HAWTHORN 3.2 7.5 11.6 14.10 (94) GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 4.2 6.4 11.5 13.9 (87)
Goals: Hawthorn: I Smith 4, J Gunston 4, J Roughead 2, L Breust 2, B Sewell, W Langford. Greater Western Sydney: D Smith 4, J Patton 2, R Palmer 2, W Hoskin-Elliott 2, A Treloar, D Shiel, J Cameron.
Best: Hawthorn: Smith, Gunston, Litherland, Hill, Birchall, Langford, Sewell, Hodge. Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Scully, Treloar, Shiel, Ward, Smith, Tomlinson, Shaw.
Umpires: Simon Meredith, Matthew Leppard, Robert O'Gorman.
Official Crowd: 17,904 at MCG.
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After two consecutive losses, Hawthorn narrowly manages to scrape past Greater Western Sydney 94-87 at the MCG on Sunday.
This was not the ironically named Giants that lost by 113 points to Richmond last week. It was not the GWS that lost by 111 points the game before that. It was not the team that had not won a quarter since round seven.
The wet and slippery conditions might have favoured a side that after such weekly drubbings only needed to measure its game in effort not score.
For the man who replaced the ill Alastair Clarkson in the box, Brendon Bolton, this was not the baptism he might have expected. It was supposed to be a featherbed entree to coaching. It was, admittedly, not the premiership side he was inheriting but a depleted premier confronting a team of elite if callow talent.
When Hawthorn kicked the first goal in the opening minute through Jack Gunston it seemed the story line had not changed from the Richmond drubbing. But the Giants settled. Jonathon Patton goaled from a free in the goal square, Devon Smith snapped one, Will Hoskin-Elliott floated across to mark in front and Rhys Palmer speculatively trickled a ball that outpaced Jeremy Cameron over the goal line as Hawthorn was, oddly, playing the role of the side trying to hold on.
Hawthorn played throughout as a side that felt the dam wall would break at any moment, that it would prevail if the game was held even – though it was a side that had more of its best quality out of the team than in.
Without Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Cyril Rioli, and Ben McEvoy the Hawks often began centre square set-ups with Jonathon Ceglar, Mitch Hallahan and Will Langford among their formation. Granted they had Brad Sewell, Shaun Burgoyne and Luke Hodge to call on, but the Giants were playing on a rising wave of confidence and they were asking searching questions of Hawthorn’s depth.
Dylan Shiel was closing Burgoyne down and giving the Giants drive. Lachie Whitfield was superb through the middle all day, teaming with Tom Scully and Callan Ward while Smith and Hoskin-Elliott were providing the mid-sized players drifting into attack that troubled the Hawks.
Each time the Hawks pushed and appeared likely to split the game open the Giants responded. When Sewell goaled after Langford cleverly tapped down as the third man up and Luke Breust curled through another, Devon Smith kept the Giants in touch. When Gunston and Isaac Smith booted back-to-back goals again still the Giants clung on with another.
The alarm came in the third quarter when the Giants’ belief rose and they surged. The Giants booted five goals to four in the third quarter and might have had a sixth goal but for Heath Shaw’s kick shading the post.
GWS briefly took the lead late in the third term before Isaac Smith snapped a goal and Angus Litherland desperately tackled Cameron in the goal square to deny the Giants a certain goal and assuring Hawthorn of a slim lead at the final change.
The Hawks had issues of touch. They were only a kick down but for three quarters the best players on the ground were Giants. Ordinarily a superb side by foot, the Hawks’ foot skills abandoned them in the third quarter through Giants pressure and tackling (they only went at a shade better than 50 per cent efficiency by foot in that third term).
David Hale suffered a minor quad injury and was subbed out of the game for Billy Hartung to come on in the third term to give more run. It was not a game for tall players on either side in any case.
Roughead’s touch was awry and Hodge uncharacteristically turned a few balls over. Hodge forced his way into the game, moved himself into the middle of the ground and tried to lead his players out of trouble.
With others down the Hawks’ run came from Smith and Bradley Hill – playing probably his best game yet for the Hawks – giving them the overlap run they had been lacking. Likewise Litherland impressed in defence with run and acts of desperation that showed maturity and composure.
The Giants remained in the contest to the end but were denied victory in part by Hawthorn and in part by their own blunders. They gave away three goals through stupidity: a 50-metre penalty, a silly deliberate out of bounds, both from Shaw, and Shiel unnecessarily pushing Isaac Smith into a ball-up in front of goal.
With Patton also missing a set shot 25 metres out directly in front with GWS seven points down and two minutes to play, the Giants could blame no one but themselves.