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Hawthorn weighs up ruckman dilemma


Martin Blake

Keen: Hawthorn's Max Bailey and David Hale.

Keen: Hawthorn's Max Bailey and David Hale. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo


A WEEK ago, people were preparing to hand the premiership cup to Hawthorn. The bookmakers continue to have the Hawks as the favourites; a notion not necessarily welcomed by the club that would rather the focus fell somewhere else.

The defeat by Geelong at the weekend, albeit with an on-the-siren goal by Tom Hawkins, opens up all sorts of questions. It is a reminder that in footy, we all have short memories. Suddenly people are questioning Al Clarkson's team. Is their defence sound? Can they afford to have three ruckmen (Max Bailey, David Hale and Jarryd Roughead) along with Lance Franklin?

What is about to happen is we will find out. Franklin, who has missed four matches with a recurrence of a hamstring tweak, is champing at the bit to play in Launceston this weekend against Port Adelaide, and Bailey will be available, too.

The Hawks have been conservative with Franklin after being burnt last time - he passed testing and talked himself up to play but then broke down in round 15 - but Franklin is keen to resume. ''It'll be determined at training this week, but he's training pretty well,'' said Hawthorn's general manager football operations, Mark Evans. ''We're pretty hopeful he plays this week.''

Thursday's main session will tell the tale with Franklin. ''I know what he's like,'' said Evans. ''When he's away from the side, he's pretty keen to get back in there.''

As for the rucks, Bailey's withdrawal from Friday night's team with an illness has clouded the issue a little longer. The injury-plagued ruckman did not play with Box Hill on Saturday either, but has recovered.

Hawthorn insists the removal of Bailey last Friday was not tactical; that he was genuinely ill.

Hence he becomes a likely ''in'' for this weekend to join Roughead, who has had such a fine season as a free-running second ruckman who has kicked plenty of goals up forward as well.

The Hawks like to have Bailey in the team with his deft palming and good hands. As Evans points out, he and Hale played together in the same team last year along with Roughead, so the issue - if it is a problem at all - is not new.

Hale has had a good season as first ruckman, although he struggled in the first quarter against Orren Stephenson on Friday. Although he is widely regarded as a forward-ruck rather than a ruck-forward, this is based on experience. He is actually 201 centimetres and 102 kilograms, big enough.

Whether he is a bona fide No. 1 ruckman in a premiership team is the bigger question. You would go back a long way to find a premiership team without a suitably big, powerful and good ruckman.

As for Bailey, it is only injury - he played just six senior games in his first five seasons in the AFL, having three knee reconstructions - that has kept him from making more of an impact. He has had two operations on his left knee and one on his right, and a wrist problem prevented him from playing any football in the first half of this year. ''We know his talents,'' said Evans. ''He's a good ruckman, and even in the pre-season, we felt he's progressed.''

Clarkson has been non-committal. ''It's hard to say,'' the coach said on Friday.

''All you can go on is the form we've currently got, and that [two utility ruckmen] is the best mix we've been able to use. But having said that, Max has been unavailable to play for us until last week, so with him available maybe our mix changes over the last … rounds of the [home-and-away] season.

''We were really pleased with the contribution he [Bailey] made last week … that's why at some point in time over the next few weeks we'll explore playing all three of them.''

One structural difference Bailey will make, if he secures his spot in the run home, is Roughead could remain as a permanent forward.

As Dermott Brereton has suggested, it would also free him up to go to a key defensive role if the Hawks are torched by an opposing tall forward just as Hawkins did on Ryan Schoenmakers. Yet Roughead seems to love the second ruck-forward role; it has taken the pressure off him to kick big swags of goals every week.

Hale told a media conference yesterday the weekend defeat would fire his team.

''Our last loss against Richmond was a bit of a kick in the pants and got us to focus on a few things. I'm sure after we go through it [the loss to Geelong] today, it'll help us reset our target and hopefully go through again until the end of the year.''

There are other areas where answers are to come. For instance, Luke Hodge's ability to have an impact on games after his long absence. The captain, who plays his 200th game this week, was substituted out of the Geelong game after being quiet; yet he kicked five goals and was crucial in his return game against Essendon the weekend before.

But Hodge has played only four senior games this year because of injury. ''A lot of people struggle in their second game,'' said Hale.

''It's going to take him a couple more weeks to get going to match fitness and [adjust to] the speed of the game.''


  • I'd love to see Roughie play as a ruck rover. Having his big body, tackling and ball-handling skills in the centre, alongside Hale or Baillie would be seriously intimidating for other teams. He is quick and almost impossible to tackle. It would be a daunting prospect for opposition on-ballers to try to compete with him. Having a bona fide ruckman tap the ball high to him would be very, very difficult to defend.

    Date and time
    August 07, 2012, 10:11AM
    • You would have go back a long way, if ever, to find a premiership team without at least one good key position defender. Under finals pressure they are paramount. Gibson and Shoenmakers are the Hawks achilles heel.

      Date and time
      August 07, 2012, 10:25AM
      • The loss to Geelong was entirely down to the coach. Who would have thought (in that first quarter) that Geelong would come out applying tackle pressure, being hard at the ball, and move the ball down the ground with run and carry? They've only been doing it for the last 6 years!!!

        The Hawks were not psyched up for the Cats first quarter onslaught. Our 'attacking' defenders in Suckling, Birchall, Smith and Young did not show enough stomach for playing the defensive defender role that was required. Only Luke Breust, in the role of 'defensive' forward, showed the endeavour that a game against the reigning premier requires.

        After having it easy in recent games it took the Hawks a quarter of football before they started playing the type of tough, hard football that won them a flag in 2008.

        Then, in the dying minutes of the game, for the umpteenth time when the Hawks have held a slender lead against a side boasting power forwards, Clarko failed to make the obvious move and left Schoenmakers in the same position in which he had been clearly outgunned for the duration of the previous 3 quarters! For Goodness Sake!!

        When Roughead has the strength needed down back and Schoenmakers has shown himself to be a lively and effective forward, the move to switch their positions in these close games is obvious to all but Clarko!

        What the team can take out of the Geelong game is that they did not lose a Grand Final, but they got a timely reminder of the sort of football it takes to win one. Whether or not the same thing can be said of the coach is another matter.

        Date and time
        August 07, 2012, 1:16PM
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