The following is a team-by-team preview with futures tips for the 2019 AFL season.
After a strong preseason and a run of good luck with injuries, the Crows look poised to contend again in 2019. They’re a significantly better team than last season would suggest, and I expect they’ll prove that once the season gets underway.
Brad Crouch looks fit, and if he stays that way he’ll be an exceptional boost to their midfield. Mitch McGovern is gone, but they’ve got an array of tall options to cover him; he’s the type of third tall that’s a luxury rather than a necessity anyway, and the form of Alex Keath and Tom Doedee, who will partner with Daniel Talia, mean he won’t be needed in defence, and with Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins and Tom Lynch still patrolling the forward line, the Crows will be content with their key position stocks without McGovern.
Chayce Jones looks a good prospect as a dangerous tackling small forward from his JLT performances, and the Crows have also added forwards Tyson Stengle and Shane McAdam who will both be fighting for a senior berth in their forward line; the competition for spots should ensure the Crows once again have one of the best attacks in the game.
They’ve also been given a soft draw this year, doubling up against any of last year’s top six teams just once, and playing St Kilda and Gold Coast twice. The Crows are good enough to make the most of that and push for a position in the upper echelon of the ladder—if the Crouch brothers escape serious injury, along with most of their other senior players, they should be amongst the top four in 2019.
Predicted Ladder Position: 5th
The Lions are another team expected to rise up the ladder this year after finishing 15th with just five wins in 2018. They’re a team full of young talent, and some of those youngsters should now be ready to take the next step and establish themselves as great players. They’ve also got a strong core of experienced players, and while they’ve lost ex-captain Dayne Beams, the addition of Lachie Neale from Fremantle should more or less nullify that. Their other, more inexpensive additions, Jarryd Lyons and Lincoln McCarthy, have both shown some positive signs in the preseason and look capable of cementing a spot in the Lions’ best 22. If they can get Marcus Adams injury-free he’ll prove to be another astute pick-up; he’s shown he can be a dominant intercepting backman and would allow Harris Andrews to move forward, giving the Lions another dangerous option in what is already a flexible and unpredictable forward line.
Their fixture is favourable, as you would expect after a 15th place finish; the only top six team from last year they play twice is Hawthorn, and they seem to have the edge over the Hawks at present. I’m not sure the Lions will take the leap into the top eight, but that’s what they should be pushing for: at least ten wins, potentially a few more to give them some hope of playing finals.
Predicted Ladder Position: 12th
Despite the shattering loss of Sam Docherty to another preseason knee injury, the Blues head into the new season with renewed optimism. Superstar Patrick Cripps looks primed to dominate in the midfield, as does Charlie Curnow up forward, while talented young players like Sam Petrevski-Seton, Paddy Dow, Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay and David Cunningham should only get better. Add Sam Walsh to the mix, who already looks like making a significant impact through the midfield, and the Blues have hope for the future.
It may not be this year that they start winning consistently, but they should become a more competitive unit at the very least. I expect they’ll still finish in the bottom four, but they’d be looking to build their two wins from last year up to five or six in 2019. Their fixture probably isn’t as easy as it should be having finished in last place, but a bit of luck on the injury front and there’s no reason they can’t avoid another wooden spoon.
Predicted Ladder Position: 17th
The Pies were as close as it gets to a premiership in 2018 but fell agonisingly short after a magical piece of play from the Eagles handed the Pies a five point grand final defeat. It’s tough to back up after getting so close but missing out, however the Pies should be confident they can give themselves another chance this year; they got there last year despite dealing with a significant injury toll, and they’ve improved their already strong midfield with the addition of Dayne Beams. Jamie Elliott has managed to take part in the preseason games, as has important swingman Darcy Moore.
They won’t have their best team on the field to start the season, but by round 3 or 4 they should have Taylor Adams, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Jordan De Goey all back playing at full fitness. They’ve got one of the toughest draws this year, but the Pies will thrive on that—I expect Collingwood to kick on from last year and challenge for the premiership again. With such a strong midfield and one of the best ruckman in the league, they should be able to take advantage of the new rules and make it difficult for opposition teams to stop them from dominating centre clearances.
Predicted Ladder Position: 4th
The Bombers added to their big trade haul from 2017 by securing Dylan Shiel in last year’s trade period. While Devon Smith won the best and fairest and Adam Saad and Jake Stringer were solid additions, it didn’t translate to on field success for the Bombers. They’ll be hoping Shiel is the final piece of the puzzle—along with the return of key forward Joe Daniher of course—and that 2019 is the year they return to the finals. Personally, I’m not sure they’re there yet. While Shiel is a great player with some genuine explosiveness, the Essendon midfield still looks tenuous; they still lack a contested ball beast to get the footy out to their running players. Preseason games mean nothing in terms of results, but nevertheless it’s worrying for the Bombers that they were exposed in the midfield by both the Blues and the Cats.
