Hawthorn are the AFL’s hunted, doing plenty of hunting themselves.
While everyone is fixated on the Hawks, four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson says they are also looking keenly at rival clubs as they aim to improve.
Clarkson, the most successful AFL coach of his generation, said on Wednesday they looked like pacesetters because they had been so dominating.
“Probably the thing with our club is we’re always searching and never content that the method we’re using is the right method,” he told SEN.
“It seems like it’s the right method, because it’s been successful for us in the last few years.
“But we know the game is so dynamic and it changes so quickly that we want to try to stay with that change.
“We do what other clubs do, too, and that’s try to look at things that other clubs are doing and then … either replicate or try to do a little bit better according to our personnel.”
Hawthorn are proving a difficult team to assess so far this season.
While they have posted crucial wins against teams such as the Western Bulldogs and West Coast, Geelong and GWS have also exposed them.
The Hawks are 5-2 and are starting generation change, with a group of stars in their 30s and several youngsters coming through.
They are also without key forward Jarryd Roughead for half the season, plus captain Luke Hodge is recovering from knee surgery.
Clarkson was pleased fellow veteran Sam Mitchell missed last week’s win over Richmond, saying it forced teammates to step up in the midfield.
“We try to play to a certain system, but it’s dependent on the personnel you have,” he said.
“I don’t feel like, as a coach or a club, that we’re necessarily at the forefront.
“It feels like we’re continuing to chase and search – there are 17 other clubs out there who are doing things we like.
“It’s just trying to tinker with things that you’re doing, recognising that other clubs are doing some good things, too – and how can we replicate or even better what they’re doing.”
Clarkson wants the retirement of older players to be gradual, not a sudden loss of so much talent and experience.
Brian Lake and David Hale started that process when they left after last year’s third-straight premiership.
“Hopefully, that will happen naturally over the next two or three years, but you just never know,” Clarkson said.
For all the uncertainty over whether the Hawks can achieve their premiership four-peat, Clarkson is not unhappy with how they have started.
“I think people forget some of the teams we’ve played against and they’re tough teams to beat … and they were up and going early in the year, too,” he said.
“We’re not winning as consistently as what we’d like or as big a margin.
“To be 5-2 in a pretty tough start to the year is reasonably pleasing, considering we are starting to blood some younger players.”