Welcome to the 2015 AFL Grand Final Preview. Finally, we are down to two teams after Hawthorn and West Coast defeated Fremantle and North Melbourne respectively in the Preliminary Finals. The Dockers in particular will feel that they have missed a massive opportunity for a maiden premiership after earning a home Preliminary Final. Key moments didn’t go the Dockers way all night, while simple set shots at goal were potentially match defining. Hawthorn were far too efficient by foot and around the goals, ultimately ending the Dockers season. North Melbourne went into the finals with low expectations after finishing eighth, but they surprised everyone by becoming the first club to reach a Preliminary Final from that position. They started well against West Coast kicking 3 goals to 0 in the first quarter, but were eventually caught.
Saturday’s game is shaping up to be a brilliant encounter, with a beautiful sunny day forecasted and in my opinion the two best teams of the year. Hawthorn is looking for its third premiership in as many years, while the Eagles are searching for its fourth flag since being established in 1987. In our final write up of the season, we’ll assess both clubs and give recommendations for the traditional Grand Final markets of the Norm Smith Medallist and First Goal Scorer.
GRAND FINAL: HAWTHORN ($1.60) VS WEST COAST ($2.40)
AT THE MCG, SATURDAY 03/10, 14:30
PREVIOUS 2015 ENCOUNTERS:
QF West Coast 2.2 7.6 12.11 14.12 (96) dftd Hawthorn 2.3 2.4 4.9 9.10 (64) at Domain Stadium
R19 West Coast 5.3 6.5 9.6 11.8 (74) lost to Hawthorn 2.3 5.5 8.8 13.10 (88) at Domain Stadium
Line: Hawks -9.5, Eagles +9.5
Hawthorn has qualified for its fourth consecutive Grand Final and has the opportunity to be crowned the greatest modern day side if it can claim a third consecutive Premiership on Saturday. The Brisbane Lions won three consecutively from 2001-2003, while Geelong won three from 2007-2011, but a win to the Hawks this weekend will see it win a fourth in eight years and overtake both those sides. Hawthorn weren’t exactly dominant against Fremantle statistically during the Preliminary Final, losing the contested possession 126-143 and clearances 28-43. But as we have become accustomed to with the Hawks, they made Fremantle pay once gaining control of the footy. The Hawks operated at 79% efficiency with its 422 disposals, which resulted in 141 uncontested marks. Hawthorn then went on to have a shooting accuracy of 79% at goal, which meant they didn’t necessarily need to go forward very often to be dangerous. As I have said numerous times over the last couple of months, you can’t let the Hawks win the ball back and do as they please. They are ranked No.1 for punishing opposition turnovers, so rushed clearances aren’t the answer. You have to make them accountable and protect space once they have the footy, much like West Coast does and implemented during the Qualifying Final. Jack Gunston has been named and is expected to take his place in the side, while Luke Hodge is regarded a certainty now after rumours surfaced he was battling with a hamstring injury. Billy Hartung is the unlucky omission, with Ryan Schoenmakers retaining his spot to help stretch West Coast’s KPD stocks.
The West Coast Eagles have a lot going for them heading into this Grand Final. Firstly, it was only three weeks ago that they convincingly beat Hawthorn in a Qualifying Final. Secondly, the Eagles possess the most dangerous forward set up in the competition, which most importantly makes the attacking Hawthorn defenders accountable. Thirdly, Adam Simpson has developed a game plan that restricts the Hawks ball movement and has successfully implemented it in a game. If we were comparing the Eagles to any other side in the competition than Hawthorn, the team from the west would go into this game as a short priced favourite. There is one main question regarding the Eagles though. Can West Coast successfully implement that same defensive structure at the MCG that was so successful in Perth? Defending space is the name of the game and while Domain Stadium is longer, the deeper pockets and flanks of the MCG may mean that Adam Simpson makes adjustments. The Hawks are more than capable of going wide to bypass the so called “Web” and then head back into the corridor further up the field. The stoppages are also going to be vital, as the Hawks love intercepting a messy clearance. West Coast are ranked No.1 for contested possession and also create the most scoring damage from clearances, making Nic Naitanui in my eyes the most important player on the ground. The West Coast midfield of Priddis, Shuey and Gaff need to generate deep forward 50 entrances to the advantage of their talls, which will put the Hawthorn defenders out of position and create panic. If this can be implemented, they can definitely win. The “if” is the most relevant word in that sentence though.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to this Grand Final. This game will be won on the strength of each clubs strategies. I’m confident that if West Coast implement the above methods, they will beat Hawthorn and must be considered value at the $2.40 odds. It just isn’t as easy as that though. Against a side like Hawthorn, every player must be committed to the cause for almost the entire game. The Hawks will punish you when given the chance, but it is ensuring those opportunities are kept to a minimum. Hawthorn’s experience is obviously an enormous advantage, as the chances of them giving in to the pressure of such an occasion are minimal. That has me leaning slightly in Hawthorn’s favour. Despite the brilliant weather forecast, I’ll be surprised if the Total Match Score reaches 184.5 points. The only way I see this happening is if West Coast start slow or one side blows the margin out. For the two encounters this season, the Total Match Score average has been 161 points.
