Friday, September 11, 2015, 8.20pm AEST, Domain Stadium, Perth, Watch on Seven Network, Fox Footy
West Coast Eagles: Second
Hawthorn Hawks: Third
West Coast Eagles: 16-5-1
Hawthorn Hawks: 16-6-0
Last five matches
West Coast Eagles: LWWLW
Hawthorn Hawks: WWLWW
CAN back-to-back AFL premier Hawthorn make it three in a row?
The Hawks’ first pit stop on their charge to a three peat is Perth, where they will take on the plucky West Coast Eagles in the second qualifying final at Domain Stadium on Friday night.
And there’s a big out.
With pace probably the Hawks only slight weakness, a knee injury to speedy winger Isaac Smith, suffered in the routine 17.11 (113) to 8.8 (56) win over Carlton on the weekend.
If he can’t go, it is a massive blow.
But Hawks general manager of football operations was upbeat about his chances today.
“We’re still not much wiser – really the next couple of days are going to tell the story,” Fagan said.
“If he can get himself moving, he’s a chance to play, but we’ll probably know more by tomorrow night.
“At this stage you’d have to say he’s a 50-50 chance to play, and we’ll just see how the week plays out.”
While he doesn’t have the class of Smith, Billy Hartung certainly has the pace to replace the premiership star and will probably get the gig against the Eagles if the wing man doesn’t come up.
Despite being $2.15 outsiders with WilliamHill.com.au, the bookie’s Tim Ashworth told CupsBetting.com that all of the big money has come in for West Coast.
“The Eagles are holding double the money than their more fancied rivals, Hawthorn, who are $1.72, but we expect this to even out closer to the bounce.”
The Hawks are likely to make three other changes, with under fire captain Luke Hodge – fresh off his drink driving charge – set to return from a two week suspension, as well as the mercurial Cyril Rioli, from illness, and goal machine Luke Breust, after a rest.
Against the Blues, an under strength Hawthorn line up did what it had to do, Sam Mitchell leading the way as always with 24 disposals.
Jordan Lewis had 28, but the Hawks hearts will be warmed by a return to form from out of sorts speedster Bradley Hill, who had 27 disposals and kicked a goal.
Spearheads Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston booted four goals each, but the Hawks also showed a new look up front, with key defender James Frawley lining up in attack and kicking three goals.
He adds another dimension to the forward line and could stretch the Eagles on Friday night.
“What we have been able to explore in the last two weeks in particular, is Frawley being able to play forward or back,” Hawks coach Alistair Clarkson said.
“We’re pleased that flexibility gives us some options in our back end as we’re going to need them. They have a very, very potent forward line.”
Out west, the Eagles have an injury worry of their own, with chirpy running machine Chris Masten suffering injury in West Coast’s demolition job over St Kilda, 18.17 (125) to 4.6 (30).
But the news is looking bright for Masten who, along with defender Will Schofield, is expected to take on the Hawks.
The Eagles’ midfielders fired on all cylinders against the Saints, Andrew Gaff topping the list with 36 disposals, ahead of Matt Priddis’ 35, Dom Sheed’s 33 and Luke Shuey’s 30.
Mark LeCras booted four goals and looms as a danger man for the Hawks, while Nic Naitanui kicked three goals and had 30 hitouts in an athletic performance that will worry the largely earth bound Hawthorn ruckmen, David Hale, Jon Ceglar and Ben McEvoy.
Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy kicked three goals and he is the forward the Hawks will be most afraid of come Friday night.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson says his charges are “here to win a premiership”.
“I think you’ve got to go for it now when you finish second,” Simpson said.
“We’ve been, obviously, trying to manage, I don’t know if it’s expectations, but the way we want to be perceived and what we’re trying throughout the whole year.
“We wanted to start the year by improving. That meant getting into the finals.
“So that was our planning, we didn’t put a ceiling on it and we wanted to continue to develop our list.
“We’re excited about our list and we didn’t make too many changes last year.
“We put a bit of belief in the players and as the season progressed we obviously got some wins and things changed and we finish second on the ladder and now we can have a tilt at it.
The Hawks rarely tag during the regular season, but finals are a different kettle of fish.
With the likes of reigning Brownlow Medallist Priddis, tough inside midfielder Schuey and the dominant Gaff, the Hawks could elect to throw lock down men Will Langford and Liam Shiels at them.
