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Hawk predators given hope

No easy way... Hawthorn's Jack Gunston battles with the Sun's Jeremy Taylor.

No easy way... Hawthorn's Jack Gunston battles with the Sun's Jeremy Taylor. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

A SUNDAY twilight match between the premiership favourite and a barely competitive expansion team would appear to be the very definition of a game not worth watching.

Yet, this apparent mismatch between Hawthorn and Gold Coast last Sunday turned out to be a game well worth seeing for Hawthorn's rivals at the top.
While the flyweight Suns were never going to win, they did find a way to stymie and frustrate them, to the point where a game that had been expected to be a regulation 100-plus point massacre was 12 goals to eight at three-quarter-time.

When Jarryd Roughead botched a kick, leading to a goal to Alik Magin at the other end in a surprisingly competitive third quarter, Hawk coach Alastair Clarkson's frustration was plain; his team was not playing well and while it did not have three stars in Sam Mitchell, Cyril Rioli and late withdrawal Lance Franklin, the Suns, too, were far from full strength.

The final margin was 64points - half of what had been anticipated. Hawthorn was sloppy, but this was only part of the story. The Suns' match committee employed an unorthodox method, which may not be borrowed by more able teams in September, but is worth examining.

Hawthorn's elite kicking capacity is what separates it from the competition, offensively. Teams often seek to restrict the Hawks' ability to take uncontested marks - to avoid being sliced by foot. Increasingly, they are abandoning the zone  for old-style man-on-man defence.

But the Suns didn't worry about how many marks the Hawks took in space, via those lethal left feet. Their concern was only where those uncontested marks were taken. Thus, they devised a plan that would see Hawthorn's players allowed space deep in defence, and then "pressed" - crowded and invaded - for any kick around the midfield.

The Suns let the Hawks take marks - not manning them up at all when within 30 to 40 metres of the goal Hawthorn was defending.

However, once Hawthorn looked for an open man in the midfield, it found a proverbial galaxy of Suns swarming that area. The intention was, ideally, to force a midfield turnover or, at worst, to slow the Hawks' ball movement.

Since the advent of the forward press, teams have defended all 160 metres of the field, sending their players forward to seek to trap the ball in their scoring territory.

 The Suns can't apply an effective forward press for the duration of a game because they lack the distance running ability of a mature team; so they didn't bother. They resolved to defend no more than 90 to 100 metres or so of the MCG's length.

In 2012, there has been heavy emphasis on stopping teams from "switching" across the ground in defence to open up loose players further afield. But the Suns were happy to let the Hawks kick the ball backwards or sideways when the flag favourites were on the last line of defence, figuring that the kick-and-mark to clamp down upon would be the critical "next one" after the switch; for once Luke Hodge, Matt Suckling and co get the ball in the midfield, under minimal pressure, the opposition is anaesthetised on the surgeon's table.

 The Suns found a way to compete, scoring goals "out the back" - in an open forward line - from turnovers. It is unlikely the Swans will follow this template tomorrow, since the dimensions of the SCG demand a different approach - allowing the Hawks any marks, even 140 metres from goal, is fraught on a short ground where one Suckling kick from half-back could be a mark inside forward 50.

The Suns, though, did follow famed Hawk coach John Kennedy's exhortation to "do something." Rivals such as Sydney can gain from a game that was far from meaningless.

4 comments so far

  • Your point may have some weight, Jake but I think the real problem was that Hawthorn didn't respect their opposition enough. Too many of them did not run to space hard enough, as they would against better opposition. They also tried to do the fancy stuff instead of hsrd work and it wasn't until the last quarter that they decided to turn on.

    As a rabid Hawk supporter, I would love to say that I'm confident this week but Sydney make me nearly as nervous as Geelong do. This will be two and a half hours of total anxiety for me.

    Commenter
    Ted Kaboom
    Location
    Malvern East
    Date and time
    August 24, 2012, 9:10AM
    • Agreed - good points Jake. But the question is with this tactic, will any team ever get enough rebound opportunities to win the game? I think not. It's also reasonably obvious on Hawthorn's counter for this, run and carry the ball through the mid field. This will draw players fromthe 'galaxy' and open up opportunities further down field. The Suns tactic may limit the damage but it won't win games

      Commenter
      Reg
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 24, 2012, 2:18PM
      • What's with the Ch 7 scheduling? The game of the round tomorrow between 1 and 2 and it's not on TV in Melbourne. There are Swans supporters in Melbourne you know.

        Commenter
        Marg
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        August 24, 2012, 11:02PM
        • Jake Niall. Are you serious? Hawthorn went into this game with 2 things in mind. ONE: To get Hodge match fit by putting him in the middle. TWO: To give as little away as possible to opposing teams watching them by winning in as unorthodox a manner as possible. Do you really have nothing better to write about???

          Commenter
          Procrustes
          Date and time
          August 25, 2012, 8:53AM

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