Five key questions ahead of the 2012 AFL season
Hawthorn's coach Alastair Clarkson (Slattery Images)
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The 2012 AFL Premiership season is finally upon us. After four weeks of largely dull and uneventful practice matches, the AFL season proper kicks off this Saturday night when the code’s newest franchise, the GWS Giants, take on cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans.
With the fluff and bubble of the NAB Cup swiftly disappearing from memory, a number of key questions look set to loom large this season. Let’s ponder a few.
Can Hawthorn live up to the hype?
After missing out on a Grand Final berth by less than a kick last season, the Hawks are seemingly everyone’s tip to go a couple of steps better this year and deliver a Premiership cup to sit alongside the silverware the club won in 2008.
With a playing list full of stars, the premiership window is wide open for the Hawks.
Only time will tell if the disappointment of coming so close to a spot in the Grand Final will be enough to spur the playing group onto bigger things this year, but the Hawks look to be the team to beat in 2012.
Will any of the up-and-coming Victorian sides take the next step?
North Melbourne, Richmond and Melbourne have all been keen to trumpet their upward trajectories heading into this season.
None of these clubs have played finals in any of the past three seasons, and their supporters will be hoping that 2012 is the year their side takes the next step and makes it to September.
Melbourne has former Collingwood assistant coach Mark Neeld at the helm, who will need to inject some steely resolve into the flaky Demons outfit.
Richmond has improved its win-loss record in each of the past three years under Damien Hardwick, and the faithful at Punt Road feel that this could be the year the Tigers play finals football for the first time since 2001.
North Melbourne has finished ninth the previous two seasons, and the Kangaroos need to make the finals this year for Brad Scott’s tenure as coach to be deemed a success.
Will Collingwood’s 2011 Grand Final defeat shatter or inspire them?
Collingwood lost only three matches last season, all of them to Geelong. Just how the Magpies respond this year under new coach and favourite son Nathan Buckley will be one of the biggest storylines of the season.
The Magpies list is full of stars, but the change of coach could unsettle the side as it adapts to the ideas and coaching philosophies of a new coach.
Last year Chris Scott became the first VFL/AFL coach since Alan Joyce in 1988 to coach a club to a Premiership in his first year.
Buckley will be hoping that he can replicate Scott’s feat, and achieve back-to-back flags for first year coaches this year in his first season in charge at the Magpies.
Is Adelaide’s pre-season form the real deal?
The standout side from the pre-season competition has been the Adelaide Crows. Under new coach Brenton Sanderson, Adelaide won the NAB Cup and impressed many with a much more attacking style of play.
The Crows are a talented team on paper, and under Sanderson are poised to be the big improver this year.
If the forward-line pairing of Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker play near their best, the Crows look to be September bound.
Will GWS win a match?
The competition’s newest franchise surprised many by upsetting the Gold Coast Suns in a pre-season trial match, and the club was also competitive in its round-robin matches against Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs, albeit against second string teams from both these clubs.
The Giants best hope of securing a win in season 2012 will come from its matches against fellow cellar-dwellers the Suns and Brisbane.
Pencil in rounds 7, 8 and 20 as possibilities for the fledgling side to notch up its first win.
2. West Coast
10. St Kilda
11. North Melbourne
12. Western Bulldogs
15. Port Adelaide
16. Gold Coast
Runner-up: West Coast
Brownlow Medal: Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)
Coleman Medal: Lance Franklin (Hawthorn)
Rising Star: Stephen Coniglio (GWS)
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