Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson is adamant his team can still win the flag even if they fall to fifth, saying the AFL’s “curve ball” bye week has thrown the premiership race wide open.
The Hawks are almost certain to miss out on a top-two spot after suffering a 25-point loss to West Coast in Perth on Friday night.
Hawthorn will secure either third or fourth spot – and the double finals chance that goes with it – if they beat Collingwood at the MCG next Sunday.
But even if they lose and fall to fifth or sixth, Clarkson will still be quietly confident of guiding his team to a fourth straight flag.
What gives him that belief is the AFL’s controversial decision to roster in a bye week immediately following the final round of the home-and-away season.
Teams have tended to struggle after bye weeks in the past.
Clarkson feels this could be magnified for any top-four team who earns another break by winning their qualifying final.
“I don’t really know where we want to finish to be fair,” Clarkson said.
“I’m sure there’s other coaches in the competition that are thinking exactly the same – the huge curve ball in this year’s finals series is that bye after round 23.
“It’s unique. It’s never been done in the game before.
“No one knows how it’s going to pan out. If there’s any year there’s a chance to come from outside of the top four, it’s this year, because of that very unique situation.”
Adelaide in 1998 were the last team to win the premiership from outside of the top four.
But that was under a different finals format that allowed the Crows to stay in the race despite losing in week one of the finals.
Despite having some concerns about the impact of the upcoming bye week, Clarkson is still intent on locking away a top-four berth.
But he’ll have to do it without ruckman Jonathon Ceglar, who suffered a suspected anterior cruciate ligament tear to his right knee against the Eagles.
Midfielder Jordan Lewis faces a nervous wait after striking out at Eagles ruckman Scott Lycett.
Lewis was lying on his back when he struck Lycett on his face with a glancing blow, with the AFL’s match review panel almost certain to assess the incident.