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How a stint in the VFL pushed young Hawk to new heights

Young Hawk Mitchell Lewis has kicked 12 goals from eight games this season - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Mitchell Lewis
Young Hawk Mitchell Lewis has kicked 12 goals from eight games this season

THERE was a collective groan when Hawthorn sent promising key forward Mitch Lewis back to the VFL after Hawthorn's latest loss to Brisbane in round 11.

The #SwitchtoMitch social media war cry had to be temporarily shelved, too.

Lewis had kicked two goals and hauled in three contested marks that night against the Lions, in just his eighth career AFL game. So what was the problem?

Mitch Lewis is seen as Jarryd Roughead's successor at Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos

According to coach Alastair Clarkson, it was "a whole host of things", including his running patterns.

Lewis' competitiveness – a trait AFL recruiters constantly scrutinise when analysing key-position prospects – is also believed to have been among the reasons.

The 20-year-old, also a highly talented golfer, spent a month out of the senior side and played three VFL matches before earning a recall for the round 16 clash with Collingwood.

Regardless of your take on Lewis' demotion, especially knowing Jarryd Roughead is retirement-bound, there is no arguing with the results since he returned from his state league sabbatical.

He gave Hawthorn the lead for good in his first game back, with an accurate set shot midway through a pressure-packed final term, to prove he's also made of the right stuff mentally.

Mitch Lewis' leap in form

STATISTIC

ROUNDS 5-11

ROUNDS 16-17

Disposals

8.8

16

Goals

1.2

2.5

Marks

4.5

6.0

Contested marks

2.0

3.5

Marks inside 50

1.7

3.5

"It's very uncommon for a key-position player, in particular, to just come in and grasp it straight away," Clarkson said this week.

"It's a steep learning curve. You see ruckmen taking until 24 or 25 years of age until they really 'get it', in terms of mastering their craft.

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"Key forward is a very difficult position to play, particularly the way the game's played nowadays, with so little scoring and such difficulty for them to get in one-on-one marking contests and stuff.

"They're going to have their ebbs and flows and ups and downs but, by and large, we've been pleased the learning curve for him has continued to just progress that way (up)."

Hawthorn is increasingly being linked to contracted Greater Western Sydney forward-ruck Jon Patton, as AFL.com.au first reported in April, so Lewis will likely have more support from next year.

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Whether the Patton trade eventuates remains to be seen, but either way Lewis is a major part of whatever the Hawks' forward line looks like into the future.

The former Calder Cannon encouragingly appears to have heeded the message behind his VFL stint, even if two matches is a miniature sample size.

Lewis hasn't won more one-on-one contests in that time, so there's room for more growth, but he's getting to more of them and, crucially, isn't losing as many of them.

Mitch Lewis' one-on-one numbers

ROUNDS

OFFENSIVE CONTESTS

MARK WIN

WIN

NEUTRAL

LOSS

MARK LOSS

5-11 (six games)

20

3 (15%)

3 (15%)

12 (60%)

5 (25%)

2 (10%)

16-17 (two games)

9

1 (11.1%)

2 (22.2%)

6 (66.7%)

1 (11.1%)

1 (11.1%)

Making his development even more interesting is the fact he often has the opposition's No.1 defender to deal with.

It was Harris Andrews against Brisbane, while Lewis is likely to again do battle with Geelong's dual club champion Mark Blicavs on Sunday, as he did in round five.

Lewis remains eligible for a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination, too, and a repeat of the past fortnight is likely to score him one, but he's just concerned about maintaining his place.

"It's good to have an impact. If I can compete and bring the ball to ground firstly – and clunk a couple as well – that's just trying to play my role," Lewis told the club's website last week.

"So if I can do that each and every week, hopefully I keep my spot in the side.

"We were looking around today and it's very young with 'Nashy' (Conor Nash) and Ollie (Hanrahan) down there as well, and even Tim O'Brien with a different role today.

"But the young guys are starting to take over and the energy is really good, so it's a good place to be."