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Match Preview: Hawthorn v Geelong

The form

Hawthorn
The Hawks overcame a slow start to build some good momentum heading into Friday night’s first final with a 65-point win over Collingwood.

Alastair Clarkson and his team would be feeling positive heading into the clash having beaten the Cats by 23 points in Round 22 and having won 11 of their last 14 games.

Geelong
The Cats bounced back from the loss to Hawthorn with a powerful nine-goal victory over the Lions last Saturday night.

The Cats have won eight of the last nine games so would be feeling confident heading into the game despite just three of those victories coming against sides who made the finals (Fremantle, North Melbourne, Essendon).

 

Recent history

History counts for nothing in finals but for the record, the Hawks have won two of their past three encounters with Geelong.

The 23-point win two weeks ago was the biggest margin separating the two sides since the Cats beat the Hawks in the 2011 Qualifying Final.

 

Geelong’s speed

When the Cats got five goals clear of the Hawks in Round 22, it was on the back of their runners working harder into space and quick ball movement to those players.

Geelong coach Chris Scott has a number of lightening quick players at his disposal, with Steven Motlop the most dangerous.

Motlop (who averages 15.3 uncontested possessions) was tagged by Will Langford in the first half of that game but still managed to get off the chain and kick two goals, while Matthew Stokes was one of his side’s best in the first half with 22 disposals.

Stokes is ranked number one at the Cats for uncontested possessions (17.7), while they’ll regain their second-best uncontested player in Steve Johnson (15.8) for the game.

Mitch Duncan, who was best on ground with 25 disposals and a goal to half time is also one of his side’s best runners, averaging 15.5 uncontested possessions per game.

The key for Hawthorn in stopping the impact of the Cats’ speed is to win the contested footy, something they didn’t do in the first half in Round 22.

The Cats had 100 more disposals to half time on that night, most of which were uncontested because they won it at the coalface then got it out to their runners.

The impact of those players was minimised after half time though as the Hawks evened up the contested footy numbers to 116-124 at the final siren.

 

Operation stop Tom Hawkins

He’s been a thorn in the side of the Hawks for a number of years but the inclusion of Brian Lake has put a stop to that in the last two seasons.

While Hawkins booted three goals against Lake in Round 22, the Norm Smith medallist took the points in that battle thanks to his offensive work in setting up Hawk counterattacks.

But Lake will need to contend with a red-hot Hawkins on Friday night, with the big Cat coming into the game fresh off a seven-goal performance against the Lions.

The issue for Geelong though, is Hawkins is their only reliable scoring target.

While Scott has tried Shane Kersten and Josh Walker as second tall forwards this season, neither have managed to nail down that spot.

Hawkins has booted 62 goals for the season, with the next best Jimmy Bartel (24) and midfielders Mitch Duncan (22), Joel Selwood (21) and Jordan Murdoch (21).

It means the Hawthorn defenders – Lake, Josh Gibson and Ben Stratton - can focus more on the big Cat to come off their man and force two or three on one situations.

Forcing that will be ideal for Alastair Clarkson.

 

Hawk scoring options

In contrast there is no such issue up forward for Hawthorn, blessed with a plethora of dangerous scoring options inside 50.

The most potent forward line in the competition, Jarryd Roughead (62 goals), Luke Breust (53) and Jack Gunston (51) all booted over 50 goals during the home and away rounds.

The potency of that forward line could be the difference in a tight final, particularly against a strong Geelong defence that actually matches up well on the three-pronged Hawk attack.

Harry Taylor will get the match-up on Roughead, while Tom Lonergan will likely stand Gunston. Andrew Mackie could get the Breust match-up and look to run off him at every opportunity.

In another positive for the Hawks though, they get a number of goals from midfielders like Isaac Smith (21 goals) and Jordan Lewis (14).

The Hawks had nine individual goal kickers in the Round 22 meeting between the two sides and if they achieve that spread again, they could be on their way to a Preliminary Final.

 

In the midfield

Geelong’s game is built on pressure, something they lacked the last time they played the Hawks.

Although ranked third in the league for tackles (70.8 average), the Cats had just 45 tackles for the game, well down on their season average.

In contrast, despite being ranked 18th for tackles (61.1 average), the pressure of Hawthorn was one of the reasons behind the victory.

The Cats will undoubtedly come out hungry to hunt the Hawks and look to achieve more than their season average for tackles on the night. Look out for Joel Selwood to lead the way there given he is ranked number one at the Cats for tackles (5.9 average).

They will also regain one of their best tacklers in Steve Johnson (5.4) for the game, while tagger Cameron Guthrie (5.2) is important in that area.

Ultimately though, the game will be won and lost at the coalface and the side that wins the footy in contested situations.

The Hawks are one of the best clearance-winning teams in the competition, ranked first in the league for overall clearances (40.8 average) and second for centre clearances (13.0 average) but the Cats are ranked poorly at 18th (33.4 average) and 15th (11.3) respectively.

Jordan Lewis (5.9 average) has been outstanding this season and will be crucial for the Hawks on Friday night, as will Sam Mitchell (5.2), Will Langford (4.3), Luke Hodge (3.7) and Liam Shiels (3.6) who are the top five Hawks for clearances this year.

The Hawks also outrank the Cats for contested footy, ranked seventh in the league to Geelong’s 10th.