Welcome to the 2016 AFL preview. Footy is finally back after a preseason that was dominated by big name list changes and again, the Essendon supplement saga. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, after the 34 past and present players were found guilty of taking the banned substance Themosin Beta-4 and suspended for the entire 2016 season. The players have appealed to clear their names permanently, but the suspensions will stand. Essendon aren’t the only ones to be affected by the bans though, as four other clubs have guilty players who been additions to their lists since 2012. Essendon however have been given the right to add 10 short term top up players to the list, a privilege the other four clubs have missed out on. 2016 will also see major changes to the bench with the sub rule abolished and the interchange cap reduced from 120 to 90. It will be fascinating to see how these changes affect team balance and the style of play, as the AFL look to lessen stoppages.
2015 saw Hawthorn achieve the rare feat of a third consecutive premiership and it goes into the 2016 season again as the premiership favourite, looking to become only the second club in AFL/VFL history to win four flags in a row. While there are some who believe their aging list could be on the slide, the Hawks proved throughout 2015 that they have a group of young players on the verge of taking the next step and making an even greater impact. It would be a major surprise if the Hawks weren’t still competing at the business end of the season.
For this preview we take a look at the prospects of each club, assessing key changes, the draw, squad balance and any other factors that will help determine whether a team’s premiership clock is about to strike 12 or if a rebuilding list will be vulnerable to a bottom 4 finish. On first impressions, the season looks likely to be tight again with a large number of sides capable of a top eight finish.
Premiership Odds: $31.00
Coach: Don Pyke
In: Curtly Hampton (GWS), Dean Gore (Geelong), Paul Seedsman (Collingwood), Troy Menzel (Carlton), Wayne Milera (Central District), Tom Doedee (Geelong Falcons), Jake Kelly (Adelaide rookie). Rookies: Hugh Greenwood (Category B), Alex Keath (Category B), Paul Hunter (Redland), Jonathon Beech (West Adelaide).
Out: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Sam Kerridge (Carlton), Sam Siggins (delisted), Brodie Martin (delisted), Matthew Wright (delisted – Carlton), Brent Reilly (retired), James Podsiadly (retired). Rookies: Jack Osborn (delisted), Anthony Wilson (delisted).
The Adelaide Crows’ 2015 season will be remembered more for what happened off the field than on after the tragic murder of coach Phil Walsh. To the credit of everyone involved at the club, they somehow regrouped from such a traumatic occurrence to win four of the final five home and away games and secure a position in the top 8. It’s away elimination final against the Western Bulldogs was one of the games of the season as both clubs produced frenetic paced football to both score over 100 points, a match the Crows ended up winning by 7 points. Unfortunately Adelaide were no match for Hawthorn the following week, but you got a feeling that the club were satisfied with its efforts throughout the season. 2016 brings new challenges though as former West Coast assistant Don Pyke takes the reins from caretaker coach Scott Campereale, the club’s fourth coach in only 25 matches.
Patrick Dangerfield was the name on everyone’s lips throughout 2015 as speculation grew as to whether he would re-sign with Adelaide or return to Victoria to live on the surf coast and play for Geelong. The Crow’s worst fears were realised in October when Dangerfield told the club that he’d be returning home. It wasn’t all bad news though as he wasn’t lost for nothing via free agency, with both clubs agreeing to a trade that resulted in Adelaide receiving more than they originally expected. For the immediate future though, he is an enormous loss to a club that had already lost numerous players over recent trade/free agency periods. The return of Brad Crouch from chronic foot injuries helps balance the loss to an extent, but the likes of Matt Crouch, Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Mitch Grigg and Jarryd Lyons will have to lift their outputs significantly to ensure the Crows are as competitive through the midfield as 2015.
The Crows continued on its reputation as one of the most entertaining teams in the competition throughout 2015, ensuring Phil Walsh’s legacy of attacking football was carried on into finals. The Crows scored the 3rd most points during the home and away rounds and kicked the ball more than any other side excluding Hawthorn. While its long, aggressive game style produced eye catching moments, they also bit off more than they could chew on occasions which saw it ranked 17th in the competition for disposal efficiency. Adelaide have also recruited game breakers in Paul Seedsman, Curtly Hampton, Troy Menzel and first round draft pick Wayne Milera to West Lakes, so don’t expect too much of a drop off in the excitement stakes.
The Crows are in the frame for finals action again, but losing a superstar of the competition in Dangerfield hurts immensely. They still possess stars on most lines in Sloane, Jacobs, Walker, Betts, Talia, Smith and Laird, but the midfield structures will take time to adapt. Adelaide also possess a tough draw which is highlighted by having to play all of West Coast, Fremantle, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide and Geelong twice. A tough opening two months is likely to make or break the Crows season.
Ladder Range: 6-12
Premiership Odds: $151.00
Coach: Justin Leppitsch
In: Ryan Bastinac (North Melbourne), Tom Bell (Carlton), Jarred Jansen (Geelong), Josh Walker (Geelong), Josh Schache (Murray Bushrangers), Eric Hipwood (Aspley – Academy nominee), Ben Keays (Brisbane Lions reserves – Academy nominee), Rhys Mathieson (Geelong Falcons), Sam Skinner (Gippsland Power). Rookies: Jackson Paine (Brisbane Lions), Reuben Williams (Zillmere).
Out: James Aish (Collingwood), Jack Redden (West Coast), Matthew Leuenberger (Essendon), Jed Adcock (delisted – Western Bulldogs rookie), Mitch Golby (delisted), Jackson Paine (delisted – Brisbane Lions rookie), Matt Maguire (retired), Luke McGuane (retired), Brent Staker (retired). Rookies: Jordon Bourke (delisted), Zac O’Brien (delisted).
The Brisbane Lions were arguably the most disappointing team of 2015. After recruiting some big names and producing decent NAB Challenge results, there were expectations internally and externally that Brisbane could push for a top 8 position. That didn’t come close to eventuating as Justin Leppitsch’s men could only manage a meagre four wins for the season and were lucky not to finish on the bottom with a horrendous percentage of 67.52. The Lions had some valid reasons for its poor season with star players like Dayne Beams, Tom Rockliff and Pearce Hanley constantly plagued by injury, but that isn’t enough to justify a bottom two finish. During the offseason there was another long departure list of required players, as James Aish, Jack Redden and Matthew Leuenberger all left for greener pastures. There was also talk of Stefan Martin wanting to return home to Victoria, but thankfully that disaster was avoided as he has now signed a contract to the end of 2019. If the rebuild of Brisbane hadn’t already started, it has now as it invested heavily in talented (and mostly local) teenagers at the draft.
