Hawthorn v West Coast – Alternate Worlds

 

 

The birds of prey tangling at the ‘G on a “beautiful” Melbourne day.

Meanwhile, the Dees and Power played in 26 degree weather. Explain why we live in the southern states, again?

Anyway, two Mongrels cast their eye over this game. Tim Hunt is an Eagles man and was feeling pretty buoyant about his boys going in. Trent Adam Shields is a die-hard Hawks supporter, and got drenched in the carpark before the game.

Here’s how they saw this one

 

WHO WAS THE MATCH WINNER?

 

TRENT –

Somehow he remains underrated, despite 255 high quality games, 475 goals, 2 x All Australian blazers, 3 x club goalkicking titles and six wonderful goals to be the difference between the sides yesterday.

Taking his place in the pantheon of AFL greats one step further, compared to those typically raised as the best in the small forward position he averages better than Betts in disposals, marks, goals per game and tackles. Against Cyril he is ahead on goals per game, and versus Milne he is ahead on all measures apart from goals where he just trails.

The conditions were favourable to him at the MCG, with the ball on the ground often, and the slippery surface giving those with better judgement a slight advantage, but he pulled out the full armory against a hapless Witherden. Free kicks drawn through superior positioning, marks on the lead, and opportunistic crumbing goals which have been his trademark since elevation from the rookie list 12 years ago were all on display.

His rugby league background is often mentioned, but it deserves more credit as he has brought a skill very few else in the AFL possess, while many are adept at a sidestep or breaking a line, Breust is the master at the diagonal angle, much like how players turning on to their left foot has always given them a fraction of a second extra making it appear that they have more time, so does Breust’s unique move.

His 6-goal return was an equal career-high matching his efforts versus the Bulldogs and Tigers in 2018 and 2016 respectively and were great reward for another excellent season which sees him sit 17th on the goalkicking table, only behind Charlie Cameron in the small forward category. Interestingly the Eagles were fairly well served by talls Darling, Kennedy and Waterman who each finished with 2 goals, despite lowering their colours to their direct opponents, while the Hawks talls were relatively subdued, but the smaller brigade led by Breust, with contributions from Day and McDonald contributed ten goals.

 

TIM – You don’t need to be a genius to figure out who was the match-winner in today’s game – Luke Breust. He was a constant threat inside 50 for the Hawks, giving his opponent (Alex Witherden) as thorough an examination of his defensive abilities as we’ve just about seen any forward give a defender all year. It’s perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to say that, all things being equal, I thought Witherden was pretty good – it’s just that Breust is a freak!

Every now and then, a team will have a player who is preternaturally gifted at scoring goals. And for players like this, they’ll occasionally have days where any opposition is rendered pointless. Breust used all of his ability and intelligence today, coming away with six goals from 15 disposals – not to mention 11 score involvements – and in a game that was ultimately decided by little more than four straight kicks, his impact cannot be understated.

 

WHERE DID WE WIN/LOSE THE GAME?

 

TRENT – The Hawks have made some significant improvements under the leadership of Sam Mitchell in 2022, rating highly in their ability to move the ball from defence to attack, and then being able to score once the ball enters F50. An area that has not improved at the same rate and is probably representative of the lowly ladder position is the ability of the midfield to drive the ball forward, however that is slowly improving with a change in personnel in the centre throughout the season.

The big noodle, Ned Reeves showed some great signs early in the year before succumbing to a devastating shoulder dislocation, after missing two months he has returned and made a strong impact. In the past six games Reeves has attended 400 contests, winning 46% of these, and directing to advantage on 29% of those occasions, yesterday he won 60% of his contests, and directed an equal career-high 12 taps to advantage as he monstered Eagles Williams and Jamieson (before injured), providing silver service to Newcombe and Moore in particular.

Jai Newcombe, one half of the greatest debutant tackle records in history was superb again, gathering 28 disposals at will, four tackles and five clearances, but for those who watch Jai closely, it is not necessarily the numbers that tell the story. His brutality at the contest, willingness to win his own ball and then burst from the congestion or find an open player with a clearing kick or handball, the incredible impact that a 24-game player has made on this side in such a short time is compelling viewing.

