2014 AFL Season Preview

Welcome to the 2014 AFL season preview. It is hard to believe that the footy is just around the corner, with the competition starting a couple of weeks earlier than usual to compete with the annual free exposure rival codes receive by having longer seasons. This preseason has felt shorter, even considering matches starting earlier, mainly due to limited off field controversies that saw the sport hijacked this time last year. The NAB Cup has been scrapped and those of us with the luxury of the Foxfooty channel have been spoilt with 18 NAB Challenge games in 18 days. While some of the games have had high intensity, it has been difficult to judge the form of many teams throughout the series due to a lack of competitive attitudes & incentives to play for.

2013 saw Hawthorn finally secure the premiership it had long expected to capture after what felt like years of title favouritism. It successfully buried the demons of a heartbreaking 2012 Grand Final loss by having too much class for the ever improving Fremantle Dockers. The Hawks again hold premiership favouritism coming into the 2014 season and will be intriguing to watch in the absence of Lance Franklin.

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: $26.00

2014 Coach Brenton Sanderson

Ins: Eddie Betts (Free Agent), James Podsiadly (Trade), Matt Crouch (National Draft), Riley Knight (National Draft), James Battersby (Rookie Draft), Charlie Cameron (Rookie Draft), Jake Kelly (Rookie Draft), Alex Spina (Rookie Draft).

Outs:  Ian Callinan (Delisted), Ben Dowdell (Delisted), Nick Joyce (Delisted), Tim Klaosen (Delisted), Tim McIntyre (Delisted), Dylan Orval (Delisted), Aidan Riley (Delisted), Richard Tambling (Delisted), Bernie Vince (Trade).

Brenton Sanderson and the Adelaide Crows had a serious reality check in 2013. After Sanderson took his side to within a kick of a Grand Final in his first season, the going got much tougher in his second year at the helm, generating only 10 wins and finishing in an unsatisfying eleventh position on the table. It all started going downhill when Taylor Walker tore his ACL in round 5, stretching an already depleted forward line after the loss of Kurt Tippett the year before to Sydney. Tom Lynch ended up being the Crows leading goal kicker with 33, but those stats were exaggerated with 10 against lowly GWS. Josh Jenkins provided a big marking option and slotted 24 goals, but struggled with consistency. It meant that Sanderson had to play his superstar midfielder Patrick Dangerfield (31 goals) forward far more often than he would have preferred, creating new problems up the field. They just lacked genuine forward targets and weren’t helped by a low forward kicking efficiency of 63.6% that could be explained by an upset inside 50 structure.

Thankfully, Adelaide’s list management staff acted on the deficiency and recruited some experienced forwards who will have immediate impacts. Eddie Betts has been signed on as a restricted free agent after 184 games and 290 goals with the Blues. He is the goal sneak the Crows have lacked for years and will add flare to a stale forward 50. James Podsiadly is a handy acquisition after unexpectedly not receiving a new contract from Geelong. While he turns 33 this year, he is still one of the elite contested markers in the competition and kicked over 30 goals in 2013 despite regular stints down back. Taylor Walker won’t return until at least Round 5, but looms as a more than handy midseason inclusion.

The Adelaide midfield looks in good shape with the likes of Dangerfield, Sloane, Douglas, Wright, Grigg and Brad Crouch all potentially with their best football ahead of them. The defence looks as solid as ever and offers plenty of variety for smalls and talls. Unfortunately, captain Nathan Van Berlo has snapped his achilles and will miss six months of footy, while the rangy Ricky Henderson won’t be seen until later in the season after breaking his fibula.

Verdict: The Crows look set to compete for a top eight position again. The inclusion of Betts and Podsiadly has solved some serious forward half problems and should complement Jenkins and Johnston nicely until Taylor Walker is ready to go. A much friendlier fixture sees Adelaide play only one top 6 side twice (Port Adelaide), while they also get to play likely cellar dwellers St Kilda and GWS twice each. That should see the Crows in contention for one of the last couple of positions in the eight.

Brisbane Lions

Premiership Odds: $251.00

2014 Coach Justin Leppitsch

Ins: Jackson Paine (Trade), Luke McGuane (Free Agent), Trent West (Trade), James Aish (National Draft), Darcy Gardiner (National Draft), Daniel McStay (National Draft), Lewis Taylor (National Draft), Tom Cutler (National Draft), Nick Robertson (National Draft), Jono Freeman (National Draft), Isaac Conway (Rookie Draft), Zac O’Brien (Rookie Draft), Archie Smith (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Simon Black (Retired), Jesse O’Brien (Delisted), Aaron Cornelius (Delisted), Niall McKeever (Delisted), Stephen Wrigley (Delisted), Richard Newell (Delisted), Callum Bartlett (Delisted), Todd Banfield (Delisted), Billy Longer (Trade), Sam Docherty (Trade), Jared Polec (Trade), Patrick Karnezis (Trade), Elliot Yeo (Trade).

2013 didn’t quite turn out as the Brisbane Lions had originally hoped. After winning the NAB Cup last year, there was a slightly unfair expectation given to the Lions to produce in the season proper. Brisbane went into the season as hot Round 1 favourites against a Western Bulldogs side that was at the beginning a complete list rebuild. The Lions suffered a humiliating 68 point loss. It was a confidence sapping result that appeared to take time to get over as the side could only manage a disappointing three wins in the opening twelve rounds. Finally, wins became a more common occurrence in the second half of the season as Michael Voss looked to salvage his coaching career. Just as an assumption was building that Voss would be offered a new contract, he was sensationally sacked with three games to play and a finals berth still a viable option. Mark Harvey took over as interim and the Lions finished the season with a respectable 10 wins.

Justin Leppitsch signed on as senior coach and was immediately met with five of the Lions brightest young stars quitting the club. Polec, Longer, Docherty, Yeo and Karnezis were all first or second round draft picks that the Lions had invested in heavily. Fortunately, Brisbane made good of an unavoidable situation by trading for six top forty selections in the draft and used them admirably. The latest crop of youngsters are highly rated, but being 3-4 years behind in development means they aren’t going to have the immediate impact of the five that left the club. It could result in a drop down the ladder for Brisbane.

Of a midfield that included Tom Rockliff, Jack Redden, Daniel Rich, Brent Moloney and Simon Black, the clearance rates were unsatisfactory. Brisbane only won 38.8% of clearances at stoppages and averaged 7.2 less contested possessions than its opposition throughout 2013, ranking 16th in the competition. It’ll only get more difficult with Simon Black retiring and Clay Beams being the only obvious young midfielder capable of taking the required steps in 2014.

