Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson is adamant he won’t rest key players in the run up to another finals campaign despite being two games clear at the top of the AFL ladder.
Clarkson is annoyed with the almost weekly speculation, the latest when forward Cyril Rioli was a late withdrawal in Launceston last weekend.
“We don’t even know where we’re going to finish on the ladder yet, let alone worry about what’s going to happen beyond round 23,” he said before training at Waverley Park on Friday.
“No, it’s about finishing in the best position we can to give ourselves the best opportunity in finals.
“Our goal we speak about all the time is to finish top four and we’ve given ourselves a good chance to do that.”
The four-times Hawks premiership coach said Rioli was taken out of the Carlton game with thigh muscle tightness that has eased to allow him to return for Saturday’s game against Melbourne at the MCG.
“Cyril’s right to go. Unfortunately, with Poppy (Paul Puopolo) the hip is just grumbling along, but we’re reasonably certain he’ll play next week.
But we were reasonably certain he was going to play in this game, so he’ll have one more week,” the coach said.
While Hawthorn beat Melbourne by 20 points in round 11 with almost double the number of scoring shots, Clarkson insists the 13-game winning streak against the Demons dating back to 2007 was no relevance for this return bout.
“Everyone thinks because you’ve performed well and you’ve won a lot of games, there’s easier games than others,” he said.
“But it’s a physical, tough, demanding caper and we’ve got a big challenge tomorrow against Melbourne.
“They’re a side on a build and getting better. They had (Jack) Viney out last time with a broken hand, so he’s a significant acquisition for them.
“He’s a key connection with (Max) Gawn in the middle of the ground.
“They’ve got a young defence, but a rebounding defence that causes a lot of trouble for opposition sides, so there’s a lot of things to impressed with the way Melbourne and going about it and they’re starting to put together young guys who are coming through together.
“So, they’re going to be a really strong side in years to come.”
The Hawks’ pre-game planning paid particular attention to big Gawn, who had more than 50 hitouts in a dominant display against the Suns at the same venue last Sunday.
“He gave the Melbourne guys a good look at the ball and, if our rucks can’t compete solidly in that area of the ground, it’s going to make things very tough,” Clarkson said.
“But we came up against him earlier in the year and, whilst our rucks didn’t dominate, they served us well and played their role.
“And the midfielders have to do the same, hunt and put pressure on the Melbourne side when they win the ball.”