2017 AFL Season Preview

AFL 2017

Welcome to the 2017 AFL season preview. We are now less than a week away from the new season beginning and the excitement is building. I think it is fair to say that everyone is ready for the real stuff to start after a JLT Community Series that was low key and often dull. It was difficult to take much out of the games result wise either, with every team losing at least one match and many lopsided halves.

2016 saw the Western Bulldogs break its long draught of success by winning a fairy-tale premiership after finishing 7th. It was a finals series that saw decades of trends broken, as away teams won interstate and the bottom four teams of the eight were far more competitive. Many believe that was caused by the controversial bye before the first week of finals, although there was a genuine argument that the gap between one and seven was the smallest in history. Considering the Dogs success, the latter is a difficult theory to dismiss.

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 four finish.

ADELAIDE 

Premiership Odds: $9.00
Coach: Don Pyke

INS:

National draft: Jordan Gallucci, Myles Poholke, Elliot Himmelberg, Matthew Signorello, Ben Davis
Rookies: Ben Jarman

OUTS:

Retired: Matt Jaensch, Nathan van Berlo
Delisted: Mitch Grigg, Ricky Henderson, Luke Lowden, Keenan Ramsey
Traded: Jarryd Lyons (Gold Coast)

Adelaide were one of the most difficult teams to judge heading into the 2016, especially considering the departure of superstar Patrick Dangerfield. Although under the new tenure of Don Pyke, the club quickly showed the footy world that it could be a premiership contender. Going into Round 23, the Crows were superbly placed for a home Qualifying Final, but a shock loss to West Coast saw it slip to fifth. It easily overcame a sliding North Melbourne in a home Elimination Final, but couldn’t match eventual Grand Finalist Sydney on the inside during an away Semi Final.

The Crows were arguably the most entertaining side to watch during 2016 and the offensive style became a genuinely successful tactic throughout the season. It moved the football from half back with dangerous speed, constantly catching opposition defensive structures off guard. It ranked first for points scored during the home and away rounds, averaging 112.83 points per game which isn’t surprising when considering a forward line comprising Betts, Jenkins, Walker, Lynch, McGovern and Cameron. While midfield depth was questioned at the start of the season, the eventual output couldn’t be doubted as it ranked second for contested possession and fourth for clearances. Sloane, the Crouch brothers, the departed Jarryd Lyon and even the aging Scott Thompson all made significant improvement from 2015.

Verdict: There is absolutely no doubt that Don Pyke will be aiming for a home Qualifying Final in 2017 after coming so close last year. There have been minimal list management movements, a suggestion that the Crows feel they possess a group that can go deep into September. It is hard to argue with considering it has the most balanced forward structure in the competition and is capable of getting the ball inside 50 fast. There may have to be a slight amendment to the game plan as opposition clubs were beginning to block the Crows movement at half forward with extra numbers. There is also a slight concern with the early makeup of the midfield with Sloane, Brad Crouch and Scott Thompson all struggling to be ready for Round 1. Although with a very favourable draw, it is difficult to imagine the Crows not in contention at the business end of the season.

Ladder Range: 1-6

BRISBANE

Premiership Odds: $501.00
Coach: Chris Fagan

INS:

National draft: Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Alex Witherden, Cedric Cox, Jacob Allison, Corey Lyons
Rookies: Jake Barrett (GWS), Mitchell Hinge, Oscar McInerney, Blake Grewar
Trade: Jack Frost (Collingwood)

OUTS:

Retired: Justin Clarke, Jaden McGrath, Daniel Merrett, Trent West
Delisted: Hugh Beasley, Billy Evans, Josh McGuinness, Jackson Paine, Josh Watts
Traded: Pearce Hanley (Gold Coast)

2016 was yet another disaster season for the Brisbane Lions, finishing 17th above only an Essendon list that was depleted of its best players. Justin Leppitsch was under pressure for the entire season, struggling on a weekly basis to implement a defensive structure that could restrict the opposition flood of goals. Change had to occur with highly respected Hawthorn Football Operations Manager Chris Fagan given the reins to turn this once feared club around. Dayne Beams has also been handed the captaincy, with Tom Rockliff demoted to the vice role.

The Brisbane Lions of 2016 will go down as one of the most defensively inept teams of all time. It conceded 2872 points for the season, an amazing 516 more than any other club in the competition. To put it in perspective to the top teams, it almost doubled Sydney’s 1469 points conceded during the home and away rounds. It fell one behind short of finding itself in the top 10 statistic of most points conceded in a season, a list dominated by clubs from the free flowing and high scoring 1980-90s era. While it conceded goals and inside 50 entrances at will, the breakdown all began in the middle of the ground where it couldn’t win enough of the ball. Brisbane could only average 337.5 disposals per game, 16 per game less than the next worse team. The fact that Dayne Beams and Tom Rockliff could only play 19 games between them didn’t help, but the fringe group of midfielders need to begin taking the next step and cementing themselves, especially in the absence of Pearce Hanley.

Verdict: Don’t expect the Brisbane Lions to be taking fast tracked steps toward a finals berth in 2017. It possesses a developing group of talls that will need time, while the heavy investment in the 2016 draft creates the indication that rebuild is still the mindset. Obviously Chris Fagan will be promoting the successful model that made Hawthorn great, but it will take time despite a promising victory against the Western Bulldogs during the JLT Community Series.

Ladder Range: 15-18

CARLTON

Premiership Odds: $101.00
Coach: Brendon Bolton

INS:

National draft: Sam Petrevski-Seton, Zac Fisher, Harrison Macreadie, Cameron Polson, Tom Williamson, Patrick Kerr
Rookies: Kym LeBois, Alex Silvagni (Fremantle)
Trade: Billie Smedts (Geelong), Caleb Marchbank (GWS), Rhys Palmer (GWS), Jarrod Pickett (GWS Giants)

OUTS:

Retired: Michael Jamison, Andrew Walker, Cameron Wood
Delisted: Matthew Dick, Andrejs Everitt, Jayden Foster, Billy Gowers, Clem Smith, Jason Tutt, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow, Mark Whiley
Traded: Zach Tuohy (Geelong)

By the end of Round 11, Brendon Bolton wouldn’t have been blamed for believing that the senior coaching caper wasn’t as bad as it is usually made out to be. He had lifted Carlton to a 6-5 win/loss ratio to be in finals contention and was being hailed as the saviour by the faithful. Where ever he walked, there would be a standing ovation. From that moment on, Carlton would only win one more game for the season, but no one has given up faith that Bolton could lead this club to great success. While it may take time, he has an enormous amount of support.

