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Season preview: Hawthorn

Mark Macgugan  March 28, 2013 7:00 AM

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Will Lance Franklin's contract status impact on his performances this season?

Best 22
B: Gibson, Lake, Guerra
HB: Birchall, Schoenmakers, Burgoyne
C: Lewis, Mitchell, Smith
HF: Whitecross, Franklin, Gunston
F: Rioli, Roughead, Breust
Foll: Hale, Sewell, Hodge
I/C: Hill, Stratton, Shiels
Sub: Puopolo

Injury list
Matt Suckling (knee) and Alex Woodward (knee) are out for the season and were not considered for the 'Best 22'. All eyes will be on Brian Lake (calf) and Cyril Rioli (ankle) in the lead-up to the Easter Monday clash with Geelong. Skipper Luke Hodge (knee) seems more likely to play VFL than AFL as he builds match fitness. Brendan Whitecross (knee) is targeting a mid-year return.

The big questions
Is Lake the answer? The former Bulldog will provide important help against big forwards but, at age 31 and with a patchy recent injury history, can he stay on the paddock?

What impact the fixture? The Hawks face last year's other seven finalists in the opening seven rounds, so there's no time to ease into form. A slow start would mean playing catch-up for the rest of the year.

A Buddy distraction? As long as Lance Franklin plays well, his unsigned contract should not be an issue. The slightest form dip, however, and questions about focus will reach fever pitch.

Summer standout
Bradley Hill has added some size in the off-season and shown strong NAB Cup form. After playing five games last year, the athletic wingman should establish a regular place in the senior team and could even shape as a NAB AFL Rising Star hope.

Fantasy cash cow
Matt Spangher (FWD, $132,600) won't rack up huge AFL Fantasy scores, but with bargain-priced forwards in short supply and questions over Lake's fitness, he could be a handy early-season option. The former Swan and Eagle has enjoyed a strong pre-season.

Sudden impact
Jonathan Simpkin has made an excellent transition from Geelong and played every game of the pre-season. The 25-year-old is versatile, and looks a good chance to make his Hawthorn debut against his old team.

It's crunch time for…
Max Bailey. After seven injury-interrupted seasons, the unlucky big man's time has to be now. An outstanding tap ruckman, the 26-year-old will need to show he can also be a threat up forward if he's to unseat the David Hale/Jarryd Roughead ruck combination.

Pivotal match
We'll keep it simple and go with round one against the Cats. Not only is there the nine-game losing streak to overcome, but the Hawks also face West Coast away in round two on a six-day break, followed by Collingwood and Fremantle. It's a nasty opening month and a first-up win would ease some pressure.

The Hawks will have a good year if…
Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell fire again. With Shaun Burgoyne and Luke Hodge likely to play through the midfield in bursts only, a lot falls on the shoulders of the two clearance specialists. Another good year from the experienced pair would assure Hawthorn is again near the top of the contested ball ladder, which is crucial if it is to challenge.   

AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish: Third