HAWTHORN went to the extraordinary step of warning Gold Coast this week it would rest a raft of star players, including Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and captain Luke Hodge, for tomorrow's dead rubber against the Suns at Metricon Stadium.
Gold Coast football manager Marcus Ashcroft said last night he had received a call from Hawks counterpart Mark Evans on Wednesday, warning him the Hawks planned a mass resting of players to avoid the effects of an interstate trip and a potential six-day turnaround before next week's qualifying final against Geelong.
The Hawks last night left out eight big names, including midfielders Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis and Shaun Burgoyne, first-choice ruckman Max Bailey, and in-form defender Grant Birchall, as well as Coleman Medal favourite Franklin, Rioli and Hodge.What do you think of the Hawks' decision to rest their stars? And what has it done to your fantasy footy team, if you've managed to make your league's grand final? Have your say here.
''We don't take it as an insult,'' Ashcroft said. ''Their club rang me during the week to say that this would be their intention.
''They hadn't been categoric about their team, but he said they were looking this week at making a few changes and they just wanted to make us aware of that.
''They've got their eye on the finals next week and we respect that. If we were in the same position, we would probably do similar.''
Hawthorn cannot go any higher than second spot even if its beats the Suns, meaning the Hawks are locked into a first final against the Cats, most likely at the MCG next Friday night.
Fremantle pulled a similar selection ploy against Hawthorn in round 21 last year, resting seven players, including skipper Matthew Pavlich to avoid an ill-timed interstate trip ahead of a looming elimination final against the Hawks two weeks later.
Although the Dockers lost the game at Aurora Stadium by 116 points, they won the final a fortnight later in Perth, reportedly earning the ire of several senior Hawks.
Gold Coast football director Malcolm Blight said he expected the ploy to fire up the Suns in their last game of the club's inaugural season.
''History shows that Fremantle did it to them last year and it worked,'' he said.
''It's probably not my personal favourite thing … but it would be great if our boys thought now, 'this is a game we can really win'. There is some pretty big names there [on the Hawks list] that are going to be missing.''
The game's integrity has been a hot topic all season and the odds of a Gold Coast win shortened significantly, from $15 earlier in the week to $10, an hour after the Hawthorn team was announced.
But AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said the league did not have a problem with clubs making such dramatic changes at the selection table.
''Teams are entitled to rest players if they think that is their best strategy for finals,'' he said.
''I think you'll find in a lot of sports around the world that it's not uncommon for key players to be rested as part of the strategy of preparing for the biggest games.
''People know these guys aren't playing. The team sheets are finalised 90 minutes before a game and anyone who is serious about betting on the game will usually wait until those team sheets are finalised.
''So if it's transparent and everyone knows about it, it's not an issue from an integrity point of view.''
Anderson said he also had no issue with Hawthorn giving its opponent a heads-up on potential changes before the game.
''As long as it's done in a professional manner and that information is not being used for betting purposes, then that's not a problem,'' he said.
Evans said changing more than a third of last week's team was as much to do with increasing the club's depth for finals than it was about resting players for September.
The Hawks' inclusions feature premiership players Sam Mitchell, Chance Bateman, Xavier Ellis and Rick Ladson, as well as Jordan Lisle, Kyle Cheney and Ben Stratton, who has not played since injuring his knee in round three.
Hawthorn's VFL affiliate, Box Hill, plays a final this weekend and will likely be seriously weakened by last night's mass changes.
''We think it's a pretty important thing to go into a finals series with as many as 27 or 28 players who have recently played at the level and that are all capable of filling a role if they're needed to during the finals series,'' Evans said.
''Primarily it's about that, and secondly, the prospect of a six-day turnaround into a Friday night final against Geelong. We've chosen good footballers and there are four premiership players in there. And all of those guys are a genuine chance to play in a Hawthorn team over the next month.''
In other selection news, Collingwood will be without defender Leon Davis for tonight's MCG clash against Geelong due to a hamstring injury, but welcomes back midfielders Luke Ball and Sharrod Wellingham, as well as key defender Chris Tarrant.
The Cats recalled Darren Milburn and Mitch Duncan, but will be without defender Tom Lonergan (quad) and Shannon Byrnes (omitted).