While Carlton exceeded expectations with seven wins last year, there were still major flaws that need attention during 2017. Scoring would arguably be the number one fix, after the Blues ranked 16th for points scored in 2016 at an average of 71.27 per game. When Matthew Wright is your leading scorer with 22 goals, it is obvious there are tall target problems. Levi Casboult tries hard and is a terrific contested mark, but is too inconsistent while the Liam Jones experiment doesn’t seem to be working. The options are bare. There is also an unhealthy reliance on Patrick Cripps winning the contested ball. Carlton ranked 16th for contested possession in 2016 and Cripps gathered 144 more than any other teammate. The young star is still recovering from a stress reaction in his back and is sure to need greater support or risk being burned out.

Verdict: The is no great expectation for Carlton to be successful at this early stage of its rebuild, so Brendon Bolton still has plenty of time to implement his philosophies. It brought in quality young talent through the draft and even found space on the list for another three former GWS players in Marchbank, Palmer and Pickett. The Blues have been handed a favourable draw in playing just one top eight club twice and only having four six day breaks. A similar result to last year would be satisfactory, but a comfortable early draw could raise hopes quickly.

Range: 15-18

COLLINGWOOD

Premiership Odds: $34.00
Coach: Nathan Buckley

INS:

National draft: Sam McLarty, Callum Brown, Kayle Kirby, Josh Daicos
Rookies: Mitch McCarthy, Henry Schade (Gold Coast), Liam Mackie, Max Lynch
Trade: Lynden Dunn (Melbourne), Will Hoskin-Elliott (GWS)
Free agency: Chris Mayne (Fremantle), Daniel Wells (North Melbourne)

OUTS:

Retired: Brent Macaffer, Dane Swan, Alan Toovey
Delisted: Tim Golds, Corey Gault, Matthew Goodyear, Darrean Wyatt
Traded: Travis Cloke (Western Bulldogs), Jack Frost (Brisbane), Marley Williams (North Melbourne), Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast)
Free agency: Nathan Brown (St Kilda)

There is absolutely no doubt about it, 2017 is a make or break season for Nathan Buckley and Collingwood. 2016 was another below par result for the Magpies, finishing twelfth on the ladder with only nine wins. When in charge of a club like Collingwood the expectations are always high, but when that coach is a former club champion and he has been given ample time to produce results, the blowtorch will be rightfully glowing.

2016 was a strange season for Collingwood as at times it would look unbeatable in defeating teams like GWS and Geelong, while against the likes of Melbourne, St Kilda, Carlton and Richmond it would appear a bottom four side. With the recruitment of Treloar over the 2015/16 offseason, the midfield was viewed as one of the best on paper coming into the season. Treloar, Pendlebury, Adams and Sidebottom all produced outstanding numbers when on the field, it didn’t result in higher team KPIs. The Pies were ranked 14th for total clearances and middle of the road for contested possession. Offensively the midfield combination didn’t quite gel. Defensively Collingwood were ranked first for overall tackles, which perhaps indicates it was getting led to the ball in congestion more often than not. Whether it is a problem with stoppage tactics or simply reading the drop, Buckley will be looking to create more scoreboard pressure from his key midfielder’s ball winning skills.

Verdict: You can’t discount Collingwood as a finals contender, especially when considering the midfield quality. The Magpies have a surprisingly young list, which has seen it invest big dollars in experienced players like Daniel Wells and Chris Mayne. Some have questioned this list management strategy though and see it as a desperate ploy from Buckley to catapult into the eight. Whether this risky tactic becomes a success remains to be seen, but the list boasts enough talent to be considered an option for the final couple of positions in the eight.

Ladder Range: 6-12

ESSENDON

Premiership Odds: $23.00
Coach: John Worsfold

INS:

National draft: Andrew McGrath, Jordan Ridley, Josh Begley, Kobe Mutch, Dylan Clarke
Rookies: Sam Draper, Ben McNiece
Trade: James Stewart (GWS)
Free agency: Josh Green (Brisbane)

OUTS:

Retired: Adam Cooney, Tayte Pears, Mathew Stokes
Delisted: Jason Ashby, Ryan Crowley, Courtenay Dempsey, Shaun Edwards, Nathan Grima, Sam Grimley, James Gwilt, Will Hams, Mark Jamar, Nick Kommer, Sam Michael, Gach Nyuon, James Polkinghorne, Jonathan Simpkin, Tom Wallis
Traded: Michael Hibberd (Melbourne)

Essendon will be the most difficult club to assess coming into season 2017 after 12 of its players served 12 month bans for the 2012 supplements saga during the 2016 season. The Bombers finished last with just three wins in a season that was difficultly long to say the least. Positively, the hardest moments are behind the players and 10 of the 12 banned will return in 2017. Jobe Watson, new captain Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley are the big names, while Stanton, Colyer, Howlett, Myers, Hocking and Bellchambers are sure to help make Essendon competitive again.

While most involved at Essendon will look to put 2016 behind them, the positives of the season can’t be forgotten. There was no greater shining light than the breakout season of Zach Merrett, who was comfortably the Bomber’s best and most consistent player. He played all 22 games, averaging 29.86 disposals and led the club for clearances, contested possession, tackles, inside 50s and goal assists. Orazio Fantasia also came of age with 29 goals in 19 games, while Joe Daniher kicked 43 goals despite limited opportunities. David Zaharakis and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti were given more significant roles than they may have originally been presented with in a full squad, while top up player James Kelly performed so admirably that he earned himself a new contract. It certainly wasn’t an enjoyable year to be an Essendon supporter, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Verdict: Essendon will feel it can immediately become competitive with its 10 banned players returning to the fold. The question is how much of a toll does a year away from football have on this group? The older types may benefit and others may have soft tissue problems, you just never quite know. The Bombers are a team I will avoid placing a bet on until after a month or two and hopefully that will be enough evidence to build confidence. Until we learn more, Essendon’s range appears very wide.

