Look Back/Look Ahead: Hawthorn Hawks

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

Normally when a side begins life under a new coach, there are early teething problems as a playing group adjusts.

It’s a testament to Sam Mitchell that Hawthorn looked to be on the right path from the beginning of his tenure, making solid progress week after week.

Eight wins exceeded just about everyone’s pre-season expectations, and raised hopes for what’s next. With rumours swirling around the future of experienced players, there are a number of different paths Hawthorn could walk down.

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Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. The schedule for non-finalists (not including North Melbourne):

West CoastReadGWSReadEssendonRead
AdelaideReadHawthornTodayGold CoastRead
Port AdelaideReadSt KildaReadCarltonSep 13

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic

It’s a young list with the potential to skew significantly younger in 2023 (more on that later).

None of the first six departures were a key part of the 2022 team; some due to injury, others because of form.

Of the non-finalists, Hawthorn had a middling year in terms of availability. They were able to count on experience every week with the likes of Hardwick (22 games played), Sicily (22), Breust (21), Mitchell (21) and O’Meara (21), missed out on McEvoy (8) and Wingard (10), while Jiath (14), Lewis (15), Impey (16) and Gunston (16) were absent more often than ideal.

Players with 20+ games in 2022 (non-finalists)
13: Port Adelaide
12: Essendon, Gold Coast
11: Hawthorn, St Kilda
10: North Melbourne
8: Adelaide, Carlton, GWS
4: West Coast

It all made for one of the younger sides in the competition.

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Posts are coming thick and fast at the moment. If you’ve missed anything over the last week or so, here are links to catch up:

Sunday 4th: Elimination Final Analysis: Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Sunday 4th: Qualifying Final Analysis: Geelong v Collingwood
Saturday 3rd: Qualifying Final Analysis: Melbourne v Sydney
Friday 2nd: Match Analysis: Brisbane v Richmond, Elimination Final
Friday 2nd: Look Back/Ahead: Adelaide (14th, 8-14, 86.7%)

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If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic | Karl Amon won’t be added in to the graphic until free agency officially begins

To me the first thing that stands out is the lack of long-term deals and the flexibility available to Hawthorn’s books.

Even with Amon’s four-year deal added in, Hawthorn will still have just three players contracted to 2025 or beyond. It’s the equal lowest in the league.

Players contracted to 2025 or beyond

Adelaide7Brisbane6Carlton10
Collingwood7Essendon5Fremantle8
Geelong3Gold Coast11GWS7
Hawthorn3Melbourne9North Melbourne6
Port Adelaide7Richmond6St Kilda8
Sydney8West Coast7Western Bulldogs5

The flip side of that is Hawthorn currently have the equal-most players coming out of contract in 2023.

Players coming out of contract in 2023

Adelaide19Brisbane10Carlton13
Collingwood15Essendon12Fremantle18
Geelong18Gold Coast11GWS16
Hawthorn23Melbourne14North Melbourne14
Port Adelaide18Richmond18St Kilda12
Sydney14West Coast13Western Bulldogs23

Add the two together and my conclusion is that Hawthorn are still figuring out the club’s long-term core.

From next year we should see some of that 2023 club – Day, Macdonald, Newcombe and Ward would be my first four preferences (in alphabetical order there rather than priority level) – to pen longer deals.

It’s a different strategy to other teams, as those table comparisons show.

Different doesn’t mean bad though, for the neutral at least. Different is fun.

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As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.

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Is 2023 a ‘step back to move forward’ year?

(Note: The following was published before Breust’s one-year extension)

This phrase has been a common theme throughout the team-by-team pieces – but – if we’re to believe reports Mitchell, Gunston and Breust are all genuinely available to interested onlookers, it represents a significant step in Hawthorn’s regeneration.

Pretend for a minute they all depart. The 2023 Hawthorn list could feature only six players in their age 28 year and above – Impey, Sicily, O’Meara, Frost, Wingard and Hartigan.

Given Hawthorn are reportedly working on a timeline where their premiership window reopens in 2026, it leaves 2023 and 2024 to get remaining pieces in place.

In 2022 they sorted out a system with ball movement in open play, and have recruited Amon to help bolster that area.

If Mitchell is on the way out – still Hawthorn’s best accumulator, even with his slightly diminished role – 2+2 = a focus on reshuffling the on-ball rotation in 2023.

If Gunston and Breust leave – two of Hawthorn’s top three goalkickers this year – 2+2 = a focus on finding the right pieces to surround Mitch Lewis with.

Continuing down this hypothetical path, if all three depart it’d take a leap from most of the 22 and under crew to match this year’s eight wins.

It makes 2023 a discovery year. Hawthorn can use it to figure out who surrounds Newcombe, how quickly Ward can rise to heavier responsibilities (it’s inevitable he’ll get there eventually), Worpel gets a chance to re-establish at AFL level, and how deep this midfield rotation can be.

If Moore continues his steady increase in on-ball time, it leaves more minutes for Hawthorn to hand to a small forward while also finding who replaces Gunston and Breust. There are a bunch of intriguing questions to answer.

But what shouldn’t be lost in these questions is how impressive Mitchell has been in implementing key planks of Hawthorn’s style so quickly. He’d be second behind Craig McRae in my coach of the year voting.

He deserves all the confidence in the world that by the end of 2023 there’ll have been another significant step forward in personnel and style, even if it doesn’t immediately reflect in the win-loss column.

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