He is vocal, demonstrative, and aggressive – the sort of player you love when he plays for your team, but hate if you’re playing against him. He’s akin to Toby Greene, only on a team people actually care about.
The talent of James Sicily cannot be denied. As we enter the 2018 season – the fourth of Sicily’s young career, Hawthorn fans are hoping that their forward-cum-defender will be able to take the next step and become not only one of the premier half backs in the competition, but one of the undisputed leaders of their football club.
If the second half of the 2017 season is any guide, Sicily is well on the way in terms of his football.
Over the last ten games of last season, Sicily averaged an impressive 24.1 disposals and 9.1 marks patrolling the half back line. 2.2 of those marks were contested grabs. Between Rounds 14-19, he trailed only All-Australian Captain, Alex Rance for intercept possessions. He leaped ahead of players like Essendon’s All-Australian Centre Half Back, Michael Hurley, and another forward who made the move to excel in defence, Liam Jones of Carlton. Sicily’s ability to read the play and a beautiful pair of hands make him the perfect swingman.
It’s no coincidence that Hawthorn’s resurgence in 2017 came right around the time that Sicily moved into the back half. So good was the 22-year old, that stopping his influence became central to the plans of opposition teams. After kicking 30 goals in 2016, his move into defence in 2017 demonstrated that he can play either end of the ground.
James Sicily Year by Year Stats
No one questions his footballing ability; it’s his maturity that’s the cause for concern.
As the clock ticked down under five minutes remaining in the Hawks’ first JLT game of 2018, Hawthorn found itself trailing the Western Bulldogs by 16 points. Sicily had been one of the Hawks’ best throughout the game, his sure hands and superior judgment allowing him to accrue 24 touches and six marks. However, it was an undisciplined act that put the allowed the Dogs’ to ice the game.
Sicily was late to a marking contest and dropped the shoulder into the Dogs’ Bailey Dale. A remonstrating Caleb Daniels was also put on his backside, leading to a fifty metre penalty. Dale slotted the final goal of the game, and the Bulldogs ran out winners. Yes, it was only a JLT game, and yes, these games really don’t matter, but what does matter is the attitude of players. The Hawks have to decide whether Sicily possesses an attitude they like, or are simply tolerating at the moment.
The Hawthorn dynasty of 2008-15 was built on unsociable football. The little niggly bump, the extra ‘oomph’ on a tackle, and the bullying of opponents when possible were part and parcel of the Hawthorn idiom. Was it successful? Four premierships say it was. It made the Hawks a fearsome opponent; ruthless and uncompromising. But last season the Hawks failed to make the finals, and it seems Sicily is attempting to carry on the tradition alone. He can dish it out, but whether or not he can take it is another question.
In Round 22 2017, Carlton snapped one of the longest modern losing streaks, beating Hawthorn for the first time since 2005, and ending their dreams of competing in another finals series. And they did it by dishing out a healthy dose of Sicily’s own medicine. Jed Lamb went to Sicily and played as a negating forward. He shadowed the Hawk on every possession, annoyed him, provoked him, and for all intents and purposes, Sicily could not handle it.
The result – Sicily had 13 disposals and two marks. He also gave away SEVEN free kicks and committed ten clangers in a performance that was termed “Un-Hawthorn-like” by David Parkin, a man with a storeyed history at both clubs.
Former Hawk, Jordan Lewis said he felt sorry for Sicily after the Carlton game, and stated that Sicily was “a young kid and quite immature in the way he played.” Former Carlton coach, Robert Walls went one step further, claiming Sicily had “gone to water” under the physical attention from the Blues.
Sicily rebounded in the final game of the season in the best way possible. His 31 disposals and 12 marks marked one of his best games of the year, but the blueprint for combating James Sicily was drafted the week before, and many sides will have taken notice.
The Hawthorn Football Club is now in a situation where it is trying to avoid a rebuild and start contending again. The recruitment of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara combined with the trade for Jarman Impey for the 2018 season are very, very strong additions, but when you consider their arrival has coincided with the departures of club legends Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Josh Gibson, you realise just how much has been lost. The club needs new leaders, and those leaders must know when to apply the blowtorch, and when not to. Sicily’s blowtorch is seemingly always on high flame.
The most interesting chatter about Sicily comes from Hawthorn fans, at times mentioning him in the same breath as Dermott Brereton. Derm’s temper was often viewed as his Achilles Heel, but it was also the thing that set him apart from other forwards. I watched in person as he imposed himself physically on the 1989 Semi-Final against Essendon. In a series of clashes, Brereton left both Paul Vander Haar and Darren Williams wondering what hit them. Had a wild, roundhouse punch late in the game connected, Derm may not have been able to demonstrate the other side of his game in the 1989 Grand Final – his enormous courage. When he was knocked down and targeted in the 1989 Grand Final, Derm took the hit. He took the attention. He took the pressure. And he stood up.
This is where the Sicily-Brereton comparison stops, at least at this point in time. Derm dished it out, but when it was his turn to take it, he put his head over the ball and copped what was coming to him. People targeted Brereton at their own risk.
And so the challenge is laid down at the feet of James Sicily in 2018. He can continue to be the hot-tempered, undisciplined kid, or he can emerge as a genuine leader within the club; the man who stands up and takes charge when required. No blasting your own teammate in the middle of a game. No “going to water” when the tables are turned and it’s you that’s placed under the pump. And no stupid fifty metre penalties when the game is on the line, even if the game is a completely meaningless one.
James Sicily has all the attributes to be a star, but whether he has all the attributes to become a leader at Hawthorn remain to be seen. 2018 will be the year we find out, and with the departure of their leaders recently, the Hawks are screaming out for a leader to stand up.
James Sicily, your time is now.