In Part 2, I tackle Geelong, Gold Coast, GWS, Hawthorn, Melbourne and North Melbourne.
Welcome to the first of a full series of detailed, comprehensive AFL previews for each club for the 2012 season, starting with Hawthorn.
Last year: 18-4, 3rd, lost preliminary final
Best and fairest: Sam Mitchell
Leading goal kicker: Lance Franklin (82)
Key additions: Jack Gunston (Adelaide), Broc McCauley (Brisbane)
Key losses: Brent Renouf, Jordan Lisle, Will Sierakowski, Sam Menegola
Hawthorn’s season may have finished heartbreakingly short of a Grand Final appearance, but the cold hard brutal truth of that preliminary final loss was that it was the fifth time the Hawks went up against one of 2011’s top two teams – and the fifth time they lost.
Remarkably, the Hawks were 19-1 against the teams that finished below them. When it came to stepping up against Geelong and Collingwood, however, not once were they successful.
All this makes it hard to get a good read on the Hawks this season. It’s entirely possible their game plan – built around short, crisp kicking, a stark contrast to what other teams are doing – just doesn’t stand up when it counts.
Yet it’s also possible more experience and maturity from up and comers like Shane Savage, Liam Shiels, Isaac Smith and Paul Puopolo, among others, will help immensely in taking the next step. The return of key position players Jarryd Roughead and Stephen Gilham from injury also gives cause for optimism in this respect.
So what’s the answer? Well, we won’t have to wait long until we find out where they stand against Collingwood and Geelong. They meet them both in the first two rounds.
Beyond that, the bottom line is the Hawks have established themselves as a top four team. Once you’re in that position, some tinkering and a good year in terms of development and injuries can be all that’s needed.
The back line is considered to be Hawthorn’s one big weakness. That’s what we’re always told, anyway. The numbers say the Hawks conceded the third-least number of points last year (behind guess who) which doesn’t seem like too bad a result.
Considering they were hindered by early injuries to Gilham and Ben Stratton, and it was up to the inexperienced Ryan Schoenmakers to come in and shoulder the load, you could argue that it was an outstanding result.
The much-criticised Josh Gibson recorded the most spoils of any player in a single year, ever. Team him with Gilham and there’s a lot to like in the key defender stocks this year. Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling are coming off breakout years and should improve further. Stratton’s return is set to put pressure on for spots.
Assuming all goes well on the injury front, it appears as though the Hawks’ defence is ready to step up and join the likes of Collingwood and Geelong (not that they are all that far behind already, going by the points-against column).
In the middle, Sam Mitchell’s brilliant 2011 cemented his spot among the competition’s elite midfielders, earning a much-deserved All Australian selection and a second-place Brownlow finish.
Better still, the support cast to him, Luke Hodge and Brad Sewell grew noticeably last season. The Three S’s – Shiels, Smith, Savage – added quality depth to the engine room. Hawk fans would be excited by the fact only Shiels played a full season out of that trio.
Where you’d ask questions is the ruck department. It would be concerning if either Max Bailey or David Hale went down, as the attack is far more lethal with Roughead up and about in the forward line.
Overall, though, the Hawks have a strong midfield that should hold its own against the competition.
On paper, the forward line is a ridiculous collection of talent. When Buddy Franklin and Roughead are on fire, they are incredibly hard to contain. Buddy’s 82 goals last year showed how much of a superstar he is. A lot depends on whether Roughead can return to his best, however.
Jack Gunston from Adelaide does present an intriguing alternative. From all reports he dominated in Hawthorn’s intraclub match. Call me crazy but he has a bit of a Jack Darling vibe about him.
What concerns about the Hawthorn forward line is that last year, Luke Breust was second on the goal kicking tally with 30. For a top four team, having just one player kick 31 or more goals isn’t good enough.
We know the Hawks are capable of better. Cyril Rioli won’t deliver a return of 29 two years running, surely. But to take the next step, the forward line needs to become less predictable and more versatile.
Currently, curbing the influence of Buddy takes opponents significantly closer to victory. The key to a more successful year up forward would be to change that.
They’re close, the Hawks. The good news is there are areas for improvement.
The bad news is there will be just as much competition for the flag next year as there was last year.
m0nty’s Fantasy Picks
FanFooty.com.au‘s Paul Montgomery gives us his AFL fantasy picks for each team for 2012, including a keeper (the one you must have), cash cow (good prospects for healthy trading), and fool’s gold (avoid at all costs).
Keeper: Lance Franklin was third-highest-scoring forward last year behind ageing Cats Steve Johnson and Paul Chapman, but he’s a solid choice for the best of 2012. The only concern is a lack of history of playing all 22 games.
Cash cow: While a lot of fantasy coaches are looking at Orren Stephenson and Jonathan Giles for their ruck benches, don’t forget Adam Pattison who has a vital dual eligibility of ruck and forward, and is another mature-ager.
Fool’s gold: Luke Hodge sucked in a few coaches last year and delivered a big drop in production, as well as missing games. His chronic injuries should mean a line is put through him for fantasy purposes.
Hawthorn photo Gallery
All images via Slattery Images.
First five fixtures
Round 1 vs. Collingwood, MCG
Round 2 vs. Geelong, MCG
Round 3 vs. Adelaide, MCG
Round 4 vs. West Coast, Patersons
Round 5 vs. Sydney, Aurora