 

TIM – West Coast’s ability – or more pertinently, their inability – to transition the ball out of defence and launch meaningful possession chains meant that for much of the second and third quarters, their ball movement was effectively static. Hawthorn did a fantastic job of stopping the running rebound from Jamaine Jones, as well as closing off the corridor any time the Eagles managed to get the ball beyond their defensive 50m line.

Whether this inability to transition the ball was due to a lack of willingness to take chances by hand and foot out of the back half, or because of the Hawks defensive structure is tough to say from my armchair, but the fact that the Hawks were able to outscore West Coast 45-0 from defensive half chains indicates that the problem was felt by the Eagles alone.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

 

TRENT – The conditions dictated the decision as much as any other reason, but the absence of Jacob Koschitzke up forward left Mitch Lewis often battling 2 or three opponents in the air each time the ball was directed through him. His form has not been strong this year, but with the return of McEvoy allowing the Hawks to play their preferred two-ruckman format, it would have been good to gauge how Lewis and Koschitzke can build a partnership.

The Hawks are faced with some difficult decisions in the coming months, there is no doubt that the lack of size and pace of Tom Mitchell and Jaegar O’Meara are detrimental to the way the team plays best, but that said both are fine contributors most of the time and excellent influences on the wider group. If they could be re-purposed to play other roles that might be in the best interests of the Hawks going forward as they continue to rebuild.

 

TIM – It’s hard to say, as I felt West Coast did pretty well, all things considered. However, if we are looking at where the game was lost – aside from defensive transitions – it would have to have been the second quarter. Hawthorn managed to turn an 11-point deficit at the first change into a two-goal lead at the long break. This was largely due to centre square dominance from Ned Reeves and Jai Newcombe.

Reeves had 11 hit-outs for the term, while Newcombe had 11 disposals and two clearances, ensuring the Hawks a lot of time inside their teams forward half. As has often been the case for West Coast – particularly since their improvement post-bye – it’s just 20-30 minute periods where they drop away and let their opponents gain the ascendancy. For three crucial centre bounces through the middle of the second term, West Coast skipper Luke Shuey was absent (presumably having a rest on the bench), and it was these centre bounces that lead to Hawthorn inside-50m entries and put the West Coast defence under immense pressure.

I’m not blaming Shuey for not being there – the man needs a rest – nor am I blaming the coaches. I think the burden, though, falls onto the other experienced West Coast mids, namely Jack Redden, Tim Kelly and Andrew Gaff. With the captain off, the onus was on them to lift and they were unable to.

 

MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE

 

TRENT – I heard several people acknowledging the role of returning captain Ben McEvoy whose experience was important and helped set up a number of scoring opportunities up forward, he has also been something of a good luck beacon, the Hawks having won all four games he’s played this season.

Likewise, Dylan Moore could be mentioned here, another successful stint further afield with 25 touches, six tackles and seven clearances. He was probably the Hawks’ most improved player last year and could conceivably win it again such has been his impact in 2022.  Was awarded the inaugural Dare to Hope medal celebrating the life of 1991 Norm Smith medalist Paul Dear who sadly passed away last week.

However, the acknowledgement in this game will go to a rare Father/Son player in the Hawthorn side, Finn Maginness claimed yet another high-profile scalp, keeping Eagle star Tim Kelly to a peripheral role while producing an impressive offensive output himself. Many have known about Maginness’ elite running capacity and he has coupled that with impressive discipline to best Ed Langdon and Jordan Dawson head-to-head this season, but yesterday was probably the first time he provided real drive and influence going the other way as well. A career-high 21 disposals and game-high 12 score involvements could’ve been even more impressive if he’d been on target with two gettable shots on goal. His capacity to be an effective AFL player has still has a question mark above it, but it’s far easier to teach good decision making rather than elite athleticism.

