Friday, 7th September
A full MCG beckons for the opening match of the 2012 AFL final series as a classic contest looms between Collingwood and the outright premiership favourites Hawthorn in the first Qualifying Final.
The Hawks have confirmed their season-long flag favouritism with a hard-fought win over Sydney and by taking the points at Patersons over West Coast in the last two rounds to finish minor premiers with one of the highest percentages ever recorded. Hawthorn go into the game having defeated Collingwood twice in the regular season, by 22 points in round one, and 47 points in round 17.
Coming into the game, The Hawks have only lost one game since their shock loss to Richmond in round nine – the after the siren-classic against Geelong in round 19. Collingwood had close fought wins against St Kilda and Sydney before consecutively losing to North Melbourne and the West Coast, yet are coming off a wasteful 34 – 22 scoring shot, 32 point win over the Bombers in the last round which secured their fourth position.
The Pies players have talked all week about the absence of any expectation, and how this finals series they are the “hunters, not the hunted”. Coach Nathan Buckley has dismissed talk of form and is only concerned on what happens on the field on Friday night.
The main selection-table and tactical query over the Pies is their ruck set up. Against the Bombers, Chris Dawes was left out of the team and captain Nick Maxwell was used as the second ruckman. Darren Jolly wrote in reference to the tactic in his column:
“It worked for us last week and I see no reason that it cannot work for us in the finals. I know I will be asked to shoulder a lot of the burden but I relish a heavy workload. I think what last week showed was that we have the flexibility and depth among our players to be able to adapt.”
David Hale competed well with the standout ruck pairing in the comp in Dean Cox and Nic Natanui , managing a dozen taps and proving dangerous around the ground, with three shots at goal while resting up forward, and with support from back up Jaryd Roughead, who won three hitouts and took seven marks last week, the Hawks will be looking to exploit their advantage while Jolly is resting.
Both defences have a potential game-breaking forward to contend with, yet both are still finding their way back to their best. Buddy Franklin has had two patchy games, with long stretches without touching the footy, but he still showed his undoubted capacity to tear a game apart with bursts of four goals against the Swans and the Eagles. Travis Cloke was held goalless against the Eagles, yet was ominously impressive against the Bombers, taking 16 marks and kicking five majors from nine scoring shots. Ryan Schoenmakers has had the measure of the Pies big man in the past two encounters and will be expected to line up on him again on Friday. The Pies backline is settled and in good form according to Allan Toovey who said “We’re probably playing the best we have all year as a back six” after the Pies win over the Bombers.
Last time these two teams met, it was Jordan Lewis and Luke Breust proving most damaging up forward for the Hawks, with five goals apiece, though more crucially, Lewis also kept Heath Shaw accountable and ensured most of his possessions were deep in the backline to remove his dangerous rebounding potential. Dayne Beams kicked five for his side in the same clash, and is averaging more than 30 disposals a game in recent times, and had great stats in games against the Hawks.
The two teams are very evenly matched statistically in a number of vital areas, the Hawks slightly on top in clearances (41 – 38), inside 50s (59 – 53), tackles (67 – 64) and disposal efficiency (75 – 73) – an area where both sides will need to exert pressure around the ground to counteract forward entries from the respective midfield talent on both sides.
Hawthorn have been consistently performing all season, and in the past two weeks have removed any doubt over their ability to win close, tight games, and will be seeking revenge from their three point 2011 Preliminary Final defeat at the hands of the Pies. A classic midfield encounter looms, yet you think the Hawks will just have too much forward firepower, than the Pies, who have less avenues to goal if Cloke is again subdued by Shoenmakers.