The Roar
The Roar

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Are we all in denial about the Hawks?

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
28th July, 2016
74
1622 Reads

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, Hawthorn are again the team to beat. Bloody Hawthorn.

They sit two games clear on top of the ladder with five games to play and their next two opponents are Carlton and Melbourne. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure neither of those sides has toppled the Hawks since they were coached by Ron Barassi.

Winter hadn’t even arrived the last time the Hawks dropped a game, and with the exception of Jarryd Roughead, they have no significant long-term injuries. That is unlike North Melbourne and Fremantle, the only two teams that came into the season with older lists.

Their contested-possession struggles are well known – the Hawks are dead last in differential at -15.2 a game – but it’s not really hurting them on the scoreboard. This might explain Alastair Clarkson’s public disdain for the statistic.

The area in which the reigning premiers are still as good as it gets is on the turnover. With their relentless forward pressure (Paul Puopolo, Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli and Luke Breust are all in the top-12 for tackles inside-50) smart, bold and disciplined defenders, and classy ball users, Hawthorn punish teams for their mistakes.

The Hawks score on 24.7 per cent of opponent turnovers, which is the best conversion rate in the competition.

And if you need further evidence of how well drilled the three-time defending champs are, look no further than their ability to defend kick-ins, where they’ve given up just 23 points (on eight scoring shots) on the the season from 200 kick-ins. During their eight-game win streak, the Hawks have conceded one miserable point after a minor score.

The intangibles stack up too. Skipper Luke Hodge always seems to be in the right place at the right time in big games. The same could be said for Shaun Burgoyne. Sam Mitchell has had at least 33 disposals in each of his past five finals.

Chris Judd and Jake Niall think Rioli is their best player. Nick Riewoldt says Gunston is their most important. You could make the same claims for any of Hodge, Mitchell, Burgoye, James Frawley and Josh Gibson. It’s almost unfair how deep their talent runs – and just for good measure they have one of the greatest coaches ever.

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Geelong coach Chris Scott said a few weeks ago that the top teams didn’t fear the Hawks, and that’s most likely true, but the Hawks certainly don’t fear anyone.

The defence is solid, the midfield deep and, even without Roughead, the forward line is potent and versatile.

They aren’t unbeatable by any means, but with a top-two finish all but assured, someone is going to have to beat them in a final the MCG (at least once) to end any chance of them securing a fourth-straight flag.

There’s still plenty of footy to be played, unsurprisingly, though, the road to this year’s premiership runs through Hawthorn.

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