 

TIM – I’m going to give this to Liam Ryan today. He has been horribly out of form for the last few weeks, to the point where some wondered if a stint in the WAFL might be good for him. Today’s performance showed why some guys – particularly those with incredible skill – get a little longer to find form than others.

Yes, I know Ryan played for a few free kicks – and got one that he converted for a goal – but it’s not on him to be easy to tackle. This aside, I thought his effort, particularly his defensive effort, was really impressive today. He had six tackles for the game, three clearances and five score involvements, showing a more team and defence-oriented side to his game that has been largely missing this year.

Ryan will play, and even has played, better games than this, but what he showed today would be exactly what the coaching staff were looking for. When the chips are down, you’re struggling for form and can’t see a clear way forward, lift your defensive intensity, try your guts out and things might just start to turn around. Here’s to hoping a run of good form comes soon for ‘Flyin’ Ryan’.

 

THE MOMENT THAT MATTERED MOST?

 

TRENT – This may have occurred prior to the toss of the coin, under the concrete mass of the MCC Members stand as Sam Mitchell passed on an instruction to first-year player Josh Ward that he would have a more central role in this game, nominally positioned on the wing, but free to go and win his own ball and set up play. Smashing his previous career-high for possessions (34 vs 20), he was assured in the air claiming seven marks, extracted six clearances and fought hard when not in possession laying five tackles. He’s only nine games into his AFL journey and this likely won’t be the output every week for the time being, but certainly emphasised why the Hawks were so keen on his with selection #6 last year.

If looking for a swing of momentum during the game, after a listless first term the Hawks copped a spray from McEvoy in the huddle, with that message ringing in their ears, the Hawks piled on six of the first seven goals of the second term including taking the lead for the first time after just four minutes as the attacking flair and trust in teammates seen throughout the year returned in a rush.

 

TIM – Following a Jake Waterman mark and goal inside 50, West Coast had managed to cut the margin back to 11 points with more than enough time to play. With the ball back in the middle, the metaphorical door was open just a little, and the Eagles had a chance to walk on through. A centre clearance courtesy of Xavier O’Neill saw the ball go deep inside West Coast’s attacking 50, but alas, the Hawks defenders were too good, neutralising and eventually rebounding the ball out of defence, seeing off the final Eagles challenge of the day.

As an aside, I must say that I really enjoyed the games of O’Neill and debutant Jai Culley, with both players proving themselves to be worth meaningful midfield minutes. O’Neill finished the game with 17 touches, eight tackles and three centre clearances, while Culley proved himself to be a decent imitation of Hawks 2021 mid-season recruit Newcombe, collecting 12 disposals, seven clearances and having 11 tackles.

 

WHICH PLAYERS LET US DOWN THE MOST?

 

TRENT – It’s always difficult to highlight those players who perhaps didn’t reach the heights of their teammates after a good win, but that’s why we get paid the big bucks, so here goes.

This might be akin to shooting Bambi in taking aim at a guy who is the epitome of professionalism and has won three Peter Crimmins Medals in five seasons along with the 2018 Brownlow Medal, but I felt when Tom Mitchell has the ball yesterday we were often in a worse position than if it had been in the hands of Newcombe, Moore or Ward. Mitchell appeared to double grab repeatedly throughout the day, not unexpected in the greasy conditions, but not a trait he has typically exhibited in a marvellous career to date. He finished with 33 touches, but with 21 of those handballs and only recording a 54% disposals efficiency (more than 11 lower than his season average) and just the two clearances, down on 6 average for the year, he wasn’t at his absolute best.

Another Hawk to struggle was Jarman Impey, fresh off a buoyant performance against the Crows after being shifted forward, he was largely anonymous in this game, apart from a valuable goal deep in the third term where he read the tap expertly and toe poked through a major against the run of play. He did end up with 20 pressure acts and three tackles inside F50, but in a game largely played at ground level and with the volume of F50 entries, probably expected some more.

