2013 AFL Season Preview

AFL 2017

After an off season of peptides, salary cap breaches, tanking, concussion memory losses and more peptides, every supporter in the country will be relieved that the 2013 AFL season is upon us. Season 2012 produced an underdog Premier in the Sydney Swans when Hawthorn was seen as the team to beat for a large portion of the year. While the Hawks are again well backed, you can argue that there are up to 8 teams who could genuinely make a case that 2013 will be their year.

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.

Adelaide Crows

Premiership Odds: $11.00
2013 Coach
Brenton Sanderson

Ins: Angus Graham (Richmond, Trade), Sam Siggins (ND No.62), Rory Atkins (ND No.81), Ian Callinan (rookie elevation), Nick Joyce (Redrafted, PSD), Kyle Hartigan (RD), Jack Osborn (RD), Tim Klaosen (RD)

Outs: Michael Doughty (retired), Chris Knights (Richmond), Kurt Tippett, Brad Symes, James Craig, Will Young, Sam Martyn (all delisted)

Brenton Sanderson’s debut coaching season can only be applauded after coming so close to defeating Hawthorn in the Preliminary Final, earning the club mountains of respect around the competition. Unfortunately, that respect lasted little more than a few weeks after Kurt Tippett quit the club and was later found to have a contract that saw him receive money not stipulated under the salary cap. While the club received draft penalties, administration suspensions and no compensation for Tippett, it could have been a lot worse. Even the immediate loss of Tippett on field appears lessened, with promising 24 year old Josh Jenkins ready to fill the void up forward and as a pinch hitting ruck relief.

The Crows took full advantage of a favourable draw last year and will be ecstatic to see that it hasn’t got too much more difficult for 2013. There are no return games against any 2012 top 4 sides and it plays seven away games against non-finalists. The draw does turn a little nasty late in the season with away trips to Perth in Rounds 18 and 23.

Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane, Matthew Wright and Sam Jacobs had breakout seasons through the midfield/ruck and all have the scope to improve further. The retired Michael Doughty has been a stalwart of the Adelaide defence for many years, but even he looks replaceable with Norwood’s Luke Brown looking a perfect fit.

Verdict: There is no real reason to suggest that the Crows will drop off dramatically or at all. Despite some indifferent preseason form, a favourable draw should see them build confidence and once again be in contention for a Top 4 finish.

Brisbane Lions

Premiership Odds: $81.00
2013 Coach
Michael Voss

Ins: Brent Moloney (Melbourne, FA), Stefan Martin (Melbourne, Trade), Sam Mayes (ND No.8), Marco Paparone (ND No.23), Michael Close (ND No.32), Jack Crisp (rookie elevation), Niall McKeever (rookie elevation), Callum Bartlett (Redrafted, RD), Nick Hayes (RD), Jordon Bourke (RD)

Outs: Ben Hudson (retired/Collingwood), Josh Drummond (retired), Amon Buchanan (retired), Cheynee Stiller, James Hawksley, Sam Sheldon & Bryce Retzlaff (all delisted)

After a horrendous start to his coaching career, Michael Voss finally began to see some results in 2012. While 10 wins isn’t the most attractive season on paper, it is a significant improvement on 2011 where Voss’ job looked vulnerable and development appeared stalled with only four wins. But there is still a lot of work to do and further improvement to be made to reach the desired success.

Winning the NAB Cup is a good positive start. While some consider the tournament insignificant, there is a trend developing that success leads to proper season form. Since 2008, every NAB Cup premier has finished top four, and every finalist has finished top eight. While declaring Brisbane are now a top four threat is a bit of a stretch, a top eight birth isn’t out of the question.

On field, the Lions have recognised their weaknesses well and brought in a couple of mature aged players that should have immediate impact. The developing midfield of Rockliff, Redden and Rich will continue to take steps in the right direction, but the Lions clearance differentials are still dismal (17th in 2012). With Simon Black taking less responsibility, Brent Moloney’s proven clearance record will be a welcomed asset. Excluding Jonathan Brown, the Lions lack big targets and while Stefan Martin isn’t a big name or consistent performer, he fills the forward/ruck trend that most clubs are adopting.

The Lions have a handful of tough away games against the likes of Geelong, Collingwood, Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn, but apart from that, it looks quite soft draw. The Suns, Bulldogs and Melbourne are doubled up, while the run home includes seven teams from outside the 8 and North Melbourne at the Gabba.

Verdict: I’m optimistic about the Lions. If the midfield can improve its clearance rates, that draw could easily see them sneak into the finals. The first half of the season is vital.

Carlton Blues

Premiership Odds: $10.00
2013 Coach Mick Malthouse

Ins:  Troy Menzel (ND No.11), Tom Temay (ND No.35), Nicholas Graham (ND No.54), Levi Casboult (rookie elevation), Zack Tuohy (rookie elevation), Jaryd Cachia (RD), Andrew Collins (Redrafted, RD)

Outs: Paul Bower, Andrew Collins, Rohan Kerr, Bret Thornton, Nick Heyne, Mitch Carter, Blake Bray, Matthew Lodge (all delisted), Jordan Russell (Collingwood)

The Blues obviously have quite a bit of optimism placed upon them with the arrival of Mick Malthouse. It will be interesting to see the differences that Malthouse implements as the list has barely changed from what Brett Ratten had to work with, excluding some talented 18 year old draftees. Many are comparing this Carlton squad with Geelong’s from 2006 and stating that a lowly 2012 was the proverbial “kick up the bum” that the club needed. I see the Geelong situation as the rule exclusion, not an indication of short term success.

