2017 AFL preview series: Hawthorn Hawks – 9th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert


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    Hawthorn fans have been through a torrid time in the recent past, given it’s been a whole 18 months since their team won a flag.

    Forgive them if they lash out at you. Offer them your ears and a shoulder to cry on. Exercise patience. With your help, they’ll get through it. Life just isn’t fair sometimes.

    In the trade period, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, both four-time premiership greats, both best-and-fairest winners and both All-Australian representatives while wearing the brown and gold, were hawked off like cheap watches. Brad Hill was traded to Fremantle.

    You can just picture Alastair Clarkson walking into opposition clubs and opening his coat to show off a glittering array of premiership stars hanging inside.

    Hawks fans were upset for about 15 seconds, before coming to the understanding that if Clarko was doing it, it must be right. Four premierships in the space of a decade will give you that leeway.

    Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara, Tyrone Vickery and Ricky Henderson were added to the side by way of compensation, and player-for-player heading into 2017, the Hawks should come out just in front.

    Let’s see what the new Hawthorn side might look like.

    Hawthorn Hawks’ best 22

    B Grant Birchall James Frawley Ben Stratton
    HB Shaun Burgoyne Josh Gibson Luke Hodge
    C Isaac Smith Tom Mitchell Billy Hartung
    HF Cyril Rioli Jarryd Roughead Jack Gunston
    F Paul Puopolo Tyrone Vickery Luke Breust
    Foll Ben McEvoy Liam Shiels Jaeger O’Meara
    Int James Sicily Ricky Henderson Taylor Duryea Daniel Howe

    Emergencies: Will Langford, Kade Stewart, Ryan Schoenmakers

    Luke Breust Hawthorn Hawks 2016 AFL Finals

    Starting at the back, we see an incredible conglomerate of experience, with 1375 games played between the defensive six named above.

    Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall and Ben Stratton have been doing what they do for years, while James Frawley took some time to settle in after crossing from Melbourne, but is now comfortably entrenched in this group.

    Each of these defenders has a different speciality. Skillsets that are different yet complementary are vitally important in a back six. So is continuity.

    The above four lack the flexibility of other players, so won’t be moving anywhere from defence. Clarkson will want to inject some fresh blood down there. Taylor Duryea has been a defensive mainstay for a few years, and may start getting more midfield minutes.

    James Sicily has been used at half-back across pre-season, and may play most of his football there this year, despite producing some impressive performances inside forward 50 in 2016. Daniel Howe should get more opportunities to cement a spot in the best side.

    Luke Hodge and Shaun Burgoyne, both giants of the game in their respective ways, are likely entering their last seasons. They will be relied upon for impact at crucial times, rather than four-quarter performances.

    The Hawks will be running with a brand new midfield in 2017, thanks to the acquisitions of O’Meara and Tom Mitchell who are replacing Lewis and Sam Mitchell.

    At stages, we will probably see a centre-square quartet of O’Meara, Mitchell, Tyrone Vickery and Jarryd Roughead, none of whom played a game for the Hawks last year.

    Clarkson usually runs with a two ruck strategy, but Vickery should be relief for Ben McEvoy only. McEvoy should ruck 80-85 per cent during games, which would be significantly higher than in his previous time at the Hawks. The limited ruck division will be a weakness opposition sides will look to exploit.

    O’Meara is such an exquisitely skilled footballer, memories of what he can do haven’t really dimmed in his two-year absence. If his dodgy knees hold up, he will become an outright superstar. Tom Mitchell is one of the best midfielders in the competition, who does his best work at the coalface, both offensively and defensively.

    Liam Shiels will provide his patented, no-frills hardness, while Isaac Smith and Billy Hartung will be important running the wings, especially given speed across the ground was a weakness for the Hawks last year. This can often be the case with such an experienced team.

    In fact, Hawthorn’s three biggest losses in 2016 were to teams with young list profiles – GWS were the second youngest, Melbourne the fourth and Western Bulldogs the fifth. The Hawks experience helped them get over the line in close games, but that luck ran out as the season wore on, and the new kids on the block with speed in their legs found them out.

