The following is a team-by-team preview with futures tips for the 2017 AFL season.
The Crows’ 2016 season ended just as the previous one did, with a disappointing semi final defeat at the hands of an eventual grand finalist. The Crows are a strong club but they are definitely a notch below the two or three best sides in the competition. Have they done enough over the off season to bridge that gap? They nearly ended up bringing in Bryce Gibbs, which would’ve done wonders for their slightly one-dimensional midfield, but in the end it wasn’t to be.
I’m not sure there’s enough natural improvement in them to take them from 5th – 6th place to a premiership threat. They need to add another gun to their midfield and improve their overall depth slightly before they’ll seriously challenge. They’ll make the eight, and with a bit of luck are a chance of sneaking into the top four, but I don’t think this is the year for the Crows to go all the way.
Predicted Ladder Position: 5th
We enter this year with big question marks over both clubs based in Queensland. The Lions and the Suns both have plenty of talent but have been mediocre at best in their past two seasons. The Lions are again being talked as potential wooden spooners, which is fair enough considering they won four games in 2015 and only three in 2016.
But there’s every chance they can surprise this year and win a few more than is expected of them. It’s always difficult to get an idea of how a club will react to a new coach, but there’s just no chance they can be any worse under Chris Fagan than they were under Justin Leppitsch. At times last year they looked so disorganised it was similar to watching under 12’s running around chasing the footy. So as long as Fagan brings a positive mindset and some structure, the only way is up. Having new captain Dayne Beams on the field already makes them a much better side. He’s good enough to be the difference between winning and losing at least a couple of games.
Being realistic, the Lions will be hoping to double their win tally from last season, which would be a great achievement for them in Fagan’s first year and one I think they can pull off.
Predicted Ladder Position: 16th
Speaking of the wooden spoon, the Blues were widely tipped to take it home in 2016 but played some patches of great footy and managed to bank seven wins over the course of the year. I have a feeling that they may go backwards a little this year before they begin to improve and work their way back up the ladder. They’ve added the customary ex-GWS group again, but I’m not sure they are going to get a whole lot of immediate improvement there. They’ll again be heavily reliant on Cripps, Murphy and Gibbs to break even in the midfield to give them a chance of victory.
For obvious reasons I generally avoid using pre-season form as any indication of how a club will fare during the season proper, but the fact that Carlton have been largely uncompetitive is slightly alarming.
Until a few of their younger players step up to the grade, I expect the Blues to struggle. My prediction for the wooden spoon in 2017.
Predicted Ladder Position: 18th
No club is under more pressure to perform in 2017 than Collingwood. Coach Nathan Buckley brought the pressure on himself when he stated that he’d lose his job if the Pies didn’t make finals this year, which in hindsight was probably not the best idea regardless of how true it is. The Magpies’ midfield was recently ranked by Champion Data as the best midfield in the game. If their midfield does actually perform to that standard then Buckley should have no issues taking his coaching career into another season. The Magpies also have the makings of a very good forward line, especially if Jamie Elliott stays fit for the majority of the year. The defensive part of the game might be what lets them down. They’ve brought in ex-Demon Lynden Dunn to patch up some holes down back but will no doubt struggle in that area against some of the stronger forward lines.
The recruitment of Daniel Wells is already looking dicey, with the injury prone ex-Kangaroo ruled out of the opening game of the season, and no expected return date has been announced. Hopefully they get him right to go as soon as possible as he’ll add some skill and cleanness to their developing group, which they lacked for much of last season.
The Magpies are good enough to scrape into the top eight if all goes well, but if they are run out of luck and cop a few injuries to key players Buckley could be out of a job by year’s end.
Predicted Ladder Position: 10th
The Bombers are the real wildcard entering the new footy season. After a year out of the game, a host of their best players return to the fold. How long it takes them to get back to playing consistent footy is a real unknown and makes them hard to place. Perhaps missing a year will have them raring to go and playing out of their skins from the get go, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll struggle to cope with the pace for at least a couple of weeks.
