Heat on Hawks mids ahead of Roos AFL clash

Jason Phelan
Jaeger O'Meara's return to Hawthorn's midfield has boosted the Hawks onball brigade

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has demanded a repeat performance from his onball brigade when the Hawks take on North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.

The master coach branded his midfield "third or fourth-rate" following a heavy loss to Geelong in round two of the AFL.

But the return of classy onballer Jaeger O'Meara against Richmond last week led to a much-improved display at the stoppages that was the key to a convincing win.

Clarkson knows replicating that performance is easier said than done, with most teams enduring wild fluctuations in form since the season restart.

"The peaks and troughs and swings and roundabouts of the game are probably a little bit of a reflection of the times we're in," Clarkson said.

"But the loaded question is 'How can we make sure our performance is consistent with what we were able to produce last week?'

"The Geelong game we thought we had prepared really well (but) our performance was well below par."

North are smarting after suffering their first loss of the season, an 11-point defeat by Sydney at Marvel Stadium.

But they have received a considerable boost in the form of midfield bull Ben Cunnington, who has recovered from the back injury that sidelined him against the Swans.

"The Kangaroos will be looking to bounce back - they had one of those weeks where they perhaps were a little bit down from where they'd been performing previously," Clarkson said.

"We know we're in for a real physical encounter. The games that they've won they been really strong in that (midfield) facet of the game."

Rhyce Shaw made four unforced changes following the defeat, Marley Williams recalled along with Cunnington, while Jack Mahony and Tristan Xerri will make their AFL debuts.

Clarkson stuck with the same 22 that defeated the Tigers, despite lively forward Paul Puopolo's recovery from a calf injury that kept him out of the round-three team.

There had been some speculation former GWS forward Jonathon Patton was under pressure to keep his spot, but Clarkson is backing the former No.1 draft pick to hit his straps after a modest return of three goals in three games.

"We need to give him a bit of time and patience, have that empathy and understanding for where he's at," Clarkson said.

"He's still well below what we think he's capable of but he's made a contribution."