WHERE will Saturday night's Grand Final be won and lost?
And how do both Richmond and Geelong gain a crucial advantage?
FIRST BOUNCE What time does the Toyota AFL Grand Final start?
AFL.com.au looks at the five biggest factors to consider ahead of the Grand Final.
WILL DUSTY BECOME THE GREATEST EVER FINALS PLAYER?
Dustin Martin is perhaps one Grand Final away from being considered the game's greatest ever finals player. The Richmond superstar is gunning to become the first ever three-time Norm Smith medallist, while he could also add a third premiership to his incredible list of accolades on Saturday night. Remarkably, in his 11 finals since the start of 2017, Martin averages 22.5 disposals, 4.4 clearances, 12.9 contested possessions and 8.8 score involvements per game. From those 11 finals, the brilliant Tiger has also kicked 21 goals himself and provided a further 15 goal assists. It's rare air, a record that few players – including fellow dual Norm Smith Medal winners like Gary Ayres, Andrew McLeod and Luke Hodge – have managed. Champion Data also notes that Martin's average of 20.1 AFL Player Ratings points throughout those 11 finals matches are significantly more than any other player in the same period (Luke Shuey's average of 17.0 from eight matches is the second-most of any player with more than one final). Adelaide couldn't counter Martin in 2017, and Greater Western Sydney failed to get close in 2019. Can Geelong in 2020? Cam Guthrie could be his direct match-up through the middle, while Jake Kolodjashnij has been earmarked as a potential opponent should Martin go forward.
DANGER v DUSTY Superstars to collide for rare Grand Final gift
WHERE DO YOU PLAY DANGER?
Forward or midfield? It's the conundrum that has grown in significance over the last five matches, where Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield has pushed forward successfully to average two goals per game. However, perhaps an even more pertinent question on Saturday night might be – can Richmond take the option away from Geelong coach Chris Scott? Dangerfield's forward splits throughout the finals series have been relatively simple. Against Port Adelaide, where the Cats trailed for much of the game, Scott smashed the 'break glass in case of emergency' sign and Dangerfield spent 67 percent of his time in the midfield. Against both Collingwood and Brisbane, where Geelong built steady leads from the outset, Scott was able to use Dangerfield more sparingly through the midfield. In those two games, Champion Data notes that he spent just 14 percent and nine percent of his time in the middle respectively. Able to have an impact in both areas of the game, Geelong is likely to continue being flexible with where Dangerfield plays on Saturday night. If the Cats lead early, expect him in attack. If the Tigers make a hot start, expect him in the middle.
HOW DO YOU COUNTER TOMAHAWK'S RUCK THREAT?
Tom Hawkins is a genuinely good forward 50 ruckman. A feature of last Saturday night's preliminary final victory over Brisbane was his ability to physically beat Oscar McInerney at stoppages, but it was not a one-off. Remarkably, Champion Data notes that Hawkins has won first-possession at forward 50 stoppages a total of 32 times this season. It doubles that of Marcus Bontempelli, who ranks second in that particular category with just 16. Hawkins uses his size to win front position, then frequently takes possession rather than trying to tap to a teammate. Although he won 11 hitouts (with three to advantage) in the preliminary final, it was his ability to cleanly grab the footy and gain more territory – or even the occasional shot on goal – that was the most dangerous aspect of his time in the ruck. It's just another threat that the Coleman Medal winner poses in the Geelong forward line. It will be intriguing to see whether Richmond uses athletic 194cm youngster Noah Balta – likely to be his defensive match-up for the game – in the ruck against Hawkins as well.
CATS MUST BRING THE BALL TO GROUND
This is a non-negotiable. Regardless of who is the target inside 50, whether it's Tom Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield or Gary Rohan, they must make a contest. Richmond is among the best transition teams in the competition, and it starts from the intercept work of its defenders. Champion Data notes that the Tigers average 14.7 intercept marks and 64.6 intercept possessions in victories this year, significantly more than in defeats (10.6 and 58.8 respectively). Furthermore, they haven't lost this season when taking more than 14 intercept marks in a game. The ability of players like Dylan Grimes, Nick Vlastuin, Noah Balta and David Astbury to intercept and begin chains from the backline is the centrepiece of how they play. Keeping them accountable, which largely happens by either marking or bringing the ball to ground to retain possession in the front-half, will therefore be key for the Cats. Balta is likely to take Hawkins, but Dangerfield moving forward could force Grimes into a direct match-up and has been earmarked as a way Geelong could counter Richmond's intercept threat. Grimes (five intercept marks) and Vlastuin (four) dominated the last time they played the Cats (a 26-point victory in round 17), as the Tigers finished with 16 intercept marks for the match. Allowing them to take as many this weekend won't bode well for Chris Scott's side.
THE TIGERS ARE WINNING OUT OF THE MIDDLE
Just when you thought Richmond wasn't already hard to beat, the Tigers have now become an elite centre clearance side as well. Richmond had a centre clearance differential of -1.7 during the home-and-away season, ranked 16th in the League. However, during the finals series, that differential has improved to +8.0. It's the best of any finals side by some distance. The improvement was noticeable during last weekend's preliminary final win. In a round 11 loss to Port Adelaide, Richmond lost the centre clearance battle 5-20. On Friday night, the Tigers won the centre clearance battle 11-4 against the same opposition and subsequently won the match. The turnaround has come at the perfect time, given the location of this year's Grand Final. A series of past Brisbane players and coaches have spoken publicly about the importance of winning centre clearances at a Gabba ground that is second only to the SCG for the shortest in length in Australia. Winning that contest from the centre on Saturday night could therefore be pivotal to winning the territory battle, and maybe even the premiership itself.