SPEED of ball movement will determine whether Geelong's Tom Hawkins enjoys another feast and Port Adelaide's Charlie Dixon is again starved in Thursday night's qualifying final.

That's the view of Hawkins' former Cats teammate and AFL defensive expert Jared Rivers, who has closely watched the form of both big forwards this season.

Back in round 12, Hawkins bagged six majors from 12 score involvements and seven contested marks as the Cats annihilated the Power by 60 points.

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At the other end, Dixon was held goalless from three disposals as the Power managed just four goals and recorded their lowest score of the season.

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The Cats only won the clearance battle 31-30 but had 10 more inside 50s and 68 more uncontested possessions to stun their opponents. 

The difference? Speed of ball movement.  

Geelong played on from 28 per cent of marks (season average 23.6 per cent), while the Power were restricted to playing on just 15.7 per cent of the time (season average 24.8). 

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"It's going to be an intriguing battle depending on how each team plays in offence, more so than defence," Rivers, who was let go by North Melbourne this year due to COVID-19, told AFL.com.au this week. 

"Port got scored against from 51 per cent (of inside 50s) last time which is clearly too high and they'd realise that…. they'll be changing their defensive structure. 

"Their front-half defence has got to get better against Geelong to try and slow them up because if you've got 'Hawky' one-on-one and in a lot of space, it doesn't matter who he's got on him. 

Hawkins was first assigned Tom Clurey back in round 12, with the 193cm Power defender opting to play the 2020 Coleman medallist from in front. 

After an early beating, Clurey was replaced by captain Tom Jonas (188cm) as Hawkins finished the game winning 73 per cent of one-on-one contests, well up on his season average of 44.3 per cent.  

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Rivers believes Jonas should be Power coach Ken Hinkley's preferred option on Thursday night with assistance from interceptor Dan Houston.

After spending the first half of the season in various roles up the field, Houston has settled in defence and had a whopping 14 intercept possessions in the round 18 win over Collingwood. 

"I reckon it should be Tom Jonas, who has first crack at him with Houston to help him in the air," Rivers said. 

Dan Houston and Tom Jonas during Port Adelaide's loss to Geelong in round 12. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

"It's a big role for the skipper but he has experience, and as captain of the club if he can shut him down, it will go a long way to winning the game.

"My experience with big Tommy is that he loves when opponents play in front of him. 

"They (Power) will know that from having watched the tape. 

"Tommy loves to know where his opponent is at all times, but while that back-shoulder (defence) allows the hit-up (mark), hopefully the team defence mechanisms kick-in and don't allow that easily. 

"Geelong have a lot of dangerous forwards which makes it tough (for defenders) to come off and help but that's where [Port's] defence up the ground can slow them down, which they didn't get last time." 

Hinkley also nominated Trent McKenzie (191cm) as an option for Hawkins this week after the reborn defender played on Pies giant Mason Cox in round 18. 


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The Power's slow movement in round 12 allowed the Cats midfielders – namely Mark Blicavs, who has been playing on a wing in recent times – to roll back and support Harry Taylor one-on-one. 

Dixon was the most targeted player inside 50 in the competition this season, but in round 12 won just a solitary one-on-one contest from the seven he was afforded. 

The Power took two marks inside 50 for the night compared to Geelong's 18.

"Poor old Dixon was one-on-three every time, Geelong's defence rolled back really well and supported Harry who did a really good job on him," Rivers said. 

"They didn't get that ball going into the forward half at the right speed." 

Port Adelaide's Charlie Dixon grapples with Geelong's Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

However, Dixon will take heart from  Geelong's lapses in defence in the last four matches. 

Across the first 13 rounds the Cats allowed the opponents to score from just 36.2 per cent of inside 50s to be ranked No.1 in the competition.

Since then, it's ballooned to 48 per cent to leave Geelong ranked No.15 in the AFL. 

If Dixon can be exposed often enough with just his direct opponent – likely to be Taylor – it will take the Power a long way to booking a home preliminary final.

In fact, the Power is yet to lose this season when Dixon has kicked multiple goals.