IT MIGHT be a new season, but it was more of the same from reigning premiers Hawthorn as it cruised to a 21-point win over Carlton in the opening NAB Challenge match in Launceston on Thursday night.
It took the triple premiers over a quarter to shake off the cobwebs – as well as a dogged Blues outfit keen to impress under new coach Brendon Bolton – before they ran away to a 0.8.5 (53) to 0.4.8 (32) victory in front of 9181 fans at Aurora Stadium.
With experienced campaigners Sam Mitchell, Grant Birchall and Jordan Lewis controlling the ball through half-back and midfield, the Hawks had too much polish for a Carlton side well led by recruit Sam Kerridge, club vice-captain Kade Simpson and fit-again Dale Thomas.
At times, both sides exhibited the kind of sketchy disposal you might expect in week one of a new season but the Blues more than matched Hawthorn for endeavour in a tight opening term.
The reigning premiers could manage just five forward entries for the quarter and a crumbed goal to Luke Breust, his first of three for the night, was their only major as the Blues took a narrow but well-deserved seven-point lead into the first break.
But as is their way at Aurora Stadium, as soon as the Hawks began to win control of the ball and began racking up uncontested marks, a count they won 101-45, they steadily tightened the noose and effectively shut out the Blues by kicking four goals to nil in a telling third quarter.
Stand-in Hawks coach Adem Yze said he was impressed with some of the younger Hawks.
"I think a lot of our young guys stood up tonight. We had a pretty young squad - we wanted to mix that with some experience," he said.
"(Having) Dan Howe (and) Jonathan O’Rourke playing with some older boys in each line was exactly what we wanted to get out of the game."
Former Crow Kerridge was a standout for the Blues and if he maintains the kind of hard-headed approach that saw him rack up 28 disposals and seven tackles, he’ll become a firm favourite at Ikon Park and provide valuable support to star midfielders Marc Murphy and Patrick Cripps who were both missing.
Bolton said he limited his team’s rotations to help with preparations for the premiership season.
"What our members should know is we had 78 rotations and I think the Hawks had 134 or 135, something around that," he said. "That was deliberate. We wanted to really push our players today, make them endure.
"We know the rotations are limited this year so we think it will pay us back at some point."
WHAT WE LEARNED
Hawthorn: The Hawks still have some tweaking to do in their forward half. With Jarryd Roughead likely to miss at least half the season, and in Jack Gunston’s absence, it was down to James Sicily, Ryan Schoenmakers and Jack Fitzpatrick to provide targets. Granted it’s the first week of the pre-season and the service was far from perfect, but the marking trio didn’t exactly fire, leaving ever-reliable Luke Breust to show them the way home with three goals.
Carlton: Brendon Bolton would have been happy with the way his side attacked the game from the outset, harrying the Hawks and going to the first break with a seven-point lead. As the night wore on, however, the Blues struggled to compete with Hawthorn’s ability to control the ball. That said, with Marc Murphy and Patrick Cripps to return in coming weeks, the Blues will soon have more class and muscle to complement the raw effort they showed in Launceston.
Hawthorn: Former Demon Jack Fitzpatrick juggled a mark on the lead and fired an errant shot on goal late in the first term, but didn’t look entirely comfortable in his first outing for the Hawks.
Carlton: Of all the new faces on display for the Blues, ex-Crow Sam Kerridge was the best. He was outstanding from the outset, taking the game to Hawthorn’s experienced on-ball brigade and doing enough to suggest he’ll be a very handy addition to Carlton’s midfield group in 2016. Charlie Curnow, taken with pick No.12 in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, made his debut for the Blues after half-time and immediately headed forward. He struggled to find much of the ball but will be better for facing the likes of Josh Gibson, Ben Stratton and Grant Birchall.
The Hawks return to Victoria, travelling into the Melbourne suburbs to face Richmond in Beaconsfield on Saturday, February 27.
HAWTHORN 0.1.1 0.4.2 0.7.3 0.8.5 (53)
CARLTON 0.2.2 0.3.3 0.3.5 0.4.8 (32)
Hawthorn: Breust 3, Sicily, Mitchell, O’Brien, Miles, Schoenmakers
Carlton: Casboult, Graham, Everitt, Graham
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Birchall, Breust, Lewis, Howe
Carlton: Kerridge, Simpson, Rowe, Thomas
Umpires: Simon Meredith, Robert Findlay, Sam Hay, Brett Rosebury
Official crowd: 9181 at Aurora Stadium