Verdict: Replicating the 10 victories from 2013 will be tough work for the Lions. After starting a rebuild in the second year of the Voss reign, the Lions are back to a similar position with the loss of five young players that were seen as key pieces to the future. A tough draw will see the club play only one of last year’s bottom six sides (Gold Coast) twice. A bottom four position could be on the cards.

Carlton Blues

Premiership Odds: $23.00

2014 Coach Mick Malthouse

Ins:  Dale Thomas (Free Agent), Andrejs Everitt (Trade), Sam Docherty (Trade), Patrick Cripps (National Draft), Cameron Giles (National Draft), Nick Holman (National Draft), Cameron Wood (Rookie Draft), Luke Reynolds (Rookie Draft), Blaine Johnson (Rookie Draft), Ciaran Sheehan (Rookie Draft), Ciaran Byrne (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Eddie Betts (Free Agent), Shaun Hampson (Trade), Jeremy Laidler (Delisted), Aaron Joseph (Delisted), Marcus Davies (Delisted), Andrew Collins (Delisted), Frazer Dale (Delisted), Patrick McCarthy (Delisted), Rhys O’Keeffe (Delisted), Luke Mitchell (Delisted).

Mick Malthouse’s first season as coach of Carlton can only be described as a rollercoaster ride. The Blues finished the home and away season with only 11 wins and in ninth position. But the club got a reprieve and secured a top eight position by chance after Essendon was banned from the finals due to its involvement in the yearlong drug saga. Carlton ensured it took full advantage of the opportunity by breaking Richmond hearts with a come from behind Elimination Final win in front of a packed MCG crowd. It eventually went down by 4 goals to Sydney in the Semi Final, which can only be seen as a successful year, even though the September action was handed to the club on a appetising platter from Essendon.

Mick Malthouse went into the offseason promising “radical” list changes and while Carlton managed to secure the services of Dale Thomas, Sam Doherty and Andrejs Everitt, the list management strategy was hardly dramatic. The Blues had to let Eddie Betts go unwillingly as a restricted free agent, while Shaun Hampson was the only other player to be traded. The love child of Malthouse from Collingwood days Thomas is set to be an important recruit should he stay fit. It is no secret that the Blues possess a midfield full of plodders that lack acceleration and Thomas will provide the perfect point of difference with his run & carry.

The forward half again looks to be the major weakness for Carlton. There will be a lot more defensive pressure thrown Jeff Garlett’s way with the loss of Eddie Betts who has shown he is consistently capable of kicking 40+ goals a season. While Garlett kicked 43 goals himself last year, a lot resulted in the fact that it is extremely difficult to defend two quality crumbing forwards in the same 50 metre arc. The talls offer the most pressing questions with Waite, Henderson and Casboult the three main options. Waite had his ups and downs throughout the season, with 7 goals against Essendon and a strong finals series, but can he stay on the park? Lachie Henderson became one of the most reliable swingmen in the competition last year and came third in the best and fairest, but can the Blues afford to keep him as a permanent forward despite a six game stint of 18 goals? Is Levi Casboult good enough? These questions hold the answers of how successful Carlton will be, but they certainly aren’t clear just like a majority of last season.

Verdict: Carlton don’t go into this season with as much expectation from the public and their $23.00 Premiership odds reflect that. The start of the Blues season is going to be vital with the first nine rounds all in Melbourne. Its fixture is relatively tame considering the top six finish and the club should be in contention for another finals appearance provided they take full advantage of that luxury.

Collingwood Magpies

Premiership Odds: $15.00

2014 Coach Nathan Buckley

Ins: Jesse White (Trade), Taylor Adams (Trade), Patrick Karnezis (Trade), Tony Armstrong (Delisted Free Agent), Matthew Scharenberg (National Draft), Nathan Freeman (National Draft), Tom Langdon (National Draft), Jonathon Marsh (National Draft).

Outs: Darren Jolly (Delisted), Alan Didak (Delisted), Jordan Russell (Delisted), Andrew Krakouer (Delisted), Ben Richmond (Delisted), Michael Hartley (Delisted), Dale Thomas (Free Agent), Heath Shaw (Trade), Jackson Paine (Trade), Ben Johnson (Retired).

Collingwood would have considered itself a great chance to go deep into the 2013 season, but a shock loss to the impressive Port Adelaide equated only to an early footy trip. It resulted in a bit of a clean out with a raft of experience either leaving, retiring or grudgingly delisted. Dale Thomas and Heath Shaw are the most difficult to replace, while Jolly, Didak, Krakouer and Ben Johnson at the very least reduce the depth of the squad. Jesse White and Taylor Adams were the Pies key targets at the trade table and were successful in their efforts, while also securing two top ten draft selections that resulted in the highly rated Matthew Scharenberg and Nathan Freeman.

The Nathan Buckley retention game style of short kicks and handballs saw Collingwood produce the highest average of total disposals per game, which isn’t surprising given the likes of Swan, Pendlebury and Beams consistently produced enormous numbers. That tactic statistically appeared to be successful in terms of entering the forward 50 and keeping it in the dangerous area. The Pies had a +8 inside 50 differential to its opponent throughout the year, as well as holding the ball inside the arc 5 minutes and 41 seconds longer, ranking second for both categories in 2013. On top of those statistics, Collingwood ranked second for marks inside 50 and third for total inside 50s which would point to a team that at the very least should make the third week of September, yet they were only ranked seventh for goals scored. On the flip side, the Pies had the second worst set shot accuracy, with only 57% of shots from marks or free kicks producing the desired six point result. It is an indication that a lot of targets are being hit in the pockets creating a difficult angle for the forward to kick at goal. It suggests that there needs to be a greater intent of using the corridor, especially in the forward half of the ground. In saying that, they can be a little too Travis Cloke conscious, which is where the recruitment of Jesse White becomes important. He will make the Collingwood forward set up far more unpredictable as you require a defender that is skilled in the air and on the ground. Add that to the potential of Ben Reid swinging forward more often and you have a dangerous set up. It will certainly make opposition coaches second guess their defensive 50 match ups, especially if Collingwood can enter the arc as often as they did in 2013.

Verdict: Collingwood have lost some depth experience wise, but they have a nice mix of senior stars and 2-4 year players that complement each other. Collingwood rarely have a bad draw, but they do face Fremantle, Sydney and Geelong in the opening three rounds, all Preliminary Finalists in 2013. The main concern is the depth of the ruck stocks, but don’t be surprised to see the Pies right in the mix for a double chance at the business end of the season.

