Ah geez… you know that feeling you have when you know something has to be done, but you know you have to steel yourself to get it done well?
You meander about a bit, distracting yourself with other duties… you put the rubbish out, put that shelf up the missus has been banging on about for ages… some things you’ve ignored for months suddenly become important. And then, when you plonk yourself down in a chair in the evening, that thing you’ve been putting off is still there, waiting to be done.
That is what this Hawthorn season preview is to me. Not that it is a chore, but I often find myself too invested in the club to write objectively. I have to rein myself in and ensure I am being fair in my assessments, as too often, I am harsher on the club I support than those I don’t.
I guess I just have high standards when it comes to the Hawks – they taught me that by providing me with 11 flags to celebrate in my lifetime. It’s been great, but I have come to expect success, and plenty of it, as a result.
So, in a way, if I am harsh… it’s their own fault!
Yep, that’s the way to start… shifting blame. Let’s get into it.
It’s that time of year, already.
The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to the Hawks in 2023.
CAN JAMES SICILY EVER BE AN ALL-AUSTRALIAN?
There is a huge part of me that wants to say yes, but at the same time, will he ever have a better chance to don that blazer than he did in 2022?
After an extended break to ensure his recovery from an ACL injury was s good as it could be, Sicily embarked on a season that far outweighed any other he had compiled in the league. In a defence that was under constant threat, Sicily was cool, calm, and collected as he patrolled the defensive 50, taking on whatever role Sam Mitchell allocated to him.
If they needed Sic to be a key position defender, no problems… he’d do that.
Sam wants him to be an intercept marker, zoning off his direct opponent to cut the opponent’s attack off at the knees? Yep – he had that role covered.
How about the role of rebounder? Pfft… piece of cake, really.
Here is something you may not know about Sicily that encapsulates just how good his 2022 season was. Here at The Mongrel, we like to mess around with the stats and find weird combinations. A couple of years back, I started keeping tabs on players that notch defensive double-doubles. By that, I mean achieving double figures in two of the three main defensive statistical categories – one-percenters (spoils), intercepts, and rebound 50s.
The all-time leader in that stat is Alex Rance, who has 19 of them over the course of his career. Coming into this season, James Sicily had none. Yep, a big, fat zero next to his name.
However, as seems to be the case with Sicily, why would he want to be featured on a list with so many other players when he could own one of his own?
There have been six defensive triple-doubles recorded in AFL history – double figures in all three categories I mentioned above. In 2023, James Sicily notched half of them and he did it in a seven-week period of some of the best defensive… and attacking defensive play you’ll find. It was as though he skipped over the category others were competing for and aimed higher. Not only did he aim high, he hit his target multiple times.
The run started in Round Ten, when Sicily hit up for 11 intercepts, ten rebound 50s, and 12 one-percenters.
Two weeks later, he was at it again, with 11 intercepts, 12 rebound 50s, and 11 one-percenters.
And four weeks after that, he did it for a third time… just in case you thought the first two were steeped in luck. In Round 16, he had 15 intercepts, 15 rebound 50s, and 14 one-percenters.
Ridiculous numbers… Wilt Chamberlain numbers compared to what others were recording. The remaining three players to achieve a Defensive Triple-Double are all swinging singles. Robbie Tarrant back in 2018, Dougal Howard in 2021, and Darcy Moore in 2022.
If Sicily is doing stuff like this and still not getting recognition, in a team expected to be poor in 2023, does he stand a chance when the All-Australian selectors seemed relatively content in their justification for picking Tom Stewart? He missed five full games and spent three quarters of another one plonked on the bench with concussion. Surely Sic gets in before him based on the fact he was as good all season AND played more?
Sadly, unless the selectors get an attack of the guilts, I cannot see them reverting to giving James Sicily the nod in 2023. I mean, what would he have to do to impress them that he didn’t do in 2022?
25 touches per game? 27?
If they wanted him as an All-Australian, he would already have a blazer hanging up in his wardrobe. However, instead, we have Brayden Maynard and Tom Stewart (x4) as your reigning All-Australian defenders. As good as those blokes were in 2022, Sicily was better, and the selectors flat out screwed up.
WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR DYLAN MOORE?
It amazes me that quite a few people still don’t know the name of Dylan Moore. Not you guys… you’re smart – I mean, you read our articles, right?
Whilst a lot of attention was levelled at both Tyson Stengle and Charlie Cameron in their battle to be named the All-Australian small forward, Moore was quietly, or nosily at times, going about his business of becoming one of Hawthorn’s most dangerous players.
Already averaging a goal per game in 2021, Moore retained his scoring clip in 2022, but added more time running through the midfield, to wind up averaging over 20 disposals to go with his scoring clout. It’s funny – later in this article, I am asking a question about where the spark comes from in the Hawthorn midfield this season. I reckon the name of Dylan Moore just may be bobbing up quite a bit as we explore answers.
At just 178 centimetres, and 76 kilograms, he is a pocket rocket capable of moving from forward to the midfield with ease, and now that he has had a taste for it, I expect him to be very hungry to continue to feast in both roles in 2023.
Are we talking the best forward/mid in the game?
Probably not at this stage. There are a few handy players running around that can do that – Shai Bolton leaps to mind immediately – but what Moore can do is build with this team so that when the Hawks are ready to start pushing back toward the top eight (realistically, we’re looking at 2025, right?), he will be right there in his prime, ready to be one of the more significant influences in the side.
But what about this season? Can he win a Peter Crimmins Medal?
Certainly, he could.
He finished third in the award in 2022, behind Jai Newcombe, and winner, James Sicily, but as covered above, Sic played out of his mind last year. I reckon Moore has a bit more to give at this stage.
If he can start to push toward 23 touches per game (that’s only +2.82 on 2022) and keep that goal average above one per game, people won’t be screwing their faces up like they’re confused when you mention his name for long.
By the end of 2023, even the most casual supporters should know damn well who Dylan Moore is. And if they don’t, educate them.
It will not be difficult to do.
WHICH SIGNATURE IS THE MOST PRESSING FOR THE HAWKS TO OBTAIN?
While we pontificate about how good these Hawthorn kids can be, the task of making sure they’re locked away for extended periods is no easy one. The fact that several of them are uncontracted beyond 2023 makes me a little nervous, but hey… the Hawks aren’t Gold Coast, right? Hawthorn doesn’t have issues with player retention.
Or do they?
I’m a loyal kind of guy. I like tradition. I like having people at my club for a long period of time. What I don’t like is moving players on when they reach a certain age – it just doesn’t sit right with me when we help them explore other options toward the end of their careers – especially when they have several good years left.
What does that have to do with the kids re-signing?
Allow me to elaborate.
Imagine you’re at a club, you’re doing well, the coach likes what you do, and you feel at home. You’re tempted to sign a four or five year deal to keep you there, and suddenly, you see players who were in a similar boat a while back being shunted out the door as the club looks for talent to replace them. I don’t know about you, but that kind of thing would erode my confidence that the club was going to look after me when I get to the back end of my deal. We saw it at Collingwood, with those blokes throwing people out the door to save money. The Hawks have thrown very good, and in one case, a champion player out the door to make room for kids in the middle.
Who do they learn from? Who do they turn to when they need a cool head in a crisis?
Maybe I am just a bit sensitive…
The list of unsigned young players will no doubt be reduced as the season ticks by, but as of writing, it includes the following talent.
To me, the last bloke is the one you want signed as soon as possible. Whilst I expect Josh Ward to sign an extension on his rookie deal pretty early on (and if he doesn’t, I will go into panic mode), Will Day is about to enter his fourth season at Hawthorn, and though his numbers went backwards a little in 2022, I do think he has the capacity to be either an elite half-back or wingman. Of course, whether his body holds up is also something of a consideration.
Day was subbed off three times in 2022 due to injury, which may have impacted those overall numbers. He did manage a career-high 17 games, but he still looks undersized and vulnerable. My hope is that he is hitting the weight room hard this preseason and will emerge with newfound strength and durability.
