HAWTHORN are three and one, we need some challengers – and we do, four teams are cherry ripe to prevent the four-peat.
Preseason the pundits are requested for their predictions of the year ahead and rather uncreatively the reigning premier is chosen ad nauseam. Sure, they’ve won it most recently and therefore their credentials are sound yet it’s the obvious choice, the overly obvious choice.
Yet those predictions so far are looking just fine as the Hawks have navigated the first month of football with three wins. However it has not not been smooth sailing, it could have so easily been three losses.
The Bulldogs played out of their skin and had the Hawks for the taking, and then most recently the Saints were a straighter Patty McCartin set shot away from the upset of the year.
Make no mistake, Hawthorn are a genuine flag contender, no surprises there, but the good news for those looking for some variety on the premiership dais come the spring is that there are four real challengers who have the Hawks in their sights.
First up is their fellow grand finalist from last year in the West Coast.
The Eagles have got everything going. Other than a poor performance in the Grand Final replay there is nothing to suggest they won’t be there when the whips are cracking and everything to suggest that in five months’ time they are more than capable of going one better.
The forward line looks as potent as any, the midfield is smashing teams left right and centre, the defence is bulletproof and bolstered by welcome 2015 absentees and scarily Nic Natanui looks to have developed further.
Their dismantling of Richmond was almighty and powerful and the only real question mark for Adam Simpson’s men is replicating their best form on the ground that matters –the MCG.
Crucially the Eagles have two MCG games in three weeks upcoming in July against the lowly Carlton and Collingwood so that will give them some chance to refine the necessary gameplan to improve on their last two MCG hit outs.
The Eagles were always going to be a clear contender to Hawthorn, but these other three not so much. Especially not Adelaide but the Crows are a red hot go.
Don Pyke has come in and fine-tuned the existing Phil Walsh style into something that not only negates the loss of Patrick Dangerfield but it makes them even greater than their 2015 potential.
The forward line is unrivalled and not even a staunch Hawthorn defence would be able to combat it. Their backline is rather unheralded and underappreciated and the midfield, boosted by the improvements in Rory Laird, Matt Crouch amongst others along with Sam Jacobs is on fire already.
Regardless the result of this coming Friday night the Crows are still building, yet their performances to date, the Showdown, the crushing of Richmond and then the clutch win of last Saturday against Sydney gives Adelaide real validation; they’re coming in a big way.
The only team to defeat Adelaide this year is North Melbourne, perennial preliminary finalists and this year, even though its early, might be the year they go at least one step further, if not two.
Their offensive power is super impressive, tall forwards in form, utterly dangerous small forwards and the midfield of Jack Ziebell, Nick Dal Santo, Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow, Daniel Wells et al are finally looking like the group that will win big finals.
Thus far their offence has been the wallpaper over some defensive cracks but if they can settle that, considering the rest of their game looks to be a notch up on last year, they are a real show to dethrone Hawthorn.
The final contender isn’t Geelong. Whilst they have the potential to be the best bet to bring down the Hawks, the early signs are of a collective that is indeed impressive on paper but on the turf where it matters it’s not yet gelling. The off-season recruits all came with high reward but also with high risk and that can’t be ignored.
The other side capable who now might find it tough is the Western Bulldogs. So much about their style is to slingshot with pace and exquisite skills off the halfback line and their two greatest exponents of either skill, Jason Johannisen and Bob Murphy respectively, are both out for extended periods.
It leaves a lot now to Matthew Boyd, Shane Biggs and Matt Suckling who are accomplished enough to ensure a similar season to last year but that ability to improve to top four could now be a task too tough.
So the final contender, the real smoky, is the GWS Giants.
Port Adelaide are in some strife, that much we know. However, the performance by the Giants on the weekend to dismantle them was equally clinical and astounding and what should have been a 20-goal win should send warning signals to the rest of the competition – this side means business.
Almost without anyone else noticing they have compiled quite ever such a compelling backline, marshalled by the experience of Phil Davis and Heath Shaw who are in All-Australian form. But it gets better.
Their midfield is scary good and will be the best midfield in the game sooner rather than later. Shane Mumford, Callan Ward, Ryan Griffen and Dylan Shiel are all elite, Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield, Toby Greene and even Tom Scully all carry above average potential and are playing to that level right now.
Their forward line combines tremendous talls in Jon Patton and Jeremy Cameron with a Norm Smith medallist in Steve Johnson who could be the final piece in their premiership puzzle.
It is only April but the Giants should be three-one and have already beaten the Hawks once last year; they are one hell of a scary proposition for no matter now the opponent, most especially at home.
Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson has conceded his side needs to improve because their current output won’t be enough if they want that fourth flag in a row
And his words mean more than the previous couple of years because at this early stage West Coast, Adelaide, North Melbourne and the GWS are eyeing off their crown with real justification – the Hawks have a real fight on their hands.