Essendon Bombers

Premiership Odds: $21.00

2014 Coach Mark Thompson

Ins: Kurt Aylett (Trade), Shaun Edwards (Trade), Paul Chapman (Trade), Zach Merrett (National Draft), Orazio Fantasia (National Draft), Patrick Ambrose (Rookie Draft), Fraser Thurlow (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Stewart Crameri (Trade), Scott Gumbleton (Trade), Alwyn Davey (Delisted), Luke Davis (Delisted), David Hille (Retired), Hal Hunter (Delisted), Nathan Lovett-Murray (Retired).

2013 was a season the Bombers would rather forget, but that is easier said than done. It will be remembered as the most controversial, embarrassing, traumatic and exhaustive year in the clubs history. The supplements controversy took a massive toll on nearly everyone involved at the club and still could hold further repercussions. So far, the club has been fined $2 million, banned from the 2013 finals, stripped of key draft selections and its senior coach James Hird banned for 12 months. Mark Thompson will take over the role in Hird’s absence and attempt to regroup a shell-shocked club.

Amongst the chaos off the field, on the field, there was plenty to like about the Bombers despite being banned from the finals. The club managed 14 wins and was entrenched in the top four for a majority of the season. Although like previous seasons, the form steadily dropped as the season got older and the mental pressure of a pending investigation was well & truly showing by round 23. Early in the season, Essendon looked like a genuine premiership contender in winning its first 6 games, but some of those performances appeared to be on the back of pure emotion and support toward a media savaged James Hird. It is difficult to know what positives to take out of those times, but averaging the most inside 50s of any side suggests that the good was extremely impressive.

The forward line is set for a massive reshape after a mixture of key departures and insufficient output. Stewart Crameri is the most difficult to replace after accepting an offer from the Western Bulldogs that he couldn’t say no to, while injury plagued No.2 draft pick Scott Gumbleton has gone home to Western Australia for a change of scenery and luck. Michael Hurley will be sent permanently to defence which will see 2013 sensation Jake Carlise spend more time in the forward arc. The expectations are high for the much hyped Joe Daniher to be one of the main forward targets in only his second season as the list options drop off dramatically. A restructure up front was required as a side entering its forward arc 55 times a game needs to be reaching 100 points more than nine times in a season.

Verdict: On lasts year’s early form, Essendon should be aiming for a top four finish, but that is unrealistic. It has somehow escaped a nightmare draw after the supplements saga and the players are sure to be feeling fresh after an offseason of minimal controversy. Paul Chapman is a clever addition to the forward line and midfield rotations, even if he only manages 15-18 matches for the year. Thompson will be implementing his own ideas, which may take time to master. The Bombers will be in contention for a top eight position.

Fremantle Dockers

Premiership Odds: $5.00

2014 Coach Ross Lyon

Ins: Colin Sylvia (Free Agent), Scott Gumbleton (Trade), Michael Apeness (National Draft), Alex Pearce (National Draft), Brady Gray (National Draft), Michael Wood (Rookie Draft), Tom Vandeleur (Rookie Draft), Jacob Ballard (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Jesse Crichton (Delisted), Peter Faulks (Delisted), Alex Forster (Delisted), Josh Mellington (Delisted), Alex Howson (Delisted), Haiden Schloithe (Delisted), Viv Michie (Trade), Jayden Pitt (Retired).

After reaching the Semi Finals in 2012 the Fremantle Dockers took another major step with a debut Grand Final berth, easily the clubs greatest season in its 19 year history. The Ross Lyon led game style of pressure, defence and disciplined football made Fremantle the most feared side in the competition. Unfortunately for Lyon, his strict game plan is hasn’t been enough to grasp the ultimate prize after four Grand Final appearances….. yet.

One of the most impressive things about Fremantle’s success in 2013 was that Mathew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin, arguably its three most important players managed only 38 games between them. While all three were present during the finals, they certainly weren’t at 100% despite having the required impact. Most experts question that this Fremantle side only have an open premiership window while those three veterans are at their peak, yet there were numerous occasions and examples last year to suggest that the depth is satisfactory for a multiple year tilt.

There was an expectation that the Dockers were going to push hard for a key forward during free agency/trade period to support Pavlich, but no big names became apparent. They did manage to acquire the injury hampered Scott Gumbleton from Essendon, but after falling to a hamstring injury in a NAB Challenge game, little can be expected from a man who has managed 35 games in seven seasons. Colin Sylvia is a nice free agency signing who could thrive in a discipline environment as his nous up forward and big body during midfield rotations suit Fremantle perfectly. The Dockers have managed to retain all players who took part in last year’s finals series, while they would have been disappointed to lose highly rated midfielder Viv Mitchie who has chased greater opportunities at Melbourne after dominating for Peel Thunder in the WAFL last year.

Statistically, the Dockers have few weaknesses. Its efficiency inside 50 was a real stand out in 2013, scoring a goal 28.6% of the time which ranked third in the competition. While the Dockers had a fantastic retention rate in the forward 50, it only averaged 48 inside 50s per game, ranking 15th in the competition. If the Dockers can average early fifties for inside 50s like a majority of the other top sides, their quality entries could see an imposing and potentially defining scoring boost. If the scoring rates do lift and they continue to be the masters of defence, it could be the factor that sees Fremantle go one step further.

Verdict: Fremantle’s time is now. The key players are fit and are primed to make history at this success starved football club. Ross Lyon and the coaching staff will be looking for a top two finish, but a tough draw might see them needing to settle for the double chance. They did knock off Geelong at Simonds Stadium, so they’d be confident of winning anywhere.

Geelong Cats

Premiership Odds: $10.00

2014 Coach Chris Scott

Ins: Darcy Lang (National Draft), Jarrad Jansen (National Draft), Jake Kolodjashnij (National Draft), James Toohey (Rookie Draft), Nick Bourke (Rookie Draft), Zac Bates (Rookie Draft), Michael Luxford (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Paul Chapman (Trade), James Podsiadly (Trade), Josh Hunt (Trade), Trent West (Trade), Joel Corey (Retired), Ryan Bathie (Delisted), Cameron Eardley (Delisted).

2013 was an obvious improvement from Geelong with a top two finish at the end of the home & away rounds and earning the right for its first ever final at Simonds Stadium. Unexpectedly, this is where things started to head south for the Cats. Coming into the Qualifying Final against Fremantle, Geelong had won 42 of its last 43 games at Simonds Stadium which led to the Cats being short priced favourites. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Ross Lyon and his side about such inevitabilities as Fremantle’s defensive style was suited by the narrow wings and went on to shock the Cats by 15 points. Geelong got another fright in the Semi Final against Port Adelaide before Paul Chapman (coincidently in his last game for the club) turned the game to his sides favour. But the real heartbreaking moment for coaches, players and supporters alike came in the Preliminary Final where the “Kennett Curse” was lifted and arch rival Hawthorn went through to the Grand Final by 5 points.