The Blues have looked solid in the preseason. A birth in a NAB Cup final has its recent benefits, as discussed in the Brisbane analysis, but consecutive losses against Adelaide and Brisbane highlighted weaknesses that Malthouse will have to assess before round 1.

The strengths are still the star studded midfield and the fleet footed small forwards. If Michael Jamison is fit, the defence also looks decent, complimented by flexible hard types like Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler, while Chris Yarran and Heath Scotland provide great rebound. Although there is one glaring weakness, a tall forward target. The million dollar question is can a forward line consisting the injury prone Jarrad Waite, Levi Casboult and Sam Rowe be relied upon to generate a big enough score against the best teams in the competition?

The Blues draw is probably around middle of the road in terms of difficulty. The first month is extremely tough, with games against Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast away. It gets easier from there with Collingwood the only Top 8 team they play twice.

Verdict: I don’t share the optimism of them being a premiership threat and don’t see top 4 is an option just yet. In fact, I don’t even see them as a finals certainty. They’ll be in finals contention, but I think the inclusion of Malthouse has overhyped their credentials.

Collingwood Magpies

Premiership Odds: $7.50
2013 Coach
Nathan Buckley

Ins: Quinten Lynch (West Coast, FA), Clinton Young (Hawthorn, FA), Jordan Russell (Carlton, Trade), Brodie Grundy (ND No.18), Ben Kennedy (ND No.19), Timothy Broomhead (ND No.20), Jackson Ramsay (ND No.38), Marley Williams (rookie elevation), Kyle Martin (RD), Sam Dwyer (RD), Adam Oxley (RD), Jack Frost (RD), Peter Yagmoor (Redrafted, RD), Ben Richmond (RD)

Outs: Chris Tarrant (retired), Sharrod Wellingham (West Coast), Chris Dawes (Melbourne), Tom Young (Bulldogs), Cameron Wood, Jonathon Ceglar, Kirk Ugle, Luke Rounds, Simon Buckley, Shae McNamara,
Paul Cribbin, Daniel Farmer, Trent Stubbs, Lachlan Smith
(all delisted)

A preliminary final birth and loss to eventual Premier Sydney in most cases would be seen as a successful season for a first year coach, but Nathan Buckley would feel that his side underachieved in 2012 and will be looking to take the next step this year.

They looked to address any potential improvements quickly after the season finished by having a busy trade/free agency period. They chased hard and successfully signed Quinten Lynch from West Coast as a free agent, but at the same time scared off the out of form Chris Dawes who chose to leave to Melbourne for greater opportunities. Sharrod Wellingham going home to WA freed up salary cap room to add the outside, long kicking Clinton Young from Hawthorn, while also trading in out of favour Carlton back flanker Jordan Russell on the cheap. All three should have immediate impacts and create strength to what is an already imposing best 22.

The Pies have the best midfield on paper. Pendlebury, Swan and Beams lead a group that has strong rotation depth including Sidebottom, Thomas, Blair and Fasolo. Luke Ball returning from an ACL will bring added grunt and clearance ability. Forward, Travis Cloke will most likely make or break Collingwood. After a year frustrated by contract negotiations and lacking support from Chris Dawes, Cloke still managed to kick 59 goals and take the most contested marks in the AFL, yet was seen as a shadow of his former 2011 self. Lynch will offer more consistent support which could see Cloke become a frightening proposition.

Verdict: Collingwood have the most experienced team by games and age which suggests that their time is now. Their draw is always attractive due to being a commercial leader, meaning bulk MCG games. They will be looking at nothing less than a Grand Final birth and barring injuries like last year, have enough talent to win the flag.

Essendon Bombers

Premiership Odds: $17.00
2013 Coach
James Hird

Ins: Brendon Goddard (St Kilda, FA), Joe Daniher (F/S, ND No.10), Jason Ashby (ND No.34), Dylan Van Unen (ND No.51), Martin Gleeson (ND No.53), Nicholas Kommer (ND No.73), Sean Gregory (ND No.88), Mark Baguley (rookie elevation), William Hams (PSD), Ariel Steinberg (Redrafted, RD)

Outs: Mark McVeigh (retired), Angus Monfries (Port Adelaide), Sam Lonergan, Kyle Reimers, Michael Ross, Brent Prismall, Ricky Dyson, Anthony Long, Brendan Lee (all delisted)

What do we make of the Bombers after a preseason dominated by a performance enhancing drug scandal and pending ASADA investigation? I guess all we can do is treat them as innocent until proven guilty. But that isn’t going to take away the mental scares of public humiliation dished out by the heavy media speculation.

Before all this happened, the Bombers were looking like being an interesting prospect. In saying that, they still do. After 9 rounds, the Bombers had jumped out of the blocks to be 8-1, before the club was taken over by a curse of soft tissue injuries. A preseason of weights, while other clubs focused on running capacities, quickly took its toll which saw the Bombers fall in a heap and subsequently dive bomb out of the 8.

Jobe Watson was unbelievable in 2012 and was a very popular/deserving Brownlow Medalist. But too much too often was left to him. Stanton started the season on fire and offered welcomed support, although couldn’t shake a tag in the second half of the season. The recruitment of Brendon Goddard will certainly help. He doesn’t solve the clearance deficiencies away from Watson, but does add class and disposal efficiency on the outside as well as creating a new opposition tagging dilemma. The likes of Melksham and Colyer will need to step up while continued improvement from Howlett, Heppell and Hocking should create enough depth to avoid Watson being a one man show.

