Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says what happens at Melbourne ace Max Gawn's feet will be "absolutely critical" in deciding the AFL premiership.
While Gawn's expert tap-work with either hand looms large in the September 25 grand final, Beveridge says what happens after the ruck contests is pivotal.
Gawn, fresh from his five-goal preliminary final heroics, leads the competition for hit-outs this season - nearly 100 more than the next best, West Coast's Nic Naitainui.
And the inspirational Demons captain has ruled the Bulldogs rucks in their two clashes this year.
In round 11, Gawn had more hit-outs, 27, than Bulldog rucks Jordon Sweet and Tim English, who combined for 26 in a match the Demons won by 28 points.
In round 19, Gawn recorded a whopping 56 hit-outs against English and Josh Schache, who managed only a combined 18 - though the Dogs won by 20 points.
But in the grand final, the Bulldogs will pit 34-year-old veteran Stefan Martin, recovered from various injuries, against Gawn.
"He (Gawn) is such an influential player," Beveridge told reporters.
"He just strings outstanding performance after outstanding performance together and is obviously a great leader of the Melbourne Football Club, we really respect him and what he does."
Martin played for the Demons in 2008-12, a period coinciding with Gawn's arrival at Melbourne in 2010.
And the 199cm tall Martin locked horns with the 208cm tall Gawn when moving to Brisbane from 2013-20 before joining the Dogs this season.
"Stef is nowhere near as tall as Max but there's a strength in Stefan's game that we will call on that will be important in that battle," Beveridge said.
"And then what happens around their feet will be absolutely critical in the outcome."
Martin returned to the Bulldogs side in their 71-point preliminary final win against Port Adelaide - his first AFL game since round 12 after battling achilles, shoulder and hip/groin injuries.
"I had my doubts that he'd be able to get to the line to be able to play again this year," Beveridge said.
"It's just a credit to his professionalism, the way he has approached his rehabilitation and his strength work and getting through the handful of injuries that he had.
"So we're really fortunate that he was ready to put his hand up and he felt good, he felt like he had a little bit of gas left in the tank.
"We had planned about 80-odd minutes (game time) and that is exactly what we got and so he can probably play some more minutes in this next one if we need him to."
Australian Associated Press