When you finish second last on the ladder, there are generally many areas that need attention and Brisbane is no exception to that rule. As replicated by its final position, the Lions finished 17th for both points scored and conceded, while it ranked cold stone last for contested marks with an average of only 8.5 per game. Key position depth at both ends of the ground is arguably the Lions biggest concern and they addressed that at the draft by selecting highly rated youngsters Josh Schache and Eric Hipwood. They’ll probably both have to be thrown into the deep end earlier than hoped, but at least the experienced body of former Geelong forward Josh Walker will offer support.
On paper Brisbane have a threatening midfield with the likes of Dayne Beams, Tom Rockliff, Pearce Hanley, Dayne Zorko, Allen Christensen and Mitch Robinson, who’ll be joined by Ryan Bastinac and Tom Bell in 2016, but injuries and consistency ensured that this group rarely performed at their peak as a group. The Lions ranked a very respectable third for clearances throughout the season, but an average of only 129 contested possessions per game (ranked 17th) meant they just weren’t competitive enough. The midfield is where the true scope for improvement lies for Brisbane in 2016, but enthusiasm levels need to be far more consistent.
The Brisbane Lions will be hoping that 2015 is as bad as things get and there are signs that they can jump up the ladder. Aiming for finals is unrealistic though considering its KPP stocks, while a challenging draw doesn’t offer too many easy patches. If its big midfield names can stay on the park, they’ll cause the occasional upset, but I personally can’t see the season producing much more than that.
Ladder Range: 13-16
Premiership Odds: $251.00
Coach: Brendon Bolton
In: Daniel Gorringe (Gold Coast), Sam Kerridge (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (GWS), Andrew Phillips (GWS), Lachie Plowman (GWS), Liam Sumner (GWS), Jacob Weitering (Mount Eliza), Harry McKay (Gippsland Power), Charlie Curnow (Geelong Falcons), David Cunningham (Oakleigh Chargers), Jack Silvagni (Oakleigh Chargers – Father-son). Rookies: Matt Korcheck (Category B), Jesse Glass-McCasker (Swan Districts), Andrew Gallucci (Williamstown).
Out: Tom Bell (Brisbane Lions), Lachie Henderson (Geelong), Troy Menzel (Adelaide), Chris Yarran (Richmond), Cameron Giles (delisted), Nick Holman (delisted), Robert Warnock (delisted), Matthew Watson (delisted), Andrew Carrazzo (retired), David Ellard (retired), Chris Judd (retired). Rookies: Tom Fields (delisted), Blaine Johnson (delisted), Fraser Russell (delisted), Brad Walsh (delisted).
2015 was nothing more than an absolute nightmare for the Carlton Football Club. It all probably started going wrong for the Blues on March 20th during the season launch when then coach Mick Malthouse came up with the following quote. “I shouldn’t say this in front of the cameras, but it’s very, very difficult to see where we’re going to lose a game”. By the start of Round 9, Malthouse had been sacked and Carlton were yet to win a game in Australia, their only win at the time coming against St Kilda in Wellington. John Barker was then announced as interim coach for the rest of the 2015 season and while there were signs of improvement, the Blues couldn’t avoid winning the dreaded wooden spoon. Respected Hawthorn assistant Brendon Bolton was appointed the 2016 coach in late August and immediately went to work on cleaning out a stagnant list. The Blues invested heavily in the draft and the long term future of the club, suggesting that there could still be some short term pain to adhere.
As we saw throughout most of the 2015 season, Carlton didn’t possess many areas that could be considered a strength. It was ranked 18th for points scored, 18th for points conceded, 18th for marks inside 50, 18th for tackles and 17th for total inside 50 entries. Based on those numbers alone, Carlton couldn’t score, couldn’t defend and weren’t competitive. After looking at those statistics and assessing the list in detail, it is little wonder that the Blues finished where they did. The worrying thing is that it took the club so long to recognise that the list was on the decline. It wasn’t until the results began free falling that the board finally realised that something had to be done. Unfortunately the club got sucked into signing a big name coach in Mick Malthouse instead of doing due diligence on other prospects, which could ultimately see the club five years behind where it should be.
The biggest positive for Carlton in 2015 was the rise of Patrick Cripps, who became the second youngest player to win the club best and fairest. Cripps would have won the Rising Star award almost every other year, but Jesse Hogan was a deserving winner. The 195cm midfielder averaged 23.6 possessions, 13.7 contested possessions and 6.7 clearances per game, numbers rarely seen for a 20 year old at AFL level. He is the poster boy of Carlton’s future, but must be given greater support and protected as he enters only his third season.
A second consecutive wooden spoon beckons for Carlton as Brendon Bolton makes development the highest priority for this club. The Blues still possess quality players like Murphy, Cripps, Gibbs and Simpson, but its depth gets tested quickly. Playing the likes of St Kilda, Essendon and Brisbane twice will ensure that Carlton aren’t starved of competitive match ups, but a 22 that is potentially filled with teenagers is never guaranteed of a win.
Ladder Range: 17-18
Premiership Odds: $18.00
Coach: Nathan Buckley
In: James Aish (Brisbane Lions), Jeremy Howe (Melbourne), Adam Treloar (GWS), Brayden Sier (Northern Knights), Tom Phillips (Oakleigh Chargers), Rupert Wills (Collingwood VFL), Ben Crocker (Oakleigh Chargers), Jack Frost (Collingwood rookie). Rookies: Darrean Wyatt (Category B), Lachlan Keeffe (Collingwood), Josh Thomas (Collingwood), Josh Smith (Redland) Tim Golds (GWS).
Out: Nathan Freeman (St Kilda), Ben Kennedy (Melbourne), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide), Sam Dwyer (delisted), Lachlan Keeffe (delisted – Collingwood rookie), Josh Thomas (delisted – Collingwood rookie), Patrick Karnezis (retired), Clinton Young (retired). Rookies: Brenden Abbott (delisted), Tony Armstrong (delisted), Michael Manteit (delisted).
