AFL: Hawks coach Alistair Clarkson talks to the media following a win over the Suns.
HAWTHORN has climbed to the top of the ladder before Alastair Clarkson ominously declared he expects his triple-premiership side to improve after this week’s bye.
Clarkson said the return of Luke Hodge and development of youngsters should make his side an even greater force as it chases a fourth-straight flag.
The 11-3 Hawks are fielding six players with less than 50 games experience.
They will regain superstar Cyril Rioli for next week’s clash against Port Adelaide — the first of two Thursday night games on the road.
The Hawks have sat on top of the ladder after Round 14 in just one of their five Grand Final seasons under Clarkson — 2013.
They kicked 10 of the last 13 goals against Gold Coast to secure their 18th consecutive win in Tasmania, 12.14 (86) to 8.12 (60).
The Hawks were again belted in the contested-ball count 120-136 but it was of little concern to Clarkson.
“We’ve been not so spectacular at contested footy for a long, long period of time and we’ve won silverware playing that brand of footy,” he said last night.
“I can’t measure why but if we’re low in one thing like contested ball we must be good in something else.”
Clarkson said Hodge’s return added valuable flexibility with the captain collecting 28 powerful possessions across halfback and appearing sharp in his first game since Round 6.
“He’s a valuable player for us,” Clarkson said. “He just reads the game so well and gives us so much more flexibility because he can play forward, back and midfield.”
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The Suns lead by 21 points in the second quarter but as their kicking efficiency dropped the Hawks predictably seized control.
The Suns boasted the standout midfielder (Gary Ablett), key forward (Tom Lynch) and key defender (Steven May) but with eight of their best players out lacked the depth to land a knockout blow.
Emerging Hawks star James Sicily grabbed four contested marks and slotted 3.1 while midfield superstar Sam Mitchell led the onslaught with 36 disposals.
Sicily, Tim O’Brien, Jon Ceglar, Kaiden Brand, Daniel Howe and Billy Hartung have all played less than 50 games — and Clarkson wants continual improvement.
“I’m hoping the perception out there (that the Hawks have not hit their straps) is right, because I’d like to think we can improve a little bit,” Clarkson said.
“It’s mainly to do with consistency from quarter to quarter. We’ve played some good footy and we’ve particularly played well when we’ve really needed to play well.”