Hawthorn’s forward-line nightmare to be too much for battered Crows

Hawthorn v Adelaide

WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Saturday September 22, 5.15pm

LAST TIME: Hawthorn 21.14 (140) d Adelaide 12.12 (84), round three, 2012 at the MCG

THE LOWDOWN

Adelaide may have proven their credentials to the football world with a hard fought semi-final victory against the Fremantle Dockers last weekend, but they face their toughest task yet as they come up against the Hawks in this weekend’s preliminary final.

Hawthorn are getting to the stage of nearly being unbackable favourites with the bookies, with reports of $100,000 bets and rapidly shortening odds on the premiership coming in. But down at Waverley they aren’t so sure, talking up Adelaide’s chances and pointing to their NAB Cup form, dangerous midfield and twin tower forward line as points of concern.

Are the Hawks just trying to throw off the football world? Yesterday it was reported that Hawthorn have already been making Grand Final preparations in parts of Melbourne, sending out letters warning of roads closing. Even Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson admits they’ll need some luck.

They’re a really good side and we acknowledge their best is almost hard to get near. We’ll do everything we possibly can to be at our best. Hopefully our best is good enough, but we’ll certainly need Hawthorn not to play at their best.

However, the stage is set with some interesting parallels to the Crow’s 1997 and 1998 premiership nears, in which they headed into preliminary finals against the Western Bulldogs as huge underdogs. Assistant Coach Mark Bickley says in this case, their underdog status is even greater, but if there’s one thing finals football tends to prove it’s that history has a funny way of coming back and rearing its head.

THE MIDFIELD

On to the game itself, it does seem wrong to say that Adelaide are without a chance to take down the Hawks. Although they were thumped by Hawthorn in their only home and away meeting this year, they recorded 17 wins for the year and their tough semi-final victory will no doubt have steeled their resolve.

It’s imperative for the Crows that they don’t continue their poor starts in their first two finals – letting Sydney and Fremantle get the jump on them made things much more difficult than they should have been.

Both teams do possess powerful midfields, but the Crows’ x-factors in Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane present a powerful headache. Alistair Clarkson is more a fan of the head to head midfield match-ups than putting on a hard tag, but he would surely have to consider sending young Liam Shiel to one of these two to restrict their influence. If Dangerfield especially could get off the leash, his ruthless attack on the ball and line-breaking ability is a dangerous factor.

Sam Mitchell and Scott Thompson are the midfield generals and both know what they’re in for come game time. They’re veteran campaigners; hard-nosed in and under types who can accumulate, get clearances and carry their team if things go right for them. Mitchell was stiff to miss out on All-Australian selection, but, as is his style, is highly unlikely to be at all fazed by the omission.

The other important midfield battle, the ruck, rests on the shoulders of another unfortunate to miss out on the All-Australian team, Sam Jacobs. He about broke even with Hawthorn ruckman David Hale in their last meeting, but over the season has proven himself to be easily his superior. He will no doubt win the hit-outs, but will need to shove the ball down the throat of his midfield brigade to give them first use at getting them forward.

THE FORWARDS

Coincidentally, the respective forward lines (and the corresponding defences) of both teams are no doubt the most important match-up in this battle. This is where the game will be won and lost.

The Crows situation is interesting. Last time against the Hawks Taylor Walker was well held by Josh Gibson, who punished them on the rebound. However Walker is in scintillating form and willed his team over the line against Fremantle – there’s no doubt Gibson’s job will be far tougher and more important this time. Walker desperately needs fellow big target Kurt Tippett to stand up, and against relatively inexperienced defender Ryan Schoenmakers is the perfect time to do so.

Tippett has been woeful in the first two finals for the Crows, but he looked incredibly threatening when they played the Hawks earlier this year. He booted 3 goals which could have been upwards of 6 if he converted better, and took some powerful contested marks. Question marks have been raised about his attack on the contest after recent concussion woes, but there are no excuses for Tippett here. He needs to shape up and throw his weight around against a smaller and less experienced opponent.

The Crows small and medium brigade is a strong one too. Despite not setting the world alight in the first two finals, Ian Callinan and Graham Johncock have both proved livewires when they’re on song. They’re ably assisted by Jason Porplyzia, who had a strong game against Fremantle and provides a proper third target for the Crows going forward. Their midfield are known goal-kickers as well.

THE PROBLEM

Adelaide faces a worry familiar to all teams that face the Hawks though, their all-star forward line. Facing the Hawthorn attack is like facing the Miami Heat – with so many stars and so much talent, who do you go to? Lance Franklin is their LeBron James and if he is let off the leash will absolutely wreak havoc. The Crows have been cruelled by injuries to key defenders this finals series, first losing Rising Star winner Daniel Talia to an arm injury and last weekend losing Sam Shaw. They will most likely back in veteran defender Ben Rutten to do the job as he was fantastic at shutting out Fremantle’s Matthew Pavlich, but coach Sanderson needs to be ready to make the switch as soon as danger presents, as Franklin’s mobility could easily catch Rutten off-guard and leave him hanging.

Andy Otten has been brought in for Shaw. He nearly won the Rising Star himself in 2009, but has battled form woes since. Expect him to line-up on Jarryd Roughead, and David Hale when Roughead goes into the ruck for short periods. This match up is one that is obviously more suited for Rutten, and Sanderson will have to make the switch here as well if the signs are ominous. It’s really a case of putting Rutten wherever the biggest trouble is.

This still leaves the Hawks smaller brigade though, and they often tear the opposition up, even if ‘Buddy’ and Roughead aren’t firing. Cyril Rioli, Paul Puopolo, Jack Gunston, Luke Bruest, Isaac Smith…rattling off each of these names in succession would send a shiver down an opposition coaches’ spines. Alone they would be dangerous enough.

PREDICTION

If Talia and Shaw were playing you could almost back in Adelaide to hold Hawthorn’s talls, but without them it’s a nightmare. They will need to play every minute of the four quarters, apply constant pressure and hope Hawthorn are off their game. With Hawthorn having the week off and Adelaide coming off a rough final, it’s a tough, tough ask.

Sadly for Crows’ fans, Adelaide’s 2012 will come to an end on Saturday, barring some kind of miracle performance. Expect Adelaide to be tough, but also expect Hawthorn to win their 14th game in 15 matches and advance to the Grand Final.

Hawthorn by 33.

TEAMS

Hawthorn

B: Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson, Benjamin Stratton
HB: Matt Suckling, Ryan Schoenmakers, Shaun Burgoyne
C: Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell, Xavier Ellis
HF: Jack Gunston, Lance Franklin, Isaac Smith
F: Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Breust
Foll: David Hale, Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell
I/C: Clinton Young, Liam Shiels, Shane Savage, Paul Puopolo
Emg: Max Bailey, Thomas Murphy, Kyle Cheney

In: Jordan Lewis, Clinton Young
Out: Brendan Whitecross (Knee), Thomas Murphy

Adelaide

B: Luke Thompson, Ben Rutten, Michael Doughty
HB: Brodie Smith, Andy Otten, Brent Reilly
C: David Mackay, Scott Thompson, Bernie Vince
HF: Rory Sloane, Taylor Walker, Jared Petrenko
F: Ian Callinan, Kurt Tippett, Jason Porplyzia
Foll: Sam Jacobs, Patrick Dangerfield, Nathan van Berlo
I/C: Richard Douglas, Graham Johncock, Ricky Henderson, Matthew Wright
Emg: Brodie Martin, Aidan Riley, Josh Jenkins

In: Andy Otten
Out: Sam Shaw (Hamstring)

 

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