Fremantle v Hawthorn, Domain Stadium, Friday, 6.20pm AWST
FormIt's a strange football world we find ourselves in when a minor premier from Perth does everything expected of it by winning its first final to gain the benefit of a week's break and yet enters its home preliminary final as the underdog against a Victorian team that lost its first final in Perth.
But, of course, that Victorian team is dual reigning premier Hawthorn. The Hawks, as expected, rebounded hard from their qualifying final loss to West Coast by icing their semi-final against Adelaide by half-time.
Meanwhile, the jury is out on whether the Dockers will be sufficiently match-hardened given they rested half their best side in the last round and have now had another weekend off.
Injuries The Hawks have no fresh injury concerns from the win over Adelaide, but will again be sweating on the fitness of Jack Gunston. The star forward missed last week with an ankle injury and remains in doubt to recover in time to face the Dockers.
The Dockers have their own concerns with defender Luke McPharlin unlikely to get up as he struggles with a calf injury. The veteran was a late withdrawal against the Swans and coach Ross Lyon is preparing to play without him again this week.
Matthew Pavlich, who was in a moon boot, and Nat Fyfe, who was spotted on crutches, are both expected to play.
MRPOnly minor anxiety for Hawthorn fans with skipper Luke Hodge making high contact with star Crow Brodie Smith, while Hawks defender Ben Stratton also appears to have little to worry about after laying a high tackle on Richard Douglas.
What's at stake?The Dockers know time is running out to win a premiership with the current crop that has served the club so well – for skipper Matthew Pavlich it's go-time – and a win over nemesis Hawthorn would provide them with untold belief for the Grand Final. If the home side loses, the fallout could be significant personnel-wise.
The Hawks, meanwhile, will be determined to remain in the hunt for a club record third successive premiership to show the entire footy industry that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated.
Last time they metIt could easily be termed 'The Slaughter at Aurora', and continued the Hawks' recent stranglehold over Freo, winning seven of their past eight encounters by an average of 45 points. First-placed Freo was 12-1, three games clear of fourth-placed Hawthorn when they clashed at Launceston's Aurora Stadium in round 15, but the Hawks rag-dolled the Dockers in a real statement game.
By half-time Hawthorn led by 38 points after restricting Freo to just one goal, and only six for the match, two of which came in junk time. Sam Mitchell (39 possessions) and Luke Hodge (31 touches and three goals) led the way for the victors, with Hodge handing Freo superstar Nat Fyfe (20) his first individual defeat for the season.
Dockers fans will be relieved that this one's at Domain Stadium, where they won their most recent battle with the Hawks, by 19 points in round 21 last year.
Talking points• Will Freo gamble at the selection table by picking tagger Ryan Crowley after serving a 12-month ban for doping, which expires on Thursday. Crowley has enjoyed success on Hawks playmaker Sam Mitchell in the past, holding him to just 12 touches in the 2012 Grand Final – Mitchell's lowest tally in a full game in almost seven seasons.
• Pundits are debating whether Freo can conjure enough goals to beat the high-scoring Hawks, but maybe the question should be: can Freo apply its famous defensive mechanisms to such a level that 12 goals will be enough?
• Will Hodge again be given the task of making Fyfe accountable? It certainly worked last time. But the flexible Hawks won't want to appear predictable. Whatever coach Alastair Clarkson comes up with will be fascinating.
• Which Hawk defender will be sent to Matthew Pavlich – James Frawley, who did such a sterling job on Adelaide skipper Taylor Walker, or veteran Brian Lake? And what happens to the other one if Freo favours a small, pacy attack?
SECOND PRELIMINARY FINAL
West Coast v North Melbourne, Domain Stadium, Saturday, 5.45pm AWST
FormThe luxury of putting their feet up over the weekend could prove invaluable for the injury-hit home side, who are about to face a Kangaroos squad coming off consecutive interstate trips.
The Eagles will start red-hot favourites, having only lost twice at home this season and coming off acomprehensive qualifying final dismantling of Hawthorn.
But North is brimming with confidence after knocking over Richmond and the Swans in cut-throat encounters, plus almost half the side was rested in round 23 and could still be relatively fresh.
The in-form Roos have tasted victory nine times from their past 11 starts and are the first side to come from eighth on the ladder to clinch a preliminary final berth.
InjuriesAn extra seven days rest should see Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis (thigh) and Chris Masten (hamstring) return for West Coast after the pair missed the triumph over the Hawks.
Sore big man Jeremy McGovern (shoulder) and Luke Shuey, who is reportedly battling a foot complaint, will also have felt the benefits.
The Roos are sweating on the fitness of key defender Robbie Tarrant after he hurt his groin in the warm-up and didn't play in the Swans clash, while Drew Petrie (knee) should be fine.
MRPAll clear for both sides.
What's at stake?West Coast is a club that expects success, although even the most die-hard supporters didn't anticipate this year's stunning rejuvenation under Adam Simpson. But now the Eagles are hosting a preliminary final, it will be a huge opportunity missed if they don't reach a sixth Grand Final in their history.
The Roos have defied the critics to reach the final four for the second year in a row and, after last year's 71-point mauling from the Swans, they will be confident of a better showing in Perth. It's debatable how long this ageing group can stay in premiership contention, so Brad Scott's men need to take their chance.
Last time they metNorth Melbourne conjured a fighting 10-point victory in round 10 despite only leading by a goal at three-quarter time and kicking into a howling gale in the final quarter at Blundstone Arena in Hobart.
But there's painful memories for Roos fans from the two clubs' last finals meeting, with North belted to the tune of 96 points in the 2012 elimination final at Domain Stadium.
• Fitness tests will dominate the build up to Saturday night's clash, with Priddis, Masten, McGovern and Shuey needing to prove they're ready to go for West Coast. North will give Tarrant every chance to combat the Eagles' tall forward line.
• Will the Roos take a punt on Daniel Wells despite the fact he hasn't played at AFL level since round two?
• Both forwardlines have strong marking targets. Can the Roos stop Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, and will their big men up forward expose the undersized Eagles?
• Which All Australian-nominated ruckman will have a bigger impact? The hard-working Todd Goldstein for North or high-leaping Eagles star Nic Naitanui?
• Are the rested Kangaroos still fresh, or will a third cut-throat final catch up with them?