For the first time in their short careers, Hawthorn’s Blake Hardwick and James Worpel have been selected in the 40-man 22Under22 squad. They caught up with AFLPlayers.com.au to discuss the achievement, their seasons to date, and what it’s like being a cult-figure at the Hawks.
Kavisha Di Pietro: Congratulations on both being selected in the 40-man squad for the first time. Is it a concept you’ve followed before?
Blake Hardwick: For me, no not really. I didn’t actually know what it was until I got into the AFL but it’s something I’ve followed a bit as I’ve been playing more games. As a young player, it’s a nice reflection of your season to be selected in the squad.
James Worpel: Only being my second year, I’m fairly new to the concept. I followed it last year and heard about all the drama surrounding Blake not being named in the 40-man squad (laughs). It’s definitely rewarding to hear you’ve been named in the squad.
Blake, as James just mentioned, you missed out last year, which was followed by some uproar from loyal Hawthorn fans. What does it mean to be recognised now by the AFLPA board as one of the best talents under the age of 22?
BH: It’s really nice to know some of the best players in the league, like Patrick Dangerfield, are recognising you enough to be named in the squad. I wasn’t aware there was so much fan uproar about not being named in last year’s squad (laughs).
You’re both still in the early stages of your career. How have you found yourself adjusting to life at the elite level? I imagine it’s a big step up from your days in the NAB League?
JW: It was interesting. Being a country boy I had to move out of home pretty early, which was naturally a big challenge being 18. Hawthorn were really welcoming and supportive in helping me to get settled in and to understand the standards set by the club. The transition has actually been pretty smooth.
BH: For me, the transition was pretty easy. I’m a local boy and grew up in Ringwood so I didn’t have to move out of home at first and was able to stay there for a couple of years until I was ready to move out on my own.
What about the roles you’re playing at the Hawks? Blake, you started out as a forward, are you feeling more comfortable with the tasks you’re being given now as a defender?
BH: It’s one thing the Hawks have been really great at and are probably known for around the League as well. You really have to know what your role is and what you’re doing each week. Like you said, I started as a forward so it’s been a bit different for me over the last few years, but now I’m definitely more comfortable with what I have to go out and do every week. ‘Clarko’ makes that pretty clear too! I’ve been working closely with Shaun Burgoyne too. He’s played a bit of everywhere so in my first year he was playing in the forward line and teaching me my craft there and then he’s moved to the backline for the last few years, which has tied into my transition too. It’s awesome to learn off someone like him. He’ll go down as one of the best players ever. To say we played with a guy like him when it’s all said and done will be pretty special.
JW: Yeah absolutely! Since Sam Mitchell’s come across (from West Coast) he’s had a huge impact on my football career. He’s only been here for the better part of eight or so months, but to be able to learn off someone who had such a successful playing career in the recent era is incredible. The little things he’s been able to teach me and the tricks of the trade has been really huge for me.
Blake, you were recognised last year as runner-up in the Hawks’ best-and-fairest and named the ‘Most Promising Player’ – how do you find scope to improve each season?
BH: I didn’t expect that at all last season, to be honest. Going through the year and then arriving at the best-and-fairest, it was a complete surprise! I just kept playing my role and trying to defend (the opposition) and just thought I’d see what happens with that and I ended up being recognised. Going forward, it’ll be much of same, I just want to keep doing my job week-in, week-out.
I’m sure you don’t read into stats too much James, but you’re averaging 26 disposals this year (up from 17 in 2018). Do you find yourself putting a level of expectation on yourself each time you run onto the field to keep improving?
JW: A little bit but it’s also about the fact that I really want to keep improving. Only being in my second year I know there is so much improvement left in me to come and the coaches do as well. I think as long as I can keep going out there and playing some consistent footy and playing my role then I’ll be achieving what I’ve set out to do.
Blake, I know you’ve shaved your mullet now, but there was a time where you were a bit of a cult-figure at the Hawks and James, you’ve been nicknamed ‘the Worpedo’ – who’s got that cult-figure status now?
BH: Definitely the Worpedo! He’s even got his own shirt now.
JW: There’s a few shirts rolling around but I didn’t make them (laughs).
BH: There’s a ‘Roughy’ (Jarryd Roughead), ‘Stratto’ (Ben Stratton) and ‘Worps’ shirts rolling around. He’s one of three so definitely him!
How do you feel having the pressure of a cult-figure status in only your second-year?
JW: (laughs) I wouldn’t call it pressure. It’s pretty funny and exciting to see the things people message you. But it’s definitely all part of being in the AFL.
You’re the only players representing the Hawks – are you going to vote for each other or try to keep each other out of the final-22 for bragging rights?
BH: (laughs) I’ll vote for him but he’ll also vote for himself.
JW: I’ll vote for him too. He’s had a good season!
Thanks for your time boys.