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Hawks' season preview

Ashley Browne  March 20, 2017 10:23 AM

AFL 2017 JLT Community Series - Hawthorn v Geelong

AFL writer Ashley Browne shares his predictions on Hawthorn's season ahead.

Best 22 – round one

B: Taylor Duryea, James Frawley, Josh Gibson
HB: Shaun Burgoyne, Ben Stratton, Grant Birchall
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Jack Gunston
HF: Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead, James Sicily
F: Paul Puopolo, Tyrone Vickery, Luke Breust
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Liam Shiels, Jaeger O'Meara
I/C: Will Langford, Ricky Henderson, Kade Stewart, Billy Hartung

Injury list

Niggles kept Grant Birchall, Liam Shiels and Josh Gibson out of the final JLT game against Port Adelaide but all are said to be available for the opening game against Essendon. Luke Hodge will miss the season-opener because of a club-imposed suspension. Ruckman Jon Ceglar is back running after his ACL injury late last season but the Hawks won’t see him in action until late this season.

The big questions

What does the return of Jarryd Roughead mean?

Let's count the ways. There's the leadership and organisation in the forward line. When up forward he invariably gets the best defender, which frees up the likes of Tyrone Vickery, Jack Gunston and James Sicily. There's the key clearances and touches from stoppages - Roughead circa 2015 an impressive and powerful midfielder. And there's the feel-good factor. There's much more spark about the Hawks when the big 'Rough' is up and about.

  Watch highlights from Roughead's 2015 season.

 

How much will the Hawks miss Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis?  

Plenty. They finished first and second in the best and fairest last season largely due to Mitchell's brilliance and Lewis' hardness and consistency. Their on-field leadership was vital as well. Putting aside the spin about providing long-term security for two club legends, Alastair Clarkson had valid reasons for making these moves and given his coaching brilliance and near-perfect personnel calls until now, who would dare argue that the Hawks might soon be better for moving them on. 

Will Jaeger O'Meara be worth the big bucks?

With returns of 22 and 27 possessions in his two full JLT games, the boom midfielder from Gold Coast appears to have overcome the patella injuries that have kept him off the ground the last two seasons. Give him a few more weeks to take his game to the next level and he will be justifying his hefty contract. 

  Jaeger shows his wears in JLT1.

 

Look for …

Jack Gunston to have a big year. He was excellent in 2016, kicking 51 goals despite being the No.1 forward in Roughead's absence. He has had a super pre-season and shapes to play not just in the forward line - where he will no longer attract the best opposition defender - but through the midfield where his height, running ability and mobility will make him a difficult match-up.

Who they play

The Hawks play seven of their first 11 games at the MCG, where at least until last year's finals, they played great footy. They play Sydney, Geelong, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Collingwood twice, having beaten the Pies in their last nine encounters. They travel twice to Adelaide Oval to play the Crows and Port Adelaide, both on a Thursday night. They play a home game at Etihad Stadium in round 23, but it's against the Western Bulldogs on what is their home deck. Strange but true.

Fantasy cash cow

Jaeger O'Meara ($364,000) comes at a discount given he hasn't played for a couple of years.

Sudden impact

Tom Mitchell comes into this side from Sydney and is already one of Hawthorn's most important players. He helps address what became a glaring weakness last year - contested ball - and has been likened by Luke Hodge to a younger Sam Mitchell for his work in the clinches. His finals series for the Swans was super-impressive given the looming decision on his playing future but he has fitted seamlessly into his new club. He averaged 27.5 disposals and 6.5 clearances in his two JLT games. 

It's crunch time for …

Can't separate midfielders Will Langford and Jonathan O'Rourke here. Langford has battled form and injury since his magnificent 2014 finals series and needs more polish to match his unquestioned hardness. O'Rourke, a former No.2 overall draft pick has managed just nine games in two years since crossing from GWS and this might be his last chance to cement a senior berth at Hawthorn. O’Rourke enjoyed a great summer before an injury just before the practice matches started.

Pressure rating on the coach

Pressure? What pressure? Four flags in the last nine years has given Alastair Clarkson all the job security he could hope for. But it will be interesting to see how he would deal with another year where the Hawks don't meet expectations and the flak that would come his way if Mitchell and Lewis have great seasons for their new clubs.

The Hawks will have a good year if …

If they extend their winning streak at UTAS Stadium to 23 matches. That would mean a win over the flag-favourite Giants, who they meet there in round 16. If the Hawks do beat them, they're likely top-four bound yet again.

They're in trouble if …

Ben McEvoy and/or James Frawley go down. Ruck and key defensive posts remain where the Hawks have depth issues.

Pass mark

Top four, as always, but this might be a transition year in which Hodge, Gibson and perhaps Shaun Burgoyne are eased into retirement, Mitchell and O’Meara establish themselves as the new midfield leaders and they get games into the likes of Teia Miles, Kade Stewart, Dallas Willsmore, Kaiden Brand and Kurt Heatherley, among others. On the other hand, if the forward line plays to its potential, it will take very good teams to beat Hawthorn. 

AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish

Seventh.

Player Ratings star

Cyril Rioli, ninth. Rioli is not a massive accumulator of the ball, a point his critics make, but which shows they don't quite understand his value to Hawthorn. His kicking for goal, his assists and his brilliant work off the ball are what makes him such a superstar of the game and the highest-ranked Hawk.