Well, it’s here. Grand Final Day. It’s been a spectacular 2012 and there’s no reason to expect that isn’t going to stop now, with two closely matched sides poised to fight out what will hopefully be a cracker at the MCG this afternoon.
But what will be the difference for each side today? Since the Hawks are favourites with the bookies, BigFootyNews will look at the 4 biggest reasons they can win, and provide it with a counterpoint from the Swans.
Hawks Grand Final Links
- Gameday thread with previews
- Changes and teams
- Change your avatar for the GF
- Grand Final banter thread
- Grand Final Training thread (with many pictures)
The Hawks have got the best forward line in the competition
On paper, it’s daunting. In reality, it’s bloody scary. The Hawks are easily the highest scoring team in the AFL this season, over 200 points clear of the second-placed Adelaide Crows (not to mention nearly 100 goals clear of their opponents, the Swans). They’ve only been kept to under 90 points 3 times in their 24 games this year, and all 3 of those occasions were early in the season when they were finding their feet.
The focus is usually on Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli, with good reason, but even if those two were effectively shut-out by Sydney then they have a plethora of back-up options.
Luke Bruest, Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston, Paul Puopolo and David Hale have kicked 167 goals between them this year. That’s not even mentioning their options who have primarily played midfield or half-back this season. Jordan Lewis (27 goals), Matt Suckling (16 goals), Isaac Smith (16 goals) and Clinton Young (13 goals) regularly hit the score-board too and can be used up forward to good effect.
The most worrying of these ‘back-ups’ are players like Suckling and Young, who can ignore backlines by kicking goals from 50 metres plus out, as well as Lewis, who can almost play as a key-forward, and captain Luke Hodge who can be devastating if given space. It’s a huge, horrible migraine for opposition coaches and has been so nearly all year.
Counterpoint: Key forwards historically don’t have big games in Grand Finals
The area where the Swans are the weakest is certainly their forward line. Much maligned Hawks backman Ryan Schoenmakers typically takes young Swans forward Sam Reid, and usually beats him. Adam Goodes can be a very effective forward but is better used in various positions as needed. Mitch Morton and Lewis Roberts-Thomson are somewhat unknowns as to what they’ll produce on the big day (although Roberts-Thomson very nearly won a Norm Smith in 2005). But typically, if the contest is tight, the big forwards won’t be the match-winners.
One only has to look at great players like Wayne Carey not tearing it apart in Kangaroos’ GF victories to see the precedent. West Coast had an era near the top of the ladder in the mid-2000s, walking away with a flag, with a very choppy forward setup. Even looking at the best forward of the modern era, Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin, you can see that although he chipped in, he wasn’t a big part of the Hawks 2008 triumph over the Cats.
Add to this the fact that Sydney has the best and stingiest back six in the league and you can see why they’d back themselves in to get the job done.
Swans Grand Final Links
- Gameday Thread
- Opposition fans ‘bandwagon thread’
- Grand Final banter thread
- Official “Where are you sitting at the Grand Final?” Thread
Once the Hawks make it to the big dance, they rarely stumble
Out of their past 15 Grand Final appearances, the Hawks have won 10. Out of Sydney’s last 7, they’ve won a solitary flag. A fair few of the Hawks 2008 premiership stars are either out or retired, but this side looks far more menacing.
Along with players like Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Lewis, Buddy and Sewell having outstanding years and more experience than before, they’ve got players they’ve brought in from elsewhere since then like Hale, spoiler extraordinaire Josh Gibson, Shaun Burgoyne and young forward Gunston, to name but a few.
Counterpoint: The modern Swans are a different side
Now, reading that, it’s easy to say that of course Hawthorn are too, which is true. But they as a side have more recently been in a Grand Final. While the Swans veterans will add incredibly useful experience to the side, the modern Sydney side is very much composed of role-players. That’s not to say there aren’t stars, it’s to say that everybody in the side has a certain role and is expected to perform it. This has been repeated a lot by Sydney players this season.
Even looking at Sydney’s 2005-2006 Grand Final appearances you can see this is a different side. While they’re still very strong defensively, they find space and hurt the opposition a lot more on the rebound than the mid 2000s side. They dictate the play on their terms and hurt the opposition with a superior game-plan. There’s also a lot more x-factor in the current side, and they’ve shown this season on multiple occasions they can kick a big score.
While a big score is unlikely in a Grand Final, it’s hard to see the Swans as the same as the dour, stoppage obsessed team that they were, whereas the Hawks still very much play a similar free-flowing attacking game to 2008.
The MCG is their kingdom
Sydney won’t look into it, but the Hawks should be buoyed knowing that the Swans typically play below their standards at the MCG. Hawthon know the MCG like the back of their hand, while the Swans hardly know it at all. The brown and gold have won its past 11 games against interstate sides at the ground.
It might be considered a neutral venue due to the fan split being more even than in a home and away game, but the evidence is still damning.
Counterpoint: Sydney have proved they can match it with the Hawks on their turf
If the MCG is the Hawk’s kingdom, then Launceston is their fortress. But that didn’t stop a powerful 37 point victory by the Swans earlier this season there, breaking a 7-game winning streak at the ground for the Hawks. While it wasn’t to be the case the second-time around at the SCG, the Swans know that their best can match it with the Hawks.
The question is, if co-captain Adam Goodes and their coach believe the MCG is truly a neutral venue (compared to two venues which obviously weren’t), then will the third time be a charm?
Sam Mitchell has had his best season in 2012, and is one of many big game players
Despite not being captain anymore, Sam Mitchell has gone from strength to strength since the Hawks’ last premiership. Despite not being flashy, he puts in consistent hard, workmanlike performances and is one of the biggest keys in every Hawthorn victory. He very nearly snatched the Brownlow from Essendon’s Jobe Watson this season, and he never leaves anything on the field.
If he has a rare off-game in the Grand Final, then the Hawks can cover him with the likes of Sewell and returning captain Hodge, who won the Norm Smith in 2008. In round 22 Shaun Burgoyne played one of his best games since leaving Port Adelaide when Hawthorn triumphed in Sydney. There’s no shortage of tough players at Hawthorn.
Counterpoint: The Swans have no shortage either
Mitchell’s two least effective games this year have, unsurprisingly, came against Sydney. Kieran Jack went head-to-head with him on both occasions in a run-with role and came out on top. He is the general, and if they can shut him down again it goes a long way to winning. Hodge can replace him but may be needed elsewhere, and although Sewell has been fantastic this year doesn’t have the same presence Mitchell has.
The Swans, on the other hand, don’t seem to be worried by a drop in form of any one man. Josh Kennedy is their star midfielder, but co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, veteran Jude Bolton and youngster Dan Hannebery all shoulder the load with him equally.
Coach John Longmire knows how to address problems, and he will no doubt figure out a plan for Shaun Burgoyne. With how he played against them last time, the Hawks would be remiss not to use him in the same role again, and Longmire would be stupid to ignore it.
You could go on and on with comparisons in every facet of the field, but these two teams are incredibly well matched. The first time the Swans and the Hawks face off in a Grand Final couldn’t be better placed than it currently is.
Lets hope it’s one for the ages.