Collingwood more or less replicated its 2014 season by starting superbly before falling in a heap and again missing finals in 2015. The Pies found themselves at 8-3 after 11 games for the second consecutive year, but could only manage another two wins for the rest of the season. It would have been thoroughly frustrating for Nathan Buckley to see his side fall off the cliff for a second consecutive year, but there were at least enough signs to suggest that the club was on the right track. Derek Hine and his recruitment team have hit the jackpot though, bringing in three big names who are likely to have an immediate impact. Adam Treloar is the big fish, a foundation GWS player who has now earned star status. Jeremy Howe is the wild card with his massive leap and is earmarked to play the rangy Isaac Smith type wing/half forward role. James Aish isn’t proven at AFL level, but has serious runs on the board at junior level and is primed to take the next step. If these pick-ups turn out to be a success, it is difficult to see Collingwood not rocketing into the top eight with the continued improvement of its developing youngsters.
Collingwood will go into the 2016 season threatening to possess one of the most dangerous midfield groups in the competition. The Pies were already ranked No.1 in the competition for contested possessions last year and were outstanding defensively as well, laying an average of 71.9 tackles a game to be the third best club in that area. Where Collingwood let themselves down was in the disposal efficiency stakes, ranking 16th in the competition at 71.8%. With names like Swan, Adams, Treloar, Sidebottom, Crisp, Greenwood and de Goey to rotate through the midfield, Collingwood are toying with the possibility of putting captain Scott Pendlebury behind the ball to lift those efficiency rates. Pendlebury proved in Round 22 last year against Geelong that he is dangerous in the role and Collingwood surely have the midfield depth to cover his contested absence.
Collingwood also proved during 2015 that it has no problem entering its forward 50, crossing its arc nearly 53 times a game on average. The Pies were also dangerous once they had a shot on goal, converting 52% of the time to be ranked third in the competition. One of the main contributions to that statistic was that Collingwood kicked on goal from more efficient areas of the ground, whether it be in the corridor on in close proximity. The Pies have many goal kicking contributors, but need greater impact from its tall forwards. Travis Cloke’s goal tally of 34 was his worst effort since 2009, while Jesse White is plagued by inconsistency. Darcy Moore showed great signs last year, but expectations need to be lessened on a second year player.
There is an ominous feel about Collingwood for 2016. Their young players are making giant strides, while the regulars are holding to form we have all become accustomed too. The draw looks friendly enough, but a tougher run home will make coaches and supporters alike a tad nervous after the late season failures of 2014 and 2015. The scope is high and in an extremely tight looking season, a sneaky top four run isn’t beyond them if all goes well.
Ladder Range: 4-10
Premiership Odds: $151.00
Coach: John Worsfold
In: Matthew Leuenberger (Brisbane Lions), Craig Bird (Sydney), Darcy Parish (Geelong Falcons), Aaron Francis (West Adelaide), Alex Morgan (Oakleigh Chargers), Mason Redman (Glenelg), Mitch Brown (Cheltenham), Yestin Eades (North Ballarat Rebels), Michael Hartley (Coburg), Shaun McKernan (Essendon rookie). Rookies: Will Hams (Essendon), Gach Nyuon (Dandenong Stingrays), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwati (Essendon VFL), Tom Wallis (Calder Cannons).
Out: Jake Carlisle (St Kilda), Jonathan Giles (West Coast), Jake Melksham (Melbourne), Alex Browne (delisted), Lauchlan Dalgleish (delisted), Will Hams (delisted – Essendon rookie), Elliott Kavanagh (delisted), Nick O’Brien (delisted), Paul Chapman (retired), Dustin Fletcher (retired), Jason Winderlich (retired). Rookies: Kurt Aylett (delisted), Ariel Steinberg (delisted).
Banned: Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Tom Bellchambers, Heath Hocking, Travis Colyer, Michael Hibberd, Ben Howlett, David Myers, Brent Stanton, Tayte Pears.
Top Ups: Ryan Crowley, James Kelly, Mathew Stokes, Matt Dea, Nathan Grima, James Polkinghorne, Jonathan Simpkin, Mark Jamar, Sam Grimley, Sam Michael.
It has been a terrible few years to be involved at Essendon, whether it be as a player, coach, administrator or supporter. 2015 and the start of 2016 have arguably been the lowest points for all involved during this never ending drugs saga, as the 34 involved players were originally cleared of any wrong doing before an appeal from WADA saw them all banned for the 2016 season. While the players have appealed the decision, there is no chance that any of them will be playing this year. The Bombers have been granted permission from the AFL to sign ten top up players, of whom I’ve listed above this opening paragraph. We saw the first signs of this dramatic experience taking a toll on the field during Round 10 when Geelong held the Bombers goalless in the first half. After Round 8, the Bombers could only manage two wins and were on the receiving end of numerous thumpings, including losses to Adelaide and St Kilda by over 100 points respectively. The Bombers ended 2015 with six wins, but four of those victories were only single figure margins. It doesn’t bode well for Essendon’s prospects for season 2016, especially considering the 12 currently listed players who have been banned are top notch including Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Brent Stanton and Michael Hibberd. John Worsfold has a massive job ahead of him, but minimal expectations.
Essendon proved on numerous occasions throughout 2015 that it possessed the ball too often. The Bombers were ranked 3rd overall for total disposals and uncontested possession, while were 18th for total running bounces with an average only 5 per game. More often than not, Essendon chose the safe option over an attacking passage which contributed to the exaggerated possession statistics. It appears that James Hird attempted to implement a poor version of Hawthorn’s “keepings off” strategy, but you need elite ball users to successfully pull off that type of game plan. John Worsfold will be taking the first steps of teaching his own game plan to this young group of Essendon players this year, which is sure to involve faster ball movement.
It is difficult to properly assess this Essendon list due to the combined mass changes of the trade/free agency period, drafts and top up signings. It is no surprise to see that Worsfold and Dordoro have opted for AFL experience over potential with the top ups, even talking the likes of Kelly, Stokes, Jamar and Grima out of retirement to meet the desired criteria. While these types are likely to be far more competitive, but it remains to be seen whether they can lift the Bombers to another level. A bottom two finish is the likely scenario.
Ladder Range: 17-18
Premiership Odds: $9.00
Coach: Ross Lyon
In: Harley Bennell (Gold Coast), Darcy Tucker (North Ballarat Rebels), Harley Balic (Sandringham Dragons), Samuel Collins (Box Hill Hawks), Shane Yarran (Subiaco), Ethan Hughes (Fremantle rookie). Rookies: Josh Deluca (Fremantle), Anthony Morabito (Fremantle), Matthew Uebergang (Redland), Ryan Nyhuis (Nightcliff).
Out: Ryan Crowley (delisted), Josh Deluca (delisted – Fremantle rookie), Max Duffy (delisted), Anthony Morabito (delisted – Fremantle rookie), Paul Duffield (retired), Luke McPharlin (retired), Colin Sylvia (retired). Rookies: Jacob Ballard (delisted), Craig Moller (delisted), Tom Vandeleur (delisted).
