Hawthorn are showing the hunger needed to improve as the prepare to seek a record-equalling fourth consecutive premiership, warns captain Luke Hodge.
The Hawks were expected to show signs of vulnerability next AFL season with key players such as Hodge and Sam Mitchell now in their 30s.
But Hodge said the hunger was still there for all to see at a 10-day pre-season camp on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, with Ben Stratton impressing the most.
The camp also gave the Hawks time to run the rule over their 2015 efforts and analyse what needed to change as they attempt to match the four straight premierships achieved by Collingwood from 1927-30.
“After round eight we were 4-4. We then lost two games leading into the finals and lost the first final,” Hodge told AAP.
“So there’s still areas of improvement. If we are not switched on and don’t have that hunger we are going to get beaten.
“But from what I have seen in the pre-season camp the hunger is still there.”
Hodge is also looking for more big things from Norm Smith Medallist Cyril Rioli, who is reportedly in the best shape of his career this pre-season.
After an injury-plagued 2014, Rioli played every game except two in 2015 culminating in his starring role in Hawthorn’s AFL grand final thrashing of West Coast.
Asked if Rioli could find another gear next year, Hodge said: “Geez I hope so.
“If he stays on the paddock you will always see the best of him.
“He lives for big games. He came second in our best and fairest, he made All-Australian and everyone saw what he did in the grand final to win the Norm Smith (Medal).
“He is someone who will always surprise you with what he can do when he has the ball and what he can do when he doesn’t have the ball.
“That’s why he is so many people’s favourite player.”
Hodge expected pre-season standout Stratton to also help spark the defending premiers.
“Ben has always been a hard worker,” Hodge said.
“He was voted best at our training camp from all the boys.
“Guys get older but…we have a middle key group that have played a lot of games now like the Ben Strattons…they are able to take a lot of responsibility.”
Hodge – voted captain for another year – also hoped the likes of Grant Birchall, Liam Shiels, Isaac Smith would step up.
“These guys are upwards of 100 games,” he said.
“They can take responsibility as well as the older guys.”