AFL Season 2011 Preview

After months in summer hibernation, AFL tragics across the land are slowly crawling out from their dark caves. Yes, that’s right, footy’s nearly back!!!

It’s been five and a half months since we have been able to enjoy all the beauty of this most exciting sport. Whether it be a dazzling Cyril Rioli sidestep, a deft Scott Pendlebury look-away handball or a delightfully precise Nick Dal Santo kick, I have missed all that the AFL has got to offer. Hell, I’ve even missed seeing little Daniel Cross diving into a pack of players, finding the ball and feeding it out to a team mate.

Just because we, the fans, have been in footy hibernation over summer, doesn’t mean the clubs have been stagnant. This AFL season welcomes a new team, the Gold Coast Suns. The Suns have been giving a helping hand by the AFL, granted first access to the best young players in the land and favoured by the unique recruiting rules which allowed the signing of Gary Ablett, arguably the league’s best player.

Other clubs have been busy planning for the introduction of the substitute, a controversial new rule brought in by the league to reduce the increasingly high number of interchanges. Clubs will still have four players on the interchange bench, but now the fourth player can only take the field when a team mate is subbed of for the rest of the game. The type of player used as a substitute and the timing of the rotation will be fascinating to watch. Nobody knows whether big key position players or faster ball carriers will be more successful in the role.

No doubt many coaches have been fervently plotting to emulate or break through the manic forward press Collingwood demonstrated so successfully en route to the premiership. Will they be successful? Which clubs will challenge for the premiership come finals time? And which new stars will emerge in season 2011? This season preview aims to answer all the burning questions.


Andy’s Time Capsule

Premiers: Hawthorn @ 7.50 (Sportingbet)

Wooden Spoon: Gold Coast @ 2.50 (TAB Sportsbet)

Brownlow Medal: Brendan Goddard @ 21.00 to win and 6.00 to place (Centrebet)

Coleman Medal: Lance Franklin @ 5.00 (TAB Sportsbet)

Rising Star: David Swallow @ 3.00 (Sportingbet)



Brownlow Medal: Shaun Higgins top 5 @ 26.00 (Sportingbet)

Coleman Medal: Taylor Walker @ 81.00 (TAB Sportsbet)

Rising Star: Mitchell Banner @ 41.00 (Sportingbet)


Club by Club Preview


Last Season: 11th

Key players in: Sam Jacobs (Carlton), Richard Tambling (Richmond)

Key players out: Nathan Bock (Gold Coast), Jonathan Griffin (Fremantle), Simon Goodwin (Retired), Andrew McLeod (Retired), Tyson Edwards (Retired), Brett Burton (Retired), Trent Hentschel (Retired)

Summary: Adelaide have a very well balanced, young side. Last season was an aberration and they should bounce back into the finals this year. They may have lost Nathan Bock to the Gold Coast, but Phil Davis showed great promise in the second half of last season and shapes as an ideal replacement at centre half back. Adelaide have also lost several great players to retirement. The experience will not be replaced, but many players will get a chance to shine with increased responsibility. The Crows have an enviable array of young talent headed by enigmatic midfielder Bernie Vince and forwards Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker. They will be enthusiastically supported by midfield runners David Mackay, Richard Douglas, Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane. Flankers Chris Knights and Andy Otten are the wildcards after both missed almost all of last season after career best 2009’s. If they hit form, few sides will take points away from AAMI Park.

Andy’s Prediction: Semi Final

Premiership Odds: 26.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 1.82 (Centrebet)



Last season: 13th

Key players in: Jared Polec (National Draft)

Key players out: Jared Brennan (Gold Coast), Michael Rischitelli (Gold Coast), Justin Sherman (Western Bulldogs), Brendan Fevola (Sacked), Travis Johnstone (Delisted)