At times during the 2015 season, the Fremantle Dockers clearly looked the best team in the competition. It appeared invincible for the first nine games, winning them all and creating a two game gap from its nearest rival. The hype was believable and the Dockers justifiably held premiership favouritism. Nathan Fyfe was tearing every game to shreds, while there didn’t appear to be any scoring concerns at that point of the campaign as they averaged 94 points per game. The Dockers went on to finish top of the ladder, but they were nowhere near as dominant during the final 13 games of the home and away season. They ended up dropping five games despite a relatively simple run home and its scoring average from Rounds 10-23 dropped to only 77.77 points per game. The Dockers went into its home qualifying final against Sydney having won just one of its last four games and while it scrapped home to victory, Fremantle finished the match with six less scoring shots. Fremantle never truly looked like threatening Hawthorn during the preliminary final and eventually went down to the tune of 27 points. After securing two home finals in Perth and a double chance, Ross Lyon couldn’t help but feel that his side had wasted its greatest ever opportunity for a premiership.
It was plain for all to see that the stoppages was Fremantle’s greatest strength of its 2015 season. Its big bodied midfielders constantly monstered its opposition, winning the football first at will. The Dockers averaged a competition best 41.8 clearances per game and ranked third for contested possessions gathering 140.5 a match. It also helped that the Purple Haze averaged nearly 7 more hit outs per game than any other club, a majority of those coming from the hand of Aaron Sandilands. Fyfe, Mundy and Neale were the main destroyers, all averaging 27 or more disposals, while Michael Barlow is expected to be given more midfield time during 2016. The outside class of Stephen Hill and Danyle Pearce complimented the big bodied midfielders well and that uncontested run has the potential to be even more dangerous with the inclusion of Harley Bennell. It is difficult to see the midfield dominance dropping off for the Dockers in 2016.
Scoring is the issue that Ross Lyon would have been focusing on the most during the offseason. Despite finishing top of the ladder, Fremantle’s offensive numbers were difficult reading. The Docker’s were ranked 11th for points scored, 14th for average inside 50 entrances and 13th for marks taken inside 50. While Fremantle possess two of the most dangerous small forwards in the competition in Walters and Ballantyne, the KPF stocks are bare. The Dockers successfully convinced Cam McCarthy to join the club over the offseason from GWS, but a current two year contract stopped the trade from going ahead. It leaves 34 year old Matthew Pavlich again as the number one target, a role that is becoming more difficult for him every year.
It is hard to imagine the Dockers not being around the top four group again in 2016, despite possessing the oldest list in the competition. They are still one of the best stoppage and defensive teams getting around, but must increase its scoring options. While the Dockers have plenty of travelling, it only has the one top four team to play twice in West Coast.
Ladder Range: 3-6
Premiership Odds: $9.00
Coach: Chris Scott
In: Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide), Lachie Henderson (Carlton), Scott Selwood (West Coast), Zac Smith (Gold Coast), Ryan Gardner (Burnie Dockers), Sam Menegola (Subiaco), Wylie Buzza (Mount Gravatt), Matthew Hayball (West Adelaide), Michael Luxford (Geelong rookie). Rookies: Jock Cornell (Mangoplah Cue), James Parsons (Eastern Ranges), Tom Ruggles (Geelong VFL).
Out: Dean Gore (Adelaide), Jarred Jansen (Brisbane Lions), Dawson Simpson (GWS), Steve Johnson (delisted – GWS), Josh Walker (Brisbane Lions), James Kelly (retired), Sam Blease (retired), Brad Hartman (retired), Hamish McIntosh (retired), Jared Rivers (retired), Matthew Stokes (retired), James Toohey (retired).
2015 was a rare disappointing season for Geelong, missing its first finals campaign since 2006. An aging list was finally beginning to take its toll as the decline became obvious for the first time. The coaching staff and list management team recognised that something significant needed to be done to ensure the Cats wouldn’t bottom out, as the timing of a rebuild wouldn’t have been great with the likes of Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor still in their prime. A recruitment strategy was put together and it must be said, successfully implemented. Admittedly, the Cats have had one of the best players in the competition land on their front door step with minimal effort, as Patrick Dangerfield ignored the riches of enormous contracts at other clubs to return home. On Dangerfield alone the Cats become a greater finals prospect, but securing all of Scott Selwood, Lachie Henderson and Zac Smith lifts this club into premiership contention once again.
Geelong prided itself on contested possession and stoppage strength during the premiership years of 2007, 2009 and 2011, but 2015 saw an even greater drop off in this area after dwindling numbers in recent seasons. The Cats averaged the least amount of clearances of any club last year with only 34.5 a game, while its contested possession numbers weren’t much better, averaging 131.9 to be ranked 15th in the competition. It also ranked 17th for hit outs as the Cats were again hit by a big man injury epidemic. Rhys Stanley showed promising signs when on the ground and should be well complimented by Zac Smith, which importantly releases reigning best and fairest winner Mark Blicavs to be a fulltime midfielder. Although the introduction of Patrick Dangerfield creates the biggest scope for improvement at the stoppages, not only by winning his own football, but relieving an enormous workload of the battle wearied Joel Selwood. Once his brother Scott overcomes an ongoing ankle injury, the midfield rotations look dangerous when you include Mitch Duncan, Josh Caddy, Cam Guthrie, Steven Motlop and Daniel Menzel.
The Cats have assembled one of the tallest lists of all time and will be looking to dominate in the air all over the ground. Geelong are already a high number marking team after being ranked 2nd to Hawthorn in 2015, but it is in the contest where they are really dangerous. The Cats averaged 13.1 contested marks per game in 2015 to be ranked first in the competition. The Cats also took the second most marks of any other team inside 50 during the home and away rounds and with the likes of Tom Hawkins, Nathan Vardy, Rhys Stanley, Zac Smith and Lachie Henderson all fit and healthy, they will be dangerous in the air deep again. The missing link though is Mitch Clark, who is still struggling with a calf injury. If he can get on the park, he creates a whole new element to the structure.
Trends say that there is always one side who jumps from the bottom ten to the top four like West Coast last year and Geelong look the best candidate in 2016. Not only have the Cats managed to secure all of their offseason targets, they have received a golden draw that sees them avoid having to play a 2015 top four side twice and double up on only two finalists. It may take time for players to gel after such a large list turnover, but you’d think the Cats hierarchy will be disappointed if a top four position isn’t secured.
Ladder Range: 1-6
Premiership Odds: $51.00
Coach: Rodney Eade
In: Daniel Currie (North Melbourne), Jarrad Grant (Western Bulldogs), Matt Rosa (West Coast), Callum Ah Chee (South Fremantle), Brayden Fiorini (Northern Knights), Joshua Schoenfeld (Peel Thunder), Mackenzie Willis (Kingborough), Adam Saad (Gold Coast rookie), Keegan Brooksby (Gold Coast rookie). Rookies: Danny Stanley (Gold Coast), Tom Keough (West Adelaide), Darcy MacPherson (Northern Knights), Ryan Davis (Swan Districts), Cameron Loersch (South Fremantle), Jesse Joyce (Palm Beach Currumbin).
Out: Harley Bennell (Fremantle), Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide), Zac Smith (Geelong), Daniel Gorringe (delisted – Carlton), Josh Hall (delisted), Danny Stanley (delisted – Gold Coast rookie), Andrew Boston (retired), Greg Broughton (retired), Andrew Raines (retired), Timmy Sumner (retired). Rookies: Tyrone Downie (delisted), Jarred Ellis (delisted), Josh Glenn (delisted), Louis Herbert (delisted).
Rodney Eade couldn’t have experienced a more frustrating debut season as coach of the Gold Coast Suns, as an injury curse hit the club and completely wrote off its season. The Suns were probably lucky not to finish with the wooden spoon after an unexpected draw against West Coast in Round 18 and a heart stopping two point win against Essendon in Round 21. Once you go through their list and realise just how many games their stars missed, it is difficult to blame anyone for their final position. Gary Ablett only played 6 games, Jaeger O’Meara 0, Dion Prestia 8, Rory Thompson 12, David Swallow 6, Harley Bennell 15 and Charlie Dixon just the 16. When your key core of players are only playing mostly single figure game tallies, it is near on impossible to be consistently competitive. There was apparently a time during the season that Eade only had 24-25 fit players to choose from, which is just catastrophic for any sporting team. To make matters worse, David Swallow has suffered a setback in his comeback from a knee injury and is expected to miss half the season, while the highly talented but consistently poorly behaved Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon have moved on to Fremantle and Port Adelaide respectively. There are many who are now doubting whether the Suns will ever produce success with their original concessions, but after such an injury ravaged season, this club deserves another chance at the very least.
When you look at the basic team statistics of the Suns throughout 2015, you understand the true impact of losing such a large number of key players. Gold Coast plain and simply couldn’t get their hands on the ball nearly enough. The Suns ranked 18th for total disposals, 18th for total marks and to rub salt into the wound, possessed the worst disposal efficiency rate of 69.2% in the competition, the only club to fall under 70%. Its outside numbers were the main problem, ranking 18th for contested possessions to be the only club to average under 200 a game with 183.7. While the Suns struggled to find easy possessions, they did attempt to move the ball quickly by averaging the second most running bounces per game with 10, but that is basically where the positives end. Michael Rischitelli and Kade Kolojashnij tried hard as the only regulars to average over 20 possessions per game, while Aaron Hall made giant strides in the second half of the season to become one of the Suns few reliable players.
It is safe to say that things can’t get any worse for the Suns in 2016. They are sure to have greater access to star players throughout the season and after finishing third bottom in 2015, the club has been given a friendly 2016 fixture. I find it difficult to expect the Suns to become a bona fide finals contender, but they should lift to the middle groups of the ladder.
Ladder Range: 9-14
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Premiership Odds: $34.00
Coach: Leon Cameron
In: Steve Johnson (Geelong), Dawson Simpson (Geelong), Jacob Hopper (North Ballarat Rebels – Academy nominee), Matthew Kennedy (Collingullie-Ashmont-Kapooka – Academy nominee), Harrison Himmelberg (Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes – Academy nominee), Matthew Flynn (Narrandera – Academy nominee). Rookies: Sam Reid (UWS Giants), Daniel Lloyd (Killamey Vale).
Out: Tomas Bugg (Melbourne), Curtly Hampton (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (Carlton), Andrew Phillips (Carlton), Lachie Plowman (Carlton), Liam Sumner (Carlton), Jacob Townsend (Richmond), Adam Treloar (Collingwood), Tim Golds (delisted – Collingwood rookie), Dylan Addison (retired). Rookies: Sam Schulz (delisted).
The Greater Western Sydney Giants had a respectable season in accumulating 11 wins, but Leon Cameron would have been bitterly disappointed to have missed finals after being top four after 8 rounds. At that point in time the Giants were 6-2, but could only conjure another 5 wins from its last 14 games. The highlight of the Giants season came in Round 6 when it knocked off Hawthorn at Spotless Stadium by 10 points, but Leon Cameron’s men could only defeat one other finalist during 2015. It is certainly an area that GWS will be looking to improve as more consistent performances against the better teams will eventually lead to finals appearances. Unfortunately the Giants have suffered a massive blow to their list with foundation player Adam Treloar moving to Collingwood. He had arguably developed into their best and most consistent player and will be difficult to replace immediately. They have managed to add some extra experience to the list by recruiting Steve Johnson from Geelong, a player they were willing to give up pick No.6 for in the draft only 12 months earlier. The Giants also refused a trade a homesick but contracted Cam McCarthy to Fremantle, which may have back fired as he has since be given indefinite leave. The 2016 prospects of GWS is definitely one of the more difficult to assess.
Leon Cameron appeared to put a significant emphasis on improving the Giants outside run in 2015 and it certainly paid off at times. GWS were clearly ranked No.1 in the competitive for running bounces, averaging 16.1 a game, 6 more than any other club. The Giants also became the 6th most prolific club for uncontested possession and lifted its disposal efficiency to 73.7% to be ranked 4th in the competition. It didn’t quite lead to a greater impact on the scoreboard though as the Giants were ranked middle of the road for points scored and 12th for total inside 50s. The aggressive outside direction also appeared to affect the Giants inside numbers, which perhaps explains the underwhelming scoring trends. GWS averaged the least amount of contested possessions per game in 2015 with 127.7, while it was ranked 14th overall for clearances. Centre bounce clearances took the biggest hit though as the Giants were ranked 3rd in 2014 and fell to last in 2015 with just 10.4 on average a game. The loss of Treloar hurts most in these areas as he was ranked second to only Callan Ward in both clearances and contested possessions.
As I stated earlier, the Giants are difficult to place. They certainly possess the scope to improve, but are they good enough to take the next step and make a debut finals appearance? GWS possess a difficult draw with double up encounters against Fremantle, Sydney, Port Adelaide, Geelong and Gold Coast. That may make taking that jump to 13-14 wins harder than they originally hoped.
Ladder Range: 6-12
Premiership Odds: $4.00
Coach: Alastair Clarkson
In: Jack Fitzpatrick (Melbourne), Ryan Burton (North Adelaide), Kieran Lovell (Kingborough), Blake Hardwick (Eastern Ranges), Kurt Heatherley (Hawthorn rookie). Rookies: Conor Glass (Category B), Alex Woodward (Hawthorn), Luke Surman (Norwood), Kade Stewart (South Fremantle).
Out: Jed Anderson (North Melbourne), Matt Suckling (Western Bulldogs), Jonathan Simpkin (delisted), Alex Woodward (delisted – Hawthorn rookie), David Hale (retired), Brian Lake (retired). Rookies: Sam Grimley (delisted), Jared Hardisty (delisted).
Hawthorn have by far been the most dominant side of the competition in recent times having won the last three premierships and start 2016 as favourite for a fourth. Incredibly the Hawks started the season poorly, losing four of its first eight games against Essendon, Port Adelaide, GWS and Sydney, but finally kicked into gear from that point on. Those four loses turned out to be vital though, as it ultimately meant the Hawks had to travel to Perth for a qualifying final against the Eagles. It ended up being a tough trip too, as West Coast ran away to a comfortable 32 point win, forcing the Hawks to travel west again for the preliminary final after it easily dealt with Adelaide by 74 points in the semi final. Many doubted whether Hawthorn were capable of producing after travelling to Perth twice in two weeks, but this champion team lifted to another level to not only beat Fremantle by 27 points, but fly back for the Grand Final to easily account for West Coast by 46 points to win a third consecutive flag.
When you go through all the statistical categories, it isn’t difficult to see why Hawthorn won the premiership yet again. The Hawks are ranked No.1 for total disposals, total marks, points scored, points conceded, total kicks, disposal efficiency, uncontested possessions, inside 50 entrances, marks inside 50 and goal accuracy. In fact it is difficult to comprehend why they were even doubted. While Hawthorn are ranked highly in most areas, it is their elite ball use that sets them apart from any other side. The Hawks have made it no secret that they target the best ball users in the drafts and it is no coincidence that their execution is so precise. Their disposal efficiency was 1.6% more accurate than any side in 2015, while goal kicking accuracy was nearly 3% better than the second ranked club. Those numbers mightn’t sound much on paper, but they are the margins the separate the best from the rest. Hawthorn consistently produce differential daylight between itself and its opposition and after such a sustained period at the top, clubs are still struggling for answers.
There aren’t too many weaknesses in the Hawks armoury that can be exposed, but there was a drop in contested possession during 2015. After being ranked 5th in contested possessions in 2014 and averaging 142.8 per game, Hawthorn dropped to 13th and a 134.7 average in 2015. Mitchell, Lewis, Hodge and Burgoyne are arguably Hawthorn’s four best contested players and will be aged 33, 30, 32 and 33 respectively when finals begin, while Jarryd Roughead won’t be seen until mid-season with a PCL injury. There are no obvious youngsters pushing to take their positions, which would have to be a concern.
Hawthorn certainly have an aging list, but their elder statesmen are still A graders. The decline will eventually come for the Hawks, but there is still no great indication that the fall is going to occur any time soon. Hawthorn have stated that they are pleased with their fixture, but they do have the equal most six day breaks. They are well and truly in premiership contention again.
Ladder Range: 1-4
Premiership Odds: $101.00
Coach: Paul Roos
In: Tomas Bugg (GWS), Ben Kennedy (Collingwood), Jake Melksham (Essendon), Clayton Oliver (Murray Bushrangers), Sam Weideman (Eastern Ranges), Mitch King (Murray Bushrangers), Liam Hulett (Dandenong Stingrays), Aaron van den Berg (Melbourne rookie), James Harmes (Melbourne rookie). Rookies: Joel Smith (Category B), Joshua Wagner (Aspley), Viv Michie (Melbourne).
Out: Jack Fitzpatrick (delisted – Hawthorn), Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), Jimmy Toumpas (Port Adelaide), Rohan Bail (delisted), Jordie McKenzie (delisted), Viv Michie (delisted – Melbourne rookie), Aidan Riley (delisted), Daniel Cross (retired), Mark Jamar (retired).
Banned: Jake Melksham.
Melbourne continued its steady improvement under the tutorage of Paul Roos, but probably haven’t quite lifted to the required expectations. After producing just the four wins in 2014, that tally lifted to seven in 2015, but there were far more competitive performances. The Demons produced wins against two finals teams in Richmond and the Western Bulldogs, but the highlight of the season came in Round 12 when they finally overcame their Simonds Stadium hoodoo. Melbourne hadn’t won at the venue since 2005 and in the process, ruined the celebrations of Corey Enright’s 300th game in front of a sell-out crowd. The issue for Melbourne is that they are still far too vulnerable to a slaughtering, despite lifting their defensive output. The perfect example was beating the Western Bulldogs by 39 points in Round 8, only to be on the receiving end of a 98 point thumping by the Dogs in Round 20. Those flat periods need to be eradicated for this young Melbourne side to continue improving, but that will only come with time and experience.
Melbourne have made significant strides defensively over the last two to three years, but winning the ball and creating an impact on the scoreboard are still large problems. The Demons were ranked 18th for total kicks, 17th for disposals, 17th for marks, 16th for points scored and 16th for inside 50s. If you aren’t winning possession and not scoring, you aren’t going to be winning many games. It is simple logic, but at times you feel it is forgotten at the Melbourne Football Club. Melbourne also appear to be stalling at the stoppages, ranking 17th for contested possessions with 203.5 a game, while it is also ranked 17th for centre bounce clearances averaging 10.6 per game. That last statistic is exaggerated by the fact that Melbourne matches generally see less goals kicked due to defensive tactics, but it is still important to note as scoring opportunities are being limited. To make matters worse, the Demons had the 2nd worst goal kicking accuracy at 46.4%. When you are only getting the ball inside 50 44.5 times a match, a side must make the most of their opportunities. Statistically it was difficult to find any offensive strength for Melbourne, with a No.2 ranking in contested marks the closest I could get. Paul Roos has never been the most positive tactician, but it is important for the development of its young players that offensive football is made a priority.
Melbourne are at a point now where scoring is vital to its improvement. The players have been implementing defensive structures for two years under Paul Roos, but I doubt this list can progress much further than its 2015 results if it can’t average an extra 10-15 points a game. The Dees are developing an impressive young list, but there still looks to be a gap between it and the next group of teams in the short term future.
Ladder Range: 13-16
Premiership Odds: $18.00
Coach: Brad Scott
In: Jed Anderson (Hawthorn), Ben McKay (Gippsland Power), Ryan Clarke (Eastern Ranges), Mitchell Hibberd (Clarence), Corey Wagner (Aspley – Brisbane Lions Academy nominee), Declan Mountford (Claremont). Rookies: Majak Daw (North Melbourne), Farren Ray (St Kilda).
Out: Ryan Bastinac (Brisbane Lions), Daniel Currie (Gold Coast), Majak Daw (delisted – North Melbourne rookie), Kieran Harper (delisted), Scott McMahon (delisted), Leigh Adams (retired), Nathan Grima (retired). Rookies: Eric Wallace (delisted), Max Warren (delisted).
North Melbourne reached its second consecutive preliminary final in 2015, despite missing the top four on each occasion. In fact, North Melbourne become the first side to ever reach a preliminary final from eighth position, as it defeated Richmond and Sydney in the elimination and semi finals respectively. It is an amazing effort after top four sides have dominated the preliminary final positions for decades. The Kangaroos weren’t disgraced when they travelled to Perth to take on the Eagles and even threatened a major upset at one stage. North Melbourne managed to keep West Coast goalless in the first quarter to hold a 20 point advantage at quarter time. Unfortunately for the Roos, West Coast upped the ante from there on to run away to a 25 point victory and earn a Grand Final berth. Age is the major question mark on the Kangaroos, who will have nine players aged 30 or over come finals time. The Kangaroos possess the second oldest list in the competition, but considering Hawthorn just became the oldest premiership team of all time, Brad Scott wouldn’t be overly concerned with that statistic. Despite the recent success of North Melbourne, they still don’t possess top four expectations externally as indicated by their premiership odds of $18.00.
North Melbourne don’t possess any obvious statistical strength or negatives, they are just a solid all-round unit. They are ranked above average in most categories, which is probably justified by their ladder position of 8th at the end of the home and away rounds. North Melbourne are offensively a strong side, ranking 5th for total points scored and 6th for marks taken inside 50. Once inside forward 50, they have some of the more reliable goal kickers in the competition, operating at 51.9% efficiency in front of goal to be ranked 4th in the AFL. The Kangaroos aren’t the biggest disposal winning side, averaging only 354.1 disposals a game to be ranked 14th, but their run and carry sees the ball travel further per possession.
Todd Goldstein announced himself as the premier big man in the competition and North Melbourne’s most valuable player in 2015. Goldstein finished with a record hit out tally of 937 during the home and away season and was just as dominant around the ground. After being beaten by a single vote in each of the previous two years, Goldstein convincingly won the clubs best and fairest by 38 votes, a sign of just how valued he is by the coaching staff. He’ll need to back up this year’s standards to ensure North Melbourne are just as successful.
North Melbourne have reached the third week of finals in 2014 and 2015, but it is difficult to see them doing that again without a top four finish. The Roos have encountered teams that are either on the wane or they match up well structurally against during finals of late. They have still had to play good football, but fixtures have opened up nicely for the blue and white. North Melbourne are definitely in the mix for a finals position, but with so much greater competition this year, a top eight position after the home and away rounds will be tight with a tough draw.
Ladder Range: 6-12
Premiership Odds: $11.00
Coach: Ken Hinkley
In: Charlie Dixon (Gold Coast), Jimmy Toumpas (Melbourne), Riley Bonner West Adelaide), Aidyn Johnson (Bendigo Pioneers), Sam Gray (Port Adelaide rookie). Rookies: Kane Mitchell (Port Adelaide), Will Snelling (West Adelaide), Cameron Hewett (North Adelaide), Dan Houston (Oakleigh Chargers).
Out: Mitch Harvey (delisted), Kane Mitchell (delisted – Port Adelaide rookie), Andrew Moore (delisted – Richmond), Jarrad Redden (delisted), Mason Shaw (delisted), Kane Cornes (retired). Rookies: Sam Russell (delisted), Johann Wagner (delisted), Daniel Flynn (retired), Tom Logan (retired).
Banned: Angus Monfries, Patrick Ryder.
After nearly stealing victory over Hawthorn in the 2014 preliminary final, Port Adelaide went into 2015 with high expectations both internally and externally. Many saw the Power as a genuine premiership contender, but they failed to live up to any of those opinions. Ken Hinkley’s men finished a disappointing ninth, ending the season with 12 wins and 10 losses. The frustrating thing about Port Adelaide was the side’s consistency, while looking unbeatable on some occasions, they just wouldn’t turn up the following week. The Power lost to lowly clubs like Carlton and Brisbane throughout the season, yet were the only club to defeat premiers Hawthorn twice. Admittedly they were handed a tough draw after finishing in the top four the previous season and produced six wins against top eight sides. Port Adelaide also finished the season sensationally, winning six of its last seven games to head into the offseason on a positive note. Their trade period was also successful having lured Charlie Dixon as that missing quality tall forward to support Jay Schulz, but unfortunately lose Patrick Ryder and Angus Monfries for the season as part of the Essendon 34 suspensions. Despite its poor 2015, there is confidence in the AFL industry that Port Adelaide will return to the top eight in 2016.
There were times during 2015 when it appeared that Port Adelaide could score at will with its run and carry, while on other occasions they looked stagnant and flat. Some believed the Power became far more inside orientated last year, but their contested and uncontested statistics were very similar to 2014. Port Adelaide averaged 8.09 points less per game and conceded an extra 8.91 points, which could probably be put down to coming up against quality opposition more often. The introduction of Charlie Dixon to the forward structure is hoped by the coaching staff to make the Power less predictable and ultimately return to an average of close to 100 points per game. Port Adelaide look their best when moving the ball fast and kicking long inside 50 to a tall who is often dangerously supported by the likes of Chad Wingard or Robbie Gray at their feet. Jared Polec was one of the Powers most vital movers and users in 2014 and they’ll be looking forward to him producing more than 5 games during 2016. Direct football and constant running is what made this club successful in 2014 and Hinkley will be looking to replicate that early in the year.
