You have to go all the way back to 2009 for the last time both the Swans and the Hawks missed finals action, but one decade on it’s looking like we’re heading that way again.
It’s hardly shocking. The Swans have been quietly rebuilding the core of their list for a few seasons now and have regularly put out one of the youngest and least-experienced sides this season – though that has changed slightly in the past month or so, as, unsurprisingly, has their level of competitiveness.
The Hawks have had no such rebuild. Despite the narrative being pushed by some high-profile commentators, Alastair Clarkson consistently fields one of the league’s oldest and most experienced teams.
That’s by design. Hawthorn have traded off a heap draft picks in recent years for proven talent. Unfortunately for them, two of those proven talents – Tom Mitchell and Chad Wingard – have played little or no part in this season.
Despite losing veteran skipper Ben Stratton to suspension, the Hawks have managed to get older and more experienced with the return of 281-gamer Jarryd Roughead. They’ve also brought in Harry Morrison at the expense of James Cousins.
Hawthorn will field a dozen 100-game players tonight compared with seven for the Swans. Their average games played of 131.4 is more than 40 more than Sydney’s 89.8 – that’s a massive difference.
Sydney have made three changes. Zak Jones, Will Hayward and co-captain Josh Kennedy come into the side for the injured Jarrad McVeigh, and dropped pair Jackson Thurlow and Tom McCartin.
Hawthorn will be hoping Roughead can help them create some semblance of competence in their forward line after a dreadful showing against the Bombers in which they wasted entry after entry into their attacking 50.
The Hawks actually had five more inside-50s than Essendon and they can probably expect to win that stat again tonight.
On the year, Hawthorn are a pretty poor 13th for inside-50 differential, with 12 fewer entries than their opponents – a pretty insignificant one a game.
Sydney, however, have let their opponents pump the ball inside-50 152 more times this season, which is the worst differential in the competition.
The good news for the Swans is they’re pretty good at restricting opponents when the ball does come in (they’d want to be with that differential!), conceding a goal on 20.5 per cent of opponent entries, which is fifth-best.
At 22 per cent, the Hawks (eighth) are right around the league average of 22.3 per cent when it comes to turning their own inside-50s into goals.
The Swans are somewhat surprisingly ranked 16th for clearance differential this season. Though they’re no longer the powerful inside midfield brigade they once were.
Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker are still quality if unspectacular players and George Hewett tries his guts out but will probably never be a star.
Isaac Heeney is a star, but I’m not convinced he’s improved since last season. That’s not a reason to panic – he was already damn good and is still just 23 – but I thought he’d be a bit better by now.
They should get the better of the stoppage battle against Jaeger O’Meara, Liam Shiels and James Worpel – the Hawks are 18th for clearance differential.
But this game seems like one that will be won outside the contest. Can the Hawks’ trio of line-breakers – Isaac Smith, Tom Scully and the red-hot Ricky Henderson – have the same impact on the smaller SCG?
Can Sam Reid and Tom Papley continue their strong goalkicking form?
Oh, and there’s a bloke named Lance who is working his way into form after injury hampered his start to the season.
As is usually the case between these sides, this shapes as a battle for who can get the game on their terms.
The Hawks will want to control possession and use their kicking skills to spread the field and hit their forwards in space.
The Swans will want to muck things up, force slow, high kicks from the Hawks and then work into an open forward line where Buddy and Co. can expose their opponents.
The past five matches between these sides have been decided by single digits and tonight shapes as a similarly close contest. Interestingly, the away team has won four of those five games.
Sydney are in better form and have the better inclusions. I think they’ll get it done at home by a couple of goals.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?