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Hawks lose hunger


Robert Walls

Cyril Rioli's lack of consistency has been highlighted by his teammates' apparent lack of willingness to contest possession.

Cyril Rioli's lack of consistency has been highlighted by his teammates' apparent lack of willingness to contest possession. Photo: Paul Rovere

HAWTHORN has lost the desire to win the contested ball.

In the final stages of last weekend's loss to Sydney, the Hawks looked completely dispirited as they went through the motions and waited for the final siren to put them out of their misery.

The Swans were good, but the Hawks were embarrassing as they rolled over to concede the last seven goals of the game.

There was a time when an opposition ball-carrier would be swamped, but the Hawks' statistics in hard-ball gets and contested possessions have plummeted.

There was a time when an opposition ball-carrier would be swamped, but the Hawks' statistics in hard-ball gets and contested possessions have plummeted. Photo: Paul Rovere

With just two wins to their credit, and sitting 11th on the ladder, the Hawks face a tough but not impossible climb to reach top spot - a position many felt they could achieve just six weeks ago.

They have to change their ways if they are to play in this year's grand final. The opposition has negated their game plan. Last year, Alastair Clarkson's men finished the season running hot. Going into the preliminary final against Collingwood, they had won 16 of 19 games. They lost the preliminary final by three points, in a game Clarkson believed they should have won. He was angry because he felt his players weren't desperate to the end.

Their success was built around a game plan of possession. They denied the opposition the ball by executing bold, bullet-like short passes. When a Hawk had the ball, his teammates would run into space and dozens of uncontested marks were being taken all over the field. And when they had sliced their way through the opposition's forward press, Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli finished off with aplomb.

The return of captain and general Luke Hodge is one promising sign for the lacklustre Hawks.

The return of captain and general Luke Hodge is one promising sign for the lacklustre Hawks. Photo: Paul Rovere

Stoppages were not a problem, either. The Hawks were much better than average at winning the hard ball and forcing clearances. Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis, Luke Hodge and Liam Shiels led the way in grunt accumulation. In short, they were smart, skilful and tough.

But over summer, too many Hawks, it appears, thought that winning easy uncontested ball was the way to go. They lost the hunger for the contest.

And, of course, the opposition has realised you can't let the Hawks run free. You have to be accountable on them. Now, they are going one-on-one against the brown and gold, instead of setting up zones.


It came to a head on Sunday when Sydney, the most disciplined, accountable team of all, refused to give the Hawks space, and ensured that if they were to win the ball, it had to be in a contest situation. A lot of Hawks didn't like that. By game's end, Franklin had conceded to Ted Richards, his opponent for the day, and Rioli did the same to Rhyce Shaw.

The stats tell the story. Last year, Hawthorn was first for short kicks and uncontested marks. This year, it ranks seventh. Average short kicks per game have fallen from 109 to 77. And marks taken on the lead have dropped from third best to second worst.

What will also be alarming to Clarkson and his coaching staff is the massive drop-off in clearances, contested possessions and hard-ball gets. Last year, the Hawks were top six in all of these areas. In 2012, they are bottom six. Clarkson has reinvented himself as a coach several times before. In his eighth year at the helm, he has to do it again.

The good news for Hawthorn is its captain, Hodge, is back after missing the first month of football. He will lead the way in aggression and giving all-out effort.

Also, for the first time in a long time, the Hawks will be on notice that they need to play hard football.

Who would have thought? That nasty, unsociable premiership team of 2008 just got too nice and comfortable.


  • Wallsy, you're spot on in your assessment. I was at the game on Sunday and after half time Hawthorn gave up the ghost. There was no zoning by Sydney. It was all man on man, and the Hawks didn't know what to do. Sydney were more aggressive at stoppages and either had an extra man at the end of a passage of handballs or else they just threw the ball on their boot and forced it forward quickly. I felt that for the first time in a long time, Hawthorn were categorically outcoached. Clarko & co will have to work out what to do when the Hawkers are choked for space and unable to gain a yard or two on their opponents. There was virtually no sideways movement at all after half time as players fell into the Sydney trap of just kicking down the lines. From a spectator's view, the game was ugly, as most of the time almost all of the players were within 30 metres of the ball, much like the little leaguers at halftime. And Hawthorn just had no answer for this choking, congested style of football.

    Date and time
    May 04, 2012, 9:31AM
    • Bang on there Stitchy and Wallsy. Everyone I've talked to about the game also said the same thing, that Clarko was outcoached. We need to be able to adapt when things are not going the way we want, and always harder at the ball. Hopefully Hodgey will give us some grit and grunt because we have lost that these last few games.

