Last season: 3rd with 17 wins, 5 losses and a percentage of 118.6
After 3 years of being a dominant force in the AFL, Hawthorn fell a few notches in 2016. The competition had caught up to them, and their own players seemed to be feeling the pressure of expectation. There was a sense of weariness in the team which seemed to reflect in the results, and the Hawks strung together some very tight wins and encountered some resounding losses during the season. In fact, even their 3rd place finish was uncertain until the last seconds of the final game for the season. They were expected to reload and fire on all cylinders in the finals series, but instead exited in straight sets.
As a Hawthorn supporter, I expected a cleanout to bring in some fresh talent into the midfield. However, even the most placid supporter would have been riled up in seeing Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell exit in the same trade period. Mitchell moved west to take a 1-year deal with the Eagles, while Lewis made a surprise move across to the Demons. Bradley Hill sealed his move to Fremantle to join his brother, Stephen. Cult figure Matt Sphanger was delisted along with the likes of Angus Litherland, Lachlan Langford, Alex Woodward, Zac Webster and Jermaine Miller-Lewis. Shem Tatupu quit mid-year to focus on rugby as well.
If the outs gave the AFL community something to talk about, the ins certainly had the forums buzzing. The Hawks seem to have sealed a major coup in Jaeger O’Meara, who so far has not shown any signs of being affected by his knee injuries. In Tom Mitchell, the Hawks have landed a gritty ball-winner with clean disposal and a good football brain. Hawthorn have also welcomed much maligned Ruck/Forward Tyrone Vickery into their fold. Ricky Henderson joined the squad as a delisted free agent, bolstering the midfield/defence stocks. With all these trades, Hawthorn did not have a pick in the first 4 rounds of the draft, and landed Harry Morrison at 74. Then, in a move that could not be scripted in a million years, they picked Mitchell Lewis at 76. The Rookie draft saw the return of Jake Fitzpatrick, as well as the addition of Oliver Hanrahan and James Cousins.
B: Taylor Duryea, James Frawley, Ben Stratton
HB: Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson, Shaun Burgoyne
C: Liam Shiels, Luke Hodge, Isaac Smith
HF: Paul Puopolo, Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli
F: Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, James Sicily
FOLL: Ben McEvoy, Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Mitchell
I/C: Billy Hartung, Tyrone Vickery, Brendan Whitecross, Dan Howe
EMERGENCIES: Ryan Schoenmakers, Ryan Burton, Ricky Henderson
Prediction for 2017
It would be delusional to think that the absence of Mitchell and Lewis is not going to affect Hawthorn. In one swoop, they have lost 571 games and 8 premiership medals worth of collective experience. However, these trades signal Hawthorn’s intent clearly – to rebuild and relaunch. The addition of O’Meara and Mitchell in the middle give them the freshness and grunt that seemed to be missing in 2016. Tyrone Vickery will slot in nicely in the ruck/forward role that Hawthorn have been missing since the departure of David Hale. The return of Roughead, and his appointment as captain will inspire the troops and give the club a fresh leadership perspective. Despite all these positives, the Hawks will remain grounded knowing that new structures take time to work. They also need time to blood some of the younger players.
2017 will be a year of reckoning for Hartung and Langford. The former has been impressive in bursts, while the latter seems to be struggling to recapture his form from 2014. With the impending exits of Burgoyne and Hodge in the longer term, 2017 will be a crucial year for the Hawthorn midfield. We are also likely to see more game time given to Brand, Heatherley, Burton, Lovell, Stewart and Hardwick. Dallas Wilsmore has been a good VFL performer, and will not be far off from his senior debut if he keeps up his form this year. With all the newness and changes, Hawthorn will have a very interesting year. I don’t see them dropping off completely, but can picture some close finishes in 2017 which will make top 4 a difficult outcome.
Prediction: Hawks to finish 5th to 7th on the ladder
Where do you see the Hawks finishing in 2017? Share your thoughts below.