes, Alex Fasolo

R: Darren Jolly, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom

Inter: Jarryd Blair, Luke Rounds, Peter Yagmoor, Paul Seedsman

Emerg: Dayne Beams, Cameron Wood, Tom Young

New: Jackson Paine (Sandringham Dragons), Peter Yagmoor (Queensland zone selection), Paul Seedsman (Eastern Rangers)

Milestones: Travis Cloke – 150 games

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