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Will Ross call on Crowley? Four burning questions ahead of the preliminary finals

Best of the 10: rounds 1-11 All the best moments from the first half of the season

1. Will Ross Lyon call on Ryan Crowley?

First, another question. Did Lyon sleep easily on Friday night? Of course he did. What tosh it was to read that Hawthorn's 21-goal onslaught would have caused the Fremantle coach a sleepless night.

The Dockers could not be better placed going into this preliminary final. We've banged on about it in this column plenty of times but in this of all weeks it bears repeating yet again. 

Fremantle underwent a brutal pre-season. Ross Lyon estimates he got five weeks more work into his squad than in previous summers and it was all based around getting off to a flying start to the season and putting Fremantle into an impregnable position in the top two and to be able to host two home finals.

On that basis after an 8-0 start, it was mission accomplished. And it's not like they could expect to win the premiership without getting past Hawthorn. This match-up was always going to take place at some stage in the finals and better for the Dockers that it will be at Domain Stadium rather than the MCG. Lyon has planned for this eventuality all along.

The hurdles the Dockers need to overcome on Saturday night are clear. They'll need to kick more goals and they'll need to start well because they're not a team built to play catch-up football. When the Hawks won by 72 points at Aurora Stadium earlier this year, it was four goals to one in Hawthorn's favour at quarter-time and effectively game over. Start well and get the crowd souped up, that is the recipe for success against the Hawks.

 

But the talking point all week will be Ryan Crowley. Sam Mitchell got well and truly off the leash against the Dockers with 39 touches in the round 15 clash. Crowley has served his 12-month suspension for a failed drug test and is eligible to play. 

Fremantle hasn't missed Crowley at all this year. Indeed one reason for the flying start to the season was the additional offensive weapon added to the midfield in the absence of Crowley who is purely a lockdown player.

Lyon has form in this area, recalling Steven Baker for the 2010 Grand Final after 13 weeks on the sidelines. Baker told 3AW on Saturday he felt great the first week, not so much during the next week's replay.

Not surprisingly, Baker urged his old coach to unleash Crowley on the Hawks on Friday night. And we think Lyon will be sorely tempted to do so.

2. Which Hawthorn will get on the plane to Perth?

In the past fortnight we have seen the Hawks at the extremes, terribly poor against West Coast in the qualifying final and firing on all cylinders against the Crows in the semi-final.

The early take away from the semi-final was that the Hawks relished being back at their beloved MCG, which is why they will be so hard to beat in the Grand Final, if they make it.

But first they have to get past Fremantle and what has become increasingly clear with the Hawks, is that you can tell within the opening 10 minutes whether they are 'on' and against the Crows, it was clear that they were. All it took was the Luke Hodge intercept and mark, which was followed by the skipper being mobbed by all 17 teammates to know that the right buttons had been pressed at Waverley Park during the week.

 

The Hawks will be better for having played at Domain Stadium a fortnight ago. The Perth venue is 122 metres wide compared to the MCG's 141 metres and what the Eagles did last week was prevent the easy kicks through the back half that the Hawks use as their first line of attack. By the time the Hawks get back there on Friday night, three of their past eight games will have been played at Domain Stadium. They'll have played as many in that timeframe as they have at the MCG. 

And while it would appear the only selection issue for Hawthorn is whether forward Jack Gunston returns from injury and comes in for Ryan Schoenmakers, what it is important to remember is that the Hawks don't have a best 22 as such. What Alastair Clarkson does instead is pick a team each week that best matches up, and hopefully exploits, the opposition.

So don't yet discount the return of Will Langford to help counter the bigger bodied Fremantle midfield types, or Jon Ceglar for David Hale in the belief that two true ruckmen might be best needed to counter the height and might of Aaron Sandilands.

3. Adam Simpson has already slayed one former club in the finals. Will he make it two?

The West Coast coach was an assistant at Hawthorn for four years and knows the club intimately and it surely played a part in the qualifying final win a week ago, although the Hawks have played this down, dwelling instead on their lack of intensity as a reason for their defeat. 

Simpson's ties to the Kangaroos are even stronger. He played 306 games for the Kangaroos (equal third most at the club) and he will be coaching against former teammates Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Andrew Swallow, Michael Firrito, Sam Wright, Jack Ziebell, Lindsay Thomas and Lachie Hansen on Saturday night.

He won't know the Kangaroos as well as the Hawks, but there are traits he will still recognise better than others. Whether it helps, remains to be seen. 

But perhaps the biggest job he faces this week is to keep the lid on expectations. The season has panned out superbly for the Eagles. To a team that comfortably handled the Hawks a week ago he adds Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis and ball magnet Chris Masten.

 

Nevertheless, he did admit after the Hawks game that his team was really sore and could do with the rest. Reports are that if Luke Shuey – another key midfield ingredient – plays, then he will have been nursed to the line because of a foot injury.

It is a delicate balance that Simpson has had to walk this week between the need to freshen up his squad and to keep them match-hardened. And he would know from his time as a player but particularly when at the Hawks, that the week off doesn't always have a team jumping from the gate in the preliminary final.

North has real momentum now, and that will be at the forefront of his mind this week as the Eagles ride out their long 15-day break between games.

4. Does Brad Scott keep playing 'tag'?

I think he has to.

In an area when the great teams and coaches tend not to tag, the North Melbourne coach has bucked the trend and his team is one win away from a Grand Final as a result. 

The results in the last two weeks have been spectacular. Ben Jacobs has been the poster boy for North's devotion to hard tags and after keeping Richmond's Trent Cotchin to nine touches in the elimination final, he backed that up with a solid job on Dan Hannebery, who had 20 touches, but was far less effective than the Swans would have hoped and needed given their major absentees.

Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell didn't hard tag Josh Kennedy as such and Kennedy did get off the leash for a time in the third term, but they were generally effective. Sam Gibson put the clamps on Lewis Jetta and really hurt him going the other way. Jetta's performance was diabolical, by the way. 

So who does Jacobs go to this week? Matt Priddis is West Coast's best midfielder, but he might not get first hands on the ball as often as usual if Todd Goldstein can negate Nic Naitanui. Two of the very best ruckmen in the competition will match-up in this preliminary final and it will be critical to the outcome. Maybe Masten or Shuey. 

 

Gibson and Andrew Gaff also seems the logical match-up on one of the Subiaco wings. 

In any event, North Melbourne is far better placed for this preliminary final than it was 12 months ago. The Roos scrambled their way through last year, but they get there this time on merit, with a veteran group that is playing well and with a hard-fought interstate finals win already under their belt.

The Kangas will need to score a bit more heavily than they did against the Swans, but with Ziebell, Cunnington, Jacobs and Andrew Swallow, they have the hard midfield bodies to go with West Coast, which excels in that area. For a preliminary final, which is usually one of the congested and contested games of the year, that's a handy start.