Sydney v Hawthorn: this is the battle of the two best teams from season 2012. The Hawks: the minor premiers, an incredible running team, and a powerful forward combination. The Swans: battle-hardened and consistent. Their squad has depth from one end to another. And they’ve caused upsets in the past.
Hawthorn will be bolstered by the return of hard-nosed Captain Luke Hodge, who ruled himself out of the preliminary final win over Adelaide due to illness. The midfield drive of Hodge, Sam Mitchell, superstar Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne has been a huge highlight during the Hawks finals campaign. The Swans have been the most all-round team in the competition: Kieran Jack, Jude Bolton, Heath Grundy, just to name a few.
Why will Hawthorn win:
The Hawks have showed all year that they’re the benchmark team: they rolled teams, but they have come very close to capitulating on a few occasions. The key hole that needs to be patched is the defence. Brent Guerra will not play after ruling himself out due to his hamstring injury. This will leave Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson and Xavier Ellis with one job: stop Sydney from kicking goals. Do this, and you stop the likes of Ryan O’Keefe and Adam Goodes putting it on the scoreboard.
After his blunder against Crow Jason Porplyzia in the preliminary final, Ryan Schoenmakers will need to tread carefully to avoid any umpire confrontation. That being said, with his fluctuating form, stepping up to provide support to the likes of Birchall and Gibson will give the Hawks a massive chance of clinching the premiership. Slip up, however, and whoever is his assigned opponent will run him into the ground.
Then there’s the forwards. Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead. A lot of eyes will be on Roughead, who hasn’t completely shown all the talents he is capable of. Franklin, while having had a respectable finals series, needs to kick it into high gear. If both can kick straight, and Franklin can fix his inaccuracy from the prelim, then the forward line could become a death trap for the Sydney defenders. Jack Gunston, who has had a breakout year, will need to 1) be fit and 2) able to cope under extreme pressure to give Buddy and Roughead support.
Why will Sydney win:
At every edge, every corner, there is no denying the immense depth of talent the Swans have in their arsenal. Kieran Jack has had an outstanding year, Heath Grundy has been magnificent, and the ever so skillful O’Keefe and Goodes are weapons.
Problem is, if O’Keefe and Goodes get going, there may be no stopping them. Sydney know how to get a stranglehold on teams: their recent victories against Adelaide and Collingwood are testament to that. The return of Heath Grundy will give the backline (which already sports Ted Richards and former Adelaide player Martin Mattner) a strong link to quell Hawthorn attacks.
Daniel Hannebery, the 2010 Rising Star, has had some fluctuating form, but when he is on song, there is almost no stopping him. Combine him with Jack, and it’s a force to reckoned with. You can even add Lewis Roberts-Thomson to the mix. He has the versatility to play either as a back or forward, giving the Swans leeway in key position players.
Burnout. Both teams will have this on the forefront of their minds. The AFL Grand Final is always competitive, intense and very physical. The interchange will be both carefully managed and thoroughly scrutinised. One mistake and it could come crashing down, metaphorically, on someone’s head.
Game plans. If Hawthorn get a flying start, the chances of Sydney catching them is small, but still achievable. Hawthorn has one less day to prepare than Sydney, and will need to ensure their starting 22 are fit, after their last-gasp win over Adelaide.
Hawthorn are hot favourites, but Sydney, with two grand finals since 2005 (and Hawthorn only the one) will go in with more experience.
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