Summary: 2011 shapes as a pivotal year for Lions coach Michael Voss. His team made the finals in his first full year of coach before an ambitious recruiting drive prior to the 2010 season. Many pundits expected Brisbane to challenge for the top 4 last year. They opened the season in a blaze of glory with four straight wins, but then the wheels fell off. Voss’s coaching reputation has taken a big hit after his failure to curtail the destructive ways of Brendan Fevola. ‘Fev’ has been stood down from the club and that means the Lions are wasting a large portion of their salary cap on a non-player. Jared Brennan and Michael Rischitelli both walked out on the club, lured to the Gold Coast by big contracts. In Rischitelli’s case it was also an escape from the club that offered him up as trade bait to secure the Fevola deal. So what does the AFL’s most northern club have to look forward to this year? There’s quite a bit actually. And most of the anticipation surrounds a 20 year old. 2009 Rising Star winner Daniel Rich has had an enormous pre-season and looks set to break into the category of elite midfielders. Tom Rockliff and Todd Banfield will build on their debut seasons and increase the midfield depth, coming as a relief to club stalwarts Simon Black and Luke Power who have carried the load for many years. Brisbane fans will be crossing their fingers that classy half back flankers Josh Drummond and Jed Adcock can have an injury free 2011 as those can set up many attacking moves. If Brisbane skipper Jonathan Brown can get his body right, the Lions may even be challenging for the top 8 near September. The big colossus bagged 53 goals in only 16 appearances during 2010. Unfortunately for the Lions they have quality veterans and quality kids, but not much else. 2011 will be a struggle.

Andy’s Prediction: 13th

Premiership Odds: 101.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 5.00 (Centrebet)



Last season: Elimination Final

Key players in: Andrew Collins (Richmond), Jeremy Laidler (Geelong), Nick Duigan (National Draft)

Key players out: Shaun Grigg (Richmond), Sam Jacobs (Adelaide), Richard Hadley (Retired)

Summary: It is very difficult to sum up this Carlton team. They can beat anyone on their day, while they are just as likely to surrender to a lower ranked opponent. Coach Brett Ratten deserves a lot of credit for quickly developing a functioning forward line in the absence of Brendan Fevola. The Blues surprised many to qualify for their second successive finals series last year. Just like 2009, they were extremely gallant, coming up just short on an interstate trip. Expectations are high down at Visy Park for 2011 with board members publicly declaring the season to be a failure with anything less than a finals victory. It isn’t hard to see why they are so ambitious, captain Chris Judd won the Brownlow Medal last year to be judged the league’s best and fairest player. With a glittering brigade of young stars gaining more experience, the Blues are starting to get the nucleus of their side in the crucial 22-27 year old range. Much will depend on the return of ruckman Matthew Kreuzer from a serious knee injury and the form of midfield extractor Brock McLean. Carlton traded pick 11 in the 2009 National Draft to Melbourne for McLean, and when you consider that Collingwood picked up Luke Ball with pick 30 in that draft, McLean owes the club some good footy. If Carlton can find consistency they have the ability to crack the top 4, but I think their fans may need to patient for one more year.

Andy’s Prediction: Elimination Final

Premiership Odds: 17.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.65 (Centrebet)



Last season: Premiers

Key players in: Chris Tarrant (Fremantle), Andrew Krakouer (National Draft)

Key players out: Jack Anthony (Fremantle), Josh Fraser (Gold Coast), Simon Prestigiacomo (Retired), Tarkyn Lockyer (Retired), Paul Medhurst (Retired), Shane O’Bree (Retired)

Summary: Last season’s premiers are already raging favourites to go back to back. The Pies were the best side of 2010, overcoming a tough draw to claim the minor premiership, and then defeating the each of the other top 4 sides in the finals. Apart from the draw in Grand Final 1, Collingwood’s average victory margin in the finals was a whopping 53 points. Scarily, the Magpies still have room for improvement, as they had the second worst goal kicking accuracy last year. Imagine what they’ll do if they learn how to kick straight. A number of Collingwood veterans retired at the end of 2010, although most were no longer regulars, so this should not have a great impact. The one concern at this stage of the season is in defense. Full back Nathan Brown will miss the whole season after seriously injuring his knee in a pre-season training drill. Skipper Nick Maxwell will also start the premiership defense on the sidelines as he recovers from a kidney injury sustained in the NAB Cup. Magpie favourite Chris Tarrant returns to the nest in 2011 after reinventing himself as a defender in a four year stint at Fremantle. His return is timely as he can slot in at full back to replace Brown. Andrew Krakouer is another welcomed to the club after an outstanding pre-season. Krakouer is blessed with an ability to find time and space in even the tightest situation. History is the only reason I am not tipping the ‘Woods for a premiership repeat. It has only been done once in the last 12 years and wasn’t managed by the great Essendon team from 1999-2001 and the Geelong of 2007-2010.

