SAM MITCHELL has warned West Coast to expect a fierce response from a "resilient" Hawthorn at the MCG on Sunday, insisting the winless Hawks are a much better outfit than their record suggests.
And Mitchell, who is racing the clock to be fit for an emotional return to face his old club due to a sore ankle, has no doubts the Hawks' long-term future is in safe hands.Hawthorn is stuck in unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the ladder with a percentage of just 56 after being beaten up by Gold Coast and Geelong in consecutive weeks.
The Hawks' shocking form has raised more questions about the decision to trade champions Mitchell and Jordan Lewis – the top two in the club's 2016 best and fairest – at the end of last season, amid predictions that the club's golden era is finished.
But Mitchell was wary of facing his ex-teammates with their backs to the wall.
"Some of their guys are obviously going to be doing it tough, but I know that there's a lot of resilience in that footy club," Mitchell said.
"First-hand, I can say that's a hugely resilient place.
"They're going to be bonded together this week, they're going to be having honest conversations with themselves and each other to say 'What can we do to turn this around?'.
"They're going to be coming out ready to go, all on the same page, all firing together.
"I'm not worried about the footy club Hawthorn having trouble for the long-term.
"I think this is going to be something they’ll go through and they'll become more resilient over the journey.
"Their best is still outstanding, and we're going to have to play really well to win."
Mitchell has "ticked the boxes so far" to be passed fit for the clash, and the four-time premiership Hawk's intensive rehabilitation has helped take his mind off playing against his ex-teammates.
"Assuming that everything goes well and I do get up to play, it will be quite an emotional, particularly start, to the game," he said.
"You're still going to look at all the fans and recognise all their faces and the people that supported me for such a long period of my life.
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an emotional element to it.
"But I'm there to get a job done and that's win four points for the West Coast football club."
Mitchell's teammate Sharrod Wellingham went through a similar experience in 2013 when he returned to face his Collingwood premiership teammates at the MCG.
"We spoke about it the other day and I said 'It is quite an odd feeling'," Wellingham said.
"It's something you'll be feeling in the lead-up to the game and the first few warm-up laps … but as soon as the ball bounces, we're playing and we know who we're playing for."
Mitchell's experience could be crucial for the Eagles to notch an important victory at the home of football, where they lost against Richmond in round three and have won only once in their past five attempts.
"We didn't play well (against the Tigers), but it was nothing to do with the ground," Mitchell said.
"We just had a game where our intent wasn't good enough.
"The challenge for us is can we bring the same intensity we brought to Sydney, can we bring that this week against the Hawks?
"Because if we don't, we're a huge risk of losing the game."