 

TIM – I know most West Coast fans probably expect me to say Witherden, but as I mentioned above I thought he was pretty good. In fact, going through the team I’m not sure that any player truly let the Eagles down, if we were to take this to mean that they had a shocker. But if you’re looking for where I think the game was won and lost, then I’d have to say a combination of Bailey Williams and Callum Jamieson.

It’s admittedly unfair to pot players who are still learning their craft, particularly young ruckman. But Reeves took a majority of the ruck today, and is only a kid himself so I don’t think I’m speaking out of line. Together, Williams and Jamieson combined for 20 disposals, 24 hit-outs and two marks, with no scoreboard impact. It’s the two marks that I think hurt most today, as Williams in particular seems very keen to fly for anything in his airspace. The only problem, and it’s just a small problem, is that he never marks the thing. Never. Ever. What makes things worse is that there were a few times today where he decided to fly and spoilt a teammate who, based on the fact that Williams CANNOT MARK THE BALL, is fair more likely to actually pluck the thing.

Both Williams and Jamieson were unable to overcome the size of the Hawks ruckman, with both Eagles giving away about four inches in size, and it looked like this got in their heads a bit. I think there’s a chance that this duo could be a good tandem ruck combo for West Coast, and perhaps one more summer in the gym is all that’s required, but with an ageing (and increasingly prone to injury) Nic Nat leading the ruck division for at least another 12 months, Eagles fans will be hoping that one summer in the gym is all that’s required.

 

PLAYER FROM THE OPPOSITION I ADMIRED MOST IN THIS GAME?

 

TRENT – Impossible to go past Tom Barrass who put on his best Jeremy McGovern four-time All Australian defensive marking superstar impersonation and probably single-handedly avoided a far bigger loss for the travelling Eagles. 18 marks, 11 intercepts and a career-high 30 disposals (besting his previous 22), distributed at the incredible 94% efficiency was a match he should rightly be very proud of.

Debutant Jai Culley also looked the part in his first match on the big stage, pairing a game-high 11 tackles with an equal game-high seven clearances as the conditions, pace, and fearsome opposition didn’t seem to overawe him at all. The incomparable @sirswampthing on Twitter weighed in with this gem:

Tackles on debut for players named Jai: 12.5

Tackles on debut for all other players: 1.63

 

TIM – I’ve already written about Breust above, so why not focus on someone else. It looks to me like today might have been the break-out performance for Josh Ward that Hawks fans have been waiting for. Not that they’ve been waiting a long time, admittedly, but when you’re drafted in the same year as a player like Nick Daicos, there’s a little more impatience from fans.

Ward was superb today, and will certainly be featured amongst my votes. Playing predominantly on a wing, he gathered 34 disposals, had six clearances, five tackles, eight score involvements and overall played like someone with ten year’s experience. He ran all day long and forced his opponent – alternately Andrew Gaff and Brady Hough – to defend. If he’s already doing this with just nine games of experience under his belt, it’s scary to think what he might be doing after 100.

 

WRAP  UP

 

TRENT – Win number six for the Hawks and a fitting send off to former champions Jordan Lewis, Grant Birchall, Paul Puopolo and Ben Stratton who finally got an opportunity for their laps of honour during the half time break. Not their finest performance of the season, but in challenging conditions they were able to score above 100 points for the third time, this match won through the output of their younger brigade, Ward, Newcombe, Maginness, Moore, Reeves, McDonald all prominent which is very pleasing for the future.

With matches to come against North Melbourne, and the stumbling Saints and Tigers it will be interesting to see where the Hawks finish with the age-old balance between building wining momentum and access to a stronger draft hand in play.

 

TIM – All in all, a decent performance by West Coast. They’ll be unhappy that a 20-minute lapse through the second quarter largely cost them the four points, but would be pleased with the efforts from youngsters O’Neill, Culley and Rhett Bazzo, as well as the defensive pressure on display from Ryan. With a home match against St Kilda next week, they’ll give themselves a decent chance to notch win number three, though a late injury to Jamieson might make their already depleted ruck stocks a huge problem as they face up to Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder.

 

 

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