Richmond Tigers vs Hawthorn Hawks (MCG)
State of Play:
This game has all the makings of an absolute classic. On one hand you have Richmond, the reigning premier coming into the game riding a 21-game winning streak at the MCG. On the other you have Hawthorn, the form team of the competition boasting a massive total of 265 games of finals experience (the Tigers have just 114).
Add in Alastair Clarkson, the Hawthorn Coach who is widely regarded as the best in the business, and if that isn’t enough you also get the reigning Brownlow Medalist Dustin Martin playing his 200th game – reaching the milestone faster than anyone in the club’s history.
Recent Head to Head:
The Hawks and Tigers last met way back in round three, with the Tigers running out 13 point winners. In the last five encounters, the Tigers hold a 3-2 edge.
The Tigers defied those that expected a premiership hangover after a somewhat surprising Grand Final victory over the Adelaide Crows in 2017. Instead, Damien Hardwick’s men have played some inspiring football throughout the season, earning top spot on the AFL ladder with an outstanding 18-4 record. All of that means little when the ball is bounced on Thursday night, but Richmond is in good shape, having had the luxury of lightening the workload of key players Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia and workhorse ruckman Toby Nankervis in the last two weeks of the season. If Prestia (23.9 average disposals/game) can stay healthy, and Cotchin (avg. 21.7) plus Dustin Martin (avg. 25.5) and Kane Lambert (injury recovery pending) will form the nucleus of a very strong midfield against the Hawks.
Richmond’s strength is it’s even spread of contributors across the team, with Shane Edwards, Daniel Rioli and most improved Tiger Jayden Short (525 meters gained per game) providing a spark up forward in bursts. The defense led by Alex Rance, David Astbury and quiet achiever Dylan Grimes is as good as you will see in the AFL, while the unique forward line led by sole tall and Coleman medalist Jack Riewoldt continues to defy the critics. Josh Caddy provides a contest despite his less than imposing stature, with the added bonus of being deadly in front of goal – his 44.13 goals and behinds is a testament to his accuracy.
Tom Mitchell is the outright Brownlow Medal favorite in 2018, and with good reason. His immense 35.7 average disposals per game is an amazing number, this coming despite being heavily tagged in numerous contests this season. The Hawks have been winning despite missing James Sicily and his 23.9 average possessions per game, but Sicily may be back for the clash with the Tigers, giving the Hawks a great boost. The Hawks will have the edge over Richmond in the ruck, with Ben McEvoy (30.8 avg. hitouts per game) shading Toby Nankervis (24.9). If Alistair Clarkson decides to play a second ruck option in Jonathon Ceglar, Hawthorn should enjoy a solid advantage in clearances around the ground, which could be crucial in deciding the contest. Jaeger O’Meara seems to be improving every week, and could have a huge say in the match if he gets off the chain in the Hawthorn midfield.
Hawthorn has plenty of firepower up forward with a versatile forward line led by Jack Gunston (2.3 goals/game), the speedy Luke Breust (2.41) and veteran Jarryd Roughead (1.45). Small forwards Isaac Smith (1.1) and Paul Puopolo (1.1) can also cause plenty of havoc for the Tiger defense.
This is a very tough one to call. With Hawthorn’s recent form and the best coach going around, this game feels ripe for an upset. In round 23, the Western Bulldogs exploited the corridor with short passes to break up the Richmond defensive press with some success. Many think the Hawks, with their superior skill level, should be able to employ the same tactics to defeat the Tigers. The Hawks will go into this game with a “nothing to lose” attitude, and with a massive advantage in finals experience just might have enough in their favor to cause an upset. The addition of Sicily is important, but on the other side of the coin, the Tigers have had an ideal preparation for their premiership defense.
Both teams could deploy taggers in this one, with the Hawks Daniel Howe, coming off a five game suspension, more than likely getting the job on Dustin Martin to quell the 200 gamers influence. The Tigers could also send youngster Jack Graham onto Tom Mitchell in an attempt to slow the prodigious possession rate of the gun midfielder. Both ploys could have a huge influence on the outcome.
Hawthorn by 5 points.
Article last changed on Tuesday, September 04, 2018 - 7:18 PM EDT