Game 2 of Round 2 is not as I predicted (based on the original fixture), which was Geelong versus Gold Coast, but instead Geelong versus Hawthorn.
Last night, I heard something I’ve been waiting to hear for a very long time: genuine praise of Hawthorn’s new midfield machine, James Worpel.
For most of this season I’ve been hot on Worpel, who has been one of the players to benefit from the unfortunate injury to reigning Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell.
When the news came through Mitchell would miss the season, I held grave fears for Hawthorn. Enter Worpel and players like Ricky Henderson, who have shouldered the load and put the Hawks in the conversation for the eighth-place finals berth, despite succumbing to North Melbourne on Friday.
What we witnessed against North was truly something special. Seven clearances in the first quarter was a titanic effort and it’s no coincidence that his best quarter was the one when the Hawks ran rampant.
Across the game he accumulated 37 touches, with 21 of those being kicks drenched in class, acting like a seasoned veteran despite it being only the 30th game in his AFL career. His battle with Ben Cunnington – especially in the second quarter – was enthralling as they seemed to trade the upper hand on a stoppage-to-stoppage basis.
It’s been a dominant month for the man they call Worpedo. His 33 touches against Fremantle were followed by a quieter yet valuable 24 against Geelong in a huge win. His 34 disposals against Brisbane were a season high that lasted a grand total of six days, being overtaken by his aforementioned 37 against North.
The question still remains: can Worpel succeed storied Hawks midfielders like Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Brad Sewell?
Statistically speaking, the numbers say yes.
In his second season, Worpel ranks above average in disposals (26.3), effective disposals (17.5), clearances (5.9), metres gained (376.9), tackles (4.8) and pressure acts (21.8).
For a player with 30 games of senior football, that is no mean feat. Clearly he’s good off the ball as well as on it, a valuable quality that will remind Hawthorn fans of a previous No.5 in Sam Mitchell.
There are also areas he needs to improve in. He ranks below average in marks, and despite his effective disposals being above average, his kicking efficiency ranks in below the competition benchmark.
Although if there’s one coach in the AFL that can fix issues in a young footballer’s game, it’s Alastair Clarkson.
Worpel has the tools and the raw talent as a ball-winning midfielder and there’s a lot to like about him as a long-term prospect.
His best quality, however, is his maturity. He plays like he’s closer to retirement than debut. He doesn’t get lost around the ball and his positioning at centre bounces and general-play stoppages is top class.
Strapping the ‘next big thing’ tag to anyone is a risk, but I have confidence in James Worpel to fulfil it.
Hawthorn have been a recruiting goliath this century, nabbing some huge names through the draft – and for pick 45, Worpel is already materialising as a genuine steal.