Jarryd Roughead’s return from suspension will strengthen Hawthorn’s attack against Geelong. Photo: Getty Images
Hawthorn’s players have not given up on a top-two finish, but are acutely aware of their need to limit their opposition to lower scores in the final stretch of the season.
The Hawks conceded 110 points in Sunday’s loss to Fremantle, and have not won a match in which they have given up 100 or more points this year, losing five times.
They play Geelong on Saturday night in what looms as a qualifying final preview, with the Cats one of the sides to have broken the 100-point barrier against them.
While Jarryd Roughead’s return from suspension will strengthen Hawthorn’s attack, the club must monitor defender Matt Suckling, who rolled an ankle during the loss to the Dockers.
Although conscious of the need to better restrict its opposition and certain that his team had not yet played its best football, midfielder Sam Mitchell said the club also needed to make more of its own opportunities.
The Hawks had 26 scoring shots against Fremantle for a final score of 13.13, despite compiling just 38 inside-50 entries to the Dockers’ 52.
Mitchell said his team’s midfielders needed to make life easier for their teammates at both ends of the ground if they were going to finish the season in their best possible form.
“We needed to win more centre bounces and we need to keep winning more centre bounces, that’s what makes things easier for everyone in our side,” Mitchell said after Sunday’s loss.
“If we can do that we make it easier for our forwards, because at least it gets the ball in there more often and gives them the chance to do something with it.
“It also helps the defenders, because all of a sudden they can start competing in contests closer to the middle of the ground, which is really important to how we want to play.
“If our defenders have to compete deep and they lose, it’s a goal, whereas if you lose higher up the ground then you’ve still got another two or three chances to get the ball back.
“That was an issue for us, and certainly we can do things better around the centre bounces in the next six weeks.
“We want to finish as high up as we can – if you can finish in the top two and get that advantage it really helps – but we just need to keep trying to win every game and play as well as we can.
“It sounds like a funny thing because we didn’t play terribly, but we’re going to need to play better if we want to be successful this year, so we’ll look closely at all the things we can do better next week.”
Mitchell said there was no danger of Hawthorn underestimating Geelong, which has beaten Hawthorn in 12 of their past 13 clashes. The Cats’ 11-win run was ended by the premiership-bound Hawks during last year's finals series.
“People have underestimated Geelong for 10 years. For as long as I can remember, Geelong has been talked down, and it’s almost like they’ve been that good for that long that people forget how good they are,” Mitchell said.
“They’re a very good side playing really good footy. They’re the sorts of games you want to play in, against quality sides when a lot of people are watching.
“We’ll get to do that in six days’ time, and for us it’s a chance to keep trying to play the way we want to play and need to play.
“We’ve played some pretty good footy this year and we’ve played some ugly, yuck footy and still won some games.
“It’s a sign of a good side when you can do that, but we certainly haven’t hit our straps they way we would have liked, and there’s still a lot of things we can improve in the next few weeks.”
While the Hawks have worked their once-bulging injury list down to just a few players, Cyril Rioli is still some way off returning from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since round 15.
He said on Monday that he had not lost hope of playing a part in the Hawks' finals effort.
"I want to be out there playing footy with the boys. I'd love to be back but I'm still trying to get my leg right and that's my priority," Rioli said on Channel Seven.