Dustin Fletcher is again the leader of the defence, despite turning 38 in May. It does appear he’ll receive greater support from Michael Hurley in the back half, while Michael Hibbert looks on the verge of a breakout season as a rebounding, attacking defender. More will be expected of Pears as a KPD, who has rarely shown any of his promising junior career form while at Essendon. The unfairly maligned Cale Hooker will again take a key forward and Jake Carlisle looks more comfortable every time you see him play.

Verdict: Tough to analyse, but the Bombers will be in contention for one of the final top 8 positions. Although with a tough draw that includes bulk 6 day breaks, might see them be pushed out to the top of the bottom 10.

Fremantle Dockers

Premiership Odds: $12.00
2013 Coach
Ross Lyon

Ins: Danyle Pearce (Port Adelaide, FA), Josh Simpson (ND No.17), Tanner Smith (ND No.36), Max Duffy (ND No.39), Clancee Pearce (elevated rookie), Lee Spur (elevated rookie) Jack Hannath (PSD), Jesse Crichton (Redrafted, PSD), Matthew Taberner (RD), Alex Howson (RD), Craig Moller (RD)

Outs: Antoni Grover, Adam McPhee (both retired), Greg Broughton (Gold Coast), Nick Lower (Western Bulldogs), Jay van Berlo, Gavin Roberts, Jordan Wilson King (delisted), Dylan Roberton, Jesse Crichton, Jack Anthony (all delisted)

A brilliant second half season and an upset Elimination Final win at the MCG against Geelong, the Dockers come into 2013 with high expectations. It took a while to get used to Ross Lyon’s strangling coaching style, but after Round 14, the Dockers won 9 of their last 11 games and arguably become the most difficult team in the league to play against.

Fremantle have an extremely effective and underrated midfield, which includes the likes of Crowley, de Boer, Clancee Pearce, Mzungu and Barlow, who certainly aren’t seen damaging names of the game by most. Crowley in particular lifted his game to another level, becoming the premier tagger of the competition and winning the best & fairest. Mundy and Fyfe missed large chunks of football last year and will become important full time inclusions to the midfield. Free agent Danyle Pearce will add some outside class, potentially taking some of the constant attention off Stephen Hill.

Matthew Pavlich was outstanding kicking 69 goals (his largest haul since 2007) and doesn’t look like slowing down now he has become a permanent forward once again. With Chris Mayne and small forwards Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters, the forward line has a really well balanced look to it.

One big worry is Aaron Sandilands continuously missing chunks of games through injury. The turf toe popped up for the second year running, while he is currently nursing a hamstring injury that will see him miss the start of the season. Griffen, Hannath and Clarke are decent back up, but lack the game changing ability of the 211cm giant.

Verdict: The Dockers are a potential smoky for the top 4. A couple of tough away fixtures but a raft of soft home games against seven bottom 8 sides will see Fremantle almost certainly to make the finals and push for higher honours.

Geelong Cats

Premiership Odds: $10.00
2013 Coach Chris Scott

Ins: Josh Caddy (Gold Coast, Trade), Hamish McIntosh (North Melbourne, Trade), Jared Rivers (Melbourne, FA), Jackson Thurlow (ND No.16), Bradley Hartman (ND No.77), Jesse Stringer (rookie elevation)

Outs: Matthew Scarlett (retired), David Wojcinski (retired), Simon Hogan (retired), Shannon Byrnes (Melbourne), Tom Gillies (Melbourne), Orren Stephenson (delisted), Jonathan Simpkin (Hawthorn)

The Cats gained some late momentum in 2012, knocking off top four sides Hawthorn, Adelaide and Sydney, before being humbled in the elimination final by Fremantle. Despite winning 15 games, the Cats were consistently hampered by poor starts and negative clearance differentials. Thankfully that was countered by the emergence of Tom Hawkins, who became one of the best forward targets in the competition and Geelong’s most important player.

Geelong went to the free agency/trade period with a clear plan of what they wanted and how they were going to make it happen. The clearance numbers were obviously seen as a high priority which saw Gold Coast stoppage specialist Josh Caddy and injury prone North Melbourne ruckman Hamish McIntosh traded into the club. With Matthew Scarlett retiring, the Cats were also on the lookout for a readymade third tall/KPD replacement, securing Demon Jared Rivers as a free agent who’s already looking at home in defence during the NAB Cup. It’s fair to say the Cats nailed the October period.

With Simonds Stadium unavailable until mid season, Geelong’s fixture is quite lopsided which creates a favourable run home into the finals. Seven of the last thirteen games will be at Simonds, where they have only lost once since 2007. The first four weeks are extremely difficult, with Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Carlton and Sydney away all off 6 day breaks. If Geelong can break even or better in the early rounds, they really set themselves up for a genuine shot at the double chance.

Verdict: There are a few already writing the Cats off, but some maturing youngsters, smart recruiting and a cushioned run home puts them right in contention with 6-7 teams for a top four spot. The first few rounds are very important.

