The ultimate 2012 AFL Grand Final preview
Can Kieren Jack and his Swans teammates continue their form in the 2013 season? (AFL Media)
The big one is now just one day away. Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans will both enter the MCG tomorrow afternoon, but only one team will leave as premiers.
Who’s it going to be? Let’s break it down using the same system that predicted last year’s result.
This time, due to popular demand, weighting has been added to the categories to reflect their importance and the size of each club’s advantages.
Factor 1: The form guide (6 points)
In terms of each side’s most recent form, Sydney’s 26-point win over Collingwood last weekend looked decidedly more comfortable than the five-point thriller an inaccurate Hawthorn survived against Adelaide. But form is not built in one weekend.
Even though the Swans’ win two weeks earlier on the road to Adelaide was also a strong performance, the fact Hawthorn have won 17 of their last 19 with an average winning margin of 60 points says quite a lot.
The big tick in Sydney’s favour is that, on points, they’ve had the better of this particular match-up in 2012. Earlier in the year the Swans registered an upset 37-point win at Aurora Stadium. In the last clash between these sides at the SCG in Round 22, the Hawks got home by seven points.
Overall, though, the edge must go to Hawthorn. Last week can be seen as somewhat alarming, but — as was pondered immediately after the game — it can also be seen as exactly what they needed. After nearly letting it all slip, they’ll be taking nothing for granted this week.
And while in the bigger scheme of things it’s only minor, the final swaying factor here has to be the Swans’ record at the MCG. The fixture gave them only one game at the venue this year, a loss to Richmond, and their last 15 games have brought about just one win and a draw.
Advantage: Hawthorn (3.5-2.5)
Factor 2: Match fitness and injuries (6 points)
Both clubs have suffered from losing an important player during the finals series. Ben McGlynn and Brent Guerra were both forced this week to concede their dream of playing in this year’s decider was over.
On the surface, the two injuries cancel each other out and make this one a tie. Certainly, there’s no Darren Jolly or Ben Reid type concerns that have the potential to have a huge say in the outcome.
Having said that, a Herald Sun report this week claimed Luke Hodge, who missed last week due to gastro, will need to be heavily rotated on and off the bench. This is the same Hodge that won a Norm Smith with broken ribs, mind you, but it’s information worth bearing in mind.
Considering the Swans will benefit from an extra day’s break and played in the less physically demanding preliminary final, it all combines to give the Sydneysiders an edge.
Advantage: Sydney (3.5-2.5)
Factor 3: Game plans and coaching (6 points)
In its most simplest form, this is a game of attack versus defence. Hawthorn led the league in scoring with 122 points per game this season. Sydney defended the best, conceding just 74 points per game.
There’s a well-worn line that says offence wins memberships and defence wins premierships, but that doesn’t take into account just how big each side’s competitive advantage is. Hawthorn, for example, haven’t been too shabby in defence this season themselves, ranking third. The Swans, in comparison, ranked fifth for points scored.
Hawthorn’s points tally was also the highest total since Essendon in 2000. Although the expansion sides aided that, and Geelong in 2008 averaged just one point less per game, it’s still historically significant. The same can’t be said of Sydney’s points against column, which has been bettered by at least one team in each of the past three seasons.
Hawthorn will employ their usual game style of using precise ball movement to remain in possession. Sydney will go out playing their usual hard brand of footy, aiming to win the contested ball. Both sides must attempt to quell the influence of the other side in their trademark stats: for the Hawks, it’s disposal efficiency; for the Swans, it’s contested possessions.
There isn’t an obvious gap in the area of coaching. Al Clarkson has been here before as Hawthorn coach and John Longmire was awarded coach of the year this week. They’re both more than ready.
Overall, while you can argue the Swans have greater flexibility and scope to make changes on the day, the Hawks narrowly get the edge here. You just get the sense Hawthorn have a bigger gap behind them in their areas of competitive advantage.
Advantage: Hawthorn (3.5-2.5)
Factor 4: Sydney forwards vs Hawthorn defenders (12 points)
Sydney’s forward line is versatile and the age-old “even spread of goal kickers” is applicable more weeks than not. If we are to narrow it down, the names Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta are likely to come up. Goodes has scored well against the Hawks this year and Jetta’s pace was problematic for Collingwood last week.
That same weekend presented a few queries on the Hawks defence. Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett kicking four goals each has naturally led to criticism of Ryan Schoenmakers, who had the job on the bigger-bodied Tippett. Another shocker from him, it’s been warned, and it’s game over for Hawthorn.
It’s funny, then, that so little has been made about his likely opponent, Sam Reid, who had just four disposals last week. Given Reid packs 13 less kilograms than Tippett, and 17 less than Travis Cloke, it’s hard to see him dominating the match-up like those two have.
With the way Sydney’s forward line operates, though, a two-goal return from players like him and Lewis Roberts-Thomson can be considered a success. You wouldn’t say it’s entirely out of reach, although you wouldn’t put the house on it either.