Regardless of how quickly they pick up the pace, some A-grade players will now be out there and that will boost the rest of the team around them. Heppell, Hurley and Hooker are stars of the competition in the middle of their prime, and those three guys alone will make the Bombers a much stronger team. You never know how much impact a number one pick like Andy McGrath will have in his first year, but he’s guaranteed to play multiple games and help with some rebound and clean skills off the half back line. Continuous growth from young players like Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett, Aaron Francis will have the Bombers’ future in safe hands, but this year will most likely be another learning curve, and the final scene in what seemed like a never-ending supplements saga – the return of normality.
Predicted Ladder Position: 13th
The Dockers enter the new season looking to bounce back from a bitterly disappointing 2016 campaign. They entered last year with hopes of again contending for the flag, and ended up with a lowly tally of just four wins. This year the expectations have been tempered but there are still reasons for optimism. They have managed to snare a few young key position players in Cam McCarthy and Joel Hamling, while Brad Hill will add some much needed outside run. But most exciting of all is the return of Brownlow medalist Nat Fyfe. A fit Fyfe makes playing against Fremantle a much more daunting prospect for opposition teams travelling over to Perth.
I definitely have the Dockers improving on last year, but they have a few more rebuilding years ahead of them before pushing back into contention. Ross Lyon has committed himself to the process, something that he hasn’t gone through so far in his coaching career at AFL level. Is he the type that can guide a struggling team through a rebuild? I’m not sure he is. His tactics and hard line approach has helped both St Kilda and Fremantle to reach grand finals, but a different approach may be necessary to develop a struggling team. It’ll be fascinating to see whether Ross can adapt and grow within his new situation.
Predicted Ladder Position: 14th
The current Geelong side is a fascinating mix of players. They have two of the best players in the game, who carry their midfield. They also have a handful of stars left from their glory days – Harry Taylor, Tom Hawkins, Andrew Mackie to name a few. They’ve recruited some good players from other clubs in recent times, but they still lack depth. The issue is that most of the young guys they have drafted over the past four or five years haven’t come on as well as they would have hoped. This has left them light on for midfield talent after their first choice rotations, and will again make it hard for them to go any further in 2017 unless a couple of youngsters step up.
I’m not convinced guys like Sam Menegola and George Horlin-Smith are capable enough and I therefore have Geelong in a similar boat to last year. Zach Tuohy is a nice inclusion, but is in some way offset by the retirement of Corey Enright. Dangerfield and Selwood will carry them as far as possible, but in September, against the very best, that’s just not enough.
Predicted Ladder Position: 6th
The best thing that could happen to the Suns this year would be a to get through with a relatively clean bill of health. A hope that has already been partially dashed, with big man Sam Day ruled out for the entire season with a serious hip injury. Still, the Suns will be thankful that David Swallow, Gary Ablett and Jack Martin are all fit. The signs are already very promising on some of the kids they’ve just drafted, with Jack Bowes and Will Brodie looking like they will play plenty of senior footy this year. Picking up Michael Barlow for nothing at all looks like an astute decision as well.
Surely this is the year the Suns start to climb the ladder and deliver on their promise. It’s been a hard beginning for their footy club, due to a mixture of bad luck and poor decision making, but there’s still a heap of talent there. They might take a while to gel as a team due to the new faces coming in and the return of some of their injured players, but I do expect them to put together some really impressive footy at some stage this season. I’ve got them just missing out on the eight due to inconsistency, before another pre-season propels them into their first finals series in 2018.
Predicted Ladder Position: 12th
There has been so much pre-season hype about the Giants that it almost seems like they’ve already made it through to the grand final. Which is fair enough considering they missed out by a kick last year and you’d think they’re only going to get better. The addition of Brett Deledio will be massive if soft tissue injuries don’t ruin his season. He could be the extra cream on what is already a fairly heavily iced cake.
They’ll be next to impossible to beat at Spotless this year, and they should also win their fair share of games on the road. They are genuinely scary all over the field. The midfield is stacked, the backline stingy but also capable of rebounding quickly. But it’s the forward line which will give opposition coaches the largest headache. They’ve got so many options, both tall and small, that will mean the only way to stop them from scoring is to stop them from getting the ball forward. Jon Patton looks like exploding this year, as does Josh Kelly through the middle. You look at their list, and other than a few older guys like Steve Johnson, most of their players you’d be expecting to improve again this season.
