THE SURPRISE packet of the four expansion clubs, Hawthorn had a season that exceeded most external expectations. Winning three games and showing a genuine resilience, the Hawks played clever footy and showed off some talents plucked from the VFLW.
Despite butting up against some significant long-term injuries as the season progressed, the Hawks were able to test players in various positions and cover those losses, ultimately preparing their less experienced players for the future.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the 18 AFLW teams' season's in reverse ladder order.
Head coach: Bec Goddard
Leadership group: Tilly Lucas-Rodd (captain), Jess Duffin (vice-captain), Louise Stephenson, Tamara Luke
Ladder position: 15th, three wins and seven losses, 57.1%
Debutants: Zoe Barbakos, Charlotte Baskaran, Catherine Brown, Dominique Carbone, Bridget Deed, Mackenzie Eardley, Laura Elliott, Emily Everist, Tahlia Fellows, Jasmine Fleming, Bridie Hipwell, Sophie Locke, Aine McDonagh, Isabelle Porter, Jenna Richardson, Eliza Shannon, Tamara Smith, Lucy Wales (AFLW debut), Kaitlyn Ashmore, Janet Baird, Tegan Cunningham, Jess Duffin, Aileen Gilroy, Ainslie Kemp, Tilly Lucas-Rodd, Tamara Luke, Akec Makur Chuot, Kate McCarthy, Sarah Perkins, Louise Stephenson (club debut)
Milestones: Kaitlyn Ashmore, Tilly Lucas-Rodd (50 games), Akec Makur Chuot (25 games)
Rising Star nominations: Jasmine Fleming (round five), Lucy Wales (round seven)
Retirements: Jess Duffin
Best team performance
Fresh off their first win in club history, the Hawks put on their best performance in round six at home against a developing West Coast. For the second week in a row, they conceded 26 points in the opening quarter, taking a significant deficit into the first break, but it was their determined fight back that was most impressive.
Playing the extremely windy conditions incredibly cleverly, Hawthorn kicked four second quarter goals - three off the boot of spearhead Jess Duffin - to enjoy an eight-point lead at half time.
CLASS OF 2022 Your club's retiring players
In a true team effort, they were able to do what West Coast couldn't: kick goals into the wind. And it was all off the back of a genuine team performance, with each player truly having a hand in the win.
Best individual performance
After battling a thigh injury which kept her on the sidelines in the first half of the season, Jenna Richardson's addition to Hawthorn's backline by round six was invaluable. Against Port Adelaide in round seven, in just her second AFLW game, Richardson was tasked with star Erin Phillips.
Although Phillips got her hands on the ball early, Richardson worked into the game beautifully, holding the Power captain goalless and bereft of space inside 50.
Richardson finished the game with 12 disposals, which she used at 75 per cent efficiency, three marks, three one percenters and 10 intercepts in a crucial role that ultimately resulted in Hawthorn's third-straight win.
Before the season began, Akec Makur Chuot looked like a player who might be pushed out of the side as young players settled into the AFLW and found their feet, but thanks to a positional change and seemingly renewed determination she played like a woman reborn.
Playing on the wing, Makur Chuot covered the ground expertly, assisting in defence and even pushing forward to kick a goal that would go on to be a Goal of the Year finalist, and played every game of the season for just the second time in her career.
YOUR CLUB’S B&F Who took out your club's best and fairest award?
Averaging 9.5 disposals, 2.5 marks and 3.8 intercepts, Makur Chuot read the ball beautifully and although let down at times by some fumbly hands, she proved her potential to flourish in one of the toughest roles in AFLW.
It's hard to go past one of the most talked about draftees in Jasmine Fleming. Not only coming to the club with a famous name, Fleming showed off the class and skill that saw her drafted with the second pick in the draft, and first in Victoria.
Fleming played nine of a possible 10 games - only missing due to year 12 exams late in the season - and earned a Rising Star nomination for an impressive performance in Hawthorn's maiden win where she had 16 disposals and 10 tackles.
Not to mention, the week before against the Western Bulldogs, Fleming picked up 25 disposals, six clearances and 233 metres gained in wet, slippery conditions where even some of the most experienced players struggled.
Speedy forward Tahlia Fellows picked up the Debbie Lee Rising Star award in September for her performance for the Casey Demons in the VFLW this year but went somewhat under the radar at AFLW level.
Fellows kicked six goals for the season - three in the Hawks' round five win over Sydney - and averaged 1.9 score involvements, but it is what she offers the side structurally that proved most important. With her speed and willingness to sit in the forward half to provide a target for her teammates, Fellows often burned opponents in foot races toward goal.
What went well
Registering three wins in an inaugural season is no mean feat, particularly when coming up against some sides who have been together for six seasons. Those wins came from a reliance across the board on a team-first effort.
While the likes of Aileen Gilroy and Jasmine Fleming certainly starred, the strategy was never about focusing on one or two players. Instead, the Hawks backed in role players across the field. Defensive strength through the middle was vital, with captain Tilly Lucas-Rodd and new face Tamara Smith reliably setting the standard, and former soccer player Catherine Brown's booming kick a handy asset coming out of defence.
The character built out of this full team mindset, Hawthorn showed a grit and determination that meant they were never fully out of games. Across rounds five and six, the Hawks conceded 4.2.26 in each opening quarter and went into the quarter time break down by at least three goals, and in each game, they fought back impressively to snag the win.
What needs improvement
Hawthorn's ball use throughout the season was consistently the least efficient across the competition, averaging a disposal efficiency of just 53.8 per cent. Cleaning up this ball use will not only invite less pressure from opponents, but also allow them to retain possession and control for longer periods in games.
This poor ball use bled into a struggle at times to score. While the Hawks could get the ball inside 50 reasonably consistently, converting those entries to scores was a different prospect. Hawthorn goaled from just 13.9 per cent of its inside 50 entries, while conceding six goals from 32.5 inside 50s per game.
Winning more of the ball and establishing more consistent chains of possession will not only allow better control around the ground but will assist in improving efficiency once inside the attacking 50.
With the retirement of vice-captain Jess Duffin, and key talls Tegan Cunningham, Louise Stephenson and Tamara Luke all closer to the end of their careers than the start, finding some reliable talls in the mid-20s age bracket to support the transition to youth may be handy for the seasons to come.
And, as most clubs will be doing, focusing on cleaning up the foot skills of the list will go a long way to improvement in 2023.
HAVE YOUR SAY Take our AFLW fan engagement survey NOW