Backs aim to spoil finals party
ESSENDON'S season did not extend beyond the home-and-away rounds, but the Bombers were obviously still keen to make life that little bit tougher for the finalists by playing Travis Cloke into form.
For all Collingwood's class across the park, especially in the midfield, there is little doubt the 108kg powerhouse is about all that stands in the way of a Hawthorn victory in tonight's qualifying final at the MCG.
Cloke hauled in a career-high 16 marks - as many as he had taken in the previous four games - against Essendon last Saturday, and booted five goals after being held to none in the two preceding matches.
While there will be much focus on the battle at the other end - Lance Franklin against Ben Reid, Nathan Brown or Chris Tarrant, or all three - Cloke's match-up against Hawk Ryan Schoenmakers is pivotal.
Schoenmakers has been a work in progress - and Hawk fans' whipping boy - for some time, but the solidly built 21-year-old nicknamed Drago (after Dolph Lundgren's character in Rocky IV) is beginning to repay the faith that has been shown in him by coach Alastair Clarkson.
Schoenmakers is among a motley crew of fullbacks who will never win a Brownlow Medal, but aim to get a premiership medallion around their necks.
They are the masters of the "one-percenters" such as spoils and smothers - desperate actions that get teams over the line in high-pressure finals.
While Schoenmakers' teammate and "third-man-in" king Josh Gibson is No.1 in that area, averaging 7.7 spoils, Sydney's Ted Richards is not far behind.
But the Essendon reject - who is playing his best footy at the age of 29, and in his 11th season - has also taken the most contested marks (30) by a key defender.
Unfortunately for Richards and the Swans, fellow tall back - and the league's No.1 rebounder - Heath Grundy will not be alongside him in Adelaide tomorrow.
His absence means Lewis Roberts-Thomson, who has been pinch-hitting up forward and booted a total 12 goals in his past six games, will be sent back to mind Kurt Tippett while Richards gets Taylor Walker.
On the same ground 150m away, two talented 20-year-olds, Sydney's Sam Reid and Adelaide's Daniel Talia, will clash.
Talia, an old-fashioned stopper averaging almost as many spoils (6.3) as he does disposals (8.2), has been a revelation in his third season, underlined by him being named the 2012 Rising Star.
But if not for Phil Davis and Nathan Bock leaving for GWS and Gold Coast respectively, he may not have even been given an opportunity to shine.
Tomorrow night at the "G", Geelong's Tom Lonergan should match up on Fremantle skipper Matthew Pavlich. But the Cat has faced greater challenges, such as continuing his playing career despite losing a kidney in 2006.
From Victoria's Assumption College, like Talia, Lonergan contemplated retirement after the ordeal left him in a coma for four days and 17kg lighter.
Zac Dawson has arguably the biggest job of any fullback this weekend, with man mountain Tom Hawkins capable of throwing him around like a rag doll.
The much-maligned Dawson, who followed coach Ross Lyon from St Kilda in the off-season, will not have first-choice defender Luke McPharlin (hamstring) for support either.
On Sunday, Eric Mackenzie is set to return from a hamstring strain to take on North Melbourne spearhead Drew Petrie, importantly allowing his skipper Darren Glass freedom to roam.
Down the other end, Kangaroo Scott Thompson has developed into one of the best key defenders, after starting out as one the most irritating with his niggling tactics. They led to then Magpie Jack Anthony headbutting him in the groin and Barry Hall getting him in a headlock.
I wonder if he will be tempted to revert to old form by having a crack at Eagle Josh Kennedy's Fred Flintstone-type run up.
Ryan Schoenmakers (21, 193cm 90kg)
Ave 5.2 spoils, 14.5 possessions, 5 marks
Travis Cloke (25, 196cm, 108kg)
Total 63 cont marks, 50 goals
Ben Reid (23, 195cm, 102kg)
4.5 spoils, 13.7 poss, 5 marks
Lance Franklin (25, 196cm, 102kg)
30 cont marks, 59 goals
Daniel Talia (20, 196cm, 95kg)
6.3 spoils, 8.2 poss, 2.6 marks
Sam Reid (20, 195cm, 91kg)
28 cont marks, 29 goals
Ted Richards (29, 193cm, 93kg)
6.6 spoils, 14.4 poss, 5.2 marks
Taylor Walker (22, 192cm, 100kg)
31 cont marks, 53 goals
Zac Dawson (26, 195cm, 95kg)
5.9 spoils, 9.6 poss, 3 marks
Tom Hawkins (24, 197cm, 104kg)
54 cont marks, 62 goals
Tom Lonergan (28, 197cm, 98kg)
4.3 spoils, 11.7 poss, 4.6 marks
Matthew Pavlich (30, 192cm, 100kg)
32 cont marks, 62 goals
Eric Mackenzie (24, 196cm, 99kg)
6.9 spoils, 11.7 poss, 5 marks
Drew Petrie (29, 197cm, 102kg)
45 cont marks, 57 goals
Scott Thompson (26, 193cm, 93kg)
5.1 spoils, 18.4 poss, 6 marks
Josh Kennedy (25, 194cm, 99kg)
13 cont marks, 13 goal