HAWKS STAR CRI­SIS

Di­ag­no­sis dis­as­ter for hob­bled Cyril, Poppy Hawks: High-pres­sure sys­tem will hold firm

Herald Sun - - FRONT PAGE - JON RALPH

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.’’

PUOPOLO RI­OLI

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