There’s optimism Hawthorn can return to finals in 2024, with key forward Mitch Lewis revealing a massive leap up the ladder is what is driving the club this season.

Sam Mitchell will lead the Hawks into the new year on a wave of momentum after a strong finish to 2023 that saw his side take the scalps of eventual Grand Finalists Collingwood and Brisbane.

As was the case last season, Hawthorn again possesses one of the youngest lists in the competition. But Lewis – who is also looking to charge back to relevancy on a personal level – believes the Hawks can prove they belong among the best in the competition.

“That’s what we’re striving for, we know we’re still a young group and there’s a lot of development to come, but we’re optimistic,” he said on SEN Breakfast about Hawthorn’s push to break a five-year finals drought.

“We’re young, we’re hungry and that’s ultimately what we’re driving for, to be playing in September again.”

Not since Alastair Clarkson and Jarryd Roughead were in charge of the Hawks have they featured in finals.

But on top of a strong finish to 2023, a brilliant trade period has Mitchell’s forward line promising big things.

Jack Gunston, Mabior Chol and Jack Ginnivan are all proven at AFL level and will wear brown and gold in 2024, while top draftee Nick ‘Wizard’ Watson oozes talent.

It will mean that Lewis, 25 and coming into his prime, has the best foil he’s had since joining the Hawks back in 2016.

He’s suffered an injury-interrupted career to date but is hopeful a new, more relaxed approach will finally allow him to enjoy a full season.

“It’s absolutely the thing I’m most aspiring towards, I want to play a full season of footy and hopefully contribute to the team,” he stated.

“Everything I do in and away from the footy club is aiming to do that.”

Lewis has never played more than 15 games in a season but his ability is seen in the fact he kicked 120 goals from his 66 AFL appearances.

The Hawks spearhead also offered a pump-up to impressive young defender Josh Weddle, who has already earned plenty of praise this pre-season.

A first round pick from 2022, Kane Cornes has already suggested Weddle can be “the game’s best player”, while track watchers suggest he’s dominating during Hawthorn’s pre-season.

“I absolutely love Weds. I love what he brings to our side and he has that license (to go) with his athletic capabilities,” Lewis added.

“He can take a hanger but he’s also one of the quickest and fittest on our list. As soon as he gets the ball I see that downfield and I’m running as fast as I can back to goal because I know he’s going to take territory and run as fast as he can and kick it as far as he can.”

Hawthorn plays the Western Bulldogs twice before opening their 2024 campaign against Essendon in Round 1.