It has been an interesting offseason for Geelong as Chris Scott, Neil Balme and Stephen Wells went on a cull of experienced players. Club stalwarts and Premiership players Paul Chapman, James Podsiadly and Josh Hunt were all told they wouldn’t have their contracts renewed despite wanting to play on, while dual best & fairest winner Joel Corey retired. That is a lot of experience to lose and an enormous amount of faith put into the young list. Many at the club believe the side’s premiership window is wide open, but that theory would require the 3-4 year players to set up significantly in 2014.

Unfortunately, injuries have been a major talking point for Geelong in the preseason. Young established stars Steven Motlop and Allen Christensen will miss eight and twelve weeks respectively, while Nathan Vardy (the man groomed to take Podsiadly’s position forward) has cruelly torn his ACL and will miss the entire season. It puts immense pressure on Shane Kersten, Josh Walker and Mitch Brown to fill the void and consistently perform at AFL level. In more positive news, rucks Dawson Simpson and Hamish McIntosh have got through the preseason unscathed and are the wild cards to Geelong’s season. The Cats had the second worst centre clearance success (40.3%) and clearance differential rates (averaged -4.4 per game) in the competition last year. Dawson Simpson only played 6 games in 2013, but he made a major difference at the stoppages before injury struck late. Expect McIntosh to have a similar impact if he can get on the ground.

Verdict: So much will depend on the fitness of Hawkins, Simpson and McIntosh. Hawkins has moved freely throughout the NAB Challenge games, but Geelong are in big trouble if his back flares again. The clearance percentages must improve or they could be left behind. In saying that, Geelong will make the top eight, but a tough draw (the only side not to play any of the 2013 bottom six sides twice) will see a top four position too much of a stretch.

Gold Coast Suns

Premiership Odds: $126.00

2014 Coach Guy McKenna

Ins:  Jack Martin (2012 Mini Draft), Kade Kolodjashnij (National Draft), Jack Leslie (National Draft), Sean Lemmens (National Draft), Louis Herbert (Rookie Draft), Jarred Ellis (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Mav Weller (Delisted), Joel Wilkinson (Delisted), Liam Patrick (Delisted), Jacob Gillbee (Delisted), Kyal Horsley (Delisted), Jared Brennan (Retired).

The Gold Coast Suns enter its fourth year in the competition and the expectations are growing. The side has been held up by the amazing form of superstar Gary Ablett for a majority of its existence and it nearly time for the highly rated youngsters to live up to the hype. To be fair to the Suns, as the kids have matured, there has been worthy improvement from season to season. 2013 was another example of that with the club racking up a respectable eight wins. The early predictions that this side would be challenging for a Premiership within 3-4 years were always unrealistic and unreasoned as there have rarely been examples of sides challenging for the grand prize with a similar list age to what the Suns would have perceived to have had.

It is obviously apparent that Guy McKenna is looking to mould is side into something that is going to be competitive at the business end of September. Contested football is the main recipe and his young midfield made serious strides in 2013. The Gold Coast Suns ranked equal first in the competition for clearance winning percentage at 42.9%, while they scored 27.7% of the time from clearances which saw them ranked fifth for the season. It can be argued that Gary Ablett propped a lot of those statistics up, but the much improved Dion Prestia and Rising Star winner Jaegar O’Meara more than held their own. David Swallow is likely to consume more time in the midfield after spending a majority of 2013 as a running half back, while Harley Bennell appears to be on the verge of a breakout season. Add that to the likely improvement of Jesse Lonergan, Brandon Matera and the incoming Jack Martin and the midfield stocks look in outstanding shape for the future.

Where the Suns need to improve dramatically is on the outside. It had an uncontested possession differential of -22.9, ranking 16th in the competition. That will improve as the likes of Bennell, Prestia, O’Meara, Martin and Kade Kolodjashnij get closer to their prime, but it is a strong indication of a young side not working hard enough on the spread. They won’t get many better examples to learn from than Gary Ablett in that area.

Verdict: After eight wins in 2013, hitting double figures and challenging for the top eight will be the main goal of Guy McKenna and his talented list. This is the first offseason that the Suns haven’t opted to top up on some extra mature bodies, suggesting confidence is growing that those once immature figures are adapting to the rigors of AFL football.

GWS Giants

Premiership Odds: $301.00

2014 Coach Leon Cameron

Ins: Shane Mumford (Trade), Josh Hunt (Trade), Heath Shaw (Trade), Tom Boyd (National Draft), Josh Kelly (National Draft), Cameron McCarthy (National Draft), Rory Lobb (National Draft), Jake Barrett (Zone), Jed Lamb (Preseason Draft), Dylan Addison (Delisted Free Agent).

Outs: Josh Bruce (Trade), Taylor Adams (Trade), Dom Tyson (Trade), Sam Darley (Trade), Kurt Aylett (Trade), Shaun Edwards (Trade), Chad Cornes (Retired), Dean Brogan (Retired), Setanta O’hAilpin (Delisted), Bret Thornton (Delisted), Gerald Ugle (Delisted), Josh Growden (Delisted) Joe Redfern (Delisted).

It has been a tough initiation to the big league for the Greater Western Sydney Giants with only three wins in its opening two seasons. 2013 wasn’t necessarily a step backwards, but it certainly wasn’t a stride in the right direction with the only win for the season coming in round 19 against a confidence devoid Melbourne side. Kevin Sheedy has stepped aside as the “official” senior coach which has now given Leon Cameron full access to the side he has been groomed to guide.

After two seasons of being bullied and on the receiving end of numerous thrashings, the Giants went out specifically looking for some experienced big bodied players. It ended the free agency, trade and draft periods with three premiership players in Heath Shaw, Shane Mumford and Josh Hunt, as well as Jed Lamb and Dylan Addison. Shaw and Mumford are enormous recruits in particular, while the other three are sure to have defining impacts. The Giants also managed to top up there talented young stocks with the highly rated Tom Boyd, Josh Kelly and Cameron McCarthy setting up at Breakfast Point. On the flip side, the Giants couldn’t manage to retain Taylor Adams, Dom Tyson and Sam Darley who were all traded to Victoria to continue their careers.

As you can expect, the statistics from 2013 for a Giants are a train wreck. It ranked in the bottom two for total disposals, contested possessions, inside 50s, points for, points against, contested marks and marks inside 50. The only statistic it ranked in the top three of the competition for was set shot accuracy and a lot of that credit can be put down to the feats of Jeremy Cameron, who kicked 62.27 to become the clubs inaugural All Australian. There are plenty of areas that need drastic improvement, but like the Suns, that will come as time passes and the bodies continuously mature. The Giants look to have most areas of the ground covered with draftees that look set to be good senior players, but it appears there needs to be more development and pain before successful results are put on the board.

