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5 Things to Know about the Australian Rules final

September 26, 2013

The Australian Football League’s championship match is scheduled for Saturday between the Hawthorn Hawks and Fremantle Dockers at the 159-year-old Melbourne Cricket Ground, with a crowd around 100,000 expected. The game is the climax of Australia’s most watched and attended sport.

Here are five things to know about the AFL grand final:

1. THE TEAMS: IS THE BEST OFFENSE A GOOD DEFENSE?: Hawthorn finished in first place during the regular season and ended an 11-game losing streak against the Geelong Cats last weekend to advance to the grand final. The Hawks have won the premiership 10 times, the most recent in 2008. Fremantle, which finished in third place, beat the defending champion Sydney Swans in the other match to advance to its first grand final since joining the league in 1995. The match will feature the AFL’s highest scorers — Hawthorn with 2,523 points scored during the regular season — and Fremantle, which had the best defense, allowing just 1,518 points. “We’re going to ask some serious questions of the Hawthorn Football Club,” Fremantle coach Ross Lyon said after the win over Sydney. “And they’re going to ask some serious questions of us.”

2. THE VENUE: FOOTY, CRICKET AND BILLY GRAHAM: The MCG is the most famous stadium in the country and has hosted more than 100 Australian Rules football grand finals and 100 cricket test matches. More than 1.16 million attended events and ceremonies there during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and the record Australian Rules attendance was 121,696 for the-then Victorian Football League grand final between bitter rivals Collingwood and Carlton in 1970. The biggest single-day attendance at the MCG?: American evangelist Billy Graham held a crusade at the “G″ in 1959, when crowd estimates ranged from 130,000 to as high as 142,000.

3. THE EXPLANATION: MARKS, HANDBALLS AND BEHINDS: If you’re among the estimated 30 million international television viewers who will have access to Saturday’s match overseas but aren’t used to watching Australian rules football, here’s a primer. There are 18 players on the field per team, and four quarters — each lasting around 30 minutes depending on time added for stoppages — are played. Six points are awarded for a goal — kicked between the two central goalposts — and one point for a “behind” that goes between a central post and the smaller outer post. There is no restriction on where players can be on the field, and the ball can be moved in any direction by kicking or with a clenched fist — called a handball — but it cannot be thrown. A player can run with the ball but it must be bounced or touched on the ground at least once every 15 meters. Marks occur when a player takes possession of the ball that has travelled more than 15 meters from another player’s kick. Players jumping high in the air, often leaping onto the back and shoulders of opponents to take a mark is one of the most exciting highlights in the game.

4. THE SCANDAL: FOR ESSENDON, A SEASON TO FORGET: One team that should have been among the eight in the playoffs never made it there because of an illegal supplements scandal. The Essendon Bombers were fined $2 million in late August, banned from the finals and three of its staff were suspended, including a 12-month ban for head coach James Hird for bringing the game into disrepute. The AFL said the Bombers had set up a supplements program in 2012 that was “experimental, inappropriate and inadequately vetted and controlled” and failed to protect the health, welfare and safety of players. Essendon was in seventh place when the sanctions were announced and had qualified for the finals. Some of the players could still face doping bans. Ninth-place Carlton, which would have missed out, instead moved up to the eight spot and won its first elimination match before losing to Sydney in the second playoff round.

5. THE PARTYING: PLENTY OF FROLIC IN ‘FREO’ : More than 100,000 spectators will attend Friday’s grand final parade through the streets of downtown Melbourne and which features players from both teams in open-air cars — if the weather cooperates. In Fremantle, south of Perth in Western Australia state, life along the “Cappuccino Strip” of restaurants and bars hasn’t been this hopping since the town hosted the 1987 America’s Cup yacht race — and the strip was the focal part of the celebration then as it is now with street parades this week. Fremantle has been painted purple, the Dockers’ predominant uniform color, and thousands of fans are trying to take advantage of extra flights and charters from Perth across the Nullarbor Plain to Melbourne for the Saturday afternoon match, or make the approximate 35-hour drive across the desert. The weather forecast isn’t all that favorable for the match or outdoor partying: showers and cooler-than-normal spring temperatures with a high of 16 Celsius (61 Fahrenheit) and a low of 4C (39F).

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