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JOHNNO: Is Hawthorn’s season already on the line?

Brad Johnson Columnist

By Brad Johnson, Brad Johnson is a Roar Expert

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    Hawthorn are the AFL premiership favourites in 2013, as they should be after a whole summer spent burning over last year’s grand final loss.

    The Hawks let themselves down in the final 15 minutes of that grand final, and will have been using that as motivation to rectify those areas where they feel they were lacking.

    But do we need to start querying how highly we should rate them after a NAB Cup campaign that has been winless, and displayed a few other worrying signs?

    Being defeated by Gold Coast in game one was not the way any top team would be comfortable with starting, even if it was only by a point. This was followed by their game against the Lions in which they only kicked one goal.

    No worries, they would have said, they were just blowing out the cobwebs.

    Their third game, they faced the Western Bulldogs and lost by one point again. They had a number of senior players missing, but as everyone talks about their depth, they would have been starting to get concerned.

    Most recently they faced Richmond in Tassie, and went down to a goal after the siren from Tiger spearhead Jack Reiwoldt. The margin? You got it, one point.

    No wins so far in the NAB Cup, and as we all know it is difficult to just flick a switch and find form. Form is built over a number of weeks, and so far the Hawks do not have much to speak of.

    The biggest concern is the fact that they have fallen from being the first-ranked kicking team in the comp during the last home-and-away season to 16th over this pre-season period.

    This is a decline in their key strength, and must improve in a hurry.

    There’s no question that the sides who have defeated the Hawks in recent weeks set themselves for the contest with relatively strong team selections, wanting to gain much-needed confidence by beating the best in the competition.

    The Hawks must be prepared to be the hunted this year.

    They need to be strong in turning this into a positive for themselves, then go out and hunt the opposition just as fiercely.

    Clinton Young left over the break to move to Collingwood, and Hawthorn will miss his outside run and penetrating kick.

    Brendan Whitecross’ knee injury during last year’s finals, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, means that a handy option is unlikely to be available for much or any of this season. Luke Hodge had an injury-riddled season last year, and an interrupted summer.

    Then there was Matt Suckling going down with a season-ending knee injury on the weekend. This will really hurt his side. The Hawks generate a lot of scores from his run out of defence, and his quality foot skills consistently hurt the opposition.

    Last year Suckling had the club’s best tally of rebound 50s, and the second-highest number of score involvements after Sam Mitchell.

    He’ll be missed most during kick-outs. With only six seconds to bring the ball in, he would have been the perfect option because of his precision and his retention rate after disposal – the third best in the league.

    2013 will be a test of Hawthorn’s depth. Full back Brian Lake is a big inclusion, and if he can overcome injury issues will be valuable as a key defender with excellent disposal this year.

    Brad Hill has been good, and it could be a huge chance for delisted Geelong midfielder Jonathan Simpkin to prove his worth after being given another chance at AFL level.

    It’s the early part of the year that would worry Alastair Clarkson.

    In round one on Easter Monday they face Geelong, a side they have not defeated in their last nine matches, with five of those losses by less than a goal. Being off their game is the last thing Hawthorn need.

    Nor is it just the challenge the Cats pose. Hawthorn’s first seven games are against the other seven finalists of last year.

    The Hawks can’t afford to end that first phase with a record of two and five.

    They have enough class over the ground, no question. The question is whether they can bring that class together for the all-important early matches.

    If they can, they deserve to be premiership favourites, and as the season unfolds they should cement their place as the number one side in the comp.

    Brad Johnson
    Brad Johnson

    Six-time All-Australian Brad Johnson is a former Western Bulldogs captain, Team of the Century member, and played a record 364 games for the club. He now commentates for Fox Footy and writes for The Roar.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • March 12th 2013 @ 12:11pm
      Hospital said | March 12th 2013 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

      Johnno – interesting point. I was tempted to think of this as a ‘the season is won in September’ but they do have to start well to give themselves every chance with their start: “Hawthorn’s first seven games are against the other seven finalists of last year.” Ouch.

    • March 12th 2013 @ 12:13pm
      Dylan Sargent said | March 12th 2013 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

      It is hard to put too much stock into Hawthorn’s NAB Cup performances. The NAB Cup is such a small sample size and, given that different teams have different objectives for each game, not a great indicator of future performance. In 2010, Geelong were knocked out of the NAB Cup, only won their last NAB Challenge game and yet ended their season on the premiership dais. If Hawthorn win even one of their three close games, their form is probably not even being questioned.

      Hawthorn generate a large number of scoring opportunities on the counter-attack and their is no doubt that the loss of Young to Collingwood and Suckling and Whitecross for most, if not all, of this season will hurt their link-up play on the rebound. Hawthorn, however, also lead the league in goals scored from clearance, so it is not as if rebounding is their sole avenue to goal. Their attack was so prolific last season that they can afford some regression and still be well above average.

