These two teams have had some quality meetings in the past few years. People only need to look back to last years preliminary final, where Luke Ball and the Magpies clinched victory from the jaws of defeat after a Ryan Schoenmakers dropped sitter in the dying seconds.
In Season 2012 however, the Hawks exacted revenge- twice, both in rather convincing fashion. In round 1, Hawthorn parried relentless scoreboard pressure from the Pies, and ran away with a 22 point win. Franklin and Rioli combined for seven goals, and the usual suspects featured in the best.
The round 17 encounter proved to be a little easier. Hawthorn and Collingwood were separated by just the one win on the ladder at the time, and Collingwood were being touted as flag favourites. A Buddy-less Hawthorn ended up dismantling the Magpies by 47 point, and in the process gained the tag as the Premiership favourite.
But finals are a different kettle of fish. Hawthorn and Collingwood have been in the mix for a number of years now, Hawthorn’s last success came in 2008, and the Pies in 2010. Last year, both disappointed as they failed their flag expectations. This time they meet in a qualifying final- one which promises to have a bit more fire than the two home and away matched this season.
Hawthorn are the most dynamic team in the competition. As a group, they are extremely hard to break down, and their kicking ability is second to none. After years of drafting and trading in ‘left footers’ for that left foot arc and pull, coach Alastair Clarkson has moulded the cohort into the most punishing kicking team in the league
Albeit mecurial, players such as Matt Suckling, Buddy Franklin and Cyril Rioli pivotal to Hawthorn’s success. Suckling’s raking boot from half back has torn teams to shreds in the past, setting up the likes of Franklin, Roughead, Gunston and Lewis as targets up forward. Franklin can sometimes be hit and miss, but if he and Rioli can combine for another seven or eight goals like in round 1, that will put the pressure on Travis Cloke and co. for Collingwood.
Grant Birchall has taken huge steps in the last couple of years, and has stamped himself as an important member of the Hawks team. He too, has wonderful ability in setting up Hawthorn’s forward movers, and after an All Australian nomination last year, the Pies should be wary of this defender’s 85% disposal efficiency average in 2012.
Jordan Lewis has an uncanny knack for finding goals when Hawthorn need them. Last time he played Collingwood, he sharked five of them. Another left footer that can damage the Magpies, be it breaking the lines with his run or carry, or kicking over them. Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge (whose left boot is also ferocious) will also be hard to stop.
With depth in the midfield, and the ability to rotate players through the half forward and half back lines, Hawthorn’s engine room will be the key to them winning the game. Don’t discount the Hawks out of half back either, they have line breakers and are top in the competition for kicks and inside 50s.
The Magpies shook the flag favourites tag midway through the year, and have been lacklustre recently, with the form slump of Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes.
However, Cloke found form last week against the Bombers, and looks to be set heading into the 2012 finals campaign. Both he and Dawes will provide headaches for Gibson and Schoenmakers, expect them to rotate on the two forwards. If time out of the Collingwood side has done any good for Dawes, Friday night will make his finals campaign, or break it- expect him to come out firing.
If the two talls struggle for the Pies, then they have to look to their brigade of small forwards. Alan Didak is back in the team, and youngsters such as Jarryd Blair and Alex Fasolo have a knack around the goals. The addition of candy man Andrew Krakouer (who has fresh legs) could also prove interesting for the Hawks defence.
If the Hawks have grunt and power in their engine room, then the Magpies posses wonderful skill, speed and agility (bar Dane Swan). The young midfield of Steele SIdebottom, Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas and huge improver Dayne Beams could prove to be too nimble and quick for the Hawks midfield.
Beams has averaged 31 disposals a game in 2012, and just over a goal a game- his contribution in the Pies midfield has become invaluable over the course of the year. Of course, Swan will do what Swan does, and Pendlebury will hope to continue his form that has seen him the fifth most effective with the ball this year.
If Collingwood can get the midfield on their terms, and tackle and pressure hard, they may be able to restrict the Hawks kicking ability by keeping the ball in tight.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 19