What I Love About My Team In 2023 – Hawthorn

As a passionate AFL supporter I consider there to be three distinct phases of a club’s performance, these are: competing for the elusive premiership; mired in midtable mediocrity; starting again from the very bottom. While we all dream of our team sitting atop the Aussie Rules Everest, that stage can prove stressful as a fan with no guarantees of ultimate success, and stakes at their highest. Battling through the logjam of teams not good enough to compete for the flag, now bad enough to access that intangible hope of imminent improvement from the bottom requires the steeliest resolve as a footy fan.

While a brief bottoming out or transition from previous success with a reset driven by new talent is likely the best time to be a supporter, it might not be the premiership cup overflowing with Dom Perignon, but an equivalent receptacle is full to the brim of another endorphin – hope.

Hawthorn supporters are generally misrepresented by the masses as arrogant, self-entitled and greedy, which is grossly unfair, coincidentally it has been proven that we happen to possess higher intellects through exclusive private school educations, own whiter picket fences in leafier suburbs, and have been blessed with superior genes that lead to more attractive appearances. But I digress to the football, while it is true that we have enjoyed 13 premierships in the last 62 years at the rate of one in less than every five years, which increases to nine flags in the past forty seasons, we are presently in the midst of a most unpleasant streak stretching to an incredible eight years without premiership glory. And so as we enter 2023 Hawthorn are firm favourites for the wooden spoon, the dubious honour we have not claimed since 1965 – but I prefer to look at the positives, and the following will outline the reasons why I love my club and can genuinely see more than a glimmer of light reflecting off that coveted premiership cup at the end of the tunnel.



Consider if you will, Cox – Cousins – Judd – Kerr, or Voss – Black – Lappin – Akermanis, even Selwood – Bartel – Ablett – Chapman, all great midfield combinations that led their clubs to premiership success. In fact, you could make a strong argument that a team cannot win the flag without a powerful and deep midfield group. Hawthorn has identified this area of weakness and been working in the background of turning this into a massive strength. Superficially commentators will point to the fact that the decorated Tom Mitchell and highly rated Jaegar O’Meara have moved on from an already misfiring midfield cohort, and while I expect them both to thrive in their new environments, I firmly agree with the strategy to move forward without them.

There are backdoor entries to the AFL, and then there is Jai Newcombe who had to complete a carpentry apprenticeship to learn how to build a backdoor before using that to get his chance on an AFL list, now honoured with the famous #3 guernsey the Hawk dynamo has a second elite level pre-season behind him after 11 Brownlow votes (same as Nick Daicos) and a second placing in the Peter Crimmins Medal in his rookie season will lead the new generation. Rotating through the centre square in support of the midfield bull with the deft touch will be first-round draft selections (no guarantee of success, but historically more likely based on probability) Josh Ward (pick 7), Cameron McKenzie (pick 7), Will Day (pick 13), Cooper Stephens (acquired via Geelong but previously pick 16), Josh Weddle (pick 18).

Rounding out the now deep group that will run through the midfield and importantly provide the drive to win the ball and set up attacks are James Worpel (former B&F winner), Dylan Moore (newly appointed VC), Connor MacDonald (2nd round pick from 2021) and the enforcers Conor Nash and Finn Maginness who bring elite AFL traits to their respective roles – this isn’t even accounting for the potential upsides in highly rated kids Henry Hustwaite and Ned Long who slipped in the draft but look to have enough tricks if their desire can match. It is extremely unlikely that this group will click immediately, however, the youth and talent in the group will get plenty of opportunities to develop and learn and fail. The general composition of the group appears far more balanced with size, speed, skills inside/outside capabilities, goal kicking than was previously rostered in the Mitchell/O’Meara era, I’m fascinated to see how they grow together.



As much as a powerful and extensive midfield group is mandatory for premiership success, there is less of a requirement to possess a dominant ruckman. Max Gawn and Dean Cox the notable exceptions since the turn of the century, but even as great as they were, they were surrounded and supported by absolutely elite midfielders. Hawthorn as such has historically invested and succeeded with workmanlike rucks, rather than stars. Our sole two All Australian ruckman Paul Salmon and Peter Everitt ruled the airways during two of Hawthorn’s bleakest eras in terms of success. While probably our greatest ever ruckman, Don Scott, was known more as a fearsome competitor, fighting and more often than not winning above his weight class, but never revered in the same terms as Graham Farmer or Simon Madden as dominant and aesthetic ruckmen. After the retirement of a Don Scott type in former skipper Ben McEvoy the external perception is that Hawthorn may struggle again in this area, but this is where a closer investigation may reveal a blossoming competitive advantage for the Hawks in support of their fledgling midfield group.

There is a correlation between hit-outs to advantage and a strong midfield, and so as the Hawks continue to improve in that area of the field so should their now young and exciting group of ruckmen should come into their own. Ned Reeves amongst ruckmen last season averaged 26.9 hit outs per game (10th) from just 67.4% TOG (39th among active ruckmen), while targeted recruit Lloyd Meek (part of the O’Meara trade) averages the 27th most hit outs from 78.7% TOG and Max Lynch 30th in hit outs from 37th TOG. While not likely to have the AA selectors scrambling to take their jacket measurements, these numbers in conjunction with their age, expected opportunity and a young, hungry group of talented mids should stand the Hawks in very good stead for the mid to long-term in this part of the field.

