James Worpel in action during Hawthorn's clash with Fremantle in round 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

BUOYED by a promising end to 2023, Hawthorn midfielder James Worpel says the club is targeting a return to September this year.

The Hawks won seven games en route to finishing 16th, but tasted victory in three of their last seven matches and lost another by just one point to Richmond.

That run of form included a 32-point win over eventual premier Collingwood in round 21, leaving Worpel bullish about his side's prospects after another gruelling pre-season.

"We're definitely looking to go up the ladder, not down, but we haven't really put a limit on anything. I think we're going to have a red-hot crack at playing finals so we'll take each week as it comes and see how we go... we're definitely pushing for the top end of the ladder," he said on Monday.

"The thing about our list is that a lot of players have played between 50 and 100 games now, so we're all getting more experience, we're getting games into young fellas and experience goes a long way in AFL footy.

"I think you're going to start to see a lot more consistent performances from us."


Improvement from youngsters including Josh Ward, Cam Mackenzie, Josh Weddle, Connor Macdonald and Henry Hustwaite will be key to driving that rise, Worpel said.

With star midfielder Will Day set to miss the early rounds after suffering a foot stress injury, Worpel said Hustwaite, Mackenzie and Ward were all looming as potential replacements.

The Hawthorn forward line has undergone a near-complete overhaul over summer with recruits Jack Ginnivan, Jack Gunston, Mabior Chol and Nick Watson all jostling for a place in the attack.

Asked if Magpies premiership player Ginnivan had a point to prove at his new club, Worpel said "all Hawthorn players have a point to prove".

"We finished 16th on the ladder and we all want to improve and keep winning games so I think all of us have got a little chip on our shoulder," he said.

"But 'Ginni' has come in and he's fitted in seamlessly, he's training really well and we're excited to have him."

Blake Hardwick, who booted 56 goals for Eastern Ranges in his draft year in 2015 before making his AFL mark as a tough defender, has also spent the summer training in the front half.

Blake Hardwick in action during Hawthorn's clash with Melbourne in round 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I reckon he's been begging (coach) Sam (Mitchell) for however long he's been here and before that he was begging Clarko (Alastair Clarkson), so it's no surprise to us," Worpel said of Hardwick's positional switch.

"We loved 'Dimma' down back and it's definitely a different role for him up forward but he's looking really good and we're excited to see what he can do."