Under the tutelage of Clarkson, the Hawks have been on of the powerhouses of the competition, having been through a couple of rebuilds, Clarkson is trying to do it again. Over the last 4 years they have yo-yoed between finalists and just falling short and having seemingly recruited shrewdly look to again be building towards another flag. Clarkson has been one of the most innovative coaches in the game since he was appointed to the Hawks and it would be foolish to think he can’t do it again, but the question, do they have the team to do it this year?

Defensively the look sound, with the recruitment of Frost and the proposed move of McEvoy back giving them flexibility and depth. This will allow Sicily to roam free and be more attacking, whilst Stratton will just do what he does. Add in Hardwick, Burgoyne, Jiath and Scrimshaw an you have a good mix of options down back.

The return of Mitchell is huge for the Hawks, I mean, how can bringing back a Brownlow medalist not be handy? He’ll look to free up O’Meara, who will be able to play more outside whilst Worpel Mitchell and Shiels can do the heavy lifting in and under. Scully has been able to complete a full preseason on that ankle; Smith is a running machine whilst Wingard looks ready to also be pushed more through the middle this year. Overall, the Hawks look to have a good mix overall.

Up forward, the recruitment of Patton and the development of Mitch Lewis has Hawks fans excited about having two promising key forwards for the first time since Franklin and Roughead. Patton looks fit, whilst Lewis has shown enough improvement over the past couple of years to think he could be in for a break-out year, so it’s hard not to be excited if you’re a Hawks fan. Add in Gunston as the mid-sized and Bruest as the small forward and you have a genuinely dangerous forward line. Puopolo adds the forward pressure but will need to hit the scoreboard more regularly I’d think to retain his place.

Ins: Sam Frost (Melbourne), Jon Patton (GWS Giants), Michael Hartley (Essendon), Will Day, Finn Maginness, Josh Morris (Draft), Emerson Jeka (Rookie Draft)

Outs: Grant Birchall (Brisbane Lions), Marc Pittonet (Carlton), Jarryd Roughead (retired), Kaiden Brand (delisted), Teia Miles (delisted), David Mirra (delisted), Darren Minchington (delisted), Tim Mohr (retired), Ryan Schoenmakers (retired)

Well, we’ll know a lot about the Hawks in the first 6 weeks of the season, with a tough run of games. First it’s Brisbane at the MCG, then a trip to Perth to take on the Dockers. Collingwood, Geelong, Carlton and West Coast follow so they are going to be tested early. They finish with the Tigers at the MCG and the Swans at the SCG so it could come down to a game on the road to decide on their finals chances.

Double-ups are against the Cats and Lions, which will be tough however they also get to play the Port, North and the Swans twice so it evens out a little there. Champion Data rate it the second hardest draw so if the Hawks are to make it, then they’ll have earnt it.

1: Can the Hawks end their final drought?
It’s been 5yrs since the Hawks have won a final. When you consider the recent success’s this club has had, that’s a long time. It’s not Essendon long time, but it’s something that will hang over the club if they make it too September again. Most galling is in both their recent series they have had two cracks of the cherry and failed in both. It’s something that they will want to rectify if they make it this year, otherwise the millstone
just gets bigger

2: Can Mitchell get back to his Brownlow form?
Broken legs are a difficult injury to come back from, and Mitchell’s was extremely severe, with both bones breaking when he did it. Nathan Brown, Nat Fyfe, and Mitch Wallis all struggled initially to come back from it, with really on Fyfe truly coming good. He’s apparently good to go for Round 1, and still showed his ability to win the footy in the opening Marsh series game, so the Hawks will be confidant he’ll play all season. Here’s hoping he can return to his best form as the Hawks will need him too if they want to push for finals.

