James Sicily leads the team out ahead of the match between Hawthorn and Fremantle at the MCG in round 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

HAWTHORN coach Sam Mitchell is confident James Sicily can avoid future scrutiny from the Match Review Officer after the Hawks captain was cited for the 14th time in his 135-game career in round one. 

The All-Australian defender successfully overturned a one-game suspension for kicking Essendon half-back Andrew McGrath in round one, finally having a win at the AFL Tribunal for the first time after 13 previous charges. 

Instead of being rubbed out of Saturday's game against Melbourne at the MCG, Hawthorn won the argument to have the charge downgraded from medium to low, resulting in a $2500 fine, rather than a ban. 


Sicily was suspended twice in 2023 after being appointed skipper over the pre-season, missing three games for a contentious tackle on Brisbane's Hugh McCluggage and one for a high bump on St Kilda's Anthony Caminiti.  

Mitchell wouldn't be drawn on the 'Sicily Tax' debate, a reference to the harsh way he is viewed by the MRO in a similar vein to Greater Western Sydney captain Toby Greene, but said the 29-year-old is scrutinised closely by umpires given his MRO history.

"I chat with him every week. Obviously the captain and coach relationship is very important in a footy club. We chat every week about his on-field, about his off-field, about how he's leading, how the group is feeling. This week has been about how he's performing and what his role is," Mitchell told reporters at Waverley Park on Thursday. 

"I'm really confident that he has all the tools in his kitbag now to make sure he can perform well, both on the field as a player, and on the field as a leader.

"We talk regularly about (how) umpires do their scouting the same way the players do. If James is in a certain position, then you know people are going to be looking for something. Whatever you're looking for you'll find. 

"He knows he needs to perform at his best and make sure he stays within the rules of the game. That's no different to anyone else."

James Sicily in action during Hawthorn's training session at Waverley Park on March 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

After training all pre-season at the other end of the ground, Blake Hardwick played an important role down back against the Bombers, limiting Kyle Langford for most of the contest, supporting an undermanned backline that will have to navigate 2024 without James Blanck. 

Mitchell said Hardwick's role will be fiercely debated at match committee every week to start the season, with forwards coach Adrian Hickmott and backline coach Kade Simpson both wanting him each week. 

"It cost me about 25 minutes of my morning today talking about Blake Hardwick. I just said to him before that he owes me 25 minutes because we've been talking about him forward or back regularly. This morning, that was a big debate," Mitchell said. 

"We'll train him today in a couple of positions and then see where he will play. The thing about Blake is we know he will help us in the back half, and if we are struggling for a contest in the front half we know he will be fantastic for us. Deciding on which area we resource will be a weekly part of our match committee discussion."

Blake Hardwick (right) talking to James Sicily and Sam Mitchell during Hawthorn's training session at Waverley Park on March 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawthorn is expected to pick a similar 23 to last week but could reward Henry Hustwaite with a spot after he fired in a VFL practice match. 

The second-year midfielder collected 30 disposals for Box Hill after being named as an emergency for the top tier side following a strong summer on the track.

The Hawks will consider using Finn Maginness in his traditional role as a tagger on Saturday, given his performance on Clayton Oliver last year. The four-time best and fairest winner was held to nine touches across the first three quarters before the tag was dropped. Maginness was surprisingly used as the sub last weekend, rather than sent to Zach Merrett por Nic Martin, replacing Mabior Chol in the second half.

Henry Hustwaite in action during match sim between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn at Whitten Oval on February 23, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Mitchell said No. 1 ruckman Ned Reeves will need to execute an important role against six-time All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn, after the Demons' skipper fired against Western Bulldogs star Tim English last Sunday. 

"I think every opposition club is just hoping that he retires soon. It doesn't seem like it is getting any closer. He has obviously been the standout ruckman of the last decade. He has made significant contribution to their club and been a fantastic leader," he said. 

"You need to have a plan for him. You need to have a plan for [Christian] Petracca. You need to have a plan for [Bayley] Fritsch and [Steven] May and [Jake] Lever. They are one of those teams that has talent in every line. Ned's got a really important role on big Gawny."

Ned Reeves and Max Gawn contest the ruck during Hawthorn's and Melbourne's round 18 match at the MCG on July 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Reigning Peter Crimmins Medallist Will Day ran for the first time on Thursday morning, much to the delight of the playing group who cheered on the South Australian. 

Day has been ruled out of the first six rounds of the season due to the foot injury that has sidelined him since the start of January, but the 22-year-old is aiming to be available for the round seven game against Sydney.