Ladder Range: 7-15

FREMANTLE 

Premiership Odds: $18.00
Coach: Ross Lyon

INS:

National draft: Griffin Logue, Sean Darcy, Brennan Cox, Luke Ryan
Rookies: Taylin Duman, Brady Grey, Luke Strnadica
Trade: Joel Hamling (Western Bulldogs), Bradley Hill (Hawthorn), Shane Kersten (Geelong), Cameron McCarthy (GWS)

OUTS:

Retired: Matthew Pavlich
Delisted: Michael Barlow, Matt de Boer, Jack Hannath, Sean Hurley, Anthony Morabito, Tendai Mzungu, Clancee Pearce, Alex Silvagni, Tanner Smith
Free agency: Chris Mayne (Collingwood)

Were Fremantle the most disappointing team of 2016? It is hard to argue against the Purple Haze holding the mantle, after dropping from a home Preliminary Final berth in 2015 to 16th 12 months later. The Dockers did have some genuine valid reasons though, as injuries crippled the clubs star players. Nathan Fyfe, Aaron Sandilands, Michael Johnson and Harley Bennell could manage a mere 14 games between them, while David Mundy, Matthew Pavlich and Michael Barlow also had their fair share of time off the ground for varying reasons. While the latter two will never be seen in the purple jumper again, Fremantle is optimistic the others will be available early in the season at the very least.

A developing forward to eventually replace Matthew Pavlich is a need Fremantle has been long searching for without success and with the great man now retired, the situation become urgent during the trade period. The Dockers finally succeeded, securing Cam McCarthy from GWS after failing to do so the year before. Excluding Pavlich, Matt Taberner was the only Fremantle player over 190cm to kick more than 10 goals (18) last year, leaving high expectations on McCarthy who took the year off in 2016. Lead up target Shane Kersten has also been traded in while Alex Pearce may be given opportunities forward once he returns from a leg fracture. It is a green looking forward structure to say the least.

Verdict: There is no doubt that Fremantle can become significantly more competitive with Fyfe, Sandilands, Johnson and Bennell added to the side, but is a top eight position realistic with an untried forward set up? There is also doubt on how much midfield depth the Dockers possess, especially after the enormous load Lachie Neale had to carry in the absence of Fyfe. He did so with aplomb in gathering a record 737 disposals, but he was the only Docker to average over 25 disposals (or 33.5 in his case). There are still holes needing instant attention.

Ladder Range: 9-15

GEELONG

Premiership Odds: $11.00
Coach: Chris Scott

INS:

National draft: Brandan Parfitt, Tom Stewart, Esava Ratugolea, Quinton Narkle, Timm House, Ryan Abbott
Rookies: Jack Henry, Zach Guthrie, Jamaine Jones, Sam Simpson, Mark O’Connor
Trade: Zach Tuohy (Carlton), Aaron Black (North Melbourne)

OUTS:

Retired: Jimmy Bartel, Corey Enright
Delisted: Zac Bates, Mitch Clark, Jock Cornell, Cameron Delaney, Padraig Lucey, Michael Luxford, Tom Read
Traded: Josh Caddy (Richmond), Shane Kersten (Fremantle), Billie Smedts (Carlton), Nathan Vardy (West Coast) 

Geelong quickly made amends in 2016 after missing the finals the year before, securing a top two position before being blown away early by Sydney in a Preliminary Final. Patrick Dangerfield was the story of Geelong’s season, winning the Brownlow Medal and arguably singlehandedly reversing Chris Scott’s clearance and contested possession woes. He developed a dynamic midfield partnership with Joel Selwood and they flourished under each other’s guidance. Although the dominance of both players highlighted a potential unhealthy reliance and it became obvious as the season wore on that the next tier of midfielders coming through had stagnated.

There is no doubt that “Dangerwood” were having a large impact on the outcome of games, but there was a statistical gulf developing to the next best midfielder. Cam Guthrie’s disposal average of 22.91 was next best after Dangerfield (31.75) and Selwood (28.29) respectively and it wasn’t until Sam Menegola came on the scene later in the year that there was extra help. It is an area of scope for the Cats and to get more players involved, Dangerfield and Selwood may spend more time forward. Geelong also became predictable moving forward in the second half of the season, sitting the ball on top of Tom Hawkins’ head and hoping he took a contested mark. Opposition teams then sat in numbers at ground level and rebounded with ease. The move of Harry Taylor forward will attempt to create a more unpredictable set up, while the recruitment Aaron Black provides another different option.

Verdict: Geelong are set to feature in the top eight yet again, but it has lost some vital players and depth. Corey Enright and Jimmy Bartel have both retired, while Josh Caddy was surprisingly traded to Richmond. Kersten, Vardy and Clark provided potentially important tall depth and have virtually been replaced by local GFL/VFL players Timm House and Ryan Abbott. Zach Tuohy is a quality alternative to Enright, while Black provides flexibility. The Cats have a much tougher draw in 2017 too, playing GWS, Hawthorn and Adelaide twice, while having to deal with eight six day breaks.

Ladder Range: 4-8

GOLD COAST

Premiership Odds: $41.00
Coach: Rodney Eade

INS:

National draft: Ben Ainsworth, Jack Scrimshaw, Will Brodie, Jack Bowes, Brad Scheer
Rookies: Max Spencer
Trade: Pearce Hanley (Brisbane Lions), Jarryd Lyons (Adelaide), Jarrod Witts (Collingwood)
Free agency: Michael Barlow (Fremantle)

OUTS:

Retired: Nick Malceski
Delisted: Clay Cameron, Jarrod Garlett, Tom Keough, Luke Russell, Henry Schade, Danny Stanley, Seb Tape
Traded: Dion Prestia (Richmond), Jaeger O’Meara (Hawthorn) 

The Gold Coast Suns suffered another injury ravaged season where all of its star players excluding Tom Lynch couldn’t get continuity on the field. Ablett (14 games), O’Meara (0), Swallow (0), Prestia (14), Thompson (14), Saad (10) and Rischitelli (12) all had interrupted seasons, while even Hall and May missed five games each. To make matters worse, the Suns failed to hold on to its two midfield stars Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia, who requested trades to Hawthorn and Richmond respectively. You could argue that the Suns did well to win six games considering the injury toll, although surely the poor luck has run out and 2017 can only mean upward trends.

