Hawthorn just escaped with a win again – their third win by three points on the trot. These rankings are built on the assumption that net margin is what matters, not whether you win or lose. This is based on evidence that the best teams in sports have big wins; teams that are regularly just sneaking home are riding their luck.
Back in 2012 Hawthorn stood at 4 wins and 3 losses after seven matches, and were ninth on the ladder. But these rankings had them first, because they had been beating opponents by a lot when they won, and two out of their three losses had been narrow defeats against good teams. The Hawks were on pace for 46 ranking points – the mark of a very good club – based on their form in their first seven matches, which is pretty close to where they ended up, with 17 wins to boot.
Over the first five rounds of 2016 the Hawks are on pace for just 17 ranking points. That will probably get you into the finals, and may even get you into the top four if there are few standout clubs, but it is well below the Hawks’ high level of performance over the past few years. Their only great, ‘peak-Hawthorn’ performance for the year to date has been their comfortable win against last year’s runners-up West Coast. Hawthorn have also narrowly beaten other good clubs in Footscray and Adelaide, although the latter win does not look as good once home ground advantage is taken into account. But they were well beaten by Geelong, and barely got home against St. Kilda. Which is why they are the subject of tweets like these.
Injuries, such as Jarryd Roughead’s, are having some effect, and even the best teams have dips in form. But the Hawks are also old now. It may be that they are entering the inevitable decline that faces every successful club. Which may mean that I will finally get to see someone else win at the Grand Final this year.
According to the rankings Hawthorn, West Coast, Adelaide – who I didn’t pick to make the finals – and Sydney, are all very close as the league’s top four clubs (sorry Dogs and Roos). But the Crows and the Swans are playing quite a bit better than the Hawks and the Eagles at the moment, with last year’s Grand Finalists remaining at the top in large part due to last season’s form. Adelaide, in particular, have only had two very narrow losses in Melbourne to the Hawks and the Roos. Shades of the 2012 Hawks? Let’s see how they’re travelling in a few weeks time.