A surging Melbourne squares off against a Hawthorn team licking its wounds after their run-in with Richmond. The Demons appear to be on the crest of a wave after qualifying for the Semi-Final on the back of defeating four top eight teams in succession. While the Hawks needed to cash in their double chance to remain alive, their form prior to the Richmond game was outstanding having won their previous six matches.
It has been a year of hoodoo breaking for the Demons and it will need to be the case again if they are to proceed to a Prelim Final. It has been all one way traffic in the head to head between these two team for the last decade with the Hawks winning 15 of the last 16 contests.
After their defeat to Richmond, the Hawks now must overcome the Dees to avoid a fourth consecutive finals defeat and a straight-sets exit from September for the second time in three seasons. On face value, history would appear to give them comfort with the Hawks only suffering the ignominy of it once before and a top four side losing the qualifying final just six times in the 36 Semi-Finals contested under the current finals system. On the flip side, four of those occasions are in the last eight semi-finals with the Hawks one of the unlucky teams.
A clear(ance) advantage?
Powered by their dominant All-Australian Ruckman Max Gawn getting first touch on the ball, Melbourne is the leading team in the competition for centre clearances and second for total clearances. With Hawthorn ranked 13th and 7th in both areas it would appear that Melbourne should enjoy a sizeable advantage when the two sides meet. It didn’t prove to be true in Round Four, with the Hawks winning the centre clearance battle by four and the overall clearances by a whopping 18!
It will be an interesting tactical battle between the two sides given the differing styles they bring to the match. The Hawks are more methodical in their ball use, kicking the ball much more than the Demons who have the fourth highest percentage of handballs to kicks in the competition. As a direct result of this, the Hawks have a much higher percentage of marks per disposal, ranked sixth in the competition, where the Demons greater desire to run the ball is seen in their ranking of 18th in this category.
Yet when it comes to going forward, the Demons are much more direct than their opponents. Second for Inside 50’s per possession, first for Marks per Inside 50, and fourth for goals per Inside 50 indicates a precision from Simon Goodwin’s men once they get within scoring range. The Hawks are by no means imprecise but fourth, sixth and sixth pales in comparison.
Melbourne surprised quite a few pundits with the ease with which they took to finals football after their long absence. The Dees were simply unstoppable against the Cats but can they bring the same intensity again after the emotional release of victory.
Hawthorn was unable to deal with the forward pressure of Richmond and their composed ball retention approach collapsed. Will it prove a valuable ‘sighter’ for them ahead of a Melbourne team who also is maniacal in their pressured approach?
Big Boy McEvoy hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from a fractured cheekbone against the Saints in Round 22. Named in Hawthorn’s best in two of his three games back, his battle with Max Gawn could prove pivotal. Melbourne has used Gawn as an intercept mark across half back which could McEvoy’s contested mark and goal kicking abilities called upon to stymie this.
Melbourne jumped at the opportunity to bring Lewis into their club when the veteran was encouraged to explore his options by former coach Alastair Clarkson. His invaluable big-game experience highly coveted by the Demons as they looked to harden their developing list. He has not yet tasted victory against his old team since trading brown and gold for blue and red which sets the scene perfectly for him to do so for the first time in a cut-throat final.
Herald Sun: Hawthorn 2, Melbourne 28.
The Age: Hawthorn 1, Melbourne 11.
The Pinch Hitters: Hawthorn 4, Melbourne 4.
Betting: Hawthorn $3.05, Melbourne $1.40.
While it is a mistake made most years when comparing the relative form lines of the two teams competing in Semi Final week but Melbourne appear on the brink of a wave as they prepare to take on the Hawks on Friday night. Their quick ball movement and frenetic pressure looks likely to propel them past a Hawthorn team who have lost a pair of key players in the lead in to the match. Melbourne will win by 17 points.
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