18 Teams in 18 Days: Hawthorn Hawks

2017: 12th (10 wins – 11 losses – 1 draw)

Key Acquisition:

Jarmen Impey (from Port Adelaide)

Key Losses:

Luke Hodge (to Brisbane), Josh Gibson (retirement), Billy Hartung (to North Melbourne)

Million Dollar Question

Can the further improvement from the kids, coupled with the return of a few premiership heroes, propel the Hawks back into finals contention? 2017 started disastrously for the Hawks winning only 1 of their first 6 games and accumulating an average losing margin of almost 10 goals (59.2 points). Hawthorn clawed their way back into the season eventually off the back of promising young players such as South Australian halfback Ryan Burton, utility James Sicily, hard nut Blake Hardwick and Irishman Connor Glass. The Hawks will have high hopes for these young guns and with a handful of premiership stars back and healthy in James Frawley, Grant Birchall and Cyril Rioli, there’s no doubt this is a Hawks outfit that should have their sights set on a position in the 8.

Case For

The Hawks learnt a lot of harsh lessons on the field last season, something that should surely make them stronger in the long run. It’s an exciting changing of the guard for Hawthorn fans currently, with club champions like Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Luke Hodge being replaced by the next brigade of stars hoping to lead the Hawks back to premiership glory. The Hawks only averaged a measly 84.7 points per game last season but will be hoping for bounce-back seasons from both Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo to help fix their scoring woes. They’ll also be hopeful of a big season from 2017 recruit Jaeger O’Meara, who just couldn’t get his body right again last season. His inclusion would be a welcome one to a midfield that ranked towards the bottom of the league last season in contested possessions (16th at 134 a game) and clearances (15th with 35 a game). Besides Tom Mitchell (who was poached from Sydney at the end of 2016), there weren’t too many Hawks who put their hand up in the midfield last year. But with a healthy O’Meara and Jarman Impey added to the picture from the Power, midfield fortunes could change quickly. Oh, and they’ll still have the upper hand in the coaches box on most match days.

Case Against

The fact that the Hawks worked their way back into finals calculations last season after starting the year 1-5 says a lot about the character and culture this footy club has created, but do we really know what to expect from the Hawks this season? Will they be the team that systematically dismantled the Sydney Swans both home and away last year? Or will they be the team that rolled over on the Gold Coast against the Suns and looked terrible against the Blues at Etihad late last season? One thing is for sure, there will be growing pains again in 2018. This is only natural for a team in transition such as the Hawks. There’s also question marks on some of their returning stars and whether or not they still have what it takes to make it in a league that has changed a lot since most of them were last on the field. Birchall, Stratton and Rioli are all champions, and champions will always be champions, but such questions must be asked. Remember early in 2017 how much the game looked like it had passed Josh Gibson and Luke Hodge by? It can happen and happen quickly. Hopefully, for Hawks fans sake, there’s one last hurrah for that select group who’ve given the club and fans so much joy.

One to Watch

Don’t be fooled by the fact Dylan Moore was taken so late in the draft last November (pick number 67) because the boy can really play. He may be slight in stature (176cm and 66kg), but that couldn’t be more irrelevant. Moore has an innate ability to just find the footy and always seems to find himself in the right spot at the right time, and he’s a really good decision maker with the footy. Don’t be put off by his size like so many were, Hawthorn have struck gold before by drafting smaller type players with late round draft selections (like Brownlow medallist and premiership captain Sam Mitchell).

Bold Prediction

Top 4 may be a slight reach, but there’s no reason to believe the Hawks can’t/won’t be playing finals again this year. There’s still a sprinkling of premiership players on every line, complemented nicely with some exciting youth. With the expected return of some really key players in defenders Frawley and Stratton and midfield specialist O’Meara, the Hawks could catch a few by surprise this season with a bit of luck and good fortune.

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