THE GIANTS have been arriving for quite some time now, but COLIN DALE expects them to deliver in September this year:
TRYING TO IGNORE last year’s ladder is almost impossible. Footy logic always seems to come up with the same top, middle and bottom clubs, when looking at the season ahead. But with the AFL’s socialism working a treat, it is folly to go with the status quo. So, with on average 2.5 team changes in the top eight over the past four seasons, I’m going to go with the trend and shuffle three sides up and down the ladder. Which ones? That’s the difficult part. Here goes:
- GWS (4th after Round 23 in 2017): Simply too much talent not to be in the top four and after two years of preliminary final losses, this group must be ready to take the step to the pinnacle.
- ADELAIDE (1st, GF loser): Tex Walker will have some experience when he steps up again for the losing skipper’s speech on GF day – let’s hope he is more gracious this time around! The Crows were the best team by far last year and should be again. They outscored the rest of the comp by over 42 goals and even some drop off should see them right at, but not quite, at the top.
- SYDNEY (6): Wouldn’t it be nice to leave the Swans out of our top eight? But you bet against the perennial finalists at your peril, just like those who backed against them at 0-6 last year. There’s no way they’ll start like that again and they are too consistent not to be right in it come September.
- PORT ADELAIDE (5): The fallout from their shock elimination final loss to West Coast will hang over Alberton most of the season – but will it be enough to spur them to greater deeds? With ins the like of Jack Trengove, Tom Rockcliff, Jack Watts, Steven Motlop and Lindsay Thomas, they’ve surely got to be serious contenders. If not, then it’s bye bye Ken Hinkley.
- MELBOURNE (9): It’s time. Surely this is the year the Dees push into the finals and have a decent crack. They choked late last year, but with the likes of Jake Lever coming in and a full return to fitness of big Maxie Gawn and Jesse Hogan having clear air, the seeds planted by Paul Roos five seasons ago are about to come to fruition.
- WEST COAST (8): While many expect a big fall this season, I can’t see it with the Eagles. Yes, they’ve had some retirements and yes, they’ve disappointed the past two seasons, despite playing finals. But they still have a list with guns: McGovern, Shuey and Yeo. Kennedy is clearly the best full forward in the league. If big Nic-Nat comes back anywhere close to form, he’ll clearly be the best ruckman in the land. And they have the greatest home advantage with what will be an even larger horde of parochial fans influencing the umpires at their new stadium!
- HAWTHORN (12): The rest of the competition was gloriously grave dancing early last season after the Hawks were being repeatedly belted and sitting 17th. But Clarkson refused to read the obituaries, resurrected his tired lot with young blood and they ended up knocking on the doors of the finals. With Cyril Rioli and James Frawley returning from injury and speedy recruit Jarman Impey coming into the side, they’ll probably go even better this year, sadly.
- GEELONG (2): The front-page pic of a smiling Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett this month sent shudders through most opposition fans. Has there ever been a more talented midfield trio in one side? THE return is clearly the story of the off season and an exciting one at that. I still can’t work out how the Cats ended up second after the home and home season last year. They’re not that good and still won’t be, despite the terrific trio.
- RICHMOND (3rd, Premier): It’s easy to see the Tiges dominate 2018 and run away with back to back flags. It is also just as easy to see the Tigers of old – and a previously infamous place on the ladder – recurring. They have form: slipping from 5th to 13th in 2016. Hangover? Let’s hope their two super-jets Dustin Martin and Alex Rance stay fit on the park and the rest have had plenty of Beroccas over the off-season.
- ST KILDA (11): The Saints disappointed last year, many expecting them to be big improvers and playing finals. The post Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna era will probably disappoint again unless there is a marked improvement from the likes of Membrey, Sinclair, Webster, Billings and co.
- BRISBANE LIONS (18): Some teams must jump up from the cellar bunch – and why not the Lions? They looked much more promising in the second half of last year, in Chris Fagan’s first year in charge, have a good fixture and seem to have plenty of young talent ready to blossom. While not ready to flower, Luke Hodge can only assist with a potential growth spurt.
- ESSENDON (7): They were the hardest team to predict coming into the 2017 season, and it’s the same again this year. With three big recruits and a maturing list, it would be easy to have the Bombers in serious contention. Yes, they’re exciting going forward, but leak like a sieve when the opposition have the ball – and that’s far too often for my liking. Their rucking is suspect, midfield light on and they have one of the worst clearance rates in the comp. This will prove too much for a defence – that apart from Michael Hurley – looks to lack class.
- CARLTON (16): Forget whether the Blues can make the finals. Can they kick 100 points at least once this year? That is the only question worth asking. Brendon Bolton is in the middle of one of the biggest rebuilds in the club’s history. While there’s plenty of promise with the new generation and the return of a true gun in Patrick Cripps will assist, they’ve got to ditch the slow possession game and start kicking goals to really move up the ladder.
- FREMANTLE (14): Ross Lyon is not renowned for being a master of the total rebuild – and this reincarnation of the team that lost the GF only three seasons ago is proof of that. From GF, to 16th and 14th last year. They’re going nowhere fast.
- WESTERN BULLDOGS (10): Clearly the Beroccas didn’t make it to the Western Oval last year. But now, with clear heads, they have awoken from their 2016 dream and will realise they are a bunch of battlers, and will probably play like that, despite having the 2018 Brownlow Medallist amongst them.
- COLLINGWOOD (13): Seeing as I’m following trends, there has been only a one-way trend for the Magpies since 2010. The re-appointment of Nathan Buckley (good bloke but can’t coach) will continue that.
- GOLD COAST (17): The youngest list in the AFL. No home games until round 11. No Gary Ablett. For new coach Stuart Dew: no hope.
- NORTH MELBOURNE (15): Nearly won the spoon last year. Will do so this year. The Roos list has been turned on its head since 2016 and it’s hard to kick goals when you are upside down. They’ve gone from second oldest team in 2016 to the third youngest. But where’s the talent?
BROWNLOW MEDAL: Marcus Bontempelli.
Author: Colin Dale
Melbourne-born sports nut, Colin “Bomber” Dale began his career in journalism with The Herald as copy boy in 1980. Stints with the Sunday Press and The Sun followed along with a year with NTV Channel 8 in Darwin. Chasing his dream to work in Fleet Street and follow all sports and drink beer around the world, Bomber landed on his feet in the UK, founding a tour company specialising in festivals such as the Oktoberfest in Munich, Rugby Internationals and Royal Ascot. Prost!