And then there were two. Two teams about to battle for the cup. One team going for their third straight grand final victory, the other surprising the league with their dramatic rise to the top. One team from the east coast, one team from the west coast.
The Hawks had a shaky start to the season, having a win loss, win loss pattern until their break in round 10. After that they steadied the ship, only dropping two games for the rest of the home and away season. They finished up third on the ladder and with an impressive 158 percentage for and against which is what gave most of the commentators the comfort to still call them the premiership favourites. They dropped one game on last season to go 16-6 compared to 2014’s 17-5. So they won less, but they also won by more.
West Coast on the other hand are definitely on the way up. After finishing 9th last year with an 11-11 win loss record, they just missed out on the finals.
Although they showed signs of their talent with a 6th place percentage of 116.9, it was only the people in the know that knew about the injuries and the fact that coach Adam Simpson and defender Sharrod Wellingham were still finding their feet. But to the rest of the commentariat, it has been an exciting run to the finish.
There’s been a lot said about who will win and there will be a lot more said right up until the final siren. The Age have two similar articles here and here which seems to have a bet each way (although a betting man will see 5 reasons trump 3 and will go with West Coast).
Hawks definitely have the situational advantage. The grand final is being played at their home ground. As a team, they have played more finals games, they have played more grand final games and have won more grand final games. The current Hawthorn team will be pushing 60 grand final appearances among the players while West Coast have 3 (one of which, Xavier Ellis played for the Hawks).
The MCG will also suit the Hawks. The ground is wider and has twice the capacity. Over the years the Hawks have developed a game strategy of spreading the play and hitting the open targets. This has allowed them to find the open gaps and exploit the defence of the opposition teams, it is also a reason why the small forwards are so important to the Hawks.
The Eagles have only played 1 game this season at the MCG. The ground holds more than twice the 45 thousand of Subiaco Oval, which could possibly overawe some of the lesser experienced players.
Finally West Coast has to travel interstate for the game, even though they finished in a better position on the ladder – it’s one of the built in imbalances of the game that needs to be fixed. West Coast have racked up the frequent flyer points and the travel will not affect them as much as if the Hawks had to travel to Perth. Their success rate while traveling is a testament to their skill.
For West Coast to win it will be down to the individual players. They have definitely proved this year that they are a good side. They have a stronger all round side as opposed to Hawks who can struggle in defence (hence why they bought Brian Lake in the sunset of his career).
The defence will be key for the Eagles to pull off a victory and Sharrod Wellingham will go a long way to achieving this. He is invaluable to West Coast as he is very experienced on the MCG and has even got ticks on the grand final board because of his time at Collingwood.
Ben McEvoy and David Hale will get the job up against Nic Nac and it will be tough. To get the ball up the front Nic Nac and Matt Priddis will have to dominate the stoppages. Nic Nac will probably have a easy time against the ageing Hale and rather slow McEvoy but Sam Mitchell will be hard to control (most teams just give up against Sammy). While it was the young Hawks who stood out in last years finals, It’s been the experience of Sammy and Hodge that have got them this far this year.
In Brendan Foster’s article he stated, at reason number 4 that ‘defence wins premierships’ which does don’t really go far in explaining the last two grand finals. Both West Coast and the Hawks are high scoring teams with both their percentages well above the others. The key for West Coast scoring goals up front will be Josh Kennedy. Kennedy is a great tall forward and will give Brian Lake a hard time. Lake doesn’t mind backing himself for the marks which he does quite well, but is a bit slack with chasing down the leading man. In his previous match again the Hawks, Josh showed that he doesn’t mind running around a bit and kicking in the long ones in from 50.
Like Fremantle, West Coast has a good defence but unlike Fremantle they can also pile on the goals. Generally in a game against Fremantle it’s the first team to score 70 points who wins. This matchup is between two high scoring teams and the winning score will be closer to 100. If the Hawks can play as one they will be unstoppable but if West Coast’s stars shine they will give them a run for their money.
Enjoy the game.