This time of year in the winter football codes, you’d be forgiven for thinking every team was destined for premiership glory.
All you are likely to find is optimism, from all sides, all players, all team officials.
Everyone toes the party line that the pre-season has been the best the club has ever had.
This year was better than last year’s (which was then the best ever), and better than the year before that too (which, coincidentally, had been the best before last year’s epic effort.)
That every team has their best ever pre-season every year says more about the desire of AFL clubs to attract new members than it does about any team’s chance of success.
Invariably those who make the least amount of noise pre-season tend to be find themselves featuring at the pointy end of the season.
This year has been no exception.
I have barely heard a peep from Geelong, Hawthorn, Collingwood, Carlton or West Coast so far this year, but I suspect that these sides will figure most prominently in the fight for this year’s flag.
I’d go so far as to say that these five sides are a lock for the top eight, leaving thirteen other teams to fight it out for the remaining three spots.
So at the risk of bursting the pre-season bubble of a few clubs, and sprinkling a little bit of truth in among the club propaganda, not every team will be victorious this year.
Only eight of the eighteen teams will make the finals this year. Staggering, I know.
So let’s put a line through those teams that will be non-contenders, despite all the words and press releases to the contrary declaring that 2012 will be their year.
Greater Western Sydney Giants
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. The AFL’s newest franchise doesn’t have a snow-flake’s chance in hell of being around when the finals swing into gear in September.
The AFL’s newest franchise is full of young kids and the leftovers from other clubs. The Giants lack the star power that the Gold Coast Suns were able to secure in its first year, and it will be difficult for the club to attract supporters in its inaugural season while copping a belting every week.
The Giants will struggle to get within ten goals of any other side in the competition in 2012, let alone win a match.
But we all know this to be true, so let’s move on to…
Gold Coast Suns
The Suns are another side all but assured of finishing outside finals action this year. Gold Coast surprised many in securing three victories last season, but are still at least a year or two from seriously threatening the top eight.
The Suns will be looking to edge their win tally to seven or eight this season, and from there, aim for a positive win-loss ratio in season 2013.
Other clubs should take their wins against the Suns while they can, because in 2015 and beyond, the Suns are likely to be a genuine premiership contender.
Port Adelaide Power
The Power had a woeful season in 2011, and only narrowly avoided the wooden spoon with a win against Melbourne in the final round. Expect 2012 to be marginally better, but the Power are still a long way off finals contention.
Coach Matthew Primus will have considerably better coaching support this season, and the Power have a number of talented and promising youngsters committed to the club, but eight wins this season will be a very good effort.
The Lions have won just eleven matches in the previous two seasons, and there are very few signs to suggest that they will better this this year. The Lions lost ruckman Mitch Clark to Melbourne, and have replaced him with the previously retired Ben Hudson.
A fit and firing Jonathan Brown has the potential be a big upside for the Lions’ chances this year, but the club is short on player talent, and will be anchored toward the bottom of the AFL ladder for a few more seasons.
A lot of football followers are bullish about the Tigers’ prospects, but I’m not convinced this will be the year Richmond will make the eight. Damien Hardwick enters his third year as coach, and Richmond is unquestionably a team on the rise, but like a number of other sides on this list, the club may have to wait another year before pushing into the finals.
Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Brett Deledio are all very good players, but the second tier of the Richmond list will take another year or so to come on and provide the depth necessary to push Richmond into the top eight.
Maybe next year for the men from Punt Road.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi