Hawthorn 2012 Season Preview

INS: Jarrad Boumann (GWS), Luke Breust (rookie elevation), Jack Gunston (Adelaide Crows), Bradley Hill (national draft), Jordan Kelly (national draft), Alex Woodward (national draft).

OUTS: Jordan Lisle (Brisbane Lions), Rick Ladson (delisted), Jarryd Morton (delisted), Brent Renouf (Port Adelaide), Will Sierakowski (North Melbourne), Jordan Williams (delisted).

YEAR IN REVIEW: The Hawks fell agonisingly short of a place in the grand final after leading Collingwood by 17 points at three-quarter time. That was one of two defeats to the Magpies. There was also three losses to the Cats in a home-and-away season where they finished 18-4. Sam Mitchell starred in the midfield and finished with 30 Brownlow Medal votes, despite being ineligible, while Lance Franklin kicked 82 goals in another Coleman Medal winning season. All this was achieved without key men Jarryd Roughead and Stephen Gilham for large chunks of the year due to serious injuries.

GAME BREAKER: Give us Cyril Rioli any day of the week. Whether it’s a freakish snap, fancy footwork or chase down of a defender, the mercurial Hawk has plenty of ways to swing a game in his side’s favour. Two hamstring injuries disrupted a season in which he kicked 29 goals and had as many goal assists. There’s a push for him to spend more time in the midfield but inside forward 50 is where opposition coaches fear him.

RISING STAR: Jack Gunston, the tall and athletic forward, stung the Crows when he opted to return home to Victoria. The 20-year-old played 14 matches in two seasons with Adelaide and is expected to play the key role Hawthorn planned for back in 2005 and 2006 when they drafted the failed experiments of Beau Dowler and Mitch Thorp.

KEY ARRIVAL: Jarrad Boumann is a fascinating case study. The decision to go after bullocking backman, 22, after he failed to cut it at Western Bulldogs indicates they are confident in his ability to perform at the highest level. He impressed at Box Hill, Hawthorn’s VFL affiliate, last year and provides sufficient backup for Stephen Gilham and Josh Gibson.

COACH FACTOR: Alastair Clarkson reinvented the Hawks last year. The premiership coach of 2008 put the unsociable stuff to one side and asked them to play a high-possession style that relied on precise foot skills. It was a brave move to combat the Collingwood zone and narrowly fell short in the preliminary final. Clarkson, who has 88 wins and a draw from 163 matches in charge at Hawthorn, inked a three-year extension at the end of 2011.

STATS THAT MATTER: Hawthorn frustrated their opponents by denying them the ball last year. The Hawks averaged 103 short kicks per game, 14 more than any other side. During the home-and-away season they were in possession of the ball for 44.2 per cent of matches – ranked equal-No.1 with Carlton. They boasted 12 of the top 200 kick players in the league.

THE VERDICT: 1st. Much is made of the Hawks’ big guns, but it’s the youngsters such as Shiels, Smith, Breust, Savage, Suckling, Murphy, Whitecross, Boumann and Adelaide recruit Gunston that adds the class and depth required to reach their first grand final appearance since the premiership of 2008. The Hawks’ skill level is exceptional, they are physically strong and hard at the contest and their defenders in Stratton and Gilham head into 2012 fully fit. Another chance at premiership glory beckons.

BEST 22

B: Guerra Gilham Stratton

HB: Suckling Gibson Birchall

C: Shiels Hodge Burgoyne

HF: Lewis Franklin Rioli

F: Breust Roughead Gunston

Foll: Hale Mitchell Sewell

I/C: Bateman, Puopolo, Bruce

SUB: Smith

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