Verdict: The inclusions of Mumford, Shaw and Hunt are sure to make the Giants more competitive, but there is still an abundance of work to do. Expect improvement and greater confidence from the third year players which Leon Cameron will be hoping to be enough to lift his side out of the bottom four.

Hawthorn Hawks

Premiership Odds: $4.75

2014 Coach Alastair Clarkson

Ins: Dayle Garlett (National Draft), Billy Hartung (National Draft), Ben McEvoy (Trade), Ben Ross (Rookie Draft), James Sicily (National Draft), Zac Webster (Rookie Draft), Dallas Willsmore (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Max Bailey (Retired), Andrew Boseley (Delisted), Xavier Ellis (Free Agent), Amos Frank (Delisted), Lance Franklin (Free Agent), Brent Guerra (Retired), Michael Osborne (Retired), Shane Savage (Trade).

It was a year of ultimate success for Hawthorn as it took home the club’s eleventh flag by defeating a plucky Fremantle in the Grand Final. The Hawks were the standout team throughout the entire 2013 season where it finished on top of the ladder after the home and away rounds, lost only three games and finally ended its famed losing streak against Geelong in the Preliminary Final in arguably the match of the season. The offseason didn’t slow down for the Hawks as its highest profile player Lance Franklin shocked the football world by defecting to the Sydney Swans on an unprecedented nine year contract. The loss of Buddy freed up a large chunk of salary cap space which gave Hawthorn the luxury of strengthening their ruck stocks by talking Ben McEvoy into crossing from St Kilda. The forward structure shouldn’t be too affected, as Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston offer their own formidable partnership. Hawthorn goes into the 2014 season again as Premiership favourite.

Hawthorn has a number of strengths but its most dangerous would have to be the precise disposal efficiency. It went at 73.5% last year to be ranked second only to North Melbourne, but due to its ability to gain an enormous amount of inside 50s, this accuracy became even more potent. It often started in the back half with the likes of Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Luke Hodge or Josh Gibson and that strength is set to be boosted by the return of Matthew Suckling from a yearlong knee injury. Another strength of the established back six is its defensive pressure. Hawthorn averaged 35.2 tackles in its defensive half per game last year, which are numbers usually set by the bottom teams as the ball enters their defence so often. They are impressive numbers that really show the standards that need to be set to be a Premiership side.

As most Premiership sides do, the Hawks have lost some depth from retirements and fringe players leaving to seek greater opportunities. Max Bailey, Brent Guerra, Xavier Ellis and Shane Savage won’t be seen in the brown and gold next year, but it gives an opportunity for members of the Box Hill VFL Premiership side to step up to the next level. The Hawks also found itself in a position to take a risk at the draft where it took a punt on much maligned Swan Districts half forward Dayle Garlett. Unfortunately, the signs aren’t good early as he is already struggling with the demands of being a professional sportsman, but if he can get himself together, he’s good enough to have an impact in his first year.

Verdict: The Hawks will finish in the top two once again, even though they do have a tough draw that will see them play the other three Preliminary finalists twice. They do have 11 games at the MCG, on top of 4 games at Launceston which should ensure a home Qualifying Final.

Melbourne Demons

Premiership Odds: $501.00

2014 Coach Paul Roos

Ins: Dom Tyson (Trade), Viv Michie (Trade), Bernie Vince (Trade), Daniel Cross (Delisted Free Agent), Aidan Riley (Delisted Free Agent), Jesse Hogan (2012 Mini Draft), Jayden Hunt (National Draft), Christian Salem (National Draft), Jay Kennedy-Harris (National Draft), James Harmes (Rookie Draft), Alex Georgiou (Rookie Draft), Max King (Rookie Draft), Maia Westrupp (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Aaron Davey (Retired), Joel MacDonald (Retired), David Rodan (Retired), Colin Sylvia (Free Agent), Tom Couch (Delisted), James Magner (Delisted), Troy Davis (Delisted), Rory Taggert (Delisted), James Sellar (Delisted), Josh Tynan (Delisted), Nathan Stark (Delisted), Tom Gillies (Delisted).

2013 was an absolute disaster that saw Mark Neeld sacked before Round 13 and only 2 wins registered for the entire season. Neeld could only manage 5 wins from his 33 games in charge from the start of 2012 and when Neil Craig took over, not much improved. All the doom and gloom of 2013 was quickly forgotten and replaced by optimism when the club secured its most important signature for some years, Paul Roos as senior coach. The Sydney Premiership coach has already changed the attitude of the list with some clever recruiting and a new game plan. The Demons gathered 446 and 444 disposals against Richmond and Geelong respectively in the NAB Challenge and looked more competitive than they did at any time throughout last year. It certainly is a good start.

As soon as Paul Roos entered the doors at Melbourne he had the intention of a major list cleanout. 11 players either retired or were delisted with names including Davey, Rodan, Magner, Sellar and MacDonald part of the exodus. Roos wanted to bring in some more experienced heads to a side lacking quality senior players which saw Daniel Cross, Bernie Vince and dual Norwood premiership defender Alex Georgiou brought on the list to fill the void. On top of those three, Dom Tyson, Viv Michie and Aidan Riley were bargain pickups from other clubs and will make immediate impressions in their new surroundings. But the man that all Melbourne supporters are truly excited about is Jesse Hogan. After being picked up in the 2012 mini draft, Hogan played VFL at Melbourne’s affiliate Casey Scorpions where he kicked 39 goals and won the best and fairest. He was likely to be picked from Round 1, but unfortunately will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season with stress fractures in his back. He will however create a dangerous long term partnership with Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes that will have Melbourne people salivating.

Over the past few years, Melbourne are a side that have struggled to apply the required pressure to be competitive. Neeld and Craig battled to make their sides have a physical presence, averaging only 58.6 tackles a game (15th in the competition) and 123.7 contested possessions (18th in the competition). It is probably the main change that Paul Roos will be looking to implement. Although the NAB Challenge games have been of low intensity, those numbers are yet to improve despite gains in other areas of Melbourne’s game.

Verdict: Paul Roos will change this side, but don’t expect some barnstorming run up the ladder. This list was severely broken and needs time to heal. A bottom four finish is expected, but a soft draw could see the Dees climb slightly higher.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Premiership Odds: $15.00

2014 Coach Brad Scott

Ins: Ben Brown (National Draft), Nick Dal Santo (Free Agent), Trent Dumont (National Draft), Luke McDonald (National Draft/Father-Son) Robin Nahas (Delisted Free Agent), Joel Tippett (Rookie Draft), Kayne Turner (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Luke Delaney (Trade), Jordan Gysberts (Delisted), Ayden Kennedy (Delisted), Ben Mabon (Delisted), Cameron Richardson (Delisted), Will Sierakowski (Delisted), Ben Speight (Delisted).

