Hawthorn runner Billy Hartung is the surprise selection heartbreak story of this year’s AFL grand final.
Hartung was dropped as the Hawks recalled forward Jack Gunston for Saturday’s premiership decider against West Coast.
It is the only change to either side.
Hawks captain Luke Hodge had a light week after appearing to hurt a hamstring late in Friday night’s preliminary final win over Fremantle.
But there was little chance he would be forced out of the side.
Gunston has missed two matches after injuring his ankle in the qualifying final loss to the Eagles in Perth.
He was always a chance to return, but the popular speculation had been that if Gunston was to prove his fitness, Ryan Schoenmakers would make way for him.
Schoenmakers came into the side because of Gunston’s injury and impressed in the finals wins over Adelaide and Fremantle.
Schoenmakers and defender James Frawley, recruited this year from Melbourne, are the only members of this Hawthorn grand final team yet to play in a premiership.
Hartung played in his first two finals when he replaced Gunston.
Given the forecast heat on Saturday, it remains to be seen how big a risk Hawthorn are taking by leaving out Hartung’s pace and run.
If it reaches the forecast temperature of 28, Saturday will be the hottest grand final since 1987.
Coach Alastair Clarkson put the finishing touches on his team’s preparation for the premiership decider with a light 55-minute training run on Thursday at Waverley.
The fitness of Gunston and Hodge was a big talking point this week, but the pair joined their teammates and moved freely in the session held in front of 5000 fans.
Clarkson barely had his players move at anything more than half pace and the session was completed without mishap.
The Eagles flew to Melbourne on Thursday, missing their former premiership star Daniel Chick at Perth airport by a couple of hours.
Chick dropped a bombshell on Thursday morning by revealing explicit details about the toxic drug culture that engulfed the club during its 2006 flag-winning campaign.
Chick also flew to Melbourne for the grand final.
West Coast insisted the story would not distract them from the quest to win their first premiership since 2006.
Chick told the Herald Sun that he and former teammates Daniel Kerr and Ben Cousins took massive doses of asthma drug prednisone in a pattern experts describe as bizarre and inappropriate.
Chick also revealed a club staffer hid certain players from drug testers, that a former Eagles figure dished out sedatives in bulk to players and that the use of cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine were widespread in the squad.
Chick also said some players would snort crushed Xanax and take Valium with vodka to relax on flights to and from Perth.
The Eagles said in a statement they were “extremely disappointed by the content, timing and publication of some unsubstantiated claims”.
“The club and its medical staff are deeply offended by these allegations and will discuss internally an appropriate course of action.”
SATURDAY, Oct 3
Hawthorn v West Coast at MCG 2.30pm
Head to Head: Hawks 20 Eagles 25
Head to Head finals: Hawks 2 West Coast 2
Last clash: Qualifying Final 2015 – Eagles 14.12 (96) bt Hawks 9.10 (64) at Domain Stadium
Last grand final: 1991 – Hawks 20.19 (139) bt Eagles 13.8 (86) at Waverley Park
TAB Sportsbet: Hawks $1.60 Eagles $2.40
William Hill: Hawks $1.60 Eagles $2.40
This will be a hotly-contested decider. Hawthorn are trying to become the first team since Brisbane in 2001-03 to win three in a row. West Coast want to cap a stunning resurgence this season, where they have kept winning despite constant injury problems. Then there’s the senior coaches, with West Coast’s Adam Simpson against Alastair Clarkson only two years after working under him as an assistant. And can the Hawks become the first team since the Eagles in 2006 to win the premiership after playing in four finals? West Coast dominated the Hawks early last month in their qualifying final, but the reigning premiers have since roared back to form with wins over Adelaide and Fremantle. The returns of Matt Priddis and Chris Masten since that final mean the Eagles are only stronger. But Hawthorn have been in the last four grand finals and know how to get the job done. The Hawks made the only team change, recalling forward Jack Gunston for the unlucky Billy Hartung.
Key: The heat. The forecast is 28 degrees – potentially the hottest grand final since 1987. Given the Hawks’ tough finals campaign, if it’s close at three-quarter time then West Coast probably have the edge. But if Hawthorn can repeat the brutal start that killed off last year’s grand final, then it won’t matter.
Tip: Hawks by 3 points
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