    Clarkson knew this, and addressed it with the ushering out of Mitchell and Lewis. It wasn’t just about infusing O’Meara and Tom Mitchell, but it’s also about promoting the likes of Daniel Howe, Kade Stewart, Teia Miles, Blake Hardwick and Kieran Lovell.

    The forward line is where it gets interesting.

    Vickery has assets, in the form of good hands and a beautiful set shot technique, but is more mentally fragile than most playing the game. He can easily be a 40-goal forward in the Hawthorn set-up though, which will mean he has delivered.

    Roughead was a feel-good story of the AFL off-season, back after a year off fighting cancer. He has walked into the captaincy, to top things off, but how much can we truly expect of him? His JLT Series campaign has been extremely promising.

    The lethal combination of Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo will continue to put scores on the board, through their combination of work ethic, craft, cleverness and pressure skills. Can the midfield deliver them enough opportunities, particularly if O’Meara goes down?

    Hawthorn ranked last and second last for contested possession and clearance differentials last year, with Clarkson rightly placing a premium on ball movement ahead of these stats. In today’s game, where rebounding swiftly from the back half is such a high priority, turnovers kill you more than not being able to get first hands on the ball.

    That said, the Hawks didn’t want to be as bad as they were. Tom Mitchell will certainly help, as will O’Meara. Sam Mitchell and Lewis are much more uncontested players these days than their reputations insist, so an area of concern has been addressed.

    A straight sets exit from the finals last September was a more accurate reflection of Hawthorn’s season than the third place finish on the ladder. To the eye they looked like a sixth-7th team, and that was backed up by points for (6th), points against (7th) and percentage (6th).

    There was no shame in slipping back to the pack after a stellar three years at the top.

    The older heads will be a year slower and with diminished hunger. The young heads are not quite ready to take the responsibility of winning games. Another drop is likely. The Hawks haven’t missed the finals since their premiership hangover of 2009, but we might just get to see how September plays without them this year.

    Predicted ladder spread: 7th-12th

    Predicted finish: 9th

    Best and fairest: Tom Mitchell

    Leading goalkicker: Jack Gunston

    All-Australian potential: Jack Gunston, Tom Mitchell, Cyril Rioli

    Rising Star candidates: Ryan Burton, Blake Hardwick, Kieran Lovell, Kade Stewart

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    9th – Hawthorn
    10th – Richmond
    11th – Collingwood
    12th – Gold Coast
    13th – Port Adelaide
    14th – Fremantle
    15th – Essendon
    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    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 there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • March 10th 2017 @ 6:30am
      Dan said | March 10th 2017 @ 6:30am | ! Report

      Fair analysis Cam. Would you agree that of all 18 teams Hawks are the hardest to get a read on?
      I think S. Mitchell was a big loss for the team. I was not disappointed thst Lewis was moved on. He has been great for the club but he was not that reliable last season and at times made horrible skill decisions. It seemed like he was lazy at times.

      I tjink Vickery only needs to contribute about 25 goals for the season and he will be considered a success. With Roughead, Gunston, Breustand Rioli we have 4 players that can kick 40 goals +. Add Poppy, Smith, Burton and a couple of others we have goals aplenty.
      The obvious x factors for the Hawks are: Roughead abd O’mera. If those 2 can build on their preseason form we are a bloody good chance of finals.

      Then the Hawks hope that some of their younger talent takes a step up (hello Langford from 2014 finals series, O’rourke, Hartung and to a lesser degree Shiels).

      Big, Massive if! But if this all happens no reason why the Hawks can’t challenge for top 4.

      I know I’m writing this with my Hawks goggles on but I will acknowledge that your prediction could be spot on. Heck I thought you were off the mark last season after the Hawks beat the Swans in Sydney (I was sitting right where Cyril marked and went back and slotted it. Ridiculous match) and you said the Hawks wouldn’t make the GF let alone win it. You were spot on then! However I still think you are wrong though now. Haha

      • Columnist

        March 10th 2017 @ 7:40am
        Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 7:40am | ! Report

        Very difficult to get a read on, I agree Dan.

