Tasmanian fans at Sunday’s Hawthorn vs North Melbourne match got their last glimpse of one of the games’ greatest players and for Hawks supporters, it brought into focus that we are drawing ever closer to life without ‘the General’, Luke Hodge.
It was the stand out feature of Hawthorn’s domination of a very average North Melbourne team in what was a turgid affair. The Hawks could have easily won by 100 points if they hadn’t gotten a tad complacent during the third quarter, as this allowed North some window dressing with their 5 goal run close to three quarter time.
The fire starter for the Hawks was once more its reinvented 8-man defence which was commandeered by Jack Gunston and James Sicily as the loose men who cut North Melbourne to ribbons with their scything rebound. Their influence was solidified by the return of Luke Hodge, who marshalled the defensive structure in support. It formed an impregnable defence with everything flowing from it.
An interesting aside is how influenced Hawthorn’s defence is by the makeup of the opposition. Primarily, how water tight and devastating it is against oppositions lacking outside run as was evidenced against this Kanga’s outfit. It was a far cry from the week before where the defence was at 6’s and 7’s against the blitzing pace of Richmond. The lack of speed from North allowed the Hawks to smash down any attacking forays and, in a blink, allow their pre-eminence in uncontested football to come to the fore.
Hawthorn’s ability to spread from defence was devastating. With the lethal foot skills of its host of defensive rebounders, this allowed its outside jets like Isaac Smith and Billy Hartung to have a real say in the victory. Both started primarily on the back of the square in the set up, and when the team was in possession got on their bikes, obliterating North. It would be remiss not to mention Ricky Henderson, who might not have the speed of the aforementioned duo, but was just as pivotal with his gut running off the ball. He has been so underrated with his ceaseless running to position that is key in facilitating the teams’ transition.
The attack had a greater bite to it with Jarryd Roughead playing more forward. He has operated more in a big midfield role of late but the move offered more structure to the forward half that has previously relied primarily on second chance goals. They were still forthcoming with the Hawks’ defensive forwards once more prominent, but Roughead gave the set up a more complete look. Luke Bruest was also excellent with his brilliant front and centre work which yielded 4 goals. His performance was facilitated by having a big forward to rove to. It was clearly his best performance of the season so far, as for much of this season he has stood out for relying on too many cheap goals out the back, rather than adhering to the qualities that have made him such a feared forward force.
Ben McEvoy was once more huge in limiting the influence of North’s twin towers Todd Goldstein and Braydon Pruess. He negated their taps in the ruck and then exploited both with his around the ground work. The big ruck must be a Monty for a place in the All-Australian squad as he has been fabulous throughout the entire season.
All in all, it was a fine display from the Hawks. Our focus now turns to next week’s clash against Carlton and the selection of the best 22. After gun recruit Jaeger O’Meara returned from a long injury lay off to dominate for Box Hill, will we see him again in the senior line up, or is he likely to require more priming in the VFL? With finals unlikely, let’s hope the Hawks can make Hodge’s final 2 matches memorable ones, for all the right reasons.