The Kangaroos did not take very long in this season to get seared on all sides and have their raw insides exposed, while the smoke still hasn’t cleared from the roasting that the Pies got from flying too close to the Suns.
Markets will start to get interesting for wooden spoon favouritism as the two worst teams face off in Round 8 after just a third of the season, but both are cooked for season 2021.
And yet no team was quite as insipid in Round 7 as the currently unhappy team at Hawthorn, with the Hawks taking until the second quarter to register their first score. The game was over before halftime as the Saints put in their first four-quarter performance of 2021. For a side that looked good on paper facing a side that has only looked good in patches, this was close to a forfeit.
Meanwhile, St Kilda propelled themselves back into finals calculations for the season, with the percentage-boosting win keeping them in touch with the top eight, albeit at the tail end in the logjam from ninth to 14th. The men from Moorabbin now travel to the sunny Gold Coast where both teams will look to continue their winning form.
In their quest to avoid the fork, Essendon well and truly broke the Leigh Matthews rules by kicking 16 goals and over 100 points, just failing to kick enough goals in the final minutes and conceding some when they couldn’t afford it, losing in the highest-scoring game in recent times.
Carlton finished winners in the shootout, despite losing most of the stats, giving life to their season after a dour run of losses. The Bombers now enter the danger zone of having too many games to win to make finals.
What is wrong with the Hawks?
Apart from some very good quarters where they have come back from deficits to win in two of their three close games, the Hawks have been sub-par to dreadful, getting caned by Melbourne in a disastrous final quarter after an arm wrestle for three quarters.
They have been just ordinary in their other losses. Their wins over the Bombers and Crows were more about their opponents’ frailties than their own prowess, finishing over the top of young sides unused to playing from in front.
The vintage names on the Hawks team sheet look imposing, yet year after year they age and move well past their prime. Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Ben McEvoy and Liam Shiels are all that’s left of the 2015 grand final side and none are playing near their best.
There are definitely green shoots for the Hawks, as they continue to rebuild, but the strategy of trading for talent is beginning to unravel in an ugly fashion. In a year when having a small list is showing up the depth of several teams, the Hawks are one of the clubs being worst affected, as they can’t get their top draft talent on the field and don’t have the depth to cover against sides that do have the games and experience in their bottom 15 players.
Having a club president and head coach at loggerheads has been a constant at Glenferrie during the Jeff Kennett/Alastair Clarkson years, and although it hasn’t seemed to affect the team’s performance, this is now looking like the fourth season out of the past five without finals. Even the 2018 top-four finish ended in a straight sets wipeout.
This just adds to the likelihood that Clarkson will go at season’s end, with one obvious destination looking probable at this stage. Perhaps Hawthorn should look at following Collingwood’s lead in shifting out their president.
The injury factor
Shaun Burgoyne is six games away from the 400-game milestone, which could possibly be manufactured to be played against his old side, Port Adelaide.
High draft picks Will Day and Denver Grainger-Barras won’t return until the second half of the season, although Jon Ceglar and Daniel Howe should be back before then. The loss for the season of James Sicily cannot be underplayed, yet it just highlights their shallow talent pool.
Where is the cavalry?
Chad Wingard and Jaeger O’Meara were massive outs for Hawthorn as they went into the clash against the Saints, while the Hawks can also look forward to improved form from Jack Gunston as he regains touch.
However, the Hawks have had two retirements this season in Tom Scully and Jon Patton (both former number one draft picks) so there’s very little in terms of experience in the VFL side on the list apart from Michael Hartley and Keegan Brooksby. There is something to look forward to later in the season, but surely too late to do enough.
Play the kids?
Alastair Clarkson has had little choice but to play developing talent, with Tyler Brockman, Jacob Koschitzke, Finn Maginness and Emerson Jeka getting starts in the first seven rounds. Next generation academy products Connor Downie and Harry Pepper do not appear close to their AFL debuts, although with a long season of development at Box Hill they could feature later in the season.
Mid-season rookie draft
The retirement of Jon Patton affords the Hawks at least one shot at a highly desirable player in the mid-season draft, with the 2020 purge of listed players and record low number of draft picks meaning that the second-tier competitions are turning out some eye-catching performances from washouts and undrafted potential. Watch this space.
Stick a fork in them?
With the Hawks showing a definite inclination to play their youth, it’s going to be a long season for the Hawks faithful. This team will still post some wins because their best is above average and there are several below-average teams in their path.
In fact, with the Eagles at the MCG, North in Launceston, the Blues at the MCG and the Suns in neutral Darwin for Sir Doug Nicholls Round, the Hawks could evade the fickle fork for a few more weeks.