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Are the Hawks better without Cyril Rioli?

Cyril Rioli stretches for the ball and injures his hamstring against Gold Coast on Saturday.

Cyril Rioli stretches for the ball and injures his hamstring against Gold Coast on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

Cyril Rioli may be regarded as one of the AFL's premier match-winners, but Hawthorn can take comfort against North Melbourne on Friday night knowing its record without the speedy forward is surprisingly better than when he is in the team.

While no one would suggest the Hawks are stronger without the dynamic Rioli, statistics reveal they have won 78 per cent of matches when he is not in the team, compared with 66 per cent when he is.

Rioli, for instance, missed eight straight matches between rounds six and 14 last season (including a bye) because of a torn hamstring. The Hawks, on their way to a premiership, were unbeaten in this period.

In 2011, the Hawks won three of four matches without him when he again had a hamstring injury.

This will give the Hawks, with coach Alastair Clarkson to return from illness, further confidence they can extend a four-game winning streak over the Kangaroos.

But skipper Luke Hodge has warned his men to expect a strong response from a side stung by a shock loss to the Brisbane Lions.

"They obviously had a disappointing loss on the weekend. It is shown through the year that when North have had a loss they have come back fairly strongly the next week. It is something we are going to have to look out for on Friday night," he said on Monday.

Hodge has good reason to warn his teammates, as the Kangaroos have an average winning margin of 46 points in their five matches after a loss.

A frustrated Scott has flagged changes to his line-up and has demanded retribution after a stinging loss to the Lions. 

"I'm after a ruthless attitude from our players - I'm not getting it at the moment,'' he said on Monday. "Players in one way, shape or form reflect their coach, [and] that tells me I'm not being ruthless enough with them.

"I'm demanding a ruthless attitude and they are not delivering it, so that reflects on me, so we will see a response this week.

"We're eight [wins] and six [losses]. It feels like there has been a death in the family at the moment, such is the mood of the players, but we have a short turnaround to get it back on track this week."

Rioli will miss at least the next eight weeks after tearing his left hamstring against Gold Coast on Saturday. He has a long history of hamstring issues, with Clarkson revealing the issue with Rioli was when he ran at full speed and attempted to pick up the ball.

"He will make a full recovery. We just have to understand the speed at which he can run, try to educate him on the areas of the game where he is most at risk," Clarkson said.

"This is running at full speed trying to pick up a ground-level ball. That needs to be done in a game, how we actually do that, coach that ... we will just have to wait and see."

Hawthorn have already worked on modifying Rioli's running technique. The modifications included reducing over-striding and running in a more upright posture.

Clarkson said the Hawks continued to learn about "Cyril's body, physiology, the type of mechanisms that he puts himself at risk of when he plays the game".

"We are talking about a lad that can run nearly Olympic or Commonwealth Games speeds. He is just electrifying with his speed," he said.

"It's OK if it's straight line and staying upright, but some of the mechanisms of running at speed trying to pick up a ball or kick it off the ground, or do what these players have to do, then for someone like Cyril that is causing lots if implications."

As Rioli begins a long stretch on the sidelines, Hawthorn will debate when Sam Mitchell should return after he too had dealt with a serious hamstring tear.

The 251-game veteran has not played since round seven, and could return via the VFL. But he is not an explosive runner so the Hawks may want his steady hand across half-back and through the middle to negate North Melbourne's strong midfield.

The Hawks have had an unbeaten run under caretaker coach Brendon Bolton in their past five matches, although their form, according to Clarkson, could be better.

"We haven't been playing our most scintillating footy, but we've had significant disruptions to our group," he said.

"We've worked really well over the last five or six weeks in my absence, but it's hardly ideal.

"The most difficult part was working out what we were going to do in the first week and once that was established then the important thing was I faded into the background and the club did what they needed to do.

"Our program will pretty much return to normal but, strangely enough, out of what seemed like a pretty tough situation, there's been a lot of growth at the club in the six weeks.

"Without a doubt Brendon Bolton's grown from this opportunity to coach our club ...  and he'll be better for the experience."

North Melbourne vice-captain Jack Ziebell is battling knee soreness and scans this week could determine whether he lines up against the Hawks.

CYRIL RIOLI:

Season   Matches

2008       22

 

2009       19

 

2010       19

 

2011       16

 

2012       20

 

2013       13

 

2014       11

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