Hawthorn kick off the second part of their premiership campaign against Adelaide on Thursday night, determined to make up for lost ground.
After an inconsistent start to the season, the reigning premiers recorded back-to-back wins for the first time in their last match before the bye.
The Hawks go into the clash with the Crows sitting in sixth spot with six wins and coach Alastair Clarkson admits they have a fight on their hands to push inside the top four.
“We’re probably one or two wins beneath where we’d like to be,” Clarkson said on Wednesday.
“We’ve played some good footy throughout the course of the year but we’ve just been poor in a couple of significant patches of games.
“We’re going to have to play a little bit of catch up in the second half of the season – we’re aware of that.
“We’re going to have to work hard. There are some good sides in it and the competition does seem to be a little bit more even than what it’s been in the past.”
Premiership defender Grant Birchall didn’t make the trip to Adelaide as he continues to recover slowly from an ankle injury suffered in round eight.
“We’ve been saying for three weeks that he thought he was (going to play) next week but he’s been really slow from what we thought initially,” Clarkson said.
“He’s getting there, he’s making progress, but just not as quick as we thought.”
In better news, small forward Paul Puopolo has recovered from a foot injury, suffered against Gold Coast in Launceston two weeks ago, and replaces Angus Litherland (omitted) in the side.
That leaves only Birchall and untried key defender Kaiden Brand on the injury list as Hawthorn begin their march to the finals.
The Crows also made just one change with Richard Douglas in for Mitch Grigg (ankle).
Adelaide are using Thursday night’s match to commemorate the club’s 25th anniversary in the AFL with Clarkson unsure what effect, if any, that will have on proceedings.
“It’s a little bit like a (player) milestone game, isn’t it?” he said.
“There’s a lot of emotion and noise outside of the footy club but you’ve still got to get in there and do the job.”
The influence that Patrick Dangerfield is able to have will be a key factor in the outcome.
Clarkson played his cards close to his chest when quizzed about his strategy for the star Crow.
The Hawks’ coach will return to Adelaide for the first time since being involved in a physical altercation with a Port Adelaide fan as he walked back to the team hotel following their round-four loss to the Power.
He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing but won’t be taking any chances this time around.
“If I’m going to walk back from the hotel, I might put a bicycle helmet on this time,” he joked.
“No, we’ll be taking the bus.”