From the outset, 2021 was always going to be a tumultuous year for the Hawks. Their rebuild was not made easy given the loss of key bookends Jack Gunston and James Sicily at the end of 2020, injuries to most of their back six throughout 2021, and most notably the appalling management of Alastair Clarkson’s departure.
However, the latter may have proved a blessing in disguise and one that could set up a fortuitous 2022 season, with the Hawks registering wins against Brisbane, Collingwood, and the Bulldogs, and a draw against Richmond following news that the legendary coach would part ways with his beloved club. It is difficult to say whether this late hot streak was attributed to the players leaving nothing in the tank for Clarko, or perhaps their playing style finally clicking in a period of little importance. Regardless, we also saw the emergence of a few more promising youngsters who cemented their spot in the Hawks best team, and combined with the return of Gunston, Sicily, and a few others, the Hawks surprisingly have some depth heading into a season that could be torn apart by the virus, as we have seen with the Big Bash and early parts of the AFLW season.
In this article, I’ll comprehensively break down their best 22, from the locks to those who aren’t quite there. Take a seat and enjoy.
THE LOCKIE NEALES
If he wasn’t already, the nuggetty number 15 has become one of Hawthorn’s most important players in the back six. A reliable operator from a defensive and attacking perspective, Hardwick continued to consistently shut down the competitions most dangerous small forwards and got his hands on the ball when it left the backline. In defence he lost a mere 0.3 contested defence one on ones per game, and averaged an elite three spoils per game, emblematic of a former Hawthorn number 15 late in his career. ‘Dimma’ was also given the license to rack up more of the ball in 2021, averaging a career-high 21 disposals at 83.7% efficiency, with six rebound 50s a game highlighting his class and importance in moving the ball out of the Hawks backline.
Scrimshaw’s start to the 2021 season was not an ideal one following a breakout year in 2020, suffering a knee injury in a practice match and came on as the medical substitute in Round Two. But from there the injury-prone defender made it through the season relatively unscathed, apart from a concussion in Round 17 against the Crows. Like Hardwick, the Hawks loved having the ball in Scrimshaw’s hands, averaging 20.6 disposals a game at 84% efficiency. As a wise once man once said, crisis creates opportunity. Sicily’s absence was Scrimshaw’s salvation, as the similarly built defender averaged an elite 2.4 intercept marks and 0.7 contested marks per game in 2021.
The much-maligned star is back, and by all reports is raring to go following a year out with an ACL injury. While he stands at just 186cm, Sicily emerged as one of the best interceptors of the competition prior to his injury, managing his on-field tempers to be named in the All-Australian squad of 40 in 2019. On the sidelines, Sicily worked with Defensive Coach Chris Newman, which may prove more than handy when it comes to improving Sicily’s game in 2022. Earmarked as a future leader, I would love to see Sicily as Hawthorn’s next captain, however, this year may be too soon following a year out of the game with injury.
One of the breakout players of 2021 across the competition, ‘CJ’ first got onlooker’s attention in a pre-season game where he racked up 24 disposals at 83% efficiency, to go with seven marks. Known for his speed, acceleration, and exciting plays, CJ went on to firmly cement his spot in Hawthorn’s best 22 and took the competition by storm. Like his fellow defenders, CJ adopted a balanced brand of defence and attack. A constant playmaker, CJ averaged 20.3 disposals and 0.7 bounces per game as he bounded down the wing and through the centre circles, sending the ball inside 50 2.3 times per game. When he wasn’t doing this, his defensive game shone through, averaging an elite 2.4 intercept marks, seven intercept possessions, 3.1 spoils, and 4.4 one-percenters per game. His season was unfortunately cut short in Round 17 against the Dockers when he fell victim to a PCL injury, but he had done enough throughout the year to be named in the AFL Player’s 22 Under 22 team on the half-back flank.
