All eyes turn to Pattersons Stadium in Perth tonight for the top eight clash between premiership contenders Fremantle and Hawthorn. Join us for live scores and blog from 7:30pm (AEST).
The Dockers, who have been smashed by injury this season, have been turning their fortunes around in the last month courtesy of some good form.
Playing without David Mundy (in his break out year) and three-time All-Australian ruckman Aaron Sandilands the Dockers consolidated their top-eight position with consecutive wins against Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney.
Last week, Freo (seventh with a 9-7 record) went down in one of the greatest Western Derbies ever played. It culminated in arguably the best quarter of football played this season. And it was the Dockers who were finishing with a wet sail.
Down by 22 with only eight minutes to play, Freo got within a point at the end. Famously, Hayden Ballantyne could’ve snatched victory with a goal after the siren.
After going down to Collingwood by 41 points in Round 15, Hawthorn (12-4 in fourth) has flown under the radar.
They dismissed Brisbane in Launceston before using the bye to their best advantage by getting over Melbourne by nine goals last week.
When the Hawks were crushed by the rampant Pies they were missing at least ten players from their best team. When the teams for this game were named on Thursday that injury list had been cut in half.
Stephen Gilham, Brent Renouf, Chance Bateman (who looked certain to return to the side but wasn’t named), Jarryd Roughead, Ben Stratton and Shane Savage (out with a shoulder and replaced by Matt Suckling) were the notable absentees from the strongest team the Hawks were set to field in at least two months.
But last night, news broke during that captain and Norm Smith Medallist Luke Hodge didn’t fly with his teammates and won’t be taking part in the match.
In an even match-up, the loss of Hodge is critical for Alastair Clarkson and his men.
3500 kilometres on the other side of the country, the Dockers were also getting their injury list in order but a physical Derby has put plans of a fit Freo on ice.
Joining Roger Hayden, Anthony Morabito, Mundy and Sandilands on the sidelines are Nick Suban who succumbs to soreness and Luke McPharlin (suspended).
The loss of McPharlin is a devastating blow because the likely solution to the Lance Franklin (196cm and 101 kg) problem is taken away from Mark Harvey.
Instead Alex Silvagni (191cm and 90 kg) will have to forget about his size and take inspiration from his name when he lines up against the Coleman Medal favourite tonight.
Harvey has his own dynamo to call upon: versatile captain Matthew Pavlich. Pav has the ability to play in the midfield and win half a dozen clearances or kick a bag in the forward line.
Where the captain plays tonight will be of great importance.
An interesting talking point heading into tonight’s game will be to see how the Dockers perform on the quick back up (6 days) after the bruising Derby.
In the last two seasons Freo has won the week after a Derby three times out of four. For the record, so have their cross-town rivals West Coast.
These two teams have played in some heated encounters recently. Last year, the Dockers rested about a dozen players in their best 22 when they took on the Hawks just before the finals.
Despite losing by over 100 points, Freo took the final against the Hawks a fortnight later by five goals.
In their earlier encounter this season a depleted Dockers team opened up a match-winning lead against Hawthorn before being steamrolled in the final quarter. The 22-point final margin flattered the Hawks.
This game is so hard to pick but I am going to favour the home side to win tonight. I think Freo will be buoyed by good recent form and the contract extension of Nate Fyfe (who has been compared to James Hird) earlier in the week.
The Hawks are a fantastic team but struggle at the ground (losing their last three there). The loss of Hodge swings me towards Freo.
I’ll nominate a winning margin of seven points for the Purple Haze. I expect it to be close.
LAST TIME: Hawthorn 17.9 (111) d Fremantle 13.11 (89), Rnd 11, 2011, MCG
PAST FIVE: Fremantle 1 Hawthorn 4
RECORD OVERALL: Fremantle 7 Hawthorn 17
AT THIS GROUND: Fremantle 5 Hawthorn 6
SINCE 2000: Fremantle 5 Hawthorn 11
BETTING: Fremantle $2.55 Hawthorn $1.50