Hawthorn v West Coast, MCG, Saturday, 2.30pm AEST
The Eagles struggled in the first half of their preliminary final against a plucky North Melbourne before taking control of the contest late, with their much-vaunted running brigade ultimately proving irrepressible. The westerners' preparation can't be faulted, given they comfortably accounted for the Hawks a fortnight earlier and have had the luxury of playing six of their past seven games at home, the only away trip being to Adelaide in the second-last round. Hawthorn was back to something resembling its precise and powerful best on Friday against Fremantle. After crossing the continent twice this finals series, the Hawks will be far more comfortable to be back on the MCG, where they have won 24 of their past 28 games, including their past three (against Geelong, Carlton and Adelaide) by an average of 56 points. The Eagles have graced the hallowed turf just five times in the past three seasons, including only once this year, but at least that was a significant victory, by 20 points over eventual finallist Richmond in round 12.
In what should add to the spectacle of the contest, both clubs should be near full strength for the season decider. The Eagles have a clean bill of health (apart from the season-ending injuries of key defenders Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown early in the season). There will be much focus on the fitness of Hawks forward Jack Gunston, who is a strong chance to return from an ankle injury suffered against West Coast in the qualifying final. Skipper Luke Hodge hurt a leg against Freo but it would have to be broken, perhaps amputated, for this warrior to miss out on leading his side in a Grand Final. Small defender Taylor Duryea, also a superb contributor on Friday night, copped a knock to a shoulder but should also be fine.
Nothing to see here, it seems.
• The fitness of Hawks star Jack Gunston.
• West Coast dominated Hawthorn in the ruck in the qualifying final, but lost the clearances and centre clearances comfortably, and yet still managed to win easily. How will it play out given that this time the Eagles will have hard-ball men Matt Priddis and Chris Masten back in the side?
• Given it might be the Hawks' final fling with this ageing group, how unsociable will they be?
• How will West Coast's lack of experience at the MCG and Hawthorn's familiarity there affect the result?
• The MCG is the home of football and arguably the best stadium in the world, but is it fair that a lower-ranked team (Hawthorn) is basically gifted a home Grand Final against a higher-ranked opponent?
• How much will the expected warm weather play into the Eagles' hands? Long-range forecasts are predicting temperatures in the mid-20s for Grand Final day.
Last time they met
The Eagles proved they were genuine premiership material by obliterating the dual reigning premier at Domain Stadium. The game was over by three-quarter time, by which stage the home side had stormed to a 50-point lead while restricting the Hawks to just four goals. The last time they met in a Grand Final wasn't even at the MCG – it was at Waverley in 1991 when rocker Angry Anderson performed on the back of a Batmobile. Oh, and the Hawks belted the Grand Final rookies by 53 points.
The Eagles will be hoping for a repeat of their last outing against Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Media
If the Eagles are going to raise the cup they need to …
Replicate their qualifying final performance and improve by up to 20 per cent because we know the Hawks will be breathing fire and their coach Alastair Clarkson will have devised some new plans.
If the Hawks are going to raise the cup they need to …
Hit their targets, a skill we have taken for granted for so long now but which deserted them in the qualifying final.
What would a flag mean?
Both clubs stand to claim some significant history. A Hawks' premiership would result in them becoming just the sixth team ever – and the first from Hawthorn – to win three successive flags, and a nomination as one of the greatest teams in history. The fact they would have climbed the mountain again after enduring two trips to Perth, and after losing their first final, would only add to their legend. Meanwhile, an Eagles' triumph would be just the second time this century that a club has made a Grand Final, let alone won a flag, after missing the finals the previous season – an astounding achievement in modern football and simply remarkable for a second-year coach in Adam Simpson.
West Coast 3 – 1992, 1994, 2006
Hawthorn 12 – 1961, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2008, 2013, 2014
Last five Grand Finals
1991 – LOST by 53 points to Hawthorn (at Waverley)
1992 – WON by 28 points against Geelong
1994 – WON by 80 points against Geelong
2005 – LOST by 4 points to Sydney Swans
2006 – WON by 1 point to West Coast
1991 – WON by 53 points against West Coast
2008 – WON by 26 points against Geelong
2012 – LOST by 10 points against Sydney Swans
2013 – WON by 15 points against Fremantle
2014 – WON by 63 points against Sydney Swans