Two premiership favourites go head to head tonight in a tantalising preliminary final replay between Hawthorn and Collingwood. We’ll have live scores and updates from 7.30pm AEDT.
The last time these teams met, Hawthorn’s 2011 campaign came to a heartbreaking end in a classic final.
Collingwood came from 17 points behind at three quarter time to steal victory by three points and book a date with Geelong in the Grand Final.
Now, they meet again.
The Hawks are favourites this time around, thanks in part to the Pies carrying a slightly different look about them. Nathan Buckley is in charge and there have been some notable personnel changes.
But both teams remain highly rated, and the Hawks went 0-5 against the Pies and Cats last year has been a talking point.
Stopping Travis Cloke will be one of the keys for Hawthorn going into this game. Cloke and Chris Dawes combined for six goals in that preliminary final last year, and it will be up to Josh Gibson and Ryan Schoenmakers to contain them again.
The big news in the midfield was Hawk Luke Hodge’s non-selection, out with injury. This is where the balance may swing back to the Pies.
Dane Swan had a quiet preseason, but you suspect it’ll take him about five minutes to silence any doubts over that. With Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas and an in-form Luke Ball, the Pies should win plenty of the footy.
In the ruck, all eyes will be on ex-Brisbane player Broc McCauley, who comes in to replace the injured Max Bailey. Last year he was the No. 4 ruck at the Lions. Now he’s the No. 1 ruck at the premiership favourites. Is this a recipe for disaster?
Lance Franklin has kicked four bags of five goals or more in the nine times he has played Collingwood. With no Chris Tarrant or Nathan Brown, he’s a chance to add another game to that list.
The favouritism may have slowly turned against the Pies over the summer, but to be fair to them, both sides have significant absentees. Stephen Gilham is yet to return to bolster the key defender stocks, Bailey is out and, of course, Hodge is out.
This is looking like a far more even battle than some are predicting.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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Hawthorn v Collingwood
MCG, Friday 30 March, 7:50 EDT