With all the discussion around coaching moves, GWS, player payments and the All-Australian team, everyone seems to have forgotten about the two big games this week! Let’s take a look at what might happen in the AFL Preliminary Finals:
COLLINGWOOD v HAWTHORN @ MCG – FRIDAY 7.45pm
HOW COLLINGWOOD CAN WIN
They need to play the way they have all season, give the hawks midfield no room and let Swan, Pendlebury and Ball do their stuff from the clearances. If they can get on top in the middle and spread it wide to the run of Thomas, Didak, Shaw, Davis and O’Brien, they will pump it inside 50 often enough to exploit the hawk’s defence.
It seems Hawthorn has no choice but to go with Schoenmakers again down back who could really struggle for size on Cloke or Dawes. Stratton hasn’t had much game time and Gibson can get found out against the really big forwards too. Jolly and Brown should push forward throughout the night to really put that lack of height to the test, and see if Max Bailey can go with them. With guys like Krakouer, Sidebottom, Beams, Blair, Wellingham and Didak around goal there are plenty of options when the ball comes to ground.
Defensively they should put time into the two hawk’s leaders in Mitchell and Hodge. Collingwood don’t really use taggers, but constant pressure on those two around the stoppages will stop any drive the hawks hope to get. Down back they should be well equipped to have a third man up when Buddy goes for the ball and clear from defence to set up another attack. Could be worth someone like O’Brien sacrificing his game to ensure Rioli has minimal impact. Without that spark, Hawthorn will find the going tough.
HOW HAWTHORN CAN WIN
The first thing the hawks need to do is put some doubt in Collingwood’s mind. It will be hard to do, but a few goals early and restricting the pies scoring like West Coast did is how they need to start. Aside from the obvious stars in Mitchell, Hodge, Franklin and Rioli, the hawks need big games from Lewis, Sewell and Burgoyne in the middle. I think they need to target Thomas as the one to shut down. If he has a ten disposal first quarter, the game could be over before they know it. Sewell could be the man for that job.
Hawthorn should aim for a four goal to two first quarter, keep the game tight and played on their terms. They can’t allow Collingwood to get a burst of easy goals during the match. Try and isolate the Collingwood defenders. Make O’Brien and Maxwell accountable rather than letting them go third man up. The way the hawk’s second tier players perform could determine the result. They must get goals out of the likes of Hale, Shiels, Whitecross, Smith, Puopolo, Osborne and Bateman. Smart decision making when going forward is crucial. They can’t afford to constantly bomb it long to Buddy… use short options and the crisp kicking skills they’ve been brilliant at all season to spot up these mid-sized targets instead. Suckling could be a good option to kick over the defenders heads and maybe snag a couple of 55 metre goals. Could he be the Stewy Dew of 2008?
Their back six is going to need to stand up. Gibson has to lead from the front and play a game like he did against the swans. In saying that, the defensive pressure of the hawk’s midfield will need to be top class. Hawthorn needs it to be scrappy and negate the running power Collingwood have. If they can maintain their intensity and pressure for four quarters they are a chance.
Dale Thomas: If Thomas gets a lot of the ball spreading to the wings, then the hawks are in trouble. Will be fresh after almost a month off and will try to exploit the lack of speed in the Hawthorn midfield.
Cyril Rioli: Must be dangerous if the hawks are going to be in the contest. They need his pace and defensive pressure to keep the pies on their toes. A couple of inspiring run downs from behind early on could set the tone for an upset win.
Jarryd Blair: Has had a slightly disappointing year after such a great season in 2010. This could be his opportunity to recapture last season’s form and bob up with a few goals up forward. Good option for anyone wanting to bet on the first goal kicker (providing he doesn’t start as the sub!).
Isaac Smith: Very impressive debut season and provides much needed run for the hawks. If he can get into the game early and kick a couple of running goals it could really get his side up and about.
The pies will go in warm favourites, having knocked off Hawthorn twice this year and with a side pretty much at full strength. The hawk’s lack of big defenders is a big concern, as they looked under-sized against the cats two weeks ago. Collingwood seems to have a lot more options going forward and should be able to kick a winning score. I think the hawks will stay in touch for most of the game but Collingwood should be too strong and kick away to a comfortable win.
