Premiership Odds: $12.00
Coach: John Longmire
In: Callum Sinclair (West Coast), Michael Talia (Western Bulldogs), Callum Mills (North Shore – Academy nominee), Tyrone Leonardis (Northern Knights), Jordan Dawson (Sturt), Sam Naismith (Sydney rookie). Rookies: Colin O’Riordan (Category B), Harry Marsh (Sydney), Tom Papley (Gippsland Power), Kyle Galloway (Sheparton), Sam Murray (Wodonga).
Out: Lewis Jetta (West Coast), Craig Bird (Essendon), Harry Marsh (delisted – Sydney rookie), Adam Goodes (retired), Mike Pyke (retired), Rhyce Shaw (retired). Rookies: Sean McLaren (delisted), Lloyd Perris (delisted).
The Sydney Swans snuck into fourth position in 2015, but became the third team in two seasons to be eliminated in straight sets with consecutive losses in the qualifying and semi finals. Nearly every team who finished top four for the previous 15 years reached the preliminary final, but that trend appears to be changing as the competition continues to even up. Sydney started the season on fire as it found itself outright second at 9-2 after 11 rounds. It was from this point of the season that the Bloods started to become a bit shaky, losing 4 of its next 7 matches. Characteristics that have become folklore of the Swans famed culture began to drop off dramatically, almost all of it inside related and the cancer couldn’t be cured before finals. Due to a heavy top ended salary cap that is dominated by big names, retaining depth players that were all so important during the 2005 and 2012 Premierships has become a difficult task. It has meant that the list management strategy has been more draft focused and to the Swans luck, they have managed to produce two gems in Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills from their academy in the last two years. Players like these still take time to develop though and with the likes of Jetta, Goodes, Pyke, Shaw and Bird on the exit list, it will be interesting to see you can step up for the Swans.
Sydney have long been regarded as the contested kings of the competition, but weren’t nearly as imposing in the area during 2015. After ranking first with 147 contested possessions per game in 2014, that figure dropped to 139.3 in 2015 to see the Swans fall outside the top four in that category. 2014 also saw a sharp decline in clearances and that couldn’t improve last year, ranking 12th in the competition with 38.3 per game. John Longmire promotes a tight and contested game plan that produces many stoppages to see Sydney ranked highly for tackles and total possessions, but his side is now struggling to win the ball first. The Swans possess a big name midfield with Kennedy, Hannebery, Parker, Mitchell and Jack, but Kennedy carries a heavy workload at the stoppages. His average of 7.7 clearances a game is elite, but probably requires another star to lift their output to 6-7 a match if this chosen style is to continue.
Sydney showed signs during 2015 to suggest that this sustained period of success is slowly coming to an end. The Swans deserve respect for its top four finish at the end of the home and away rounds, but an average of 55.5 points per final was never going to win games. The loss of Franklin for those games hurt immensely, but there are still question marks on him coming into 2016. The Swans draw is decent, but double up games against Hawthorn, Richmond and North Melbourne will be testing. Securing a double chance will be tougher for the Swans in 2016.
Ladder Range: 4-10
Premiership Odds: $6.00
Coach: Adam Simpson
In: Jonathan Giles (Essendon), Lewis Jetta (Sydney), Jack Redden (Brisbane Lions), Luke Partington (Norwood), Tom Cole (Sandhurst), Kurt Mutimer (Dandenong Stingrays), Matthew Allen (Glenelg). Rookies: Brant Colledge (West Coast), Alec Waterman (West Coast), Simon Tunbridge (West Coast), Jordan Snadden (East Fremantle).
Out: Matt Rosa (Gold Coast), Scott Selwood (Geelong), Callum Sinclair (Sydney), Brant Colledge (delisted – West Coast rookie), Dylan Main, Alec Waterman (delisted – West Coast rookie), Simon Tunbridge (delisted – West Coast rookie), Rowen Powell (delisted), Beau Waters (retired). Rookies: Will Maginness (delisted), Murray Newman (delisted).
