HAWTHORN has started the Sam Mitchell era in style, defeating North Melbourne by 20 points at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
With the Hawks fielding their youngest side since 2005, Jack Gunston and Mitch Lewis feasted on an undermanned and undersized North Melbourne defence to hand new coach Mitchell the perfect start to his career.
Starting its first season in 18 years without four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson at the helm, the Hawks overturned a 21-point deficit to run out 11.12 (78) to 8.10 (58) winners in what was a highly entertaining affair at a sun-baked MCG.
The Roos made much of the early running, with Jy Simpkin registering the first goal within the first minute of the game.
HAWKS v KANGAROOS Full match coverage and stats
North Melbourne took a one-point margin into quarter-time, before extending the gap beyond three goals during the second term.
Last year’s No.1 NAB AFL Draft pick Jason Horne-Francis snapped a classy goal from 30 metres out – his first at AFL level - with 10 minutes remaining before half-time, as the Roos looked to break the game open.
But late goals to Gunston and Dylan Moore cut the margin to just seven points at the main break.
The Hawks were dominant in the third quarter, but failed to capitalise on the scoreboard, kicking three goals to one, as Lewis (three goals) and Gunston (three goals) continued to wreak havoc.
Hawthorn’s experienced players came to the fore when the game was up for grabs, with Chad Wingard, who was largely unsighted for three quarters, kicking two important majors within two minutes in the early stages of the final term to gift the Hawks some breathing space.
Exciting Hawks defender Changkuoth Jiath was arguably best afield. The 22-year-old gathered 24 disposals (at 83 per cent efficiency), took five marks, had nine intercept possessions and sent the ball inside 50 on three occasions.
The Kangaroos never gave up the fight, but an early injury to key back Ben McKay left them exposed in the defensive half. McKay was replaced by Charlie Lazzaro soon after quarter-time, after being ruled out with concussion.
The Hawks’ win is their fifth consecutive round one triumph, while the Roos have now posted just one victory from their past six opening encounters
Horne-Francis hype is real
Less than 48 hours after pick No.4 Nick Daicos’ highly impressive debut for Collingwood, there was plenty of anticipation ahead of pick No.1 Jason Horne-Francis’ first time on the big stage. And the 18-year-old didn’t disappoint. The Roos’ first-ever No.1 pick, Horne-Francis looked at ease early on, gathering six touches in a promising first quarter. Horne-Francis needed just four minutes to get his first look at goal, after a strong lead and mark, but the subsequent shot from the stroke of 50m just missed. He made amends midway through the second term, however, when his classy snap goal from 30m out extended North’s lead to 15 points. The South Australian drifted out of the match, finishing with 13 possessions, but he did enough to prove he is comfortable at the elite level.
Hawks’ returning stars make mark, get through unscathed
It’s no stretch to suggest Hawthorn wouldn't have won the game without two of their best players in James Sicily and Jack Gunston. Playing his first game since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the dying minutes against West Coast in August 2020, Sicily was sublime controlling the Hawks’ defence. He finished with 27 disposals, six marks and 538 metres gained. Gunston, meanwhile, who played just one game in 2021 after undergoing surgery to fix a bulging disc in his back in December 2020, threatened to tear the game apart. He took advantage of the Roos’ small defence, booting three goals four from 18 disposals.
Is Lewis set to deliver on his potential?
Taken with pick No. 76 in 2016 NAB AFL Draft, Mitch Lewis has promised plenty in his fledgling career. Ahead of Sunday’s clash against North, Lewis had returned 47 goals in 36 matches, which is far from horrible for a developing key forward. But the glimpses he has shown in some of those games, coupled with his size (he is 198cm) and athleticism, suggested he had so much more to give. Lewis was brilliant on Sunday, taking six marks and kicking two goals in the opening quarter, before finishing three goals and nine marks (six contested).
HAWTHORN 2.4 4.7 7.9 11.12 (78)
NORTH MELBOURNE 2.5 5.8 6.8 8.10 (58)
Hawthorn: Lewis 3, Gunston 3, Wingard 2, Maginness, Moore, Newcombe
North Melbourne: Simpkin 2, Goldstein 2, Larkey 2, Horne-Francis, Mahony
Hawthorn: Jiath, Gunston, Mitchell, Lewis, Sicily, Moore
North Melbourne: McDonald, Simpkin, Davies-Uniacke, Hall
Hawthorn: Lynch (concussion), Ward (ankle)
North Melbourne: Polec (ankle) replaced in selected side by Powell, McKay (concussion)
Hawthorn: Tom Phillips (replaced Max Lynch)
North Melbourne: Charlie Lazzaro (replaced Ben McKay)
Crowd: 38,297 at the MCG