The Big Questions
Club by Club previews
Check out this link for an excellent comparison of all the major futures markets.
Ten of the best value futures bets I can find are:
$1.90 West Coast to make the top 8 (Ladbrokes)
$2.25 Hawthorn Top Team Vic Regular Season (Bet365)
$2.31 Collingwood to miss the top 8 (Betezy)
$2.75 Port Adelaide to make the top 8 (Luxbet)
$3.50 Marc Murphy most Brownlow Votes Carlton (Sportsbet)
$8.60 Jack Riewoldt Coleman Medal Winner (Betfair)
$9.00 Brad Ebert most Brownlow Votes Port Adelaide (Sportsbet)
$9.00 Kieran Jack most tackles (Sportsbet)
$10.00 Daniel Rich most Brownlow Votes Brisbane (Sportsbet)
$26.00 Josh Kelly Rising Star Winner (Multiple Sites)
Read through the following sections to find the justification for some of these selections.
The Big Questions
Who’s going to win the Premiership?
I’m on Fremantle to win their first ever flag and coach Ross Lyon can break his Grand Final hoodoo. The Dockers have all the tools to win the Premiership, just so long as they don’t choke as badly as they did in last season’s decider against Hawthorn. I still think the mainstream media glossed over the Dockers’ stage-fright in that match.
Give us the rest of the top 4. In order. Please.
Hawthorn. Sydney. North Melbourne. Hawthorn and Sydney are the obvious based on last season’s results, while North Melbourne could be the 2014 bolter. The Kangaroos have an even side with great depth and no real weaknesses, and the top 4 is within the group’s capability.
Which team will be a surprise finalist?
Everybody underestimated Port Adelaide last year, but Ken Hinkley’s energetic young squad powered through to a Semi Final. Given the age of their list, Port Adelaide should only be improving further this year, so I don’t see how so many experts are leaving them out of the top 8.
Which team will be a surprise non-finalist?
Collingwood. The Magpies are a Travis Cloke injury away from mediocrity. Coach Nathan Buckley has the right idea as he regenerates the list to avoid bottoming out like St Kilda have done following the 2010 Grand Final. But this could easily be Collingwood’s first non-finals season since 2005, with that possibility all the more likely due to the club’s horror fixture list to start their 2014 campaign.
Which team will do an Essendon and implode in the second half season after looking like top 4 certainties during the middle of the season?
History might repeat itself and the Bombers could take out their own award! Late season meltdowns have plagued the red and blacks in the past two years, and with ASADA’s investigation into the supplements scandal due for April/May, there is the potential for key Essendon players to be suspended during the middle of the year. If that happens, another nose dive is on the cards.
Who’s going to win the wooden spoon?
With all the equalisation that goes on these days there are not many ordinary teams each season. This year the wooden spoon is toss up between GWS, Melbourne and St Kilda. All three have reasonable claims for 18th spot on the ladder, but the Saints are already struggling with injuries and suspensions to key players before the season has even begun. Those early season absences will hurt the Saints as most of their winnable games come in the opening round rounds of the campaign.
Who’ll kick the most goals?
Jack Riewoldt has imposed a media ban on himself this season and seems determined to have big year on the field. 2013 was the year of ‘unselfish Jack’ with the Richmond #8 generally preferring to pass the ball off to team-mates rather than take the shot at goal himself. I think Riewoldt will be more goal hungry this year, and as the sole focal point of a free-flowing Richmond team, he is looking at an 80 goal season.
And the Brownlow Medal?
Nat Fyfe is my tip for this year’s Brownlow Medal, because his creative play is as eye-catching as his big mop of hair. Fyfe is a proven vote poller too, awarded 18 votes last year, following on from 14 the previous year that came from just 11 matches. To be honest, my bigger tip is not to bet on the overall Brownlow winner market before the season starts. So many things can happen during the year (injuries, suspensions etc.) that make this a market to avoid at this time of year. There is still plenty of value in the individual team brownlow markets though.
And give us the Rising Star while you’re at it.
This looks to be a choice out of Gold Coast whiz kid Jack Martin or GWS endurance freak Josh Kelly. The Suns picked up Martin in the 2012 mini-draft, while Kelly was snapped up by the Giants at pick 2 in last year’s national draft. Now eligible to make his debut in 2014, Martin will enter the big time with a highlights reel that tantalises keen football observers who eagerly await his transition to the big time. But Kelly has a better aerobic capacity than Forrest Gump, and I think the Giants youngster can take out the Rising Star award due to his incredible endurance that should allow him to keep following the footy and average 20 possessions in his debut year.
Best new signing?
