Mitch Lewis at Hawthorn training at Waverley Park, April 19, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

HAWTHORN key forward Mitch Lewis will return in the VFL on Saturday after missing the past 10 weeks with a knee injury, while ruckman Lloyd Meek trained fully on Thursday and is set to return against Richmond at the MCG on Saturday. 

Lewis hasn't played since Easter Monday due to a knee cartilage issue that has taken longer than expected to heal, but after training with the main group across the past fortnight, the 25-year-old is set to play a half for Box Hill against Richmond's reserves at Punt Road Oval. 

"We won't put him at risk this weekend unfortunately. If he gets through today he needs to play probably 50 minutes of footy is his next step. Hoping he can get that out of the way (this weekend) so go and play for Box Hill and be available after the bye next week," Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell said on Thursday. 

"He is being able to back up sessions now. The problem he had was he would train OK and then the next day he didn't know how he was going to feel. But he has trained consistently and pulled up a lot better the last couple of weeks. Looks like it has finally turned the corner, but I have been confident on him before."

Mitch Lewis celebrates a goal during the round two match between Hawthorn and Melbourne at the MCG, March 23, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Hawthorn faces West Coast in the Sunday twilight slot in the final game of round 16 after the weekend off, while Box Hill hosts Port Melbourne the day before. 

Meek needed to train on Thursday to prove his fitness after missing the past fortnight with a syndesmosis injury, while Ned Reeves didn't complete the session after being subbed out of the win over Greater Western Sydney due to back spasms.

"Both are a test, so hopefully one of them can get up. Meeky couldn't get himself right for last week; he looked OK but not 100 per cent. He is a test for today," Mitchell said.

"Big Ned hasn't moved around too well. He is still standing up in the meetings, so that's never a good sign.

"Hopefully one of them can get themselves up for the game. Pretty important position against big Nankervis. Max Ramsden has been playing really well at Box Hill, so if they don’t, it gives a good opportunity to him."

While Meek will be a straight swap for Reeves, Nick Watson has demanded another AFL opportunity after kicking eight goals across the past fortnight in the VFL – 4.3 against Essendon, then 4.2 against Greater Western Sydney – leaving a tough selection decision for the match committee.


Veteran small forward Luke Breust has started as the sub for the past five games – he also started as the sub for the first five games of his career – while Jack Gunston has kicked 10 goals in the past three weeks. 

With a crowd of 80,000 people expected – the previous record between these two sides is 70,701 in 2018 – for Dustin Martin's 300th game, those two premiership players are two of only a handful of current Hawks to play in a crowd of that size.

"There are plenty of players that have played in big games and quite a few that haven't. Half their side are going to be premiership players and premiership teammates of 'Dusty', so it is going to be a big challenge for us," Mitchell said.

"There is the two hours of the actual game and there is the event that goes on around it, which we have no control over. The only thing we're focused on is we actually play the game in the manner that we need to get the win."

After losing three games by under a kick in 2023 and two in 2022, Hawthorn has improved its ability to win tight games this year, defeating the Giants by six points in Launceston last Saturday after single digit wins against the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda in May. 

Mitchell said the off-season appointment of Brett Ratten as head of coaching performance and development has helped the Hawks improve how they handle close game scenarios this season.


"'Ratts' really is great guidance for all the coaches, myself included, so being able to lean on someone who has been there before, who has seen a lot and has a lot of experience, who makes suggestions when to put in different parts of the program," he said.

"We were quite clear about the first part of my coaching was getting the basics and the fundamentals of how we wanted the game played into the players. We knew we would sacrifice certain things and one of the things we sacrificed was close game scenario training.

"Richmond beat us with the last kick of the game last year. We started after that to train close game scenarios a bit more. We're far from a finished product, but our players are more equipped to deal with close games. Doesn't mean we will win them all, but we are more prepared to do so."