3: Can Patton and Lewis become ‘scary’?
Both are 198cm, both are strong, both can mark. If the can fire, then they could become a nightmare for opposition defences. The question is, can they fire? Patton is coming off his 3rd knee reconstruction and played little to no football last season. He’s trimmed down a lot and looks fit, but training and preseason is not AFL standard football in terms of pace, so the question is can he firstly get up to AFL pace quickly? And secondly, can hit slot into Hawthorn’s game plan?
Lewis, well he’s entering his 3rd season, he’s got 20 goals to his name and whilst he’s shown promise at times, he’s yet to really grab a game like a big forward should. With Patton there he should get the 2nd key defender which could allow him an easier time that last year when he copped the best.
The talent is there with these two that they could be a scary proposition for opposition sides, but at this stage there are more questions than answers so the jury is out. Hawks fans will be hoping it works, as it has the potential to change the clubs forward structure for many years.

4: What will Clarko do this year?
Already there is a change in game plan from the Hawks, with a faster, more direct style of play being shown in the early games. With two key forwards it’s what they should do as it’s hardly rocket science, get the ball down to your dangerous forwards quickly and let them compete one on one. The Hawks have been more methodical, more precise over their recent successful years and when it’s clicked it’s allowed them to move the ball quickly and efficiently. When it’s off, it means slow ball movement and congested forward lines, which is why they have struggled to kick 100+ scores in recent years. He’s a thinker and an innovator Clarko, so he’ll have something up his sleeve.

5: Will McEvoy back actually work?
Not many teams would consider moving their No.1 ruck in a full-time key defender at such a late stage in their career. They trialed it last year last in the season with some success, and it looks like they liked what the saw. In a lot of ways, it makes sense. He’s one of the best marks in the game, he’s uses the ball well for a big fella and reads the play well. He’ll be effective when the high ball comes in, especially against the tall forwards like Lynch, Kennedy et al, but does he have the pace to go with the bigger forwards on the lead? Also, if you were moving McEvoy back as a key defender, then why recruit Frost? You’d assume he’s been promised game time.
The other question is, when he’s your best ruckman, does it really make sense to move him? Whilst Ceglar is certainly handy enough in the ruck, and rucks better one out as opposed to in partnership, McEvoy is the more reliable ruckman with his ability to mark around the ground and is dangerous when rested forward.
The question is, will the Hawks benefit more from McEvoy back as opposed to McEvoy in the ruck? Time will tell but it’s going to be interesting viewing this season

B: Ben Stratton, James Frawley, James Sicily
HB: Jack Scrimshaw, Ben McEvoy, Changkuoth Jiath
C: Isaac Smith, James Worpel, Tom Scully
HF: Chad Wingard, Mitch Lewis, Jack Gunston
F: Paul Puopolo, Jon Patton, Luke Bruest
Foll: John Ceglar, Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Mitchell
Int: Shaun Burgoyne, Sam Frost, Liam Shiels, Ricky Henderson

The Hawks were one of the form teams in the comp at seasons end last year. They had beaten the Giants and the Eagles in the last 3 weeks and were looking like a genuine finals team. Sadly, for them though they weren’t in the finals and as such, it was largely a wasted season for them in the end.
They look to have strength across every line this season, though the loss of Blake Hardwick is going to be felt in defence. He’s a quality user of the football, hard as nails and has been one of the best small defenders in the league over the past few seasons.

With the recruitment of Frost, and McEvoy’s move back, it will free up Sicily to fly third man up and be the creative outlet from defence that all sides need. If Scrimshaw can also stay fit then they have s strong marking and rebounding defence, a defence that has already been one of the stingiest in recent years.

The Midfield will be improved with Mitchell’s return and with Worpel stepping up, along with O’Meara, they have a starting midfield that can match any in the game. Scully, Henderson and Smith add the outside run, whilst the probability of Wingard having more midfield minutes will offer more class through the middle.

The forward set up looks dangerous on paper, but as we’ve seen with the Hawk, they like to get numbers back, which means they are regularly outnumbered up forward, bombing long to their smaller players against bigger defenders. They have failed to consistently kick big scores and rarely kick 100 these days.

In Clarko, they have the best coach in the game, they have a good mix of youth and experience and they have improved from last year. I’m not sure they are in the top 5 or 6 of the comp at this stage, but they are certainly in the finals mix in what looms as an even season. At best they should sneak in to 7 or 8 but will be in the wash of teams fighting it out come seasons end.