The Box Hill Hawks have continued their excellent start to 2023, defeating Essendon by 47 points on Sunday afternoon.
Zane Littlejohn’s charges won every quarter on enemy soil and never trailed their arch-rivals in a wire-to-wire victory.
The win keeps the men from City Oval in touch with the pacesetting Suns and Lions and, crucially, at the front of the queue which is fast becoming a log jam for places in the top four.
It was the sixth time in eight outings the Hawks had kept their opponent to under 60 points, and as if to illustrate the strength of their all-around game, it's the fifth time the Hawks have brought up triple figures themselves.
All told the brown and gold eclipsed their red and black rivals in every meaningful statistical indicator. The Hawks finished the game +98 in disposals, including 36 more contested possessions, +25 in inside 50s, while keeping Essendon to just 35 entries for the match, +21 in clearances and, tellingly despite dominating possession, +16 in tackles.
Ned Long was the standout player on the ground, using his size and strength to dominate in the clinches and on the scoreboard.
He finished the day ranked second among all players for inside 50s with six and no.1 on the ground in clearances (11), tackles (9) and goals (3). His six score involvements saw him ranked no.1 among his teammates in that category as well.
Unsurprisingly he was the top-rated player on the field, returning 151 ranking points – 42 more than the next best.
Jack Scrimshaw was another fine contributor to his team’s cause, accumulating 27 touches and taking six marks. But it was his ball use that was the real high point of the defender’s game. He went at 85 per cent disposal efficiency, better than all but one player on the ground with 15 or more disposals.
The performance of Cal Brown should come as no surprise to anyone who has been keeping tabs on his start to life at City Oval. The dashing half-back excelled yet again, wracking up a game-high 36 touches.
His four rebound 50s saw him ranked no.1 for Box Hill, while his seven clearances trailed only Long among all players on the field. The mid-season draft hopeful added four inside 50s, four tackles and five score involvements to a typically excellent display.
Another player in Hawks’ best was the crafty, hard-as-nails half-forward Max Hall. Playing what is sometimes regarded as the hardest, most thankless role in footy, Hall won 16 touches, a clearance and ranked second among his teammates for score involvements with six.
Another to finish with sixteen touches was Josh Bennetts. Bennetts showed his class inside 50 to boot two goals, take five marks and lay three tackles – and to further illustrate his work rate, no Hawk had more score involvements.
Last but certainly not least among Box Hill’s best was Finn Maginness. Sometimes deployed in a purely defensive or lockdown role, Maginness won his own ball at will inside and out, spread tirelessly and finished a fine day’s work with 33 touches, three inside 50s, three rebound 50s and five marks.
A wet and windy morning gave way to a fine – if sometimes drizzly and blustery – afternoon, and once the opening bounce came the Hawks wasted little time in dealing the first blow of the contest.
Bennetts kicked the first of two goals on the day after just a minute, but the Hawks couldn’t immediately consolidate as both teams struggled to cope with intermittently breezy conditions.
Young gun Ethan Stanley was on the end of an excellent passage of play to turn a one-goal advantage into a 12-point lead after 10 minutes, beating his man in a one-on-one deep to dribble home the easiest of goals.
The Bombers found back-to-back goals shortly thereafter to tie the game at 13-apiece before Cooper Stephens found his range to re-instate the Hawks’ lead.
Offensively the game would spring to life in fits and starts, as after Stephens’ goal fans were made to wait nearly 13 minutes for another major.
Kicking into the breeze, the Hawks did well during this period to nullify their hosts, but the stalemate owed as much to the tricky conditions as it did the pressure around the contest, shape and solidarity of both defensive units.
Fortunately, when the next goal arrived it was via the boot of a man in brown and gold, with Bennetts able to cap an excellent opening salvo with his second moments before the quarter-time siren.
Renewed and encouraged by a strong start, Box Hill returned to action in the second quarter knowing with the breeze at their backs a good quarter would go a long way towards securing a vital four points.
Ryan Maric showed his wares with two classy goals in four minutes before co-captain Cal Porter’s 60m bomb skipped through after one bounce.
Maginness, Hall and Fionn O’Hara narrowly missed a trio of half-chances to extend the advantage as the quarter progressed, but the excellent Ned Long bobbed up with the first of three for the day to kick his side to a 37-point lead nearing time on.
In the shadows of half-time and with the game slipping away, the hosts found their rhythm and produced their best attacking spell of the afternoon. Riley Loton and John Jorgensen split three goals to keep their hopes alive and draw within 17 points at the half.
Equal parts frustrated and encouraged by their football in the opening hour, the Hawks got back to work once play resumed.
Damian Mascitti and Ed Phillips found the mark during a 10-minute spell Box Hill was able to control to edge the lead beyond five goals, but conditions continued to make building that advantage difficult.
After Phillips kicked his goal the game went some 13 minutes before the next six-pointer – to Essendon’s Tex Wanganeen – and nearly 10 goal-less minutes thereafter to end the quarter.
But the Hawks would’ve been the happier of the teams, not least of all because of their 27-point lead with one to play.
Behinds to Hustwaite, debutant Clay Tucker and Phillips saw the lead reach five goals again before Stanley and Stephens kicked their second goals of the day to erase any doubt as to the destiny of the four points.
With the result all but confirmed the play opened up a touch. Essendon’s Billy Cootee kicked his first before Long added his second and Fergus Greene his first to extend the Hawks’ lead.
The Bombers kicked what appeared to be a late consolation goal to inch closer, but fittingly it was left to Long to have the last say. The best man on the ground kicked his third for the afternoon to conclude the scoring and confirm a 47-point margin.
Best: Long, Scrimshaw, Brown, Hall, Bennetts, Maginness
Goals: Long 3, Stephens, Stanley, Maric, Bennetts 2, Porter, Phillips, Mascitti, Greene
Disposals: Brown 36, Long 34, Maginness 33, Scrimshaw 27, Hustwaite 23, Stephens 19, Phillips 19
The Hawks return to action next Saturday afternoon at Box Hill City Oval, hosting Williamstown.