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Grand Final preview: Hawks v Dockers

Expect a classic when the Dockers, in their first Grand Final, take on the Hawks at the MCG
AFTER 26 weeks, 206 games and 5542 goals, it has all come down to this: the AFL's best attacking team against its best defensive team for the 2013 premiership.
 
Hawthorn has taken all before it this season, compiling an equal-club record 12-game winning streak between rounds two and 14, and finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder with a 19-3 win-loss record, another equal-club best. Even more satisfying for Hawks fans, Alastair Clarkson's men will enter the Grand Final free of the five-year 'Kennett Curse', which delivered 11 straight losses against nemesis Geelong. But, as far as the coach and players are concerned, it will all be for nothing if they can't go one step further than 2012 by winning on the last Saturday in September.
 
Fremantle, meanwhile, has completed a remarkable two-year transformation under coach Ross Lyon, becoming the most difficult team to score against in the League. Meticulously following Lyon's high pressure game plan, the Dockers conceded more than 100 points in a match only twice this season - one of those against the Hawks, the other in round 23 when most of the team stayed at home. The city of Fremantle has turned completely purple for the club's first ever Grand Final appearance, and they will enter with confidence of causing an upset.
 
WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Saturday, September 28, 2.30pm
 
TV AND RADIO: Click here for broadcast guide and odds
 
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
R4, 2013, Hawthorn 18.10 (118) d Fremantle 11.10 (76) at Aurora Stadium
R8, 2012, Hawthorn 17.17 (119) d Fremantle 9.9 (63) at Aurora Stadium
R19, 2011, Hawthorn 13.17 (95) d Fremantle 6.8 (44) at Patersons Stadium
R11, 2011, Hawthorn 17.9 (111) d Fremantle 13.11 (89) at the MCG
2EF, 2010, Fremantle 14.10 (94) d Hawthorn 8.16 (64) at Patersons Stadium
 
2013 meeting
Round four at Aurora Stadium: Hawthorn 18.10 (118) d Fremantle 11.10 (76) 
Without stars Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin, the Dockers were no match for a Hawthorn team in strong early-season form. Forwards Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead booted four goals apiece for the Hawks, with Grant Birchall gathering 37 disposals and kicking a goal from half-back in a best on ground display. Nat Fyfe and David Mundy collected 27 and 26 disposals respectively for the losers. Hawthorn's 118 was the highest score kicked against the Dockers this year.
 
Key match-ups
Lance Franklin-Jarryd Roughead-David Hale v Luke McPharlin-Zac Dawson-Michael Johnson: Rather than assign one-on-one match-ups, Fremantle's key defenders are likely to mix and match, depending on how the Hawks talls structure up. Dawson will likely play deepest, meaning he'll probably spend most of his time beside Roughead or Hale. McPharlin could look to man Franklin inside forward 50, but hand him over to Johnson if the four-time All Australian pushes up the ground. Either way, the Docker trio faces a difficult and crucial task in trying to quell all three key targets. 
 
Matthew Pavlich v Brian Lake: Similar to the Dockers, Hawthorn's defensive match-ups generally depend on how the opposition lines up, with Lake taking the deepest forward. If that's Pavlich, the former Western Bulldog will have his work cut out, because the Dockers' skipper is in top form. It should be a compelling battle between two veterans desperately striving for their first premiership.
 
Ryan Crowley v Sam Mitchell: The Hawks star has spent time at half-back this season, but has moved almost permanently back into the midfield since turning the game his team's way in the fourth quarter of the round 23 win over the Sydney Swans. Along with Shaun Burgoyne, Mitchell carried the Hawks over the line last week, winning 38 disposals, including 11 clearances. Crowley is also in red-hot form, having curtailed Steve Johnson in the first final, and shut out Kieren Jack in the second. While Mitchell is used to being tagged, Crowley is the best in the League at it. Set to be a pivotal battle.
 
Wildcards
Hawthorn – Cyril Rioli. The star small forward was down in the preliminary final. Perhaps he was rusty after nearly four weeks on the sidelines; perhaps he was not yet fully confident enough in his ankle to twist and turn in his usual manner; or perhaps it was just an off night where he was beaten by his opponent. Whatever the reason, the Hawks will be hoping the 24-year-old can rise to the Grand Final occasion and help deliver victory.
 
Fremantle – Chris Mayne. An unusual choice for an x-factor given the ability and form of the likes of Pavlich, Michael Walters, Hayden Ballantyne, Stephen Hill and Fyfe. But they will all be marked men for the Hawks, and Mayne might be the match-up that is sacrificed. He's kicked nine goals in six games against the Hawks and multiples on four of those six occasions, including his AFL debut and the elimination final in 2010. His pressure will be ever-present but he will get set shot opportunities and if he kicks them like he has in the home and away season he could force a re-shuffle in the Hawks' defence, which makes the 24-year-old a joker in the pack.
 
Plan B
Hawthorn – Should Crowley go to Mitchell, Hawthorn's flexibility through the midfield will become important. If the dual All Australian's influence is being curbed, he can roll back to half-back, and allow Luke Hodge and Burgoyne to go to work in the middle. Likewise, if Franklin and Roughead are struggling up forward, Clarkson can swing Jack Gunston deeper, and hope the former Crow repeats his four-goal heroics of last week's preliminary final.
 
Fremantle – The Dockers have shown their flexibility during the finals series. Crowley rolled from Mathew Stokes to Johnson with great effect in the qualifying final. They can mix and match their run-with players well. If they're struggling to get their hands on the football or their avenues to goal dissipate, Walters and Ballantyne can swing through the middle to provide some spark and Fyfe and Sandilands can be sent deep forward if necessary. If Pavlich is well held he can run thought the middle as well for a brief period to get him involved as he has done in the past.
 
THE SIX POINTS
1. The Hawks have dominated the Dockers recently, winning the past four clashes between the teams and seven of the last eight, including three wins by more than 50 points. Overall, Hawthorn holds a 20-7 head-to-head advantage.
 
2. Hawthorn is shooting for its 11th VFL/AFL premiership, in its 17th Grand Final. The Hawks have won four of their last five Grand Finals dating back to 1988, and have reached consecutive premiership deciders for the first time since 1988. Fremantle will be playing in the first Grand Final of its 19-year history.
 
3. Should Fremantle win, Pavlich will have played in a premiership in his 291st senior game – the third-longest wait in VFL/AFL history behind Shane Crawford (305 games for Hawthorn) and Paul Williams (294 games for Collingwood and the Sydney Swans). Regardless of the result, Dockers ruckman Sandilands, at 211cm, will become the tallest player ever to play in a Grand Final.
 
4. Hawthorn and Fremantle have met only once before at the MCG, in round 11, 2011. The Hawks won that match by 22 points. Clarkson's men have won eight of 11 games at the MCG in 2013, with their only defeats coming at the hands of Geelong (twice) and Richmond. Fremantle has played only twice at the MCG this season, thrashing Melbourne by 95 points in round two before losing to the Tigers in round 17.
 
5. Predictably, Hawthorn players have far more Grand Final experience than their opponents. There are 23 Hawks-listed players who have played in at least one Grand Final, with 10 having played in two or more. The Dockers have only two players who have played in a Grand Final: Dawson, who played in three with St Kilda, and Danyle Pearce, who played in Port Adelaide’s 2007 loss. Both coaches will be coaching in their third Grand Final.
 
6. Fremantle's evenness as a team is highlighted in the Official AFL Player Ratings, where there is not one Docker in the top 35. Wingman Hill is the club's first entry, at No.39. On Saturday, he and younger brother Bradley will become the first brothers to compete against each other in a Grand Final since 1912.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs