HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson has warned arch-rivals Essendon that their Friday night blockbuster battle is "cut-throat".
The Hawks and Bombers sit a game plus percentage outside the top eight and Clarkson said the loser of the Marvel Stadium match will drop off the pace in the run to the finals.
"If we lose this week, same as Essendon, it's a pretty cut-throat game - you start to feel like you lose contact with the group of the 8-10 sides sitting above you on the ladder," he said.
Hawthorn is sitting in 11th place on five wins and six losses at the halfway point of its season and is yet to string consecutive wins together.
Clarkson said player continuity had been an issue for the Hawks, which meant consistency – and thus wins – were tougher to come by.
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"Some of it is continuity of players. We haven't been as disrupted as the Tigers, and you say injuries aren't an excuse, but it certainly doesn't help," Clarkson said.
I'm sure there's some supporters sitting there saying 'we're liking what we're seeing in terms of the future of our footy club - Alastair Clarkson
"It makes it difficult, you have the old adage that you replace a player, but there gets to a tipping point where you miss one or two players, or even worse in Richmond's case where it's five or six key players.
"If they re-injure and they can't get continuity, that's where it disrupts your thinking where you think you've got them back in your system [and you don't]."
Star recruit Chad Wingard will be sidelined for Friday night's clash with Essendon for the third time since the start of this season due a string of minor soft tissue issues, the latest a hamstring injury.
Chad Wingard has faced form and injury battles since arriving at Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos
"He's had three or four of these tiny little niggles that have caused him to miss weeks here or there, and the concern is that he can't get any continuity with his footy. We need to work that out, and another guy gets his chance," Clarkson said.
Clarkson was cagey when asked about who was in the frame to replace Wingard, saying it would be clearer after Thursday's training session.
The Hawks have used 31 players this year, equal sixth lowest in the competition.
Other players currently out of action include veteran ruckman Ben McEvoy (ankle) and Ryan Schoenmakers (calf), while Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell has not played all year after breaking his leg in the pre-season.
"If you get some sort of continuity, it gives you the best chance to see if your best is capable. We've got some young players getting great exposure, with Tom Mitchell being out of the side, Worpel and Cousins have had a great opportunity to learn some things," Clarkson said.
"I'm sure there's some supporters sitting there saying 'we're liking what we're seeing in terms of the future of our footy club with some of these young players coming through.
"Just how quickly they can progress will [dictate] just how quickly we can challenge for silverware ... our next silverware isn't coming next week, we're realistic to know that's not the case."