Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson insists the chasing pack of sides after top spot on the AFL ladder isn’t motivating his side.
Clarkson is refusing to look in the rear-view mirror ahead of a crunch Saturday afternoon fixture with North Melbourne at the MCG that neither side can afford to lose.
The Kangaroos would see their grip on finals footy loosened further by a defeat, while Hawthorn could be overtaken by four clubs at the top of the ladder.
Sydney, Adelaide, GWS Giants and Geelong are all a game behind Hawthorn on the ladder and boast better percentage than Clarkson’s side.
But the prospect of ending the round as low as fifth on the ladder isn’t pushing the Hawks against North, which Clarkson says is “just another game”.
“All that we can control is winning games of AFL footy,” he said.
“We’ve done that pretty well for the majority of games this year and that’s why we’re sitting on top of the ladder.
“Everything is in our control in terms of the next three games and if we play according to the standards we set ourselves then it doesn’t matter what’s behind us.”
What’s set Hawthorn’s season apart from their previous seasons is their blooding of new players.
Ryan Burton will become the club’s seventh player to debut in 2016 after Kaiden Brand (nine games), Blake Hardwick (one), Kurt Heatherley (one), Kieran Lovell (two), Marc Pittonet (two) and Kade Stewart (three).
Only Brisbane have handed out more debuts this season.
While one for the future, Clarkson is hopeful Burton, a 19-year-old key position prospect from North Adelaide, can impact on Saturday after missing much of the season after leg surgery.
“He’s trained really strongly the last six to eight weeks and gets his chance … what impact he’ll have we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Burton is one of five inclusions for the Hawks, joining key players James Frawley, Paul Puopolo, Liam Shiels and Billy Hartung in the side.
Dropped trio Kurt Heatherley, Jonathan O’Rourke and Tim O’Brien are joined on the outer by Ben Stratton (pectoral) and James Sicily (suspended).
North Melbourne have made two changes – Lachie Hansen will play his second game of the season and Robbie Nahas returns after a month off, in place of Ryan Clarke and Brad McKenzie.