It would have been pure torture being a North Melbourne supporter in 2013. If the Kangaroos weren’t giving up substantial leads, they were losing games by under a goal. Brad Scott’s men lost five games by 4 points or less and lost another five games by margins of 9-16 points. Having won 10 games throughout the season, had North Melbourne converted half of those 16 or less point loses, they would have been pushing for a top four berth. When you consider how tough their 2013 draw was, 2014 is filled with genuine optimism.

North Melbourne became one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in 2013, despite their tendency to let a game go. They led the competition for disposal efficiency throughout the season, operating at an impressive 74.3%. While the Roos improved their foot skills considerably, they kept their renowned reputation of being a tough in and under team, also leading the league for clearance differential (+5.9). They are developing an exciting, big bodied midfield group with the likes of Jack Ziebell and Ben Cunnington consistently smashing the contests and winning plenty of the ball in close. Where North really need to improve is when the ball is travelling in the opposite direction as they ranked 15th with only an average of 58.6 tackles a game. As a result, the football department has added the expertise of a specialist tackling coach to help rectify the problem.

The offseason has been fruitful for Brad Scott and the list management team with a quality blend of experience and youth added to the list. Nick Dal Santo has crossed from St Kilda as a free agent and will add further sheen to the midfield group, while Robin Nahas and West Adelaide full back Joel Tippett create further depth forward and back respectively. The much hyped father/son recruit Luke McDonald looks set cement a position off the half back flank from Round 1 and Trent Dumont adds extra grunt to an already physical inside group after being part of Norwood’s premiership side last year as an 18 year old.

Verdict: North Melbourne were relatively disappointing in the NAB Challenge games, losing both games to Carlton and Hawthorn, but I’m happy to let that slide. At the end of the day, North Melbourne were competitive in 20 of its 22 matches in 2013 with a difficult fixture. This year, Geelong is the only top six side they double up against, while they have a wealth of games at Etihad Stadium. The only negative is that skipper Andrew Swallow is still at least 3 months away with his achilles injury, but an ever improving midfield and the addition of Nick Dal Santo should be enough to fill the void. Expect North Melbourne to jump into the eight and even challenge for a top four position.

Port Adelaide

Premiership Odds: $41.00

2014 Coach Ken Hinkley

Ins: Matt White (Free Agent), Jared Polec (Trade), Karl Amon (National Draft), Darcy Byrne-Jones (National Draft), Mitchell Harvey (National Draft), Jarman Impey (National Draft), Daniel Flynn (Rookie Draft), Sam Gray (Rookie Draft), Brent Renouf (Rookie Draft), Sam Russell (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Nathan Blee (Delisted), Danny Butcher (Delisted), Justin Hoskin (Delisted), Darren Pfeiffer (Delisted), Nick Salter (Delisted), Daniel Stewart (Delisted), Matt Thomas (Delisted).

Port Adelaide were the pleasant surprise of 2013, firstly by making the eight with 12 wins and then causing some damage in September by defeating Collingwood at the MCG and pushing Geelong the following week. The biggest task for the Power now is backing up the over expectations and being competitive against the top opposition in successive seasons. By finishing in the top eight, they have been given an extremely tough draw, facing the maximum three top six sides twice and only playing the expansion teams once each. Ken Hinkley will be embracing the opportunity of playing quality sides regularly, but will be realistic in ensuring that the goals of a team that is still young in terms of list age aren’t over the top.

In seasons gone past, Port Adelaide have been the whipping boy of the free agency and trade periods with numerous home sick players asking to be sent back to their native state or cashed up contenders poaching established stars looking to be part of a more successful organisation. After the 2013 season, Port Adelaide lost no players to opposition clubs (excluding Matt Thomas who was signed by Richmond after being delisted by the Power). In fact, they managed to steal a couple themselves in former local Jared Polec and Richmond speedster Matt White as a free agent. There are even some draftees who are likely to make an impact in their first season with Jarman Impey impressing during the NAB Challenge, while Magarey Medalist runner up Sam Gray has been placed on the rookie list.

There are still some major areas that the Power need to improve on in 2014 and kicking skills would have to be at the top of the list. Port Adelaide were cold stone last for kicking efficiency (62.6%) and effective long kicking differential (-8.7). Ken Hinkley encourages his team to take the game on, but you can’t be a prolonged successful unit if the ball is getting turned over ever second or third kick. Thankfully, the Power naturally put pressure on the other way which often sees them get the ball back, as proven by an average of 67.1 tackles a game (ranked third in 2013).

Verdict: It is hard to imagine Port Adelaide reaching the finals again, mainly due to such a testing fixture. Hinkley will be looking to consolidate as much as he possibly can, but constantly coming up against the big bodied top six teams is sure to take a toll on an immature side. Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Chad Wingard would have to take similar strides from season to season on their already outstanding 2013 form just to hold ground. The loss of Alan Richardson to St Kilda as senior coach is also set to sting, as his game day skills are highly regarded around the competition. It won’t be a sharp drop, but obviously enough to not participate in September. 

Richmond Tigers

Premiership Odds: $21.00

2014 Coach Damien Hardwick

Ins: Shaun Hampson (Trade), Ben Lennon (National Draft), Nathan Gordon (National Draft), Sam Lloyd (National Draft), Todd Banfield (Rookie Draft), Anthony Miles (Rookie Draft), Matt Thomas (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Tom Derickx (Delisted), Luke McGuane (Delisted), Robin Nahas (Delisted), Shane Tuck (Retired), Matt White (Free Agent), Sam Lonergan (Delisted), Steven Verrier (Delisted).

2013 produced the first finals appearance by a Richmond squad since 2001 where it reached the Preliminary Final. It had been a most enjoyable season for the success starved Tiger army until ninth placed rival Carlton were promoted to eighth position due to Essendon being banned from participating in September action. The anxiety levels of the fragile Richmond supporters rose significantly once matched against their team’s major bogey side and that fear turned out to be completely justified. After leading Carlton by 26 points at half time, Richmond went into capitulation mode and conceded a 46 point turnaround in the second half. It was a heartbreaking result for all involved at the Tigers and most have been constantly reminded of the irony in losing to the ninth placed side. What needs to be remembered is this side made significant inroads last year and the positives completely outweighed the negatives, despite the unfortunate occurrences of September.

