AFL Finals: Hawthorn team preview

8 September 2011

Written by: Jonathon Wilkinson

Home and away review

When you consider the number of injuries the Hawks have suffered this year, it’s remarkable to think they managed to finish third on the ladder, with 18 wins and only four losses. In fact, had it been any other season, the Hawks’ win-loss tally would most likely have earned them a minor premiership.

Injuries to Jarryd Roughead, Ben Stratton and Stephen Gilham left Hawthorn without key position players at both ends of the field for much of the season. Ruckman Brent Renouf and defender Ryan Schoenmakers also had extended stints on the sideline, further diminishing Hawthorn’s playing list.

The Hawks’ injuries gave their younger players a chance to prove their worth, with the likes of Issac Smith, Paul Puopolo and Matt Suckling all demonstrating their capabilities.

Josh Gibson has been a revelation in the absence of Gilham and Stratton. Despite being undersized for his position, the All Australian squad member has had a terrific year, providing run and rebound out of Hawthorn’s back line.

Losses to Collingwood and Geelong, would be the only significant concern for Hawthorn coach, Alastair Clarkson, who undoubtedly would have liked to have claimed a top two scalp going into the finals.

Key finals player

Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli are integral to the Hawks’ premiership chances.

Believed by many to be the most exciting player in the AFL, Franklin has the ability to dominate games. The Coleman medalist stands at 196cm and is very quick, making him a difficult matchup for opposition defenders. Kicking multiple bags of goals throughout the season, Franklin has the ability to win games off his own boot and will most likely determine whether or not Hawthorn’s finals campaign is successful.

Since being picked at number 12 in the 2007 national draft, Rioli has developed into one of the premier midfielders in the competition. Rioli is a fierce competitor, his precise skills and lightning pace makes him a dangerous player. With all of Rioli’s class it’s easy to forget one of his most valuable attributes – his ability chase down, apply pressure and tackle.

For the Hawks to have a successful finals series, both Franklin and Rioli need to be at their tantalising best.

Why Hawthorn can win the flag

Clarkson’s game plan has proven to be effective throughout the home and away season. The Hawks have become known for their deadly foot skills and ability to keep possession of the ball for long periods of time. Clarkson has instilled enormous discipline in his team, focusing on pressuring the opposition ball carrier, forcing inaccurate kicking and turnovers.

But as mentioned previously, Franklin and Rioli are the main reason why the Hawks can win the premiership. Both can win games through individual brilliance, and are unstoppable on their day.

Why Hawthorn can’t win the flag

The Hawks’ finals campaign begins this Friday night against their bogey team, Geelong. They haven’t beaten the Cats since president, Jeff Kennett, famously said three years ago that Geelong lacked ‘psychological drive‘.

It would be a significant blow to the Hawks’ premiership hopes if they were to lose on Friday night, as they would have the unenviable task of playing the winner of the St Kilda-Sydney game, only to face Collingwood (most probable scenario) in the preliminary finals.

On a practical level, the Hawks are running low on tall options down back. Their back line has been significantly depleted with injuries, and while the current back six have only conceded an average of 10.7 goals per game, the Hawks have at times looked vulnerable against the tall power forwards of Geelong and Collingwood.

Best possible result

Geelong’s 96 point thrashing of Collingwood last Friday night may have revealed a chink in the Magpies’ armour, providing hope for the remaining premiership candidates. If the Hawks beat Geelong this weekend, they’re every chance to cause an upset against likely grand final opponent, Collingwood, come the first day of October.

Jonathan Wilkinson is studying the Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University and is the current deputy editor of upstart. You’ll find him on Twitter: @JonoWilkinson