In just five games played for the season, 2022 was another year of improvement for Day but one that was ruined by injury. With only 16 games in the record book, Day has already become another integral cog in Hawthorn’s promising backline, with his composure, skill, and ability to read the play ahead of the ball well beyond his years. He started off the year with a bang against the Bombers, racking up 28 disposals, eight marks, eight intercepts, seven score involvements, seven rebound 50s and 536 metres gained as the Hawks prevailed by a single point. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle in Round Two, before returning in Round 13. He did not take long to reach the heights of his first-round performance, this happening in Round 15 against the Giants, accumulating 29 disposals at 83% efficiency, seven marks, 10 intercepts, seven score involvements, and six inside 50s, as he once again generated significant levels of excitement amongst the Hawthorn faithful. If fit, I’m tipping Day to be one of the breakout players of the competition in 2022 and remind footy fans of the prestigious talent that he is.
Another dashing, exciting defender who loves to take the game on, Impey formed a formidable combination with CJ in the first half of the season, with both players bursting off the half-back line to provide speed and outside run to the Hawks stifled ball movement. Following an injury-riddled season in 2020 and failing to really make a name for himself in a position either as a small forward or defender in previous years, Impey seamlessly slotted into a small defender position and averaged a career-high 22.1 disposals and 5.4 marks in 2021, to go with an elite 1.6 bounces and 17 uncontested possessions per game. But like CJ and unfortunately the tale of his career to date, his season was cut short when he injured his ankle in a training session on the eve of Round 15. Impey’s speed is too invaluable to the Hawks, and with other notable defenders fit for Round One, I’d love to see him push up onto the wing from half back to provide that bounce and pace on the outside.
There was always going to be a beneficiary from the injuries to CJ and Impey, and it came via 23 year old Bramble, who was recruited out of the Box Hill Hawks via the pre-season supplemental selection period. And wasn’t he exciting? Playing with a similar energetic style to that of Impey, Bramble had a quiet debut, registering just nine possessions. But with each game played he improved out of sight, leading to a ripping performance against the Dockers four rounds later with 27 disposals, six marks and eight rebound 50s. It was a delight to fans to see him taking the game on, highlighted by his near 100 metre run through the corridor against Melbourne. He finished the year averaging 18.3 disposals, 4.4 marks, and an elite 2.1 bounces and 3.8 inside 50s per game. Much like Impey, I expect Bramble to play predominantly on the wing in 2022 given the abundance of similarly built defenders the Hawks have back there.
One Brownlow medal. Two All Australian gongs. Three Peter Crimmins Medals. Leading disposal winner in the 2021 home and away season, two years out from a broken leg, going at 34.3 disposals a game. Not much more needs to be said. Following a tumultuous trade period where Mitchell, O’Meara, Wingard, and Gunston were thrown into the ring as trade bait, I don’t think this will deter Mitchell at all as he becomes a role model for a growing group of young midfielders at the Hawks.
2021 was a difficult year for the Worpedo who found the going a little tough with a fully fit Hawk’s midfield. After having a breakout year in 2019 where he averaged 26.6 disposals in the absence of Tom Mitchell, he has struggled to properly find his feet since, averaging only 21.3 disposals in 2021. He occasionally found himself as a defensive-minded midfielder or a pressure forward, but never lacked the tenacity and aggression that he is known for. Under Sam Mitchell, I think Worpel will hit top form once again if he is played predominantly in his preferred role.
After playing just 12 games in 2020, JOM’s body mostly held up in the 2021 season, playing 18 games, and boasted a career-best average of 26.3 disposals. When stuck, his fend offs were a thing of beauty, using his bulbous arms to muscle his way out of a tight contest, but at times it was frustrating to see him caught holding the ball multiple times in a game. His best game of the year came in Round 20 against the Lions, where his highlights reel is literally a collage of don’t argues. In this game, he had 35 disposals (15 contested), 10 tackles, and nine inside 50s in a monster performance. JOM just needs to generate some more speed into his running, and he’ll be a force to be reckoned with (if fit) in 2022.
