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2012 AFL Grand Final Preview

There is just one day in September worth knowing about, and that is AFL Grand Final Day. Saturday's the day - 1430 AEST, or on this side of the world, a rather early start at 0530. For a proper taste of the atmosphere, get to your nearest Aussie pub - it will be going off like a frog in a sock....

I have been provided with a seriously good preview of the 2012 AFL grand final by Reading the Play who provide AFL, NFL and NRL previews and betting advice. Dr Matt is their AFL & NFL guru and has excelled this year wih a 95-63 60% SR on AFL games. With a maths/science background and an economics degree, Dr Matt combines in-depth statistical analysis with a very astute dissection of betting markets. Follow him on Twitter, @downisthenewup_ and read his AFL and NFL material at Reading the Play


2012 AFL Grand Final Preview
Hawthorn v Sydney

17 - 7 ATS TOTAL 16 - 8
15 - 7 ATS FAVE 12 - 4
1 - 0 ATS DOG 4 - 3
9 - 6 ATS MCG 0 - 1
8 - 5 ATS HOME GAMES 8 - 4
8 - 5 ATS HOME FAVE 8 - 3
0 - 0 ATS HOME DOG 0 - 1
9 - 2 ATS AWAY GAMES 8 - 4
7 - 2 ATS AWAY FAVE 4 - 1
3 - 2 ATS AWAY DOG 3 - 2
2 - 3 ATS LAST 5 3 - 2

Hawthorn Sydney
121.3 FOR 102.8
80.1 AGAINST 72.6
201.4 TOTAL 175.4
122.5 FOR 62.0
84.6 AGAINST 91.0
207.1 TOTAL 153.0
119.2 FOR 100.2
72.6 AGAINST 72.9
191.8 TOTAL 173.1
111.6 FOR 101.4
83.8 AGAINST 82.2
195.4 TOTAL 183.6


R22 27/8/2012 SCG Sydney 95 lost to 102 Hawthorn (-2.5)
R5 9/04/2012 Aurora Hawthorn 69 lost to 106 Sydney (+19.5)
SF 16/09/2011 MCG Hawthorn (-36.5) 122 d 86 Sydney
R9 22/05/2011 SCG Sydney 60 lost to 106 Hawthorn (+3.5)
R19 7/08/2010 SCG Sydney (+5.5) 129 d 85 Hawthorn
R10 30/05/2010 MCG Hawthorn 79 d 77 Sydney (+21.5)
R11 7/06/2009 MCG Hawthorn 86 d 75 Sydney (+15.5)
R22 4/04/2009 ANZ STADIUM Sydney (+16.5) 143 d 105 Hawthorn
R15 13/07/2008 MCG Hawthorn (-16.5) 106 d 75 Sydney
R22 2/09/2007 SCG Sydney (+11.5) 141 d 69 Hawthorn
R11 9/06/2007 MCG Hawthorn 66 lost to 75 Sydney (+11.5)

(team that covered the line in bold. Game winner in italics)

Sydney have won just one of their last 15 games at the MCG since beating Hawthorn at the ground in R11 2007. They have one win, one draw and 13 losses in those 15 games. Even as finalists in 2008/10/11 the Swans were unable to beat the likes of perennial non-finalists Richmond and Melbourne at the ground. The only win they have at the MCG since 2007 was against Richmond in 2008 - a year the Swans finished 12th and the Tigers were 15th. Through those 15 games the Swans scored more than 90 points only once and managed more than 13 goals once - both in the solitary win.

We have seen in 2011/12 a common theme in games between top teams. Pressure is not able to be maintained. Teams come out and dominate another for a period then fade away, some come back again some don't, games ebb and flow or change dramatically. Think about these games in 2012 - Sydney v Essendon, Sydney v Geelong game I, Hawthorn v Sydney meeting I and II, Geelong v Hawthorn I & II, Hawthorn v Collingwood I & III, Hawthorn v WCE II, Collingwood v Freo, Collingwood v WCE II. Hawthorn v Adelaide II.

I can go on and on with examples. The theme is momentum shifts. That one team starts fast and then tries to hold on as the other comes back or one team finally kicks away after a first half struggle only to have the other come back or that one team is able to desperately and doggedly stick with the other before finally capitulating and allowing the other team to kick away late (Hawthorn v Collingwood I & III).

This brings me back to Sydney and their MCG 'hoodoo' - On a smaller ground the Swans can maintain their pressure for longer periods of time and when turnovers are inevitably forced they are able to move the ball quickly to score. This is the basis of their ‘style’ and who it is so successful at the SCG. Over past decade the Swans have a winning percentage at the SCG of 71%. The pressure and intensity are harder to maintain on the larger ground as increased effort is required, this leads to fatigue, which leads reduced second efforts which of course will advantage an opponent with the high disposal efficiency percentage and structure of the Hawks.

The lack of a key position forward also hurts on larger grounds. We have seen this year Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood employ similar tactics in their wins over Sydney in the past eight weeks. Collingwood somehow failed to use the same tactics in the Semi Final 2 weeks ago. In the swans defeats the ball barriers were pressured heavily out of half-back and through the middle of the ground. The extra time & possessions needed allowed the defence to zone off causing the midfield to bomb kicks in that could more easily be defused and subsequently run out of defence. Both Hawthorn (R22) and Collingwood (R20) had more clearances than Sydney. After the Swans unleashed hell in the first quarter against Hawthorn with over 25 tackles, the Hawks beat them in the tackle count for the next three quarters as did Collingwood two weeks earlier - Geelong had them covered here as well. The Swans forwards then struggled to kick a winning score as Sydney rely on their midfielders for run and carry and to kick goals. Sydney had more inside 50s against both Hawthorn and Collingwood in their defeats but failed to turn that into goals. Collingwood’s structures fell down last week causing easy entries for the Swans midfielders. They over committed forward and then did not work back or pressure the ball carriers nearly enough. In R22 the Hawks took a quarter to implement and gave a head start, but the Cats (R23) and the Pies (R20) did the same and zoned off across HB. Collingwood also failed to do what Hawthorn, Geelong and the Pies themselves in the previous meeting had done with great effect - they let Jetta run free. He was damaging. His possessions in the other match ups were not. There is no way he will be given the same space to run.

