Tonight night sees the Hawks and Bulldogs clash in a do or die semi-final at the MCG.
The second week of the finals is upon us, with the Western Bulldogs, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney and Adelaide all successful in their pursuit to advance further into September last weekend.
The Cats and the Giants have earnt their week off and will eagerly await their next challengers which will be decided on Friday and Saturday night.
As for the Bulldogs their September campaign moves onto this weekend, taking on a Hawthorn side still set on winning four premierships in-a-row.
So who goes through to a preliminary final and which team does the September dream end for this evening?
Hawthorn vs Western Bulldogs, Friday, 7.50pm at the MCG
How different this week could have been for Hawthorn if Isaac Smith’s kick after the siren had sailed through for a goal rather than a behind, it’s the agony and the ecstasy of finals football.
Last week’s agony sees the Hawks back up in a must win final against Luke Beveridge’s Bulldogs outfit, who dismantled a more favoured opponent in the West Coast Eagles at Paterson’s Stadium last Thursday night by 47-points.
It was a win that many knew the Bulldogs were capable but few expected them to accomplish considering the harsh card they have been dealt with this season in terms of injuries.
Having battled injuries all year, this weekend sees the Bulldogs face an even harder test, taking on a hungry Hawks team who know that a loss will end their run at a historic ‘four-peat’.
The Hawks and Bulldogs have played once this season, being an epic encounter where Hawthorn scraped home by three-points. Expect to see a similar contest if both teams bring their A-game tonight at the MCG.
Hawthorn played arguably their best game of the season last Friday night in their two-point loss to the Cats, despite not quite stealing the result.
They controlled most of the game, with Geelong just keeping their hand in it throughout.
The Bulldogs in turn will need another strong performance from their midfield, they dominated in contested possession from the outset against the Eagles, and will be looking to bring the same intensity to the MCG this week.
If the Hawks are able to get the ball into space by using their elite kicking skills it may stretch the Bulldogs line-up across the MCG, allowing them to slice through the Bulldog’s midfield, who prefer the ball in tight, winning contested possession.
Expect to see the Bulldogs try and apply plenty of pressure to the Hawthorn defenders and midfielders to ensure the game doesn’t break open.
Winning the clearances and getting plenty of inside 50’s will also be crucial for the Bulldogs who are the lowest scoring side in the top eight this season.
Repetitive inside 50’s from midfield clearance dominance could see the Bulldogs kick a winning score against the Hawks.
Caleb Daniel starred for the Bulldogs last weekend and will need to be instrumental again if they are to produce something similar to their performance in Perth, watch to see if he lines up alongside Sam Mitchell as he did in round three of the home and away season.
Hawthorn’s champion trio of Mitchell, Lewis and Hodge all performed at their best last Friday night but were still unable to deliver the Hawks a result.
Don’t expect that to happen twice though if those three contribute strongly against the Bulldogs.
Cyril Rioli and Jake Stringer are two players who are capable of lighting up the G’ when the moment beckons.
Rioli kicked two goals in last week’s loss against Geelong whilst Stringer will be looking to improve dramatically from his one goal and ten possession return game against the Eagles.
The eight day break between last week’s game and Friday’s will ensure that the trip to and from Perth has left the Bulldogs in good stead, whilst Hawthorn have had a week to mull over their loss to the Cats.
The Bulldogs have earnt the respect of the football world this season with their fierce competitiveness despite the injuries they have suffered to their list.
Whether the result is a win or a loss for them on Friday night football, they’ll go out fighting.
The Hawks have been here before and know what it takes, perform at their best and they may just be too slick for the Bulldogs. If they’re anything short of that they’ll be in for a tussle.
The result will be: Hawthorn to win by eight points, reaching their sixth consecutive preliminary final.