      Date and time
      May 04, 2012, 10:01AM
    • Stitchy, you've only talked about the match against Sydney. Robert's talking about the entire season so far... I think you've missed the point he was trying to make about the Hawks!

      This whole article actually makes me laugh. It's so badly witten that even if any of the points raised had any merit, they'd go unnoticed by any intelligent person.
      Hate to break it to you Robert, but we're only up to round 6. Those stats you've raised from last year were based upon the entire season. There's your first fail.
      Your second fail was to ignore the names of the actual teams Hawthorn have played in the last few weeks.
      If you studied the ladder a little more closely, you may have noticed that the current top teams have played some of the weakest teams in the competition (there's been some recent talk of how the season's fixture can work for or against a team over the course of the year).

      I agree the Hawks fell asleep in the last half against Sydney, but to get this dramatic this soon is a joke.

      Why don't you write a real piece of journalism instead of acting like the Hawthorn football team have done you some great, personal injustice? Some of your sentences were embarrassing.

      What team do you go for?
      Date and time
      May 04, 2012, 10:08AM
    • From this spectators point of view, the game was awesome!

      The Swans kicked 100+ points in a stunning 57 point turn-around after half-time -- nothing "ugly" or "congested" about that.

      If you want "sideways" movement, head to the beach and watch the crabs. I prefer the ball to be moving straight towards goals, ideally with long kicks and run & carry, like what the Swans did on Sunday.

      I would say that the only "choking" that occurred was by the Hawks. But they didn't choke, they were outplayed by a better team.

      Bring the Noise
      Date and time
      May 04, 2012, 10:15AM
    • fact is, if we are talking facts 'what team do you go for', is that the sydney game highlighted what also went wrong against geelong (and possibly WCE- (tho i do not make a habit of watching wce OR Hawthorn games except when they are playing 'proper' teams (LOL)) is that Hawthorn tossed in the towel when it mattered most. It shows that what happened in the prelim last year is NOT just about this year but possibly a long standing problem and add to that that other teams ARE playing them one on one (as the cats and swannies did) they are going to fall over more often. I do NOT LIKE being wrong usually, but am glad to say i think I might have been wrong thinking hawthorn were going finish top and in the GF. might be a great Sydney v Geelong battle yet!!

      Date and time
      May 04, 2012, 10:44AM
  • It's not that Hawks have 'lost' their hunger. Their style of uncontested football and accurate kicking has meant that they have not required the use of contested football.

    Now that teams have worked out how Geelong play the man-on-man defense against the Hawks, things are getting more difficult for them.

    Problem is, that if the Hawks do improve on the contested football, their master plan of kicking to a one-out will break down a bit. Sort of caught in a catch-22. It would be advisable for the Hawks to actually come up with a way to get the contested football in another way. With the 5 seconds I've thought about it, the easiest way would be a corell & tackle approach. Use the man-on-man against the opponent by ensuring the next kick or handball becomes a stoppage.

    I'm not sure that it would work, but it would be more advisable to do that than to change their gameplan.

    Date and time
    May 04, 2012, 10:00AM
    • Also agree with the article. The Hawk's problem is above the neck - I don't think that they think they are good enough. They are certainly not ruthless enough.
      The constant losses to Geelong, despite the bullying arrogance of Stevie J, I think have knocked the team's self-belief.
      Until they recover that and then commit to imposing themselves on their opponent like the Cats do, and keeping their foot on the oppositions neck once they've got them down then they're not Premiership contenders.
      I hope they do find that mixture of toughness at the ball and ruthless finishing, if not I doubt they'll even make the top 4.

      Date and time
      May 04, 2012, 10:36AM
      • hawks have a powerful foreward line, yet they are never home, how many times they go into attack and have to abort and kick backwards, or will not kick to a one to one contest, time and time again it happens. why would clarkson not play to their strength. very poor coaching, he is too interested in his own reputation as a strategically smart coach to the point that he has lost the point on how to play basic football. REMEMBER, THE PLAYERS PLAY THE WAY THEY ARE COACHED, and the way they are coached is not the way finals football is played and thats why they fall short against top sides most of the time

        Date and time
        May 04, 2012, 10:48AM
        • 100% agree...too soft, no passion, zero commitment.

          I'm a Hawks member and what I'm seeing is worrying!!

          If the Hawks bend over this weekend to the Saints, Clarkson should be sacked, and some of the big names should be sent to the 2's....a message needs to be sent

          Date and time
          May 04, 2012, 11:07AM
          • What team do you go for? - spot on - selective use of stats at its finest.. look credit to sydney but its early days yet...

            Clarkson simply has to drop players that aren't showing the hunger for the contest. its not like they don't have options outside the 22.

            Date and time
            May 04, 2012, 11:21AM

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