News filtered through on Tuesday of James Sicily’s re-signing with the Hawthorn Football Club until the end of 2020.
This announcement has me torn.
The decision to re-sign Sicily is a fitting reward for his outstanding performance throughout this season. He has been a key figure in the Hawks’ turnaround this year, since being sent to play in defence. Playing as the loose man in defence, he has startled onlookers with his definitive displays, especially in the areas of intercept marking and rebounding out of defence. His ability to step in traffic to get free and fully utilise his outstanding foot skills has been brilliant. It is no wonder he has been one of the stand-out figures in the AFL this season.
In the month leading up to the Carlton match, he had taken more marks than any other AFL player, averaging 11 marks per match. In his first real full season, he averaged 4.54 marks per game, this season this has increased to 6.61. Where things have really changed for him is in the number of times he has won the ball. Last season he averaged 11.45 disposals per game with 5.45 of them coming from contested possessions. This season, he is averaging 17.83 disposals per game (a massive increase) yet still a similar number (5.72) coming from contested possessions. This means he is getting free of his opponents more often and his team mates are trusting him with the ball more often, using him as an option.
An interesting aside is how well Sicily’s elite skills have covered Hawthorn’s lack of outside pace. He has the ability to penetrate by foot and hit up targets with laser-like delivery from 50 metres plus. Having similarly skilled long kickers playing alongside him such as Blake Hardwick and Jack Gunston has provided a further line breaking factor to the team.
The reason I am torn about the decision to re-sign him, however, is that he has a pretty major downside, that being his incendiary mindset. He not only fires up with opposition players, he has been involved in altercations on the ground with team mates and has been caught out showing a distinct lack of respect to on-field leaders who have tried to guide and calm him. Things reached a boiling point last week in the match against Carlton where he was targeted by Jed Lamb. These are tactics not previously seen used against Sicily as up until now he has had the freedom of the zone-off role with no direct opponent. Jed Lamb’s close checking attention caused Sicily to totally lose the plot and in turn, cost the team as a result of his many churlish and undisciplined acts.
Fans have excused Sicily’s fiery nature and largely lauded it under the auspices of ‘passion’, a term the club embraced on offering the new contract to Sicily. The flip side of taking the passion line is the ambiguity that goes hand in hand. Focussed passion is the basis of any great team but passion delving into irrationality can cause a fracturing divide. Sicily’s demeanour exudes the latter. It draws to mind Mitchell Thorp and his similar character traits and how, sadly, this eventuated in all his talent and potential being laid to waste. It seems the club thinks it can work on and mould Sicily’s flaws and harness his obvious talents. I’m sure everyone at Hawthorn is hoping that he can also work on this issue himself as he matures.
In looking forward, the retirement of Luke Hodge looms large. The guiding hand that Hodge affords to control Sicily is obvious, but the greater factor is how expertly Hodge structures up the defence which helps facilitate the loose role that Sicily has excelled in.
Without the ‘General’ it shines a focus on someone else to assume a similar organisational role in defence. If this is lacking it will give rise to teams targeting Sicily, as the Blues did, which would no doubt incite the same kind of meltdown which proved so costly for the Hawks. Oppositions would have seen this and no doubt would have fully schooled themselves on it. A huge target will now be on Sicily’s head, challenging him to deal with it, and causing one to question whether he can.
In closing, the club had no choice but to re-sign Sicily. His talent is obvious and his potential is immense. He has the qualities that could see him develop into a star of the AFL. His on-field antics aside, the Hawks would have been remiss if they handed all that talent on the trade table to an opposition club.