The form – Hawthorn
The Hawks are well placed heading into the blockbuster Easter Monday clash after thumping a spirited and physical Gold Coast by 99 points last Saturday night.
The performances of the last two weeks would have pleased Coach Alastair Clarkson as the Hawks move closer to putting together a solid four-quarter performance, which they arguably achieved against the Suns.
The midfielders and forwards are in good form as are the defenders who have been undersized in the opening month of football.
The form – GeelongAlso unbeaten in 2014, the Cats are in red-hot form after defeating an undermanned West Coast last Saturday night.
Arguably though, the only side of note the Cats have beaten so far is Collingwood in a close one in Round 3, given the Eagles had a number of first choice players missing.
Their other wins have come against Adelaide, who went winless until Round 3 and Brisbane who are currently on the bottom of the ladder.
Tom Hawkins put in a match-winning performance against the Pies, however, and Joel Selwood was best on ground against the Eagles. Steve Johnson is already in scintillating form, so their stars are in good form, as are their youngsters.
Recent historyThe Hawks finally snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Cats in last year’s Preliminary Final but it took an almighty effort to come from three goals down midway through the final term. The final winning margin was five points.
The slim margin fit with previous margins between the two teams, which includes six matches decided by less than a goal (including the prelim) and four by 10 points or under.
The only anomalies came in Round 5, 2011 when the Cats beat the Hawks by 19 points and in the Qualifying Final of the same year, when the Cats won by 31 points.
Hawthorn’s goal spreadSince the 2008 Grand Final, the Hawks have struggled to break down Geelong’s defence and score heavily despite being the best offensive team in the competition.
That trend continued in last year’s Preliminary Final, when the Hawks had 22 more inside 50s but kicked just 14 goals from 64 entries. Geelong actually kicked 15 goals and lost the game.
Alastair Clarkson will be hoping his spread of goal kickers, which includes forwards, midfielders and defenders will break through the Geelong wall on Easter Monday.
The Hawks have had 10 or more individual goal kickers in each of their opening four matches, with a season-high 12 on Saturday night against the Suns.
Jack Gunston, Jarryd Roughead and Luke Breust have all kicked bags of goals at least once in the opening four games, and Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Matt Suckling have been regular contributors to the tally to start the year.
With no reliance on one player to kick the goals and with a tough and close encounter expected on Monday, the game could be won by the side who has the better spread of goal kickers.
If the Hawks can again get contributions from Smith and Suckling, along with Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell, Bradley Hill and Paul Puopolo who have all kicked five or more goals to start the season, the Hawks could be in the box seat.
Midfield v midfieldIt seems almost every time Hawthorn meet Geelong, it is the Cats midfield that does the most damage and it’s led by their skipper, Joel Selwood.
Selwood leads the way for his teammates, particularly youngsters like Mitch Duncan, Cameron Guthrie and Jordan Murdoch who are maturing into great AFL players.
But so far this season, it’s still the wise heads like Selwood, Johnson, Matthew Stokes and James Kelly who are leading the way and ranked 1, 2, 3 and 4 for disposals at the club.
Interestingly, the Cats have struggled in overall clearances so far this season, and are ranked 17th overall in the competition, above only Melbourne but ranked better for centre clearances, ranked ninth in the league.
Hawthorn on the other hand have been one of the best clearance teams in the league this season, ranked fourth for overall clearances and fourth for centre clearances.
Jordan Lewis has been the clearances specialist so far this season, ranked number one at the club with 5.7 per game, followed by Will Langford (4.7), Liam Shiels (4.5) and Shaun Burgoyne (3.7).
For Geelong, Selwood is the clearances king with an average of 8.5 per game, followed by Johnson (4.0), Stokes (3.0) and Guthrie (2.7).
Those Geelong numbers suggest that if Selwood’s influence at stoppages is nullified, the Hawks have, statistically more dangerous players around the ball.
The Hawkins factorAfter making a slow start to the season following a year marred by a back injury, Hawkins has been the clear focal point and match-winner for Geelong in their last two games.
After kicking just three goals in the opening two matches, Hawkins booted four, including three in the tight last quarter against Collingwood to lead his team to victory and booted another three goals against the Eagles last week.
His form is a concern for the Hawks, whose undersized defence has so far been able to manage well without Brian Lake, Ben Stratton and Ryan Schoenmakers.
But Hawkins is a different beat and has been a match-winner against the brown and gold in the past, kicking 17 goals in 10 matches against them and again looms as the most dangerous forward on the ground on Easter Monday.
A team effort, with Josh Gibson zoning off and being third-man up along with pressure on the ball carrier from the midfield will be required to stop the big Cat.