A bit from left field, but Port Adelaide completed a tidy bit of business during the trade period to secure Jared Polec from Brisbane. Originally from South Australia, Polec was selected at pick 5 in the national draft and spent three seasons at the Lions, but the talented midfielder never settled and requested a trade at the end of 2013. Port picked him up cheap too, getting their man via a complicated three club deal that saw the Power secure Polec and keep the same number of draft picks.
This one might be a slow burner, but Sydney’s 10 year deal for Lance Franklin looks ridiculously short-sighted. Franklin might be the best key forward in the game, but he will start the season as a 27-year old. The Swans will be lucky to get more than 3 really good years out of him.
Who will be the first coach to be sacked?
2014 promises to be a relatively stable year for senior coaches. A turbulent end to 2013 saw 5 clubs appoint new coaches ahead of this season, and the newcomers should all be given a season to settle into their postings. Guy McKenna is entering his fourth season in charge at Gold Coast and kept the critics at bay last year, delivering a better win loss record. But I think the Suns will struggle to challenge for the top 8 this campaign and that could spell the end for McKenna.
Will there be too many beards?
As long as Jack Watts doesn’t repeat his early season monstrosity from last year then, no, there won’t be too many beards. Don’t let the competition down Jack, keep yourself clean shaven.
Club by Club previews
Predicted finish: 11th
Last season: 11th
Key Ins: Eddie Betts, James Podsiadly
Key Outs: Bernie Vince, Graham Johncock, Ian Callinan
Summary: If Adelaide can get their best side on the park then they are definitely a top 8 team, however the Crows couldn’t manage that last season and Brenton Sanderson’s team enters this campaign with another lengthy injury list. Sanderson obviously feels his group is in a Premiership window though, which was demonstrated by the trading moves made by the Crows last year, with contracts given to veteran forwards Eddie Betts and James Podsiadly.
With skipper Nathan van Berlo out for the season and main forward Taylor Walker still listed as 6-11 weeks away from full fitness following a serious knee injury last year, I can’t justify putting the Crows in my pre-season top 8.
Predicted finish: 14th
Last season: 12th
Key Ins: Luke McGuane, Jackson Paine
Key Outs: Simon Black, Sam Docherty, Jared Polec, Elliot Yeo, Billy Longer, Patrick Karnezis
Summary: Brisbane are heading in a new direction in 2014. After the shock sacking of coach Michael Voss late last season, Justin Leppitsch (a former playing teammate of Voss) will take up the coaching role this year. Leppitsch will be required to steer the Lions through another rebuild after Voss couldn’t do better than a 12th placing during his final three years in charge. Looking at Brisbane’s squad, Leppitsch will need to rebuild the forward line most urgently, because spearhead Jonathan Brown is in his last season and there are not many other goalkicking options.
I expect the Lions to struggle this year. It would be a big surprise if they challenge for the finals.
Predicted finish: 9th
Last season: 6th
Key Ins: Dale Thomas, Sam Docherty, Andrejs Everitt
Key Outs: Eddie Betts, Shaun Hampson
Summary: It is tough to get a read on the Blues. You can guarantee that coach Mick Malthouse will make them difficult for opposition teams to play against, and that if they do make the finals, they will be very dangerous. However, Chris Judd and Jarrad Waite are still the two players I rate as most important to Carlton’s prospects, and both of those guys are the wrong side of 30. If Carlton are to make finals this year then former number 1 draft picks Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer need to take their games to the next level.
It will be tight, but at the moment I have Richmond pipping Carlton for the final spot in the top 8.
Predicted finish: 10th
Last season: 8th
Key Ins: Jesse White, Taylor Adams, Patrick Karnezis
Key Outs: Heath Shaw, Dale Thomas, Alan Didak, Darren Jolly, Jackson Paine
Summary: 2014 shapes as a mini-rebuilding year for Nathan Buckley’s Collingwood. The Magpies ushered Premiership stars Dale Thomas and Heath Shaw to new homes, while Alan Didak and Darren Jolly have retired. Taylor Adams was a good pickup from GWS and looks a solid long-term midfield prospect, while Jesse White fills a need across half forward and can also provide rucking relief.
Success in 2014 for Collingwood should be measured on the number of games pumped into the young stars of the future, not the number of games won or lost.
Predicted finish: 13th
Last season: 9th
Key Ins: Paul Chapman
Key Outs: Stewart Crameri, Scott Gumbleton, Alwyn Davey, David Hille
Summary: Essendon have a list good enough to make the top 4, but I’m not feeling the vibe at the moment from Bomberland. That could be because coach James Hird is suspended for the season, or it could also be from the fear that half the team could receive ASADA infractions and might get severe suspensions. If the mood does pick up and the players avoid drug punishments, then there is actually a lot to like about Essendon. Jobe Watson is one of the best midfielders going around, Brendan Goddard is still a gun, and Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis are on the improve. Jake Carlisle and Joe Daniher could be the most exciting of the bunch though, with the key position duo set to dominate the forward 50 for the next 10 years.