Further to the extra competent support in this area, each have shown an above-average level of aptitude up forward and will likely form part of coach Sam Mitchell’s make-up as difficult matchups in the front half. A modest increase by all three men in their average hit-outs to advantage, marks I50 and clearances will dramatically address a major failing of previous Hawthorn sides that allowed the opposition first possession too often. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest these three players, along with developing Max Ramsden comprise potentially the best unit of Hawk ruckmen in the club’s history.



Every club has track watchers excited at this time of the year, Hawthorn is no exception and this list contains players yet to peak, those struck down by injury and ones with a point to prove. Jarman Impey, after enduring a horror couple of years with injury appears to finally be back to full health and ready to resume his high turbo intercepting role and has also been included in the leadership group reflecting his standing amongst his peers. A return to his career-high numbers of 3.5 R50 per game should tie in well to Mitchell’s preferred game plan of fast ball movement to forwards in one-on-one positions.

Changkuoth Jiath was tracking for an AA jacket in the first half of last season before injury hit him as well, derailing his enterprising start. A career that is only 37 games old could flourish with an uninterrupted run. While inexperience and depth are legitimate question marks on the Hawks, this is less of an issue in the back half where they are very strong. The support in this area of the field should allow Jiath to be free to play in his preferred 3rd man role anticipating the ball entering D50 and using his speed and evasive skills to progress the ball up the field. It’s a term used often, but CJ is a genuine excitement machine and the type of player fans love to go and watch!

Lachie Bramble despite almost reaching his 25th birthday has only played 19 games while his body acclimatises to the rigours of AFL footy and a late entry to the level after being scouted his shrewd Hawk legend Andy Collins. Bramble has speed and class, two attributes always welcome in any team and will hope that with a clear run at it can claim one of the vacant wing spots and be that invaluable two-way runner so integral in the modern game.

Will Day the highly credentialled Hawthorn recruit whose grandfather was a 1971 premiership player in brown & gold burst onto the scene in 2020 placing fifth in the Rising Star voting that year. His silky skills and game awareness immediately endeared him to Hawks fans who pencilled him in for unimpeded exponential growth towards his inevitable stardom, however, his underdeveloped body let him down multiple times in the ensuing years. Finally gaining the confidence that a full pre-season affords prior to 2023 the time is nigh for that prophesied move into the midfield and while excitement levels are tempered somewhat by anxiety that he reaches the promised land – the exposed form to date suggests it could be a rewarding ride. I’m also bullish on his decision to defer contract talks until later in the season. While this phrase can often mean alarm bells, in this case I see a young man frustrated with his development to date and willing to invest in himself to bring personal and club rewards.



Hear me out here ok? The most recent premiers (who I can’t bring myself to name for obvious reasons) were the oldest and most experienced team to ever take the field, how can a group of inexperienced and largely unproven list be a positive? 30 of the 43 listed Hawthorn players have played less than 50 games. A further six have played between 50 and 100 games, including four who achieved that milestone during 2022, leaving just seven players who have played over 100 games – with newly appointed V-Capt Luke Breust with 260 games leading the way. It is often said that AFL players start to achieve consistency of performance after 50 games and for the Hawks the critical mass of players are still yet to achieve that, the benefit is that a large group of players will grow up together, learning together and improving together so that when they achieve that milestone they are ready to flourish – together. The theory has been lambasted in the media at the worst, and raised dubious eyebrows at the best – the only truth from the post draft/salary cap era in Aussie Rules is that there is no exact blueprint to success, but a talented hard-nosed coach and supportive admin with a clear plan to execute and more than an inconsequential drop of luck are the key ingredients to be showered in confetti on that last day in September.

Those players over 100 games primarily reside across the three zones of the ground and provide some balanced leadership to the precocious talent coming through. Amongst them also are strong role models who can drive the standards which the young guys have already taken ownership of, another benefit of growing together in a competitive environment is you are challenging your friends and peers on a daily basis to improve and reach new heights. Whether that results in turning hope into trophies remains to be seen, but this club has always been in the business of winning and will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of #14. The final advantage of an inexperienced list written off by the vast majority of experts is the absence of expectation. We’ve seen how this millstone has brought the Blues, Lions, Port amongst others undone year after year, the Hawks are relatively free to attack and learn without fear of recourse. Obviously, this leave pass has an expiration date, but for 2023 the players will have a free rein to make mistakes and learn how to be winners.



The Hawks made some subtle changes to the way they played midway through last season, this was partially as a result of the way we played with a low number of I50 entries to maximise scoring opportunities. A press was employed further afield to keep the ball inside our attacking half, rather than setting this at half-back like most teams. While it left us hopelessly exposed at times, the payoff was incredible at times making vastly more advanced teams look second rate with bursts of fast scoring. Defence is extremely important in AFL and often it is stated the best defensive team will win the flag, but as the rules are presently written you need to score, and that is an area Mitchell is building to try to get ahead of the curve.

It’s all good and well to make grand proclamations and expansive five-year plans. Mitchell has been quoted that his objective is to build a list and game style that will win finals. I think we’ll see the next evolution of this plan throughout the season, and while the younger guys, not entrenched with any previous system perfect the new plans, there is a careful timeline to hopefully achieve maturation of the playing list at around the time the game plan becomes second nature.

I’m not a hopeless optimist by any means and am realistic that the likelihood of me needing to purchase Grand Final tickets this September is a long shot, but I’m all in on the Sam Mitchell / Andy Gowers bandwagon. As expressed in the opening paragraphs, this is a glorious time to be a supporter and I can’t wait to see the little pieces come together over the course of the season towards a time when we move into the contenting stage in the coming years.


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