In the dying moments of the 2022 trade period, a three-way trade softened the stances of list managers from Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood as Cooper Stephens got his wish with a move to the Hawks.
The deal saw Hawthorn receive Stephens as well as picks 41 and 50, while parting with Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell. Mitchell found his way to Collingwood, who also received pick 25 for sending homesick Ollie Henry down the highway to Geelong.
Stephens was a Hawks fan as a junior and gets the chance to play under childhood hero Sam Mitchell as the club descends into a full rebuild. He has the chance to establish himself as the club’s premier midfielder after only managing five games in 2022.
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Why do the Hawks need Stephens?
Hawthorn national list and recruiting manager Mark McKenzie spoke highly of the young midfielder, saying he’ll be a vital inclusion to the Hawks’ new centre bounce rotation.
“Cooper comes to the Hawks as a highly touted 21-year-old, and we are thrilled to have him on board,” he said.
“Standing at 188cm tall, he boasts a larger frame for an on-baller, and we think he can really complement our developing midfield mix.
“We are confident of Cooper’s capacity to continue his progression and become an important piece for Hawthorn in the future years ahead.”
“Last year we were really clear that we wanted to invest in the development of our younger players. Premiership teams are not built overnight, and this is about building our next phase of talent.”
What does he bring to Hawthorn’s new midfield?
Stephens will be the Hawks’ new big body of the midfield, through only five games he maintained a contested possession rate of 39 per cent playing as an outside midfielder- this would still have him ranked third at the current Hawks.
Proving his talents as an inside midfielder, Stephens averaged 3.9 tackles and 92 per cent handball efficiency through his five games in the VFL last season.
Touted as an elite endurance runner, he should have the ability to rest on the ground and allow more rotations for the other younger, underdeveloped players that will come into the system.
Where to now for the Hawks?
The Hawks trade period can only be described as an exodus of gargantuan proportions, with Luke Bruest the only remaining player over 28 years old
Stephens will almost certainly walk into the midfield alongside James Worpel, Jai Newcombe and Josh Ward. The Hawks lost their two best contested possession and clearance midfielders through the departures of Tom Mitchell to Collingwood and Jaeger O’Meara to Fremantle.
Sam Mitchell has cleaned out the shop as it seems he wants to build his own team from the ground up. It looks like it could be a long few years for Hawthorn after gutting the midfield that was already bullied around the ground. The young contingent will have the chance to build and develop together, but the green shoots wont be showing in 2023.
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