The Suns would have been bitterly disappointed to have lost Dion Prestia and Jaeger O’Meara, although it wasn’t all negativity on the list management front. It managed to secure Hanley, Barlow, Lyons and Witts, four players who are sure to make immediate impacts. When considering the inclusion of Ablett and Swallow on top, the side has been given a nice boost of depth. It also managed to draft five quality 18 year olds, three of which are likely to play early senior football in Ben Ainsworth, Will Brodie and Jack Bowes. The Suns needed a new influx of quality young footballers to develop from the draft and I doubt the club could have done much better with these three, plus Scrimshaw and Scheer.

Verdict: The Suns are another difficult club to assess, but with an injury free run, finals can’t be completely discounted. It possesses one of the most potent spines in the competition, including its star forward Tom Lynch and young partner in crime Peter Wright. They could explode as a partnership this year and while Wright is still a few years away from his best, Lynch is capable of becoming the marquee tall forward in the competition. A little injury luck with Ablett and Swallow and you never know.

Ladder Range: 8-15

GWS

Premiership Odds: $4.50
Coach: Leon Cameron

INS:

National draft: Tim Taranto, Will Setterfield, Harry Perryman, Isaac Cumming, Lachlan Tiziani, Matt de Boer (Fremantle)
Rookies: Tendai Mzungu (Fremantle), Zachary Sproule
Trade: Brett Deledio (Richmond).

OUTS:

Delisted: Jake Barrett
Traded: Paul Ahern (North Melbourne), Will Hoskin-Elliott (Collingwood), Caleb Marchbank (Carlton), Cameron McCarthy (Fremantle), Pat McKenna (Melbourne), Rhys Palmer (Carlton), Jarrod Pickett (Carlton), Jack Steele (St Kilda), James Stewart (Essendon)

If you haven’t heard, the GWS Giants have arrived and are ready to take the competition by storm. After reaching a debut finals series it came awfully close to a Grand Final by losing in a classic Preliminary Final to eventual premier the Bulldogs at Spotless Stadium. They say that teams need to participate in big finals before being seen as ready to contend and the Giants couldn’t have gained greater experience or motivation from that encounter. GWS won 16 matches in 2016 and come into the new season as the premiership favourite. The hype is huge and based on what we’ve seen in the last 12 months, the players are hungry for success.

If you do have any doubts as to whether GWS are the real deal, there is no better evidence than the raw numbers. It was already beginning to dominate key performance indicators last year. The Giants ranked number one for inside 50s at an average of 58.1 per game and first for clearances with 41 every outing, two more than the second placed Swans. It ranked second for points scored during the home and away rounds, averaging 108.18 a game. Leon Cameron also promotes an attractive style, encouraging his team to move the ball quickly and kick, ranking second in 2016 with 219.5 a game. GWS are also inside beasts, averaging 150.2 contested possessions a game to be ranked third. There really isn’t too much this side isn’t good at.

Verdict: If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m one of the firm believers that GWS will be the team to beat. I literally can’t remember a side with so many strengths and such a large group coming into their prime. It possesses stars at each end, depth and a midfield that can match it against any other in the competition. The scary thing is that the scope to improve further is obvious for all to see and is the key reason some are already calling dynasties.

Ladder Range: 1-2

HAWTHORN

Premiership Odds: $13.00
Coach: Alistair Clarkson

INS:

National draft: Harry Morrison, Mitchell Lewis
Rookies: James Cousins, Oliver Hanrahan
Trade: Jaeger O’Meara (Gold Coast), Tom Mitchell (Sydney)
Free agency: Ricky Henderson (Adelaide), Tyrone Vickey (Richmond)

OUTS:

Retired: Shem-Kalvin Tatupu
Delisted: Lachlan Langford, Angus Litherland, Jermaine Miller-Lewis, Matt Spangher, Shem Tatupu, Zac Webster, Alex Woodward
Traded: Bradley Hill (Fremantle), Jordan Lewis (Melbourne), Sam Mitchell (West Coast) 

After three consecutive premierships and a rare opportunity to join Collingwood as the only team to have won four flags in a row, 2016 was a reality check for Hawthorn. A straight kick from Isaac Smith after the siren against Geelong in the Qualifying Final could well have seen the Hawks rewrite the history books, but it came up against a rampaging Western Bulldogs outfit at the wrong time and was out in straight sets. Although the biggest story to come out of Waverley last year was the departure of club legends Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis during the offseason. Everyone knew there would be cap relief casualties to help the club land O’Meara, Mitchell and Vickery, but no one in their right mind could have possibly predicted that Mitchell and Lewis would be traded to West Coast and Melbourne respectively as a consequence.

There was one key statistic that was impossible to ignore when assessing Hawthorn’s fall in 2016, contested possession. It’s inside ball winning took a sharp turn for the worse and it appeared to decline as the season went on. It ranked 18th for average contested possessions throughout 2016 with just 130.5 per game, but during the finals series, the Hawk’s contested numbers went into free fall. It combined for a differential of -102 contested possessions during the two finals against Geelong and the Western Bulldogs, numbers rarely associated with any team let alone Hawthorn. While Alistair Clarkson managed to keep his side competitive by dominating the uncontested ball and efficiency rates, opposition clubs had a distinct advantage by winning the ball in tight on a consistent basis. The loss of its two highest rated midfielders suggests that improvement will be difficult, but the Hawks have high hopes in its new big name recruits.

Verdict: The success of Hawthorn is highly reliant on how quickly its new recruits in Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Mitchell and Tyrone Vickery can make an impact. There is absolutely no doubt of the talent O’Meara and Mitchell possess, but they already have a big enough job in filling the holes of Mitchell and Lewis without even considering the required improvement inside the contest. Captain Jarryd Roughead is like a new recruit and will help fill the void occasionally through the midfield and of course forward. The Hawks will be looking to take full advantage of a soft draw to start the year, where it plays just four 2016 finalists in the opening 12 rounds. Top four is longer as certain, but finals are definitely in the picture once again.

