Nick Watson during Hawthorn's match simulation against the Western Bulldogs in February, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

HAWTHORN will unleash prized pick Nick Watson for the first time in Saturday's round one clash against Essendon at the MCG, along with three others picked up in last October's trade period.

The Hawks used pick No.5 in last November's AFL Draft to select the 170cm small forward Watson after the Eastern Ranges product was named in the 2023 under-18 All-Australian team.

The man known as The Wizard is set to make his debut in front of a crowd forecast to reach close to 70,000 people, following an eye-catching pre-season where he featured in both practice matches against the Western Bulldogs to cement a spot.

The 19-year-old from East Ringwood is set to partner recruit Jack Ginnivan and veteran small forward Luke Breust in a new-look attack that will also include former Gold Coast and Richmond spearhead Mabior Chol for the first time.

Jack Ginnivan and Nick Watson at Hawthorn training at Waverley Park in January 2024. Picture: Hawthorn FC

"I'm torn between telling you that he is going to be an exciting young talent and also just hosing it down a little bit, because he has just turned 19," Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell said of Watson before training on Thursday.

"I think with first-year players, even if they are enormously talented, there is (Nick) Daicos and he was ready for AFL footy straight away. But if you look at every other first-year player, there is some ups and downs in their journey.

He is going to play some really good footy for this club, I don't think anyone doubts that, but is he going to play really well every single week and be a 50-goal first-year player? I hope so, but I wouldn't put that expectation on him.

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"He has been nice and consistent on the training track. He kicks goals and puts on pressure. He has a good little mix. He is an exciting player."

Vice-captain Dylan Moore is set to play in the season-opener after missing the match simulation and AAMI Community Series games due to glandular fever.

The half-forward trained fully at Waverley Park on Thursday morning to book his spot against the Bombers, but could be eased into the season as the sub.

Dylan Moore in action during Hawthorn's clash against Fremantle in round 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Wingman Massimo D'Ambrosio is expected to face his old side first up after moving from Essendon on deadline day last trade period.

Three-time premiership forward Jack Gunston is also in contention to play after overcoming a stop-start first pre-season back at Waverley Park. The 32-year-old returned to the Hawks last October after spending one season at Brisbane.

After training all pre-season as a forward, star defender Blake Hardwick could return to his usual role in round one after playing down back during match simulation on Thursday.

"It was a lengthy debate in match committee all week,” Mitchell said.

"We still have a couple of final decisions to make today. I think we'll definitely see Blake as a forward, whether that's for the whole game this week or for parts in the game or whether we just decide to settle him into the back half for the game.

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

"What we've been able to do is play him as a forward for a long enough that we're confident he can perform his role forward and back."

Second-year midfielder Henry Hustwaite has put pen to paper on a two-year extension following a strong summer on the track.

The Rosebud product is in contention to play this weekend in the absence of Will Day, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the season, but might need to bide his time for a bit longer, with Cam Mackenzie and Josh Ward also hunting greater midfield opportunities in 2024.


With James Blanck recovering from a knee reconstruction, Hawthorn is set to start the season with captain James Sicily and Sam Frost holding down the fort in defence.

The Hawks signed VFL star Ethan Phillips on the final day of the pre-season supplemental selection period to cover the loss of Blanck and Denver Grainger-Barras, who suffered turf toe in the intra-club last month. But despite playing in both games against the Dogs, the Box Hill graduate could start the year in the VFL.

Ethan Phillips during the 2024 AAMI Community Series match between Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawthorn has undergone a rebuild since Mitchell replaced four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson at the helm ahead of 2022.

After winning eight games in his first year in charge before seven last year, finals isn't quite on the Hawks radar just yet, with the club still focused on being more competitive more often and banking more experience for the youth in 2024.

"We never really talk about outcomes, such as that [returning to finals]. The first two years have been about embedding the foundations about how we want to go about things. This is the first year where we start to turn the dial towards some better performances we hope," Mitchell said.

"We are still going to be very young – I think we are the second-youngest team in the competition – we are still going to get games into players who we know are going to be great players for this club over the journey. We want to make sure we develop them as quickly as possible, while putting really strong performances on the field.

"Last year there was a lot of blow out games, even last week saw a couple of run-ons against us. We need to make sure we are in more winnable positions this year than we have been in."