The end of January is the perfect time to dust off the crystal ball and make a few predictions for Hawthorn in 2019.
1) Chad Wingard will win a place in the All Australian team as a midfielder
The recruitment of Wingard from Port Adelaide was viewed by many as a means to improve the forward line. I take a different view. The ability of Wingard is widely touted but his untapped potential as a damaging midfielder is rarely touched on. His skill and burst speed away from pack situations along with goal kicking potential is just what the team needs. Kicking 25 in a season as a midfielder would be a definite possibility.
If not for the unfortunate season-ending broken leg for midfield king pin Tom Mitchell, the combination of Wingard and Jaeger O’Meara would have potentially been the most damaging midfield duo in the game. Both share similar qualities and are deadly dangerous as resting forwards.
The injury to Mitchell leaves a gulf the size of the Grand Canyon and I fully expect Wingard to play a leading role in trying to fill this void.
This will culminate in a place in the All Australian team as a midfielder.
2) James Worpel will struggle in 2019
The loss of Tom Mitchell to a season-ending broken leg was always going to have a profound effect on the team’s prospects. The biggest problem will be the impact this has on others. Mitchell takes a lot of pressure off other midfielders due to the attention he demands. His absence will no doubt mean more attention is paid to others. The youngsters in the midfield are likely to wear the brunt of this and I expect James Worpel to struggle the most.
3) James Sicily will kick 40 goals as a forward
If not for injury in 2018, James Sicily would have been part of the All Australian team as an attack-minded defender. Since being moved to the zone-off role in the second half of 2017, Sicily has excelled in this area. His intercept marking rivals the best in the AFL and he is equally adept at setting up play on the rebound out of defence. The damaging nature of his daring when taking the game on and impeccable foot skills give oppositions cold sweats.
Sicily’s long term injury during the second half of 2018 saw Ben Stratton inserted in this zone-off role. The ‘mulleted one’ not only filled this position with due aplomb but raised the possibility of him continuing in this capacity in 2019. This would be supported by the return to fitness of Grant Birchall.
It would also allow Sicily to be moved forward where he would be a match up nightmare. Sicily could play the traditional lead/kick role as an old style full forward or kick goals from way out as the final chain in transition as a high half forward.
4) We will hear ‘why not Jack Gunston ‘ throughout 2019
I fully expect Liam Shiels to become Hawthorn’s next captain. He has been primed for the role for a long time. On achieving this honour he will do a more than admirable job. The rub is that Jack Gunston will stand out as the team’s best onfield leader, leading to debate over why he was not given the captaincy.
5) Conor Nash will steal headlines as a ‘revolutionary’ figure
The defensive forward role is highly valued in the modern age. It is usually the domain of small marauding types who never give defenders room to breathe. They create crucial second chance goals through their pressure acts along with stifling the opposition’s rebound out of defence.
Nash is a tantalizing prospect in this position. He has the pace and desperation to rival any other player in this role with his elite tackling. What’s appealing about this is that, at 6’6”, he would also offer a key target when the ball enters the forward 50. His ability to take a mark or crash a pack in contested marking contests, as well as applying pressure to suffocate the ball when it hits the ground, would be invaluable.
6) The ‘master’ will have an ‘apprentice’
The return of Sam Mitchell as an assistant coach is a great coup for the club. The profound role he played in the West Coast Eagles’ flag success was evident in the rise of many of their midfielders to prominence. It seems inevitable he will have a similar effect on many players at Hawthorn in his new position as midfield coach.
James Cousins will stand out.
Cousins is an inside midfielder who is a natural ball winner. He has very good hands in close and is “old school” in his dexterity on either foot. In many respects his qualities remind me of Sam Mitchell.
I can see Cousins being a focus for Sam’s coaching. The injury to Tom Mitchell dictates the need to find an inside midfielder to fill the immense void. The development of Cousins, while not in any way replacing Titch’s effect, will provide the team with a valuable component.
Roll on March 23!!