West Coast were the big improver of the 2015 season, jumping from 9th in 2014 to be a grand finalist last year. The Eagles finished the home and away rounds in second position with 16 wins, a draw and 5 losses to earn itself a home qualifying final. If critics weren’t taking West Coast seriously as a premiership contender before that game, they sure were by the final siren as Adam Simpson’s men ran away to a comprehensive 32 point victory against Hawthorn. The Eagles defeated North Melbourne relatively convincingly in the preliminary final to set up a rematch with the Hawks for the 2015 flag. Unfortunately for West Coast, the players couldn’t replicate its high standard from the qualifying final as Hawthorn never looked genuinely threatened to win by 46 points. The positive for the Eagles is that their premiership window is still wide open and it proved to possess a game plan that is capable against all sides. While it lost respected players in Scott Selwood, Matt Rosa and Callum Sinclair, its inclusions of Jack Redden, Lewis Jetta and to a lesser extent Jonathan Giles have the potential to not only balance those players, but have a greater impact.
Adam Simpson developed a reputation of being one of the best tacticians in the competition during 2015. The horrendously named “Weagles Web” was the most celebrated and analysed defensive structure throughout the season and it deserved all the credit it was given. Despite losing tall defenders Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown during the NAB Challenge and opening round respectively, the Eagles KPD cupboard was close to bare. Jeremy McGovern was shifted back with outstanding results, but even he constantly found himself in the medical room. While West Coast had a short defence on paper, they were provided a lot of help by Simpson’s defensive zone that was organised by protecting space and rolling up and down the ground. The question for Simpson now is does the successful strategy become affected by reintroducing the recovered talls? There are likely to be tweaks to the game plan no matter what, but the return of Eric Mackenzie in particular may require on field time to see everything settle. Adam Simpson is sure to see it as a positive though and aim to lower an already impressive average of 71.45 points conceded per game.
The West Coast Eagles will be a premiership contender yet again in 2015. They appear to have stars and strengths all over the ground and most importantly, possess the scope to improve further. It owns the most dangerous forward line in the competition with Kennedy and Darling as tall targets, while Le Cras, Cripps and Hill are arguably the best small forward combination getting around. The midfield has countless rotation options and is superbly supplied by Naitanui and Lycett in the ruck, while the defence is set to regain some experienced KPDs. The Eagles have been given a tough draw, but that is what occurs after reaching a Grand Final. Top two beckons again for this highly talented list.
Ladder Range: 1-4
Premiership Odds: $18.00
Coach: Luke Beveridge
In: Matt Suckling (Hawthorn), Josh Dunkley (Gippsland Power – Sydney Father-son nominee), Kieran Collins (Dandenong Stingrays), Marcus Adams (West Perth), Bailey Williams (Glenelg). Rookies: Bradley Lynch (Swan Districts), Luke Goetz (Altona), Jed Adcock (Brisbane Lions).
Out: Michael Talia (Sydney), Ayce Cordy (delisted), Sam Darley (delisted), Matthew Fuller (delisted), Jarrad Grant (delisted – Gold Coast). Rookies: Brett Goodes (delisted), Jordan Kelly (delisted), Daniel Pearce (delisted).
Banned: Stewart Crameri
The Western Bulldogs were the surprise packet of the 2015, after many predicted the young list (including myself) to finish in the bottom four. They not only won 14 games, but played a brand of football that had even neutral supporters applauding their success. Luke Beveridge promoted positive football and rewarded good VFL form by playing 40 different players. It didn’t matter whether you were a teenager with an under developed body, if you were playing quality footy for Footscray, you’d get an opportunity at AFL level. While the Dogs attacking methods yielded fruit more often than not, they also proved during its elimination final against Adelaide that it could on occasions bite off more than it could chew. The game itself was just brilliant to watch, but the Bulldogs conceded far too many simple goals to the Crows. By finishing sixth on the ladder, it was at times easy to forget that a large percentage of these players were still learning the game plan. The offensive tactics couldn’t be faulted, but expect Beveridge to be preaching the defensive elements of the game a little harder in 2016.
