The 2nd Qualifying Final sees Fremantle travel to Simonds Stadium for a bruising encounter on Saturday afternoon against Geelong. With Fremantle coming off a largely irrelevant performance against St Kilda, they will be hoping for a fresh and inspired outing against one of the flag favourites.
Many key contests will decide this match, so let’s take a look at where this game will be won and lost.
The matchup between Joel Selwood and Ryan Crowley will be an absolute beauty, and probably the most anticipated matchup this weekend. Last time these two met, Crowley kept Selwood to just 13 touches, equating to 38 Dream Team points. I mention this to give you an idea of how brutal this tag was. Since that game, Selwood has averaged 124.4 Dream Team points and dipped below 100 only twice (scores of 98 and 97). Probably second favourite for the Brownlow Medal, stopping Selwood is key to the chances of Fremantle. His ability to singlehandedly get his team over the line in tight matches will be tough to stop, especially when a Preliminary Final spot is on the line, so Crowley is in for a tough assignment. Surely he can’t keep him to 13 disposals this time.
The other tags may chop and change throughout the match, depending on what Fremantle wants to stop. Basically, this match will be Geelong trying to break the Fremantle defensive pressure. Stevie J will be another key Geelong midfielder to stop. Who gets the job on him may depend on if Steven Motlop is having a big game. Nick Suban has taken on similar assignments throughout the year, and given that both Stevie J and Motlop can both push forward Suban may be rotated through both these men. Lee Spurr is the other run-with role and will be used on a variety of opponents throughout the match.
For Geelong, they’ve looked to put the brakes on Stephen Hill with Taylor Hunt keeping him to only 13 disposals last time they met. Every chance this will happen again.
Key Individual Matchups
Matthew Pavlich v Tom Lonergan
A Fremantle win needs a bag of goals from Pavlich. The big unit up forward has strung together four games in an injury and suspension hit season. His return has been a massive boost for the scoring capabilities of the Dockers, with scores over 130 every week since his return – with the exception of the St Kilda game. He has really damaged Geelong in the past, kicking 9 goals in his past 2 games against them, including his best on ground performance in the Elimination Final this time last year. Lonergan usually has no trouble defending the big running power forwards, and given his record against probably the most devastating in Lance Franklin, he’ll look to add another scalp in Matthew Pavlich
Tom Hawkins/James Podsiadly v Zac Dawson/Luke McPharlin
Huge matchups in the Geelong forward line. Surprisingly, Dawson has been the man to take Hawkins in their past encounters, and has kicked only 2 goals in their past two matches. Something has to be working, so why change it? Not as crucial to Geelong’s chances of winning as Pav is to Fremantle’s, but Hawkins needs some confidence heading into a big finals campaign. For the Pods, a matchup against McPharlin is a certainty if the Fremantle defender is fit. If not, Alex Silvagni will get the job. With a big goal kicking midfield, the result of this match will not hinge on the performance of these two Geelong forwards. Given the defensive prowess of the Fremantle team however, and their ability to shut down the Geelong engine room, these two forwards cannot be passengers on Saturday.
Areas to Watch
Freo players coming off the break
After resting 10 players for dead rubber match against St Kilda, how will the Fremantle team respond to such drastic changes? The phrase ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ has been brought up again following their decision to field a B-strength team in a match that turned into a record breaker. Sure, the match had no bearing on the finals, and you don’t want any injuries heading into the finals, something which Freo have been struggling with all year, but this can’t be good for the team heading into a top 4 encounter with Geelong. How players respond after a break is always a bit of a mystery, and with such high stakes (a home Preliminary Final), this was too risky of a move. Structures are altered, recovery and trainings won’t have been the same, but missing out on what could have been a highly contested match in Round 23 was a waste. St Kilda has been a competitive unit in the second half of the year, pushing the Swans in the first half of their most recent match, and getting a good win over the Gold Coast. It wouldn’t have been a push over, but high intensity finals-like footy wouldn’t have been the worst thing for Fremantle
Tom Hawkins’ injury
Many people are calling the fitness of Tom Hawkins and his back the swing point which may be the difference between a premiership or not. Players are all carrying injuries at this time of the year, but with the severity of Hawkins’ injury and the restrictions it is placing on his inside 50 intensity, he may become a liability heading deep into the finals. At times in the Brisbane match on the weekend, it was almost as if he had negative impact. Visibly hurting at many contests, his direct opponent can run off him at ease, as well as being more agile on the ground in trying to clear the ball. Forward pressure and locking the ball inside 50 is crucial in these big finals, and I just wonder if Hawkins is capable of doing this. He has kicked 3 goals since Round 18 and has averaged under 3 marks per game. Just not what Geelong needs right now.
I cannot see a way for Fremantle to get up in this game. Yes they boast the league’s best defence and pride themselves on being able to stop even the most potent of attacking teams, but the Cats just have too much. A classy midfield with so much experience is too much to overcome. With many players surviving from the Premierships in 2007, 2009 and 2011, Geelong knows how to win these games. Joel Selwood is a genuine superstar, and even if he is tagged out of the game, the Cats have Corey, Bartel, Motlop, Kelly, Mackie and Enright to step up. Too much class in a very even team across all areas of the ground
In saying that though, Fremantle takes into the game the knowledge of beating Geelong in a cut throat Elimination Final last year. The Dockers have a much improved defensive game this year, and will keep the scores low and the tackle count high. The big question however is can Freo kick a big enough score to get over Geelong? It’s one thing to put the clamps on an opposition, but kicking a winning score against a high quality team in Geelong will take an incredible performance.
Prediction: Ferocious game, the epitome of what finals should be, but Geelong will be too strong in too many areas. Cats by 15.