Hawks Clinch Top Four Berth

The Box Hill Hawks defeated Frankston on Friday night to cap off a fine 2023 home and away season, and in doing so locked away a top four finish, the all important double chance and a home final.

The 39-point victory ensures Zane Littlejohn’s Hawks will finish the season in third spot on the ladder, setting up a Qualifying Final against, in all likelihood, Michael Barlow’s high-flying Werribee.

It was a rare and exciting opportunity for many of the boys in brown and gold to play under lights, and while the rain which was forecast to sweep across the peninsula stayed away, the bitter cold and strong breeze didn’t.

The Hawks made two late changes to the team announced on Thursday night, losing Cal Brown and Henry Hustwaite for Jake Arundell and Joel Trudgeon – the latter pairing coming in for just their second games of the VFL season. 

As always, the conditions favoured the Young Street end (or right of screen for those watching at home), with scoring to the Nepean Highway or Port Phillip Bay end always likely to be difficult.

So it was a good old fashion case of defend stoutly when kicking into it, attack strongly when kicking with it – something we don’t see all that often at the top level these days. 

Having lost the toss Box Hill were given the task of kicking into the breeze.

The Hawks wasted little time in getting settled, with Bailey Macdonald putting the finishing touches on an excellent move after just two minutes. Back in the side, the speedster glided onto a handball and slotted a classy running goal after a handful of Hawks had chained the ball inside 50.

From that point on the visitors were content to pick and choose how they attacked, keen to control and patiently progress the ball around the field for the right opportunity to move forward, rather than snatch at the first opportunity to do so.

The Dolphins kicked a pair of goals to take the lead, but weren’t able to conjure the sort of attacking impetus needed with the wind at their backs. 

After marking down low, Lachie Wynd found the Hawks an answering goal late on in the term, steering through a brilliant set shot from a tricky angle.

All told, Box Hill had navigated the breeze brilliantly and trailed by a single point despite having the worst of the conditions. Now it was the boys in brown and gold’s turn to put a score on the board.

Local boy Lachy Bryce, playing in just his second VFL game, handed his side the ideal start to the second term, drifting forward and into space, marking and dispatching the resulting set shot. But for the next 10 minutes the Dolphins did brilliantly to lock the game down. 

Played largely between the arcs and contest to contest, the match became an attritional war for territory more than possession. But just as the hosts had built themselves a foothold, the Hawks put the pedal to the metal.

Lloyd Meek marked and converted after 12 minutes, Lachie Bramble kicked back-to-back beauties and Fergus Greene & Jake Arundell showed poise and skill to convert difficult shots of their own. 

It was excellent footy. In little over 15 minutes the Hawks had taken control and effectively shut the door on the Dolphins, kicking six in all for the term all the while keeping their opponents scoreless.

39-points to the good and with conditions only deteriorating, the coaching group would’ve been well pleased with the performance to half-time.

Frankston produced a rally to start the second half, booting a trio of goals to renew a faint interest in snatching the points, but as quickly as the flame flickered it was snuffed out.

Wynd, Josh Bennetts and Sam Butler each hit the scoreboard in an exhilarating two-and-a-half minute spell which all but ended the contest.

To their credit, the Dolphins remained on the attack and kicked three more to close out the term, but at 21-points down had left themselves too much to do kicking into the breeze.

Superb on the night, Meek kicked his second and third goals of the contest once play resumed, with the excellent Max Hall finding the mark in between. 

The teams traded goals to close the contest out – Arundell kicked a second and Clay Tucker a fantastic curling snap – to ensure the final margin landed at 39-points, just as it was at the half.

As for the Hawks’ best, you’d be hard pressed to split the midfield duo of Lloyd Meek and Cam Mackenzie. 

Mackenzie ran the middle of the field, presenting for and demanding the ball in the heart of the corridor or contest time and again. The first year Hawk played with confidence and responsibility, dictating the tempo of the game with ball in hand – and for large stretches ensured the contest revolved around him and his involvements.

‘Frenchie’ finished with 25 touches, a game-high nine inside 50s, four clearances and a game-high 10 tackles. 

As for Meeky, he was the most dominant or impactful player on the field.

The big man controlled his position and fed his midfield brigade, winning 41 hit outs, having 25 touches, kicking a game-high three goals and tallying an equal game-high eight clearances.

Cooper Stephens was another to impress in that midfield group. ‘Sugar’ was hard at it from go to woah and as important inside the clinches as Mackenzie was on the spread. 

He finished his night’s work with a game-high 27 touches, four inside 50s, an equal game-high eight clearances and six typically hard, uncompromising tackles. 

Given the job on Frankston’s star midfielder Will Fordham, Cal Porter was superb. He held Fordham to just 15 touches, well below his season average, while having 10 of his own.

In a completely selfless and sacrificial game, ‘Ports’ blanketed the opposition’s most damaging midfielder, and with a little more luck could’ve kicked two goals himself.

The dashing duo of Lachie Bramble and Bailey Macdonald were also among their team’s best performers on the day.

Bramble had 22 high impact disposals, including six inside 50s, five clearances, six tackles and, crucially, two massive goals.

As for ‘B-Mac,’ the youngster continued his strong run of form at the VFL level with a 20 disposal, seven tackle game. Like Bramble, Macdonald consistently used his run, repeatedly taking on the Dolphins press and testing their defensive structures. Like Bramble he contributed a crucial goal.

While a very even, very commendable team effort, special commendation is due to a few of Box Hill’s younger brigade.

Kai Agosta was a late in and slotted seamlessly into the Hawks’ back six, playing with a poise under pressure which belies his relative inexperience.

Playing off a wing, Lachy Bryce looked all the more composed in just his second game, while the Rowville tall and small pairing of Lachie Wynd and Jake Arundell played excellent supporting roles in the front half.

Another good news story was Joel Trudgeon, who played just his second game of a year cruelled by injury and bad luck. ‘Trudge’ was strong and reliable around the contest on his way to 13 disposals. 

The Hawks now wait for next weekend’s wildcard weekend to play out, with the day and date of our Qualifying Final the following week to be released in due course. 

Box Hill

2.2

8.6

11.7

16.9 105

Frankston

2.3

2.3

8.4

10.6 66


Best:
Mackenzie, Meek, Stephens, Porter, Bramble, Macdonald 

Goals: Meek 3, Wynd 2, Bramble 2, Arundell 2, Tucker, Macdonald, Hall, Greene, Butler, Bryce, Bennetts 

Disposals: Stephens 27, Meek 25, Mackenzie 25, Bramble 22, Macdonald 20, Jeka 18, Arundell 18

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