The Western Bulldogs played high risk football during 2015, but they were able to continue playing that style because they just kept scoring. They ranked fourth in the competition for points scored, averaging 95.5 points a game. They also were placed highly in forward 50 entrances, averaging a dangerous 54.9 per game to be third placed in the league. Once inside the forward arc there were plenty of options, but it was Jake Stringer and Tory Dickson who produced career best seasons to both kick over 50 goals each. To get the ball forward the Dogs chose to handball and run more often than most other clubs, averaging 165.9 handballs a game to be ranked 6th, while 9.2 running bounces each week saw it rated 4th. The Dogs were respectable at the stoppages ranking 5th and 7th for contested possessions and clearances respectively and the return of Tom Liberatore from a knee injury could help lift his side to elite statuses in those particular categories. Liberatore ranked 2nd for clearances and 6th for contested possessions in the competition in 2014 to be rated a truly elite inside midfielder at the time. He is arguably the Bulldogs most valuable player when at his best and will be looking to reproduce that form of 18-24 months ago.
The Western Bulldogs shot up the ladder faster than many expected in 2015, but last year’s improvement doesn’t necessarily mean another step up in output for 2016. The Dogs played a lot of young faces including eight debutants, but teenagers are prone to the second year blues. A tougher draw from finishing inside the top eight will also present challenges, but that is something the Dogs will look to embrace. The opening seven rounds is likely to make or break the Dogs season, with all their games during that time scheduled at Etihad Stadium. The Dogs are in the mix for a finals position again, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them slide out in 2016.
Ladder Range: 6-12
As always, predicting a final ladder at this time of the year is a difficult task and season 2016 is no different. There appears to be plenty of teams pushing from last year’s bottom ten, creating an even bigger logjam for finals positions in the middle of the table. I like looking at the ladder in groups as it gives a more realistic comparison to where the clubs are at. Here is my predicted ladder:
West Coast and Hawthorn are the clear favourites for mine at this point of the year and I expect them to earn home qualifying finals. More often than not there is a side that jumps from the bottom ten into the top four and Geelong look the most likely. The Cats big name recruits have been well documented, but they have also been handed a very friendly draw. From here it gets hard, but I feel Fremantle have the runs on the board to be rated the best of the next group sides. It is ridiculously crowded after the Dockers though with the next eight clubs very evenly matched. Richmond, Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Sydney in my mind offer the most potential, but I feel North Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs, GWS Adelaide could easily replace them. The club who finishes 12th is likely to consider itself very unlucky. I feel like I’ve rated Gold Coast low at 13th if they can get their best team on the park, but they are ahead of the next group of teams in Brisbane, Melbourne and St Kilda. Carlton and Essendon look the obvious bottom two candidates and you can easily swap them around pending form. Considering the Bombers have lost their very best senior players to suspension, they sit slightly behind Carlton.
$6.00: Nathan Fyfe
$7.00: Gary Ablett
$8.00: Matthew Priddis
$10.00: Patrick Dangerfield
$12.00: Dan Hannebery
$14.00: Sam Mitchell
$18.00: Joel Selwood, Tom Rockliff
$21.00: Trent Cotchin, Josh P Kennedy
$26.00: Scott Pendlebury, Robbie Gray
PREDICTION: Matthew Priddis (West Coast) $8.00
The 2014 Brownlow Medallist couldn’t go back to back in 2015, but he gave it his very best shot. He averaged more disposals and clearances in West Coast’s run to the Grand Final and even collected two more votes than his 2014 effort, but was ultimately pipped by Nathan Fyfe by 3 votes. He turns 31 in March, but is only showing signs of becoming more prolific. He has polled 54 votes in the last two years and is arguably the most consistent player in the competition. I could have easily gone with any of Ablett, Fyfe or Dangerfield and I’ll be very surprised if the winner doesn’t come from one of these four players.
VALUE: Callan Ward (GWS) $41.00
The chances of Callan Ward becoming a genuine Brownlow Medal prospect rely heavily on the Giants improvement, but he is showing upward trends. Ward polled 15 votes in 2014 and lifted that to 19 votes in 2015 to finish in the top 10. The loss of Adam Treloar to Collingwood means he has one less GWS gun midfielder to compete against, with Dylan Shiel his only real remaining threat. Ward turns 26 in April and will be close to hitting his prime this season. He deserves strong consideration, despite being a long way behind Priddis, Fyfe, Dangerfield and Ablett.
$4.50: Josh J Kennedy
$5.00: Lance Franklin
$10.00: Jeremy Cameron
$11.00: Taylor Walker
$12.00: Jack Riewoldt
$13.00: Jake Stringer
$14.00: Tom Hawkins
$16.00: Jack Gunston, Kurt Tippett
$21.00: Travis Cloke, Charlie Dixon
$23.00: Jesse Hogan, Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
PREDICTION: Josh J Kennedy (West Coast) $4.50
No surprises here with the 2015 Coleman Medallist getting the nod again. Kennedy was unmatched last year, kicking 75 goals during the home and away season to win the medal convincingly. For the entire season, Kennedy had 32 more scoring shots than any other player. I find it difficult for anyone to close such a large gap, especially with West Coast likely to be at the top end of the ladder again. If Franklin stays on the field he must be considered a threat, but Kennedy has been too prolific to ignore.
VALUE: Eddie Betts (Adelaide) $34.00
Small forwards rarely win Coleman Medals, but considering Eddie Betts kicked the second most goals in the competition last year with 63, I find the $34.00 on offer mindboggling. Betts kicked 4 goals or more in a match 8 times last year to be a consistent match winner. He has already kicked a bag of 5 goals during the NAB Challenge and looks set to replicate similar numbers in 2016. He has now clearly established himself as the best small forward in the league. Those odds will shorten.
$6.00: Jacob Weitering (Carl)
$7.00: Callum Mills (Syd)
$8.00: Christian Petracca (Melb)
$11.00: Darcy Parish (Ess)
$12.00: Darcy Moore (Coll)
$14.00: Jayden Laverde (Ess), Toby McLean (WB)
$15.00: Clayton Oliver (Melb)
$18.00: Wayne Milera (Adel)
$21.00: Trent Dumont (NM), Josh Schache (BL), Orazio Fantasia (Ess)
PREDICTION: Jacob Weitering (Carlton) $6.00
The 2015 No.1 draft pick has probably been ready to play AFL football for 12 months and will enter his first season holding up a key position post in Carlton’s defence. The 18 year old possesses all the skills you could ask of from a KPD. He rarely lets his opponent get on top, reads the play superbly and is a great kick. He also collects more of the football than your usual KDP, which is sure to work in his favour. He is ready to go and likely to play the entire season.
One of the most profitable exercises I implemented last year was putting a stake on a high priced Rising Star prospect and deliberately cashing out once they had shortened to an acceptable profit. While it helps that I watch a lot of junior football, there is enough team selection and state league information getting around in the AFL media to make a reasonable assessment on young players. It certainly does help confidence levels to have seen the kid play though. Here are some early season names that I’ll be keeping an eye on over the first few weeks of the season to potentially cash out on:
Kieren Collins (WB) @ $51.00
Bailey Dale (WB) @ $51.00
Peter Wright (GCS) @ $67.00
Brayden Maynard (Coll) @ $81.00
Caleb Marchbank (GWS) @ $101.00
George Hewett (Syd) @ $151.00
Tom Papley (Syd) @ $251.00