Ah Chad, the ultimate teaser. It was another injury affected year for the entertainer as he kicked off his 2021 campaign in Round Three following another soft tissue injury in the pre-season. From there he played 16 games, missing a chunk of games after Round 15 with a hamstring injury, before returning for the last five games in a blaze of glory. In this period, he averaged 28.4 disposals, six inside 50s and a goal a game, as he played the dynamic midfield-forward role to perfection. This hot form may be attributed to the 51.3% centre bounce attendance (CBA) average he recorded across those five games, including 75% CBA’s in Round 23, the same amount of Tom Mitchell, in a full Hawks midfield. Could this be a sign of things to come in 2022? Wingard is clearly more influential and effective as a midfielder who sneaks forward for a magical goal or two and adds a certain amount of class and pace to a mostly one-dimensional midfield. This man is an X-Factor and I hope Sam Mitchell uses his talent wisely.
Honestly, who saw this coming? The man previously known as just the cousin of Justin turned heads in the Hawk’s preseason game against North Melbourne, kicking six goals to cement his spot in the best 22 come Round One. And from there the youngster didn’t look back, taking only five games to earn a Rising Star nomination after slotting his first bag of five goals against the Crows, and kicked a further two bags of three goals thereafter. To kick 27 goals in your first year as a defender-turned-forward is no easy feat. The man possesses a serious amount of confidence and enjoys a little strut and head wobble after slotting a goal. But his kicking was at times wayward, registering 19 behinds for the year, and often struggled to impact games, going goalless six times in the season. With another pre-season behind him and a new, prestigious number on his back (23), a 40-goal season is not beyond reach for the young forward.
Another young player who established themselves in the best Hawks outfit in 2021. Hawk’s onlookers first took notice of Moore when he had a breakout game against the Suns in the last round of the 2020 season. In a game that was more of a celebration for various reasons, Moore roamed on the wing and half-forward to accumulate 25 disposals, eight marks and a goal, in what was his third game for the season. However, his spot on the list was not a given, with the Hawks retaining him on the rookie list with a one-year contract extension for the 2021 season. And he worked his arse off to ensure that his next contract extension was a longer one, going on to play 20 games and recorded 27 goals. A surprise packet in many aspects, Moore generated excitement and buzz in a new look small-forward brigade, alongside mentor Luke Breust. He wasn’t afraid to take the game on, and when he did, he executed with class beyond his years. At just 22 years of age, the Hawks may have found themselves Breust’s long term replacement.
Speaking of the devil, the veteran keeps getting the job done as the Hawk’s most dominant small forward. He showed no signs of slowing down in 2021, kicking 33 goals in 19 games. He maintained an elite goal accuracy percentage of 63.5%, as well as creative forward nous with 1.5 tackles inside 50 per game, 6.4 contested possessions, and 4.7 ground ball gets. Unlike some of his former premiership teammates, it’s clear he cares about the future of the Hawks after shunning a trade offer from the Giants, with Breust set to play a vital role in the development of the next era of small forwards in Moore and Tyler Brockman.
Lewis has had a difficult couple of years after bursting onto the scene in 2019 when he kicked 20 goals in 12 games. In 2021 it took until Round Three for the big man to find his way back into the side, before missing almost two months of football due to concussion in the middle of the season thanks to the infamous boxing incident at training. Despite all this he managed to hit the scoreboard in every game he played, notching up a handy return of 22 goals in 14 matches, after kicking just five goals in eight games in 2020. Whilst he is a picture of consistency, one aspect of his game the Hawks would love to see is his ability to kick a big bag and break open a game. His largest return of goals in 2021 came against the Crows where he kicked three big ones, and kicked three goals on three occasions in 2019, but nothing more than this. Early days it seems like Koschitzke may be the more exciting prospect in this budding one-two punch, but another year of working on his physique may prep Lewis for a fruitful year of goals in 2022.
