Saturday, October 23, 2015, 2.30pm AEST, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Watch on Seven Network
Hawthorn Hawks: Third
West Coast Eagles: Second
Hawthorn Hawks: 16-6-0
West Coast Eagles: 16-5-1
Last five games
Hawthorn Hawks: WWLWW
West Coast Eagles: WLWWW
THE AFL season comes to a thrilling close with a grand final clash of two of season 2015’s titans.
The peerless Hawthorn Hawks ($1.60 with CrownBet.com.au) are hunting a historic three peat after winning the last two premierships.
Their hunters the West Coast Eagles ($2.40 with WilliamHill.com.au) are in search of their fourth flag and first since 2006.
It’s an awesome clash between two clubs sporting birds of prey.
The Hawks are on the cusp of becoming perhaps the most dominant team of all time.
They sport a midfield led by the peerless extraction talents of little bull Sam Mitchell and hard nosed veteran Jordan Lewis and featuring a revolving door of supporters from the diminutive Paul Puopulo to the giant Jarryd Roughead.
Roughead, when not having the odd squirt through the midfield, is the centrepiece of a three-pronged attack that features tall small Luke Breust and the club’s leading goal kicker Jack Gunston, who is expected to play despite missing the last two finals with a knee injury that he suffered against the Eagles in their unhappy qualifying final trip to Perth.
The bookends at the other end are a trio of powerhouses in Brian Lake, Josh Gibson and James Frawley.
Lake is a past Norm Smith Medalist and may just be playing his last game of AFL footy. He will be out for blood and will be looking to smother whichever West Coast tall is unfortunate enough to cop the combative ex-Western Bulldog.
The Hawks have seven men – captain courageous Luke Hodge, Mitchell, Roughead, the mercurial Cyril Rioli, Lewis and rebounding half back Grant Birchall – playing for an incredible fourth flag in their career at the one club, while gun utility Shaun Burgoyne could also claim a fourth, after he won his first with Port Adelaide, before crossing to Hawthorn.
It’s a side that has been compared to the invincible Brisbane Lions three peat sides of the early 2000s and one that will be seriously difficult to defeat on a home deck that it rarely loses on.
But, if any one can do it, it is the Eagles, who claimed the scalp of the back to back defending champions in the qualifying final just last month.
Much will rest on 2014 Brownlow Medalist Matt Priddis in the guts, a guy who is coming off a second place finish in this year’s Brownlow to Fremantle superstar Nat Fyfe.
Priddis did not play against the Hawks in week one and he adds another dimension to the Eagles.
He has the hardness of Luke Shuey backing him up, with support on the outside from gun running wingman Andrew Gaff, who has enjoyed a career year.
Up front, the Eagles might be the only team that can match the collective talents of the Hawks. They have the most dangerous forward in the AFL in Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy. At his feet is the French man Mark LeCras, who was the match turner against the Hawks in the qualifier. Throw in the man mountain Jack Darling and little wonder Josh Hill and you have a front line as good as any.
They also have perhaps the most unique back line group ever assembled, led by the young, but super solid Jeremy McGovern, with support from veteran hard man Shannon Hurn and runners Sharrod Wellingham, Brad Sheppard and perhaps the competition’s most improved player Elliott Yeo.
They only have three premiership players, meaning they give up plenty of finals experience against the battle hardened Hawks.
The ruck is a place where the Eagles hold the cards, with Nic Naitanui enjoying aerial supremacy over Hawks’ big men Ben McEvoy and David Hale.
The Hawks midfield has plenty of expertise in roving off opposition ruck men.
But the Eagles, should they get a run on, have the potential to really bust this game open. The Hawks only recognised pace men are Bradley Hill and Isaac Smith, who played injured in the qualifier. Take your pick of the Eagles’ athletes. They all run like whippets and hold a significant pace advantage.