Gold Coast Suns

Premiership Odds: $501.00
2013 Coach
Guy McKenna

Ins: Tom Murphy (Hawthorn, FA), Jaeger O’Meara (via GWS mini-draft 2011), Greg Broughton (Fremantle, Trade), Jesse Lonergan (ND No.13), Tim Sumner (ND No.55), Kyle Horsley (elevated rookie), Clay Cameron (Zone Selection, NB No.58), Leigh Osborne (RD), Andrew Boston (RD)

Outs: Josh Fraser (retired), Andrew McQualter (retired), Michael Coad (retired), Josh Caddy (Geelong), Sam Iles, Alik Magin, Taylor Hine, Lewis Moss, Piers Flanagan, Josh Toy, Hayden Jolly (all delisted), Tom Hickey (St Kilda)

The Gold Coast enters its third season of the big league with expectations of considerable improvement. Unfortunately, I think these expectations are unrealistic and unfair. Some are suggesting that missing finals would equate to a failure. Last year it took fourteen wins to make the top eight, yet the Suns have only managed to register 3 wins from each of its completed seasons. You would have to be dreaming to think that a bunch of 20 year old kids can improve by eleven games over a twelve month period.

The Gold Coast were much quieter during the off season list lodgment periods, having dominated the drafts for the last few years. They did manage to secure Tom Murphy and Greg Broughton from Hawthorn and Fremantle respectively, who will both walk into best 22 positions. Big bodied Tasmanian midfielder Jesse Lonergan was taken as their first round pick and will play regular games having played senior football for over 12 months. But it will be Jaeger O’Meara who will generate the most excitement having been taken in the 2011 GWS Mini Draft. He is one of the most hyped youngsters in the country and will finally get to show his dangerous mix of pace and agility in the AFL having spent a season hidden in the NEAFL. He will certainly look the part beside Gary Ablett and Harley Bennell.

The one thing in the Gold Coast’s favour is that their draw is a dream. They play GWS, Port Adelaide, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs twice, as well as seven non finalists at Metricon Stadium. It is sure to clock up some wins based on that.

Verdict: Don’t expect miracles from the Suns. With an easy draw, they should be able to get 5-7 wins and show enough improvement to keep the knockers at bay.

GWS Giants

Premiership Odds: $1001.00
2013 Coach
Kevin Sheedy

Ins: Stephen Gilham (Hawthorn, Trade), Lachie Whitfield (ND No.1), Jonathan O’Rourke (ND No.2), Lachlan Plowman (ND No.3), Kristian Jaksch (ND No.12), Aidan Corr (ND No.14), James Stewart (ND No.27), Sam Frost (rookie elevation), Andrew Phillips (rookie elevation), Bret Thornton (Carlton, PSD), Zachary Williams (RD), Joe Redfern (RD)

Outs: James McDonald (retired), Luke Power (retired), Jack Hombsch (Port Adelaide), Israel Folau (quit), Stephen Clifton, Rhys Cooyou, Tim Segrave (all delisted)

In a debut season that only yielded 2 wins and a wooden spoon, the Giants were able to give an indication of what was ahead. There wouldn’t be many hardcore AFL followers who would disagree that the future suggests success.

There is talent all over the ground, as you would expect with 25 first round draft picks, highlighted by the soon to be scary forward combination of Jeremy Cameron and Jonathon Patton. The midfield is stacked with impressive names like Stephen Conligio, Dom Tyson, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, Dylan Shiel, Devon Smith and ball magnet Toby Greene, who managed to average 28.4 disposals in his first AFL season. On top of that, they nabbed the hottest midfield prospect of the 2012 draft in Lachie Whitfield at pick number one, as well as the smooth moving Jono O’Rourke at pick two. The defence also looks set with Stephen Silvagni making it a focus drafting Lachlie Plowman, Aidan Corr and Kristian Jaksch in the first round to compliment the likes of Matt Buntine, Tom Bugg, Adam Kennedy and Adam Tomlinson.

Does all this mean that they are going to be competitive in 2013? No. The fact of the matter is that they still lack mature, hard bodies through the middle of the ground. Callan Ward was brilliant in 2012 winning the inaugural best and fairest, but his kamikaze style requires support. Phil Davis, Chad Cornes and Tim Mohr battled respectfully throughout the season, but there was just too much football entering the defensive 50. The recruitment of Stephen Gilham from Hawthorn will help, but expect to see a similar trend.

Verdict: GWS certainly have some winnable games, but it is hard to expect them to win any more than five. Bottom four is looking likely, which will see another highly touted eighteen year old added to an already talent bursting list.

Hawthorn Hawks

Premiership Odds: $4.50
2013 Coach
Alastair Clarkson

Ins: Brian Lake (Western Bulldogs, Trade), Matt Spangher (Sydney, Trade), Jed Anderson (Traded GWS Giants zone player), Jonathan Simpkin (Geelong, FA), Tim O’Brien (ND No.28), Kaiden Brand (ND No.66) Jonathon Ceglar (Collingwood, RD), Ciaran Kilkenny (international rookie – already has quit and gone home)

Outs: Cameron Bruce (retired), Chance Bateman (retired), Tom Murphy (Gold Coast), Clinton Young (Collingwood), Stephen Gilham (GWS Giants), Jarrad Boumann, Broc McCauley, Adam Pattison, Tom Schneider (all delisted)

The Hawks were seen as an almost Premiership certainty for a majority of the 2012 season, only for a stubborn Sydney outfit to overrun them in a spectacular Grand Final. Much like Geelong of 2008, the burden of expectation was potentially just as exhausting as what an opposition had to offer on game day. But can they replicate the response of Geelong the next season by making motivation of those recent demons and go all the way in 2013?

