Adam-Simpson

Out-Hawthorning Hawthorn

This was the moment West Coast became premiership favourites.

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After Hawthorn scramble forward, West Coast find the ball out the back of the contest via Xavier Ellis. Ellis has two apparent options – a short kick to a teammate with some space (furthest left) or a short handball to a player closer to him. Whichever way, Ellis has a two on one out there to utilise, and both are calling for it. Which option does he choose?

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The third one. Manoeuvring around his opponent, Ellis – with excellent vision – is able to quickly spot Mark Hutchings free in the centre, no Hawthorn defender ready to defend him and acres of space in the middle. Hutchings – and Jack Darling beside him – utilise this numbers advantage to play on and move the ball further forward.

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Hutchings stabs it to Mark LeCras, who roosts it to an uncontested Josh Kennedy inside 50, who himself could have chipped it further forward to Jamie Cripps. Kennedy neglects this, instead choosing to take the set shot. He converts truly, giving the Eagles a 25-point lead.

Is it any surprise the former Hawk, coached by the former Hawk, hits a potentially dangerous kick into a risky part of the ground and creates a goal as Hawthorn would? Perhaps not. But this was the second quarter, the game-defining one in a nutshell. West Coast was physical around the ball, bullying and bashing the Hawks into forcing contests and turnovers, and being lethal by hand and foot and finding space going forward when they had it. They kicked 5.4 (34) to the Hawks’ solitary behind. It was beautiful, lethal, destructive footy at its finest.

Speed and precision in transition

How often over the last few years have we seen a long kick inside 50 pounced on by Josh Gibson, or clunked by Brian Lake, or spoiled out of bounds by Ben Stratton? It was seldom seen against the Eagles.

West Coast’s ability to not only pressure the Hawks into a turnover but capitalise on it with such skill, speed and ruthlessness caught the Hawks completely out of position. Frequently in the second quarter West Coast was able to find multiple players in acres of space in the forward half. You wouldn’t be blamed if you thought the Hawks were playing three short down back – West Coast moved so well going forward it often looked like it.

Josh Kennedy, whose brutish efforts in the forward line took him to a convincing Coleman Medal this season, found his goals slightly differently. There was no need to rely on him to wrestle away a defender and take a contested mark inside 50 – instead he looked to find space for himself and open up the forward line. His three disposals in the second quarter were all marks inside 50, all uncontested, and all goals. But for an outstanding Brian Lake spoil, he may have had a fourth.

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Kennedy’s first came from a quick switch from Jeremy McGovern and Brad Sheppard – this originated from the back flank on the opposite side of the ground, and only took two kicks and eight seconds to reach Josh Hill. It took guts and it worked.

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Hill has a teammate presenting on the forward flank, but that wasn’t how West Coast wanted to play. The pass to Jamie Cripps at centre half forward couldn’t have been better, and this daring ball movement allowed Kennedy to exploit an unsettled Hawthorn backline, mark on the lead and kick truly.

Short of playing 18 men in defensive 50, how can anyone defend that?

Worried out of it

Conversely, Hawthorn’s inability to find the space or composure to move the ball forward disappeared. The Hawks by far and away have the best ball movement by foot in the competition on their day with the decision making to match, and their ability to back themselves and hit dangerous targets is uncanny. The Eagles shut this down, harassing the Hawks out of any opportunity to do so.

Look no further than the passage of play on the wing with five minutes left in the second quarter. Luke Breust under pressure misses a handball to Paul Puopolo, and the ball becomes hotly contested. Puopolo is still closest to it and pivots around, but with Ellis chasing him, he slips over. Enter Luke Shuey.

Shuey beats Will Langford to the loose ball, nudging him out of the way. He shrugs off Jarryd Roughead, avoids Shaun Burgoyne, prevents a James Frawley tackle and releases Josh Hill with a handball. It was a microcosm of the state of both teams: Hawthorn rattled and unusually clumsy, West Coast aggressive, defiant and skilful.

Goodbye supply

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Pictures can tell a thousand words, but in the case of Hawthorn’s second quarter heat map, perhaps that understates things. The Hawks, so well known for being able to find players in dangerous positions, rarely did. They had just 18 forward half possessions, only two of which were inside 50 (the Eagles had 47 and 12 for the quarter respectively), and the rest was concentrated towards the back flanks and wings rather than the corridor.

See two important ball movers for the Hawks – Isaac Smith and Brad Hill. Smith, hampered by knee soreness, didn’t have his standard 70-metre plays all night, and on a night in which the Hawks frequently stopped and started his running and kicking would have been crucial. Hill found the ball in ineffectual positions and often made them worse with hacked kicks forward, and his dash went missing too. They are certainly not alone – only Rioli and Mitchell can truly hold their heads high – and were affected by limited supply from the middle, but it shows a real vulnerability in the Hawthorn line-up if they can be stopped.

Votes:

3: Luke Shuey (WCE)
2: Mark Hutchings (WCE)
1: Nic Naitanui (WCE)