20+ games is a must for him in 2023. And his signature is a must for the Hawks.
WHICH DEFENDER MAKES THE MID/WING MOVE?
There are a few teams that seem to have this issue – they have a heap of young players seemingly best-suited to be runners off half-back, but only a finite amount of positions to fit them into.
The Hawks defence will undoubtedly contain James Sicily, Denver Grainger-Barras, Jarman Impey, Sam Frost, Blake Hardwick, James Blanck, Changkuoth Jiath, Lachie Bramble, Jack Scrimshaw, Will Day, and they’ll be wanting to fit Josh Weddle in there somewhere, as well.
It’s the Hawthorn Half-Back Mafia!
Ten into six just does not go, and with several of these players incapable of playing key position, Hawthorn are going to have to find places for them in the team.
The addition of Karl Amon means that a wing position that was available last season is not longer on offer (please, Sam Mitchell… don’t play him in the middle!). That starts to limit things quite a bit.
I start to explore the options of moving one of the young defenders to the other win – last year occupied by Harry Morrison – but it still leaves a couple without a regular position.
Will Day looks the most likely to be able to switch onto a wing without too much disruption. There is a bit of young Isaac Smith about him, and if he can get out into the open, I’d like to see what he can conjure in space.
Maybe Jarman Impey moves back to a small forward role, as he did when recovering from his ACL injury?
Lachie Bramble could spend some time on a wing, as well. How many wings do AFL teams, these days?
The positive here is that the Hawks are incredibly deep in terms of rebounding/intercepting defenders. Not so deep in terms of key position backmen (I still don’t think Sic is a genuine key position player – he is just so good, he pulls it off).
The half-back line is going to be a tight squeeze this year. But I am sure the Hawks knew that when they picked up Weddle, right?
Time to jettison one or two from.the Half-Back Mafia into other segments of football society. Anyway… once they’re out, they can always be pulled back in as required. Michael Corleone taught us that.
IS FIVE WINS THE CEILING FOR THIS TEAM, OR DO YOU GENUINELY WANT MORE?
I had this discussion with one of our West Coast-supporting writers the other day. He was pretty pleased that the Eagles were going to get some marginal improvement this season due to the old heads coming back to add stability. He conceded that they wouldn’t play finals, and expected his team to finish around 12-13 on the ladder.
I couldn’t understand why he was content with this.
Allow me to explain.
Were starting to hear more and more about the 19th licence coming in as a team from Tassie. There are talks of stadium deals and so on, and there is a lot of momentum around the Apple Isle getting their very own team at some point down the track.
You know what happens when a new team comes into the league?
Concessions, and lots of them. And if you think the AFL will be content with an uneven 19-team competition, think again. There’ll be another addition, with more concessions, until the draft is just one big concession-fest for four straight years.
You don’t want to be bottoming out then.
You want t be bottoming out now, to ensure that when these teams get the nod, you’re up the pointy end competing like the Hawks were in 2011/12 and not being a team in the bottom half, hoping to rebuild via the compromised draft.
So, with that in mind, is five wins enough to keep you happy this season?
With the 2023 National Draft already being touted as a big one for key position players, a pick in the top three (legitimate top three… not pick five after father/son nominations) would set the Hawks up brilliantly, however, it is a delicate balance. I take you back to the unsigned talent above – there would have to be a couple looking for something to hold onto at Hawthorn. Will Day has not seen the club finish above 13th. Dylan Moore hasn’t seen Hawthorn finish above ninth. They want success and have to see a pathway toward it. If the Hawks are just a team continually sitting in the bottom half of the ladder, maybe success elsewhere becomes a little more attractive.
And therein lies the issue – you have to sell the dream, let them see it and almost taste it… enough to keep them believing you’re on the right track.
Would five wins do the exact opposite?
North Melbourne and West Coast both finished on two wins apiece in 2022. Neither will be that poor again. Is a top three pick worth a season of pain? And how long can the Hawks convince their young talent that this is all just part of the plan?
This ends the free component of the article. The next five or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?