IN TERMS of Hawthorn and North Melbourne playing finals this season, Sunday’s bout in Launceston is a dead rubber.
However, both coaches are adamant there is much to be gained from their remaining three home and away games.
Starting with an encounter that has been dubbed the battle of Tassie.
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said his charges were well below their best in last week’s loss and is hopeful the return of retiring former captain Luke Hodge (suspension) for his Tasmanian farewell will strengthen his fledgling defence.
“We missed him last week. We’ve got a pretty young defence and they’ve acquitted themselves pretty well, but the wise, old counsel of Hodgey has assisted them enormously,” Clarkson said.
“It (Tasmania) has been a home away from home for us for a long period of time, and he has been a big part of that. So, it will be a good chance to thank the fans down there.”
Clarkson said he wanted the Hawks to build on their improved form and better their one win, one loss and one draw record at UTAS Stadium this season, which has followed 19 consecutive victories previously.
“We’ve been through a little bit of misfortune with a lot of more senior players that have got injured and had long-term injuries this year and missed a lot of footy.
“It’s given us a opportunity to play a lot of younger players for extended periods and given them significant responsibility.
“In some games they’ve stepped up really, really strongly and other games like last week we weren’t so good but that’s going to happen with young players and we’ve goT an enormous amount to achieve out of the last three games of the season to propel us into season 2018.”
Kangaroos coach Brad Scott said much of the same earlier in the week and that he was looking forward to testing their adopted bigger brother.
“They love playing in Launceston, we love playing in Tasmania,” he said.
NORTH Melbourne will go in as underdogs against Hawthorn in Launceston having won at UTAS Stadium twice in six outings.
The fact the Kangaroos have won just one of their past nine matches doesn’t swing the odds in their favour either but coach Brad Scott is content his players can provide his counterpart Alastair Clarkson with some thought.
Both teams head into the thirteenth-versus-sixteenth battle with plenty of talent sidelined by injury.
“To their credit their back line looks completely different to the Hawthorn of old (with Ryan Burton, James Sicily and Jack Gunston playing in defence) but they’ve adapted and changed their game style up and it’s working for them,” Scott said.
“They’ve got some challenges as well in terms of personnel and they’ve been playing great footy.
“The challenge is going to be there for us and we think we’ve got a few things that might ask some questions of them and I’m sure they think the same as us.”
Scott is determined to stick with playing both Braydon Preuss and Todd Goldstein but said their synergy needed to improve.
“We’re still trying to work the ruck situation… we’ll persist with Preussy and Goldy this week and try and get them to work a bit better together than they potentially did last week,” he said.
“We think it is something going forward that can be a real strength for us.”
The Roos have dumped Nick Larkey and Josh Williams in favour of Jy Simpkin and Kayne Turner, while four-time premiership winning Hawk Luke Hodge has served his week-long suspension and replaces Brendan Whitecross.
North big man Ben Brown, who sits fourth in the Coleman Medal race with 51 majors, has been named despite being concussed against Collingwood last week. Hawthorn Clarkson said young Kaiden Brand would get first crack at trying to stop Brown.
“We were hopeful that big fella Brown might’ve missed a week. He’s a big forward threat for them and a lot of kicks inside 50 use him as a target so we’re mindful of that,” Clarkson said.
“Brandy’s probably the only one down there who has got the reach to get anywhere near Browny,” Clarkson said.
“But the way we defend, we’re going to need guys to help out at different stages.
“And that includes the midfield to apply pressure on the ball so it’s not giving easy access to Brown and others.”
Clarkson said North’s midfield was “still very, very strong” with the likes of Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell, Shaun Higgins and Trent Dumont all playing solid football. “They’ve got some outstanding leaders and really strong ground-level players and Goldstein is still a very threatening ruckman,” he said.
“We need to win that midfield battle so it doesn’t get to Brown. Even in their defence with (Robbie) Tarrant and (Scott) Thompson, they acquit themselves well.”
Hawthorn has won five of its past seven matches after claiming points in just one of its first six to begin 2017.
The Hawks have also cleaned up Kangas in seven of their past eight battles.