In the biggest matchup in the first week of the finals, can Hawthorn bounce back from some questionable form over the past month, or will Geelong find a way to win through to a home Preliminary Final. AFL writer Nick Francis gives his analysis in his Geelong vs Hawthorn AFL Predictions.
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Even after 23 rounds of footy, it’s still very difficult to assess where these two teams are at. While they finished second and third, some questions still need to be asked about their credentials for the premiership.
Starting with Geelong, their form has been pretty strong in recent weeks, but taking a look at their opposition, you can see why they finished with a very strong percentage. Easy wins over Melbourne, Brisbane and Essendon were mixed with hard fought wins against great opponents in Adelaide and the Bulldogs. Their sizeable loss to Sydney and tight wins over Fremantle and Richmond however throws doubt into what their week-to-week form will show.
For Hawthorn, it’s a bit the same. Their game has been strong enough for top four (only just), but their percentage indicates they are far from the team we are used to seeing. They’ve had an array of close matches, winning three consecutive matches by just three points early in the season, two nine point wins against North Melbourne and finishing off the season with a one point victory over Collingwood. While they’re in the top four, they’re struggling to finish off the season.
Head to Head this Year
Round 1: MCG – Geelong by 30
In the opening round of the season it was Geelong who withstood a second half surge from Hawthorn to run away eventual winners by 30 points. After dominating the opening half the Cats let in five goals in a disappointing third term, but piled on seven of their own to close out the match. The Cats were clearly dominant in this match, hurting the Hawks in clearances, inside 50s and contested possessions. While they fell slightly short in disposals, their kick to handball ratio was far superior than Hawthorn’s giving them more efficient movement forward, giving them a total of 16 marks inside 50 to just six.
Individually, it was the Patrick Dangerfield show who starred in his debut for his new club. With 43 disposals, seven clearances and five tackles he ran rings around the Hawthorn midfield that has since shown they may be a little down on previous seasons. Of the Hawthorn side, only Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell had strong games for their midfield, while Grant Birchall was instrumental off the half-back line with 26 disposals.
Patrick Dangerfield vs Luke Hodge
Patrick Dangerfield’s form against Hawthorn is somewhat legendary, transitioning across from fine form in Adelaide colours to wreaking havoc for the Cats. He is a big game player and a must lock down for Hawthorn if they’re to have a chance of getting on top in the midfield. Based on what we’ve seen this year they’ll struggle, but finals footy should bring out the best once again in the men in brown and gold. While Hodge won’t play a tight role on Danger, it’s likely they’ll come up against each quite a lot at stoppages. These stoppages will be crucial to each team’s success, so keep an eye on these two and their impact in close quarters.
Sam Mitchell vs Scott Selwood/Cam Guthrie
Hawthorn simply doesn’t play as well when Sam Mitchell is restricted, so expect a run with role for either Scott Selwood or Cam Guthrie. Hamstring tightness kept Selwood out of their Round 23 clash against Melbourne, but taking this opportunity to freshen him up should have him well prepared for one of the biggest jobs in footy. Cam Guthrie is the other logical option, but expect him to only be used if Selwood doesn’t have the desired impact. Guthrie is far more valuable as a complete player versus Selwood, so coach Chris Scott would rather him play more damaging roles around the field.
Tom Hawkins vs James Frawley
With 52 goals for the season Tom Hawkins is clearly one of the premier forwards in the game. Getting three or more goals from him in a match is a clear sign the ball is being delivered efficiently into the forward line. Hawthorn’s defence has slipped considerably from 2015 to 2016, giving up over 80 points a game (7th in AFL) compared to just 71 last season (1st in AFL). With this in mind, you would think Hawkins will get his opportunities on Friday night, so it will be up to James Frawley to play a strong individual match on him.
Where the Match will be Won
As with most heavyweight encounters, ascendency in the middle will drive a team to victory. We’ve mentioned the big names in Dangerfield, Hodge and Mitchell, but it will likely be how the group functions as a unit that determines who gets the most opportunities. Looking at both teams, you would favour Hawthorn for elite mids – proper elite midfielders. The trio of Hodge, Mitchell and Jordan Lewis trumps that of Dangerfield, Jimmy Bartel and Joel Selwood. While out of the lot, Dangerfield has the most upside, keeping all three of the Hawthorn midfielders down will be difficult. For depth, you would have to favour Hawthorn as well with the ability to rotate Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Paul Puopolo through against the likes of Cam Guthrie, Josh Caddy and Mitch Duncan.
Can Hawthorn prove everyone wrong again?
It isn’t new to be looking to write off a great team, but it has certainly come harder at Hawthorn this year. The fact their percentage is hovering below 120 and they are giving up over 10 points a game more than they did last season are hard starts to ignore though. This has all the hallmarks of the Geelong side from 2014 who came in to the finals with a percentage of 113.8, winning close matches based on experience in tight situations. Come crunch time in the finals however, they were outshone my far harder and more complete teams and went out in straight sets. Can Hawthorn, like they have time and time again, bring their vintage style of game that saw them win their match against Sydney earlier in the year?
The more and more you read into Hawthorn’s season it looks as if they are going to struggle this finals series. You can mark down only two victories they’ve had against elite sides this season – Adelaide in Round 5 by 3 points and Sydney in Round 17 by 5. While losses are part of a season-long campaign, the way in which they’ve performed this season indicates they will struggle facing elite sides in consecutive weeks. In saying that however, Geelong has had confusing losses this season as well, but overall, their form has held far truer in the second half of the season
Geelong by 23