The first half of the season has been inconsistent for the reigning premiers. They’ve shown glimpses of the form that’s won them the last two premierships but have also suffered several close losses, most notably against Port Adelaide and Essendon.
The loss to GWS was a surprise, and the Hawks would be hoping that the form they displayed in that match was an anomaly. Injuries to James Frawley and Brian Lake, along with multiple-week suspensions to skipper Luke Hodge and star Jordan Lewis, have also hampered the Hawks at times.
Despite missing key personnel for parts of the season, the Hawks have managed to minimise their losses, and despite sitting fourth on the ladder, have the highest percentage in the AFL. They are ranked first in the AFL for points per game, highlighting that their forward line still remains potent.
The pleasing thing for coach Alastair Clarkson would be that the Hawks are not relying on big men David Hale, Jarryd Roughead and Jon Ceglar to score – the impact has been shared between midfielders and smaller players. Luke Breust also seems to be well and truly over his goalkicking yips, having kicked 30 this year, and on track to equal his 57 from last year.
The excellent form of veteran Sam Mitchell has been a big positive, and youngsters Billy Hartung and Taylor Duryea have cemented their spots in the Hawks’ best team.
The Hawks’ depth is also the envy of the competition – Grand Final hero Will Langford has been in and out of the team, while Jonathon Simpkin, Ryan Schoenmakers, Matt Spangher, Ben McEvoy, James Sicily, Tim O’Brien, Alex Woodward, Angus Litherland and Jed Anderson – who would be walk-up starters in most other teams – are performing well for Box Hill. The Hawks showed they are more than capable of covering injuries to key players, with Schoenmakers performing admirably in Frawley’s absence.
The Hawks have lost the absolute edge that has made them the most ruthless team in the competition over the past few years. The Hawks have not performed terribly in any of their losses, but have shown lapses in concentration and skill that would have worried Clarkson.
The losses to Port Adelaide and Sydney, in which they allowed themselves to fall way behind before storming back, lacked the finesse and efficiency that was a hallmark of the Hawks of the last two years. The brain fades that saw Hodge and Lewis suspended took ‘unsociable’ football too far, and have raised questions over the Hawks’ desire and hunger for another flag.
The Hawks are also ranked 12th in the league for tackles per game. While their free-flowing game style means that they are likely to lay less tackles than other more contested teams (such as Sydney and the Bulldogs), the statistic still provides an indication of the drop in pressure in the current season to date.
Where to from here?
The Hawks have a difficult run after the bye, which will go a long way to shaping the ladder at season’s end. After Saturday’s big win over Essendon, the Hawks face Collingwood, Fremantle and Sydney in succession, and then face the Tigers, Eagles and Cats in their last five matches.
It’s a tough run home, but if anyone can come out of it in good fashion, it’s Hawthorn. If the Hawks can win four out of those six matches, they will secure themselves a top four berth and will be on track for the fabled ‘three-peat’.
Four wins in a row has the Hawks gathering momentum, and looking ominous heading into the back half of the year. With no long-term injuries, the team has a clean bill of health, and plenty of reinforcements waiting in the wings.