Does Hawthorn deserve to be on top?

In a season plagued with player setbacks and incomplete performances, it appeared the Hawthorn Football Club would not be serious premiership contenders in 2016.

But one thing we should all know by now is to never write off Hawthorn.

As of the end of Round 14, the Hawks find themselves on top of the ladder and they are firming as potential four-peat premiers.

Hawthorn go into their bye round sitting pretty at the top with eleven wins and three losses, a game clear of the following four equal-second sides. There’s no doubt that the shock loss for Geelong against the Saints, and Sydney’s bye round, contributed to the ladder change.

But the Hawks have still notched up the wins. Even if their season hasn’t been as flawless as recent years, they are definitely primed to have a real crack at it in September.

And honestly, that’s terrifying.

Going into the 2016 season, it appeared like it wouldn’t be all smooth sailing for Hawthorn. Their key outs looked damaging.

Star premiership forward Jarryd Roughead was first sidelined with a serious knee injury. After recovering from the knee, he then faced another setback and is now, as it is well documented, ruled out for the next year in order to focus on his cancer treatment.

Captain Luke Hodge has also had an injury plagued season. Hodge has only played five matches in 2016 after breaking his arm in Round 1 and injuring his knee in Round 6. He only made his return last week against the Suns.

Alongside these significant outs, the Hawks’ form has been shaky at best. Their consecutive three-point wins during the early part of the season, and a significant loss to the up-and-coming Giants, is testament to that.

Stats wise, they have also been below par. This week, there has been plenty of discussion about the Hawks’ appalling contested ball numbers. By Round 14, they are averaging 14.6 less contested possessions per game than their opponents and currently reside in last place for the comp in that particular category.

They have also only won the contested footy in two games this year despite their eleven wins – against West Coast in Round 2 and Fremantle in Round 8.

But does this mean Hawthorn can’t go deep into September? Well, no. In fact, it has been done as recently as 2012. In that year, Sydney were considered tenth in the contested ball department and yet still went on to win the premiership.

So in a season where it feels like anything can happen – where the premiership race is apparently wide open – should we even be surprised that Hawthorn is back up the top of the ladder?

We really shouldn’t be. They are an experienced and well-drilled club. Their coach is arguably the best in the league – and has been for the last few years – and their playing list is full of experienced heads who know what to do when the game’s on the line.

So while the Hawks have appeared to slip under the radar in 2016 – in favour for the dynamic Cats, the strong Swans, and the exciting Giants – they should be considered strong contenders just like anyone other club.

And although a Sydney win this week could see them slip to second very soon, Hawthorn’s ladder lead has definitely woken up the rest of the competition. Could 2016 once again be the ‘Year of the Hawk’?

It’s looking more and more likely.

(First published on The Roar on June 29th 2016)

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