HAWTHORN skipper Luke Hodge has proved reports of his football demise were exaggerated after inspiring his team to a 55-point win over Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday.
The Hawks trailed by 22 points at the 17-minute mark of the second quarter and were being well beaten around the stoppages early by the Magpies, who had been peppering their forwards with opportunities in rainy conditions.
Enter Hodge. The Hawk skipper missed the opening game of the season after a knee injury severely limited his pre-season, but you wouldn't have known it by the way he imposed himself against the Magpies.
With 10 possessions for the second term, Hodge led from the front as the Hawks wrested control of the game, and he kicked the last of three straight Hawthorn goals to bring his team back to within a point at half-time.
As good and willing as the Magpies were, the Hawks looked the slicker and more damaging team in the second half.
At times, their ball movement was lethal. The best example came at the 18-minute mark of the third term when Brent Guerra roosted a torpedo punt from the kick-in to Ben Stratton in the centre. Stratton handballed straight to Lance Franklin, who jumped over an opponent on the ground, before sprinting clear and bombing a goal from well outside 50m.
Hodge finished the game with a 31 possessions and was well supported by Liam Shiels (28 possessions), Grant Birchall (28), Shaun Burgoyne (23) and Josh Gibson in defence.
The final score was 22.13 (145) to 13.12 (90).
After the match, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said his team had taken until midway through the second quarter to cope with the slippery conditions at the MCG.
"Collingwood is an outstanding side at being able to play in those type of conditions. They're well-suited … to play that type of footy and we just didn't adapt very well at all," Clarkson said.
"When Collingwood were quick handball, quick kick and get it moving forward, we tried two handballs or tried to finesse with the ball a little bit, so it took us a fair while to come to terms with that, and that meant that the Pies were able to apply a fair amount of scoreboard pressure on us in that period of the game.
"But once we were able to correct that we used our chances to get the ball forward (and) when we had those chances the game started to turn our way."
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said Hawthorn had overwhelmed his team physically after its fast start.
"As the game wore on they were tougher, more physical, able to get handballs out of our tackles and stop us from doing the same, and in a nutshell that is where the game is won and lost," Buckley said.
"I am not suggesting at any stage that our players gave up. Hawthorn are a very strong footy side and they won in the areas that you need to win to win footy games."
Franklin also overcame a slow start to the game to finish with four goals.
Franklin's opponent for most of the game, Collingwood defender Ben Reid, injured his right knee in a marking contest at the six-minute mark of the second quarter. He left the ground for treatment but returned to the ground 17 minutes later.
Travis Cloke was outstanding for the Pies up forward, kicking five goals, including two in a row midway through the third quarter that helped Collingwood get back to six points.
Dane Swan (a game-high 33 possessions) and Scott Pendlebury (29) were typically prolific for the Pies in the midfield, but after the first term lacked their usual spark.
Jamie Elliott started the game on fire, kicking three goals by the 12-minute mark of the second term, but the Magpie small forward subsequently faded out of the game.
Collingwood dominated play early in the match in wet conditions.
The Pies led the inside 50 count 17-8 in the first term and could blame inaccurate kicking (3.6) for the fact they took only an 11-point lead into quarter-time.