HAWTHORN coach Sam Mitchell has defended the form of star duo Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara, saying putting them up for trade is the "furthest thing" from his mind.
Brownlow medallist Mitchell is averaging 25.9 disposals per game this season in what is a significant drop from last year (34.3).
O'Meara's output of 20.1 disposals per game is also significantly down on last year (26.3).
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Both players are spending less time in the midfield this season in order to give the club's younger brigade a better chance of developing.
But Mitchell's 14-disposal effort in last week's 27-point loss to Essendon raised concerns about his form.
O'Meara and Mitchell were reportedly shopped around by the Hawks at the end of last season, but first-year coach Mitchell says the duo remain an important part of the club's future.
"It’s the furthest thing from my mind," Mitchell replied when asked about talk of trading the duo.
"They are really important parts of our club, of our team, of our leadership model, of our influence.
"We are trying to master our craft and make progress in the direction we’d like to go, and hold ourselves to the standard that we think will take us to finals and have the ability to win finals.
"They are going to be an important part of that."
Mitchell is still satisfied by the contribution of O'Meara and Mitchell.
"Across the last few seasons our midfield has been a work in progress and we are really still trying to get the mix right," Mitchell said.
"Tom and Jaegar are both spending less time in there but having contributions in different aspects of the game.
"I think Jaeger’s performance on the weekend was really strong.
"Tom had a day that he would prefer to do some things a bit differently, but he’s still learning the craft as a forward as well and he’s still making a contribution.
"It’s perhaps not as strong on the stat sheet as he’s had the past, but he’s still a vital player for us and an important player in that midfield group."
Hawks captain Ben McEvoy remains sidelined with a neck injury, and no date has been set on his return.
But key forward Mitch Lewis is set to return from injury for Saturday’s clash with Richmond at the MCG, while Chad Wingard will play his 200th game after overcoming illness.
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Defender Changkuoth Jiath will spend another week on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
Three straight losses have seen Hawthorn (3-5) slump to 12th, while Richmond (4-4) has risen to eighth.