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Opposition watch: Rioli due to rebound

Nick Bowen, AFL.com.au  April 20, 2017 2:45 PM

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Cyril Rioli's form has been under the microscope this season

Jack Gunston is backing teammate Cyril Rioli to return to form soon, saying the Hawthorn star remains a quality player who can help lift the Hawks off the bottom of the ladder. 

A host of premiership Hawks have struggled over the opening four rounds as the former powerhouse has slumped to a 0-4 record that has included 86-point floggings to Gold Coast and Geelong over the past two weeks.

But Rioli's slow start has stood out.

Last season the small forward earned his third All Australian selection after kicking a career-high 47 goals from 21 games and averaging 13.7 possessions, 3.7 marks and 6.1 tackles a game. He also had 17 goal assists and took 16 contested marks. 

In this year's first four rounds, Rioli has kicked just three goals – he was held goalless against Geelong on Easter Monday – and averaged 11.3 possessions, 2.8 marks, and 3.8 tackles a game, while he is yet to have a goal assist or take a contested mark. 

"It's not just Cyril that's been down, there's a lot of us who are struggling to get the footy at times and are just playing some poor footy," Gunston said.

"Cyril is a quality player and I'm sure he's not too fussed by what's going on. He's been a quality player for numerous years, he's an All Australian and he's played some great footy and got plenty of touches in heaps of games. 

"I'm sure he'll come out, whether it's this week or next week, I'm sure he'll find the footy and kick a few goals, which will get the Hawthorn fans and us up and about."

Gunston's own statistical output this season has been roughly on par with previous years, except for one key area – goals. 

The three-time premiership forward has averaged 16.8 possessions (16 in 2016), 6.5 marks (6.4), 0.8 contested marks (1.3) and one mark inside forward 50 (2.3) over the first four rounds.

But after coming off three consecutive 50-goal seasons, Gunston was held goalless over the Hawks' opening three games before kicking two majors against Geelong. 

Gunston said the return of Jarryd Roughead from illness this season had "mixed a few things around" on the Hawks' forward line but would ultimately make it "much better". 

The 25-year-old put the onus on himself to start hitting the scoreboard more often. 

"(I've been) finding the footy and working my way up the ground, but haven't been dangerous inside forward 50 in the first month of footy," Gunston said. 

"But that's all right, [things] will turn. It's good to see (James) Sicily and other guys being able to hit the scoreboard and kick goals. 

"That's the philosophy we've had as a forward group, it doesn't matter who's kicking the goals as long as someone is. 

"In saying that, we do need to be kicking a lot more goals to be winning games." 

Gunston said the Hawks remained "united" ahead of their clash with West Coast and, an ankle injury permitting, former Hawks skipper Sam Mitchell at the MCG on Sunday. 

Gunston used the word "measured" to describe both coach Alastair Clarkson's reaction to the Hawks' surprise start to 2017 and the club's reviews of its losses.

The forward pinpointed skill execution, decision-making and contested football as the main areas that were letting Hawthorn down, but was confident they could be addressed quickly.

"It can turn around in a half of footy, in a game of footy. We just need a few things to click and a few people to jell and we'll get that Hawthorn brand of footy playing the way we want it to," Gunston said. 

"It takes a few good days on the track, good moments out on the field and you can get that confidence straight away."