A tough fixture means the Bombers will need to make the most of their opportunities if they’re to progress from last year’s 11th finish, but I’m not sure they’ve addressed their weaknesses enough to take the leap into September action.
Predicted Ladder Position: 9th
The Dockers finally got their man in last year’s trade period, with Jesse Hogan making his way back home to spearhead a new-look Fremantle forward line. He’ll be joined by ex-GWS ruck/forward Rory Lobb; together they’ll go a long way towards transforming the Fremantle forward line into a more potent attack. The Dockers lost midfield star Lachie Neale, but they’ll be hoping to cover his loss with more midfield time from youngsters Andrew Brayshaw and Connor Blakely, as well as Michael Walters and the Hill brothers. If those types can ably support an injury-free Nat Fyfe, the Dockers will prove a tough opponent this year.
While they had issues all over the ground in 2018, their main issue was a lack of a key target up forward, and they’ve addressed that. Whether that gels quickly enough for them to improve considerably this year remains to be seen, but I like the way they’ve gone about it, and I think they’ll give their opposition more to worry about now they’ve got a stronger forward structure. They’re probably set for another year of missing out on finals footy, but they should be pushing towards that for next year and beyond.
Predicted Ladder Position: 14th
The Cats would have been pleased with their second preseason match when they took on the Bombers at home; strong performances from recruits Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan would have been pleasing, while Esava Ratugolea showed he has the potential to form a dangerous partnership with fellow key forward Tom Hawkins, and top pick Jordan Clark is a smooth mover with obvious talent. So while last season ended in disappointment and threw serious doubt over Geelong’s immediate future, some of those fears may have been quelled already.
That’s not to say Geelong don’t still have issues; they do, and those players aren’t necessarily going to fix them. There are no guarantees Rohan performs at a consistent level, Dahlhaus is a midfielder rather than a forward and will struggle if asked to play predominately forward, and Ratugolea and Clark are both still young, raw talents. Still, things are looking positive, and their midfield will be as strong as ever with Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood showing no signs of slowing down, and Tim Kelly picking up where he left off. It’s that next tier of players that has been an issue for Geelong—and will likely continue to be—but if they can get some consistency out of their recruits and talented draftees then the Cats will be thereabouts yet again.
Predicted Ladder Position: 7th
Despite losing their co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May in the one off-season along with a host of other players, the Suns are optimistic about their chances for this season and into the future. I’m not sure I’m with them on that, and the recent season-ending ACL injury to Rory Thompson doesn’t help, but it’s nice to see some positivity coming out of the club despite the tough times. They’ve formed a leadership group from players that won’t leave the club like previous leaders have, and all going well, that should lead to a stronger culture at the club. They’re bullish on top draftees Izak Rankine, Jack Lukosius and Ben King; all three look like great talents, the challenge now is to develop them and keep them at the club.
The Suns won’t have to deal with the interruptions the Commonwealth Games dealt them last year, and they’re not travelling to Shanghai this year, so the fixture is already much easier for them to cope with. They face the Blues twice, and even if they struggle to challenge most other teams in the competition, they’ll back themselves to get the points over Carlton. Either way, it’s another development year for the Gold Coast, but they can’t afford to waste it. They need to be competitive and show they have a future, while getting games into the kids. That’s easier said than done, but they have no other choice.
Predicted Ladder Position: 18th
The Giants are a tough team to gauge at this time of year. They continually lose established stars—this year they’ll need to adjust to life without Dylan Shiel, Tom Scully, and Rory Lobb—but they’ve got so much young talent waiting for an opportunity that it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll regress. Their first choice midfield is still star-studded—Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield and Callan Ward—they’ve got dangerous small and tall fowards in the front half, as well as a good balance between shut-down and attacking defenders. In other words, they’re a very good team, good enough to challenge for a premiership, but they’ve fallen short in each of the past three seasons. Will this one be any different? The main weakness I can see in the GWS team is the ruck division; the returning Shane Mumford paired with Dawson Simpson doesn’t exactly scream versatility. Both are slow, strong ruckman who like to out-body their opponent; I’m not sure the new rules will suit GWS with those two rucking the centre clearances. Regardless, if they can halve the ruck contests the Giants’ midfield is good enough to make up for it.
They’ve had some tough luck with injury in the past, but a clean run at it should see them make the top four; without that luck, I’d still expect the Giants to play finals again in 2019.
Predicted Ladder Position: 6th
The Hawks were dealt a mighty blow halfway through the preseason when reigning Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell broke his tibia and fibula in a training mishap. Mitchell single-handedly carried the Hawks through portions of 2018, so his loss will be acutely felt. The good news is that bargain-priced recruit Tom Scully is already taking part in match simulation so perhaps isn’t as far off as first thought, and fellow recruit Chad Wingard, while currently injured, is more than capable playing as a midfielder even if the Hawks recruited him as a forward.
