HAWTHORN is hopeful key forward Mitch Lewis will recover from a back injury in time for the club's season-opener, but whether he can leapfrog round one bolter Jacob Koschitzke for a spot in the side is another story.
Lewis was a last-minute withdrawal from Saturday's AAMI Community Series victory over North Melbourne after suffering from back spasms in the warm-up, with Koschitzke producing an outstanding six-goal haul in his absence.
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The 196cm youngster, who has never played an AFL game, was the star of the show at Arden Street alongside first-year forward Tyler Brockman – who kicked three goals – as both pressed unlikely claims for round one debuts.
"It's hard not to pick him when he's kicked six goals," Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said of Koschitzke's chances.
"We'll wait and see what the balance of the side is. We play Essendon in round one and they'll play Geelong (on Saturday night) and we'll have a look at the balance of their side and try to determine what we'll do.
"But kicking six goals in the last trial game, it doesn't hurt when you're putting your hand up for selection in round one."
Koschitzke's performance would have eased growing Hawthorn nerves over the state of the side's forward line, with Lewis' withdrawal adding to a summer back injury that will keep best and fairest winner Jack Gunston sidelined for the start of the season.
"Mitch just had a back spasm," Clarkson said.
"He played particularly well last week against the Western Bulldogs and against some good defenders. He had a really valuable game for us. But he just had a back spasm in the warm-up.
"We're hoping that will settle OK, but it wasn't good enough for him today. Particularly on ground balls, he was OK in the air, but anything he needed to do on ground level wasn't any good for us. We thought, 'why take the risk?'
"Hopefully, with the two weeks, he'll be fit and firing and ready to go for round one."
North Melbourne blooded its first four picks from last year's NAB AFL Draft – Will Phillips, Tom Powell, Charlie Lazzaro and Phoenix Spicer – during the 39-point defeat at Arden Street on Saturday.
Powell was perhaps the pick of the bunch, racking up 15 disposals to half-time, while Lazzaro played the majority of the contest as Phillips and Spicer were each introduced at three-quarter time.
Speaking afterwards, first-year coach David Noble said he wouldn't be apprehensive about blooding any of the aforementioned players for a round one debut against Port Adelaide provided they are in his best team.
"It depends on where we're going to play them, but no (we wouldn't have any doubts about playing the youngsters)," Noble said.
"If they're physically and mentally ready to go and their form is good, then they will vie for a spot like anybody else. If you're going to put them in against a hardened midfield, you just have to be careful as to the timing.
"Port Adelaide is a hardened team, we know that. But what they do bring is energy, they bring speed, they bring versatility. That's good for us."
North Melbourne is hopeful of regaining Ben Cunnington (concussion), Jed Anderson (calf) and Jared Polec (hamstring) for the clash against Port Adelaide, though Trent Dumont (calf) is unlikely to feature.
It leaves the Kangaroos with an intriguing headache ahead of the clash, with Noble set to balance whether all three can return straight away having missed both pre-season fixtures against St Kilda and now Hawthorn.
"You do (have to balance it)," Noble said.
"It's only Phoenix Spicer's first quarter, Will Phillips did really well, Charlie Lazzaro has played all the way through, Tom Powell has played all the way through, Dom Tyson has put his hand up … I think we'll be OK for numbers.
"It will be nice to have those guys, but we won't rush them."