Ladder Range: 4-8

MELBOURNE 

Premiership Odds: $23.00
Coach: Simon Goodwin

INS:

National draft: Mitchell Hannan, Dion Johnstone
Rookies: Lachlan Filipovic, Tim Smith, Declan Keilty
Trade: Michael Hibberd (Essendon), Jordan Lewis (Hawthorn), Pat McKenna (GWS)

OUTS:

Delisted: Jack Grimes, Chris Dawes, Matt Jones, Max King, Viv Michie, Ben Newton, Dean Terlich
Traded: Lynden Dunn (Collingwood)

Melbourne were one of the big improvers in 2016 after showing gradual gains the season before. In Paul Roos’ last year as coach before handing the reins over to Simon Goodwin, Melbourne found itself in a realistic position of overtaking North Melbourne in eighth spot during the final rounds. Unfortunately the last two rounds didn’t quite go to plan with an upset loss against Carlton and an embarrassing 111 point drubbing in Geelong to finish the season. While the end of the year was disappointing, the obvious and impressive progression earlier can’t be forgotten. Goodwin takes control of a list that possesses huge scope and it appears ready to begin turning heads.

It was obvious during Paul Roos’ first two years that he wanted to implement and teach defensive traits as a priority, but last year saw a more focused effort on winning the ball and moving it forward. Greater ball accumulation saw it become more competitive against the top teams, which helped produce wins against Hawthorn, GWS and Collingwood twice. The Dees finished the home and away rounds ranked third for total disposals, sixth for total contested possessions, fifth for total clearances and seventh for inside 50s. The emergence of Max Gawn as the competition’s premier ruckman was obviously a key ingredient, as Viney, Jones, Tyson and first year player Oliver all benefitted. Then there is the improvement in Petracca, Brayshaw and Neal-Bullen to consider, while the inclusion of quadruple premiership Hawk Jordan Lewis is a grand and unexpected bonus to the midfield. Banned Bomber Michael Hibberd is an underrated inclusion and will add further experience in defensive 50.

Verdict: Melbourne have the potential to jump into the top eight in 2017. Its list management and recruitment over the past three to four years has been as good as any club and the inclusions of Lewis and Hibberd suggest this team is ready to take the next step. The young big bodied midfielders are getting closer to becoming consistent performers, while the key position stocks are also well placed. The Demons possess a dream draw by starting the season with seven consecutive games at the MCG, while the only finals teams from 2016 it plays twice is Adelaide and North Melbourne. It is a team to watch.

Ladder range: 6-10

NORTH MELBOURNE

Premiership Odds: $67.00
Coach: Brad Scott

INS:

National draft: Jy Simpkin, Declan Watson, Josh Williams, Nick Larkey
Rookies: Cameron Zurhaar, Oscar Junker, Matthew Taylor
Trade: Paul Ahern (GWS), Nathan Hrovat (Western Bulldogs), Marley Williams (Collingwood)

OUTS:

Retired: Farren Ray
Delisted: Nick Dal Santo, Michael Firrito, Brent Harvey, Brad McKenzie, Robin Nahas, Drew Petrie, Joel Tippett
Traded: Aaron Black (Geelong)
Free agency: Daniel Wells (Collingwood)

North Melbourne produced one of the strangest individual club seasons in recent memory. It was 2016’s buzz team of the opening rounds, winning its opening nine games to be an apparent premiership contender at the time. What we would eventually find out was that seven of those games came against non-finalists and while wins against the Dogs and Adelaide were impressive, the Roos’ season would come crashing down nearly as quickly as it took off. North would only win another three games in its final 13 matches, which was just enough to hold on to eighth from St Kilda by percentage. Due to the drop of form and confidence, little was expected of the Kangaroos in the Elimination Final and Adelaide ran away to a 62 point win with little surprise.

Statistically, North Melbourne more or less matched its win/loss ratio throughout the season. It led many key performance indicators at the half way point, before becoming near irrelevant despite making the finals. You almost got the feeling that North Melbourne expected the drop in output and when it was announced that Harvey, Dal Santo, Petrie and Firrito all wouldn’t be offered new contracts, Brad Scott had all but shut up shop on the club’s premiership hopes. It makes you ask the question as to whether the Kangaroos are going into rebuild mode. There are still some quality footballers in or around their peak, but when you include Daniel Wells to the other four delisted veterans, this amount of departed experience can never be replaced quickly.

Verdict: After a tough second half of 2016 and a large list of quality outgoing players, the external expectations of North Melbourne are low. Brad Scott is a realist himself and has already indicated through the clubs offseason movements that the priorities have changed. The early draw isn’t as easy as last year either, with matches against West Coast, Geelong, GWS and the Western Bulldogs to start the season. Confidence levels could be low early.

Ladder Range: 12-18

PORT ADELAIDE 

Premiership Odds: $34.00
Coach: Ken Hinkley

INS:

National draft: Todd Marshall, Sam Powell-Pepper, Joe Atley, Willem Drew
Rookies: Peter Ladhams, Brett Eddy, Jarrod Lienert, Emmanuel Irra

OUTS:

Retired: Alipate Carlile
Delisted: John Butcher, Sam Colquhoun, Kane Mitchell, Cameron O’Shea, Jay Schulz, Paul Stewart

After coming so close to a Grand Final berth in 2014, two consecutively missed finals series has put pressure on Ken Hinkley and Port Adelaide to perform. The Power have become a middle tier team who can consistently beat the teams below it, but can’t produce the vital points required against the top eight. Nine of its ten wins came against bottom ten clubs, while the only finalist Port managed to defeat was North Melbourne in the midst of that form slump. The Power have made minimal list changes of significance, which would suggest the list is rated internally. It means finals are a must in 2017.

Port Adelaide had two areas in particular that it struggled with in 2016, winning outside football and having genuine marking targets inside 50. The Power were arguably one of the better inside teams last year by ranking third for total clearances and seventh for contested possession, yet it still ranked 15th for total disposals. That was almost entirely due to its lack of uncontested possession, ranking 17th in the competition with just 213 per game. It was only 12-24 months ago that Port Adelaide were described as one of the best outside teams, but the run and carry of Jared Polec and Matt White from previous years was missed. The Power still managed to ranked fifth for total inside 50s in 2016, but could only average 10.3 marks in the arc to be ranked equal 16th. Charlie Dixon and Jay Schulz didn’t play nearly as much football together as Port had originally hoped and with the latter delisted, much of the improvement will be expected to come from the returning Patrick Ryder and SANFL leading goal-kicker Brett Eddy.

