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Versatile Hawk to stick to defensive duties

Ryan Burton impressed for the Hawks in a number of roles last year - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Jaeger O'Meara,Ryan Burton,Cyril Rioli
Ryan Burton impressed for the Hawks in a number of roles last year
I’m pretty comfortable down back and the club is pretty comfortable with me there
Ryan Burton

A TALKING point at Hawthorn ahead of the new season has been where on the ground Ryan Burton is best suited.

In 2017, his second season with the Hawks in which he finished second in the NAB AFL Rising Star Award, he starred in the backline, but also showed glimpses in cameos through the midfield and up forward that he could play pretty much anywhere.

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Speaking on Tuesday, the 21-year-old ended the guessing game by declaring he will play predominantly as a defender once again.

"I did a fair bit up forward at the start of the pre-season, but I think I’ll stay down back again," he said. 

"We have plenty of good forwards who can kick goals for us so I’m pretty comfortable down back and the club is pretty comfortable with me there." 

The Hawks think highly enough of the South Australian that they made him part of a major sponsorship announcement, the five-year contract extension with adidas, alongside fan favourites Cyril Rioli and Jaeger O’Meara. 

But Burton was playing down any suggestion he is part of football’s stratosphere, saying he had much improving to do.

"I got some of the footy last year and felt pretty comfortable but I’ve done a lot of work on my skills and decision making as well as my defending, so hopefully my game goes up another level." 

The big change to the Hawthorn backline is the departure of Luke Hodge. The Hawks get Ben Stratton and James Frawley back from long-term injuries and Grant Birchall will also return a bit later on, but Stratton recognises that Hodge’s absence will leave a void. 

"We’ve got five of the senior leaders doing a pretty good job, but it is hard to replace 'Hodgey'. 

"The last two years with him he helped me, Kaiden Brand, Blake Hardwick and James Sicily quite a bit. 

"Playing down there without him will be a little bit different but we have some other senior players, James Frawley and Ben Stratton coming back for the start of the season, so hopefully we can continue where we left off. We’ll each take a bit of him and try to hold our own down back." 

Expectations, at least outside Hawthorn are the lowest they have been for several years. But according to Burton, little has changed internally. 

"Our aim every year is top four because that gives you the best opportunity at the end of the year in September, so we’ll just do our best," he said. 

"We can’t wait to get started."

The Hawks open their JLT Community Series against the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat on Saturday and play their season opener against Collingwood at the MCG on March 24.