Pies by 34
GEELONG v WEST COAST @ MCG – SATURDAY 2.20pm
HOW GEELONG CAN WIN
The cats will need to do well at the clearances and use their hard, seasoned bodies to dominate the younger West Coast players. Every game they’ve lost this season has come as a result of poor clearance work. Ottens and West have a huge job to do in the ruck and must give their on-ballers at least a 50/50 crack at winning the ball. They have been good at hurting teams by sneaking forward and need to continue doing that.
Joel Selwood will go in as hard as ever, most likely with one of his brother’s following him around all night. Ling will probably get the job on ball magnet Priddis, and experienced campaigners Bartel, Kelly, Chapman and Corey will rotate through the middle as usual. Varcoe’s run and carry will be important and he needs to make an impact early in the game. Wojcinski can do a similar job off half back. He will be important as they try to cut through the tight press of the eagles.
In defence, Scarlett, Taylor and Lonergan have big jobs to do on a combination of Kennedy, Darling, Lynch, Cox and Naitanui, depending on who is up forward. They will need to watch LeCras and Nicoski closely around goals as they can be very dangerous. Enright will most likely take one of them and Josh Hunt could have a big job on the other.
Hawkins and Podsiadly were great in attack against the hawks and will need to provide a focal point again on Saturday. It could be the smaller guys who get the job done on the forward line though. Johnson, Stokes and Chapman need to hit the scoreboard and create some doubt in their inexperienced opponent’s minds. Mitch Duncan could be the best option as a sub as he can fill a few different roles. Stokes is likely to start on the ground as an extra scoring option without Menzel there this week.
HOW WEST COAST CAN WIN
It’s all going to start in the ruck for the eagles. Cox and Naitanui need to dominate the way they did against Jolly in the first quarter of the first final. Nic Nat’s leap could be a key against Ottens who can give away free kicks when under pressure. The Kerr and Priddis combination needs to get plenty of ball from the centre and control the stoppages all night. It will be a big night for youngsters Shuey, Scott Selwood, Gaff and Masten if he’s selected. I’m tipping Brad Ebert might come in for Masten who has struggled in the two finals to date. This group of kids will need to match Geelong’s hardness at the ball and use it well when they get the chance.
As I mentioned in Geelong’s players to stop, LeCras and Nicoski need to get on the scoreboard for West Coast. Hunt can be exploited one out at times and whoever has Lonergan on them should try and isolate him one out (easier said than done with Scarlett hanging around). I’ve liked McGinnity’s impact late in games and I think he’s done enough to earn a starting spot. The Irishman could set the tone for how the eagles go about attacking the ball.
Glass will need to continue his good form and lead his young group of defenders. With Mackenzie and Schofield, they will need to combine to control the cat’s talls. Shannon Hurn’s kicking will be important and should be used as often as possible with Beau Waters across half back. Glass himself has also provided some good run from defence.
Lynch played a great game against the pies and will need to do a bit of everything to help out where needed. A few goals up forward again would be more than handy! The young eagles must get a good start away from home… Get the jump on Geelong early and use their press to keep the ball at their end of the ground and force the turnovers and hopefully sneak over the line.
Steve Johnson: If he just does the basics right, he could be a crucial weapon for the cats up forward and floating through the midfield. His awareness around goals is amazing, just needs a few metres space on his opponent and he could turn the game.
Andrew Embley: The Norm Smith medalist is one of West Coast’s most important players. Was brilliant when the two sides met earlier in the year. Needs to use his run and carry to hurt the cats and chip in with a goal or two as well.
Mathew Stokes: Without Menzel up forward, Stokes should start on the ground as a goal kicking option. A player that can slip under an opposition team’s guard and could easily sneak a couple of goals if the eagles defenders don’t pay him enough attention.
Jack Darling: The kid played a big role in their last quarter against the blues and could be dangerous leading up to the wings and putting the Geelong defenders under pressure with his big frame. May be overlooked as the third tall and needs to get dangerous in front of goal.
Geelong’s experience and the fact that West Coast have had to travel coming off a punishing match against the blues should see the cats go through to their fourth grand final in five years. West Coast is an exceptional clearance side and will need to get on top there early if they are to win. You’d think they will take it right up to Geelong, but the cats class will shine through in the end.
Cats by 21
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