Match result: Hawthorn Hawks win ($1.60 with CrownBet.com.au)
Line: Hawthorn Hawks -8.5 ($1.91 with WilliamHill.com.au)
We think there are two big extraneous factors that could have a huge influence on this game. With temperatures tipped to top 30 degrees, could that hurt the Hawks and favour the Eagles, who train in those sort of temperatures just about every day. Meanwhile, the Eagles have played on the home of footy just once this season, while the Hawks players know every nook and cranny of the MCG as well as their childhood homes.
This is set up to be an intriguing battle. They’ve played each other twice this season, splitting it 50 50, both in Perth. The Hawks know the Eagles best is good enough to beat them if they are off the ball. But, by contrast, the Eagles know they simply cannot match the Hawks’ best and this match could be a fait accompli.
Did the Eagles play their grand final in week one of the finals? They blitzed the Hawks with the type of pressure usually seen coming from the brown and gold and beat them at their own game with efficient kicking and rabid tackling. But then they came out with a first half effort that was less than desirable against a North Melbourne side that made up for what it lacked in talent with a fierce attack on the ball and man.
If that happens against the Hawks, this one will be over real quick. Finals are often won on the performances of the bottom five or six players for each team. Do the Hawks even have a bottom six? Look, we’re not saying the Eagles aren’t without a chance, but Hawthorn has a date with destiny. For all the Eagles’ achievements this season, there weren’t many tipping them to be here on the last day of the season. They have had a marvellous year, but they lack the experience, muscle and know how to perform in a big game like this. Their only chance to win this is to use their pace to out run and out hustle the Hawks. And the big fella Josh Kennedy might have a big say. This one will be tight for the majority, but watch the Hawks turn on the jets at the end and grab themselves a four to five goal win.
First goal scorer tips
Luke Breust ($11 with sportsbet.com.au)
The star forward busted out against Adelaide with six goals after going three weeks without a major. he was woeful against the Eagles in the qualifier and will be keen to atone for that sub par effort. He kicked the Hawks’ second goal of the game in last year’s big game. While he hasn’t been a dominant figure in the Hawks’ grand final wins, he does have the ability to bust a game open and will be one that will have to make the most of early opportunities if the Hawks are to settle. With Roughy likely to be taken by the number one defender and potentially Gunston the second defender, Breust gets the chance to fly under the rader, despite being one of the best small forwards in the game. Expect him to pop up and take any chance to get the ball rolling for the Hawks.
Luke Hodge ($21 with sportsbet)
Seems to be making a habit of kicking the Hawks’ first goal. The veteran has been bobbing up in the forward line and making his opponents pay, booting four goals twice in the past month. He is the Hawks’ barometer and his under rated fitness gives him the ability impact the game all over the park. Tries hard to get forward and make his opponent accountable. If they’re not, he makes them look like fools. Hell, he makes them look like fools even if they are accountable. The guy is talent personified and he is the bloke the Hawks would love to see making a scoreboard impact. Booted two goals against Sydney last year and he thrives on the big stage. The man is very hard to stop.
West Coast Eagles
Josh Kennedy ($8 with sportsbet.com.au)
We seem to pick him every week, but you simply can’t go past the Eagles powerhouse to kick the first goal. The Coleman Medalist is one of the Eagles’ most important players and will probably find himself double teamed at times as the Hawks try to work out a way to stop him. Has had plenty of impact on this finals series, while not going overboard on the scoring. He only has five goals in the two games, but is always a target for the West Coast midfielders. He will play deep early and when West Coast look to play their quick brand of footy to break down the Hawks’ zones you can expect him to be on the end of it. Not at great odds but there is a reason for that: he is a monster and a better chance than any one at West Coast to snag the first.
Marc LeCras ($12 with sportsbet.com.au)
The French man is one of the most under rated players in the competition. How he didn’t make the All Australian side after the year he has had is beyond us. You can’t help but feel if this bloke was in a Victorian side he would be a household name. LeCras greatest talent is his ability to be so elusive around goal. He’s near impossible to play on because of his ability to find space and hit the score board, particularly early on in games. Would be disappointed with his output last week after having four shots on goal and only converting one. This is something he will know he can’t afford to do this week. He pushes deep and loses his opponent like few others playing this weekend. A huge threat if respect isn’t paid.
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