27/05/2024

The return of James Sicily from injury has been a welcome boost for the Hawks this season. (Photo: hawthornfc.com.au / Graphic: Will Cuckson)

Entering season 2022 with a new-look coaching panel and a youthful playing group, the Hawthorn Football Club has given the AFL world some promising indications of the direction the club is heading in on their quest to propel itself back into the top half of the ladder.

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, Hawthorn.

Snapshot:

A new era under Sam Mitchell at Hawthorn promised plenty of unknowns heading into season 2022 and the Hawks have certainly been an intriguing watch so far, winning four games and matching it with some quality outfits. Yet the search for consistency continues for this young side, often struggling to maintain the rage for the full four quarters and fading in and out of games quite dramatically.

What’s Worked:

A prominent feature of Sam Mitchell’s new game plan has been an emphasis on fast ball movement, which has in turn generated increased scoring opportunities compared to previous years.

Aided by the return of Jack Gunston for the majority of the year, the Hawks have looked more threatening going inside forward 50 so far this season. Mitch Lewis and Dylan Moore are producing career-best years, while more experienced campaigners Luke Breust and Chad Wingard have complemented a blend of youth and experience in attack.

The Hawks currently rank second for rebound 50s, with their speed and dare off half-back enabling them to springboard into attack and give their forwards good looks going inside 50.

The likes of Changkuoth Jiath and Jack Scrimshaw have been central to this, allowing Hawthorn to put speed on the ball and transition swiftly from its own defensive half.

A testament to their scoring power, Hawthorn has kicked over 100 points in its victories over Port Adelaide and Brisbane. Meanwhile, during its most recent clash with Fremantle, Hawthorn registered the highest first-half score any team has been able to put on the board against a staunch Dockers defence to this point of the season.

What Hasn’t:

A champion midfielder in his playing days, Sam Mitchell would no doubt like to see some greater output from his midfield brigade than what has transpired over the first half of the season.

The Hawks are currently ranked 14th for clearances and 18th for contested possessions across the competition. Glaringly, Hawthorn has only won the contested possession count on two occasions this season, both resulting in victories against North Melbourne and Geelong.

In their heavy 67-point loss to the Suns in Round 11, the Hawks lost contested possessions by a whopping 34. Meanwhile, defeats to the Magpies and the Swans saw them lose the count by 29 and 27 respectively.

The Hawks have also struggled at centre bounces, having only won the centre clearance count once this season. Building a game style that is capable of holding up in finals football is at the forefront of Hawthorn’s plans, making this an important area of the ground to address moving forward.

More Aussie Rules News:

AFL Mid-Season Review: North Melbourne – Joeys still in Struggle Street

The A-Z of round 13: Who made its mark on a grand stage?

AFL Mid-Season Review: Geelong Cats – Premiership Contender or Finals Filler?

Biggest Improver:

Having been picked up in last year’s mid-season draft, Jai Newcombe has elevated his game to new heights in the first half of this season.

With only 20 games under his belt, the 20-year-old is fast establishing himself as one of the prime movers in Hawthorn’s midfield, showing experience beyond his years.

A hallmark of Newcombe’s start to the season has been his burst away from stoppage and ability to gain meterage, something which the Hawthorn midfield has lacked in recent years. Renowned for his tackle pressure and defensive acts early on in his career, Newcombe has begun to become more damaging with the ball in hand and continues to look more assured at the senior level.

Averaging 21.5 disposals and 5.5 score involvements per game, Newcombe is also currently ranked second at the club for metres gained and goal assists.

It’s easy to see why the boy from Poowong is fast becoming a fan favourite amongst Hawthorn supporters, who will be hoping that Newcombe is a key pillar of the club’s push for its next piece of silverware.

An honourable mention also has to go to key forward Mitch Lewis, who has bagged 27 goals across nine matches this season. Lewis has been a strong aerial presence and consistently offered an avenue to goal, averaging an elite three goals per game at the midway point of the season.

Who needs to lift?

Struggling to recapture the form that saw him claim a Peter Crimmins Medal in 2019, James Worpel has looked like a shadow of himself in the opening half of the season.

Across nine games this year, Worpel is averaging 15.6 disposals, and 2.6 clearances, and is disposing of the footy at 60 per cent efficiency, a career-low.

A string of poor performances by his standards led to his omission from the AFL side after Round 9 and has since found himself plying his craft at Box Hill.

Jarman Impey is also one who is yet to fully fire in season 2022. Renowned for his run and carry-off half-back, Impey hasn’t quite reached the heights Hawthorn fans have come to expect. The dashing defender is only averaging 3.3 intercept possessions and three rebound 50s so far this year.

Best and Fairest contenders:

Based on his exceptional early-season form, James Sicily looms large to secure the Peter Crimmins Medal for season 2022. Returning from an ACL injury sustained in 2020, Sicily hasn’t missed a beat, averaging an elite 23.1 disposals, 8.8 intercept possessions, and 573.7 metres gained per game.

The 27-year-old intercepting defender has played in each of Hawthorn’s 13 games this season and currently leads the competition for total marks. On top of that, Sicily has shared captaincy duties in the absence of Hawthorn skipper Ben McEvoy and continues to emerge as a potential future leader of the club.

Other contenders for the award include Dylan Moore and Jai Newcombe, two individuals who have been consistent contributors so far this year.

Almost delisted at the end of 2020, Moore has backed up an impressive season last year, averaging 18.7 disposals and 1.5 goals per game. Headlined by a career-best 33 disposal effort against reigning premiers Melbourne in Round 7, Moore has used his strong work rate to push up the ground and stay involved in the play. He is also the joint leader at the club for score involvements.

Meanwhile, as highlighted earlier, Newcombe has thrived with more opportunity under Sam Mitchell, proving to be one of Hawthorn’s most reliable performers through the midfield.

Expectations for the second half of the year:

The buzzword down at Waverley Park this season has been ‘progress’, and senior figures at the club, as well as fans, will expect nothing less for the remainder of the year. Whilst finals football appears out of the picture, the Hawks will be keen to continue to develop their brand of football and give their younger players more exposure to senior level.

Despite wins and losses not necessarily being the be-all and end-all for rebuilding sides like Hawthorn, winning more games than last year will likely be a focus heading into the back half of the campaign.

Prediction:

13th

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