WHERE AND WHEN: Marvel Stadium, Friday August 2, 7.50pm (AEST)
HISTORY: The Hawks have claimed the points in nine of their last 11 meetings with North, but the teams have split the last four at Marvel Stadium.
SUMMARY: Friday night represents an opportunity to restore the positivity from early in Rhyce Shaw’s tenure. The Kangaroos have lost their last three to fall out of finals contention, but their is still plenty to get out of the season. A September berth remains a possibility for Hawthorn who have won three of their past four, but they cannot afford to drop this one if they’re to be a part of finals football.
KEY PLAYERS: Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne)
Cunnington is in the midst of a lean patch of form, the North midfield bull having averaged just 19 possessions across the past three rounds. The 28-year-old is one of the League’s best contested possession players when firing on all cylinders, and the Kangaroos will need him to return to his best form if they’re to be successful in turning this contest into a high-octane affair.
Luke Breust (Hawthorn)
Breust has failed to impact the scoreboard in his last two outings, but will head into this clash with a degree of confidence given that he has booted a total of 14 goals across the past three clashes with North Melbourne. The Hawthorn sharpshooter is never out of the contest given his ability to be a threat in the air and once the football goes to ground, meaning his direct opponent in Marley Williams will need to be switched on defensively for the full four quarters.
Ben Brown (North Melbourne)
Brown had a disappointing day at the office in the last-start loss to West Coast, managing just two goals – both of which came well after the outcome had been determined. He may sit second in the Coleman medal race with 48 majors, but Brown will be made to earn every goal in this one with James Frawley – whose spike in form has coincided with Hawthorn’s late-season resurgence – to lock horns with the North spearhead.
Jaeger O’Meara (Hawthorn)
The last time these two teams met in round three, O’Meara starred with 31 possessions, nine clearances and seven inside 50s to help lift the Hawks to a 16-point victory. An elite clearance player who regularly finds time and space where there is seemingly none, O’Meara will need to be nullified if North Melbourne are to prevent Hawthorn’s forwards from receiving sufficient supply to kick a winning score. Expect Trent Dumont – who is a capable ball-winner in his own right – having averaged a career-high 24.2 disposals this season – to run with O’Meara in what will be an intriguing duel.
PREDICTION: While North Melbourne’s defence is being talked up following the return of the underrated Scott Thompson from injury, Hawthorn have the fifth stingiest defensive unit in the AFL and should be able to put the clamps on a North forward line that can be inconsistent. Hawks by 18 points.