        I was pretty confident the Hawks would get found out in the end last year. It’s good to get one right every now and then I suppose. As you say, Roughead and O’Meara are the keys. I sense O’Rourke simply isn’t up to it.

        You’re right about Lewis, he has been disappointing for a couple of years. He used to be a tough inside player with good skills, and now he’s a soft outside player with dodgy skills. And he still finished second in the B&F!

        • March 10th 2017 @ 8:18am
          Dan said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

          I know- 2nd in the best and fairest!! I scratched my head at that one. Makes me realise that it is not objective. There must be some players wondering what they have to do to get recognised.
          I also sense O’rourke is not up to it but I’m hoping to be proven wrong. The Hawks have invested a fair bit into him and usually when they trade for a player they get it right.

          I know this is a big call but I suspect the first couple of game for the Hawks will give us a good idea of where they’ll finish. By the end of round 4 we will know.

          • Columnist

            March 10th 2017 @ 8:33am
            Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

            They have been slowish starters in recent times, from memory? I reckon Clarko will have them ready to fire early. Minimum of a 3-1 start looking at that draw.

          • March 10th 2017 @ 10:07am
            DH said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

            Geez, bit harsh on Lewis. For a team which struggled for clearances, he was second on the clearance list and I think also won the second most Brownlow votes behind Mitchell, so it’s both the Hawthorn coaches and the umpires who think Lewis was Hawthorn’s second best player yet all these Hawthorn people can’t wait to say how average a player he is. And I have to add they were doing this before he left, so they really mean it.

            I think the Hawks fans are underestimating Lewis’ departure, especially since Mitchell went too.

            It makes the hole Mitchell leaves that much bigger.

            In all of those close games it was those two who always stood up.

            The hawks will need big years out of Roughy, Mitchell and O’Meara just to replace the two guys who have left let alone cover the ageing backline.

            • Columnist

              March 10th 2017 @ 10:13am
              Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

              To be fair to Lewis, he had a better year than he did 2015. He looked like he was genuinely going to fall off a cliff, but bounced back. He’s looked okay for the Dees so far.

              I think Mitchell will be supreme. He’s underappreciated I reckon.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 8:59am
          reff said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          Got found out @ the end of last year ?? tough call Cam . A str8 kick after the siren was the difference . I was wrapped with our season in 2016 . The boys dug in again & did another great job for their supporters & members . Top 4 is what every team strives for & the boys should go close again this year , even if we have to carry big Tyrone for 10 rounds , while he learns to play under the best coach in the country . Interesting article , but the drop in ladder position is as repetitive as the Collingwood chant . Go Hawks ……

          • Columnist

            March 10th 2017 @ 9:31am
            Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

            Got found out as in the Hawks weren’t a legitimate top four side, and got bundled out accordingly.

            But yep, as a Hawks supporter you’re entitled to go in confident of more September action.

            • March 10th 2017 @ 10:09am
              DH said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

              The cats side they lost to by a kick wasn’t really in the hunt for the premiership either. Both the cats and hawks are really on borrowed time.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 9:04am
      Tom M said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Undoubtedly the best 22 you’ve posted so far Cam, but the fear for the hawks is their lack of depth. If injuries and or suspension strikes they will have to play un proven talent and the likes of Shiels Hartung and Smith really need to stand up this year and im not sure they are up to it.

      • Columnist

        March 10th 2017 @ 9:09am
        Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        If the oldies start getting injuries, it could all end quickly. Vickery could have form problems, Roughead might need to be rested at various stages, O’Meara’s knees will always be a concern. They’ll need a fair bit to go right.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 4:54pm
          J.T. Delacroix said | March 10th 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          “Vickery ‘could’ have form problems”?! That’s a bit like saying ‘it COULD start to get dark after 7.30 tonight’.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 10:09am
        Brian said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        If Burton is fit he will definitely be in the 22. Otherwise Lovell & Schoenmakers probably ahead of Howe and Henderson but that’s getting arguable. Burton aside its close to the best 22.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 10:26am
        DH said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        I don’t think you can question Smith and Shiels, they’ve been operating at a pretty high level for a while now. It’s younger guys like Hartung, Sicily and Duryea who need to step up, while the hawks also need to keep Gibson, Burgoyne and Hodge on the park as much as possible.

