Hawthorn will be on guard for resurgent Melbourne in their AFL clash at the MCG on Saturday.
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson says he’s been impressed by the Demons, who have won five matches this season to sit ninth heading into round 11.
That’s two shy of what they won for the entire 2015 season.
While Clarkson’s men have won 12 straight against Melbourne, they believe their opponents are a different beast in 2016.
“They’ve been pretty impressive this year as they’ve changed the way they play a little bit,” Clarkson said.
“They’re scoring a lot more freely and some of their work around the middle of the ground.”
Clarkson nominated young Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn as a player his team needed to nullify.
“Gawn has given a lot of supply to the midfield group and they’ve played some pretty good footy and so we’ll need to be on our guard tomorrow to make sure we try and win that midfield battle,” he said.
The defending champions are currently seventh but Clarkson said he was satisfied given their run of injuries and with gun forward Jarryd Roughead sidelined through his cancer treatment.
Ryan Schoenmakers is still a few weeks away due to a “grumbly groin”, aggravated in his comeback for VFL affiliate Box Hill.
“Schoenmakers is pretty important to our structure, having both he and Roughy out – when you’ve got no centre half-forward and full-forward from the previous year’s campaign, it makes a pretty big difference to your side,” Clarkson said.
“You couple that with not having (captain Luke) Hodge for the best part of the 10 rounds as well, it does make an impact.”
Hodge has been sidelined with a knee injury since round six and has managed just four games after also breaking his arm in round one.
Clarkson said the veteran would have to complete a mini pre-season before he returned.
“He’s a bull, but it’s really important because he has missed a bit of footy … we’ve just got to make sure gets himself in the type of nick that will allow him to have a really good second half of the year,” Clarkson said.
“That’s hard for him and hard for us because he’s nearly ready to play now.
“But we just need to be a little bit patient with that, that we don’t try to bring him back too quickly.”