HAWKS STAR CRISIS
Diagnosis disaster for hobbled Cyril, Poppy Hawks: High-pressure system will hold firm
HAWTHORN says it can continue playing its suffocating pressure game despite injuries that will sideline Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo for up to six weeks.
Rioli will miss five to six weeks with a strained medial ligament to the same knee that wiped out much of his 2017 campaign with a posterior cruciate ligament injury.
Puopolo won’t need surgery on his hamstring injury but a tear high up on the muscle will need six weeks’ recovery.
The diagnoses are a blow to the aspirations of the Hawks, whose 3-1 start to the year has been fuelled by a return to the pressure game that helped win them three successive flags.
Rioli and Puopolo are critical to that effort, ranking behind only Luke Breust as the Hawks’ best pressuring small forward.
Football manager Graham Wright told the Herald Sun the Hawks would continue to back their method.
“I think everyone is trying to do the same thing, apply pressure,” Wright said.
“We have been fortunate to have ‘Poppy’ and Cyril there for the first three and a half rounds. They won’t be there this week, but we will go in with a similar game plan and try to play our way and see what we can do.”
Hawthorn faces North Melbourne, St Kilda, Essendon, Sydney (MCG), Brisbane Lions (Gabba) and West Coast (Etihad) in its next six games.
Last year’s Rising Star runner-up Ryan Burton was dropped for Sunday’s game against Melbourne and dominated for Box Hill in the VFL with 24 disposals and two goals from half-back.
But throwing him forward against North Melbourne won’t solve the club’s pressure issues.
Premiership hero Will Langford played as a pressuring small forward last year but kicked only 7.15, with a series of comical misses from close range.
Champion Data says of the top 110 players for shots at goal since 2011, Langford’s 22 per cent conversion is the worst.
Midfielder James Cousins was Hawthorn’s best player in the VFL last week and is an elite pressure player, but he is not a small forward.
Blake Hardwick was the TAC Cup’s leading goalkicker with 56 goals in 16 matches but has turned into a small defender. Wright said Hardwick was unlikely to be pushed forward.
“I wouldn’t see him changing positions there. He has played some really good footy as a small defender,” he said.
“We have won both games at Box Hill, so we will look at those guys depending on which way we want to set up.
“Cousins can play halfforward but has generally been an inside mid.
“Will can play inside mid or half-forward.
“I am sure both will come into consideration.’’