It’s easy to forget how good this guy is. A back injury cruelled Gunston for the entire 2021 season, playing just one game where he was rushed back in for a return of just seven disposals. The 2020 Hawks Best and Fairest will have more than a point to prove in 2022, after being dangled as trade bait and not getting on the park for a whole season. He will have important roles to play in the guidance of the next generation of key forwards, as well as rediscovering some of his best form, like that of 2020 where he kicked 31 goals in 16 games (with shorter quarters) to earn a nod in the All-Australian Squad. At his best, he is a play-making weapon, and forms a dangerous combination with Breust inside 50.
THE CONDITIONAL MEN
The following players are also locks in the side, but on one condition…
The battered skipper was one of few players at the Hawks to play all 22 games in the season and showed up each week with a willingness to compete and lead from the front. No longer rotting at as a key defender, McEvoy returned to ruck duties and rotated as a tall forward, while the likes of Ceglar and Reeves doing the brunt of the work. As such, McEvoy was a constant presence in the air, clunking an average of five marks a game (1.6 contested), the most he’s ever taken at the Hawks, to go with 17 hitouts a game and 12 goals. At 32 years of age, he still has a pivotal role in guiding the development of young rucks Reeves and Lynch, and perhaps another year left as captain of the Hawks.
Hearts leap into mouths whenever this bloke has the ball, but he was a rock down back for the Hawks all year. Frost showed his incredible ability to mitigate both tall and small opposition forwards, and used his speed to take the game on, albeit at times unsuccessfully, on the rebound. In 2021, Frost averaged a career-high 15.2 disposals and 5.1 marks a game, but a kicking efficiency of just 64% sometimes led to costly turnovers in the back half of the ground.
Perhaps not a straight walk-up selection for some, but I believe that Hartigan plays an integral role for the Hawks down back. Weighing in at 101kg, Hartigan is the hunk that throws himself onto the big key forwards and does a more than ok job, losing just a quarter of contested defensive one on ones per game. Don’t get me wrong, he is certainly clumsy at times, most notably when he was suspended mid-season for striking, but his aggression and bulkiness is something the Hawks lack a little down back. Sicily was missing for the year, Grainger-Barrass doesn’t quite have that frame yet, Scrimshaw didn’t look too comfortable with the hulking forwards, and Frost often rotated between talls and smalls. For me, he remains part of the side even with Sicily back, as he holds down a key post for another year while Grainger-Barrass adds a bit more size to his frame.
Phillips had a modest first season at the Hawks, returning an average of 18.4 disposals a game, the lowest since his debut season. Playing on the wing and half-forward, Phillips showcased his ability to hit the scoreboard, bobbing up for a goal every now and then, kicking 13 for the year at 65% accuracy. Like the rest of the players in this section, the rugged, homeless-looking specimen is a team man and played his role to perfection, but Hawks fans would love to see him get back to his hard running, high-disposal accumulating best like he was in his prime years at the Pies.
It feels disrespectful to have placed the three-time premiership Hawk in this section. But at his age and the position he is playing in, ‘Pup’ is no guarantee to keep his spot in the side by the end of the season. Relegated to the wing given the influx of midfield talent over the last few years, Shiels battled week by week and occasionally drifted inside to average a modest 21.1 touches a game, 4.4 marks, and 4.7 tackles a game. Shiels doesn’t do a lot wrong, and was incredibly consistent throughout the year, like that of his career. But on the wrong side of 30 and with a new crop of midfielders entering the fore, Shiels’ position in the side may be under threat if Mitchell does opt to go for a youth-first policy.
