Footy is back! The 2011 AFL season kicks off with what has become the traditional season opener between Carlton and Richmond on Thursday night. As our attention turns to the winter football codes, it is time to make some predictions for what lies ahead in AFL season 2011.
St Kilda Saints to Slide Down the Ladder
After the Summer from hell and failing to win a premiership despite playing in three grand finals in the past two years, surely St Kilda are due for a let down this year.
The famed “Saints bubble” has failed to deliver the side premiership glory, and I feel that this year will see the Saints slide out of the top four teams. The Saints best six players are as good as any other side’s in the competition, but they need more support from the next tier of players to prevent a fall down the ladder.
I feel that the Saints premiership window may have closed on this group of players.
One Coaching Favourite Son to be Sacked
The fascination of AFL clubs with appointing favourite sons as coaches continues this year, with Essendon’s James Hird joining Brett Ratten, Michael Voss, Matthew Primus and John Worsfold in coaching the side he played for.
Although Hird and Primus will be safe in their first full year as senior coach, I expect one of Worsfold, Ratten or Voss to part ways with their club mid-season.
No Change to Top Eight
History tells us that several sides will fall out of the top eight from one season to the next, but I feel this season the top eight teams will be the same eight which contested the finals series last year.
In the past five years there have been three changes on average to the final eight when compared with the previous year, but I can’t see which of the bottom eight sides from last year are strong enough to challenge the top eight.
North Melbourne finished ninth in 2010, but that result was better than many expected given the club’s playing list. Port Adelaide finished tenth, but seem a long way from being finals bound.
Adelaide finished eleventh last season after starting the year with six consecutive losses, and appear the side most likely to crack into the top eight this year from those that finished outside the finals last season.
Melbourne, Richmond, West Coast and Essendon don’t appear to have the talent to challenge any of last year’s finalists, although golden boy Hird may be able to just sneak the Bombers into eighth spot with a bit of luck.
I can’t see it happening though, and feel that this year’s top eight will be the same teams as last season.
Gold Coast Suns to finish the season without the Wooden Spoon
The new franchise on the Gold Coast will surprise a few sides this year, and will finish the season well clear of the bottom of the ladder.
The last new side to enter the league, Port Adelaide in 1997, finished 9th in its inaugural season, winning ten matches. Two years before that, Fremantle won eight matches and finished 13th in its first season in the AFL.
It is worth bearing in mind that neither of these sides had the concessions that the Gold Coast side has had.
Yes, there will be a few floggings along the way, but the Suns will win enough matches to stay away from the wooden spoon. I expect the Suns to notch up between six and nine wins this season.
Geelong to Silence the Doubters
With key figures Gary Ablett and Mark Thompson leaving Geelong, many expect the Cats to start to drift down the ladder. Thompson’s heart clearly wasn’t in it last season, and new coach Chris Scott will be taking control of a club filled with talent.
The Cats have quality on every line, and plenty of stars in Paul Chapman, Stevie Johnson, Joel Selwood and Jimmy Bartel. I expect the Cats to show their doubters that last year was just a hiccup in what will remain a strong team for another couple of years at least.
Hawthorn to win the Premiership
How can a side as jam packed with talent as the Hawks not seriously challenge for the flag? The side is brimming with talent, the majority of which should be entering their most productive years over the next few seasons.
Lance Franklin is a superstar, and the most entertaining player in the competition. Newly appointed Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge is all class, ex-Captain Sam Mitchell can find his own ball like few others, and Cyril Rioli seems destined for more time in the midfield this year to showcase his exquisite skills.
Add to this mix Shaun Burgoyne and Jarryd Roughead, and the Hawks are capable of knocking anyone off on their day.
I expect the Hawks to deliver on their promise after two disappointing years following their 2008 premiership.
4. Western Bulldogs
6. St Kilda
Premiers – Hawthorn
Runners Up – Collingwood
Wooden Spoon – Brisbane Lions
Brownlow Medal – Chris Judd (Carlton)
Coleman Medal – Lance Franklin (Hawthorn)
Rising Star Winner – David Swallow (Gold Coast)
Big Improver – Hawthorn
Big Slider – St Kilda
Big Question Mark – Adelaide. The Crows have a hint of the Bombers 1993 about them. The Crows are a young and talented list with plenty of self belief. This season will show whether 2010 just an aberration, or a sign that the club needs to go back to the drawing board and modify its game and playing list more thoroughly.
Think you know more than The Roar’s expert columnists? Leave your predictions for AFL season 2011 below.
Follow Michael Filosi on twitter @michaelfilosi