Whoever it was that remarked, “the best defence is a good offence” rather missed the point.
There’s a flippancy to that philosophy. It’s a quote that endures in the minds of those who believe the glory is at the other end of the field, salivating at the prospect of all-action, gung-ho attack carried out with reckless abandon. After all, there’s nothing that whets the appetite quite like the promise of a “shootout.”
Still, ask anyone in the game with designs on success and they’ll tell you a good offence is great, but a good defence is essential.
Currently, the Hawks have the third best attack in the VFL (scoring on average 104.8 points per game) and the fifth best defence (conceding on average 72.8 points per game). They sit second on percentage, locked with Port Melbourne in an early season arm wrestle for the top of the tree.
The club’s 5-0 record has been built on a platform – a springboard, perhaps – of defence, with a back-to-front approach that is as impressive as it has been reliable.
A highlight of the season to date has been the Box Hill rearguard’s ability to organise itself and break even in a contest in which they find themselves under the cosh.
The second quarter at Williamstown, the second and third quarters against Richmond and the latter stages of the visit to Footscray stand as examples of a team that knows when – and more importantly how – to batten down the hatches.
A key pillar of this defensive unit has been Max Warren.
Now 24, Warren is playing his footy like a man comfortable in his role and confident in his ability to perform it.
He stands up when challenged and, as all good defenders ought to, loves a contest. Further, when asked about the why and how of the Hawks’ perfect start to 2017 he’s pointed and assured.
“I would say that the result of our early performance is largely due to the ability of the defence to scrap and grit when we are challenged which has been a real focus of the group.
“That we’ve been able to win or at least half the contests coming in has been vital. It’s a cliché in football saying that it’s the one percenters, but in this case it has been the main driver of our success.”
He’s cheeky when asked to describe his role or style as part of that back six, at first saying he’s a “poor man’s David Mirra,” which you feel is both a tribute to and subtle elbow into his skipper.
“But I’d also say I’m a good defensive player who can rebound.
“It seems to be where I play my best football and I like how the game can open up in front of you playing from that position. Keeps me accountable as well, having a starting position on the opposition forward.”
His form is a mirror of so many of his teammates and the team as a whole: resolute, dependable and accountable.
Alongside Mirra, Conor Glass, Kurt Heatherley and a cast of many more, Warren is a tough man to get the better of when you cross that white line. Together they’re a tough group to crack.
Last season, which was Warren’s first at the club, Box Hill missed the finals for the first time since 2008. Having started the season 4-0, the Hawks suffered a mid-season form slump, losing seven games in succession, with six of club’s eleven losses for the season by under a kick.
“(2016) was certainly a tough year. I had moved to an extremely successful club, which had played in the last 4 or 5 grand finals, and I thought to myself, ‘this is my opportunity to play finals and compete in grand finals.’
“If you consider where we were at this point in the season last year, we were in the same position. 4-0 from the start of the season and then lost the next seven.
“So I think in reflection it’s more about not getting complacent with our position.”
Warren is aware that every week and every opponent offers its own unique challenge and is loathe to look any further than the match against the Magpies this Saturday.
“Collingwood are a very quick rebounding team. They use the ball well by hand and that is the real threat for us this week.
“They have the ability to score super quickly, which they showed last week against Werribee, so we cannot give them the opportunity to do that to us.”
Warren and company have been excellent at adapting to the threat and variable form of their opponent in game this year, impressing that improvisation is just good as preparation; as the old adage goes, no plan survives contact.
But again, complacency isn’t an issue.
“The mood amongst the group is terrific, as you’d expect.
“There’s certainly a feeling at the moment which is super up-beat and confident, it’s just about converting that energy into the game and the result will come.”