Saturday 24 March 2018 / 05:56 AM

Swans vs. Hawks – Match of the season!

The last time the Sydney Swans beat Hawthorn, which was by 19 points in Round 8, there were still some question marks over their “contender” credentials. Their shock opening round loss to GWS was still fresh in the minds of many. Buddy Franklin was inaccurate that night, kicking 2.7 against his former club, and didn’t look like being the match winner he’d been recruited to be. And, the first showing of the Swans’ stacked forward line of Franklin, Kurt Tippett, Adam Goodes and Sam Reid wasn’t a disaster, but didn’t set the world on fire either.

They were 4-3, but I’d written them off for the season – prematurely, it would appear now. Ten rounds later, the Swans now sit 13-3, in first place on the ladder, and on a 12-game winning streak.

I still don’t like Sydney, for reasons of draft and salary cap inequality, but when it comes down to it, I’m happy to admit that’s just sour grapes. The Swans have played within the rules and done a good job of exploiting them to their benefit, to the point where the rules have now been changed. Too late though to stop the Swans jamming an extra couple of stars into their 2014 salary cap.

So let’s celebrate their embarrassment of riches. This week, who do they most likely get to add back to a seemingly unstoppable team that’s just won 12 games of footy in a row? Gun midfielder Dan Hanneberry and massive key forward Kurt Tippett.

The Swans are playing powerfully, and would have to be confident about setting a new club record of a 13-game winning streak.

But if anyone can stop the streak, it’s the Hawks. Injury plagued for most of the season, including that Round 8 loss, where they were without Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Brian Lake and Cyril Rioli (for much of the second half), the Hawks are inching back to full strength and their best form at the right part of the season. This week they’ll again be without Rioli (hamstring) and Lake (strangling), but will regain some pace in Bradley Hill, and the best spoiler in the game in Josh Gibson.

The Hawks lesser lights have stood up in the absence of a number of key players. To only have lost four games for the season considering the personnel disruptions has been a remarkable effort, and has highlighted the serious amount of depth they have.

Ungainly backup ruckman Jonathon Ceglar is now arguably the club’s number one ruckman, holding David Hale out of the side. Defender Will Langford has been tough in Gibson’s absence. And Angus Litherland has a name that rhymes with Liquorland.

So who wins? On paper, this encounter is a clash of attack versus defence; the Hawks are ranked one in the league for points scored, while the Swans rank one for defence. But clearly the Swans are more than capable of kicking a big score, considering the firepower they possess up forward.

The Swans will try to restrict the Hawks’ uncontested game by clamping down on playmakers Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling and stopping the run of speedy midfielders Hill and Isaac Smith. The Hawks will need to win the midfield battle to take the opposition’s imposing forward line out of the equation as much as possible.

It promises to be an intriguing battle: first v third, last year’s premiers v this year’s form team, a couple of bird teams, and Franklin going up against his old side thrown in for good measure.

So feign sickness, plead humiliatingly to the missus or use up some stored-up brownie points to stay home on Saturday night. Do what you have to do to watch the match of the season so far.

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Gary Ausbruch

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