Verdict: Port Adelaide has three very good midfielders in Gray, Wines and Boak, while the likes of Wingard, Dixon, Pittard and Hartlett have talent to burn, but is the list really that good? You could build a compelling case that its 2014 Preliminary Final berth was an overachievement and a lot of list management decisions since have been made on the theory that there was scope to the result. Ken Hinkley desperately needs action from his team, but I’m not convinced it can occur.

Ladder Range: 9-15

RICHMOND 

Premiership Odds: $51.00
Coach: Damien Hardwick

INS:

National draft: Shai Bolton, Jack Graham, Ryan Garthwaite
Rookies: Tyson Stengle
Trade: Josh Caddy (Geelong), Toby Nankervis (Sydney), Dion Prestia (Gold Coast)

OUTS:

Retired: Troy Chaplin, Reece McKenzie
Delisted: Liam McBean, Adam Marcon, Andrew Moore
Traded: Brett Deledio (GWS)
Free agency: Tyrone Vickery (Hawthorn)

I doubt there were a group of supporters more underwhelmed with their team’s season than those associated with Richmond in 2016. After such promising strides in 2015 where it won 15 games, the Tigers were back to their disappointing best by barely registing half that figure in 2016. It wasn’t just the fact that they weren’t winning as much, the margins were blowing out too as Sydney, GWS, North Melbourne, Hawthorn and West Coast all produced large percentage boosting results against Richmond. There are many who believe Damien Hardwick has been a success in his tenure as coach, but a replication of 2016 this year will build unbearable pressure.

Richmond are a club who has been accused of not putting in 100% effort at times over the last few decades and its 2016 defensive numbers certainly don’t paint a pretty picture either. The Tigers ranked 18th for tackles, averaging just 60.1 per game throughout the season. That is a whopping 4.8 tackles per game than the next worse team Essendon, who averaged 64.9 a match. They are numbers that would devastate Hardwick, once a player who renowned for his defensive output and attack on the opposition. Richmond also struggled to get the ball inside its forward arc on a consistent basis, ranking 17th for total inside 50s. The forwards certainly lacked opportunities and with Vickery signing with Hawthorn, Jack Riewoldt will have an even heavier reliance and is likely to play deeper.

Verdict: You suspect it is a case of do or die for Damien Hardwick. He would have been disappointed to lose both Deledio and Vickery, although Richmond have managed to strengthen its midfield depth with the recruitment of Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy. Far too much was left to Martin and Cotchin, so both will be valued inclusions. The real question is do the Tigers have enough middle tier players capable of improving enough to save Damien Hardwick? I suspect not unfortunately.

Ladder range: 9-15

ST KILDA

Premiership Odds: $26.00
Coach: Alan Richardson

INS:

National draft: Ben Long, Josh Battle, Ed Phillips
Rookies: Rowan Marshall
Trade: Jack Steele (GWS), Koby Stevens (Western Bulldogs)
Free agency: Nathan Brown (Collingwood)

OUTS:

Retired: Sam Fisher
Delisted: Tom Curren, Luke Delaney, Tom Lee, Brodie Murdoch, Brenton Payne, Josh Saunders, Cameron Shenton, Eli Templeton

Alan Richardson began to produce some impressive results with his young list in 2016, as the Saints won 12 games to miss out on the eight by just percentage. Six wins and a draw was hailed as a success in 2015 after the club was deep into a rebuild, but the on-field development has come on quicker than perhaps even Richardson could have predicted. Wins against the Western Bulldogs and Geelong were the highlights of a progressive season that proves St Kilda can match it with some of the best teams. While the list as a whole is still very young, last year’s result means that finals are the new expectation.

Alan Richardson has adapted and promoted an offensive style to this team that is not only attractive to watch, but very effective at the fasted paced Etihad Stadium. St Kilda overtook Hawthorn as the best users of the ball, operating at an impressive disposal efficiency of 75.3%. It did so by focusing on winning a lot of outside football and getting its best users in attacking positions. The Saints ranked third in the competition for average uncontested possessions and the tall forward structure of Riewoldt, Membrey and Bruce were the beneficiaries with the club ranked second for marks inside 50. The three marking targets combined for 123 goals to be deservedly considered one of the better tall set ups in the competition. St Kilda still has a lot of work to do on the inside, but as the likes of Ross, Dunstan, Newnes, Acres and Billings continue to develop, as will the clearance and contested possession numbers.

Verdict: St Kilda are another young developing team on the rise that believes it is ready to play finals football. It possesses a nice mix of experienced and developing types in the best 22 to suggest there is enough maturity and most importantly scope. The Saints have been drawn an outstanding fixture, which includes 14 games at Etihad Stadium and just four six day breaks. Like Melbourne, it is a team capable of making the jump in the eight, but with so many teams in the mix, it may have to wait and bide it’s time for one more season.

Ladder Range: 6-12

SYDNEY

Premiership Odds: $7.00
Coach: John Longmire

INS:

National draft: Oliver Florent, Will Hayward, Jack Maibaum, Darcy Cameron
Rookies: Ben Ronke, Robbie Fox, Shaun Edwards (Essendon), Toby Pink, Sam Fisher

OUTS:

Retired: Tom Derickx, Ben McGlynn, Ted Richards
Delisted: Abaina Davis, Kyle Galloway, Jack Hiscox, Xavier Richards
Traded: Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn), Toby Nankervis (Richmond)

It seems that Sydney has been in the premiership window for 10-15 years now and it again proved in 2016 to be a contender. The Swans finished the home and away rounds on top of the ladder with 17 wins and comfortably the highest percentage. It drew the short straw in the Qualifying Final though, eliminating its earned home ground advantage by playing GWS at ANZ Stadium. The young Giants caused the upset, but Sydney bounced back quickly with quality performances against Adelaide and Geelong in the Semi-Final and Preliminary Final respectively. It would become the bridesmaid in the Western Bulldog’s fairy-tale premiership victory, but enters 2017 knowing its list is still good enough.

