633032-lance-franklinAt first glance, the imposing figure that is Lance Franklin is one that seems almost impenetrable. After all, the giant Hawthorn forward is a decorated premiership player, remains the last player to boot 100 goals in any season (2008) and is arguably the most well known player in the competition.

However, it appears his performance on field this year may just have been affected by the lingering reminder of postponed contract talks, which have garnered speculation as to whether he will in fact remain a Hawk at seasons end.

Of course, it is hard to forget the case of Travis Cloke in 2012. Cloke and his management team chose to postpone contract talks with Collingwood until the end of the season.

It appeared that Cloke was adversely affected by the constant speculation as to whether he would remain at the Pies, or accept the large amount of money on offer. Whether it was consequently or coincidentally, his form suffered in comparison to his career best 2011 season.

For Lance Franklin, 2012 on the whole was a mixed season. He began the first few rounds with form below his usual high standards, but after his personal best haul of 13 goals against the Kangaroos in Round 10, his form seemed to improve rapidly despite missing six matches late in the season. He finished with an impressive 69.64 in just 19 games and was one of the influential players that got the Hawks back into the contest in the third quarter of last years Grand Final.

Unfortunately, Franklin’s opening to the 2013 season seems to be just a little lackluster. Sure, the fact that the Hawks opponents in each of the first seven rounds were all 2012 finalists hasn’t helped matters, however, his numbers in goals kicked, disposals, marks, tackles and even his fantasy numbers are all down in comparison to last year.

In 2012, Franklin averaged 18.4 disposals per game, booting 69 goals at 3.6 per game, with a total of 111 marks and 71 tackles in his 19 matches averaging 5.8 marks and 3.7 tackles respectively.

However, his 2013 outputs for the Hawks are less in all the above categories, as he is averaging just 16.2 disposals per game and has kicked just 27.20 (2.7 per game), with just 27 tackles (2.7 per game) and only 42 marks (4.2 average), with a worrying total of just 16 marks in his last five matches and in the Round 10 win over the disappointing Melbourne, Franklin only managed 2.3, with both goals coming as a result of fortunate free kicks.

The promising thing for Hawthorn is that despite Franklin’s less than superb form, they remain on top of the AFL ladder after Round 10, with the solitary loss to Geelong remaining their only blemish in an otherwise perfect season to date.

Perhaps it is a glimpse of the future at Hawthorn if Franklin does choose to leave at seasons end, as it appears that the Hawks are developing a list that will be more than equipped to cope with his loss and still remain premiership contenders for the foreseeable future.

Conversely, Franklin’s form may also be a sign of his fragility and that his tough exterior hides a softer side that struggles with the constant attention of fans and the media. Perhaps all he needs to have caring people around him that can help him ignore the innuendo, allowing him to focus on his football and helping the Hawks in the drive for the premiership that has eluded them so narrowly in the last two years.

After all, a second Hawthorn premiership be just the ultimate in Franklin’s career and if the Hawks can claim the 2013 flag, he may just decide to do as Suns’ skipper Gary Ablett has done and chase the money accordingly, having become a dual premiership player at his former club in Geelong.

Would anybody seriously begrudge Franklin if he did so?

Either way, one thing is for sure, this year we have rarely seen the absolute best of Lance Franklin, and heaven help any team that is on the receiving end, as the 22 North Melbourne players that copped the full force of his powers in Round 10 last year can certainly attest.

Ultimately, only time will tell if this glitch in Franklin’s form is a mere blip on the radar, or something more worrying. Either way most AFL fans, especially those in Hawk colours would hope that we get to see the best of Lance Franklin sooner, rather than later.