WHERE: Etihad Stadium
WHEN: Sunday, 3:20 PM
COVERAGE: Channel 7; SEN – 1116; 3WBC radio – 94.1FM
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
Round 20, 2018: Box Hill 13.13 (91) defeated Casey 6.10 (46) at Box Hill City Oval
Round 6, 2018: Casey 16.15 (111) defeated Box Hill 11.6 (72) at Casey Fields
Round 10, 2017: Box Hill 11.7 (73) defeated by Casey 14.15 (99) at Box Hill City Oval
Round 21, 2016: Box Hill 8.8 (56) defeated by Casey 11.20 (86) at Box Hill City Oval
Round 7, 2016: Casey 12.11 (83) defeated Box Hill 11.10 (76) at Casey Fields
SETTING THE SCENE
The Box Hill Hawks and Casey Demons will meet in the last match of September for the first time in VFL history, when the two sides face off in the battle for silverware at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Box Hill will contest their first showpiece final since 2015, and will be out to add a third premiership cup to those won in 2001 and 2013. In a period of great success for the brown and gold, the Hawks have fought out five finals series between 2013 and 2018, qualifying for four grand finals along the way and failing to reach the last four on just one occasion.
For the Demons, the match marks their second grand final appearance in three seasons, having played against and lost to Footscray in the 2016 decider, with their last taste of premiership success in 1999.
But in season 2018 – it’s an even keel.
In round six, the Demons proved too strong on their home deck, accounting for the Hawks to the tune of 39 points; while the Hawks atoned for the loss in the rivals’ most recent meeting, putting an end to Casey’s twelve match unbeaten streak with a runaway 45-point victory in round twenty.
With a match so evenly poised, a recent history of tight encounters and a finals series which has thus far proved to be nothing short of incredible, the match shapes as a blockbuster.
At the conclusion of the home and away season, the Demons ranked last in the league for hit-outs per game and ninth for clearances, but as the clearly top-ranked team for tackles, thrive on winning the ball back from their opposition. Casey have recorded 116 and 135 tackles in their qualifying and preliminary final wins, respectively, and will look to clamp down as not to afford the Hawks the space they desire for their accustomed uncontested game.
However, the dry conditions under the Etihad Stadium roof may best suit the Hawks, who rank first in the VFL for uncontested possessions, effective kicks and uncontested marks per game. With elite ball use, their tall targets become immediately dangerous while if the ball hits the deck, Box Hill’s small forwards have also been a potent weapon, proven in recent weeks.
The day looms as particularly special for the brown and gold, shaping as a doubler header with both VFL and VFLW Hawks out to cap stellar season campaigns with the ultimate defining glory. Following a 2017 season in which they managed just three wins to finish third-last, the Hawthorn women have enjoyed an incredible revival this year, and will look to get the day off to the perfect start, kicking off the action at 12:30PM.
The day will conclude a thrilling ‘Love the Game’ finals series; a partnership between AFL Victoria and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. The Foundation’s ‘Love the Game’ campaign reminds adults and the kids in their care that sport and betting don’t have to go together – whether a player or a fan, it’s about loving the game, not the odds.
HOW TO FOLLOW?
Hawks fans are encouraged to attend the match at Etihad Stadium donned in their brown and gold, to show their support for both the women and men. Tickets are priced at $23 for adults and $16 for all valid concession holders, while children under 15 will be admitted for free; available at the gate or to be pre-purchased here. Whilst all seating will be general admission, special bays will be available on a first come, first served basis; with the cheer squad located at Level 1 Aisle 48-1 and a brown and gold supporter bay at Level 1 Aisle 11-12.
Those unable to make it to Etihad will be able to watch all the action unfold, with the first bounce to the final siren televised live on Channel 7 from 3:00PM, or via the plus7 streaming service online. Alternatively, radio coverage will be available through SEN and 3WBC on the day.
As throughout the year, running commentary will also be provided by our official social channels over the course of the match; with Twitter the destination for play by play action, and Facebook and Instagram providing updates by the quarter.
While no omissions have been made from the group who accounted for Williamstown last week, there will be some headaches at the selection table as a trio of AFL-listed talent put their hand up; with the final line-up to be formalised prior to the first bounce.
Former skipper and club record holder for games in that role, David Mirra, has been named in the back pocket, and shapes as a crucial addition to an already in-form back six. Lifting the cup back in 2013 and featuring in the senior Hawks’ AFL semi-final a week ago, Mirra would bring a wealth of experience – and versatility, having booted three goals the last time Box Hill and Casey clashed.
