MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Blake Hardwick of the Hawks and Alex Neal-Bullen of the Demons in action during the 2018 AFL First Semi Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Melbourne Demons at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 14, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The Hawks got their season off to the perfect start with a convincing 90-62 victory over Brisbane Lions at the end of March, and as a result, there is plenty of positivity amongst their fans.

Injuries to key players may have hindered them during pre-season, however, with the AFL campaign not scheduled to get back underway until mid-June, the majority of the missing men should have ample opportunities to work on their fitness ahead of the restart.

Hawthorn endured a disappointing 2019, narrowly missing out on the final series, and they’ll be hoping that the imminent return of Blake Hardwick, Mitch Lewis, and Jarman Impey can help propel them into the top eight this time around.

After a slow start to 2019, the Hawks won six of their last eight matches, although it wasn’t quite enough to secure a spot in the top eight. Although they were only priced up as the eighth favourites in the pre-season Aussie Rules betting, many believe that they should have enough momentum to continue their charge towards the top of the ladder in 2020. Kane Cornes has already labelled them ‘dark horses’ for this season, and with a full complement of players to choose from, they could be a real force this time around.

Alastair Clarkson’s side are extremely well-drilled, and even without the injured trio, they still have plenty of threats available. Jack Gunston returned just in time for the opening weekend, whilst Chad Wingard also caught the eye.

Sam Frost was mightily impressive for the Demons in 2019 and he already looks extremely comfortable in his new surroundings. However, the return of the stricken trio will give the division’s longest-serving coach a plethora of options during the late-season fixtures.

Jarman Impey hasn’t featured since rupturing his right ACL against Geelong during the second quarter. He landed awkwardly and had to be helped off the pitch. The nature of his injury has meant that the Hawks have been incredibly cautious when it comes to the defender’s rehabilitation, and he’s been working on his fitness at home in Victoria.

The 24-year old is closing in on a return, although he may not be back on the football pitch until early August. He recorded 281 disposals last season, despite playing just 17 times. Against Collingwood in round 16, he posted extremely impressive numbers, chalking up 25 disposals; the joint-highest of his career.

Defender Blake Hardwick suffered a setback during pre-season when rupturing his pectoral muscle and, although he was initially told that he was unlikely to feature during the first third of the season, his return is now likely to coincide with the AFL’s return in mid-June. Although he rarely plays a starring role, his efficiency in locking down opposition forwards is extremely important, and his return is a timely boost for Clarkson’s men.

Mitch Lewis also went down during pre-season, with the promising forward picking up an injury during a practice game against the Melbourne Demons at the University of Tasmania Stadium. He was left in considerable pain after injuring his ankle during the closing stages, although he’s already started to ramp up his fitness ahead of the resumption. He proved an incredibly useful asset last season and is likely to be a regular starter once again this year.

Hawthorn posted an incredibly strong finish in 2019, and they also began this season with another comfortable victory. With three key players set to return to their ranks over the coming months, they should have more than enough to put last season’s finals disappointment firmly behind them.