Port Adelaide were definitely underachievers during 2015 and will be hungry to make up for a wasted season. With the likes of Travis Boak, Ollie Wines, Robbie Gray and Brad Ebert they possess a midfield that can match it with any other club, but desperately need its outside runners to be more consistent. The Power have also been presented a much friendlier draw which should see them return to the top eight and even push for a top four position.
Ladder Range: 4-10
Premiership Odds: $14.00
Coach: Damien Hardwick
In: Andrew Moore (Port Adelaide), Jacob Townsend (GWS), Chris Yarran (Carlton), Daniel Rioli (North Ballarat Rebels), Oleg Markov (North Adelaide), Nathan Broad (Swan Districts), Kane Lambert (Richmond rookie). Rookies: Callum Moore (Calder Cannons), Mabior Chol (Aspley), Adam Marcon (Williamstown).
Out: Matt Dea (delisted), Nathan Gordon (delisted), Matthew McDonough (delisted), Nathan Foley (retired), Chris Knights (retired), Chris Newman (retired), Ricky Petterd (retired). Rookies: Matthew Arnot (delisted), Matt Thomas (retired).
Richmond successfully reached the finals for a third consecutive season in 2015 but again crashed and burned in the opening week. The jokes centred on finishing ninth by opposition supporters are now being directed toward the Tigers poor recent record in elimination finals. Losing three elimination finals in a row is a hard pill to swallow, but at least Richmond are now credited for being a consistently competitive side. Damien Hardwick’s men finished the home and away rounds with an impressive 15 wins and on form, deserved to be in the top four. But finishing fifth doesn’t offer any advantage when coming up against another Victorian based club, especially one that has the wood over you having won 6 of the last 7 encounters. Richmond were always nervous coming up against North Melbourne and it showed on the field. The Tigers have high expectations internally coming into 2016 with a double chance the ultimate goal. It will be desperately attempting to avoid another knock out final in the first week, but will need to make some changes to its game plan for that to happen.
Considering Damien Hardwick’s coaching roots, it is no coincidence to see that Richmond are adopting some similar Hawthorn characteristics, excluding the high scoring of course. The Tigers are far more willing to use the ball by foot, averaging 62 more kicks per game than handballs. Richmond were ranked 3rd in the competition for kicks at 211.5 per game, while also averaging the fourth most marks at 96.2 in an effort to keep possession. It also led to the Tigers tackling average dropping from 63.6 to 57.9 per game, which often confused people to think that their defensive pressure had also plummeted. But in reality, the success of Richmond’s structures and zones ensured that tackling wasn’t necessarily the correct defensive guide it usually is. A better indication is the Tiger’s fall in points conceded from 2014 to 2015, dropping 9.81 points a game. Richmond’s average points against of 71.27 a match saw it ranked 3rd for points conceded, only bettered by seasoned Hawthorn and Fremantle defences. Hardwick will be looking to increase the scoring opportunities though, with all other top eight teams excluding Fremantle averaging over 93 points per game compared to the Tiger’s 87.72 during the home and away rounds. Richmond had a decent spread of goal kickers last year, but will be looking for further improvement from Tyrone Vickery to support Jack Riewoldt after the maligned tall provided an impressive return of 31 goals from 15 games.
Richmond will be looking to take that next step after losing three consecutive elimination finals and certainly have the talent to do so. The Tigers proved during 2015 that it can beat the best, defeating top four sides Hawthorn, Fremantle and Sydney. One extra win would be enough to see the Tigers claim a top four position if it can replicate last season’s form, but a slightly tougher draw means they are going to have to play their very best football. I think they are capable though.
Ladder Range: 4-10
Premiership Odds: $101.00
Coach: Alan Richardson
In: Jake Carlisle (Essendon), Nathan Freeman (Collingwood), Jade Gresham (Northern Knights), Brandon White (Dandenong Stingrays), Bailey Rice (Dandenong Stingrays – Father-son), Jack Sinclair (St Kilda rookie). Rookies: Josh Saunders (St Kilda), Nick O’Kearney (Calder Cannons), Nicholas Coughlan (Albury).
Out: Daniel Markworth (delisted), Farren Ray (delisted – North Melbourne rookie), Josh Saunders (delisted – St Kilda rookie), Tom Simpkin (delisted), Arryn Siposs (delisted), Spencer White (delisted), Adam Schneider (retired). Rookies: Ahmed Saad (delisted).
Banned: Jake Carlisle
Alan Richardson and his Saints entered the 2015 season with the lowest of expectations, as many experts predicted them to finish in the bottom two. While they weren’t exactly brilliant, I feel the coaching staff would have felt content with six and a half wins. St Kilda got an opportunity to blood some of its talented youngsters while successfully avoiding a bottom four finish at the same time. The Saints have made no secret that it is at the beginning of a rebuild which may take time and patience, but that didn’t stop them trading out the No.5 draft pick. It landed them a big fish in Essendon’s Jake Carlisle, but they’ll have to wait 12 months to see the talented key tall in red, white and black as he serves that well documented suspension. It shouldn’t worry St Kilda too much though as Carlisle has time on his side at 24 years of age and his best football ahead of him. It isn’t all about the youngsters at the Saints though as the likes of David Armitage and Josh Bruce produced career best seasons in 2015. Armitage lifted himself to elite status by leading St Kilda for disposals, contested possessions and clearances, while Bruce surprised even himself with a 50 goal season. There is still a high reliance on never tiring veterans Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna and Alan Richardson will be hoping others can take the next step to offer further support.
St Kilda are still filling holes all over the ground to strengthen its depth, but for immediate results there will need to be a vast improvement in its inside numbers. The Saints were ranked 17th for clearances at an average of 35.1 per game, while its contested possession wasn’t much better with 132.4 a match seeing them rated 14th in the competition. Best and Fairest winner Jack Steven, David Armitage and Leigh Montagna produced great seasons but didn’t receive the required help for St Kilda to be constantly competitive in those areas. Highly rated young midfielders Luke Dunstan, Seb Ross, Blake Acres, Jack Newnes and Jack Billings have all shown great signs, but now need to prove to their teammates that they are capable of taking greater workloads. Greater depth will make the Saints more unpredictable and relieve the tight attention those senior stars receive.
No one is expecting a jump into finals contention for St Kilda, but supporters will be looking for steady improvement nonetheless. The Saints have been handed another fixture of winnable matches, playing all of Melbourne, Essendon and Carlton twice. They still possess A grade senior players who are capable of winning games singlehandedly, but won’t be able to rely of them forever.
Ladder Range: 13-16