AND then there were four.
After one of the best opening weekends of finals football in years, the follow-up was not as fulfilling, but just as enlightening with the two remaining Victorian teams flying the flag for the state.
The Hawks roared back into premiership reckoning with a resounding victory, while the Roos defied the odds yet again to find their way back to a preliminary final for the second year running.
We are getting to the business end of the finals so let’s take a look at the semi-finals and how the two winners progressed.
Semi-final weekend – The Roos roll on while the Hawks slip into top gear
Week two of the 2015 finals series began on Friday night at the MCG with the Hawks making an emphatic statement, hammering the Crows by 74 points.
Hawthorn shrugged off any doubt that their premiership defence was over in a blistering first quarter, kicking eight goals to two to creat a 38-point lead at quarter time.
The Hawks ended up with 21 goals for the game in a brutal display which helped ease the fears of Hawthorn supporters that the three-peat may be outside of their grasp.
The manner in which Hawthorn dismantled the Crows will give coach Alistair Clarkson huge confidence going into Friday night’s preliminary final against Fremantle, with several key players finding their top form at the right time of the season.
Luke Breust was instrumental up forward, booting six goals, James Frawley was terrific on Taylor Walker, limiting the Adelaide captain to just one goal while Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge’s four goal, best on ground performance reminded everyone just how damaging he can be.
In further positive news for the Hawks, injured forward Jack Gunston is set to return for Friday night’s massive clash after sustaining an ankle injury in the qualifying final loss to the Eagles.
As a consequence of their dominant win, Sportsbet have moved the Hawks into second favourite for the flag at $2.60 – only ten cents shy of favourites the West Coast Eagles.
They also travel to Perth as strong favourites to defeat the Dockers on Friday night, with Crownbet keeping the reigning premiers very strong at the $1.60 mark.
Saturday night in Sydney saw the Kangaroos become the first team in AFL history to progress through to a preliminary final from eighth position after defeating the Swans by 26-points.
The Roos will play in back-to-back preliminary finals against all odds after grinding out the win against the injury-hit Sydney Swans, who were depleted through the middle and up forward.
Nick Dal Santo and Ben Cunnington dominated through the middle, while hard-nosed on-baller was fantastic for the visitors, ending the game with 25 disposals and eight tackles.
With captain Kieran Jack and Luke Parker missing through injury for the Swans the home side struggled to match the Roos through the middle; especially with prolific ball winner Daniel Hannebery limited to just 20 touches.
The Roos led at every change and will take great confidence going over to Perth, even though the red-hot Eagles await.
North Melbourne coach Brad Scott was pleased with his side’s September response after struggling at times through the regular season.
“I’m really proud. A great ex-coach of mine once said it’s not about the qualifying period of 22 rounds, it’s about the best team in September,” he said.
“We’ve been working really hard on producing our best at this time of year and we feel we’re pretty close to it.
“We’re going there (to Perth) with a method that we think stacks up in the heat of September and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
Despite spirited performances against the Tigers and the Swans, the Kangaroos are the only team in double figures in the premiership market, with Sportsbet placing the Roos at $15 to win the 2015 flag.
Brad Scott’s men also head into the match against West Coast on Saturday night as $4.65 outsiders with Crownbet, with flag favourites the Eagles the favoured bet of the weekend at $1.20.
West Coast: Positive news on the injury front for the Eagles heading into their home final on Saturday night, with Matt Priddis and Chris Masten both declared fit to play against the Kangaroos.
Jeremy McGovern and Luke Shuey trained strongly on Monday, allaying concerns raised over the weekend that the duo will be unavailable.
Fremantle: Mixed news for the Dockers with superstar midfielder and Brownlow medal favourite Nat Fyfe fit to play against the Hawks Friday night.
There were fears a lower leg injury would keep the 24-year old out of Friday night’s preliminary final, but Fremantle are confident their stud on-baller will be good to go.
A calf injury has ruled important defender Luke McPharlin out of the match with the Dockers toying with the idea of bringing back Ryan Crowley after his ASADA suspension ended this week.
Hawthorn: While he is yet to be confirmed as a definite starter, versatile forward Jack Gunston looks set to at least travel with the team across to Perth.
Gunston missed last week’s match with a twisted ankle, but the Hawks are confident it was only a one week injury and he will be free to line up against the Dockers.
Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake will be given up until the bounce to prove his fitness after sustaining an abdomen injury, but the reigning premiers are expecting the veteran defender to play.
North Melbourne: In what would be a huge boost for the Roos, coach Brad Scott has declared dashing midfielder Daniel Wells ‘a chance’ to make a shock return against the Eagles.
Wells has not played since injuring his Achilles tendon back in round two.
There are two key concerns for North Melbourne heading into Saturday night however, with key forward Drew Petrie and defender Robbie Tarrant both in doubt.
Petrie landed awkwardly on his knee in Saturday night’s win over the Swans, but played out the match after the incident early in the third quarter.
Petrie was cleared of any structural damage in the aftermath, and while he might be restricted in his full range of motion, the important forward is expected to play.
Robbie Tarrant, who was a late withdrawal last week with a slight abductor tear is an outside chance to play dependent on an incident-free week.
The injury occurred on the kicking side of his body, which could prove problematic, but the strongly built defender is still a good chance of playing Saturday night.
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