As we have become accustomed to over the last decade or so, there are no surprises when it comes to the Swans desired style. It has always managed to make a game more contested and 2016 was no different. It ranked first for contested possessions with 164.2 per game, 12 more than the next best side. The inside strengths saw it second in the competition for both tackles and clearances and while the Swans had the second worst disposal efficiency, it didn’t stop it them from averaging over 100 points per game during the home and away period. It suffocated the opposition too, conceding an average of just 66.77 points per game before finals. It produced numbers normally seen by the premiership team. Although the fast, efficient inside ball movement of GWS and finally the Western Bulldogs during the Grand Final exposed the Swans. The Swans were able to release the inside ball effectively during the Adelaide and Geelong finals, but were restricted against GWS and the Dogs due to manic defensive pressure.

Verdict: There is no question that Sydney will be in the premiership mix yet again, but it has some catching up to do to the Western Bulldogs and GWS both in skill and tactically. The loss of Tom Mitchell to Hawthorn isn’t ideal, but the Swans have always managed to replace one soldier with another. The Swans have a tough fixture, having been drawn to play GWS, the Dogs, Hawthorn and the improving St Kilda twice. Although to be a flag contender, the quality teams have to be beaten anyway and expect to see the Swans in the top four again.

Ladder Range: 1-6

WEST COAST

Premiership Odds: $9.00
Coach: Adam Simpson

INS:

National draft: Daniel Venables, Josh Rotham, Willie Rioli, Jake Waterman
Rookies: Thomas Gorter, Drew Petrie (North Melbourne), Tarir Bayok
Trade: Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn), Nathan Vardy (Geelong)

OUTS:

Retired: Damien Cavka, Xavier Ellis, Kane Lucas, Patrick McGinnity
Delisted: Corey Adamson, Jamie Bennell, Mitch Brown, Brant Colledge, Alec Waterman

After a Grand Final berth in 2015, the expectations were high in the west for the Eagles to go one better last year. The levels required to be a flag contender weren’t met for the first few months of the season, but West Coast eventually got into gear late by winning its final four games to earn a home Elimination Final. Its upset win in Round 23 against Adelaide away in particular got supporters excited, but little did they know that the Western Bulldogs were about to create history. The Eagles were destroyed on the inside and the optimism died as quickly as hopes sprung to life. While 2016 was a disappointment, Adam Simpson knows that his side is still capable of reaching the heights of 2015.

An obvious feature of West Coast 2015 vs 2016 was the inability to win as much of the football. The Eagles averaged 369.8 disposals a game in 2015 to be ranked sixth in the league, only to see that fall to 353.6 in 2016 and be ranked a dismal 17th. While its contested possession numbers dropped off slightly, it was on the outside that Adam Simpson would be most concerned. It averaged only 215.8 uncontested possessions during 2016 to be ranked an alarming 16th. On the wide open spaces of Subiaco, those numbers should be higher. The surprise signing of Sam Mitchell is certainly a direct strategy to help combat that and his outside statistics have already been huge during the JLT Community Series, averaging a ridiculous 30 uncontested possessions in his two games.

Verdict: West Coast will be hungry to show the competition it can be a genuine premiership contender again, but the loss to Nic Naitanui and now Scott Lycett for long periods on the sideline hurts dramatically. Nathan Vardy, Jon Giles and Drew Petrie will be left to fill the void, meaning the midfield will be having to read the opposition ruck touch more often than they are used to. A fit Naitanui in particular is arguably the most valuable player in the competition to any one club, which makes a step into the top four extremely tough without him and widens its potential success range overall.

Ladder Range: 4-10

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Premiership Odds: $5.50
Coach: Luke Beveridge

INS:

National draft: Tim English, Patrick Lipinski, Lewis Young, Fergus Greene
Rookies: Nathan Mullenger-McHugh
Trade: Travis Cloke (Collingwood)

OUTS:

Retired: Jed Adcock
Delisted: Luke Goetz, Will Minson
Traded: Joel Hamling (Fremantle), Nathan Hrovat (North Melbourne), Koby Stevens (St Kilda)

The Western Bulldogs produced the fairy-tale that no one could have possibly imagined, winning its first premiership since 1954 and doing so from 7th on the ladder. It had to travel twice during finals and win, defeat a Hawthorn side striving for its fourth consecutive flag and eventually overcome the expectation of playing in a Grand Final for the first time since 1961. You could argue that it was the most popular premiership victory in the competitions history, as it was near on impossible to find a neutral supporter that wasn’t sitting in the Dog’s corner. Luke Beveridge has instantly become a club legend, but it doesn’t end there. He has one of the hottest young lists in the competition and now has the opportunity to consider the likelihood of a potential dynasty.

Sydney are commonly known as the inside kings of the competition and by total number they still are, but there is absolutely no doubt that the Western Bulldogs are by far the most feared contested ball winning side getting around. The Dogs averaged a mindboggling 16.5 more contested possessions a game than its opposition and didn’t lose an individual match differential in the category until late in the season. During the finals it lifted that differential average up to a staggering +28, despite taking on strong inside clubs like Sydney, GWS and West Coast. Opposition coaches knew what the problem was when coming up against the Dogs, but constantly had no answer to restricting the almost unfair advantage. With amazing inside ball winners and disposers like Bontempelli, Liberatore, Macrae, Dahlhaus and Picken, it is little wonder the remaining 17 clubs are having so many issues solving the riddle.

Verdict: The Western Bulldogs won’t be going away any time soon. The squad is young with a core group of senior players about to reach their peak. They now have premiership winning and finals experience behind them, creating potentially a whole new dynamic. Travis Cloke creates a new forward target and while it would have been disappointing to lose the depth of Hamling, Stevens and Hrovat, they are replaceable. Does it possess the same amount of scope to improve as newly developed rival GWS? That remains to be seen.

