Return to finals firmly on agenda of Hawthorn and Mitch Lewis

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Hawthorn star Mitch Lewis says his inexperienced side can be genuine finals contenders in 2024 as he brushed off concern over how the Hawks’ new-look forward line would jell after sweeping personnel changes.

Only eight players on Hawthorn’s list have played a final in brown and gold, but Lewis says the new core of the side is confident it can vie for a return to September action for the first time since 2018.

Lewis said it was “realistic” for the Hawks to pursue a finals berth despite their seven-win season in 2023 and poured cold water on the suggestion it was too ambitious to expect significant improvement after a dramatic overhaul of the forward line.

The 25-year-old is set to lead a forward line filled with recruits Mabior Chol, Jack Ginnivan, Jack Gunston and Nick Watson along with experienced defender Blake Hardwick, in a move which is set to push Dylan Moore further up the field.

“I think it is (realistic) – that’s what we’re striving for – we know that we’re still a young group, there’s a lot of development still to come, but we’re optimistic, we’re young, we’re hungry, and that’s ultimately what we’re striving for to be playing in September again,” Lewis told SEN Breakfast on Monday.

“Ambitious? I don’t think so – I guess when you bring in all of this talent it’s exciting to see what clicks together.

“There’s so many guys down there now, we’ve gone from having probably our forward line as our weakest link to I’d argue up there with our strongest.”

Lewis said new forwards coach Adrian Hickmott would face a difficult task settling on the Hawks’ best attacking mix for round 1, with veteran Luke Breust a certainty to take his place in the side and tagger Finn Maginness also likely to resume his role shutting down an opposition halfback.

“It’ll be exciting to see how we shape up for round 1, we have an intraclub on Thursday and then a couple of hit-outs against the Dogs, so Hicks is going to have his work cut out for him to pick a group of 7 to play against Essendon I think,” he said.

Lewis booted 36 goals last year to follow on from his electric start to 2022, but both campaigns were heavily disrupted by injury.

Having never played more than 15 games in a season, he said an uninterrupted campaign was his main goal in 2024.

“It’s absolutely the thing that I’m most aspiring toward. I want to play a full season of footy and hopefully contribute to the team,” he said.

“Everything that I do in and away from the footy club is aiming to do that.

“A couple of years ago when the injuries first started coming on, I probably was trying to do too much, thinking about it 24-7 – what can I do more?

“Whereas this pre-season I’ve tried to still do the things that need to be done in terms of rehab and getting my body right.”