Grant Birchall is confident of a strong showing from the reigning premier this weekend.
GRANT Birchall is confident that Hawthorn has the depth to cover the loss of seven members of its premiership-winning team when it opens its flag defence against Brisbane in Launceston on Saturday.
The Hawks will be without Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake and the dynamic Cyril Rioli, who begin suspensions incurred during the grand final win over Fremantle.
Midfielder Brad Sewell and defender Ben Stratton are sidelined with hamstring injuries, with Lance Franklin (now at Sydney), Brent Guerra and Max Bailey (both retired) also absent.
With Brendan Whitecross on the long-term injury list, the Hawks are likely to elevate rookies Kurt Heatherley or Derick Wanganeen, with Angus Litherland, Tim O'Brien and Will Langford also in the mix.
``We've had some really good kids that have come in during the preseason and played some really good roles for us,'' Birchall, originally of Devonport, said yesterday.
``We're confident in our list and our depth at the minute that they can come in and play a role.''
The 26-year-old said even with key members of the back six unavailable, there would not be any defensive issues.
``We've got a range of guys who can go down there and play a role like Angus Litherland, young Wanganeen, [Kyle] Cheney. They know how to play their role, so we've got full confidence in those guys that they can come in and play well.''
Birchall said Brisbane, which finished 12th last year and has gone through a change of coach and player exodus over summer, would be a more competitive unit than the one the Hawks thrashed by 131 points in the NAB Challenge.
``They'll obviously bring some more experienced guys into their line-up this week.
``They've got some talented midfielders, that's going to be the area that is going to be crucial, so hopefully we can get on top there, get it into our forward line, lock it in and give [our forwards] every opportunity.''
Birchall, a two-time premiership player with 169 games under his belt, couldn't wait to return to Aurora Stadium, a ground that he knows ``inside out''.
``I'm looking forward to the season ahead and I'll just be trying to improve my game bit by bit,'' he said.
``The hunger is still there from last year, so I can't wait to get back into it.''
Birchall was managed through preseason following his knee injury last year, playing just one practice match, against Melbourne, where he finished among the best players.