Conor Nash looks dejected after Hawthorn's loss to Melbourne in round two, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

HAWTHORN, we have a problem.

Last year, despite the club's ongoing list regeneration and its relative youth, Sam Mitchell was able to find a balanced midfield group and cultivated one of the League's brightest and most exciting engine rooms.

But, whether it's through the loss of the ultra-important Will Day to injury or something much larger and more worrying holistically, the Hawks' effectiveness from the midfield has completely deserted them to start 2024.

In Saturday's loss to Melbourne, Hawthorn had just five centre-bounce clearances. Not only is that the club's equal-lowest tally since 2008, it came in an area where the Hawks dominated last season. Their average of 13.3 centre clearances per game in 2023 ranked as being the best in the competition.

But, in addition to being outclassed 14-5 by the Dees in centre-bounce clearances last weekend, the Hawks were also thrashed 18-9 in the same statistical category by Essendon in their opening match the previous week.

Last season, Hawthorn's midfield group managed to combine the unconventional mix of Day's outside quality, Jai Newcombe's emergence as an all-round force, Conor Nash's inside toughness, James Worpel's return to form and Ned Reeves' improvement in the ruck.

Jai Newcombe is tackled by Jack Viney during Hawthorn's clash against Melbourne in round two, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

It resulted in the Hawks ranking top four in the League for centre clearances (No.1), first possessions (No.1), hitouts-to-advantage (No.1) and hitouts (No.4), while ranking top eight for clearances (No.7) and points from centre clearances (No.8).

However, in the first fortnight of this season, Champion Data notes that Hawthorn has dropped to being dead last for clearances, centre clearances, scores from clearances and points from centre-bounce clearances.







Hitouts to advantage



First possessions






CB clearances



Points from CB clearances



Most concerning is the fact Hawthorn – as well as being unable to generate anything offensively from its midfield – is also struggling to defend opposition midfield groups across the first two rounds.

The club has been outscored by 47 points per game from stoppage so far this season, which is more than twice as bad as the second worst side in West Coast (the Eagles are being outscored by 23 points per game from stoppage).

The historically bad midfield stats don't stop there, either. Against both the Bombers and the Demons, the Hawks have conceded in excess of 55 points from stoppage. According to Champion Data, it's the first time they have done this in consecutive games on record dating back to 2002.

Conor Nash handballs during Hawthorn's clash against Essendon in round one, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Hawthorn has tried to cover for the absence of Day by promoting fellow first-round selections Josh Ward and Cam Mackenzie into elevated midfield roles across the first two weeks, however, individual outputs have also been well down on last season.

Champion Data notes that Newcombe, Worpel and Nash have all seen their centre-bounce clearance win-rate drop considerably from last season. Ward and Mackenzie – despite spending less time inside – are also down on their 2023 midfield numbers.


2023 avg. CB attendances

2023 CB win rate %

2024 avg. CB attendances

2024 CB win rate %

Jai Newcombe





James Worpel





Conor Nash





Josh Ward





Cam Mackenzie





It's not just straight from centre bounce where Hawthorn's midfielders are struggling individually, either. Newcombe, Nash and Ward have all seen their numbers drop across the board through the season's opening fortnight.

According to Champion Data's numbers, Newcombe is significantly down for AFL Player Ratings, disposals, contested possessions, clearances and score involvements from last year, with both Nash and Ward's figures also dropping.

In terms of AFL Player Ratings – Champion Data's most definitive metric to measure a player's influence on a game – Newcombe's numbers have nearly halved from 15.2 per game last season to 7.8 so far this year. Nash has dipped from 11.4 to 10.9, while Ward has fallen from 9.3 to 3.1 per game.

Perhaps surprisingly given their struggles in winning first use from centre bounce, Worpel and Mackenzie's numbers have actually risen across the board this season. Each has improved for AFL Player Ratings, disposals, contested possessions, clearances and score involvements from last year.

Cam Mackenzie in action during Hawthorn's clash against Melbourne in round two, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

With the impressive Day not expected to return for another six weeks as he continues to battle his ongoing foot injury, Hawthorn is searching for a workaround to solve such midfield troubles.

With Geelong and Collingwood on the horizon, the AFL's last two premiership teams, such issues will need to be sorted fast and it's understandable that Mitchell is searching for answers.

"That's going to be a clear focus for us, being able to sort out the centre-bounce situation. To be minus-18 after two rounds is disastrous. Last year, we were really strong in that area," Mitchell said after Saturday's defeat to Melbourne.

"There's obviously been the new rule that's been brought in. That's made the way that teams compete in there a little bit different and we haven't adapted to that as well as we could have. But that's going to be a heavy focus for us.

"I imagine that will be some changes, whether that's personnel or system or both, I expect there's going to be something different the next time we play on Easter Monday. We've got a couple of extra days now to recover and make sure we're really sound to play against a Cats side that's humming along."