Hawthorn made their 2013 Premiership intentions clear early in the free agency/trade period by signing Brian Lake from the Dogs. With Murphy and Gilham signed by the expansion clubs, they also had to trade in Matthew Spangher from Sydney to further deepen the KPD stocks.

One weakened area could be the loss in depth of outside runners. For a team that boasts it’s outside disposal efficiency as a major strength, there is a large chunk of players that need to be replaced immediately in this category. With Bruce and Batemen retired, Clinton Young leaving as a free agent to Collingwood and the serious knee injuries to Matthew Suckling and Brendan Whitecross, the well is running a little dryer than the Hawks would have liked. Then there are the constant injury problems of Captain Luke Hodge who will be praying for a change of luck, as well as the preseason hamstring injury to Cyril Rioli. All this considered, the likes of Brad Hill, Kyle Cheney, Taylor Duryea and Jonathan Simpkin will need to step and fill the void.

Another negative for the Hawks is facing all finalists in the first seven weeks of the season, including two interstate away trips. Breaking even in this period will be vital for their top four chances as a soft mid season will see them catch back up to the contenders quickly.

Verdict: The Hawks certainly face greater difficulties in 2013, but with stars like Franklin, Mitchell, Birchall, Rioli, Roughead, Lewis and Gibson, a top four finish is still far more likely than not. Although don’t be surprised by a mini slide to fifth or sixth.

Melbourne Demons

Premiership Odds: $201.00
2013 Coach
Mark Neeld

Ins: Shannon Byrnes (Geelong, FA), Dominic Barry (Traded GWS Giants zone player), Chris Dawes (Collingwood, Trade), David Rodan (Port Adelaide, Trade), Tom Gillies (Geelong, FA), Jimmy Toumpas (ND No.4), Jack Viney (F/S, ND No.26), Dean Kent (ND No.48), Matt Jones (ND No.52), Dean Terlich (ND No.68), Daniel Nicholson (rookie elevation), Michael Evans (rookie elevation), Mitchell Clisby (RD), Nathan Stark (RD).

Outs: Brad Green (retired), Brent Moloney (Brisbane), Jared Rivers (Geelong), Jordan Gysberts (North Melbourne), Cale Morton (West Coast), Stefan Martin (Brisbane), Clint Bartram (retired), Kelvin Lawrence (retired), Matthew Bate, Jamie Bennell, Lucas Cook, Liam Jurrah, Jai Sheahan, Leigh Williams (all delisted)

After only four wins and a bottom three finish, describing Mark Neeld’s debut coaching season as testing would be an understatement. To ensure it doesn’t happen again, the Dees have had a major list cleanout and adopted what most tend to overstate as the “Moneyball” recruiting strategy. While the equalisation of the salary cap and using high valued assets on Chris Dawes and bottom aged Jesse Hogan have little association with the theory at all, the recruitment of Byrnes, Rodan, Gillies, Jones, Terlich and Clisby bare greater similarities. All should have immediate impacts are their new club.

The Dees have also managed to recruit some eighteen year olds that will see senior footy early. No.4 draft pick Jimmy Toumpas is a hard running midfielder who won a senior SANFL Premiership with Woodville West Torrens in 2011 at the age of 16. Much hyped father/son recruit Jack Viney has also played senior football with the Casey Scorpions as a bottom age player will add much needed grunt to the midfield. But the Demons can’t rely on first year players to generate the majority of clearance improvement with a number of senior players not doing enough to help best and fairest winner Nathan Jones.

The Demons will be itching to unveil its new forward combination of Chris Dawes and Mitch Clark. Clark was in career best form before going down with a long term foot injury while Chris Dawes will be hoping that a change of scenery will help him recapture his 2010 form.

Verdict: The Demons should be able to improve on its four 2012 wins. It plays 13 of the first 15 games at its spiritual MCG home and has double up games against GWS, Gold Coast and the Dogs. 7-8 wins is not beyond them.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Premiership Odds: $31.00
2013 Coach
Brad Scott

Ins: Jordan Gysberts (Melbourne, Trade), Taylor Garner (ND No.15), Ben Jacobs (ND No.37), Mason Wood (ND No.41), Mitchell Wilkins (ND No.47), Daniel Currie (ND No.56), Taylor Hine (ND No.61), Sam Gibson (76 elevated rookie), Aaron Mullet (elevated rookie), Majak Daw (elevated rookie), Tim McGenniss (RD), Ben Speight (Redrafted, RD), Cameron Richardson (Redrafted, RD)

Outs: Hamish McIntosh (Geelong), Aaron Edwards (Richmond), Cameron Pederson (Melbourne), Matt Campbell, Cruize Garlett, Ben McKinley, Gavin Urquhart, Ben Warren, Malcolm Lynch, Brad Mangan (all delisted).

Of all the 2012 finalists, North Melbourne look the most vulnerable to lose their spot in the eight. Although the Roos have managed to keep the major core of its best 22, the difference in draw difficulty is compelling. In 2012, North Melbourne played GWS, Gold Coast and the Bulldogs twice and were only drawn against one top 8 team twice (West Coast). In fact they only managed 3 wins against finals sides for the entire season. This season, the Roos don’t play any bottom four sides twice and have intimidating return bouts against Hawthorn, Adelaide, Collingwood and Geelong as well as two trips to Perth. On top of that, they need to counter eight six day breaks throughout the season. Talk about one extreme to another!