HAWTHORN TO WIN BY 6 POINTS
Under Total Match Score of 184.5 points
FIRST GOAL SCORER
Hawthorn 2015 First Goal Statistics
Luke Hodge 3
Isaac Smith 2
Paul Puopolo 1
David Hale 1
Shaun Burgoyne 1
Liam Shiels 1
Luke Breust 1
Ben McEvoy 1
Jarryd Roughead 1
Matthew Suckling 1
West Coast 2015 First Goal Statistics
Josh Kennedy 4
Mark LeCras 4
Luke Shuey 3
Jamie Cripps 2
Nic Naitanui 1
Elliott Yeo 1
Matthew Priddis 1
Jack Darling 1
Josh Hill 1
The First Goal Scorer market has become a punter favourite for Grand Final day, but it is usually decided without logic or theory. Above is a list of every first goal scorer throughout the season from the each team, but the most damning factor is probably the difference of total first goals from each club. The Hawks have only kicked the first goal of the game 13 times out of 25 games, compared to West Coast 18 out of 24 matches. Whether Hawthorn start slow or the Eagles love to get on the scoreboard first, the gap is significant and difficult to ignore. It is no surprise to see Josh Kennedy joint lead the Eagles, as the big forward is the main target and attracts the ball. He could have easily added to that tally with some early behinds too. His main crumber LeCras has also kicked the first goal four times, as you’d expect. The intriguing players are Luke Shuey and Luke Hodge, who certainly offer value after kicking three first goals each. Hodge has kicked all three since Round 17, suggesting he is pushing forward earlier in games. Both must be considered at such prices. The First Goal Scorer market can be a stab in the dark, so hopefully this list can help minimise your options.
PREDICTION: Josh Kennedy (WCE) @ $8.00
VALUE: Luke Hodge (HAW) @ $21.00 or Luke Shuey (WCE) @ $26.00
NORM SMITH MEDAL
The Norm Smith Medal has become one of the most celebrated awards in the game and as punters, we love to get involved and barrack for our adopted man throughout the entire day. There have been a few different types win the medal of late, with Luke Hodge, Brian Lake, Ryan O’Keefe and Jimmy Bartel playing a variety of positions as the last four winners. But if you gather a stack of the footy, have an influence at the stoppages and kick multiple goals, you are a certainty to be in contention. There are three obvious short price contenders in Mitchell, Priddis and Hodge, which does create some value with the rest.
PREDICTION: SAM MITCHELL (HAW) @ $6.00
It is no surprise that Sam Mitchell is such a short favourite for the Norm Smith Medal, after three outstanding games during the finals already. He has produced disposal tallies of 35, 33 and 35 in the Qualifying Final, Semi Final and Preliminary Final respectively. If he is left to run free again, it is hard to imagine him not gathering 30+ disposals again. $6.00 isn’t the greatest value getting around, but his current form is difficult to ignore. Just be aware that Adam Simpson has hinted to the possibility of giving Mitchell some attention.
VALUE: LUKE SHUEY (WCE) @ $16.00
When considering Norm Smith options for West Coast, Matthew Priddis is the first player to come to mind. There is more to the Eagles than the 2014 Brownlow Medallist though. The Eagles have had an even spread during the finals thus far and I’m finding Luke Shuey’s $16.00 odds difficult to ignore. He was held to only 11 disposals last week against Ben Jacobs, but still had an influence with 2 vital goals and 6 clearances. He has the unique ability to gather 25+ disposals and kick multiple goals, while his line breaking pace is difficult to miss. He has a brilliant understanding with Nic Naitanui as well, which certainly boosts his stoppage numbers. The only negative is that he is likely to be the number one candidate for a tag, should Hawthorn decide to go that way. Clarkson doesn’t normally enforce a manic Ben Jacobs type tag, so Shuey will be able to get off the leash more often.