Stoppages to be telling
The key to Fremantle’s rapid improvement this season has been a dramatic lift in intensity and tackling pressure and a renewed focus on contested ball. The improvement in the club’s young players has also been outstanding.
They’re playing a more simplistic game, getting it inside 50 as often as they can and holding it in there with outstanding forward pressure. They also have a lot of good decision-makers in the side.
Fremantle’s youngsters won’t hold any fear coming into a home final, but senior players Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and David Mundy will still need to stand up for them.
I think the Hawks’ win over Collingwood would have been a significant confidence booster for them, and the back end of their season has been outstanding. They’ve returned to that tough, “unsociable” brand of football.
I wouldn’t even count the last time these sides met. Mark Harvey has suggested that Hawthorn has not seen his best side, but you don’t necessarily need to play a side twice a year to know what they’re going to do. Fremantle will feel confident about that, but Hawthorn wouldn’t be worried.
BACKLINE v BACKLINE
Antoni Grover is a strong lockdown-type backman and has to be the match-up for Jarryd Roughead, while Luke McPharlin has the versatility to play on Lance Franklin. Both match up well. The key, with so much quality in the Hawks’ midfield, is going to be stopping the supply coming in easily. Fremantle has quality ball users in its backline and Paul Duffield and Roger Hayden can launch forward attacks.
The Hawks’ backline is its major worry, and they haven’t got a big bear to play on Pavlich when he is forward. I think they’ll go with Josh Gibson first, and they may even try and get one number back straight away and see how that goes. A slow, congested game will help the Hawks’ back six, with numbers flooding back to protect them.
MIDFIELD v MIDFIELD
Sandilands was fantastic last week, accumulating 17 contested possessions and 13 clearances in his first game back. He also had 40 hit-outs and he needs to give his midfielders, particularly Mundy, first use this week. There’s no doubt it’ll be bottled up a fair bit, and I think Pavlich will come into the midfield for periods, as he has done all year.
The Hawks will go third man up a lot, particularly through Luke Hodge, and they’ll do everything they can to tire out Sandilands. Their ground level players are high quality, and they’ve added the in-form Shaun Burgoyne this year. They are all such experienced players and big game players, and if they can get their hands on some clean football in the midfield they’ll put a lot of pressure on Fremantle’s backline.
FORWARD LINE v FORWARD LINE
Pavlich will move between the forward line and the midfield, but he kicks goals from the midfield. That’s a big issue that will play out through the game. Fremantle will also need Chris Mayne to kick goals, while defensive forward Matt de Boer will need to pinch a goal or two. Their defensive pressure will remain a key.
Of the two key forwards for the Hawks, Franklin is the match winner and they’ll push players up the ground to isolate him. Midfield goalkickers are also a big strength of Hawthorn’s, with Hodge, Burgoyne and Cyril Rioli all scoring sources. They will be vitally important if Franklin and Roughead are well held.
COACH v COACH
Mark Harvey’s really put his stamp on how he wants Fremantle to play. He’s simplified the game plan, prioritised contested ball and his players tackle hard and are accountable. They’re hard-nosed footballers in the Harvey mould and they don’t take a backwards step. He’s improved their mental strength and their hunger to attack the footy.
Alastair Clarkson has also ensured his players have regained their physical edge. They prided themselves on that “unsociable” brand, and they’ve gone back to that again. They’re not afraid to give away some 50m penalties or free kicks, because they play their best football when they’re on the edge.
UNDER THE RADAR
Fyfe is a really exciting prospect and he’s shown all year that he doesn’t get flustered when he’s under pressure. He finds the footy and makes good decisions when he has it, and he’s got really good game sense. He’s a courageous youngster and could definitely play a key role for Fremantle.
Stratton has held up in the backline all year and if he can do a job for the Hawks it could well be a key to them winning. The mature-age rookie has had a really good first year and shapes as a key player in a weak back six.
HOW THE GAME WILL BE WON
The midfield is going to be massive in this game and Sandilands is the key. If he can give first use to his midfielders and keep it away from Sam Mitchell, Hodge and Burgoyne, Fremantle can win. If the game does get out of their control, they can get the stoppage game going again, knowing they can at least dominate the hit-outs and hopefully first possessions. That’s how they can wrest back the momentum and win this game. I think the home ground, a loud crowd and the desire of Fremantle’s young players will get them over the line.
Fremantle by six points
Daniel Metropolis has spent the last two years as West Coast’s defensive coach but has not had his contract renewed for next season.