Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.
In amongst all the chaos of trade period’s final hour, Hawthorn picked up ruckman Lloyd Meek, midfielder Cooper Stephens, a future second round pick, and two mid-range selections in this year’s draft.
With 2023 clearly ground zero for rebuilding their on-ball rotation, the plan is for these two pieces to play an important long-term role.
With the retirement of Ben McEvoy, Hawthorn only had two AFL-ready ruckmen on their list: Ned Reeves and Max Lynch.
Targeting Meek – who was still in the same spot on Fremantle’s depth chart after Luke Jackson replaced Rory Lobb – and not giving up any picks to do so is a smart piece of business given how rucks can be overvalued.
(There’s an argument on whether they should have got more for O’Meara – Mitchell to a much lesser extent – but all in all it feels like they maximised their return)
Meek would likely have been starting ruck at a handful of other teams this year, but had the misfortune to be stuck behind Sean Darcy. His skill set doesn’t reinvent the wheel as a ruckman, but he’s good at what he does: strong presence, good mark, won’t leave Hawthorn in a situation where they’re exclusively roving to the opposition ruck.
It’s upgrading a position for next to no cost. Makes sense.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
Aaron Francis, Sydney | Sam Weideman, Essendon | Lachie Hunter & Josh Schache, Melbourne | Tom Mitchell, Collingwood | Ollie Henry, Geelong | Josh Dunkley, Brisbane | Rory Lobb, Western Bulldogs | Jaeger O’Meara, Fremantle
If Stephens doesn’t make it at Hawthorn, it won’t be for a lack of opportunity.
The discussion over whether they cut too deep in their list is for another time; here it’s about how they’re trying to build their new midfield.
In adding Stephens at 188 centimetres to Newcombe at 186, there appears to be a clear focus on size. If Worpel can recapture form, he adds to it at 185.
Not all sides have built this way. This isn’t intended as an Essendon bashing session, but as point of comparison they have Merrett at 180, Parish at 181 and Shiel at 182; only the latter possessing any real physical presence.
It looks as if Stephens will be thrown into the deep end with little in the way of experienced support – Newcombe will be the number one on-baller and then after that it’s all up in the air.
That can make or break players, as we’ve seen – whether Stephens is in the former or latter category only time will tell.
The difference between this scorched earth rebuild by Hawthorn and other teams is that they go into it with a coach who has already established a strong style of play, and eyes wide open.
It’s ground zero for the playing list, but not the structure. Whether that will be enough to avoid the traditional missteps of this build style is something that’ll reveal itself over the next couple of years.