With the 2019 AFL draft in the rearview mirror and club lists finalised for 2020, we decided – despite overwhelming popular opinion – that it’s not at all too early to start speculating about the season ahead.
Boy, it’s tough to summon a lot of enthusiasm for this one.
On paper, these sides are pretty evenly matched. The Hawks are 8-10 with a percentage of 100, The Roos 7-11 with a percentage of 96.
Technically, both sides are still a chance to play finals, but it’s unlikely 11 wins will be enough even if North win out, and the Hawks have away games against the Giants and Eagles to come, so it’s hard to see them getting to 12 wins.
Thankfully, there is something to celebrate tonight, as future Hall of Famer Shaun Burgoyne sets a new high mark for AFL/VFL games played by an Indigenous player when he runs out for the 373rd time.
You would have got long odds on that when he left Port Adelaide with a couple of questionable knees; tonight will be his 216th game for the Hawks after 157 with the Power.
Few players would have had more fun than “Silk” who has played in 248 wins, which is more than all but two AFL/VFL players – Michael Tuck and Kevin Bartlett. He would have enjoyed the four flags as well.
On the other side of the field, the Kangas will break through the banner with the fresh knowledge that the man in the coaches’ box is in it the long haul, after Rhyce Shaw was yesterday announced as the team’s full-time coach on a three-year deal that runs through the 2022 season.
North Melbourne are 4-4 since Shaw took the reins from Brad Scott, and the club’s decision-makers weren’t put off by the team’s current three-game losing streak.
It’s a streak they’ll be eager to snap tonight, and returning to help them do so are Kayne Turner and veteran Scott Thompson, who missed just one game with a ruptured testicle (insert sound of me retching here). Shaun Atley is out hurt and Jed Anderson has been somewhat surprisingly dropped.
Hawthorn have made just one change after losing to the Lions in Launceston, with Jonathan Ceglar omitted and Tim O’Brien coming in for his 13th game of the season.
These sides last met in Round 3 at the MCG, where the Hawks overcame a slow start to run out 16-point winners.
Luke Breust starred with five goals and Jaeger O’Meara had 32 touches, a dozen tackles, ten clearances, seven inside-50s and – ahem – a career-worst 11 clangers.
Shaun Higgins was the Roos’ best with 36 disposals, nine inside-50s and a goal, and Ben Cunnington did what Ben Cunnington does with 33 touches, 23 contested possessions and ten clearances.
Ben Brown was held to just seven touches and one goal, though the last time these sides played at Docklands, he snagged four.
How Brown goes could well be the determining factor tonight in an evenly matched contest.
Hawthorn star James Sicily will be critical in Hawthorn’s bid to shut down Brown. If he can plug the hole in front of the big forward, there aren’t many players who read the play better and he’s also an excellent ball user. Sicily was a beacon on an otherwise bleak night when the Hawks last appeared on the Friday night stage a month ago against Collingwood.
North should have an advantage at stoppages with Cunnington’s prowess at the coal face the main factor, but neither of these sides are particularly strong in that area – North are 15th for clearance differential at -2.6 a game and the Hawks 18th at -6.8.
Both sides are middle of the road for inside-50 differential – Hawthorn seventh, the Kangas ninth.
When it comes to converting their entries into goals, North Melbourne are sixth in the league at 23.3 per cent, while Hawthorn are 14th at 21 per cent.
Defensively, those rankings flip somewhat, with Hawthorn tenth, conceding a goal from 21.8 per cent of their opponents’ entries – the league average is 22.3 per cent – and North are much looser, giving up a goal on 26.6 per cent of entries, which is 15th.
Here’s hoping with the pressure somewhat off, these sides can deliver a decent game of footy; there are enough good players out there for that to happen.
I’m tipping North Melbourne to snuff out Hawthorn’s finals hopes with a two-goal win.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?