      The greatest obstacle to Hawthorn’s premiership tilt is their tough schedule, not only playing all seven finalists in the first seven rounds but also being the only team not to have a single repeat game against a non-finals team. If they start slowly like last year, they may be playing catch-up for a spot in the top 4 for the rest of the year, and the record for teams winning the premiership from the bottom half of the 8 is poor.

    • Roar Guru

      March 12th 2013 @ 1:27pm
      TomC said | March 12th 2013 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

      They didn’t start well last season, of course, but still recovered to finish top of the ladder.

      I don’t know. For some reason they don’t seem to exude that aura of invincibility that premiership favourites generally do. As the article says, the midfield seems to have lost some depth of quality, and they might find themselves more reliant on players who’ve just been fringe contributors in the past, like Savage and Ellis.

      On the plus side, they’d have been thrilled with Roughead’s performances.

      • March 16th 2013 @ 7:20pm
        Mango Jack said | March 16th 2013 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

        Agree, they don’t seem like a team destined for a premiership

    • March 12th 2013 @ 1:43pm
      Macca said | March 12th 2013 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

      No need to ring to many alarm bells just yet but their start this year does remind me a bit of the blues of 2012!

      Losing Whitecross & Suckling hurts, not having Murphy or Young around might expose some depth and Rioli and Puopolo have lost a fair chunk of their pre-season which often haunts players later in the year.

      TOmC – Yes they did start slow last year but their draw was fairly tough in the first few weeks.

      • March 12th 2013 @ 1:58pm
        Melbourne is the New Adelaide said | March 12th 2013 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        That’s a good point. Hawthorn’s loss to Gold Coast also reminded me of the Blues 2012 as well.

        • March 12th 2013 @ 2:07pm
          Macca said | March 12th 2013 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

          Really, I didn’t realise in that blues game carlton didn’t play half their best side, the game only lasted for 2 20 minute quarters and the result didn’t count for anything.

      • March 12th 2013 @ 3:16pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 12th 2013 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

        Yeah, wasn’t that they started slow last year, they just had all their top-tier opponent games in a lump and inevitably lost a couple of them.

        • March 12th 2013 @ 3:20pm
          Macca said | March 12th 2013 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

          Ironically ti is remarkably similar to the blues draw in 2013!

      • March 13th 2013 @ 8:41am
        Hawker said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Whitecross will be back in the VFL hopefully by round 10 at the latest and Osbourne before then.

    • March 12th 2013 @ 1:50pm
      Brian said | March 12th 2013 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

      Am not to worried about the NAB Cup. Sydney don’t seem to have won a NAB Cup game in years. Losing Suckling however was a big blow. Having said that there are 2 main issues in assessing Hawthorn – 1 of which recurs annually

      1. Lake? Has he still got it and can he contain the likes of Cloke, Riewoldt & Hawkins in Finals? Will the defence be caught short again or can Lake fill a much needed void

      2. Midfield speed. Mitchell, Lewis, Hodge & Sewell are all ageing and lack pace. Thus when we miss some key runners the midfield we can look really slow. Rioli move to the midfield has not eventuated for whatever reason. The likes of Shiels, Anderson, Savage & Hill are all going to need to inject pace if the midfield is to continue to dominate

      That’s down back and midfield. I don’t think there much doubt that injuries aside the forward line is amongst the elite.

      • March 12th 2013 @ 2:06pm
        Macca said | March 12th 2013 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

        Brian – It is easy to forget that the Hawks premiership was coming up to 5 years ago. Yes they won it possibly a year ahead of when they were expected to but time is starting to catch up, they need to make the most of the next couple of years.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 8:39am
        Hawker said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        First off ridiculous alarmist article. I was chuffed at the weekend with the performance of Hill, Anderson, Simpkin, Duryea (ready made replacment for Suckling) and even Grimley. Who should have alarm bells ringing, Richmond ? playing a full strength side minus Tuck and perhaps Foley winning by a point after the siren against a Hawthorn team minus a dozen senior players.. hmmm

        Defence is fine , conceded the 3rd least points against last year. Lake can only help this and Schoenmakers has put on size during the preseason.

        Midfield spread is the key issue, Sydney got us here and Adelaide almost did. Like I said I’m buoyed by last weekend’s showing by the likes of Hill, Anderson and Simpkin which can make a difference in this area.

        • March 19th 2013 @ 11:31am
          Casey said | March 19th 2013 @ 11:31am | ! Report

          Hawker. I can’t agree more. I love how people base their opinions around trivial crap. Anything can happen in the season and a million things can effect other things. Hawthorn, Westcoast, Sydney and Collingwood can all win it depending on of course a lot of things mixed in with a bit of luck.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 12th 2013 @ 6:18pm
      Reccymech said | March 12th 2013 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

      And, to throw this into ‘their’ concerns – Buddy is holding off contract negotiations till the end of season. A whiff of Cloke surrounds this, and no matter what spin you put on it, that damaged Collingwood.

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