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Where it's 'stat'

R4: Breust opens and closes Luke Breust slotted the first and last goals of the opening quarter to keep the Hawks within touch at the first break.

Just like that and the first month of the 2018 season is done and dusted.

With a stirring win over Melbourne on Sunday, Hawthorn has broken into the top four and emerged as an unexpected front-runner.

It is a dramatically different story to this time last year when the Hawks sat on the bottom of the ladder, having been outscored by their opponents by 221 points through the opening four weeks. 

Read: Match report - Round 4

So, what's the difference?

What has Alastair Clarkson’s side changed so dramatically in 12 months to facilitate this revival?

Well, there are three key statistical categories that the Hawks have gone from league cellar dwellers to become amongst the competition’s elite.

Firstly, clearances.

The Hawks ranked 15th league-wide in clearances in 2017. 

Tom Mitchell rated 14th in the competition with 6.2 clearances a game but he had little support with Jaeger O’Meara (4.3 per game over six games) and Liam Shiels (4.2) the only other recognisable sources of production. 

But this season, no side has generated more clearances than the brown and gold. 

Their rise to the competition benchmark is primarily on the back of Mitchell’s ascension to number one in the category, averaging 11.5 a game, which is almost three more than the next best in the game, Gold Coast’s Jarryd Lyons.

O’Meara (5.8 per game) and Shiels (4.3) have also seen an increase in their numbers.

The next statistic that has seen a major boost in 2018 is in inside 50s.

The Hawks finished last year 14th for forward 50 entries, creating 48.4 a game, whilst they rank fourth through the first four rounds so far this season. 

Hawthorn’s improvement to 56.8 entries per game in 2018 is helped by four players inside the league’s top 50 for inside 50s: Tom Mitchell (seven per game, ranking first in the league), Isaac Smith (4.8, 29th), Jarman Impey (4.5, 39th) and Jack Gunston (4.3, 46th).

Last year, Smith was the Hawks’ only representative to rate inside the leading 50 players for forward entries.

Interestingly, Mitchell has doubled his 2017 production in the area, averaging 3.5 inside 50s last year.

The third category that has seen an increase for the Hawks this year is in their scoring. 

Averaging 105.8 points per game, the Hawks are the second-highest scoring side so far this year, behind only West Coast.

The rise in scoreboard pressure seems independent of the increased forward 50 entries, with four of the current top eight on the ladder not featuring inside the top eight for inside 50s.

The Hawks will look to continue this rate of improvement into next week with their clash against North Melbourne on Sunday.

Can the Hawks completed the full 180, and turn a 1-4 start in 2017 into a 4-1 in 2018? Time will tell.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs