2020 was a dramatic retelling of the Tortoise and the Hare for Hawthorn, cast as the villains in the classic cautionary tale. They raced ahead to a 3-1 record that included victories over a top 2 side in Brisbane and the eventual Premiers in Richmond, before taking that fateful nap that resulted in 10 losses from their next 11 games.
The most concerning part was that not a lot changed from Hawthorn’s perspective – it wasn’t a brutal injury run, or a fractured gameplan, or their senior players forgetting how to football. In hindsight, they were likely always about as good as they finished off, catching Brisbane on one of their few games outside of Queensland and the Tigers didn’t start caring until August. They simply “weren’t that good”, in Alistair Clarkson’s famous words (except reflected internally rather than directed at Geelong this time) as the chickens of years of trying to circumvent the AFL’s rebuilding cycle finally came home to roost.
Hawthorn have spent the better part of the past decade preferring to poach players rather than developing their own. I count 10 players from the Best 22 I’ve named up below, which doesn’t even include the outgoing imports in Frawley, Henderson and Scully, or the recovering Gunston and Patton. Taking this shortcut – mortgaging your future through draft picks for current established-player stock – resulted in the Hawks carrying the oldest list into 2019 and the 3rd-oldest into 2020, which is clearly not the age profile you want when you’re not making the finals in either season.
Their ladder struggles unsurprisingly extended to their fantasy output. Sitting snugly between Gold Coast and Adelaide on both the For and Against lists is not something you’d brag about on your resume or Tinder profile.
In the world of DFS specifically, Hawthorn was one of the more frustrating teams. Clarko didn’t waste a coaching opportunity when the Hawks were flailing – which was often – spitting the dummy and throwing the magnets around almost weekly. Trying to predict Burgoyne’s ever-changing role each week, or the ruck splits of ruckman-turned-backman McEvoy and his underling Ceglar, or the midfield time of Wingard, or even which end of the ground Sicily and O’Brien would line up at was a weekly headache to say the least.
I Smith, Frawley [trades, free agency]
Henderson, Scully, Stratton, Puopolo, Glass [retired]
Minchington, Golds, Jones, Ross, Walker [delisted]
Tom Phillips (COLL), Kyle Hartigan (ADE).
The Hawks made significant inroads towards balancing out their list profile by farewelling 5 of their 6 oldest players through free agency and retirement, which dropped them from the 3rd to the 7th oldest list in the league.
More impressively though, they were still able to sate their desires by bringing in outside talent in Phillips and Hartigan; but this time for cheap, with only 4th-rounders going out the door the other way. Both players fill serious voids that have recently opened up on the wing (Isaac Smith and Scully) and in key defensive posts (Frawley, Stratton and Sicily), and their cheaply-acquired services allowed the Hawks to assault the draft armed with their best arsenal of picks since before anyone knew who Cyril Rioli was.
#6 Denver Grainger-Barras – D – 48 avg from 8 games in WAFL
A top-order surprise (and the subsequent reshuffle of priorities for a few clubs on draft night) allowed the Hawks to regenerate their key defensive stocks by covering for Sicily, Stratton and Frawley, who all exit their back 6 in one swift hit. Grainger-Barras was clearly the best key defender on the draft board and the Hawks will be rapt with landing a cornerstone of their backline for the next decade. Highly capable as a lockdown type, the ability to intercept at an elite level is what set DGB apart from his draft contemporaries. He’ll definitely see senior action in 2021 – especially with the Hawks screaming out for an intercept type in the absence of Sicily – but his fantasy scoring profile is limited solely to his marking game so expect inconsistent output statistically.
#29 Seamus Mitchell – F – 49 avg from 5 games in 2019 NAB League
If the Hawks were looking to patch the holes that their outgoing veterans left, they could have done a lot worse than Mitchell as a Puopolo replacement. A small forward nominally, Seamus might have aspirations of becoming involved up the ground one day, but he’ll have to get his foot in the door as a goalsneak first. Has speed, smarts and skills, but lacks the ability to accumulate at this stage.
#35 Connor Downie – M – 60 avg from 14 games in 2019 NAB League
The shock retirement of Scully (on top of Isaac Smith’s defection) potentially gave Downie a chance to impress as a wingman during the pre-season that he might not have been gifted normally, but boy has he grasped his opportunity with both hands. Taken a round later than he probably deserved to due to Hawthorn owning his NGA rights, Downie has landed on his feet and pushed his case for an immediate Round 1 berth. With a ready-made body, a thumping left peg and an elite tank, Downie has the tools to not only earn his stripes in the senior team immediately, but also make a big splash in fantasy along the way.
#46 Tyler Brockman – M/F – 63 avg from 7 games in WAFL Colts
If Seamus Mitchell was seen as Puopolo’s heir apparent on draft night, Brockman has fast overtaken him with an impressive pre-season that saw him join fellow draftee Downie in Hawthorn’s ‘Probables’ side during their intraclub. Gifted with all the things you’d expect to find in a dedicated small forward – blistering speed, razor-sharp wits and plenty of x-factor – Brockman will be pushing hard for the final forward slot along with veteran Burgoyne and the incumbent Hanrahan.
Rookie #4 Jack Saunders – M/F – 77 avg from 6 games in SANFL Reserves
A long-term midfield prospect, Saunders will undergo a longer apprenticeship than his fellow newcomers – it’s a few steps up between SANFL Reserves and the top level.
With the Hawks conceding the most disposals of any side, you didn’t have to be surgical with your attack patterns in DFS. Ranking #1 for Key DEF’s, #2 for Key FWD’s, #4 for General FWD’s and #3 for MID’s showed fantasy brittleness right across the board, especially to outside types with Hawthorn allowing easily the most uncontested possessions of any club.
Figuring out who was playing Hawthorn, whacking a whole bunch of them into your player pool and pressing the ‘randomise’ button was a solid strategy last season. With Clarko reluctantly committing to the rebuild this year, I don’t expect to see these weaknesses reinforced significantly overnight.
The one exception was the ruck, with Hawthorn’s constantly-evolving thought process in that department leaving their DvP clear as mud. McEvoy solo was a different story to Ceglar solo, which was a different story again with all the varying combinations in between when they played alongside each other. Generally speaking though, sides that play two genuine ruckmen are almost always tougher to score against, and Hawthorn’s pre-season suggests that both are in the best 22 to take ruck contests in 2021.
5 IN FOCUS
1. James Worpel
You know that brief weightless pause you experience when changing gears as you accelerate? The perceptible void of external forces where you’re left with pure inertia, like the mechanical calm before the high velocity storm? That was Worpel’s 2020 season, where his adjusted average matched his previous year’s output of 96.7 AF exactly… which means we’re about to see what happens when he changes gears.
If you believe the club insiders and the track watchers, the inside bull has taken his game to the next level this off-season. With Tom Mitchell’s recovery dragging along after off-season shoulder surgery, Worpel is the prime candidate to take over the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively. I expect him to build on last year’s modest 66% CBA share to somewhere closer to the 75% industry standard for full-time inside types – a tantalising prospect given Worpel averaged an adjusted 107 AF when logging more than 71% CBA presence last season.
A hot take that isn’t so hot after reports of his pre-season trial games and intraclubs: Worpel will be Hawthorn’s highest-averaging fantasy player in 2021.
2. Tom Phillips
Deemed surplus to needs by a cash-strapped Collingwood, Phillips is as far opposite as you can get on that spectrum at his new club. Hawthorn have lost their 3 first-choice wingmen last year in Isaac Smith, Henderson and Scully, leaving Flip with a deserted path to as many outside minutes as he can handle this year. Which is a lot – Phillips famously took out top spot in Collingwood’s 2km time trial for 4 years running, and recently clocked in at 5th in Hawthorn’s post-Christmas trial.
It truly is all about that wing role for Phillips, who averaged 95 and 90 in the two seasons prior to last year’s demotion to a forward-line role for the Pies. I wouldn’t read too much into reports that he played some inside time in the recent hitout with the Bulldogs as they were missing Mitchell and Wingard. He’ll slide back to a wing when they’re back as the Hawks desperately need him to power their outside game in 2021.
It wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest he could be the next Lachie Hunter – Phillips averaged a massive 113 over a 6-game stretch for the Pies a few years ago.
3. Will Day
After spending time in all thirds of the ground across his 11 games for Hawthorn last year, I expect we’ll see Day settle into an important role off half-back this year with Sicily on the sidelines. While they aren’t technically the same prototype of player, Day’s scratch match report of “a performance that looked as if it was coming from a seasoned veteran rather than a youngster in just his second year of AFL footy” combined with his intercept numbers (1.9 marks to Sicily’s 2.5, plus 4.8 possessions to Sicily’s 7.2) suggests he can do a pretty convincing cosplay.
After taking a month to settle, Day averaged an adjusted 79 AF over his final 7 games last year and I think that’d be the absolute baseline for his 2021 fantasy prospects.
4. Jarman Impey
Also destined for a half-back spot based on pre-season trials, Impey will be more the slam dunk to Day’s alley-oop. While intercepting will be left to the youngsters in Day, Scrimshaw and Grainger-Barras, the line-breaking is Impey’s real estate. It’s easy to forget how influential he can be with the 2019 ACL and being eased into 2020 with a forward-line role more fresh in the mind, but Impey displayed his fantasy nous with an 82-point average over the last 10 games prior to doing his knee.
He’ll be way too cheap to ignore after averaging just 47 AF (adjusted) over his 5 outings last year. Don’t miss the boat.
5. Chad Wingard
Another pre-season of “more midfield time” articles and hype for Wingard, followed by the all-too-familiar deflation in the wake of yet another soft tissue injury (calf, this time). But you can see why we’re excited at the prospect – he averaged an adjusted 95 AF with even a modest 30% or better CBA presence, compared to just 75 AF in the remaining games without.
It doesn’t matter how much you’re burning up the track if your body can’t handle the loads, so I expect it’ll be another season of sacrificing some part of his fantasy game. Hawthorn’s compromise in 2019 was wheeling him out as an impact midfielder but capping his TOG (75% average), whereas 2020’s solution was more gametime at 86% TOG, but the majority of that spent as a forward.
If he can ever do a Hannah Montana and achieve the best of both worlds – as he did in the first and final months of 2020 (43% CBA share, 85% TOG) – the 100-point average he posted over those 8 games is too juicy to ignore in DFS.
- Scrimshaw could have easily been ahead of Day for an intercepting gig prior to hyper-extending his knee in their intraclub and putting his Round 1 availability in doubt, and he still might be. They’re completely interchangeable from the outside looking in. But I personally enjoyed his work when moved up to a wing last year in Rounds 14 and 15 (where he posted adjusted figures of 27 touches, 9 marks and 106 AF), and I think he could be thrown into that rotation with Shiels and Downie behind Phillips.
- Greaves and Hardwick are recorded as “lockdown” defenders but Hawthorn’s entire brand is built upon careful ball movement out of defence. Will scale heavily with the marks that comes with that mentality as both were key cogs in the chip-chip stuff last year.
- The latest on Tom Mitchell from the club is that he’s “eyeing off a return to contact training in the not-so-distant future”, which is extremely worrying if you’re someone who likes to read between the lines of club bullshit. Will be giving him a wide berth until he ticks the eye test with his shoulder and especially his tackling – he averaged 6.5 tackles over his elite seasons and can’t afford to lose those points.
- Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, pegging Shiels’ CBA involvement accurately is a profitable exercise. He fills in the midfield gaps around the availability of others, so target him if other contested types are missing – he averaged 99 when getting even a 35% CBA share last year.
- Moore has had a massive pre-season and looks like he’s secured a Round 1 gig. Part of the midfield rotation for the Bulldogs scratchie, he sat in the 2nd-tier bracket alongside Breust, Phillips and Cousins with some rotations forward. I like him as a low brand-name guy who can rack up if he can sneak into the inside or wing rotations when the whips are cracking.
- As mentioned above, Breust sat in the 2nd-tier of CBA guys but that’ll be knocked back down to his customary cameos once Mitchell and Wingard return. Scales heavily on snags.
- Who knows where Burgoyne plays this year after doing literally everything last season? This is probably the year where he’s no longer a lock in the 22.
- Hanrahan kicked a few snags against the Bulldogs in the scratch match, but the plaudits keep coming for Brockman. In a tight position battle for that last forward spot, unless it’s eased by injuries upstream in the midfield.
- Lewis and O’Brien have enjoyed a lot of fanfare this pre-season, especially in the intraclubs… where they don’t have a dearth of key defenders to play against. I’ll believe it when I see it from this pair.
- McEvoy as the big ruck banana with Ceglar chopping out with a rotation between the pine and the forward line was the plan in the scratch match. New skipper McEvoy already said he’s too old to shoulder a full year in the ruck and will have to play minutes at either end as needed, so take these current roles with a truckload of salt.
- The uncapped Koschitzke is this next key position cab off the rank, at both ends, but has spent most of his time in attack this pre-season. Will get his chance at some point but fresh KPP’s are generally a no-go in DFS.
- Jiath garnered a lot of buzz following his 2km time trial gong, and sits temptingly on the fringe for a half-back role. Has a fantasy game just waiting to be unlocked.
- Howe and Morrison are on the fringes of the midfield at the moment, more likely auditioning for a wing gig with Cousins’ grip on any excess inside minutes. All will score well if injuries pop up ahead of them.
- Magginess has the hype but seemingly hasn’t made any inroads on the depth chart in the off-season. Found himself being featured amongst the “Possibles” side this pre-season.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.