Undermanned, under siege and underperforming, Hawthorn dug deep to quell an impressive Carlton comeback and prevail by 28 points at the MCG on Friday night.
Cyril Rioli was reported for a clumsy attempted tackle as the AFL’s reigning premiers strengthened their grip on second spot by downing the Blues 18.10 (118) to 13.12 (90).
The Hawks dominated the final quarter following a serious scare from the Blues in Mick Malthouse’s 700th game as an AFL/VFL coach.
Hawthorn, minus more than a third of the side that beat Fremantle in last year’s grand final following the late withdrawal of Jack Gunston, found paddocks of space early and skipped out to a 25-point lead at the first break.
Momentum shifted dramatically in the second quarter, Levi Casboult crashing packs and booting three goals as the bustling Blues worked their way into the contest.
The trend continued after halftime.
Casboult, playing the best game of his career, fired in the first minute of the third quarter when he waltzed into an open goal.
The Blues – led by Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs – had the ball pinging into their forward line rapidly and the Hawks’ defence was ragged in the absence of injured veterans Josh Gibson and Brian Lake.
Carlton twice drew level before seizing the lead and pushing it out to eight points when Matthew Watson missed a straightforward shot late in the piece.
It was one of four behinds the Blues registered in the third term, and the Hawks were always a good chance of making them pay.
Brad Sewell, among the leading contenders for the three Brownlow votes, snapped the settling goal before Isaac Smith came up with a left-footed showstopper to give his side a five-point lead at three-quarter time.
Debutant Ben Ross kicked one of Hawthorn’s six final-quarter goals as they added a ninth win to the club’s patched-up premiership defence.
Rioli, who finished with three goals and 20 disposals, could potentially find himself joining the likes of Gibson, Lake, Sam Mitchell and coach Alastair Clarkson on the sidelines.
The 24-year-old clipped Zach Tuohy’s head in the third quarter in an incident that prompted a handful of Blues, including returning champion Chris Judd, to remonstrate.
Carlton’s Dennis Armfield triggered the game’s other flash point in the second term when he sent Grant Birchall hurtling to the fence.
Armfield then landed a left jab on Birchall’s face in the ensuing scrap.