The only possible negative out of all this is that they might start believing the hype, which might lead to them dropping some games they should win. Still, that possibility isn’t enough for me to decide to back anyone else to win more games than the Giants this season.
Predicted Ladder Position: 1st
Excluding the Bombers, no club went through a greater transformation between last year and the new season fast approaching. Trading out club greats Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis and bringing in Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell has totally changed the key players in the Hawthorn engine room. As different as it will be, if O’Meara can get back to his best, it could be just as good. The Ty Vickery experiment will also be something to keep a close eye on, as the Hawks have a knack of getting the best out of underperforming players. Vickery is entering the prime age of his career and will play an important role this year as a foil for Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston.
And won’t it be great to see Roughy running around again. He’s likely to start off slow but I expect him to have a dominant season as skipper of the new look Hawks.
With the blokes they’ve still got at their disposal, Hawthorn aren’t going anywhere. They’ll play finals yet again, and I think it’s fair to say most rivals wouldn’t want to come up against them in a knock out final in September.
Predicted Ladder Position: 7th
There’s been a lot of optimism swirling around the footy world in regards to the Demons and what they might be able to achieve this year. Simon Goodwin steps into the role of senior coach and takes over what is beginning to shape up as a really nicely balanced list. They’ve added some genuine talent in Jordan Lewis and Michael Hibberd to a squad that has improved slowly and steadily over the past couple of seasons, and with some luck they may be about to storm back into finals contention for the first time since 2006.
That’s the best case scenario. The other end of the spectrum is that Goodwin goes through a few teething problems, they cop a few injuries, and the year fizzles out to another 10th – 12th place finish. The Demons of late do like to keep us on our toes, so anything is possible. However when you’ve got one of the most influential ruckman in the game and a hard working midfield that can win plenty of the ball kicking it forward to Jesse Hogan, the first scenario seems more likely. The Demons no longer have any glaring weaknesses. They need to work on a few areas of course, but on paper, they don’t have the major weaknesses they’ve had in the past. I don’t expect any miracles from the Demons, but I do think they’ll be in the mix for a spot in the top eight come late in the year.
Predicted Ladder Position: 8th
I said earlier that Hawthorn had gone through the largest transformation between seasons, but the Kangaroos also stake a significant claim for that title. In a similar fashion to what the Hawks did, the Kangaroos cleared out a bunch of older players they no longer believed would be there for their next flag tilt. Unlike the Hawks however, they didn’t seem to have a plan to follow after that. I guess the plan is to hit the draft and rejuvenate with talented youngsters over time, which means there’s going to be short term pain.
They have acquired a few decent players – Nathan Hrovat is one who looks likely to slot straight into their best 22 – but a slippery slide down the ladder is what awaits them in season 2017. It won’t be a bad thing for their long term future, as they are in need of more top end talent at the draft, but it could be a long year for North supporters who are presently used to making the final eight and taking part in September action.
Unfortunately there aren’t too many other clubs I can see the Kangaroos beating, so I’ve got them down for a very, very big slide. Let’s see if they can unearth some players and prove everyone wrong.
Predicted Ladder Position: 17th
Port Adelaide will be hoping that 2017 is the year they get their mojo back. What has happened to this club over the past four years is something that many people can’t comprehend, and I think that includes people involved at the club itself. The senior players haven’t been able to recapture their best form and it’s made for some horribly disappointing times over the past two seasons. But that’s where they’re at now. That’s their current standard of performance, and they haven’t shown anything in recent times to suggest they are capable of playing at a much superior level.
With Paddy Ryder back into the side, Charlie Dixon will be free to spend more time up forward. He will appreciate the help if Brett Eddy can snag a few goals and take some pressure off him. They also look to have secured another future star in Powell-Pepper, but as I mentioned, the problem with Port at the moment is their established players, and regardless of how well some of the kids play, if Boak, Hartlett, Polec and Westoff aren’t able to lift, it’s going to be another disappointing year.
