WHERE: Fortburn Stadium, Port Melbourne
WHEN: Saturday, 2:40pm
HOW TO FOLLOW: Channel 7 will be broadcasting the match live, as well as streaming via their Plus7 streaming service. We’ll also be live tweeting the action via @boxhillhawks.
Additionally, 3WBC 94.1FM will be providing radio commentary.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
Round 5, 2017: Box Hill Hawks 18.8 (116) defeated Richmond 13.16 (94) at Box Hill City Oval
Round 16, 2016: Richmond 13.7 (85) defeated Box Hill Hawks 10.9 (69) at Punt Road Oval
Round 16, 2015: Box Hill Hawks 15.7 (97) defeated Richmond 8.10 (58) at Box Hill City Oval
Round 7, 2014: Richmond 8.12 (60) defeated by Box Hill Hawks 13.11 (89) at Punt Road Oval
Round 18, 2013: Coburg 5.18 (48) defeated by Box Hill Hawks 20.14 (134) at Piranha Park
Box Hill lost to Essendon (A) by 6
Richmond lost to Geelong (A) by 7
Box Hill lost to Port Melbourne (H) by 28
Richmond defeated Sandringham (H) by 70
Box Hill defeated Northern Blues (H) by 77
Richmond defeated Coburg (H) by 86
Finals Week One
Box Hill defeated Port Melbourne (H) by 13
Richmond defeated Collingwood (N) by 12
Finals Week Two
Box Hill – BYE
Richmond defeated Casey (N) by 27
So it all comes down to this. The final trial before the gladiators enter the coliseum. Of all the obstacles a side must navigate to win a premiership, preliminary final weekend is arguably the biggest. Sure, there’s the big dance itself, but without victory this weekend all the team meetings, training sessions, bumps, bruises, highs and lows don’t equal the chance to play off for the cup.
Both Box Hill and Richmond finished outside the eight last year, occupying ninth and tenth on the VFL ladder come the end of the home and away season. For a perfect illustration of each club’s change in fortune you needn’t look further than the fact they stand between one another for a berth in a Grand Final.
For the Hawks, it would be a fourth premiership decider in five years.
For Richmond, this September marks the first VFL finals campaign since becoming a standalone entity at the close of 2013, and their first in any capacity since 2008.
The Tigers are in the penultimate match of the season by virtue of arguably their best win of the year last weekend – an impressive Semi Final victory over Casey – and on the back of their longest winning streak of the season – which currently stands at four. Like their AFL side, Richmond are hitting top form at the right time, having survived two cutthroat finals to date.
As for Box Hill, the reward for a second place finish was a Qualifying Final against the always dangerous Port Melbourne. In a see-sawing contest the Hawks would eventually prevail, winning through to this weekend’s match, earning the weeks rest and the ideal preparation for a Preliminary Final.
The clubs last met in round five of the VFL season, with the Hawks running out winners to the tune of 22-points. The Tigers lead at half time, but a twelve goal to five second half was enough to get the Brown and Gold all four points.
Both sides figured prominently in this past week’s JJ Liston Trophy night, with Box Hill midfielders Andrew Moore and Anthony Brolic recognised with team of the year selection, whilst coach Chris Newman capped a fine first season at the helm by taking out VFL Coach of the Year.
Tiger Jacob Townsend claimed the top honour on the night, winning the competition’s best and fairest by two votes. Teammate Anthony Miles finished fifth in the count.
1. GROUND ZERO
Richmond’s recent success at AFL and VFL level has been built on a bedrock of manic, unrelenting pressure. Numbers swarm the ball, strangling their opponent on their own half back line.
It’s a tactic that causes panic and indecision, with the aim to create a turnover via tackle or a force a dump kick outside fifty, where a yellow and black defensive perimeter tidies up and attacks again.
Having said that, the Hawks’ pressure has been great, too, and isn’t so different at it’s core. Lane, Adduci, Kilpatrick, Switkowski, Murphy, Miles and Stewart have chopped and changed in the Hawks’ front line, each delivering terrific work rate and defensive pressure alongside a substantial goal threat.
What makes this aspect of the game so intriguing is the neutral surrounds of North Port Oval. Narrower than any venue Box Hill have played at since round fifteen’s visit to Sandringham’s Trevor Barker Beach Oval, acclimatising to a more compact ground will be key; what opportunities and challenges does this pose to executing the game plan?
The Tigers have adjusted already, with this weekend their third match in a row at the venue and their fourth for the year. This will be the Hawks second exposure to the straighter boundaries, having played against and drawn with Port Melbourne back in round seven.
Does a ‘skinnier’ ground make it easier to defend? Probably. There’s less grass to account for when not in possession. Does it make it harder to transition out of defence? Probably. There’s less space to work into to open up the field.
Time in forward half is always a telling statistic. This weekend, with two sides who like to choke their opponent high up the ground, it’ll be decisive.
The pressure detailed above, as impressive as it is, takes a toll. To execute it contest after contest, quarter after quarter, week after week takes extraordinary perseverance and focus.
Whilst the stakes are the same for both sides, this will be Richmond’s third do-or-die clash in as many weeks. Can the Tigers back up again and deliver such a labour intensive game plan for the third week on the spin?
For the Hawks’ part they’ll need to make sure they’re out of the gate nice and early, a slow start could be fatal against a team with Richmond’s confidence, energy and enthusiasm.
Momentum is undoubtedly good, as it validates the game plan, but so is rest.
3. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
The Hawks go into their biggest match of the season without their two leading goal-kickers.
Chris Jones is set to miss the remainder of the season after injury sustained against the Northern Blues, whilst Ty Vickery has been hit with a second one week suspension in four weeks.
So who kicks the goals? Earlier in the season I wrote of the ‘equal opportunity offence’ approach, in which a motley crew of off-broadway talls and smalls combine to wreak havoc. It isn’t about one or two spearheads copping the best defenders and returning a bag of goals, but a number of dangerous options posing a continuous and concurrent threat.
We’ve seen this in the last few weeks, with Moore, Murphy, Miles and Adduci all kicking multiple goals against Port a fortnight ago and ten individual goal kickers producing the nineteen goals kicked against the Northern Blues.
As for Saturday, does Joe Fisher drift forward? Is it Conor Nash? Do Stewart, Murphy, Miles, Adduci et al coordinate themselves to create mismatches?
Either way, the Hawks’ path to goal will be little unusual and unorthodox, with it’s unpredictability hopefully it’s strength.
There are goals in this line-up, we just won’t know from who’s boot until it happens.