Both players are capable of shutting down premier midfielders, while finding plenty of the footy themselves and, despite being unheralded, loom as key men if the Hawks are to replicate their efforts of a month ago against the Eagles.
In that game the Hawks trailed by four points at three quarter time, but booted five goals to two in the final term to eke out a 14 point win, 13.10 (88) to 11.8 (74).
Bruest had a blinder in that match, kicking three goals and snaring 22 disposals. He will be better for the rest last week and the Eagles will have to be mindful.
The aforementioned Shiels had a ridiculous 17 tackles as the rabid Hawks piled on over 100 for the match. They’ll need that tackling intensity if they’re to stop the likes of Gaff, who had 35 posessions.
Kennedy kicked four for the Eagles, while the Hawks got 36 touches from the in form Mitchell and 30 from fellow old stager Lewis.
Clarkson said the win was “special”.
“They’re special wins when you win interstate and we showed a lot of spirit to come from behind at three-quarter time,” he said.
“They got away to a little bit of a flier and had a three goal margin on us at quarter time.
“We thought we were playing OK but made some horrible errors with the ball and gave them two or three goals on a platter, and really had to work hard from that point in time.”
Match result: Hawthorn Hawks win ($1.73 with CrownBet.com.au)
Line: Hawthorn Hawks -5.5 ($1.92 with CrownBet.com.au)
See, the Eagles have a bit of an issue against real quality teams. It’s no coincidence the Hawks and minor premier Fremantle are the only two teams to knock them off on their home deck this season. And it’s not like their form over the past six weeks of the year has been great. They drew with the lowly Gold Coast Suns and have been beaten twice in the run home. They play a zone defence that relies on their opponents making mistakes – the Hawks just don’t make mistakes. Meanwhile Hawthorn is the most efficient side in the league, has a host of stars who are cherry ripe after having a rest last week and they know how to win finals. We’re backing that finals experience to hold them in good stead and, despite the fact they’ll have to combat Nic Nat in the ruck, we think they still have a more solid side across the board than the upstart Eagles. We’re not saying West Coast can’t win, but every thing needs to go right for them and the Hawks need to be off their game. We can’t remember the last time the Hawks have been off their game in a final and we don’t reckon that’s about to start now. Hawks by three goals.
First goal scorer predictions
West Coast Eagles
Mark LeCras ($10 with sportsbet.com.au)
Has nine goals in the past three weeks with a bag of four against St Kilda, but didn’t kick a goal against the Hawks last time out. He’ll be keen to atone for that lack of performance against one of his side’s stiffest premiership opponents and we’re expecting him to have a big one after rounding into some solid form since their last clash. We reckon LeCras is going to be a handful for whoever goes to him and is a massive chance of slotting the first one.
Josh Hill ($15 with sportsbet.com.au)
Yes, we’ve left the Coleman Medalist Kennedy out, but he’s an obvious one that you must consider at $7.50 with sportsbet.com.au. We’re trying to find a bit more value and, despite the fact Hill hasn’t had his goal kicking boots on over the past six weeks, Hill has been criticised in the past for not producing his best against the best teams. What better opportunity to dispel that myth than turning it on against the Hawks (and kicking the first goal for our followers).
Cyril Rioli ($11 with sportsbet.com.au)
Missed last week with illness but, by all reports, he’s absolutely cherry ripe for this one. One of the best in the business, whether that’s in the midfield or streaming forward. It’s like he has a laser sight when he is in front of the goals and, the fact he is so mercurial, means you can’t leave him out. Just like our West Coast tips, we’ve shied away from the big three (Roughead, $8, Gunston, $9, and Bruest, $11 – the obvious ones) and tried to hunt up a bit more value (even though Cyril is priced the same as the latter – work that one out). But in all honesty, Cyril has kicked the first goal for Hawthorn so many times over the journey that he is always good value in this kind of market.
Bradley Hill ($29 with sportsbet.com.au)
Will it be one Hill or another? Some people thought this kid might be over the Hill after he spent the best part of the last six weeks stinking it up for the Hawks. But a couple of bottom feeding opponents was just what the doctor ordered for Hill, who has kicked a goal in each of the past two weeks and had 30 and 27 possessions against Brisbane and Carlton respectively. This one is tougher, but we reckon the past fortnight has given him the confidence to produce his best against the best and we reckon he’s worth a flyer for the first goal, especially if the Hawks decide to go for all out attack in the early going.
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