        Depth is a real problem which is why it was so puzzling to lose somebody like Lewis for next to nothing.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 10:59am
          Brian said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          The reason it was Lewis was versatility. Hodge & Burgoyne are much more naturally skilled so can play at half back. Lewis and Mitchell were constants around the ball at centre bounces and the team wasn’t going to win its next flag with them in the 4 men team at centre bounces.

          Regarding depth because of the success there’s actually quite a few guys who are still on the list who need to either prove themselves or move on. Langford, Schoenmakers, O’Rourke, O’Brien, Hartung are all above 22.

          I’ll be happy no matter what. At the MCG when the 3 peat was sealed I decided that like a good looking girl on your arm or a fun family holiday with the kids sometimes you just gotta sit back and say – this is as good as it gets.

          • Columnist

            March 10th 2017 @ 11:00am
            Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

            Haha, quality finishing thought Brian.

          • March 10th 2017 @ 1:35pm
            DH said | March 10th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            Hodge will barely be able to move again by the end of the season, if not before. Burgoyne keeps purring, but a bit like Enright for Geelong, he might be racking them up but he’s getting slower and keeping him, Hodge and Gibson in the backline means there’s next to no speed in rebound coming off that line.

            I think a lot of those guys you’ve mentioned have had a few opportunities to break into the team permanently and not done a lot. It would be good to see Schoenmakers give it a good crack this year.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 9:14am
      Luke said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Hope you’re right Cam from a Saints supporter. Very good read.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 9:29am
      Callen said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      Great article Cam. There is still a bit of unknown on how the Hawk’s season will pan out. But iI think the chess pieces Clarkson played in the off season were with a more strategic view in mind. As long as the Hawks don’t crash to the bottom of the ladder, most Hawks supporters will be comfortable with a middle of the pack standing this season, as like you said, Clarkson has the runs on the board now, and the most people can sense his eyes are on 2018 and beyond.

      • Columnist

        March 10th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        Thanks Callen.

        Clubs are getting much better at regenerating without dropping right down. Geelong, Sydney and Hawthorn have led the way in this regard for a decade.

      • Roar Guru

        March 10th 2017 @ 4:10pm
        Dalgety Carrington said | March 10th 2017 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

        It’d be a fair disaster if they were to crash to the bottom this year, having traded their first two picks in the 2017 draft.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 9:32am
      jacques of Lilydale said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Hi Cam, the elephant in the room for this team now is to try and revive that team spirit that the original superstar group had. After so many years in the wilderness, they put together a group of rough diamonds in 2005/6 with a few old hands in the mix such as Shane Crawford to give them leadership and that mix of youth, enthusiasm, skill and hunger was ultimately the basis of a golden era that is now entering its twilight. They played for each other and as a supporter it was one of the most exciting of times.With a Clarkson at the helm they re-invented the way footy was played and even the great Geelong teams had no answers in finals. However i am not sure the current group will be able to duplicate that level of camaraderie, that’s something you can’t measure and invent, it is one of those things.
      The doggies had that last year and they were irresistable, maybe GWS this year as well so I’m not expecting the Hawks to have too much success over the next two or three years. A fourth placed finish may be beyond them

      • Columnist

        March 10th 2017 @ 9:34am
        Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Interesting commentary Jacques.

        You’re right, the intangibles are still just as important as the statistical measures we are forever inundated with. The Dogs certainly had it last year. Are we about to witness the GWS steamroller take over? All signs point to it.

    • Roar Guru

      March 10th 2017 @ 10:19am
      Paul D said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      These are really good articles Cam, eminently fair and very readable.

      • Columnist

        March 10th 2017 @ 11:01am
        Cameron Rose said | March 10th 2017 @ 11:01am | ! Report

        Thanks Paul, I always enjoy putting them together. Hopefully the readers get some value out of them.