Pre-Season Prediction: 1st
Current Position: 1st
Premiership Odds: $3.50 (via TopSport)
Hawthorn did what many thought couldn’t be done again, winning their third premiership in a row, replicating the golden era of the Brisbane Lions in the early 2000s. This year, they’re embarking on creating history by becoming just the second AFL club to win four in a row. So far, everything is going to plan. They sit two games clear on top with just five games left in the home and away season.
The story of the Hawks so far this season has been their ability to win close games. Whether it’s just luck or the result of controversial umpiring decisions, Hawthorn have been able to grab the four points on every occasion where the game has gone down to the wire. They haven’t loss since round 9, where Sydney defeated them on their own home turf. They recently exacted revenge on Sydney by winning a close one by five points.
Three teams trouble the Hawks and their bound to meet at least one of them in the finals. Geelong and GWS both got wins over the 3-time reigning premiers while Adelaide pushed them to the brink in round 5. Hawthorn don’t play any one of these three teams for the rest of the regular season, so it’s a case of let’s wait and see in September. They haven’t hit their straps yet and the fact they are still on top should be taken as a warning sign for the rest of the competition.
What’s Gone Right?
Hawthorn are renowned for their elite ball use and it has seen many teams around the country copy the way the Hawks play. Alastair Clarkson’s side have the fourth best disposal efficiency numbers, going at a rate of 74 per cent, the second best in the current top eight. Last season they were the most efficient side in disposal numbers with 76 per cent and although that’s dropped off this year slightly, it hasn’t affected their game that much. Their game starts from the back and its players like James Frawley, Grant Birchall and Josh Gibson who are all going above 80 per cent in terms of disposal. Taylor Duryea and Ben Stratton are also vitally important players to the way Hawthorn move the ball across the back half.
Using the ball well will obviously restrict turnovers and that’s exactly what has happened this year with Hawthorn. The Hawks average just 65 turnovers a game and has them placed fourth amongst the competition in this statistic. The three teams above them though are all in the top eight. Last year however, the turnover numbers were similar and they still managed to win the flag so again the fact that there are good sides above them in this area shouldn’t worry the Hawks too much.
What’s Gone Wrong?
At the start of the season, the Hawks were written off because of their contested ball woes. They haven’t improved and so far it hasn’t mattered too much. Despite consistently losing the contested possession count, Clarkson’s men win. However, with finals on the horizon, these poor numbers may come back to haunt the Hawks.
The loss to GWS earlier in the year should worry Hawthorn fans as it showed how slow they can be against a quick side and a 75-point thrashing is not something the Hawks can just brush off as a one-off. You’d expect them to improve the next time they play the Giants but I’m sure GWS wouldn’t mind it one bit, drawing Hawthorn in a final.
Jack Gunston has improved his game significantly in the absence of Jordan Roughead. The 24-year old has stepped up as Hawthorn’s number one forward option, kicking 41 goals from 17 games in 2016. Only five players have kicked more than Gunston, who roams the ground as a half-forward. He is widely tipped to earn his first All-Australian stripes come seasons end.
Kieran Lovell (pick no.22) was selected for his toughness, in the mould of another small midfielder Sam Mitchell. He was part of the losing team to GWS, but played the following week in the win against Richmond, racking up 18 possessions. Since debuting in Round 11 where he was the centre of a controversial headhigh free-kick, Kade Stewart has played in two more games, averaging 12 disposals and one goal per game.
The Run Home
Their toughest games will come against North Melbourne in round 21 and West Coast in round 22. They will most likely go in as favourites against North at the MCG, but the Eagles have only lost once at Subiaco this year. They’re sitting pretty in top spot and it’s theirs to lose pretty much.