Alastair Clarkson concedes the challengers are coming hard for Hawthorn’s AFL premiership crown but he’s confident their best football is ahead of them.
The Hawks’ chances of recording an historic fourth successive flag have been widely written off in the wake of last week’s 75-point hammering at the hands of Greater Western Sydney.
Clarkson admits the Hawks were “scratchy” against the Giants but he adds it’s hardly a doom-and-gloom scenario with four wins from six rounds.
“There’d be many sides that would be happy being 4-2,” Clarkson said on Thursday.
“Yes, we’re not absolutely rapt with the way that we’re going but it would probably be discrediting some of the sides we’ve played.
“This time last year we were three wins and three losses – the only thing that was different was that we had a better percentage.
“We’re actually better positioned this year than what we were last year.
“We need to play better, we don’t want to dig a hole and put our heads in the sand and not think that the competition’s catching up to us a bit.
“But we think some of our best footy is still ahead of us this year.”
Hawthorn will take on Richmond (1-5) at the MCG on Friday night without skipper Luke Hodge, who underwent knee surgery on Tuesday, and key defender James Frawley, who suffered a concussion against GWS.
Kaiden Brand will make his debut, with Will Langford and Billy Hartung returning while Kieran Lovell was omitted.
Desperate to break a five-game losing streak, Tigers coach Damien Hardwick dropped first-team regulars Ivan Maric and David Astbury, with skipper Trent Cotchin (cheekbone) and Kane Lambert (ribs) dropping out of the side that lost to an undermanned Port Adelaide.
Nick Vlastuin, Kamdyn McIntosh, Ben Griffiths and Jayden Short come into the line-up.
“We usually bounce back pretty strongly from a disappointing effort,” Clarkson said.
“Richmond haven’t been in the best of form themselves so the start is going to be pretty important for either side to try and get some confidence in the first part of the game.”
Hodge, who missed two weeks with a broken forearm this season, will miss up to six weeks after his latest setback.
In better news for the reigning premiers, full-forward Jarryd Roughead has returned to the training track for the first time since undergoing off-season knee surgery and is aiming to return slightly ahead of schedule in about a month’s time.