With the ‘rookie’ cup being played out across the rural parts of our country, it is time to focus on the 2012 AFL season. Looking at how the teams are panning out, ultimately there is really two final spots up for grabs come finals.
I’m certainly no psychic and my atheist views mean that God will play no part in which team plays finals – no matter how much some of my Richmond supporter friends pray.
The 18 teams can be broken down the following way:
The top-six is almost a certainty. Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, Carlton, West Coast and (via a coin toss) Sydney to cement my top-six.
The bottom part of the ladder is almost a given. GWS at the bottom with perhaps 3-4 wins, and Gold Coast to win a game or so more. When Jonathan Brown levels out on the karma front, Brisbane might streak together a half dozen wins and as for Port? Port will be down the bottom once again.
So who does this leave and who will grab those precious two spots?
Immediately Essendon, St Kilda, North and Fremantle are your obvious choices. Keeping my feelings neutral to my team, I think Fremantle are leading the way out of these teams.
They had a shocking run with injuries in 2011. In the final couple of rounds, they had to get an AFL exemption to elevate rookies to even field a side!
There is no doubt that when Sandilands, Hayden, Barlow and Morabito are fit, Fremantle are a good side. Avoiding the Harvey issue in this article, having Lyon coaching will only help Fremantle.
Their ball movement in 2011 was appalling and disadvantaged so many key players. In particular Stephen Hill, whose amazing run off half back in 2010 became nothing but a man running a beep test up and down the ground with no reward.
Fremantle, well coached, are a dangerous side and can hurt many good sides with good periods of football. The only thing that still worries me with Fremantle is their lack of key forwards. Kepler Bradley, while great in Supercoach, doesn’t have the same impact in real life.
Essendon has a tough draw this year and can ill afford to drop winnable games like last year, losing to both Richmond and Melbourne in a month. They were lucky to draw with Carlton and this ultimately helped their ladder position.
Still, they have many players under 50 games and as an Essendon supporter I can see the tremendous potential over the next 5 years. However, I know inconsistencies will appear throughout the season. How many inconsistencies will ultimately decide the fate of Essendon?
North Melbourne, Melbourne, Richmond and the Bulldogs will be the unlucky teams. I think North, Melbourne and Richmond will have similar seasons to 2011.
They will show good signs but not quite make it over the line. I think Richmond supporters should be very excited about the look of their side and will no doubt be playing finals in the next couple of years if the great progress of Martin, Cotchin and other youngsters continue under Hardwick’s tutelage.
I think the surprise of the season will be the competitiveness of the Bulldogs. Many have written off the Bulldogs in 2012, however, being a glass half full man, I still see potential down at the kennel.
Their midfield, even without Ward still poses some key players. Boyd is a superstar and I have not met one AFL supporter who disagrees. Griffen, Cross and a well managed Cooney can cause grief for many midfield coaches.
The young Liberatore and Wallis will step up once again with a season under their belts. Even around the ground they possess great strength. Bob Murphy is all class and his ball use is fantastic down back.
Morris was a huge loss and his return will strengthen their backline. Positive signs with Lake having a relatively unhampered pre-season means their backline, along with Giansiracusa, can threaten in the middle and back of the ground.
The trouble is can Will Minson step up into the number one role in the ruck and can Jarrod Grant stamp his authority playing centre half forward? The loss of Hall and Hudson will no doubt hurt them.
I believe they won’t play finals, however I think they will be finishing well above the expected finish many have predicted.
I really don’t know about the Saints. They no doubt have some terrific players across the ground, and under new coach Scott Watters they will be rejuvenated. However, a new coach and game plan it leaves a huge question mark on their performance for 2012.
All I know is their backline has been significantly improved with the loss of Zac Dawson.
So after all this evaluation I am going to say Fremantle and Essendon to make up the final two spots for season 2012. It literally was a toss of the coin whether the Saints or Essendon will make my final two spots in the finals.
No seriously I tossed a coin!
Enjoy the 2012 season everyone!