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While it won't be a blowout, Hawthorn's superior skills and potent attack should deliver the flag.

THE HISTORY

Hawthorn and Sydney have never met in a grand final, and only four times in finals of any description, the scoreline 3-1 in the Hawks' favour, the most recent victory only last year, when they comfortably beat the Swans by 36 points in the second semi-final. Their two meetings this year have been split: Sydney running all over Hawthorn in the second half in round five in Launceston to win by 37 points; the Hawks squaring the ledger in a round-22 classic at the SCG, when they hauled back a 38-point deficit to win by seven.

Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge and Sydney co-captain Jarrad McVeigh.

Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge and Sydney co-captain Jarrad McVeigh. Photo: Getty Images

THE TEAMS

HAWTHORN

It is easy to forget now how, early this season, the Hawks' enduring status as premiership favourites was being seriously questioned.

The Hawks were 2-3 after five rounds, having lost another game they should have won to traditional nemesis Geelong, a slog in Perth to West Coast, then being surprisingly overrun in the second half against Sydney in Launceston.

Since then, however, the record has been nearly faultless, with 17 wins from the past 19, the exceptions being that after-the-siren loss to the Cats, and a round-nine aberration against Richmond when the Hawks clearly didn't turn up to play and were belted by 10 goals.

Most of those wins have been convincing to say the least, their average winning margin this season a whopping 59 points, and only one of those victories by any less than 22.

They ranked a clear No. 1 in the competition with an average of nearly 122 points per game, as good as two goals per game better than their nearest rival, and third for points conceded, allowing only 79 per game.

Even the absence of superstar spearhead Lance Franklin for six games with a hamstring strain did little to halt the scoring spree. Buddy's lay-off merely enabled Hawthorn to experiment and bed down some seriously viable alternatives, Jack Gunston in particular a beneficiary. Eight Hawks have kicked more than 20 goals in 2012.

The defence, while not overly loaded with height, is solid indeed, the cornerstones being more support for each other and effective, precise kicking out of the back line than particular individuals. However, Josh Gibson has been a tower of strength on the former count with his spoiling ability and capacity to act as a third man in marking contests, and Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling the epitome of the latter.

Ryan Schoenmakers has continued to develop this season, but last night proved vulnerable again at the hands of a bigger, stronger key forward. Gibson will need to give him a decent chop out on Saturday.

SYDNEY

It has become an annual ritual to underestimate Sydney. Sure, the Swans are competitive and willing, but just as surely, their alleged lack of superstars of the game will eventually leave them short enough of the mark, goes the theory.

Last year, Sydney seemed to underscore that theory. The Swans finished seventh, winning a tick over half their games, got themselves up to win a final, but were soundly beaten by Hawthorn at the semi-final stage. Not enough to inspire a popular belief that, in 2012, there would be a quantum leap.

But continued, gradual improvement is a sorely underestimated quality in a football world that tends to see most things in absolutes.

Sydney defenders Alex Johnson and Nick Smith are names many Victorian fans struggle to identify, yet both have been integral to the Swans' make-up for a while now, the former a cool-headed, understated tall; the latter perhaps the lowest-profile effective small defender in the AFL.

Throw in a now All-Australian key defender in Ted Richards and another undersold but consistent key backman in Heath Grundy, plus the run of Nick Malceski, Marty Mattner and Rhyce Shaw, and you have the makings of one impressive defensive unit - No. 1 in the competition for points conceded.

The midfield drivers are Josh Kennedy, Jarrad McVeigh, Ryan O'Keefe, Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack and Jude Bolton, but more than half of Sydney's best 22 are capable of spending time on the ball, offering enormous flexibility and alternatives in the event of one or two individual bad days.

This is a relentlessly tough unit, having this season ranked No. 1 for tackles, equal first for contested ball and a close third for clearances.

Neither are the Swans shabby in attack, ranked No. 5 for points scored this season at 104 points per game, three goals better than last year, nine players having kicked more than 20. Nominal key target Sam Reid had a poor one on Friday night but it barely mattered, with Sydney still racking up 30-odd shots at goal.

THE COACHES

John Longmire's seamless taking over of Sydney's coaching reins from Paul Roos must rank as one of the most quietly effective transitions the caper has seen, the former North Melbourne spearhead now having overseen 31 wins from 48 starts as a senior coach at an imposing strike rate of 64.6 per cent.

The long-time assistant has maintained the Swans' famous levels of intensity around the ball, but added some more run and attacking flair, Sydney still famously stingy but even more dangerous on the transition from defence now than it used to be.

Longmire's low-key public demeanour belies a strong personality that isn't afraid to ruffle feathers when need be, the Swans never in doubt as to what is required from them individually and as a team, and what the consequences will be if it isn't delivered.

Alastair Clarkson, his rival on Saturday, has long been acknowledged as one of best tactical brains in the business, having taken Hawthorn to the top four years ago on the back of the now-famous ''cluster'' defence, but in recent times having set another new standard with a precise and skilful kicking game capable of piercing the seemingly tightest zones.

A fiery customer whose anger has caused headlines, he is famously loyal to his troops, who respect him in equal measures, and bristles when he believes they have been unfairly maligned.

Now in his seventh season at the helm, Clarkson has guided Hawthorn into finals action six of the past seven years. A second premiership on Saturday would place him high indeed among the greatest coaches the modern football era has seen.

THE VENUE

Hawthorn plays well anywhere but has saved its best for the grand final venue, its home ground for the past 13 seasons, using its precision kicking to fullest advantage. The Hawks have won 20 of the 28 games they have played at the MCG since the start of 2011.

Sydney shrugged off a major hoodoo against Collingwood on Friday but will have to topple another on Saturday to win the flag. The Swans have won just one of their past 15 games at the MCG in a line of failure stretching to 2007, their last victory more than three years ago, and their only appearance this season ending in a 29-point loss to Richmond.

THE PREDICTION

Sydney stunned Hawthorn with its intensity at the contest early in round 22, but once the Hawks had stirred in midfield, their superior skill level and greater potency in attack held sway. This grand final won't be a blowout, but the same factors should prove decisive again.

Hawthorn by 28 points.