Tucked away on a Saturday afternoon at the University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston, an unlikely blockbuster looms.

Always pinned as a must-watch game for the storyline, not necessarily the skills, the Hawthorn vs North Melbourne clash is now a tale of not only a former coach and captain but puts a spotlight on their seasons so far.

The Hawks have been put under a microscope after two weeks of football, with accusations of tanking thrown around after a dismal two rounds. The Kangaroos meanwhile, have seemingly caught the eyes, and the surprise, of the league after winning their first two games of the season.

The relationship between both coaches is storied and complicated, with Hawthorn's botched succession plan laying the groundwork for Clarkson's eventual appointment at Arden Street.

A four-time premiership coach considered one of the greatest in the game, Clarkson faces a challenge to turn his new club from the reigning wooden spooners into a genuine threat, but there is already plenty of belief in what the master coach is doing.

As Clarkson comes up against his former side for the first time in Round 3, the Hawks and Kangaroos sit in far different places within the AFL landscape, something very few predicted prior to the season kicking off.

Asking before the ball was bounced in Round 1, many had either Hawthorn or North Melbourne in line to claim the wooden spoon come seasons end. Now, North remain undefeated under Alastair Clarkson, while Hawthorn have lost their opening two matches by a combined 140 points.

Speaking to the Mercury ahead of the Round 3 fixture, Clarkson admitted that it would be strange to be facing his old side, but is focused on the task at hand.

“It's going to be a strange sort of day with mixed emotions,” Clarkson said.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 04: Alastair Clarkson the coach and Luke Hodge the captian of the Hawks pose with the 2013, 2014 and 2015 premiership trophies during the Hawthorn Hawks AFL Grand Final fan day at Glenferrie Oval on October 4, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“It's going to be exciting as I spent a big part of my coaching life at the Hawthorn Footy Club so there's some pretty special memories.

“Obviously I've got to have my focus on the fact we are down there to complete a task and that's win the game but it's going to be unusual set of emotions I'll have on the day I'm sure.”

While the two won a premiership together as captain and coach back in 2008, and then an additional three flags in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Mitchell has been honest about the fractured relationship the two had while at the Hawks.

The three-time All-Australian detailed his issues with his coach in a 2018 autobiography, addressing comments made by Clarkson in 2011 about Mitchell's form after becoming a father. The former Hawk made it clear that the incident fractured the relationship between the two.

Mitchell has found himself under increased scrutiny in his second year at the helm, with the Hawks having dropped over 1400 games of experience in 2022's off-season, as key players Jack Gunston, Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara departed, among others.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 19: Jai Newcombe of the Hawks looks dejected after losing the round one AFL match between Hawthorn Hawks and Essendon Bombers at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on March 19, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Many onlookers have warned the Hawks about cutting too deep, with some of those fears looking like reality after two games.

The Hawks have both the youngest and least experienced list in the competition and are on track to have a long season down the bottom of the ladder, but the higher powers at Hawthorn seemingly have faith in Mitchell and co's plan to see the powerhouse club pull themselves back to the top of the table.

Clarkson meanwhile, has taken a team that won two wooden spoons in as many years to 5th position on the ladder heading into Round 3, playing team-first and improved footy.  While few would believe Clarkson this unbeaten streak can run much further beyond the game against Hawthorn, there is still palpable hope at the Kangaroos, perhaps for the first time in years.

While those at Waverley still have faith in the young apprentice turned senior coach, there's no question Clarkson has won the admiration and support of the North faithful. But as we all know, a week is a long time in footy, and Saturday looms as the chance to grab the upper hand in what could become a fascinating footy rivalry.

Hawthorn vs North Melbourne will get underway on Saturday, April 1 at 1:45pm (AEDT), at University of Tasmania Stadium.