I’m predicting a lowly finish for the Bombers, but I have low confidence in this lowly prediction.
Predicted finish: 1st
Last season: 2nd
Key Ins: Scott Gumbleton, Colin Sylvia
Key Outs: Viv Michie
Summary: Fremantle can produce a level of pressure no other team can match. It is most definitely a game style in the Ross Lyon mould; trying to squeeze the life out of the opponent and gaining so much territorial advantage that goal scoring opportunities simply must ensue. A reasonably long early season injury list is a negative for the Dockers, but the big plus (and I do mean big) is the form and fitness of rucking colossus Aaron Sandilands. When Sandilands is up and going to Dockers are difficult to stop.
I think the purple haze can overcome their stage-fright from last year and take out the 2014 Premiership.
Predicted finish: 5th
Last season: 3rd
Key Outs: Paul Chapman, Josh Hunt, James Podsiadly, Trent West, Joel Corey
Summary: Another year, another exodus of premiership stars from Geelong. There are now only 12 players on the Cats list that have played in a Premiership at the club. So there is still lots of talent at Kardinia Park, but it keeps getting harder for coach Chris Scott to get the group back into a Grand Final. Serious injuries to Nathan Vardy, Allen Christensen and Steven Motlop will also put the Cats onto the back foot early in the season.
Even though they are unlikely to win the flag, Geelong will almost certainly play the most attractive brand of football.
Predicted finish: 15th
Last season: 14th
Key Outs: Jared Brennan
Summary: Season 2013 was a success for the Gold Coast, with the club much more competitive. The improvement for the Suns has mostly been reported in terms of the number of wins – more in 2013 than 2011 and 2012 combined – however I think the improvement is best described by the fact that Gold Coast lost 10 matches by at least 60 points in their debut 2011 season, they then lost 9 games by that margin in 2012, but last year they didn’t lose any matches by 60 points or more.
Even though the Gold Coast is a much more competitive outfit, I still don’t think the list is ready to challenge for the top 8, which could present problems for coach Guy McKenna who is under pressure to deliver a finals berth in the fourth year of his tenure.
Greater Western Sydney
Predicted finish: 17th
Last season: 18th
Key Ins: Heath Shaw, Shane Mumford, Jed Lamb, Josh Hunt
Key Outs: Taylor Adams, Dom Tyson, Chad Cornes, Dean Brogan
Summary: For GWS, season 2014 will be another one spent in the lower rungs of the ladder, even though I think they are on track to hit greater heights in the next few years than fellow expansion club Gold Coast. With Jeremy Cameron, Jon Patton and Tom Boyd the Giants have assembled arguably the best three key forwards under the age of 21 (apologies to Jesse Hogan). The midfield is also littered with first round draft picks, while the defence is now taking shape with mature bodies Phil Davis, Heath Shaw and Stephen Gilham solidifying that line.
Even though they won’t win many games this season, the Giants will still be one of the most exciting teams to watch.
Predicted finish: 2nd
Last season: 1st
Key Ins: Ben McEvoy
Key Outs: Lance Franklin, Shane Savage, Brent Guerra, Max Bailey, Xavier Ellis, Michael Osborne
Summary: If the pre-season is anything to go by, Hawthorn will win most games comfortably this year. The Hawks won their three practice matches by an average margin of 102 points. Wow. Just Wow. Talismanic forward Lance Franklin’s defection is a big loss, despite what the Hawks have been saying in the media. But even though Franklin is gone, a forward line with Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli and Luke Breust is still going to be hard to contain.
Hawthorn’s skills should cut through most sides, but Fremantle’s pressure game might get them in the finals. But if the Dockers are not at 100%, the Hawks can beat them. They’ve got last year’s Premiership medals to prove it.
Predicted finish: 16th
Last season: 17th
Key Ins: Bernie Vince, Dom Tyson, Viv Michie
Key Outs: Colin Sylvia, Aaron Davey, David Rodan
Summary: There is a lot of hype around Melbourne this pre-season, specifically around new coach Paul Roos. I don’t buy into this hype. At least not for this season. Melbourne still have a very poor list, particularly in the midfield and this will take a couple of years to fix. Roos has identified the midfield as a problem, trading heavily in the off-season to bring in ball winner Bernie Vince from Adelaide, along with former number 3 draft pick Dom Tyson from GWS. If key forwards Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes can get fit and stay fit, then the Demons scoring power will greatly increase.
Melbourne might not ascend the ladder significantly this season, but at least they should be much more competitive in their matches.
