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Match Preview: Hawthorn v Geelong

The opening round of the season is always a big occasion, but when two teams that have as much history as Hawthorn and Geelong face off in the first round of the season, Round 1 just gets even bigger.

Two heavyweights of the last five seasons will face off in an Easter Monday clash of the titans set to draw more than 70,000 people to the MCG.

Hawthorn will be looking to break a nine-game losing streak against the Cats, after coming agonisingly close on both occasions when the two sides met last season.

The Cats have had the wood over the Hawks since the 2008 Grand Final, with their forward line and tough defenders giving them the edge over Hawthorn in the past. If the Cats are to win on Monday, that trend would need to continue, and particularly, the Geelong defence will need to stand up against a potent Hawthorn forward line.

Hawthorn's forward line

In 2012, Hawthorn was the most damaging side forward of centre. At the completion of the home and away season, Hawthorn kicked 2679 points over the course of the year – 251 points more than the second best attacking side, Adelaide. That is an average of 121.7 points per game and with a forward line featuring Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli and Luke Breust, the Hawks could back up their 2012 efforts in 2013.

The Cats defence could rely on its midfielders to give them a chop out on Monday, with midfield pressure arguably the key to limiting one-on-one opportunities forward of centre. 

Geelong's tackling

Unfortunately for the Cats, they’ll be without their number one tackler, James Kelly through suspension.

That won’t much difference though to Chris Scott’s side who were the second best tackling team in the competition last season. The Cats averaged 71 tackles a game last season, just two short of league leaders, Sydney.

The focus on tackling from the Cats looks to be continuing into 2013, with a hallmark of Geelong’s pre-season matches their tackling and ability to out-pressure their opponents. In their final practice match ahead of Round 1, the Cats were able to defeat Collingwood by applying great pressure and forcing the Pies to turn the ball over.

Geelong's forward line

The Cats are equally as dangerous up forward though, and as much as they’ll have to be on their defensive game, so will Hawthorn with the strength of the Cats forward line. Led by Tom Hawkins who booted six goals in the Round 19 clash, the Cats boast a number of goal kicking options including James Podsiadly and veteran, Paul Chapman.

Chapman in particular poses a threat for the Hawks with his ability to push into the midfield and deep forward.

In the Round 19 clash, though, it was Hawkins who proved the match winner for the Cats with his six-goal effort matched against Hawks defender, Ryan Schoenmakers. The undersized defender battled hard against the Cats dynamo but was ultimately outplayed by Hawkins’ bigger and stronger frame.

With that in mind, the Hawks went out and recruited Brian Lake from the Bulldogs with the intention to give the undersized Schoenmakers and Josh Gibson a chop out against the bigger power forwards. If Lake proves his fitness after battling a calf injury in the pre-season, expect to see him stand the Cats power forward.

The midfield battle

With both sides boasting talented forward lines and defensive set ups capable of restricting its opposition’s scoring power, the Easter Monday clash is likely to be decided by the midfield battle.

Both midfields have their hardened edge and when you see names such as Sam Mitchell and Joel Selwood listed on opposing sides, you know the midfield battle will be a fierce one.

The Hawks could look to inject some pace into their midfield set up if Cyril Rioli is declared fit after battling an ankle injury in recent weeks or, if youngster Jed Anderson makes his debut. Isaac Smith too, will prove an important player for Hawthorn if they’re to win with his pace and x-factor.

Similarly, the Cats forgotten midfielder/forward Travis Varcoe is an explosive asset to any side and when a dour struggle between two sides needs to be decided, a player like Varcoe with his pace and finishing skills, could prove a match-winner.

Key players

Hawthorn –

Lance Franklin: Despite a minor hiccup with a calf injury that kept him out of the Indigenous All-Stars match, Franklin has enjoyed an impressive pre-season and shown in the NAB Cup he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2013. He booted five goals against the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium and will again spearhead a powerful Hawthorn forward line.

David Hale: With Geelong ruck pair Hamish McIntosh and Trent West both ruled out of the clash, Hale has emerged as a key player for Hawthorn if he is again entrusted with the number one ruck duties. Hale improved his ruck work last season and given his mobility and ability to impact the game around the ground and kick goals up forward, he could prove an important player on Monday.

Grant Birchall: One of Hawthorn’s biggest strengths is its ability to counterattack from defence through its running half backs and Birchall is the pick of the bunch. With Matt Suckling out for the season with a knee injury, Birchall’s importance to the side intensifies. Birchall is an accomplished player who is always consistent and reliable.

Geelong –

James Podsiadly: With Hawkins obviously the Cats number one forward target, the role of Podsiadly becomes even more important to make himself an option for his midfielders. If he gets in dangerous positions and kicks a goal early, the Hawks defence will need to focus on both he and Hawkins rather than focusing on latter.

Andrew Mackie: Mackie is one of those underrated players who consistently performs his role for the side week in, week out without much fanfare. He is often the link up player heading out of defence for the Cats and in the latter part of the 2012 season, was proving a danger up forward with his ability to hit the scoreboard.

Joel Selwood: It’s an obvious one but the Cats skipper is the heart and soul of the Geelong side and when his intensity and attack on the football is up, he provides the spark for teammates. Much like Jordan Lewis for Hawthorn, Selwood leads from the front and shows the level of commitment required to be successful.