Hawk Matt Suckling made a successful return on Thursday night
THE PROMISING return of Hawthorn's Alex Woodward and Matt Suckling from knee reconstructions, combined with Cyril Rioli's rebirth as a small defender, has sent warning signs to the rest of the competition.
The Hawks, albeit in the pre-season and against a youthful Brisbane Lions side, are already looking ominous with some new weapons and a continuing relentless attitude.
The result in Thursday night's NAB Challenge match at Etihad Stadium was irrelevant but it didn't stop the Hawks putting the foot to the floor against an inexperienced team.
They had 13 premiership players in their line-up. The Lions had two who had played 100 games and two who had racked up 50.
It was a 131-point demolition job, emphasised by five goals from Jack Gunston and three from David Hale as the Hawks motored to the 1.22.13 (154) to 0.3.5 (23) win.
The premiers were under the guidance of defensive coach Luke Beveridge, with Alastair Clarkson to rotate the senior role throughout the Hawks' three pre-season games.
The most encouraging elements of Thursday night's landslide came in the form of Rioli, who, after playing his career so far at the feet of Sydney Swan Lance Franklin, found new life across half-back.
Rioli played on Josh Green, Rohan Bewick and Marco Paparone, and laid eight tackles while giving the Hawks excellent run from defence.
Beveridge said afterwards Rioli's athletic attributes would allow for him to present as an option either forward or back throughout the season, after impressing in the different role.
Woodward, on the back of two knee reconstructions, shone with ferocious attack on the ball while Suckling showed his poise when he booted a super goal from a standing start before half-time.
Then there were promising signs by Ben McEvoy as a running ruckman who marked defensively, kicked a goal and stood solid against new Lion Trent West.
Sam Mitchell did as he pleased with 33 disposals while a fit-looking Brad Hill picked up 26 and Angus Litherland looked good.
With a trip to Townsville next weekend to play Gold Coast, the Lions were without captain Jed Adcock, Daniel Rich, Pearce Hanley, Daniel Merrett, Matthew Leuenberger, Joel Patfull and Jack Redden.
Former captain Jonathan Brown is still coming back from a foot injury. He is the only one expected to be unavailable for the clash with the Suns.
Acting skipper Dayne Zorko tried hard for 18 disposals before being subbed out in the fourth quarter while Ryan Lester had 24 – 12 of which were contested.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Hawthorn: The Hawks are Buddy-less but their forward set up of Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston and David Hale with Tim O'Brien and Paul Puopolo spending time there too got the job done. The Lions were left reeling by quick possessions, the Hawks' ability to find space and their accurate kicking. It was a training run for the premiers but they saw it out although they did get somewhat scrappy towards the very end.
Brisbane Lions: It's hard to assess the Lions, given their missing players and blatant lack of experience. James Aish is as comfortable in senior football as expected and their backline will look better with Daniel Merrett, Joel Patfull and Jed Adcock in it. Throw Brent Moloney, Tom Rockliff, Pearce Hanley, Jack Redden and Daniel Rich in the midfield and that will look a lot better too. But on Thursday night alone, it's clear the kids are raw and need that support.
Hawthorn: Former St Kilda ruckman Ben McEvoy showed why the Hawks targeted him in the trade period with 24 hit-outs and impressive work around the ground. The Hawks' first 2013 draft pick Billy Hartung started as the first half substitute but was involved in Jack Gunston's first goal of the third term. New Zealand native Kurt Heatherley, who came through their scholarship program, didn't have a lot of the ball but showed his courage to throw himself into the contest and lay five tackles.
Brisbane Lions: As expected, James Aish looked comfortable at senior level and was starting in at the centre bounce, along with former West Perth midfielder Nick Robertson and Zac O'Brien by the end of the night – an experience they will benefit from. Aish was treated for a knock to the knee in the third quarter but came back on. It was a baptism of fire for Daniel McStay with the tall defender under the pump against Hale and Luke Breust but managed to take four marks. After starting the first half as the substitute, Lions' academy graduate Jonathan Freeman went to full-forward but didn't make an impact until he kicked a goal in the fourth while Tom Cutler – who was also a sub early on – had a nice moment in the third when he drove the ball inside 50 on his way to 15 disposals. Former Geelong ruckman Trent West was probably beaten in the second half but ended with 25 hit-outs.
HAWTHORN 0.5.4 1.13.6 1.18.9 1.22.13 (154)
BRISBANE LIONS 0.1.2 0.1.3 0.1.4 0.3.5 (23)
Brisbane Lions: Nil
Hawthorn: Gunston 5, Hale 3, Roughead 2, Shiels 2, Ceglar 2, Smith 2, Lewis, Langford, Simpkin, Hill, McEvoy, Breust
Brisbane Lions: Paparone, Green, Freeman
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Shiels, Hill, McEvoy, Suckling, Gunston, Breust, Rioli
Brisbane Lions: Lester, Mayes, Zorko, Green, Bourke
Brisbane Lions: Crisp (cut head)
Umpires: Donlon, Harris, Harris, Lehner
Official crowd: TBA at Etihad Stadium