Ladder Range: 1-4

Ladder Prediction

As always, predicting a final ladder at this time of the year is a difficult task and season 2017 is no different. There appears to be plenty of teams capable of pushing from last year’s bottom ten, creating a potential logjam. I like looking at the ladder in groups as it gives a more realistic comparison to where the clubs are at. Here is our predicted ladder:

GWS
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­WESTERN BULLDOGS
SYDNEY
ADELAIDE
GEELONG
HAWTHORN
MELBOURNE
WEST COAST
COLLINGWOOD
ST KILDA
GOLD COAST
ESSENDON
FREMANTLE
RICHMOND
PORT ADELAIDE
NORTH MELBOURNE
BRISBANE
CARLTON

GWS and the Western Bulldogs are the clear favourites for mine at this point of the year and I expect them to earn home qualifying finals, followed by Sydney and Adelaide who will challenge strongly again for top four positions. Geelong and Hawthorn still both possess players that could see them in double chance contention again, while Melbourne is the big mover from the bottom ten. West Coast takes the final position in the eight, but are difficult to judge with Naitanui out for such a long period of time. St Kilda are in a similar position to Melbourne and will genuinely contend for a position in the eight, while Collingwood have a better list than what it has produced in recent season. The next group of Gold Coast, Essendon, Fremantle, Richmond and Port Adelaide are difficult to separate, but you get the feeling that the Suns and Bombers have the most potential to improve from last year. North Melbourne gave a clear indication of where it sees the list after the cull of numerous veterans, while Brisbane and Carlton are still clearly in rebuild mode and need time to get games into their developing youngsters.

Brownlow Medal

$6.00: Patrick Dangerfield
$8.00: Marcus Bontempelli
$9.00: Nat Fyfe
$10.00: Dustin Martin, Rory Sloane
$12.00: Luke Parker
$15.00: Sam Mitchell
$17.00: Joel Selwood, Dan Hannebery
$21.00: Adam Treloar, Josh P Kennedy, Jack Steven, Robbie Gray
$23.00: Callan Ward, Gary Ablett, Matthew Priddis
$26.00: Dylan Shiel, Patrick Cripps, Scott Pendlebury, Trent Cotchin

PREDICTION: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong) $6.00

It is absolutely no surprise to see Dangerfield favourite again after taking the competition by storm in his first year for Geelong. He collected a record 35 votes to win his first Brownlow Medal comfortably and there is no sign of that form slowing down. The biggest threat appears to be 2015 winner Nathan Fyfe, who finished the JLT Community Series with a monster outing against Carlton. He looks incredibly fit too, but the likelihood of Dangerfield being in a more successful team gets him across the line.

VALUE: Josh Kelly (GWS) $81.00

The Giants are expected to win a lot of games in 2017, which means there will be Brownlow votes flowing in their direction. Stephen Conliglio was awarded the most GWS votes with 17 last year and will start the season on the sidelines, creating the opportunity for another midfielder to step up. That appears to be the silky Josh Kelly, who has improved considerably in the last 12 months. He finished 2016 averaging 23.58 disposals and lifted his inside numbers dramatically. He has spent more time at the stoppages during the preseason and looks ready to explode.

Coleman Medal

$3.50: Josh J Kennedy
$4.50: Lance Franklin
$6.50: Tom Lynch (GCS)
$9.00: Jack Riewoldt
$9.00: Jeremy Cameron
$13.00: Josh Jenkins
$15.00: Eddie Betts
$17.00: Joe Daniher
$21.00: Jarryd Roughead, Jesse Hogan, Josh Bruce
$23.00: Cam McCarthy, Taylor Walker, Tom Hawkins, Travis Cloke

PREDICTION: Josh J Kennedy (West Coast) $3.50

No surprises here with the 2015 and 2016 Coleman Medallist getting the nod again. He just continuously kicks goals and deserves the title as the best KPF in the competition. He has kicked 60+ goals in each of the last four years and has played 20 or more games in 5 of the last 6 seasons. Lance Franklin obviously deserves consideration too after having the most scoring shots in 2016 and Tom Lynch is set to improve further, but you know what you are going to get with Kennedy.

VALUE: Taylor Walker (Adelaide) $26.00

Tex Walker probably didn’t quite hit the highs he is capable of in 2016 despite a respectable 47 goals. Sharing a forward line with Betts, Jenkins, Lynch and McGovern didn’t help, but he has scope with Adelaide’s attacking style and ability to get the ball inside 50. Walker kicked the second most behinds in the competition last year too, so improvement in front of the sticks would see him back to 60+ totals. At $26.00, he has value written all over him.

Rising Star

$9.00: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port)
$11.00: Andrew McGrath (Ess), Brayden Fiorini (GCS), Ryan Clarke (NM)
$12.00: Ben Ainsworth (GCS), Jacob Hopper (GWS), Tim Taranto (GWS)
$14.00: Hugh McCluggage (Bris)
$15.00: Aaron Francis (Ess), Jack Bowes (GCS), Will Brodie (GCS)
$17.00: Ryan Burton (Haw)
$18.00: Caleb Marchbank (Carl)

PREDICTION: Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast) $12.00

The Gippsland Power forward/midfielder was an early selection in the 2016 draft and looks set to help fill the small forward void at Gold Coast immediately. He is incredibly difficult matchup as he is brilliant overhead for his size and clean below the knees when crumbing. He is a smart footballer and possesses x-factor in front of goal. Despite being a teenager, he has the body to impact senior football quickly. Andrew McGrath, Ryan Clarke and Caleb Marchbank also deserve strong consideration.

VALUE: Mitchell Hibberd (North Melbourne) $251.00

It is a shame that Sportsbet are no longer presenting the Cash Out option on the Rising Star market after almost giving money away at times last year. Mitchell Hibberd would have been the perfect candidate having played all three games for the Kangaroos during the JLT Community Series. He impacted the game from half back and the wing to average 15.66 possession and is in line for a Round 1 berth. He possesses odds difficult to ignore.

Author

mm

Rover

Covering all things Australian Rules Football for The Profits. I’ve been a passionate supporter and follower of AFL for as long as I can remember. Having been born into a family with deep football history and tradition on both sides, you can say it runs through my blood. I’ve got a keen interest in the stats and analysis of the game, which helped me finish in the top 100 of fantasy competitions DreamTeam and Supercoach last year. While my own local football career was cut short due to injury at 22, it has created an opportunity for me to frequently watch and build a deep knowledge of the sport at its highest level. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and views throughout the season.

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