With a raft of star veterans getting on in age and important players returning from an interrupted season, Hawthorn are a very difficult team to predict in 2018.
With injury hitting hard last year, Alastair Clarkson was forced to spin the magnets, which mostly yielded great results. James Sicily and Jack Gunston were terrific in the backline, as Blake Hardwick, Tim O’Brien, Daniel Howe and Kaiden Brand impressed, while new recruit Tom Mitchell led their midfield with ease following the departures of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis. Despite missing finals for the first time since 2009, valuable experience was given to the next generation of Hawks. The future looks fairly bright for a side that hasn’t had a top ten draft pick for over a decade.
Their group who missed bulk games through injury now look ready to return to action as well. Premiership quartet Cyril Rioli, Ben Stratton, Paul Puopolo and James Frawley are all raring to go, plus their boom recruit of last year Jaeger O’Meara has reportedly had a very good pre-season (fingers crossed, Hawks fans). On paper, this team should improve with those ins.
That’s the optimistic look, but things could quite easily go the other way for the Hawks. Burgoyne, Roughead, Puopolo, Birchall, Frawley and Smith will all be 30+ by the end of the year and have years of tough finals footy in their legs, Cyril Rioli has endured a difficult off-season due to personal issues and we all know Jaeger O’Meara’s torrid injury past. It could just as easily get ugly if things don’t go their way.
Tom Mitchell’s first year in brown and gold couldn’t have gone much better. The former Swan clearly won the club Best and Fairest, notched up more disposals in a season than any other player in history and finished second in the Brownlow Medal. The ball magnet is sure to be a fantasy favourite for Supercoaches for years to come.
The Next Big Thing
He’s quickly become a player opposition fans love to hate, but James Sicily is one seriously good footballer. After spending his first few years in attack, Sicily was swung into defence where he averaged a very impressive 24.1 possessions, 9.1 marks and 2.2 contested marks per game over the final ten rounds of the season. The sometimes hot-headed 23 year-old looks likely to be a linchpin of the Hawthorn defence for the best part of the next decade.
The Final Word
A tough team to predict for 2018 and a jump up or down the ladder would not surprise. Much will depend on how their injured stars return and whether their veterans are able to stave off father time.