With the excitement of footy being on its way back, I’ve decided to run a Brownlow count for each game this year.
There is no doubting that James Worpel is one of the league’s best young players.
Worpel, 21, was selected in the 2017 national draft with the 45th pick, and since crunching opposing powerhouse Joel Selwood in 2018, he has not taken a step back.
From working in Geelong as a labourer in a local winery to winning the Hawks’ best and fairest in 2019 after only 33 games – the youngest since Leigh Matthews – Worpel has shown that he is the personification of a meteoric rise and shows no signs of slowing down.
Amidst the rigours of a busy pre-season, the Hawks displayed their appreciation and trust in Worpel by offering him a two-year contract extension for his services. The trust was proved to be mutual after Worpel agreed to the terms, which will see him stay a Hawk until the end of 2023.
Picking up the obvious slack in the Hawks midfield due to Tom Mitchell’s absence has provided Worpel practical awareness as to how to further improve his game.
Some may now argue that due to Mitchell returning to the midfield group, it seems likely that Worpel may not continue to have the same effect that he once did.
Thankfully, this assumption underwent its first step towards being disproven after Hawthorn’s loss to St Kilda in the first game of the Marsh Community Series where both Worpel and Mitchell had 21 touches apiece. A win would have solidified it.
That Hawthorn midfield is now looking rather spicy when you factor in a fit Jaeger O’Meara, a fit Mitchell and an ever-improving Worpel.
There is a clear link which shows both how and why Worpel will continue to improve his footballing abilities. Enter Sam Mitchell.
Sam Mitchell, former Hawks legend turned midfield assistant coach under Alastair Clarkson, has had an almost carbon copy of Worpel’s short career to date. There are clear similarities.
Both were selected in the national draft later in the piece than their footballing abilities would suggest. In addition, both played similar game time within the first two years of their careers.
Both players achieved strikingly similar statistical output increases in their second season when compared to the first (Worpel from 17 touches to 26, Mitchell from 11 to 17, Worpel from two clearances to six and Mitchell from three to six). Not to mention the obvious similarity that Worpel has inherited Mitchell’s famous No. 5 guernsey.
The link between Worpel and Mitchell doesn’t just end at their similarities – Worpel and Mitchell have a strong working relationship.
Worpel has shown appreciation to Mitchell for the assistance he has given to him. Worpel described that Mitchell “has been incredible” for him and continued, “pre-season was amazing, and I felt like I was learning so much every week”.
Worpel further extends his glowing commendation for Mitchell by saying that “he knows the game so well, he has a lot of tips and tricks…and the way he coaches is perfect for me.”
It’s an exciting prospect to hear for Hawks fans. The obvious possibility that Worpel has been taught a few things from Mitchell not only extends to the continued improvement in Worpel himself, but also applies to rest of the midfield group, an indication that they could all benefit and build on their abilities.
There are clear reasons to suggest why the Hawks will be in a good starting position to play finals this year; Tom Mitchell’s return, the addition of Jon Patton, the continued growth of Mitch Lewis and James Sicily just to name a few – not to mention the large advantage of having the league’s best coach at the helm.
Yet the opportunity for Worpel to pick up where he left off and further develop his footballing prowess will prove to be the driving factor as to why the Hawks will once again push for a season destined for top-eight action.