The Big Noodle currently sits ahead of Max Lynch for the vacant ruck position left by Jon Ceglar. Standing at a whopping 208cm and perhaps being on the list purely because his dad is the CEO of the football club, Reeves made the most of the five games he played in 2021, averaging an impressive 26 hitouts a game, and applied himself in other physical aspects, averaging an elite 6.2 one-percenters, four tackles, five spoils, and four intercept possessions. With another pre-season to bulk up, look for Reeves to significantly improve upon his history of five matches as he takes over the main ruck role at the Hawks.
Howe finally went from fringe player to a best 22 player in 2021 as he cemented his place in the side, following an inconsistent career to date. He played 19 games, the most he’s played in a season, and averaged a career-high 19.6 disposals and 5.7 marks a game. After being experimented in a multitude of roles, Howe finally found his niche on the wing, where there were vacant positions, after the departures of Isaac Smith and Tom Scully in the offseason. His start to the season was a rocky one, often committing costly turnovers and had Hawks fans calling for his head. But parallel to the Hawks form, his last month was superb, highlighted by his superb performance against the Bulldogs. In an undermanned side, Howe stood up and did as he liked on the wing, racking up 34 disposals, nine marks, 769 metres gained, and a goal. But despite his efforts, Howe may once again find himself on the outer in 2022, given the return of some more talented prospects. However, his persistence over the years has finally paved off and he will do whatever he can to keep his spot in the side.
Last but not least is the Irishman who has well and truly flicked the switch on his career. Like Howe, Nash found himself on the outer over multiple seasons and was played in roles he didn’t look comfortable in. But Mitchell trialled him as an inside midfielder in the VFL, utilising his big frame and pace to win contests and spread from stoppages. This earnt him a recall into the senior side where he played predominantly as an inside midfielder, attending around 50% of centre bounce attendances over the last four rounds. In this time, he averaged 20.25 disposals, 4.75 tackles, 4.25 marks, and 4.5 clearances, as the Hawks registered three wins and a draw. He certainly adds something different to the midfield; a strong, large frame capable of terrorising the opposition with physicality, and speed. In that late successful period for the Hawks, they largely settled with a five-man midfield of Mitchell, O’Meara, Worpel, Wingard and Nash, and they operated like a well-oiled machine. But just like Howe’s case, there are several decent players set to return and Nash’s spot as the fifth midfielder may be under jeopardy. It was a small period, but we’ve seen some improvement in Nash’s game and I hope Mitchell continues with this in 2022.
So here’s my best 22 for the Hawks in 2022:
B: Frost Hartigan Hardwick
HB: Scrimshaw Sicily CJ
C: Phillips Mitchell Day
HF: Wingard Kosi Moore
F: Bruest Lewis Gunston
R: Reeves Worpel O’Meara
I/C: McEvoy Shiels Impey Bramble
Medi-sub: Dan Howe
It is a well-balanced side with a nice blend of youth and experience. Howe is the perfect medi-sub with his versatility. There is now an abundance of defenders so I assume guys like Day, Impey, Bramble and even CJ will rotate through the wing and half-back. The forward line looks a little tall with Gunston returning and McEvoy sitting forward, but keep in mind this is a similar set-up to last year, with Gunston effectively replacing Tim O’Brien as a tall forward / swingman. I can see Hartigan or Bramble being the most vulnerable if they opt for an extra inside midfielder like Nash, but other than that it looks like a relatively settled side barring any injury or COVID.
Speaking of those concerns, let’s take a look at some of the depth players who could break their way into the squad.
BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
Like Koschitzke, the small explosive forward broke into the Round One team off the back of a lively three-goal outing in the pre-season match. Brockman went on to kick four goals in the next three games, as the Hawks looked to finally have found their replacement for Cyril Rioli. However, Brockman didn’t appear again in the senior side until Round 17. He only kicked four goals for the rest of the year, three of them coming in Round 23 against the Tigers. At times last year, the Hawks opted to play three small forwards, and with Breust and Moore already in the side, Brockman will have to work hard on his pressure game over the preseason if he wants to secure his spot in the senior team.
