Friday, 31st August
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Another Friday night thriller looms as the Hawks hope to clinch the minor premiership and the Eagles look to cement a top four finish.
This battle of the birds sees two sides hitting ominous form at the right end of the season; the Hawks beating Sydney, and taking their position atop the AFL ladder in a classic at the SCG and the Eagles comprehensively beating Collingwood to bump them from fourth.
Hawthorn had been flag fancies all year, and are absolutely clear-cut favourites after their grinding win in Sydney, coming back from a 38-point deficit and maintaining composure to come out on top in a close finish. The Hawks also have Luke Hodge returning to his best form, Buddy ominously kicking four goals after a scratchy first half and six weeks out of footy, and Cyril Rioli set to return this week.
Sean Burgoyne has been standing up when needed, amassing the most contested possessions, equal best clearances and slotting a vital goal when the pressure was at boiling point. Midfield hard-nuts Jordan Lewis and Brad Sewell amassed 25 contested possessions and 12 clearances between them against the Swans and Sam Mitchell was able to recover from a hard tag to end up with 17 possessions.
West Coast welcomed back Josh Kennedy against the Pies, and in combination with Jack Darling and the resting rucks Dean Cox and Nic Nataniu up forward give the Eagles formidable marking power. Swans coach John Longmire attempted to go tall against the height-lacking Hawks back six with some degree of success, and John Worsfold also has an option in Quentin Lynch if he chooses that path.
The Eagles midfield enjoyed a dominant performance against Collingwood, winning the clearances 48 – 23, with Daniel Kerr starring with 36 disposals including a dozen clearances and 21 contested possessions.
Hawthorn lost to the Eagles by five in round four this season at Subiaco, yet won their last clash at the MCG by 57 in 2008. Overall the Eagles have a great record against the Hawks, winning 24 of their 39 clashes including three of the last four.
The ruck dual will be crucial to the outcome of the contest, with both side’s midfield firing. Cox and Natanui haven’t been beaten for hitouts at any point this season when playing together, and with the Eagles finally getting on top of the clearance counts to take full advantage of the tap dominance, the centre is where this contest will be won.
Max Bailey may well be in the mix for a return for his height an advantage against Cox, yet lacking the mobility of Natanui.
Both teams have returning star forwards better with a run under their belt, Buddy’s four goals a more impressive return than Kennedy’s one goal and eight disposals.
The Eagles had 14 separate goal-kickers in their win over the Pies, while the return of Riloi and the freeing of Roughhead from the ruck as well as big-game Buddy getting back into form should just get the Hawks over the line.
The Eagles will fancy their chances against the Hawks; their ruck dominance will again need to translate to quality use by their midfield to quell the Hawks influence inside. Both teams are in red hot form and a classic contest looms, but the Hawks will have taken great confidence and belief from their win against Sydney and should prove just too good at home.
Hawthorn by 9