Predicted finish: 4th
Last season: 10th
Key Ins: Nick Dal Santo, Robin Nahas
Summary: Forget about breaking back into the top 8, Brad Scott is priming his group for an assault on the top 4. North Melbourne were the second best clearance team last year and added the outside polish of Nick Dal Santo in the trade period to complement the inside grunt of unsung players like Ben Cunnington, while skipper Andrew Swallow will return mid-season after nearly 12 months out with an Achilles injury. I am also very excited about North Melbourne’s attack, with youngster Aaron Black my tip to be this year’s big break-out player. Black has all the attributes required to be a goal kicking machine and I think he will combine with fellow tall Drew Petrie to join a lethal double act, ably supported by dangerous small forwards Brent Harvey, Lindsay Thomas and Robin Nahas.
Predicted finish: 6th
Last season: 5th
Key Ins: Jared Polec, Matt White
Key Outs: Brett Ebert, Matt Thomas
Summary: Port Adelaide were last season’s surprise packets, storming into the finals and winning an Elimination Final against Collingwood at the MCG. Much of Port’s improvement came from the recruitment of fitness coach Darren Burgess who, in my opinion, made the Power the fittest team last season. Port ranked only the 11th best team during the first three quarters last year, but had the 2nd best last quarter record.
Ken Hinkley’s squad is young and, barring major injuries, their natural progression should ensure the Power keep the surprises coming. I expect them to play finals again.
Predicted finish: 8th
Last season: 7th
Key Ins: Shaun Hampson
Key Outs: Robin Nahas, Luke McGuane
Summary: Richmond are the competition’s enigma, capable of transitioning from the sublime to the ugly in the blink of an eye. Coach Damien Hardwick will be looking for consistency from his troops this year and I think that consistency needs to start at the back. Richmond’s defence must get better at holding firm when the midfield is being overrun. Too many times last season the Tigers backline leaked quick goals, most notably in the second half of the Elimination Final against Carlton. I am tipping a big year for full forward Jack Riewoldt, who should receive plentiful supply from midfield stars Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio and Dustin Martin.
If the Tigers tighten up their backline they could push for top 4, but on current evidence squeezing into the top 8 seems more likely.
Predicted finish: 18th
Last season: 16th
Key Ins: Billy Longer, Shane Savage
Key Outs: Ben McEvoy, Nick Dal Santo, Stephen Milne, Jason Blake, Justin Koschitzke
Summary: The Saints have lots of kids coming through the ranks, but I am unconvinced that many of them are going to develop into more than serviceable players. Jack Steven is a ripper in the midfield, although a pre-season foot injury will keep him out for the first six weeks. Other than Steven, the Saints best players are veterans Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna.
Alan Richardson replaced Scott Watters as coach in the off-season and will be desperately hoping that a few of his youngsters show some rapid improvement, otherwise the Saints look a long way off returning to the finals.
Predicted finish: 3rd
Last season: 4th
Key Ins: Lance Franklin
Key Outs: Shane Mumford, Jude Bolton, Jesse White, Andrejs Everitt, Jed Lamb
Summary: The addition of Lance Franklin means Sydney now have a fearsome forward line to match their reliable midfield and stingy defence. The loss of Shane Mumford will expose Mike Pyke a bit in the ruck, but other than that the Swans line-up looks very, very good. The return from injury of senior players Alex Johnson, Gary Rohan and Rhyce Shaw should offset the retirement of Jude Bolton and the trades of Mumford, Jesse White, Andrejs Everitt and Jed Lamb.
The Swans are good enough to win the Premiership but so are a few other teams, and I think Hawthorn and Fremantle might just pip Sydney in the finals.
Predicted finish: 7th
Last season: 13th
Key Ins: Elliot Yeo, Xavier Ellis
Key Outs: Daniel Kerr, Andrew Embley, Mark Nicoski, Adam Selwood
Summary: Injuries cruelled West Coast’s 2013 campaign and the club limped through to a 13th placed finish, while long-term coach John Worsfold resigned from the post he had held since 2002. The Eagles’ pre-season form this year could not have been better, defeating Fremantle twice and Sydney once, and pleasingly the club enters the season with only Beau Waters on the injury list.
New coach Adam Simpson is an unknown, but the Eagles tick most other boxes and should return to finals action in 2014. If exciting ruckman Nic Naitanui stays fit, they will definitely play finals.
Predicted finish: 12th
Last season: 15th
Key Ins: Stewart Crameri
Key Ous: Daniel Cross
Summary: Of the non-franchise teams struggling at the bottom of the ladder in the past few years, the Western Bulldogs have arguably had the most success in the national draft. Shrewd selections over the past three seasons have netted the Doggies Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae, Jake Stringer and Clay Smith, with all those young men likely to be extremely good 200 game players for the club. Marcus Bontempelli was picked up in last year’s draft and may be another to add to that list.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs make the top 8 this year, but even if they don’t play finals this season, Brendan McCartney’s men still have an exciting 5-6 years ahead.