Predicted Ladder Position: 15th
The Tigers, like Collingwood, are under serious pressure before the first ball has even been bounced to kick off the new season. They stagnated last year and will be jumping out of their skins to kick off the year on a positive note in their opening clash with the Blues. A new look midfield that includes Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy should be harder for other teams to combat and should allow a lot more breathing space for skipper Trent Cotchin to get off the leash.
They will be harder in the contest and not as easy to push over, but I’m still not sure how good they’ll be. They lack support for Riewoldt up forward and the same goes for Rance in the defensive half, as good as he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won enough games to qualify for the finals, but considering how many other clubs will be around the mark, I’m predicting it’s more likely that they miss out.
Predicted Ladder Position: 11th
The Saints have their sights firmly set on a finals appearance in 2017. They just missed out last season and have good reason to believe they’re capable of taking the leap this year. Their young list is developing well, Nick Riewoldt is still playing like he’s 27, and Jake Carlisle will come in to strengthen the backline and add some flexibility to their tall stocks.
Whether they’ve got enough flexibility – or x-factor if you like – in the midfield will probably decide how far they go. They’ve got plenty of blokes who can win the contested ball but will need to add some polish and class to keep improving. Which makes it vitally important for guys like Jade Gresham and Jack Billings to spend time in the midfield.
I definitely have the Saints knocking down the door this year but I’m not sure I can find a spot for them in my final eight. It won’t be a surprise if they make it, but I’ve got them just outside for another year.
Predicted Ladder Position: 9th
The Swans struggled to perform at their best on the biggest stage for the second time in the past five years, and it goes without saying they’ll be desperate to make amends in 2017. They’ll yet again be one of the teams to beat, they just need a bit of luck to go their way in September and it’ll be no surprise if they manage to win the flag. They not only have experienced stars, they’ve got young guns such as Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills who are rapidly on their way to great heights. They’ll be praying that Heeney’s case of glandular fever isn’t too severe, as he’s already an incredibly important component of their forward/midfield rotation.
The Giants are being talked up as the team to beat in 2017, but I wouldn’t be forgetting about the Swans too quickly. There’s no evidence pointing to them regressing from the standard they’ve set over the past decade, and they are just about a lock to finish in the top four. They’ve got a gun midfield, stars all over the park, and if they’re on, as they were against Geelong in last year’s preliminary final, they’ll beat anyone. My tip for the flag.
Predicted Ladder Position: 2nd
The Eagles would’ve been over the moon when they realised they were a chance of securing Hawthorn champion Sam Mitchell for next to nothing. He’s an absolute gun playing as well as he ever has. Adding a player of his calibre to what is already a very good side makes them a genuine premiership threat for 2017.
As always, the Eagles aren’t going to lose many games in Perth. They’ll pick up another handful on the road, and before you know it, a finals appearance is locked in.
I really rate the Eagles this year and think they will trouble most sides. If Nic Naitanui wasn’t out for the year with a knee injury I’d have them right up there, but that might be what they rue come season’s end. Still, they’ll put themselves in a position to be able to do some damage late in the year.
Predicted Ladder Position: 3rd
All eyes will be on the Dogs from the beginning of 2017 to see whether they’re capable of building a dynasty, or whether they were fortunate enough to peak at the right time in 2016. There was an immense celebration from the red, white and blue following last year’s triumph, but from all reports the players came back in good shape and are firmly focused on defending their title. They’ve had a few hiccups during the JLT Series, with first choice ruck Jordan Roughead out for at least the first month of the season, but otherwise they appear to be tracking well.
The Dogs are one of the teams who will suffer the most from the ban on the third man up, a tactic they utilised to great effect last season. It may not be such an issue when Roughead is back, but until then they may struggle, that is unless Luke Beveridge can pull another rabbit out of his hat.
The Dogs have a young list that still has plenty of room for improvement. Whether they’re able to put it all together at the end of the year again remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt they’re good enough to put themselves in a position to have another crack at it. I’d be surprised if they missed the top four.
Predicted Ladder Position: 4th
Premier: Sydney @ 8.00 (Unibet)
Wooden Spoon: Carlton
Brownlow: Patrick Dangerfield @ 6.00 (Sportsbet)