Andy’s Prediction: Grand Final

Premiership Odds: 2.75 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.05 (Sportingbet)



Last season: 14th

Key players in: Dyson Heppell (National Draft)

Key players out: Bachar Houli (Richmond)

Summary: There is certainly plenty of hype at Bomberland. Prodigal son James Hird has returned as head coach and will be mentored by former Geelong mastermind Mark Thompson. The coaching dream team found instant success guiding the Dons to a NAB Cup Grand Final. Normally the NAB Cup isn’t a great indicator for the season proper, but the both grand finalists from 2009 and 2010 made it to at least the Preliminary Finals of the real stuff. In terms of personnel, Essendon will have almost the same squad that was so poor in 2010. Any improvement will need to come from player development, attitude and a strong game plan. It looks like the Bombers have copied Collingwood’s forward press and they were effective with it in the pre-season. Essendon have a promising batch of key position players coming through, most notably Michael Hurley, but they are lacking midfield depth and are unlikely to steal a finals berth this year.

Andy’s Prediction: 12th

Premiership Odds: 41.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 2.95 (Sportingbet)



Last season: Semi Final

Key players in: Jack Anthony (Collingwood), Jonathan Griffin (Adelaide)

Key players out: Chris Tarrant (Collingwood), Paul Hasleby (Retired), Dean Solomon (Retired), Des Headland (Retired)

Summary: The Dockers were last season’s bolter, slipping under the radar and progressing all the way to the semi finals. That rise was largely on the back of Aaron Sandilands, Matthew Pavlich and mature age rookie Michael Barlow. Barlow was one of the league’s top players until a broken leg cruelly cut short his astonishing debut year. Barlow will miss the bulk of this campaign as well and the Dockers will really miss him, as they did in the latter stages of last season. Roger Hayden and Anthony Morabito will also miss large chunks of this year. A number of youngsters, like Stephen Hill and Nathan Fyfe will have to step up if the Dockers are to remain in the top 8. An injury to Sandilands or Pavlich would be enough to tumble Freo down the ladder.

Andy’s Prediction: 9th

Premiership Odds: 17.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.65 (Sportingbet)



Last season: Preliminary Final

Key players in: None

Key players out: Gary Ablett (Gold Coast), Ryan Gamble (St Kilda), Nathan Djerkurra (Western Bulldogs), Jeremy Laidler (Carlton), Max Rooke (Retired)

Summary: Geelong have been the yardstick of the AFL for three years now, but many are predicting 2011 to be the beginning of the slide. Coach Mark Thompson and star player Gary Ablett have both left the club after an acrimonious falling out. The older brigade are starting to be failed by their bodies. Players like Ling, Chapman, Scarlett, Ottens, Corey, Mooney, Milburn and Podsiadly are all susceptible to injury. There is no doubting the Cats have the skill to win another flag, but I don’t think they will be able to have all their players on the park come finals time. The one plus in their favour is the draw. Geelong have seven home games at their Skilled Stadium fortress and a bye three rounds before finals. That bye will be a great chance for the senior players to freshen up for a likely finals series. Geelong are too good not to make the finals, but too old to that they can impact them.

Andy’s Prediction: Semi Final

Premiership Odds: 10.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.33 (Centrebet)


Gold Coast

Last season: N/A

Key players in: Gary Ablett (Geelong), Jared Brennan (Brisbane), Michael Richitelli (Brisbane), Jarrod Harbrow (Western Bulldogs), Nathan Bock (Adelaide), Campbell Brown (Hawthorn), Josh Fraser (Collingwood), David Swallow (National Draft)

Key players out: None

Summary: When analyzing this Gold Coast team, I cast my mind back to the Carlton team of the mid to late 2000’s. That team had access to the best young talent via the draft, and still struggled to win games as the kids took a few years to develop into quality players. This Gold Coast team has a greater depth of young talent than that Carlton team, but they also have less battle hardened campaigners with league experience. Yes they have got Gary Ablett, but there are only half a dozen players on their list who are proven at this level. The Suns might show flashes of brilliance and excite fans with a glimpse into future glories, but for now they will be the whipping boys.

