IF YOU think Hawthorn will be languishing at the bottom of the ladder next year and for the foreseeable future, think again.
The injury list at the Hawks this year was underestimated. Cyril Rioli played only seven games, Grant Birchall played five, Ben Stratton played eight, James Frawley played eight and Jaeger O’Meara only six games. Even Paul Puopolo missed nearly two months with a groin issue.
That’s six players, and the core group of experienced premiership players, missing for more than half the season and who the side, understandably, struggled to cover.
LIST GURU GARY BUCKENARA WILL BE ANALYSING THE LISTS OF ALL 18 AFL CLUBS OVER THE TRADE PERIOD. STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER COLUMN TOMORROW
The silver lining to the injury list was that Alastair Clarkson was able to uncover some very good players for the future in Ryan Burton, James Sicily as a defender, Blake Hardwick, Tim O’Brien, who is finally showing his talent, Daniel Howe and Kaiden Brand.
I also liked the look of Irishman Conor Glass when he got some games late, and James Cousins who made his debut midyear.
Add them to the senior players — Jarryd Roughead’s return to footy was one of the stories of the year and he will be even better next year, Tom Mitchell came in and was a star, Shaun Burgoyne, Isaac Smith, Jack Gunston, Luke Breust, Liam Shiels and Ben McEvoy. Jonathon Ceglar will also return from injury next year.
The Hawks will have a deep list to choose from next year and that’s why I believe Hawthorn will be back contending for the premiership again in 2018.
Consider this team:
B: Ben Stratton, James Frawley, Blake Hardwick
HB: Grant Birchall, Ryan Burton, James Sicily
C: Isaac Smith, Tom Mitchell, Shaun Burgoyne
HF: Jack Gunston, Tim O’Brien, Paul Puopolo
F: Cyril Rioli, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Breust
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Liam Shiels, Jaeger O’Meara
Interchange from: Daniel Howe, Jonathon Ceglar, Ricky Henderson, Kaiden Brand, Billy Hartung, Ryan Schoenmakers, Taylor Duryea, Will Langford, Connor Glass.
It’s a talented group of players with great depth at Hawthorn and the club will be a lot better placed to cover any injuries next season.
I expect Gunston to go back into his traditional high half-forward role next year after struggling this year and being forced to play down back to get him into some form. I think his form troubles were a symptom of a lack of supply up forward when the side was struggling.
Sicily was a revelation and has shown why we were keen to get him to the club back in the 2013 draft. Intercept marking players are a valuable commodity and his development this year should propel him to a big season next year because he can also be a bit of a creator off the half-backline because he’s a beautiful and long field kick. Sicily will be a swingman — he can mark just as well up forward as he can down back and he’s a nice shot for goal.
Those two loom as big weapons from next year because now they both have that ability to go back or forward and if the Hawks need a spark during games next year they could easily switch them and give the opposition a different mix to look at while not losing much in terms of attacking or defending capabilities.
The Hawks obviously won’t have Luke Hodge or Josh Gibson next year, which will leave a bit of a hole, but Hodge’s departure in particular won’t be as felt as what some might think because of the leadership programs in place at the club and the experience that will slot into that back six with Stratton, Birchall and Frawley. They are leaders.
What Hodge’s retirement — now departure — and Gibson’s retirement do, combined with Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis leaving at the end of last year and Brian Lake and David Hale before that, is give the Hawks a war chest to chase big names in trade and/or free agency.
They weren’t very active this year but expect the Hawks to be a major player in the player movement space next year to add to the huge talent already on the list.
The club, as it has in the past, will target specific players to fill a need to keep the premiership window open.
Would they target Gold Coast’s Tom Lynch? He would be an ideal fit to play alongside Roughead and Gunston with Rioli and Breust as the smalls. He’d likely — like most Melbourne clubs — be at the top of the Hawks’ wish list.
WHAT THEY NEED
Hawthorn’s list is well balanced but I think the area that needs bolstering is the key forward stocks. Ty Vickery was targeted last year to fill that forward/ruck role but that hasn’t worked out and Roughead is getting on, so the Hawks need another developing key forward behind O’Brien.
The other type is a hard-running outside midfielder with pace and skill. Isaac Smith was tagged a lot this year because he’s so important to the Hawks with his gut-running and he can kick goals, while Billy Hartung has tried to fill that role but hasn’t been able to perform consistently.
UNDER THE PUMP
There has been some frustration with Hartung and queries over whether he goes in hard enough, but that’s not the type of player he is. He’s an outside runner and that’s the role he should be playing.
Having said that, when he does get senior opportunities he needs to take them and play to his strengths — run hard, break the lines and above all he needs to use the ball better than what he has. He’s a good kick but his decision-making has let him down. If he stays at Hawthorn 2018 is looming as a big year for Hartung because Smith can’t be the line-breaking hard runner all on his own.
Brendan Whitecross signed a one-year deal but just can’t nail down a spot in the best 22, can he find a spot to call his own? Currently he’s just a depth player.
Jono O’Rourke has been really disappointing since crossing over from GWS. He was a pick 2 back in 2012 but just hasn’t come on at all and, making matters worse, has had injury troubles. Has has played only 18 career games and if he keeps his spot on the list would likely consider himself a touch lucky.
Kurt Heatherley is another one. There were big wraps on the New Zealander but with all the injuries in the backline this year wasn’t able to play regular games. He’s a competitor but is that enough?
BUCKY’S LIST CHANGES
I don’t think there will be too many changes to the list. Hodge and Gibson have already retired and Jack Fitzpatrick and Luke Surman have also called it quits from the rookie list. From there, O’Rourke’s time is up in my opinion.
Hawthorn should at the very least rebound back into the top eight next year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them back in the top four and challenging for the flag.
I think they’ll be a real contender because the hunger will be back, a bit of excitement as well after what was a bit of a development year for this group. This list should be thereabouts for a few years to come.