Richmond have made some unique list management decisions in recent years and the 2013 offseason was no exception. Damien Hardwick and co have recognised that the list is still dominated by youth, which has seen Richmond use the rookie list as an avenue for experienced depth. It saw them rookie draft Matt Thomas (27 years old), Todd Banfield (23) and Anthony Miles (22), on top of Sam Lloyd (24) and Nathan Gordon (24) in the national draft. In fact the only 18 year old to be added to the list was No.12 draft pick Ben Lennon. Potentially the most important signing for the Tigers is Shaun Hampson from Carlton, especially in the short term absence of number one ruckman Ivan Maric. Maric is likely to miss the first 5-6 weeks of the season with an ankle, allowing Hampson the opportunity to make an immediate impact at his new club.

Winning the contested ball became a feature of the Tigers in 2013, ranking second with a differential of +8.4, despite being placed only eleventh for total contested possessions. Due to the lower amount of contested ball in games involving Richmond, the disposal efficiency of 73.4% is slightly exaggerated. The man whose efficiency Damien Hardwick would love to see improve is Trent Cotchin. While he gathers a large percentage of contested possessions, Cotchin had one of the worst efficiency rates of the top 20 disposal winners in 2013. If Cotchin can raise his productivity from 63% to something around 70%, he will become an even more effective player.

Verdict: There is no reason why Richmond shouldn’t match or even better its 15 wins in 2013. Ivan Maric going down is an early blow, but Shaun Hampson was recruited to ruck and he’ll get plenty of time to show what he has got to offer. A friendly draw will see the Tigers play GWS and St Kilda twice, without too many double ups against top eight sides. There aren’t many excuses for Richmond failure in 2014. 

St Kilda Saints

Premiership Odds: $501.00

2014 Coach Alan Richardson

In: Blake Acres (National Draft), Jack Billings (National Draft), Josh Bruce (Trade), Luke Delaney (Trade), Luke Dunstan (National Draft), Jason Holmes (Rookie Draft), Billy Longer (Trade), Shane Savage (Trade), Eli Templeton (Rookie Draft), Maverick Weller (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Jason Blake (Retired), Nick Dal Santo (Free Agent), Jackson Ferguson (Delisted), Justin Koschitzke (Retired), Tom Ledger (Delisted), Jay Lever (Delisted), Ben McEvoy (Trade), Stephen Milne (ret), Ahmed Saad (Delisted), Jordan Staley (Delisted).

It is no secret that St Kilda are right at the beginning of a rebuild after a sustained period of success. The offseason has been forgettable for the Saints and that began with Scott Watters being sacked in November, despite a year to run on his contract. It looked a desperate action from the board on the outside, but a coach who preaches mixed messages to the media isn’t ideal for a supporter base that needs a stern vision. The St Kilda board always had the one name in their sights and that turned out to be Alan Richardson. Port Adelaide didn’t want to lose their man and fought hard for their Director of Coaching to honour his contract, but an agreement was made which saw Richardson become head St Kilda coach.

The Saints managed to recruit some talented players from opposition clubs including Billy Longer, Shane Savage, Luke Delaney, Josh Bruce and Maverick Weller, on top of highly regarded 18 year olds Jack Billings, Blake Acres and Luke Dunston. But they will struggle to fill the enormous hole left by the names on the outgoing list, which totals 1083 games worth of experience. The two massive losses were Nick Dal Santo and Ben McEvoy who have chosen to chase premiership glory at North Melbourne and Hawthorn respectively. On top of those two, Jason Blake, Stephen Milne and Justin Koschitzke have all retired, while Ahmed Saad’s drug ban has seen him delisted. It is a difficult list of players to replace short term, meaning we are likely to see plenty of 1-2 year players donning the red, white and black in 2014. The recent foot injury to reigning best and fairest Jack Steven couldn’t have been timed any worse, with the speedy midfielder likely to miss the first two months of the season. Alan Richardson is going to be stretched for numbers in round 1 against Melbourne with Hayes, Montagna and Weller all suspended, while Gilbert, Milera and of course Steven will all be unavailable due to injury. A season opening loss to Melbourne would be confidence sapping blow that could set the tone for a year of dread for St Kilda.

Verdict: The Saints still possess stars like captain Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven, but the list drops off dramatically from there. It is difficult to think of them starting a rebuild any further back, especially with the loss of McEvoy and Dal Santo. The major purpose of 2014 will be focusing on the development of the youth. Fortunately, they have managed to secure a great operator in Alan Richardson who’ll have his intentions set in stone for the season. The process will take time and for now, St Kilda are well and truly in contention for the Wooden Spoon.

Sydney Swans

Premiership Odds: $6.00

2014 Coach John Longmire

Ins: Lance Franklin (Free Agent), Jeremy Laidler (Delisted Free Agent), Tom Derickx (Delisted Free Agent), Zak Jones (National Draft), George Hewett (National Draft), Toby Nankervis (National Draft) Aliir Aliir (National Draft) Patrick Mitchell (Rookie Draft), Lloyd Perris (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Shane Mumford (Trade), Jed Lamb (Delisted), Tony Armstrong (Delisted), Andrejs Everitt (Trade), Jesse White (Trade), Jude Bolton (Retired), Marty Mattner (Retired), Mitch Morton (Retired), Alex Brown (Retired).

The big talking point of the 2013 player meat market was all about whether Lance Franklin would stay with his premiership teammates at Hawthorn or give in to the large amounts of money on offer at Greater Western Sydney. Hawthorn and GWS appeared to be the only realistic options for Buddy throughout the entire season, before Sydney swooped in with an audacious 9 year contract that no one could refuse. The Swans didn’t exactly enter the race last minute either, with Franklin apparently showing interest in a move to the red and white as early as after the 2012 Grand Final. Whether it was always going to happen or not, it sure as hell surprised the football world with media agencies only linking Sydney very late in the process, which is nigh on impossible in this day and age.

The signing of the highest profile player in the competition is a massive coup for Sydney, but it has already shown signs of list management repercussions. Franklin is obviously on a large sum of money, but when you consider the deal that was wagered to secure fellow forward Kurt Tippett the year before, the Swan’s salary cap will be bulging at the seams. This has already seen Shane Mumford, Andrejs Everitt, Jesse White and Jed Lamb leave due to the price they justifiably demanded being over what Sydney could afford, even with the likes of Jude Bolton and Marty Mattner retiring. It won’t end there either, as young up and coming stars like Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker, Tom Mitchell and Brandon Jack will all be looking at significant pay increases over the coming years. To make matters worse for the Swans, the controversial “Cost of Living Allowance” has been scrapped after the high profile contracts had been signed off. To justify splashing such high dollar amounts around, John Longmire would want to be generating some success over the next couple of years.