The aggressive, highly touted number six draft pick was forced to wait until Round 15 to make his debut but looked right at home on the big stage. Against the Giants, DGB flew high and put his body on the line to make contests, but unfortunately concussed himself in the process. He went on to play another four games before being displaced from the side. It is hard to see DGB slot into the team while Hartigan, Frost, and Sicily are all playing. The Hawks have a great system of developing key position players in the VFL e.g. Lewis and Koschitzke, so I expect them to take the same approach with DGB in 2022.
Plucked out of the VFL by none other than his current coach, Duke the Newk had a fairytale beginning to his career, making his debut just two days after being picked up by the Hawks in the mid-season draft. And the hard-nosed midfielder didn’t disappoint selectors, breaking the record for the most tackles by a debutant in VFL/AFL history with 14. His next big outing occurred in Round 22 against the Dogs, where, in a midfield missing O’Meara and Worpel, Duke stood up and laid 11 tackles to go with 18 disposals, eight marks, and four inside 50s. When given the opportunity, Newcombe has shown he can battle it out with the best, but that opportunity may be hard to come by nowadays as he effectively sits seventh or eighth in line behind a stacked midfield.
The plucky midfielder had one of his most consistent seasons to date, playing 11 out of the first 13 games before injury struck. Playing almost anywhere on the ground in a Shaun Burgoyne utility-esque role, Morrison started the year off in fine form, averaging 20 disposals and 6.5 marks a game. The Hawks have long been known as a side with pinpoint kicking and precision. They have dropped off these standards of late, but Morrison ran at an elite 80% disposal efficiency, something the coaches would have liked. Given the obscurity of Morrison’s role, I’m not sure he has a place in the team in Round One given the talent ahead of him but is definitely a handy medical sub when required.
The former Pies big man finds himself in the brown and gold following two years of being stuck behind one of the premier ruckmen in the game, Brodie Grundy. He has the opportunity to grab the number one ruck spot with Ceglar leaving, and he has shown he can mix it with the best when playing in that role. He played two games in 2021 when Grundy was out injured, with his most notable performance coming in Round 13 against none other than Max Gawn and was impressive. He restricted Gawn to 20 hitouts while having 23 of his own, to go with 15 disposals. The week prior, he had 18 hitouts against Reilly O’Brien, so he is capable of playing as the main ruck. The only problem standing in his way is Ned Reeves, who at the same age has also shown he can play the role. So it will be interesting to see how often Lynch is played this year, given that McEvoy is still running around.
GIVE ME SOMETHING
The highly-rated father-son draft pick hasn’t quite got the ball rolling for his career to date, playing just three games at an average of 8.3 disposals. There is a lot of hype around Maginness this pre-season, with the big-bodied midfielder adding some speed to his game which could see him develop into a nice inside-outside midfielder. He was played in multiple shutdown roles in the VFL to improve the defensive aspect of his game, deployed by Mitchell as a tagger and even a legit defender in some games. I’m not sure where he will fit in given the other midfielders ahead of him, but I think he would be eyeing off Liam Shiels’ inside-outside role.
For now, I don’t see any of the draftees making the side in Round One. Josh Ward is the most likely given his history at junior level. Key forwards Emerson Jeka and Jackson Callow are currently sitting behind the trifecta that is Gunston, Lewis, and Koschitzke. Jeka played four games in 2021 and found things to be tough going, kicking just two goals and failed to really impact despite dominating at VFL level. Conor Downie, unfortunately, finds himself behind a long line of wingmen, while small forward Josh Morris has made a switch to half back but seems unlikely to get a game in that position too. Seamus Mitchell is another talented goal kicker with impressive footy IQ who hasn’t quite got going yet due to injury, and may need a solid block at Box Hill before finding his way into the senior side.
And that’s it, folks. Hope I’ve engaged your hearts and minds right until the very end. What changes would you make to my line-up? Cheers.