Hawthorn Hawks: time to bounce back

22 March 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

Proud. Passionate. Faithful. Intimidating. These words all accurately describe the Hawthorn Football Club when they are at their very best.

Like Collingwood, there are few better sights in football than to see the Hawks’ loyal fans get right behind their team when they gain a bit of momentum. And Hawks fans have been cheering a lot more consistently in recent years due to the team’s success.

Many said that the Hawks had overachieved or peaked earlier than expected when they defeated Geelong in the 2008 grand final. At the time they were the third youngest team in the competition but that didn’t faze the players, coaching staff or fans. They were fitting winners and were clearly the best side, not only on the day, but throughout the whole finals series.

They are a club with a rich history and they will be looking to make amends for such a sub-standard 2009 season.

2009 review:  Few would have expected Hawthorn to fall as quickly – and as heavily – as they did last year. The Hawks were meant to be the next big thing – they were young, super-talented and had the football world at their feet. A dynasty was being created that would match the great Hawthorn teams from 1983-1991.

After finishing as triumphant premiers in 2008, the Hawks fell to an ignominious ninth in 2009. They were on the back foot from the get go with early losses to very beatable teams in West Coast, Port Adelaide, Essendon and Brisbane. The losses not only shocked the Hawks but shocked the entire football world.

But throughout the 2009 season the Hawks were plagued by a series of injuries. Rick Ladson, Stephen Gilham, Brent Guerra, Xavier Ellis and Trent Croad – all vital members of the 2008 premiership defence – missed a total of 70 games between them. You simply cannot afford to have so many players from your back six miss that many games.

On a positive note, there were a few players who, unlike the team, improved their game in 2009. Most noticeable was the consistent form of Sam Mitchell. The Hawthorn skipper was rewarded with his second club best and fairest win after polling votes in 21 of a possible 22 games. He averaged 30 possessions a game to finish equal second in the competition for disposals.

While the twin towers – Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead – weren’t quite able to replicate their 2008 output, they still combined to kick 118 goals between them. Franklin was one of those players hampered by injury – mainly during the pre-season – but who still managed to finish third in the best and fairest. Roughead started with a bang booting 24 goals in the first six rounds including a match-winning bag of eight against Carlton in round six. He eventually succumbed to a knee injury as the season came to a close.

Player to watch in 2010: I won’t lie anymore. I officially have a man crush on Cyril Rioli.

Personally, I think he is the most exciting player to watch in the competition. I would even say that I agree with legendary sports commentator Bruce McAvaney who described him as a ‘delicious’ player to gaze at.

Rioli is a mastermind of his art. The 20-year old has an uncanny ability to turn any situation into gold. His work rate, with and without the football, is exceptional and he is widely regarded as the best tackler in the competition. He is also a wonderful left-foot kick, has amazing goal sense and his explosive pace around goal is deadly.

Rioli burst onto the scene in his first year unlike many before him. In 2008, he finished second in the NAB AFL rising star award and played a vital role in Hawthorn’s premiership side. In fact, you could say that his relentless solo effort against Corey Enright and Max Rooke during the third quarter changed the game.

Up until his hamstring injury in round 11 last year, Rioli was in breathtaking form. He was easily leading Hawthorn’s best and fairest count and would certainly have been in contention for All-Australian selection. The highpoint of his early season form came against Essendon in round 10, when he created a turnover, dodged three players and finished in style to earn himself the Goal of the Year.

Going into 2010, Rioli is again on the verge of taking another big step in his career. He has been playing as a crumbing small forward for the past two years, but it is now time for him to be permanently moved into the midfield.

However, Rioli has had a few setbacks throughout the pre-season. He has been rested and nurtured through hip and groin issues, but the Hawks are confident he’ll be right to play against Melbourne in round one.

Rioli has all the skills and credentials to be a top-class midfielder. If he stays fit and spends more time through the middle of the ground, expect Rioli to poll a lot of Brownlow votes.

What to expect in 2010: The Hawks should bounce back from their flop of a season last year. However, there are already some eerie similarities to last season’s disappointing result.

Hawthorn’s ruck stocks are the biggest concern at the moment. Youngster Brent Renouf is currently the only fit ruckman on their list with Simon Taylor, Wade Skipper and Max Bailey all on the sidelines for a while. Renouf will struggle early in the season without a recognised partner and he is so young to be carrying such a huge workload.

There are other injury concerns as well. Hardworking midfielder Brad Sewell will miss the first four weeks of the season due to a fractured collarbone. Clinton Young is recovering from serious hip surgery and is likely to miss the first three games of the season. Injury clouds also hang over Rioli and Roughead and Franklin will miss the first game of the year due to suspension.

But Hawthorn is still confident they will match it with the best this season. They intelligently recruited Shaun Burgoyne from Port Adelaide and Josh Gibson from North Melbourne during the off-season. In full flight, Burgoyne is in the top ten players in the competition but has struggled for consistency in recent years due to injury. Gibson is a very solid defender who often played on Franklin when the Kangaroos faced the Hawks and won the battle numerous times.

The attitude that the Hawks are taking in terms of developing their young players is encouraging for their supporters. Seven players made their AFL debuts for the Hawks last year and will be looking to make further inroads in 2010. Watch out especially for Ryan Schoenmakers this year, a man who has gained a lot of muscle over the pre-season and is the perfect player to replace retiree Trent Croad at centre-half-back.

I originally had the Hawks in my top four but injuries during the pre-season have changed my mind. They will start slowly because they won’t have their full strength squad to begin with but as players begin to return to the side, the Hawks should climb up the ladder. Hawthorn’s finals experience shouldn’t be underestimated either and they could do some serious damage in the finals.

Final ladder position: 5th

Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. This article is the eighth in a series previewing the 2010 AFL season. You can read more of Ben’s work at A short sport thought, or watch him on the podium during the final session on 8 April in the Sport Journalism Symposium being held at La Trobe University. He’s also part of the team of upstart’s new audio companion program, upcast.