We all know that Sydney are the kings of contested football, clearances and stoppages. Unsurprisingly they comfortably ranked first for all three of those categories in 2013 and expect to see similar success in 2014. Where the Swans would love to improve is in the kicking efficiency rankings with its percentage of 62.8 the second worst in the competition. The major incentive of rectifying that statistic is making its exciting forward line of Franklin, Tippett and perhaps Reid as difficult to stop as possible.

Verdict: The Swans have recruited to win Premierships now, but they have to do so with a minimal amount of injuries as the depth is thin. Sydney’s draw is relatively tame compared to the other Preliminary Finalists, which should see the 2012 premier right in the mix for another top four berth.

West Coast Eagles

Premiership Odds: $17.00

2014 Coach Adam Simpson

Ins: Elliot Yeo (Trade), Xavier Ellis (Free Agent), Dom Sheed (National Draft), Malcolm Karpany (National Draft), Tom Barrass (National Draft), Dylan Main (National Draft), Will Maginness (Rookie Draft), Rowen Powell (Rookie Draft).

Outs: Daniel Kerr (Retired), Mark Nicoski (Retired), Adam Selwood (Retired), Andrew Embley (Retired), Ashton Hams (Retired), Brad Dick (Retired), Cale Morton (Delisted), Bradd Dalziell (Delisted).

This time last year the West Coast Eagles were seen as one of hot premiership contenders for season 2013. There was a lot of us who got sucked into the potential improvement on offer from the likes of Naitanui, Masten, Shuey, Darling, Gaff, Kennedy, Mackenzie and Scott Selwood. While a lot of those names had great seasons, injuries were a justified excuse at the end of the day. Waters, Kerr, Wellingham, Nicoski and Adam Selwood could only manage 10 or less games, while Naitanui, LeCras, Shuey, Hurn, Rosa and Embley were only able to register 11-15 matches throughout 2013. It is a large chunk of a squad to be consistently missing games and the holes just couldn’t be filled with the same quality. It ultimately led to the resignation of John Worsfold, who enjoyed a successful twelve season coaching career that garnered a Premiership in 2006. Adam Simpson takes the reins and will be looking to create a new successful era of his own.

Injuries took a major toll on the West Coast squad in 2013, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deficiencies that need to be rectified. The first problem that Adam Simpson will be looking repair is turnovers. The Eagles had the second worse disposal efficiency last year, but the most concerning statistic was that only 21.5% of intercept possessions directly led to a West Coast score. It meant that there was a high reliance on scoring from stoppages, which admittedly was strengthened by a hitout to advantage differential of +5.2 per game, highlighting how important Cox and Naitanui are. Everyone who loves footy will be hoping to see much more of Nic Naitanui in 2014, none more so than Adam Simpson. He is one of the most influential players in the competition, let alone at West Coast and creates the most dangerous ruck partnership around with Dean Cox.

There has been a spate of retirements in between seasons, creating question marks about West Coast’s depth. Kerr, Nicoski, Adam Selwood, Embley, Hams and Dick all called a close on their careers, while Cale Morton and Bradd Dalziell were delisted. Elliot Yeo and Xavier Ellis are fantastic inclusions to the best 22 though and are likely to both play Round 1.

Verdict: West Coast are an enormous chance to return to the top eight after receiving one of the best draws available. It only plays one top six side twice (Fremantle) and doubles up against three bottom six sides. They have been the most outstanding side of the preseason to date, with impressive victories against Fremantle (twice) and Sydney. Making Patersons Stadium a fortress will be one of the highest priorities after only four wins at home in 2013 and if they do, September action is likely. In fact, don’t rule out the double chance as an option for the Eagles.

Western Bulldogs

Premiership Odds: $126.00

2014 Coach Brendan McCartney

Ins: Stewart Crameri (Trade), Marcus Bontempelli (National Draft), Matt Fuller (National Draft), Mitchell Honeychurch (National Draft), Sam Darley (Trade).

Outs: Daniel Cross (Delisted), Dylan Addison (Delisted), Lukas Markovic (Delisted), Nick Lower (Delisted), Patrick Veszpremi (Delisted).

It was another bottom four finish for the Western Bulldogs in 2013, but that doesn’t display the strides this developing side made. After finishing 2012 with just five wins, a lot of the kids stepped up their output and lifted the Dogs to a respectable eight wins last season. The last month and a half of football was most impressive, winning four of its last six encounters mostly against sides that were still fighting for positions in September. Brendan McCartney enters his third season in charge at Whitten Oval and will be looking for his talented young group to continue that late season form by pushing further up the ladder.

There were a number of players who had breakout seasons in 2013, which helped the Bulldogs earn much praise. The often maligned Will Minson became the most consistent ruckman in the competition and rightfully earned All Australian honours, while newly appointed captain Ryan Griffen lived up to his career long lofty expectations by producing a scintillating blend of inside and outside work to also receive an All Australian gong. Although the man who probably raised his reputation more than anyone was clearance machine Tom Liberatore. The son of former Brownlow Medallist and club legend Tony became one of the most prolific inside ball winners in the league, ranking second for total contested possessions (319) and averaging nearly a clearance more than any other player (8.4 per game). One of the most impressive statistics of Liberatore’s season was that 55.87% of his disposals were contested, yet he still operated at an efficiency of 72.5% with only Joel Selwood and Scott Pendlebury having better rates of the top 20 contested ball winners. He was genuinely unlucky not to receive All Australian selection himself, but you get the feeling such honours are just around the corner anyway.

As you can probably suspect from Liberatore’s statistics, the Western Bulldogs became a contested relevant side last year. It ranked first for contested possession differential (+12.5), second for clearance differential (+5.2), second for average contested possessions (149) and second for average clearances (41.5). Despite solid inside 50 totals, the Dogs continued its struggles to score. It ranked last for average marks inside 50 (10.1 per game) and score percentage per inside 50 (45.6%), which led to the recruitment of Stewart Crameri from Essendon. He isn’t going to be the answer to all the forward 50 deficiencies, but will provide a more unpredictable alternative for the midfield to target.

Verdict: I’m not expecting the Western Bulldogs to bullet into the top eight, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them give some of the big bodied top sides a good fright. McCartney is developing a team to play a brand that will thrive in finals conditions. He has them exactly where they need to be.

Predicted Ladder

It is always hard work predicting an end of home and away rounds ladder at this point of the year, but for some reason this season offers genuine difficulty to where teams should be ranked against each other. As we all know, 18 teams doesn’t go into 23 rounds which creates a compromised and flawed draw. The AFL has attempted to “even” t

Author

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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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