Andy’s Prediction: 17th

Premiership Odds: 126.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 7.00 (Sportingbet)



Last season: Elimination Final

Key players in: Cameron Bruce (Melbourne), David Hale (North Melbourne), Kyle Cheney (Melbourne), Isaac Smith (National Draft), Paul Puopolo (National Draft)

Key players out: Campbell Brown (Gold Coast), Simon Taylor (Delisted)

Summary: Hawthorn is the one team Collingwood fear. The brown and gold were the last team to defeat the Pies in 2010. With incredible match winners in Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge, the Hawks have a massive upside. If they can replicate their famed unsociable football of 2008 they have the ability to go all the way in 2010. I see them in a similar position to where Collingwood were at this stage of 2010. The main question over Collingwood was their inexperience in key defensive posts. Nobody in March 2010 would have believed the Pies would win a flag with Nathan Brown at full back and Ben Reid at centre half back. With Hawthorn it is the same story. Ben Stratton looks like he will be a star, but Ryan Schoenmakers in his 24 game AFL career. If those two can stand up, the Hawks could be lifting the cup up.

Andy’s Prediction: Premiers

Premiership Odds: 7.50 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.25 (Sportingbet)



Last season: 12th

Key players in: None

Key players out: Cameron Bruce (Hawthorn), Kyle Cheney (Hawthorn), Brad Miller (Richmond), James McDonald (Retired)

Summary: Most expect the Demons to build on their promising 2010 season which saw them climb off the bottom of the ladder for the first time since 2007. I think they will improve, but not any more than other clubs around them. The big thing holding Melbourne back is the lack of marking forwards. Jack Watts is a good prospect, and that is the key point, he is still only a prospect. Liam Jurrah is an excitement machine in the forward 50, but he still needs assistance. The Dees have solid defenders in James Frawley and Colin Garland. Frawley was outstanding last season, but will start 2011 underdone after an interrupted summer on the training track. Colin Sylvia and Brent Moloney will provide the midfield grunt and Melbourne’s season might rest on the duo’s form and fitness. I’m tipping another small climb up the ladder.

Andy’s Prediction: 10th

Premiership Odds: 26.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 1.85 (Sportingbet)


North Melbourne

Last season: 9th

Key players in: Ben McKinley (West Coast), Cameron Richardson (National Draft)

Key players out: David Hale (Hawthorn)

Summary: The Kangaroos surprised many by nearly sneaking into the finals last year and Brad Scott proved himself to be an astute coach. The Roos have a very talented crop of youngsters coming through. If Jack Ziebell can keep his leg in one piece he will be a star, and Liam Anthony is another whose return from injury will strengthen the side. Similar to Melbourne, North’s main problem will be finding enough goal scorers. Drew Petrie missed most of last season and he could certainly pitch in with a couple of goals per game. With best player Brent Harvey turning 33 this season, I just don’t think North have the game breakers required to get them enough wins to make finals.

Andy’s Prediction: 11th

Premiership Odds: 67.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 3.25 (Centrebet)


Port Adelaide

Last season: 10th

Key players in: None

Key players out: Nathan Krakouer (Gold Coast), Warren Tredrea (Retired) Josh Carr (Retired)

Summary: The general consensus amongst media pundits in these previews has been to predict 14th-16th place finish for the Power. I reckon they’ll do a bit better than that. Travis Boak is going to take the competition by storm in his midfield role. One player I think will surprise many this season is key forward Jay Schulz. On his day Schulz is almost unstoppable and kicked 33 goals last year, including a big bag of seven against North Melbourne. Port will win their usual swag of games at home, but they don’t have the depth to sustain a full season.

Andy’s Prediction: 14th

Premiership Odds: 126.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 5.50 (Centrebet)



Last season: 15th

Key players in: Shaun Grigg (Carlton), Bachar Houli (Essendon), Reece Conca (National Draft)

Key players out: Richard Tambling (Adelaide), Andrew Collins (Carlton), Dean Polo (St Kilda), Ben Cousins (Retired), Troy Simmonds (Retired)

Summary: The more things change at Punt Road, the more they stay the same. Richmond haven’t played finals since 2001, and have only played in finals twice in the last 28 years. Every autumn brings new optimism that evaporates prior to winter. This year promises to be no different. Richmond fans can at least look forward to improvement from their tiger cubs like Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin, while hoping to get a full season out of Nathan Foley. They can also boast the league’s top goal kicker in Jack Riewoldt. Unfortunately they are still a bit brittle and will be brushed aside by the more powerful teams.