Still, any team who has their best player taken out for the entire season will find it hard to replace him, especially a team like Hawthorn who were so reliant on Mitchell last season. To make matters worse, they’ve been handed the second-hardest draw according to Champion Data, so don’t expect them to back up their 2018 result of a top four finish. Their straight-sets finals exit was probably more indicative of where they’re at anyway, and if they manage to scrape into the top eight again I think they’ll be relatively pleased, all things considered; I expect they might just miss out.
Predicted Ladder Position: 10th
Their awful performance in the preliminary final can make it easy to forget just how successful 2018 was for the Demons, but it shouldn’t; it was the season Melbourne fans have waited years for, and provided there was no serious psychological damage done in their finals exit, there’s no reason they can’t take it further this year. They did well in the trade period; losing Jesse Hogan doesn’t hurt so much when an experienced gun defender comes in return, and with plenty of other forward options it may just be a blessing for them. Kade Kolodjashnij and Braydon Preuss could also prove to be astute pick-ups; both have proved themselves capable at the highest level and at worst will only add to Melbourne’s depth.
Jack Viney seems ready to play a full season, which would boost the Demons enormously and ensure their midfield is one of the most dominant in the competition, especially if Max Gawn can take advantage of the new ruck rules. The preseason hasn’t been without it’s hiccups with a few injuries coming from their JLT games, though nothing too serious that will disrupt their season.
Melbourne are entering their prime as a team: their young guns are established, and their experienced players such as Nathan Jones, Tom McDonald and Max Gawn are at the peak of their powers. A sweet spot between youth and experience is generally needed to win a premiership, and I expect they’ll make the most of that and push for a top four finish.
Predicted Ladder Position: 2nd
The Kangaroos are in an interesting situation, somewhat similar to Geelong; they’re good enough to push for finals, but they don’t quite have the talent required to seriously challenge for the premiership. They’ve topped up with experienced players, and all four of their acquired players—Aaron Hall, Jasper Pittard, Jared Polec, and Dom Tyson—should have an impact, but it’s unlikely they will propel the Kangaroos into becoming one of the best teams in the competition.
They’re in for a tough start to the season, with up to five of their six first choice defenders potentially missing round 1. They’ve also been dealt one of this year’s toughest draws, with double up games against Hawthorn, Geelong, Port Adelaide, Essendon and Brisbane—not necessarily the very best of teams, but there’s not likely to be an easy win amongst those clubs.
The Kangaroos are at the stage where they need to consider their future; is it time to keep topping up or attack the draft and bring in youth? We’ll find out whether their approach in last year’s off-season was the right one, but personally I’m not expecting their finish in 2018 to be considerably improved upon this season.
Predicted Ladder Position: 11th
Port Adelaide took the opposite approach to North Melbourne in last year’s trade period, deciding to trade out experienced players Chad Wingard, Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard and Jack Hombsch. It was a fascinating move by the Power; Wingard is 25, Polec is 26, so there’s plenty of football left in them. To trade out gun players at that age—entering their prime— is generally not a wise list management approach, but they were clearly trying to regenerate what has become a stagnant club, and they picked up some young talent in the process.
If Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma and Ryan Burton develop into great players it’ll look like a masterstroke, but if not—and Wingard dominates for Hawthorn for six or seven years—they might deeply regret their decision, but that’s just the beauty of list management. At present the Power would be fairly happy with how things are playing out; Butters has been super impressive in his JLT performances, while Rozee has done some special things without getting a heap of the ball. Those two will have more of an impact in the future, but recruit Scott Lycett should help immediately, while Tom Rockliff looks to have recovered from a shoulder problem carried through much of 2018; his JLT performances have hinted at his best form from his Brisbane days. So while they’ve lost some of their best players, things could be looking up for Port, especially once Ollie Wines, Charlie Dixon, and Hamish Hartlett are back into the team. They might be in for a slow start to the season until then, and I doubt they’ll play finals in 2019 regardless, but there’s still some cause for optimism at Alberton.
Predicted Ladder Position: 13th
The Tigers were the best team for most of last season, but weren’t able to cope with a rampaging Collingwood team on preliminary final night. That would have hurt, but fortunately for the Tigers they’ve got every chance to redeem themselves this year; their best players are still in their prime, and they’ve picked up one of the best forwards in the game in Tom Lynch. The big question is how Lynch will fit into a forward line that functioned beautifully with fast, dynamic small forwards feeding off the crumbs provided by Jack Riewoldt. Can Lynch and Riewoldt work together in a way that benefits the team? And can the small forwards continue to flourish in a different structure, one where they have less space to work in?