So we have established that the draw isn’t ideal, but there are still plenty of positives for the Roos. The young list is beginning to take shape and looks balanced. A game plan based on run and carry is reaping early rewards for a squad that is the 5th least experienced for games played in the competition. The improvement of types like Shaun Atley and Jamie Macmillian are giving North Melbourne coaches and supporters alike enough evidence that consecutive finals appearances are not completely out of the question.

Hamish McIntosh is the major loss, but the Roos have struck gold in mature age North Adelaide and former Sydney ruckman Daniel Currie. His form has been so encouraging during the preseason that some say he is now the number one preferred ruck, after most assumed Goldstein was a certainty for the role. With an inexperienced midfield led by Andrew Swallow, the likes of Ziebell, Cunnington, Bastinac and Greenwood suggest there is large scope of develop in the centre of the ground that could easily break out in 2013.

Verdict: The Roos would need large improvement just to match last year’s efforts. A 3-6 record against finals sides last year indicates the task will be too hard.

Port Adelaide

Premiership Odds: $201.00
2013 Coach
Ken Hinkley

Ins: Angus Monfries (Essendon, Trade), Jack Hombsch (GWS Giants, Trade), Jake Neade (Traded GWS Giants zone player), Lewis Stevenson (West Coast, Trade), Campbell Heath (Sydney, Trade), Oliver Wines (ND No.7), Thomas Clurey (ND No.29), Mason Shaw (ND No.30), Thomas Jonas (elevated rookie),  Sam Colquhoun (PSD), Kane Mitchell (PSD), Justin Hoskin (PSD)

Outs: Troy Chaplin (Richmond), Danyle Pearce (Fremantle), Ben Jacobs (North Melbourne), Jacob Surjan, Simon Phillips, Mitch Banner, Jarrad Irons, Mitch Curnow, Daniel Webb (all delisted), David Rodan (Melbourne)

Port Adelaide endured a season of pain in 2012 that produced only 5 wins and saw Matthew Primus sacked before the season ended. It was all made even worse after Collingwood recruit John McCarthy was tragically killed in Las Vegas after an encouraging first season with the club. But there is renewed hope at Port Adelaide with Ken Hinkley taking the reins from caretaker coach Garry Hocking.

Port is gathering a promising list of talented youngsters that will need time to develop. Chad Wingard, John Butcher, Jasper Pittard, along with 2012 draftees Oliver Wines, Tom Clurey, Mason Shaw and Sam Colquhoun all look the goods. But Power supporters will need to be patient as Hinkley won’t be able to produce miracles overnight with such an immature squad.

The loss of Chaplin, Pearce and Jacobs was disappointing over the off season, but the recruitment staff was able to bring in some quality reinforcement. Angus Monfries was courted home from Essendon with a promise of greater midfield minutes, promising GWS KPD Jack Hombsch was also lured back to his native state on the cheap, while Lewis Stevenson and Campbell Heath are smart inclusions after lacking opportunities at West Coast and Sydney. But their biggest win was retaining now captain Travis Boak after Geelong made no secret of its interest in him. Recently, there haven’t been many examples of Port managing to hold off offers for its star players, so seeing Boak stay could set precedence for the rest of the young list. It’s an extremely important signing.

Verdict: The Power has winnable games against Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast in the first month and it is vital that they take the opportunity to ignite their season. But that is probably as simple as it gets which will see Power finish around 13th-16th.

Richmond Tigers

Premiership Odds: $23.00
2013 Coach
Damien Hardwick

Ins: Troy Chaplin (Port Adelaide, FA), Chris Knights (Adelaide, FA), Aaron Edwards (North Melbourne, Trade), Nick Vlastuin (ND No.9), Kamdyn Mcintosh (ND No.31), Liam McBean (ND No.33), Matthew McDonough (ND No.42), Ricky Petterd (Melbourne, RD) Sam Lonergan (Essendon, RD), Orren Stephenson (Geelong, RD), Cadeyn Williams (RD).

Outs: Brad Miller (retired), Kelvin Moore (retired), Andrew Browne, Jeromey Webberley, Addam Maric, Dean McDonald, Piva Wright, Gibson Turner (all delisted), Angus Graham (Adelaide)

The Tigers are getting to the stage where they need to start delivering some success. The expectation from supporters over the last few years has been premature and unrealistic, but the questions are now becoming more warranted. Finals are now a genuinely realistic goal.

The Tigers have developed a group of players who are now at a level and age that suggests that the team is ready take the next step. The midfield has the perfect balance of quality inside and outside contributors. Trent Cotchin is now elite, as is Brett Deledio who become a far more dangerous player through the centre of the ground. Tuck, Grigg, Foley and Martin provide further class and depth that ensures that this midfield can match any in the league.

Richmond has nailed the trade period over the last few years, having recruited Ivan Maric, Bachar Houli and Shaun Grigg recently and was again active. Troy Chaplin is the big name and will provide much needed support to the ever improving Alex Rance and Dylan Grimes. It was recognised the lower end of the list was inexperienced, so instead of filling vacancies with more kids, the Tigers went experienced with the likes of Chris Knights, Aaron Edwards, Ricky Petterd, Sam Lonergan and Orren Stephenson. It is certainly a different strategy and a low risk one as only last round draft and rookie picks were used.

The fixturing is a lot gentler early for the Tigers. A difficult start in 2012 saw it playing catch up for the rest of the season, but open 2013 against three teams that missed finals action. The rest of the season is well balanced with interstate trips spread out relatively evenly.

