Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has taunted West Coast ahead of tonight's MCG blockbuster, claiming Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui are far from the unstoppable ruck duo they have been acclaimed as this season.
Clarkson said basic statistical data was contrary to the claim, but Eagles assistant coach David Teague was quick to hit back last night with praise for the impact the two big men have had for the team.
With crucial top-eight positioning on the line for both West Coast and Hawthorn, tonight's battle is the biggest between the two clubs for 20 years, since their last finals clash in 1992 as the Eagles clawed their way to their first premiership.
A win to the Eagles will seal a top-four position, while a loss is likely to condemn them to fifth and a possible first western derby final against Fremantle.
The Hawks will seal the minor premiership if they win.
Clarkson was confident his midfielders would be able to counter the might of Cox and Naitanui.
"If those guys were unstoppable, they wouldn't have been defeated this season," Clarkson said.
"So somewhere along the line, some sides have been able to do well enough against them that they've been able to take the points away from them and that's certainly what we're hoping to do.
"They are formidable, both of those players, and they give them first look at the ball on numerous occasions through the stoppages. But they're not outstandingly dominant in terms of clearances in the competition or scores from stoppages.
"So as good as those two guys are, it doesn't always mean that it's going to be a victory for West Coast."
Hawthorn have, in the past month, taken West Coast's position as the team that does the most scoring damage from stoppages in the competition. The Eagles are third in that category.
But Teague backed Cox and Naitanui to again wield a massive influence.
"We're pretty happy with the two ruckmen we've got," Teague said.
"Teams have nullified our hit-outs from turning into scores for a while, but last week we got on top of that. I know the midfield and the forwards and probably the whole side have looked at it and tried to get a little bit more out of our hit-outs.
"We'll back our structures in and we're confident Dean and Nic can handle anything thrown at them."
Hawthorn last night named star forward Cyril Rioli to return from a shoulder injury in place of Xavier Ellis. But Rioli remains in doubt after leaving yesterday's training session early following some bumping tests on the sore joint.
West Coast brought in defenders Mitch Brown and Jacob Brennan in place of the injured Eric Mackenzie and Matt Rosa.
The Eagles won a gruelling match over the Hawks by just five points in round four this year in wintry conditions that Clarkson described yesterday as "an avalanche".
Clarkson conceded West Coast were building momentum at the right time of the season, particularly with the return last week of spearhead Josh Kennedy.
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