The Hawks are September veterans and will head into the grand final as favourites.
We go under the microscope to see what teams needed to do in order to defeat Hawthorn.
Richmond, round 18: Pressure and defence
This match saw a role reversal that was no doubt dissected by every team still in finals contention at that stage of the year. For once, it was Hawthorn who had to deal with unrelenting pressure and difficulty getting their hands on the ball from the opening bounce.
The Tigers beat the Hawks for disposals, clearances and contested possessions, while Hawthorn’s 19 more tackles demonstrated how they were reduced to defending for most of the night.
Alex Rance and Troy Chaplin were superb as ever in defence, too, keeping Roughead, Hale and Breust goalless. Hawthorn managed only seven goals and four goalkickers where usually they push a dozen a game, the depth of talent in their forward half having limited supply and never really looking in control.
The point about defence will be the big issue for Simpson here. The Eagles have struggled to find match-ups for forwards big and small since losing Brown and Mackenzie early in the season, and the space afforded to Waite, Brown and Petrie in the first quarter last week shows they still haven’t figured out how to limit scoring opportunities.
Port Adelaide, round 21: Don’t fear the comeback
Port’s first win against the Hawks this year in round six, saw them pummel the scoreboard in the first half, a lesson in beating the Hawks at their own game by scoring early, quickly and frequently.
But this more recent match at Etihad was arguably even more instructive in beating the Hawks. The Power capitulated in round six, saved from being overrun by the Hawks only by the final siren. This time, after the Hawks cut a 23 point deficit to one in 10 minutes of the third term, the away team responded.
The young stars proved key to the result. Wingard and Robbie Gray lifted as required, but it was the newer names Sam Gray and Brendon Ah Chee that kicked crucial goals late to seal the 23-point win, Ah Chee’s coming minutes after he turned the ball over to Gunston for a goal.
West Coast’s coaching staff will no doubt be emphasising to their younger players like Cripps and McGovern the importance of holding on to self-belief even after errors and when the Eagles, as will surely happen, start to feel overwhelmed by Hawthorn’s might as a team.
West Coast, qualifying final: Gritty over pretty
For the sixth time this year, the Hawks kicked under 100 points, and for the sixth time this year, they lost.
When Simpson revisits this match during the week, as he surely will, he’ll be reassured by the defensive press his midfield put on the Hawks forward 50 early that stifled Hawthorn’s chances to score early.
Though they went into quarter time one point down, the Eagles had by then worn down the Hawks’ confidence in their scoring ability, and it showed in the second quarter when they slammed on five goals to none.
Nic Naitanui and Callum Sinclair’s ruck duo proved too good for the Hawks on this occasion too, winning 59 hit outs to 46, and given Hale and McEvoy also lost the ruck battle to Sandilands last week Simpson will be looking to exploit the Hawks’ inferiority once again.
The challenge for the Eagles will be to replicate their press on the Hawks’ home ground rather than theirs. While Eagles players are putting on a confident veneer for the media, the Eagles hierarchy will secretly be splitting hairs over how to establish a defensive press on a ground 20 metres wider, in front of a crowd far more hostile, than three weeks ago.
Some other observations
- The Eagles scored 10.20 in their preliminary final, the Hawks 15.4. Simpson will want to make sure the likes of Kennedy (2.3) and LeCras (0.3) straighten up before Saturday, as bad kicking against the Hawks will cost you even when they’re off-target aswell.
- Recent history is on Hawthorn’s side for this match. The last team to win a three-peat, Leigh Matthews’ Lions in 2003, also made it to the grand final after losing in the first week, and in winning the cup that year they beat the team they lost to in the qualifying final (Collingwood).