Verdict: While some predictions of a top four finish are over the top, finals would certainly be in Damien Hardwick’s thought process. 6th-9th will be around the mark.

St Kilda Saints

Premiership Odds: $41.00
2013 Coach
Scott Watters

Trades In Tom Lee (GWS Prelisted player trade), Tom Hickey (Gold Coast, Trade), Trent Dennis-Lane (Sydney, Trade), Nathan Wright (ND No.24), Spencer White (ND No.25), Brodie Murdoch (ND No.40), Josh Saunders (ND No.43), Lewis Pierce (ND No.75), Sam Dunnell (elevated rookie), Dylan Roberton (FA).

Outs: Brendon Goddard (Essendon), Jason Gram, Raphael Clarke, Brett Peake, Dean Polo, Warrick Andreoli, Daniel Archer, Nick Winmar, Sam Crocker (all delisted), Jamie Cripps (West Coast).

The Saints have been on a steady decline since the 2010 Grand Final and it appears that the slide is set to continue. The off season was highlighted by the departure of Brendon Goddard via free agency to Essendon. While it appeared to be a mutual agreement, the Saints would have loved to have found a way to keep him around the club. The loss of promising 2010 first round draft pick Jamie Cripps was much lower profile, but is probably just as disappointing for St Kilda. They then went on to fill some glaring weaknesses in trade week by signing highly rated Gold Coast ruckman Tom Hickey and Claremont mature aged key forward Tom Lee to support Nick Riewoldt. They also secured delisted Fremantle free agent Dylan Roberton and added yet another small forward in Trent Dennis-Lane from Sydney.

The Saints will be relying on Jack Steven and David Armitage to step to another level in 2013. Apart from 18-20 year old under developed types, there isn’t many midfielders coming through. St Kilda’s five best players are arguably Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Sam Fisher, all of which will range from ages 30-34 come the start of next season. Unless the likes of Seb Ross, Jack Newnes and Josh Saunders can develop rapidly, a sharp drop down the ladder will come sooner rather than later.

The draw is middle of the road with 12 games against non finalists, but 8 games outside of Melbourne (including games in New Zealand and Geelong). The Saints must take full advantage of its first four games against Gold Coast, Richmond, GWS and Essendon.

Verdict: The shrinking group of experienced players should keep St Kilda competitive for another year, but finals will be a stretch. I’m expecting an 11th-14th finish.

Sydney Swans

Premiership Odds: $6.50
2013 Coach
John Longmire

Ins: Dean Towers (ND No.22), Harrison Marsh (ND No.44), Tim Membrey (ND No.46), Matthew Dick (ND No.64),Harry Cunningham (rookie elevation), Kurt Tippett (Adelaide, PSD), Jake Lloyd (PSD), Xavier Richards (RD), Dane Rampe (RD), Daniel Robinson (RD/Sydney Scholarship), Brandon Jack (RD/zone selection), Sam Naismith (RD)

Outs:  Jarred Moore, Mark Seaby, Nathan Gordan, Eugene Kruger, Jack Lynch, Dylan McNeil, Brett Meredith (all delisted), Campbell Heath (Port Adelaide), Matt Spangher (Hawthorn), Trent Dennis-Lane (St Kilda)

There weren’t too many experts who predicted the Sydney Swans to win the premiership at the start of last year. But a number of breakout individual seasons from members of the midfield saw the Swans jump from a final eight hopeful, to a deserving Premier.

I think it is now fair to call Josh Kennedy and Kieren Jack elite. Kennedy became the number one ranked player in the league for clearances and contested possessions while adding a game breaking goal kicking dynamic as a key strength with 29 goals for the season. New Co-captain Jack averaged 24 disposals per game and kicked 27 goals including 3 goals in the preliminary final against Collingwood. Lewis Jetta became one of the most damaging outside players in the competition and led Sydney’s goal kicking with 45. The likes of Norm Smith medalist Ryan O’Keefe, Jarrad McVeigh and veteran Jude Bolton add further grunt to a midfield that is all of a sudden bursting with depth.

Another significant improver was defender Ted Richards. The 30 year old was on the scrap heap only a couple of seasons earlier, struggling to secure a spot in the best 22. While he improved a lot in 2011, 2012 was another significant step up, becoming one of the most reliable KPDs in the competition as justified by his selection at CHB in the All Australian team.

While the Swans have developed a reputation of being the best at recruiting a fringe player from another club and turning them into a star, this off season they secured an established  big fish in Kurt Tippett. While the tall forward/resting ruck will have to sit out the first half the season due to the Adelaide cap controversy, he will be in prime condition to help Sydney have a serious crack for back to back premierships at the busy end of the season.

Verdict: The Swans are protected from any top four sides until round 7 meaning they should get off to a flying start. A likely top four finish will see the Swans right in premiership contention again.

West Coast Eagles

Premiership Odds: $6.50
2013 Coach
John Worsfold

Ins: Sharrod Wellingham (Collingwood, Trade), Cale Morton (Melbourne, Trade), Jamie Cripps (St Kilda, Trade), Brant Colledge (ND No.45), Adam Carter (ND No.59), Mark Hutchings (ND No.60), Brad Dick (rookie elevation), Callum Sinclair (RD), Jamie Bennell (Melbourne, RD)

Outs: Tom Swift (retired), Quinten Lynch (Collingwood), Koby Stevens (Bulldogs), Lewis Stevenson (Port Adelaide), Gerrick Weedon, Andrew Strijk, Anton Hamp, Michael Mascoulis, Ryan Neates, Callum Papertalk, (all delisted)

After a season that saw key players riddled with injury, West Coast look set to be one of the major contenders. They now have a perfect mix of experience and maturing youth through all areas of the ground, consistent with what you generally see through most premiership sides. They possess arguably the two best ruckman in the league in Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui who are just as dangerous when pushing forward. Trying to stop these two will potentially be the toughest job that all coaches will have to deal with throughout the season.

