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Hawks and Cats: the best of enemies

Rohan Connolly previews the big Hawthorn Geelong rivalry clash at the MCG.

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1. Is Hawthorn better without Buddy?

Ridiculous, I know, but a question worth asking at least.

If Lance Franklin's primary role is to score and create scoring opportunities, then consider the past three games that he has missed with his dodgy hamstring.

Geelong players celebrate after edging out Hawthorn in another classic earlier in the year.

Geelong players celebrate after edging out Hawthorn in another classic earlier this year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Against the Bulldogs, Hawthorn kicked a healthy 17 goals, against Collingwood 21 and against Essendon 27. Jack Gunston has relished the extra freedom and responsibility, kicking four, three and three. Pinch-hitters Jordan Lewis (five against Collingwood) and Luke Hodge (five against Essendon) have helped fill the breach.

All three games provided thumping wins and Hawthorn is far less predictable to opponents without Franklin.

At the end of which you have to say that yes, you'd want him to play, but no, it's not a disaster for Hawthorn if he doesn't.

Kennett's Curse is still alive as Hawthorn walk off the MCG after their tenth consecutive loss to Geelong. Click for more photos

The Kennett Curse

Kennett's Curse is still alive as Hawthorn walk off the MCG after their tenth consecutive loss to Geelong. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

2. Is the MCG coach's box safe?

If coach Alastair Clarkson is demolishing walls when Hawthorn is playing like it has in the past two months, what happens if Geelong gets up tomorrow night?

At that rate Clarkson might be in the market for a sponsor. We can see it now: Clarkson's Anger, brought to you by Knock 'Em Down Demolitions. Cue Clarko punching the wall, and Clarko berating a turnover-prone Hawk (might be hard to find that footage, the way his team kicks the football).

But seriously, which decent coach did not operate on a little bit of fear? Even mild-mannered Paul Roos had the capacity for a sharply delivered spray, and Mick Malthouse and Leigh Matthews could stare a man down at 10 metres. Footy would be less interesting without the Clarksons of the game.

3. Does the streak matter?

Geelong has won the past eight of these encounters since the amazing 2008 grand final. It is a matter of record that then coach Mark ''Bomber'' Thompson implored his players to seek revenge after that shock defeat and they have carried out his wishes even in his absence.

But here is the thing: Hawthorn will have - at our best estimate - only nine players from the 2008 grand final in its team tomorrow night. Hawthorn has rebuilt its list; so has Geelong.

Hawthorn was using a grid defence then that was designed to counter Geelong's quick, corridor ball movement, a tactic that seems ancient now. Geelong has changed too, as forward presses gave the Cats problems and forced them to be more careful with the football.

If you look at Geelong's record since the start of 2007, you can only admire what Hawthorn did that day in conquering the favourite, conceding behinds to slow the game down. As a coaching feat, it is one of the best ever.

4. Which duel is pivotal?

Geelong needs someone, say Taylor Hunt, to step on the supply line usually filled by Sam Mitchell's dinky handballs and chip kicks, but possibly more important is the Hawks' ability to contain Tom Hawkins. Josh Gibson shapes as the guy.

Some of this depends on whether James Podsiadly plays, but the most likely scenario with Hawkins in good form is for Gibson, Hawthorn's best tall defender, to take the Tomahawk.

Hawkins has become the Frankenstein that Geelong had been waiting for, a monster in a pack-marking situation, excellent in wet conditions and a contender for All-Australian honours. Gibson has sensational closing speed and a lethal spoiling fist.

5. How many shots left in the locker?

Geelong has pride. The core of the current group first contended in 2005, when Nick Davis broke their hearts in Sydney. With the exception of 2006, they've been thereabouts ever since. Gravity, the salary cap and the draft ought to have sent the Cats down by now, but they refuse to accept these realities.

Geelong just keeps bobbing up behind its veteran players - Corey Enright, James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Matthew Scarlett, Steve Johnson - and the men who have followed, Joel Selwood, Harry Taylor, Hawkins.

It is a culture that makes a nonsense of this week's discussion on tanking. Geelong does not know the meaning of tanking. If the Cats are going down, then it'll be with a hell of a struggle.