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Nick Bowen  April 14, 2013 6:30 PM

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Luke Hodge was inspirational for the Hawks against Collingwood

(Hodge) willed himself through so many contests and made a really important contribution and we just knew that it was just a matter of getting his fitness base back again
HAWTHORN never had any doubts Luke Hodge could rediscover his match-winning ways once he built a solid base of fitness, Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson says.

Knee problems limited Hodge to just 10 games last season, many of which were below his previous high standards, while he subsequently endured a restricted pre-season after posterior cruciate ligament surgery.

But if Hodge, 28, signalled he was back with his 25-possession game against West Coast in round two, he rammed home that point with a best-on-ground performance against the Pies.

The Hawks skipper had a team-high 31 possessions – 17 of them contested – and kicked two goals.

And it was him more than anyone who dragged the Hawks back into the game after the Pies had skipped out to a 22-point lead midway through the second quarter.

"We just knew that with a really solid fitness foundation he was going to be a super player," Clarkson said.

"Hodgey's been a warrior for our footy club for over 10 years now. And he's had one significant injury in all that time.

"He's been an unbelievably durable player for us and we saw today how tough and hard he is.

"(He) willed himself through so many contests and made a really important contribution and we just knew that it was just a matter of getting his fitness base back again.

"He's been able to have a pretty good summer at getting that base back up. Hopefully we can get really solid contributions from him throughout the course of the year."

Hodge-O'Brien incident a 'test case'

Hodge told AFL.com.au after the game he had been pleased with his intensity around the ball against the Magpies and said his fitness would continue to improve as the season wore on.

"I've got to have rotations still and play deep either forward or back throughout the game until my fitness builds up. But as long as I've got energy around the ball, which I felt I had for most of the day, that's OK," Hodge said.

"My fitness is going to continue to come and the good thing about our side is we've got eight or 10 blokes who can rotate through mid, forward or back, which makes it easier on the other guys who are coming back."

Hodge said his knee had felt good since he resumed running last December.

"I haven't had strapping on it since I started running, so obviously you have six or seven good weeks and pull it back just to let the body recover," Hodge said.

"But there have been no setbacks and the fitness is building. The body feels really good."

After three rounds, the Hawks now sit sixth on the ladder, having bounced back from their disappointing round one loss to Geelong with consecutive wins of 50 points or more against 2012 finalists (West Coast and Collingwood).

Clarkson said it was far too early in the season to gauge the Hawks' 2013 form.

"By round six or seven the ladder usually shapes itself a little bit and we're certainly pleased to be two and one," Clarkson said.

"We've played against some very good sides who everyone in the competition rates.

"But it doesn't get any easier for us. Next week we've got Freo and they'll be looking to rebound from their loss on Friday night.

"We just try to stack up the wins and see where it places us at the end of the year."

Nick Bowen covers Hawthorn news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nick