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Hawthorn: From also-rans to flag contenders

The Hawks have soared from 10th after round 17 into the top four - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Alastair Clarkson
The Hawks have soared from 10th after round 17 into the top four

EVERY team looks better on paper when they're winning, but Hawthorn looks to be doubling down in the past month on proven premiership strategies.

The Hawks were 10th on the ladder at the end of round 17 after a second disappointing defeat in as many meetings with Brisbane.

One month later, Hawthorn – only three years separated from its flag three-peat – is inside the top four and considered one of few threats to Richmond's bid for back-to-back premierships.

The Hawks put lowly Carlton and Fremantle to the sword before edging out great rivals Essendon and Geelong by a combined 15 points.

As Alastair Clarkson himself pointed out on Friday: "All the four sides we've played in the last four weeks sit outside the eight."

But noticeable is how Hawthorn is winning.

The same four-match period coincided with star backman James Sicily's significant injury absence, and Clarkson and his brains trust have adapted in kind.

Sicily's elite kicking out of defence gives him more scope from the coaching staff to attack the corridor, but without him his teammates have reverted to more conservative ball movement.

They went through the corridor from their defensive 50 the least of any side in the past four weeks (ranked ninth in the first 17 rounds), and hugged the boundary more than any other (13th).

"Sicily being out is a huge impact; he bites off more than anyone else back there," an AFL club's opposition analyst told AFL.com.au.

"That said, overall their ball movement out of the back half is still classic Hawthorn – controlled, methodical build-up to keep their defence set in case of turnover, and to force their opposition to defend for long periods.

"They'll be a bit slower without Sicily, but it's still the same principles."

The safety-first Hawks are also playing on less from marks in the past month, down from 31.1 per cent of the time (ranked seventh) to 26.5 per cent (14th).

It's working: only Greater Western Sydney and Richmond conceded fewer points per game than Hawthorn's 67 between rounds 18 to 21.

But what should excite Hawks fans most is the statistical correlation in the winning streak – their longest since late 2016 – to the premiership treble.

They are second for disposals (up from 11th), fourth for marks (fifth), fourth for time in forward half differential (fourth), third for goal per inside 50 (10th) and third for points from stoppages (17th).

The last of those might be the most telling, given Hawthorn never ranked outside the top four in stoppage scores in its dominant 2013-15 era.

 

Jon Ceglar (23rd), Tom Mitchell (27th), Shaun Burgoyne (32nd), Jaeger O'Meara (65th), James Worpel (67th), Luke Breust (88th) and Ben Stratton (91st) are in the top 100 for stoppage score launches in the past month.

The challenge, as Clarkson preaches, is for the Hawks to replicate these performances every week from now on.