Hawthorn Hawks / Past, Present And/Or Future

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Past, Present And/Or Future

Written by David Nash (@dkn17) on 12 August 2017

Hawthorn has made just the one change for this Sunday's game against the Kangaroos.

Brendan Whitecross makes way for Luke Hodge returning from suspension and although the change may not seem that significant, there might be something more to be read into. It may be the theme for the remaining three rounds. 

After losing to Richmond, the Hawks small chance at finals all but disappeared. Despite the Top Eight chance still being mathematically possible, winning the remaining games of football isn't going to do much for the 'Present'. However, it could still do plenty for both the 'Past' and the 'Future'.

The Hawks have a number reasons to continue winning; no top draft picks, club champions retiring, young players creating a culture, a need to look attractive to future players and of course, a faint hope of September action.

With that said, the football department will also have a number of other factors they need to juggle before the season is over. Looking at Whitecross, who is contracted for 2018, he may be the first of many who are seen as safe for next season and therefore make way for those who are not. 

There are essentially six groups of players from the current list, all who are in different positions and all who may play (or be rested) in the remaining rounds purely because of what their future holds. 

The Free Agents

With eight years of service, the first two players to discuss will almost certainly play the last three games. As Restricted Free Agents, they are free to sign elsewhere after this season but Hawthorn also has the right to match any offer and force a trade. Taylor Duryea has reinvented himself since the bye and might have saved his place on the Hawks list or even in the AFL. While Ryan Schoenmakers has still struggled to find a true place in this side and will go into the offseason unsure of his future.

The Hawks, however, must play these two players for the rest of the season in order to truly evaluate where their future lies. They may see enough to keep them around, perhaps boost their value on the open market or finally be comfortable to let them walk. Whichever occurs, the Hawks will be in a much better place to let it happen if they let them see the season out. 

The Uncontracted 30+

Although technically also Free Agents, the next three get a new group all to themselves. All three would have gone into Season 2017 thinking it might be there last and it might be the oldest of the group that remains. Shaun Burgoyne has been superb this season and deserves another contract if he wants to play on. Named this week, I would be tempted to nurse him through the rest of the season to avoid a late injury that hi-jacks another season. He will want to play in the next guys last game, so perhaps a rest against Carlton. 

Luke Hodge has already announced his retirement and returns this week to likely play out the final three games. Not returning this week is Josh Gibson, who may also be set to retire. Depending on how things sit before Round 23, he might get a chance to say goodbye along with Hodge against the Western Bulldogs. 

The Uncontracted Kids

Along with the five uncontracted players above, there are a number of Hawks players under 24 years of age who aren't currently contracted beyond this season. James Sicily is perhaps the highest profile of this group of seven and has done himself no harm with his recent form. Although unlikely to be rested, the Hawks don't need to know any more about Sicily for now. Billy Hartung and Tim O'Brien however, do still need to show more for Hawthorn or even other AFL clubs. They should play all remaining games in 2017, so the Hawks staff can properly assess where to go to from here. 

Blake Hardwick and Kade Stewart have certainly shown enough when given games, so their uncontracted status is not due to potential delisting. Although more games will be beneficial for next season, perhaps they are rested in favour of some of the following names also without a current deal. Dallas Willsmore debuted earlier in the year before disappearing again and needs another chance to show what he can do before possibly being cut, while Kieran Lovell has also been starved of opportunity and could be given a late game with the future in mind. 

The Uncontracted Misfits

The final batch of uncontracted players can only be described as the 'misfits', with no real theme among the group. Jack Fitzpatrick isn't going to show anything the Hawks don't already know and is unlikely to see a Senior game before the year is out due to concussion issues. Nor is Jonathan Ceglar, who is also uncontracted but unable to play for his future due to a current knee injury. Ricky Henderson joined the Hawks for this season and has certainly done enough to tempt them into another deal. Having said that, he isn't going to show anything the club isn't already aware of and could join Burgoyne and others in the resting group. 

The remaining players in this group have an unconfirmed contract status past this season. Ben McEvoy doesn't need to prove anything but hasn't re-signed (at least publicly) with the Hawks since joining via trade from St. Kilda and must be out of contract soon. Ditto Jonathan O'Rourke since joining from the Giants in 2014, who does have plenty to prove but is currently out through injury too. While Kurt Heatherley has shown promising signs at times this season but could also be out of contract after re-signing in 2015 for an unconfirmed amount of years. Look for McEvoy to take a rest and Heatherley to be a potential late change in this week. 

The Intriguing

Two guys who have been in the best 22 recently are Will Langford and Kaiden Brand. Both have been serviceable but are far from cemented in the best side when the overall list is healthy. Despite that fact, they are contracted for next season and therefore could make way in upcoming weeks for guys in similar positions who need time. Paul Puopolo is certainly one of those, who is close to returning from injury. There is a possibility the Hawks rush him back into the team, as one of their few trade chips and a value that is very low due to recent time missed. 

Big men Tyrone Vickery and Marc Pittonet are almost at opposite ends in their career arcs but could also be brought in to see what value they might have for the Hawks next season. The Vickery experiment has not worked so far but Hawthorn may like to see if it still has life, while Pittonet is the sole young ruckmen on the list and in desperate need of game time. Speaking of which, Jaeger O'Meara returns to foot this weekend and although he might not play in the AFL before the year is out, any game time is good for both player and club. 

The Rehab Group

Bringing up the rear is the remainder of the injury list, all of which are done for the season. Cyril Rioli should be solely focused on returning in 2018, as the player he was in 2016 and let this year go. James Frawley also had a 2017 to forget and will be keen to come back next season to play a role in the revamped backline. 

Fellow backmen Grant Birchall and Ben Stratton missed plenty of time this season too and both were put out to pasture after trying to unsuccessfully return. While Birchall's return was likely to sure up a rather young back six, Stratton's may have had far more personal forms reasons and he may struggle to find his place again in the best 22. Finally, James Cousins was unfortunately ruled out for the season with shoulder surgery after a surprising start to his young career. 

Joining all the above-mentioned players, including Brendan Whitecross, is "The Rest" group. Senior players Roughead, Smith, Bruest, Shiels, Gunston, and Mitchell are all likely to play out the season along with young guns Howe, Miles, Burton and Glass.

The even younger brigade of Nash, Hanrahan, Lewis, and Morrison are all likely to wait until next season for their Senior debut. 

With all that in mind, the Hawks will need to juggle the importance of winning with the need to setup for next season. Which means any late changes on Sunday plus the final two games, should have the following in mind.

In: Hodge, Gibson, Heatherley, Duryea, Schoenmakers, Puopolo, Hartung, O'Brien, Vickery, Pittonet. 

Out: Henderson, Burgoyne, Langford, Brand, Whitecross, Sicily, Hardwick, McEvoy. 

There is a mix there of taking care of the present, with one eye on the past and future too.

The Hawks will want to win every remaining game, particularly if the finals are still even a remote possibility. However, as Alastair Clarkson has preached all season long, it should not be done at the expense of next season and beyond. The next piece of silverware is the main priority for the Hawks and they need to make decisions based around that.