Franklin to be Hawks big headache

Franklin to be Hawks big headache

There’s a zen-like quality about Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson despite the Hawks’ biggest test of the AFL season coming on Thursday night.

The three-time reigning premiers travel for a high-stakes top-of-the-ladder clash with great rivals Sydney.

Clarkson has identified the midfield as crucial to the SCG clash, and particularly whether former Hawk Lance Franklin turns up inside 50 or out of it.

But he laughed off the idea his side would need to lift their contested ball figures – on which the Hawks rank last in the league – if they are to come away with a win over the Swans.

“Contested ball is just a fancy term for everyone in the media. We don’t give a toss about that,” Clarkson said on Wednesday.

“We’ve won five contested ball contests in about two years. We’ve still won lots of games of footy.”

The Hawks will cede top spot on the ladder to the Swans with a loss but here too, Clarkson isn’t concerned.

“The media wants to declare a premiership favourite every week,” he said.

“It’s great reading for all the viewers out there … but we couldn’t give a toss.

“It’s who’s playing the best footy in September and early October.”

And that’s why Clarkson is just as unfazed by the suggestion that Hawthorn – who have six straight wins heading to Sydney – are yet to hit top gear in 2016.

“We weren’t in the greatest form this time last year either. Nor the year before that,” he said.

“It’s about chalking up the wins and trialling young players.

“Giving guys exposure to different positions on the ground and trying to work out the best mix.”

Franklin looms as Clarkson’s chief headache at the SCG.

The dominant forward pushed up the ground last week, which Clarkson said was instrumental in the Swans’ win in Geelong.

Despite not garnering a single vote from John Longmire or Chris Scott in the coaches’ player of the year award voting, Clarkson thought it was a game-changer.

“He doesn’t have to have a dominant game in terms of scoreboard pressure to have a significant influence on the contest,” he said.

“My view is he was the most significant player on the ground last week.”

The loss of Liam Shiels gives Clarkson a hole in midfield to fill, with Brendan Whitecross travelling to Sydney for what would be his first game since round six, 2015.

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