The unsociable Hawks are back, and ready for damage
Ben Stratton of the Hawks and Travis Cloke of the Magpies in action during the AFL Round 17 match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Hawthorn Hawks at the MCG, Melbourne. (Slattery Images)
Hawthorn made the most resounding statement of season 2012 with their 47-point demolition of Collingwood on Saturday, playing the most complete team game this season against a good side.
Sydney fans will argue for their defeat of West Coast in Perth, and if it was against an Eagles outfit not missing half of their best players, perhaps a stronger case could be made.
The most astounding aspect of the Hawthorn victory was the stats of the Pies best players – Swan with 49 disposals and two goals, Beams with 34 and four, Pendlebury had 34 and stuck 11 tackles, Sidebottom 29 and finished with a goal.
For Collingwood’s best players to have so much impact yet still find themselves completely outplayed speaks volumes for how good the Hawks really were.
And this was a weakened Hawthorn, a team missing its two best players in Buddy Franklin and Luke Hodge, as well as the important kick-in specialist Brent Guerra.
Often derided for being premiership favourites during the year despite not residing in the top four, they’ve well and truly earned the mantle now.
Skipper Hodge has only played two matches this year, but it will take a brave man to suggest the 2008 Norm Smith medallist won’t be having an impact come September. His on-field leadership credentials are unquestioned, as is his courage, and his players walk taller when he is among them. The lethal left boot that he possesses is an added bonus.
Buddy’s absence hasn’t been felt so far in the two matches he has missed through a hamstring injury. Seventeen goals against the Dogs in Round 16 was probably ‘unders’ for the Hawks against such a poor side, but 21 against the Pies was plenty good.
Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston provided the marking targets up forward, three goals apiece just reward for their work. Small-medium forwards Luke Bruest and Jordan Lewis kicked ten between them, and all four of these players have been dangerous around goal this year.
With Buddy’s return imminent and Cyril Rioli possibly the most dangerous and creative forward in the game, this is a front six that is going to present problems for any team, and contains elements of toughness and the mecurial, with marking and crumbing power in equal measure.
Sam Mitchell has had a solid season, and was brilliant on the weekend. If he doesn’t have the best hands and vision in the game when in the heat of a congested pack, then only Jobe Watson and Scott Pendlebury could be ahead of him. I won’t be taking sides.
Brad Sewell is having a memorable year, and I’m not just talking about Francesca Cumani. His work on the field has him being mentioned in All-Australian conversations, and his efforts off it have him the envy of many a man. Sewell’s importance in the engine-room alongside Mitchell at Hawthorn can’t be understated.
Grant Birchall and Matthew Suckling are the half-back specialists, setting up much run and carry from the backline, often sharing the ball with each other in space. Birchall will mainly go short, or longer if he spies a suitable open target, while Suckling prefers length wherever possible, and isn’t scared of taking the harder option. Both penetrate with precision.
Shaun Burgoyne is ever a calm presence inside defensive fifty, while the aforementioned Guerra (due back from suspension next week) provides the hardness. Like most in the Hawks team, both are cool decision-makers and classy by foot.
Brendan Whitecross is in his fourth season with 65 games under his belt, but one gets the feeling he could walk down a Melbourne city street at lunchtime and not get bothered for an autograph. He’s another that loves finding space to be an effective link man, leading all comers at the club for marks taken, and averaging the fifth most disposals per game.
Add into rotations the likes of Liam Shiels, Isaac Smith, Clinton Young and Paul Puopolo, all very good footballers in their own right, and we see a team batting deep.
Their key defensive posts have long been seen as a weakness, but it’s a hard position to maintain when the team is ranked second for least points conceded.
Josh Gibson is confident against any opponent and rarely loses a one-on-one contest these days, while the much maligned Ryan Shoenmakers is ever improving, and ate Travis Cloke for lunch on Saturday, keeping the power forward to only two marks. Ben Stratton and Stephen Gilham are handy reserves in this area as well.
But the biggest sign that Hawthorn are ready to finally deliver on the promise of 2008 is the return of the ‘unsociable Hawks’.
There was barely a stoppage when a player in the brown and gold wasn’t pushing an opponent in the chest, giving them a sharp forearm to the back or getting in their face with a mouthful of abuse when mistakes were made or a short step was taken.
Hell, even Alastair Clarkson got in on the act, ramming his fist through the coaches box wall on the way down to the quarter time huddle, leaving a trail of debris – and this with his team 16 points up and in control!
Some can see engaging in such acts as a type of weakness, and when coming from a poor team it can reek of desperation and pretence to a toughness that doesn’t exist.
But when you’ve won 10 out of the last 11 games, are sitting third on the ladder with a league-high percentage of 156, and have just carved open the best side of the last two and a half years with a fierce attack on the man and ball, then these ‘unsociable’ acts simply create a hostile, menacing environment in which opponents can easily become overwhelmed.
So the Hawks are steaming towards the finals, and looking to deal in payback on the way. The Pies have been checked off, but Geelong are owed for years of torment, and Sydney humbled them down on their Launceston patch earlier in the year.
Both will be confronted in the run to September by a rampaging, ruthless Hawthorn outfit intent on the ultimate success. And they’re not looking to make friends while doing it.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.
Looking to join The Roar team? We're searching for an experienced Group Sales Manager to lead our team in Sydney. Yes, this does mean you get to work with the site all day long! If you're a digital media sales star, we want to hear from you. Apply now.
Passionate about your AFL? Then sign up to The Roar's brand new daily AFL email, delivering Roaring articles directly to you day-in, day-out. You'll love it!
Click here to join now!