HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson is expecting to face a more competitive Brisbane side at Aurora Stadium today in their 2014 season-opener than the one it thrashed a month ago in the NAB Challenge.
With the Hawks unfurling their 2013 premiership flag before the match, the Hawks coach said he was looking forward to the game and season start.
``We've had a really good preseason and our form in the three games to date has been really pleasing but the real deal starts Saturday twilight against Brisbane and I'm looking forward to that challenge,'' he said.
``They put out an under-21 side in their first hit-out and rested a lot of their more senior players.
``So we'll see a completely different outfit this week both in terms of the personnel they play and probably the manner in which they play, so we're as ready for that as we possibly can be.
``We need to play our own brand of footy and obviously try to contain some of the really important strengths that they have in their game but round one always throws up a few changes so we'll see how we go.''
Clarkson said the club was excited by the preseason form of its three rookies in Derick Wanganeen, Ben Ross and Kurt Heatherley, with Wanganeen earning a round one call-up.
``The three of them were in real contention to get selected and upgraded for round one so that's really pleasing and its a little bit hard for Kurt and `Rossy' that they couldn't get upgraded this week but hopefully they will get the chance throughout the year.
``Wanganeen is highly skilled and a terrific bloke around our footy club and our players and coaches are so rapt this kid will get his chance and we're looking forward to how he goes.''
Matt Suckling is a welcome addition back in the side, 12 months after rupturing his ACL in last season's NAB Cup and Clarkson said Brad Sewell and Ben Stratton were both progressing well in their return from injury.
``Brad trained really well yesterday and he's well on his way back with his rehab.
``We're pretty sure he will play in a couple of weeks _ we could nearly stretch it for round two but more than likely round three because he and `Strats' have interrupted preparations and haven't played a lot of game time thus far.
``We just have to decide if they come back via Box Hill or straight into the senior side and we'll work that over the next couple of games.''
Clarkson said the AFL game always threw up challenges for coaches and players and last season's premiership win was no guarantee of Hawks success this season.
``The game is a mental challenge whether you're the reigning premier or the wooden spooner from the year before.
``Just when you think you're going along OK a big bear jumps on your back.
``We just have to work hard and keep a real close eye on our culture and game plan and the things we do inside our footy club that we believe gives us the best chance of success.''