Is it time for a rebuild at Hawthorn (HPN at ABC)

So, what’s up with the Hawks?

This week’s HPN at ABC piece (written with James Coventry) had a look at the two major aspects to their downfall – the tactical changes and the personnel issues.

There’s many sub-branches of both, but both boil down to the adaptation of things changing over time. Success is usually fleeting, especially in a league designed around the goal of giving every side a chance to win over time. The presence of the TPP cap and the Draft is meant to ensure that talent gets distributed evenly across the league, and that there isn’t a major imbalance at one club or another.

The Hawks aren’t immune to this. As their best players aged, they attempted to supplement them with overlooked gems and stars from other clubs. They are a side with the list profile to contend now, but the ability of the side appears to be lacking.

Over the past few trade periods HPN has suggested that the Hawks have made some real mistakes. In short, they appear to have missed the re-evaluation of the value of draft picks that the rest of the league has shifted to, and still heavily value players over picks.

In 2016, they sold *very* low on Brad Hill and spent the proceeds in one of several moves that led to Jaeger O’Meara at the lopsided cost of an entire draft’s worth of picks. They spent a lot to get Chad Wingard, who while a great player may be the third most valuable item in that trade over time.

That’s not to say they haven’t made good moves. The Tom Mitchell trade was a shrewd piece of work, and their sweeping up of overlooked veterans (and the occasional youngster) from other clubs produces neutral (at worst) results.

But even as things fell at the end of the 2016 season, the most likely path to future success involved the injection of youth in some form. Teams can do mini-rebuilds while still staying up, but the Hawks almost entirely have neglected youth. In particular, the 2018 Draft shaped as one of the best in a long time, and a rare chance for the Hawks to rebuild while still staying competitive.

Port and Gold Coast gambled hard on the talent available, and it looks to be paying off so far. As the Hawks’ list continues to age, the question will be who can support Mitchell, O’Meara and Wingard as the leave their primes.

The other half of the equation is how they are performing on field week in, week out.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone reading this that the game has changed since 2012. The Hawks largely dominated due to smooth ball use and retention – denying opposition sides the opportunity to score by denying them the ball. The Hawks were as good as any side at holding onto the ball, and to converting chains into scores.

Now, with the rise of Richmond, GWS and the Dogs in recent years, the territory part of the possession-territory equation has taken precedence. Sides have figured that getting the ball into advantageous positions, and setting up well behind the ball, is more valuable than patiently moving the ball. Being risky is OK these days, and turnovers aren’t the killer they used to be.

There’s no absolutes here – teams can still succeed by patiently waiting for cracks in opposition sides, but the current Hawks aren’t a side necessarily built to do so.

The use of extra tall defenders with help folding back from up the ground at the slightest signs of lines breaking is a definite shift by the Clarkson Hawks. It protects the backline, and makes it much harder for sides to target players on leads and in the hotspot.

However, it makes it harder for the Hawks to transition out, and often allows the opposition to set up equally behind the ball, leading to a stalemate. The current Hawks forward setup is still a work in progress, and they may need all the help they can get. They can score, but usually from quicker situations.

Teams have also figured out in the last month that they are susceptible to shorter, quicker entries and longer entries that avoid the cluster of defenders. While the intercept numbers looked great early on for the likes of Ben McEvoy, the 1v1 numbers were a world away.

Or: they could chew up the easy loose ball, but struggled in any true defensive situation.

Without a world beating forward line, stopping the other team from scoring is a smart way of winning games – especially with creative forwards who can create from nearly nothing like Gunston, Breust and Wingard.

However, teams have cottoned on, and there may need to be adjustments to see further success.



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