Andy’s Prediction: 15th

Premiership Odds: 126.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 3.25 (Centrebet)


St Kilda

Last season: Grand Final

Key players in: Ryan Gamble (Geelong), Dean Polo (Richmond)

Key players out: Steven King (Retired), Andrew Lovett (Sacked)

Summary: If the Saints scored one more point in the 2010 Grand Final, this season preview would be very different. Ifs don’t count for much though and the reality is the Saints have off field scandals to overcome as well the bigger – I think – mental issue of playing in three grand finals without winning one. The good news is the fitness of Saints stars Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Goddard. This pair, along with Lenny Hayes, have enourmous drive and will need every bit of it to motivate their team mates. Mental demons aside, the Saints have a very good list and will challenge deep into the finals again. Their small to medium sized half forwards were highlighted as a glaring weakness in the Grand Final replay loss to Collingwood. Ryan Gamble was poached from Geelong to strengthen this part of the ground, but I doubt his ability to have an impact. If St Kilda can improve their mid to low range players they can win that elusive flag, but if they don’t, I’m afraid to say their long suffering fans will be in for some more September heartache.

Andy’s Prediction: Preliminary Final

Premiership Odds: 7.00 (Sportingbet)

Finals Odds: 1.25 (Sportingbet)



Last season: Semi Final

Key players in: Andrejs Everitt (Western Bulldogs), Matt Spangher (West Coast)

Key players out: Patrick Veszpremi (Western Bulldogs), Ed Barlow (Western Bulldogs), Brett Kirk (Retired)

Summary: No Roos, no Kirk. 2011 marks a new era for the Sydney Swans. It is easy to get sucked in by pre-season form, but Josh Kennedy looks like he will step neatly into Kirk’s clearance extractor role. Adam Goodes has also been on fire and for the first time in years the former Brownlow Medalist looks set to hit form before Round 12. Daniel Bradshaw is a key to Sydney’s season. The power forward has the ability to win a match off his own boot, however he missed much of last season with a knee injury. In contrast to most other clubs, the swans are a very consistent, even team and are difficult to beat. They always make you beat them and few teams can.

Andy’s Prediction: Elimination Final

Premiership Odds: 26.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 1.91 (Sportingbet)


West Coast

Last season: 16th

Key players in: Andrew Gaff (National Draft), Jack Darling (National Draft)

Key players out: Ben McKinley (North Melbourne), Matthew Spangher (Sydney), Ashley Hansen (Retired)

Summary: West Coast don’t have any new players, apart from kids, so cannot realistically expect to improve on last season’s wooden spoon. 2010 really was a bad year to bottom out because Gold Coast stole all the top picks at the national draft. They will still win a few games thanks to the Subiaco factor, but overall, the Eagles are very thin right across the ground. A long, hard season awaits.

Andy’s Prediction: 16th

Premiership Odds: 126.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 4.75 (Centrebet)


Western Bulldogs

Last season: Preliminary Final

Key players in: Justin Sherman (Brisbane), Patrick Veszpremi (Sydney), Nathan Djerkurra (Geelong), Tom Liberatore (National Draft), Mitch Wallis (National Draft), Ed Barlow (Sydney)

Key players out: Jarrod Harbrow (Gold Coast), Andrejs Everitt (Sydney), Brad Johnson (Retired), Nathan Eagleton (Retired), Jason Akermanis (Sacked)

Summary: What is one meant to predict for a club that has made it to three consecutive preliminary finals. That’s right, another preliminary final! The Dogs lost some talent and experience at the end of last year with the retirements of Brad Johnson, Nathan Eagleton, the sacking of Jason Akermanis and the desertion of Jarrod Harbrow to Gold Coast. They’ve got in Justin Sherman from Brisbane who will be a straight replacement for Eagleton, and Patrick Veszpremi, a likely type from Sydney capable of a 30 goal season. I expect a breakout seasons from outside midfielder cum forward flanker Shaun Higgins and inside midfielder Callan Ward. Both have battled groin problems for a couple of years and are fully fit going into 2011. This Doggies team has all the parts to win a premiership in 2011, but like St Kilda, the weight of expectation may be too much to bear. I also have a concern about the bodies of key forward Barry Hall and ruckman Ben Hudson lasting a full season. The fairytale scenario would see the Bulldogs finally crack a grand final appearance. Unfortunately, fairytales and sport rarely mix.

Andy’s Prediction: Preliminary Final

Premiership Odds: 9.00 (Centrebet)

Finals Odds: 1.30  (Centrebet)


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