HAWTHORN has been the favoured team to win the AFL Premiership for most of the 2015 season.
Not any more.
A dominant performance in the qualifying final on Friday night from the West Coast Eagles ($2.75 with sportsbet.com.au) that put the reigning back-to-back champions to the sword has the punters jumping on board the men from Perth.
And, with the Hawks’ ($3.70 with sportsbet.com.au) job made that much harder, they’ve slipped to third in the line of betting, with the Fremantle Dockers ($3.50), who beat a wasteful Sydney in the other qualifying final also surpassing them.
It was a meek display from the Hawks in Perth, up against a side that looked hungrier, more polished and more willing, admittedly in front of a hostile crowd that was almost like the 19th man.
But you’d expect the seasoned Hawks to deal with that situation and come to play.
West Coast smashed them, 14.12 (96) to 9.10 (64), giving itself a week’s rest and booking its spot in the preliminary final.
Despite losing one of their best players in midfield dynamo Matt Priddis – the reigning Brownlow Medallist, the Eagles suffocated the Hawks with rabid pressure that gave the former premiership fancies no room to move.
They actually won the clearances without having to worry about Priddis, but it mattered little as the Eagles were too quick and too tough for the Hawks.
In the absence of Priddis, Luke Schuey was an absolute monster, 11 of his 25 touches contested, while Nic Naitanui made the Hawks ruck men look like slow lumps, with 40 hit outs and 12 contested possessions, often skying over Ben McEvoy and David Hale. The Hawks tried Jarryd Roughead on him and Naitanui just rag dolled the smaller man out of his way.
Josh Kennedy booted three goals and Mark LeCras had a huge third term that really put the match to bed. Josh Hill also kicked three goals.
Matt Rosa had 26, while Shannon Hurn was an absolute road block for the Hawks, his deep kick ins helping the Eagles flock forward.
It was the usual suspects for the Hawks, with Sam Mitchell (35), captain Luke Hodge (29) and hard man Jordan Lewis (25) leading the way, as has so often been the case through their golden era.
The good news for the Eagles is that Priddis now gets an extra week to get over the thigh strain that kept him out on Friday night.
The Hawks were condemned to face and Adelaide side that is running high on emotion, spurred on by the spirit of slain coach Phil Walsh.
The Crows got over the line in a thriller in the elimination final, beating the Western Bulldogs by seven points, 16.13 (109) to 14.18 (102).
It was heartbreak for the Dogs and joy for the Crows, with both side’s providing the feel good element with their performances this season.
Mighty Mouse Eddie Betts provided the inspiration up forward, the little man bagging five goals in a best on ground display for the Crows.
Captain Taylor Walker was a tower of strength, raking in 10 marks to go with his three goals, while Ricky Henderson roamed across half back and accumulated 29 possessions.
Scott Thompson and Patrick Dangerfield both had 26 touches each and were among the Crows’ best on the day.
For the Doggies, Tory Dickson had perhaps his best game for the club, matching Betts with five goals, while Lachie Hunter had 28 and Luke Dahlhaus 27.
Dickson kicked five straight, but the rest of the Dogs were woeful in front of the big sticks and that’s what proved costly.
They booted four of the first five goals to start the match, then emulated that in the last quarter to go ahead, but Adelaide pegged it back and the Dogs will be kicking themselves after booting 3.6 in the third term, many of them easy shots.
The Crows will go to the MCG to take on the Hawks, but, whoever gets over the line in this one then has the unenviable task of travelling to Perth to take on the Dockers in the preliminary final.
Long suffering Richmond fans are still just that – long suffering.
You can’t help but feel for them and the performance the put out on the deck against North Melbourne helps you understand why they can be so fickle.
The Tigs were favoured to take out the Kangaroos in the other elimination final, but it didn’t play out they way they would have hoped, the Roos rallying back from a two point deficit early in the last term and then holding on to win by 17 points, 15.15 (105) to 14.4 (88).
It looks like the 10 men who rested last week helped the Roos turn the tables on the Tigers, who appeared to run out of legs as the last quarter drew on.
Most notably, the performance of captain Trent Cotchin was abysmal.
So often their barometer, Cotchin was given a bath by little known tagger Ben Jacobs, recording just nine disposals, which equalled his career low.
Stating the bleeding obvious, but it’s probably not the game you want to churn out a pitiful performance like that.
The decision to bring Ben Griffiths in a month early from his finger surgery proved ill fated as well. The big fella had a decent season, but he had just four disposals and kicked two behinds, before being subbed off in the third quarter. Yikes.
Jack Riewoldt had his best game in weeks, slotting four goals, but Jarrad Waite proved the equaliser, kicking four of his own for the Roos.
But only Anthony Miles (22 possessions) and Dustin Martin (21 touches, but no goals) exceeded 20 touches.
North’s legendary little man Brent Harvey was the best player on the ground, his finals experience showing with 31 disposals and two goals. The next best was 23 touches to Jack Ziebell.
The Roos have to travel to Sydney now, while Tigers fans will again need to find solace in the fact cricket season is just around the corner.
Speaking of Sydney, It will take a big effort for the Swans to pick themselves up and put out something decent against North after they were abhorrent in front of goal in their loss to the Dockers in Perth, 10.9 (69) to 7.18 (60).
The Swans had 25 scoring shots to 19 in a super effort interstate, but sides that wasteful in front of goal rarely win games. They just couldn’t build that score board pressure and when that happens against a side like the Dockers, they just know how to take full advantage.
It was a remarkable effort from a Swans side missing superstar forward Lance Franklin, who revealed he was struggling with mental illness last week, gun midfielders Kieran Jack and Luke Parker, and defender Nick Smith.
They also lost Sam Reid after he did a hammy in the second quarter.
But they didn’t give up, even though they couldn’t kick straight.
Josh Kenney threw his depleted club on his shoulders and almost led it to victory, his 39 disposals setting an AFL record for the number of consecutive games with 30 plus, making it his 11th in succession.
Big forward Kurt Tippett might have earn his pay cheque this week, leading the way for the Swans with with three goals, but it was the small men who did the damage for Freo, little yappers Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne bagging three each.
The former also had 21 disposals in a performance overshadowed only by Kennedy and the Dockers’ Brownlow Medal favourite Nat Fyfe.
He was freshened up after missing two weeks with an “injury” and snared 32 disposals and kicked a goal.
Young buck Lachie Neale was also superb, emulating his star team mate with 32, while David Mundy had 27 and Stephen Hill 26.
A win here for either the Swans or Roos in the semi final and the Eagles await in the prelim. The Hawks will tell you that’s one of the toughest trips in footy.
Good luck, boys.
“The odds suggest the Swans and Hawks will have little trouble in their semi finals, and as per usual, we’ll be back to where we started in the preliminary finals as far as the top four teams are concerned,” sportsbet.com.au’s Christian Jantzen said.
2015 AFL Premiership market
West Coast Eagles ($2.75)
Fremantle Dockers ($3.50)
Hawthorn Hawks ($3.70)
Sydney Swans ($13)
Adelaide Crows ($16)
North Melbourne Kangaroos ($21)
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Sydney Swans ($1.46) vs. North Melbourne Kangaroos ($2.70)
Hawthorn Hawks ($1.34) vs. Adelaide Crows ($3.20)
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