Dashing Irishman, Conor Nash, also returns to the mix in what would be his first appearance for the VFL side since the Hawks’ round 18 win over Collingwood. The able-bodied code convert’s impressive form was rewarded by Alistair Clarkson through an extended stint in the senior side, as well as an AFL finals series.
Rising young gun James Worpel also joins the list of possible ins, with his last outing for Box Hill a best afield round 15 performance, which duly earned senior selection. The first-year midfielder would make a welcome addition following stellar form at both senior and reserve level.
Michael Knoll rounds out the inclusions, with the big-man a potential foil for Marc Pittonet; his competitive nature, and tackle numbers which far belie his frame, a perfect match to finals football.
For the opposition, the Demons will be armed with the services of 12 Melbourne-listed players, headlined by the return of Bayley Fritsch, after the first-year mainstay missed out on the senior Demons preliminary final selection.
Despite notching 23 games and averaging 16 disposals, the speedster unfortunately comes from the AFL side, as Melbourne look to combat a potent West Coast forward line.
To do so, they recall athletic backman, Joel Smith, whose defensive efforts for Casey have been instrumental in both finals victories – highlighted particularly in his desperate save deep in defence late against the Bombers – arguably, the best piece of play on the day which went a long way to securing a Demon triumph.
Pressure forward, Dion Johnstone, also comes from the preliminary final winning side, found guilty of striking Essendon’s Nino Lazzaro, following an unsuccessful appeal at the tribunal.
The experienced head of Bernie Vince will again feature, continuing his last gasp effort to rebound from injury – a shoulder blow sustained in the round preceding the occasion when the two sides last met – prior to his retirement at the end of the year.
Familiar Melbourne names Jeff Garlett, Cameron Pedersen and Tom Bugg will also return; as well as skipper Jack Hutchins, who will be pivotal in defence, particularly in the absence of Smith.
Five additional players are in the mix to come in, with Pat McKenna, Goy Lok, Jaxon Briggs, Aidan Quigley and Angus Scott named on the extended bench.
Melbourne’s emergencies for the AFL preliminary final against West Coast – Jay Kennedy Harris, Jayden Hunt and Bayley Fritsch – will fly back from Perth on Saturday to ensure they are available for the VFL decider.
HOW HAVE WE BEEN DOING?
Box Hill opened the year with four straight wins – to sit atop the ladder – before a loss to the Demons brought about a mid-season slump in which the Hawks dropped five of seven games and subsequently, slid back down the table. However, the brown and gold recovered to finish the home and away season with six wins in the last seven matches, to ultimately finish in sixth place. While narrowly denied the double chance, the Hawks have hit a rich vein of form at the right time of year.
Box Hill were then made to earn their grand final berth through an enthralling extra-time elimination final triumph over Port Melbourne, a gutsy semi-final victory over the Cats and a nail-biting one-point win over Williamstown.
HOW HAVE THEY BEEN DOING?
Casey began the season with back-to-back wins, before dropping games to Richmond and Geelong to hold an even record a month into their campaign. However, those losses spurred the Demons on to string together 12 consecutive victories, setting a benchmark for the rest of the competition in the process. In a tight and tough competition where final ladder positioning went down to the wire, losses at the tail-end of the year to Williamstown and grand final opponents, Box Hill, saw the Demons fall just shy of the minor premiership, and finish second on the table.
Ultimately, the Demons won their way straight through to the preliminary final, casting the Cats aside by a very comfortable 91 point to progress with an unused double chance in their back pocket. A much closer battle ensued, with an eight-point victory over the Bombers in wet and wild conditions booking their place in the final decider.
ONE TO WATCH
The 2018 VFL finals series has been a coming of age for a number of young Hawks – and last week, it was the turn of Dylan Moore to come to the fore.
Suffering a setback early in the season after fracturing his shoulder, Moore bounced back with resilience and has only gotten better as the season has worn on. Praised by senior coach, Chris Newman, for this elite stamina and ability to work up and down the ground, it was due reward for effort when Moore booted four goals and racked up 20 disposals at North Port Oval last week, in an outstanding performance which proved pivotal in securing the one-point victory.
And while it’s difficult to argue just how impressive the young Hawks have been, experience is undoubtedly invaluable in September – and nobody exemplifies this quite like Brendan Whitecross.
A utility in the true sense of the word, Whitecross has continually played ‘Mr. Fix-It,’ thrown in the mix where required and never failing to fill the void. His poise and level head shine, with the decision making, execution and sure hands of the seasoned campaigner often a cut above.
A leader, a mentor, a team man and a true champion. The hard luck story of Hawthorn’s three-peat, you’d be hard-pressed to find a man who deserves a premiership medal more than Whitey.