It’ll take time, but I’m sure the Tigers will make the acquisition of Lynch work in their favour. He’s an absolute star, and while it may mean Riewoldt doesn’t kick as many goals, it should be a net benefit the team.
Other than Lynch, who is working towards an early season debut for his new club, the only other notable injury concerns are Josh Caddy and Shaun Grigg, both of whom should return in the early parts of the season. A clean medical bill and a fairly generous fixture point to the Tigers having another strong season, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they make amends for last year by winning the flag in 2019.
Predicted Ladder Position: 1st
The Saints will be desperate to improve on their 2018 season—it will be the end of Alan Richardson’s coaching career if they don’t—but they’ve been handed some early bad luck with Jake Carlisle likely to miss the season and Jack Steven out indefinitely. Star recruit Dan Hannebery is also set to miss the first month of the season, while their first pick at the draft, Max King, won’t be in contention for selection until midway through the season. Nevertheless, the Saints have shown some encouraging signs in their JLT performances, winning over the Kangaroos and then the Bulldogs. Their intensity has been better than it was for most of last year, and some of their young players have been impressive. Paddy McCartin looks like he’s ready to spearhead the forward line, so long as he can avoid any further concussion issues.
I don’t expect the Saints to suddenly jump back into finals contention, but I do think they’ll be a much more competitive side than last year; being granted the easiest fixture according to Champion Data should see them aiming to push above their 16th place finish from 2018.
Predicted Ladder Position: 15th
The Swans would have been embarrassed by their weak finals performance against the Giants last year, as well as their inexplicable inability to perform at the SCG for the majority of the season. If it carries over into this year it’s a serious problem, but perhaps it was just an aberration; we’ll know more when they host the Crows in round 2. Overall they’re looking good on the injury front, although Lance Franklin is likely to miss the start of the season, as is Sam Naismith, Nick Smith, and Dan Menzel.
Highly rated academy draftee Nick Blakey looks likely to come straight into the round 1 team, as does ex-Kangaroo Ryan Clarke, who found plenty of the ball in Sydney’s JLT win over the Suns. Their fixture is relatively kind: there’s not too much travel required, and they play three of their first five games at Marvel Stadium where they generally play some good football.
Dan Hannebery’s loss shouldn’t affect them too much; he hasn’t performed at his normal standard for a year or two now, and Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills are ready to step up and become full time midfielders. Whether they’re ready to take them back into premiership contention is another discussion, but you’d expect to see the Swans thereabouts come the final stages of the season.
Predicted Ladder Position: 8th
After winning a shock flag in 2018, the Eagles did well to keep their list together, retaining Jeremy McGovern and Andrew Gaff despite big offers from rival clubs. The only significant change during the trade period was losing Scott Lycett and replacing him with ex-Saint Tom Hickey, while Mark LeCras retired and left the game on the highest of highs. So can the Eagles defend their title? There’s no obvious reason as to why not, in fact, there are good reasons they can: they did it without Nic Naitanui—who should be able to return late in the season—and Andrew Gaff, who will be available for selection from round 3. The only other players who are set to miss the start of the year are Josh Kennedy and Jamie Cripps; both important players, but overall their injury list is in fairly good shape for this time of year.
They’ve got a tough draw—to be expected after winning the flag—with double-up contests against Collingwood, Melbourne and Adelaide. As always, the Eagles will be difficult to beat in Perth, so you’d expect they’ll win enough games to ensure a top eight finish. If they can do enough to finish top two and snag another home final with a double chance, they’re likely to playing on the last day in September yet again.
Predicted Ladder Position: 3rd
The Dogs have had two disappointing seasons in a row since their 2016 premiership triumph, and it’s hard to see anything changing much this year. They’ve got a great midfield, but they’re still relying on young key position players who aren’t quite ready. A dysfunctional forward line doesn’t look to have improved, and while Josh Schache shows promise, he’s not going to kick enough goals to propel them into finals contention. Tim English is another young player who has a big career in front of him, but it will take another season or two in the gym before he’s able to dominate in the ruck.
Tom Boyd will be out until at least midway through the season, while there’s still no timeframe on the return of fan-favourite Liam Picken; Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen should be ready to return in round 2 or 3. Sam Lloyd looks to be a good pickup as the Dogs desperately need anyone who can kick a goal, and he can definitely do that. They do have an easy draw with minimal travel and plenty of games under the roof at Marvel Stadium where they play their best footy, but you’d suggest another disappointing season awaits the Bulldogs in 2019.
Predicted Ladder Position: 16th
Premier: Richmond at 5.00 (Sportsbet)
Wooden Spoon: Gold Coast at 1.50 (bet365)
Brownlow: Patrick Cripps at 13.50 (bet365)