Sydney was able to take their season high marks inside forward 50 in two games against Hawthorn, 13 and 14. The wet weather will not help them replicate that here. Hawthorn beat Sydney twice in 2011 and was 26 points up at half time in their R5 meeting this year before capitulating with just two second half goals that had Sydney running away, the Hawks were not interested there. Schoenmakers led Hawthorn in contested possession Round 5. Mitchell, Sewell, Lewis didn't even break their top 5 for contested ball. That speaks volumes. In the R22 meeting this year the swans opened an early break and were up by 38 points midway through the second quarter before 6 unanswered goals got the hawks back in the game. A combination of Sydney’s effort not being able to be maintained and Hawthorn tweaking their matchups and structure after quarter time changed the games - The Hawks kicked 15 goals to 10 after the first break. In fact to be more accurate you can almost pinpoint the spot where the swans early effort took its toll - from the 18 minute mark of the second quarter Hawthorn kicked 14 goals to 7. The free kick count could be mentioned as well - it was 17-4 Sydney’s way at half time. After HT it went 8-8. Reduced effort, reduced reward.

The Swans were able to beat the Hawks in Contested and Uncontested possessions in that game - something that does not happen very often, however the Hawks pressure led to 9 swans turnovers. There has been much said about the Sydney "pressure" but the bring a pressure of their own - shifting the ball quickly at high disposal efficiency and running their opponent ragged. Sydney rely on their feeders to kick goals and create goals for them so it’s imperative that the Hawks put the pressure on and make them accountable going the other way – this is something Hawthorn does very, very well – they dominate teams as they come out of defence and shift the ball quickly and precisely. Before their last meeting the common theme was that the Hawks would struggle on the SCG because of their possession style game – Hawthorn’s disposal efficiency is key -The Hawks used to be the best team in chipping the ball around with deft short passes, but now they are also excelling at going long and accurate. When they control the ball in set-position play, they are still the No.1 short-term kicks. And they still go short on most occasions in the defensive half. But this year the Hawks are smashing teams with long, piercing kicks used to a stunning effect. In 2011 Hawks were No.1 in short kicks in general play (69.2%). This year they are ranked 18th (55.6%) – a significant change in style. And in the forward half, the Hawks have gone from No.1 in short kicks (69.7%) last year to No.17th (53.1%) so far this season. They work to get men in space with short kicks then move it quickly with long accurate passes.

Hawthorn are #1 for inside 50s. They are also #1 for inside 50s allowed.

Sydney #9 inside 50s #6 for inside 50s allowed.

Hawthorn average +13.9 inside 50s per game, The Swans average +5.2 inside 50s per game.

Sydney are ranked #1 allowing opponents to score on 42% of inside 50s, the Hawks are ranked #7 allowing opponents to score 49% of inside 50 entries.

This is key - If Hawthorn had have kicked straight and taken their chances against Adelaide last week they would have won by 40+ points. They had 32 shots at goal and failed to score 100 points. Similar could be said for the Swans who kicked 13.18. However there is a big difference when you plot the position of the shots. Many of Hawthorn’s were set shots in front and shots in play within 30m of goal. Sydney’s were not - the majority of Sydney’s behinds came from 45m+ and on angles - both set shots and in general play. This is the defensive structures in effect.

Sydney will not give up easily though this will be a tight contest. The Swans have the ability to tackle heavily like last time and force turnovers - they do this almost better than anyone (ranked #2 in clangers against). Hawthorn thought are in a good position to withstand it though, they are #1 in disposal efficiency and #2 in least clangers committed. Sydney average +3 turnovers per game, the Hawks +2 turnovers per game.

I have heard a lot of people saying the weather favours the Swans. I don't buy it. Hawthorn has been one of the best wet weather teams in recent years – it’s all about disposal efficiency. I don’t think Sydney can expose Hawthorn’s lack of a ‘big’ defender with a wet and windy day forecast. Sydney’s reliance on small forwards and mids to kick goals will be tested.

Hawthorn are #1 Offence, #3 Defence #1 scoring differential #1 ATS.

Sydney are #5 Offence # 1 Defence #2 scoring differential #2ATS.

This is superb match up, however I can not see Sydney maintaining the required level of pressure for the four quarters that will be required. Hawthorn’s disposal efficiency, advantage at the ground and their powerful offence will inevitably get them across the line in a tough battle. I see this as very similar to the Hawthorn v WCE game in R23. You also have to consider the ‘freak factor’ in big games – Hawthorn have guys like Franklin and Rioli who can change a game in minutes. Hawthorn has the ability to flick a switch like no other team.

Predicting scores is always tough, especially when the weather is involved so I would be looking at a score around Hawthorn 95 to Sydney 75 here. Hawks by 15 to 20 points. That makes the line and the total both within a goal - no bet for my liking.

The 1-39 margin is currently priced at $2.21 which implies a 45% chance. I rate this above 55% and think this is overs. It is hard to see Hawthorn blowing Sydney away here. A hard fought contest and this represents the value.

Hawthorn 1-39 points @ $2.21 with Pinnacle.


  1. Hawthorn #1 Offence
    Sydney # 1 Defence

    Back the defence. Sydney to win.


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