The test for Hawthorn is containing all the different threats, however minor they appear on the surface. The fact they conceded 106 and 95 points in their two clashes with the Swans this year suggests it will be tougher than some pundits think.
But the lack of a dominant big-bodied forward makes the task so much harder for Sydney. This is a one-way ticket to exploiting Hawthorn — if you think Geelong beating them twice this year was all because of some curse, I suggest you plonk Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly on the scales and then stand them next to any one of the Hawthorn defenders.
If it weren’t for Goodes and the fact he has runs on the board against the Hawks, this would be a very easy match-up to decide. Goodes changes things, but not enough to give his side the edge.
Advantage: Hawthorn (7-5)
Factor 5: Hawthorn forwards vs Sydney defenders (12 points)
This is where the attack versus defence struggle will be at its most public. Buddy Franklin and Cyril Rioli are the obvious threats, but the list of potential game winners does not stop there. Luke Breust and Jack Gunston are goal kickers, while Jarryd Roughead — despite not damaging the scoreboard much lately — booted five goals against the Swans in Round 5.
Attempting to stop them will be the best defence in the league, with All Australian centre half back Ted Richards the man likely to have the big job on Buddy. The last clash between these teams saw Richards concede four goals to Franklin, who was playing his first game in seven weeks.
There’s no question Richards is one of the best key defenders in the land, and perhaps this time the weather conditions — scattered showers with possible hail and thunder — will assist in curbing the Hawthorn star’s influence. At any rate, this match-up has the potential to decide the game.
Some might worry that the Hawks’ inaccuracy in front of goal last week will be repeated. It’s not likely to happen. The prelim was the first time since Round 12 that Hawthorn had more behinds than goals — it was a highly uncharacteristic performance.
While we’ll see a more accurate Hawthorn forward line, they’ll be up against a far more stingy defence than Adelaide’s. Rioli may be the one this reflects on the most.
Cyril’s X-factor got the Hawks over the line last weekend, but the fact is he hasn’t kicked more than two goals in a game since Round 15 against GWS, and the only other occasion he did it was Round 6. He didn’t play in the last game against the Swans but he had just one goal in Round 5.
He’s still capable of a big game, no doubt, but reaching last week’s heights would be a mammoth ask. Overall, the Swans will have a tough afternoon at the office, but the idea Hawthorn’s stars will kill them is far from guaranteed.
Advantage: Sydney (6.5-5.5)
Factor 6: Midfield (12 points)
Here we have Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell, Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne, Jordan Lewis, Clinton Young and Isaac Smith helped out by some very handy attacking defenders, up against Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack, Ryan O’Keefe, Jarrad McVeigh, Dan Hannebery and Jude Bolton with Adam Goodes spending time in the middle too.
Both sides rank top three for clearances, and top four for tackles and inside 50s, so there’s not too much you can read into it from a statistical perspective.
Some might argue that Sydney’s depth and flexibility is superior, but Mitchell and Sewell are in fine form and Hawthorn’s depth isn’t actually that far behind. Needless to say, if one team can claim authority over the midfield battle it will go a long way to winning the game.
The curious sub-plot to all this is Mitchell. His worst two games for the season were his 20-disposal performance against the Swans in Round 5 and his 17-touch game against the Swans in Round 22. Jack was responsible for manning him in these games and, proving it wasn’t an all-out tagging job, he even managed to score a goal in each encounter.
The other sub-plot is the weather and its potential to influences proceedings. The conditions, if wet, could make the Swans’ focus on contested possessions an important factor.
But the brains trust at Hawthorn will be fully aware of all this, and they have enough quality players to counter whatever is thrown at them. The midfield battle will ebb and flow, but picking a winner at this stage is too difficult to say categorically.
Advantage: Even (6-6)
Factor 7: Ruck (3 points)
The last time these teams played, Hawk David Hale led all comers with 33 hitouts. But with Mike Pyke contributing 21 as back-up, the Swans won the count — and Shane Mumford even added two goals.
Recent form also points the way of Sydney. Hale and Jarryd Roughead struggled against a dominant Sam Jacobs, with neither scoring and Adelaide having 12 more hitouts. Meanwhile, the Swans had 10 more hitouts than Collingwood as Mumford went on to contribute a goal, four tackles and 14 disposals.
The strength of the Hale-Roughead combo is that both can go forward and do damage, but lately their influence in this regard has been curbed, and Mumford’s form in the ruck and resting up forward is up there with the best. With Pyke complimenting him as a serviceable back-up, this one goes to Sydney.
Advantage: Sydney (2-1)
The final result
If you add it all up, Hawthorn come out with 29 points and Sydney 28. This suggests it will be a very even contest, with the Swans a serious chance to pinch it, especially if the weather plays into their hands and they can work their way on top in the midfield battle.
Ultimately, though, it appears as though the Hawks have enough going for them to get over the line. It’s unlikely to be a dominant performance, but breaking even in the midfield and getting on top of the Swans’ forwards should prove a solid foundation for their attacking nous.
The tip: Hawthorn by 8 points
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