The narrative about both sides shifted dramatically in the past week. Melbourne eliminated Geelong in its first finals appearance in 12 years, whereas Hawthorn's early competitiveness against Richmond subsided in a 31-point defeat. Many observers have since written the Hawks off – always a dangerous thing to do – and another loss would result in their second straight-sets exit in three years after a top-four finish. Melbourne, on the other hand, is aiming for back-to-back finals triumphs for the first time since 2000, when it last made a Grand Final. Hawthorn obliterated the Demons in the clearances last time, so the midfield battle at the feet of Ben McEvoy and Max Gawn will again be pivotal.
WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Friday, September 14, 7.50pm AEST
TV AND RADIO: Click here for broadcast guide
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WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?
Round four: Hawthorn 18.7 (115) d Melbourne 6.12 (48) at the MCG
The Demons led by 21 points midway through the first quarter, but the Hawks kicked 16 of the last 17 goals – keeping Melbourne goalless in the second and third terms – to thump them by 67 points. Luke Breust slotted a game-high four goals, while Liam Shiels was relentless in the wet with 31 disposals and 14 tackles.
LAST FIVE TIMES
R4, 2018, Hawthorn 18.7 (115) d Melbourne 6.12 (48) at the MCG
R7, 2017, Hawthorn 14.10 (94) d Melbourne 14.7 (91) at the MCG
R20, 2016, Melbourne 17.8 (110) d Hawthorn 11.15 (81) at the MCG
R11, 2016, Hawthorn 11.16 (82) d Melbourne 10.4 (64) at the MCG
R7, 2015, Hawthorn 24.11 (155) d Melbourne 7.8 (50) at the MCG
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Two ruckmen should be a necessity against the Demons. The Hawks did well to win the clearances despite Max Gawn racking up 66 hit-outs last time, but a Ben McEvoy-Jon Ceglar combination would keep him honest.
2. How Luke Breust is used will be interesting. He charged off the back of the centre square at the first bounce in round four and kicked the opening goal in the same passage – one of his four for the day.
3. Will the Hawks predict another clearances win over Melbourne, or could they spring a surprise and play Jack Gunston off half-back, where they typically generate so many of their scoring chances from?
1. The Demons haven't always opted for the obvious tagging option, but James Harmes – fresh from taking Joel Selwood's scalp again – seems certain to have the job on Tom Mitchell or Isaac Smith. Nathan Jones ran with Mitchell in round four.
2. Sam Weideman's emergence, especially his enormous performance in his finals debut against Geelong, could see the Demons utilise him more inside 50 and play Tom McDonald a bit higher up the ground.
3. Don't expect any eccentric Melbourne tactics in the middle, like the wingless set-up last time. The Dees have succeeded with more traditional structures in those situations since that day, and there seems little reason to go away from that.
THE SIX POINTS
1. The Hawks led by just eight points at half-time in round four before dominating the second half, kicking 11 goals to one, including seven to one in the final quarter. Luke Breust booted four goals and Tim O'Brien and Jarryd Roughead provided support with three each. Clayton Oliver had 28 disposals and 11 tackles for the Demons.
2. Melbourne remains the highest-scoring team in 2018, averaging 103 points per game. But its winning score in last week's elimination final win over Geelong, 10.15 (75), was its lowest score since round 14. Hawthorn has kicked 88 points per match.
3. The Hawks have dominated the Demons over the past decade, winning 15 of the past 16 contests, including 13 wins in a row between 2007 and 2016. Three of those victories were by 90-plus points.
4. A big advantage for Melbourne could be in the centre, where it is the No.1-ranked centre clearance team, with the highest-ranked ruckman in Max Gawn. In contrast, Hawthorn has struggled and comes in equal-13th for centre clearances.
5. It's been a long time since these teams last met in the finals. The 1990 elimination final at the MCG was the most recent, with the Demons winning by nine points. The Hawks lead 4-2 overall in the post-season.
6. Melbourne tagger James Harmes' purple patch has him on the verge of cracking the top 100 in the Schick AFL Player Ratings. The Hawk he may run with, Brownlow Medal favourite Tom Mitchell, is No.19 overall.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY
Alastair Clarkson: "We know where we're at as a footy club. We think we've worked really hard, got ourselves a top-four position. We give ourselves some exposure to a couple of finals and hopefully some more. I've gone on record quite regularly saying we're going to need a hell of a lot of things to go right for us to be able to win it this year, but we're in there fighting hard." - Clarkson on his team's chances
Simon Goodwin: "It was as disappointing a day as what you've seen from our club. I thought Hawthorn were terrific. They handled the conditions better. They structurally set up better. It certainly didn't reflect any of the way that we'd played for a while now, so that was disappointing and we went away from some of the things that have been really critical to us." - after the round four loss
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR …
It's rare to suggest Luke Breust has anything to prove, but he will be hurting from his performance last week against Richmond. The sharpshooter was responsible for the second of the Hawks' two elementary misses inside 20m in the first half, and mustered an equal season-low 11 disposals. Breust booted four goals against Melbourne in round four and a repeat showing would go a long way to a Hawthorn victory.
PREDICTION: Melbourne by 20 points