The return of Josh Kennedy, Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski from injury to the forward line is already a massive positive. Add them to star in the making Jack Darling, the rejuvenated former Bulldog Josh Hill and the resting Cox/Naitanui combination, it is hard to find a more dangerous front end around. It makes the loss of Quinten Lynch to Collingwood completely obsolete.

The midfield now has a core of players that is impressive on paper. The list of Matt Priddis, Scott Selwood, Chris Masten, Luke Shuey, Daniel Kerr, Andrew Gaff, Matt Rosa, Andrew Embley and Collingwood recruit Sharrod Wellingham shows that there is strong depth and talent. It has a nice mix of outside and inside contributors that will continue to benefit from precision hit outs.

The backline looks great as well. Darren Glass, Eric Mackenzie and Will Scholfield provide a well rounded department of KPDs, while Beau Waters and Shannon Hurn are two of the best rebounding defenders in the league. Jacob Brennan, Brad Sheppard and Sam Butler provide solid back up and the injury riddled Ash Smith will be a key ingredient with his long kicking from half back. If there is a weakness, it is the depth of the tall defenders. Apart from Mitch Brown, there is nothing else on the list, making them quite vulnerable to injury. The Eagles will be praying they can get through the season unscathed.

Verdict: West Coast is the team to beat in my eyes. A favourable first 10 rounds coupled with key players returning from injury will offer a great opportunity to go all the way.

Western Bulldogs

Premiership Odds: $251.00
2013 Coach
Brendan McCartney

Ins: Koby Stevens (West Coast, Trade), Tom Young (Collingwood, Trade), Nick Lower (Fremantle, FA), Jake Stringer (ND No.5), Jack Macrae (ND No.6), Nathan Hrovat (ND No.21), Lachlan Hunter (F/S, ND No.49), Joshua Prudden (ND No.50), Tom Campbell (elevated rookie), Jason Johannisen (elevated rookie), Brett Goodes (RD)

Outs: Brian Lake (Hawthorn), Lindsay Gilbee (retired), Ryan Hargrave (retired), Nathan Djerrkura (retired), Matt Panos, Tom Hill, Brodie Moles, Andrew Hooper, James Mulligan, Justin Sherman (all delisted), Zephaniah Skinner (retired)

I hope Western Bulldogs supporters are patient as their team is in extreme rebuilding mode. Brendon McCartney took over an aging list that was on the downward spiral of its Premiership window and is now in a phase of developing its prized youngsters around a group of well respected and experienced senior players.

A lot will be relied upon Captain Matthew Boyd once again after he topped the AFL for most disposals for the second consecutive year. While Ryan Griffen is also a genuine star, the likes of Shaun Higgins and Adam Cooney have been plagued with injuries and been unable to provide the required support. A young midfield group of Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis, Clay Smith, Daniel Pearce, Jake Stringer, Jackson Macrae, Nathan Hrovat, Lachie Hunter and West Coast recruit Koby Stevens will get plenty of opportunities to play senior football and gather valuable experience for the future.

While the list is dominated by young faces, the Dogs did go out and recruit some mature bodies in Koby Stevens, Brett Goodes, Nick Lower and Tom Young to fill some gaps. It isn’t the most spectacular list of names, but they should provide the desired impact.

The Dogs have been drawn arguably the toughest fixture of all. Seven interstate trips coupled with single games against GWS, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide will mean there are winnable games few and far between. While the Dogs have stated that playing against the best provides a brilliant opportunity, deep down, they would have preferred to have seen some more frequent action against fellow bottom four sides.

Verdict: Lock them in for a bottom four spot. Depending on the improvement of GWS and Gold Coast, they could even be a chance for the wooden spoon with such a tough draw.

Predicted Ladder

After going through each team individually, you really get a true indication of how tight the season is going to be. There is still going to be the a group of easy beats at the bottom end of the ladder, but they all tend to play each other which should create far more competitive games.

As I stated earlier, there are genuinely 8-9 clubs who would consider themselves a premiership chance while I can’t think of a season where the double chance will be so hotly contested. Based on all of the above, here is my crack at a final ladder.

WEST COAST
SYDNEY
COLLINGWOOD                                                                                                                                               HAWTHORN
GEELONG
ADELAIDE
FREMANTLE
RICHMOND
_____________________

BRISBANE
CARLTON
ESSENDON
NORTH MELBOURNE
MELBOURNE
ST KILDA
PORT ADELAIDE
GOLD COAST
WESTERN BULLDOGS
GWS

It’s extremely difficult to get the positions correct, but I feel there are three different groups of teams this season. Firstly, there is a group of seven whom I feel are capable of contending for the flag. They include West Coast, Sydney, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Geelong, Adelaide and Fremantle. Then there is a bit of daylight to the next group who could fill a couple of spots of the eight including Richmond, Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon and North Melbourne. The rest are just making up the numbers in my eyes.

With the season beginning on Friday, I look forward to writing weekly AFL contributions to The Profits throughout the season.

THE AUTHOR

I’ve been a 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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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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