Crunch time arrives: Sydney vs Hawthorn
Can the Swans take down Hawthorn this week? (Image: Slattery)
The 2012 AFL home and away season is comprised of 198 matches, but no two games will be more important to determining where the premiership ends up this year than a couple being played this Saturday.
And no, Port versus Brisbane and St Kilda against GWS are not the ones I had in mind.
When Hawthorn runs out onto the SCG for their twilight match against Sydney, they’ll have the most at stake of any contender.
A win can basically lock up top spot for them, or at least let them defend it when taking on West Coast at the MCG in the final round.
The Hawks have had a two week holiday against the Power and Suns, but their break’s over.
With Buddy presumably to dispel the three strikes drug rumours doing the rounds in social media and finally return, we’re going to well and truly see if they deserve their premiership favouritism.
Defeat the Swans, and they’ll probably take on Collingwood at the MCG in the first week of finals, a favourable result considering they’ve already twice beaten them convincingly there this year.
If not the Pies, it will be Sydney again, but this time at the MCG, where they’ll start warm-to-hot favourites.
Lose at the SCG this weekend however, and the Hawks will be travelling interstate in week one and, if they lose, may have to again for a preliminary final if they overcome a tricky second opponent, hardly the ideal route for a premiership favourite.
While Hawthorn can’t definitively secure the number one position on the ladder with a victory over Sydney, the Swans actually can if they get the win, courtesy of a percentage that is 24 points higher than what will be their nearest challenger.
What a luxury it would be for them to be able to rest a weary player or two for their round 23 trip to Geelong.
Lewis Jetta is one who springs to mind having lost a bit of spark in recent times, possibly feeling the effects of a dazzling breakout season.
If John Longmire’s men lose on Saturday afternoon, they’ll then have to win down at the Cattery a week later or two things will happen.
The first is that the week one home final, for so long in their grasp, will be gifted to another. The second is that the Sydney doubters will have been justified, the Swans finishing with three losses from the last four rounds, two of which will have been at home. Hardly the form of a worthy contender.
Collingwood can’t finish top two now after their upset loss against a sparkling North Melbourne, combined with the lowest percentage of the top four teams.
Their inconsistency would be troubling Nathan Buckley, but their staggering interstate record keeps them in good stead for a finals series where most will have to hop on a plane at some stage.
Their best chance of winning this year’s flag lies with overcoming West Coast this Saturday night. Doing so will give them the best chance of being the lucky top four finalist that gets to play Adelaide in the first week.
The Crows loss to Brisbane at the Gabba confirmed what most have suspected. Adelaide, while a good, improving side, are holding their lofty position due more to a favourable draw than any legitimate claims as premiership contender.
There’s not one of Hawthorn, Sydney or Collingwood that isn’t hoping to play them for the week off, and there’s not one of them that won’t be getting it, even if they have to travel to AAMI Stadium to do it.
So the Pies may yet have things work out in their favour, but turning their form around against the Eagles at Paterson’s Stadium won’t be easy. If they can’t scrape out a victory, fourth place is the best they can hope for, and a guaranteed Hawthorn or Sydney to come.
Adelaide has Melbourne and Gold Coast in the final two rounds, so we know they’re going to finish on 17 wins. Whether this will secure second or third is dependent on other results.
For the top-four finisher, winning the first final is always of the utmost importance, and this year it will be doubly so.
While the week’s rest is the most obvious benefit after a long and gruelling season, this year will see a bottom four more than capable of making a surge through to preliminary final weekend. None of the contenders wants to face a resurgent Geelong, a talented and disciplined West Coast, a white-hot North Melbourne, or even a Carlton that is back in form with nothing to lose.
All of those sides have beaten one of the top four this year, and the prospect of a team with the double chance going out in straight sets is a very real one.
If you’re a true fan of AFL football, you’ll be parking yourself in front of the TV this Saturday at 4.40pm, and you won’t be moving until six hours later.
By then, the key pieces of the premiership puzzle may just be in place.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.