To say that the week leading up to the game against the Bulldogs was a sad one would be an understatement. Hawthorn fans learned that Cyril Rioli would be retiring from the game with immediate effect to be with his family in NT. While the reasons are completely understandable, it is saddening to note that we will not witness the greatness and magic of one of the best players from Hawthorn’s decade of dominance. I suppose this is a discussion for another article.
Hawthorn still had a job to do against a resurgent Bulldogs outfit who were fresh off a win against Geelong. The game started as an arm wrestle, and the Doggies seemed like they would get the jump on Hawthorn. Thanks to an unmarked Jason Johannisen running amok, the Doggies pegged it back each time the Hawks got their noses in front. In fact, in the second quarter, the Doggies were dominant in play but unable to capitalise on the scoreboard. After going into the break 2 points behind, Hawthorn re-emerged as a completely different unit. From the first bounce of the third quarter until the final siren, they blew away the Doggies who simply had no answers. Stars who were quiet in the first part of the game more than made up for it, resulting in a thumping 63-point win.
Luke Breust was impressive, and it is great to see him back in form. Hawthorn need him to fire regularly, especially now given Cyril will not be returning to the side. Breust provided the steadying hand when things were tight, and created plenty of opportunities once the levee broke. Kicking 6 goals in a game is great, but to do it with 24 touches, 15 contested possessions, 8 marks and 7 tackles is elite. Where a lot of other players would have looked to add to their tally, Breust was happy to set his teammates up with goals. It is this selflessness and team-first mindset that make him invaluable.
Jaeger O’Meara was brilliant in the first half when going was tough. He improves each week, and it is pleasing that the fruits of his hard work and commitment starting to pay off. With Tom Mitchell kept relatively quiet, it was great to see the workload spread a lot more evenly amongst the midfield. And when I say Mitchell was quiet, I mean he was quiet by his standards, but still gathered 27 touches, 15 contested possessions, 9 clearances and 7 tackles. Isaac Smith made up for a quiet first half by racking up possessions and metres in the second, while Liam Shiels was as reliable as ever.
Dan Howe was impressive, and probably had one of his best outings to date. After a disappointing effort last week, it was great to see him bounce back and account for Marcus Bontempelli, while also gathering 25 touches and a goal. The Hawks defence worked well after some initial hiccups, and Ben Stratton was instrumental in keeping the Bulldogs forwards accountable. While he does not rack up huge numbers, Stratton is fantastic with his versatility and his presence of mind.
After a fiery start, James Sicily regained his composure and was present to intercept anything that came into Hawthorn’s defence in the second half. Harry Morrison played well too, and had a key role in negating JJ’s influence later in the game.
I was happy to see our forward line firing together as a unit. Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston kicked 4 goals apiece, and were relentless with their efforts and pressure. In fact, I will say that Hawthorn’s tackling pressure in the second half is the best it has been in the past few rounds. The entry into attack was also more measured and meaningful, allowing the talls to contest and mark, or bring the ball to ground for the smalls to get involved.
The lowlight of the win was losing Ben McEvoy to a fractured cheekbone. Sadly, the reason I love him in our side is the reason that has put him out of it; and it is his 100% commitment and physicality across 4 quarters of the game. I am not predicting all doom and gloom, and it provides opportunities for Marc Pittonet or one of the others to step up. What Hawthorn will miss is McEvoy’s relentless pressure around the contest and his intensity.
With a win like this, it is easy to get carried away. However, as I have always said, with this current side, it has to be one week at a time. They still have a bit to go before they work cohesively as a complete unit. We need to take each game as it comes. Hawthorn have a great chance to make finals if we keep the form, and I would love to see us there for the priceless experience it provides younger players.
Playing Brisbane in Tasmania will see the Hawks go in favourites. It is not a game to take lightly, however. Four consistent quarters and same evenness in spread of workload should see us through. Go Hawks!
WESTERN BULLDOGS 4.1 7.4 7.5 9.5 (59)
HAWTHORN 6.0 7.2 14.6 19.8 (122)
Western Bulldogs: Wallis 3, Hunter 2, Schache, Gowers, Biggs, Daniel
Hawthorn: Breust 6, Roughead 4, Gunston 4, Smith 2, Morrison, O’Meara, Howe
Western Bulldogs: Johannisen, Hunter, McLean, Dunkley, Crozier
Hawthorn: Breust, Gunston, O’Meara, Howe, Smith, Sicily, Shiels
Western Bulldogs: Hunter (ankle), Naughton (ankle)
Hawthorn: McEvoy (head)
Umpires: Dalgleish, Harris, McInerney
Official crowd: 35,320 at Etihad Stadium