AFL 2013 season preview: part III

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With the AFL season less than two months away, we take our third look at the contenders and pretenders for the 2013 flag, with part three of my season preview.

Parts one and two generated plenty of feedback and predictions for the upcoming year.

This week is a mix of old and new, with a look at the Gold Coast and GWS, as well as some traditional Melbourne teams.

Gold Coast Suns

The Suns did achieve operative number one last year: be better than year one. But only marginally.

They only achieved the same amount of wins as their first year, but they showed good signs of beating other teams. They also defeated a Carlton Blues side only one year removed from smashing them in their first game at the Gabba by 119 points.

However, they would’ve liked to have gone 2/2 against newcomers Greater Western Sydney. However, next year, their team is a year older and a year better, and the Gold Coast should be looking at a good collection of wins this year.

While the Gold Coast didn’t take too many particularly good recruits this year, their squad is a year older and a year more experienced. They’re constantly planning for the future, with Jeager O’Meara coming into the side this year and Jack Martin coming in next year.

In a few years, as everyone knows, the Suns will be scary. Greg Broughton isn’t what you’d call a star recruit, but he’s a good starter each week.

Like Essendon, the Gold Coast can field a good player on each position of the field each week. If they can exceed expectations, perhaps they can really move up the ladder this year.

However, like the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA, the Suns have one major fault: they’re still the Gold Coast Suns. They’re still one of the punching bags of the AFL that each team thinks they can bang up each week.

Whether or not the Suns can use that to their advantage remains to be seen. They couldn’t last year.

They have a hell of a lot of competition to deal with. Yes, they should rack up a few wins against the bottom-feeders of the league, and maybe even one or two against other teams outside the eight, but face it: they ain’t going to beat any of the top-eight teams this year, unless they let them.

This year will have one of the most tightly contested top eights in a while, and teams can’t and won’t afford losses to any of the bottom five teams. Sorry Suns fans.

Yes the Suns have made improvements, the main one being growing older! But they haven’t made enough improvements.

This team can’t rush to be as good as possible as quickly as possible through trades and free agency. Yes, they unfortunately lost the race for Kurt Tippett, but time is the virtue here.

They’re getting better each week of their existence, and they need to have patience with their players, which is one thing sports franchises are not known for having.

However, if the Gold Coast can stick out their toddler years without throwing it all in and trying to win, then they can become a yearly finals threat in the AFL. Just not this year.

Prediction: 16th

Greater Western Sydney Giants

Pretty much everything said about the Gold Coast Suns could be copy-pasted here. While the Giants did manage to draft and recruit better than the Suns, they are still a year behind in development.

But their mission will be the same as the Suns’ from last year: be better than year one. That shouldn’t be overly difficult, and I predict that they should have no problem managing anywhere around five or so wins for the season.

The Giants, like the Suns, have a good, young list with plenty of potential for surprising a few teams throughout the year.

For the second year running, the Giants have got the top crop of youngsters from the previous draft. This year drafted Lachie Whitfield at 1, Jono O’Rourke at 2 and Lachlan Plowman at 3, as well as some nice first rounders just outside the top 10.

With proper development, in a few years time, the Giants can be one of the most talent-filled teams in the league, and whether they want to burn a few for a big-name player or continue their own development, they will be in a very advantageous position.

Again, time is the virtue for this side as well. And like the Suns, they look to have realised that, and are happy to wait a few years to have their turn to dominate the league. After all, we all know Kevin Sheedy’s aim is to beat the Suns and win their first flag in five years.

Despite finishing in last place in 2012, there are not too many disadvantages to being a Giants fan. Yes, they will be losing a lot, but the future looks nothing but promising.

They have an exciting young team, a lovely stadium with easy access, and great footballing personnel. For the Giants, all they need to top their second year is two wins, which I believe will be easy for them.

While they probably won’t finish as high as the Gold Coast, that’s not cause to worry. All they need to do is work on their game, as a team and individually, continue the development of their players and they’ll get their wins.

Who knows, they may even be able to shock a few teams higher up.

The Greater Western Sydney Giants, despite popular belief, had a promising 2012. They uncovered some great players, and showed they have what it takes to build a contender in the future. All head coaches around the league, no matter where they are on the ladder, will have their eyes open on the new teams, especially the Giants. Or at least they should.

Prediction: 17th

Hawthorn Hawks

2012 ended in major disappointment for the Hawthorn Hawks with the Swans out-willing them in the grand final. But it was straight back to work for the Hawks, and they bounced back by recruiting Brian Lake and showing the rest of the league that the best team of the regular season is going to be back bigger and better.

It’s hard to see them not going all the way this year.

There’s everything to like about the Hawks in 2013, just like last year, and the few before that. They are obviously the most talented team in the league, with All-Australain-calibre players in the backline, midfield and forwardline.

Cases can be made for many of their players to be the best player in the league, most notably Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.

With champions left and right, it’s hard to see the Hawks not making it to at least the semi-finals, and even that would be a failure in their eyes.

They also have champion leaders, which is what every team needs. They have Luke Hodge running things on the field and Alistair Clarkson running things off. Really, there’s no better position to be in than the Hawthorn Hawks are in right now.

While the Hawks really have nothing to fuss about, there will be plenty on their mind from past seasons.

Certainly, when they lost in the grand final, they were questioned. Is Buddy a choker? Are the Hawks chokers?

Almost a decade ago we saw the plight of the Bombers, who won only one year (2000) out of a possible three years where they were arguably the best team in the comp.

But it is too early for all of this. Yes they may only have a few years with players such as Hodge and Mitchell left, but ultimately, they are still a superstar team.

Buddy is not a choker and he’s 25. He has proved to us time and time again that he is not.

There’s no reason to jump on the Hawks. They faced a better team on the last Saturday. And they nearly beat them. That’s a pretty good effort.

The Hawks are a superb team that would fail if they didn’t finish in at least the top two or three at the end of the year. And from then on, it’s full steam ahead to the grand final and no looking back.

Perhaps if they don’t win it this year, there may be some cause for concern. But until then, sorry Swans, the Hawks are the best team in the land.

Prediction: first

Melbourne Demons

While they did improve greatly this off-season, and props to them for that, they still have the worst man in the box in the league.

It’s really hard to see Demons getting out of the position they’re in with their current roster. While they have a great pool of talent, they fail to have those one or two transcendent guys who can be labeled as superstars, and that is without a doubt needed in today’s game.

That being said, the Demons have plenty of players that could, without warning, break out, much like Steele Sidebottom did last year. For that reason, the Demons were a hard one to review, but I had to call it like I saw it.

The Demons did some of the best off-season recruiting, and boy they really needed to after last year’s catastrophe.

While they didn’t bring in any “big names”, they still brought in a nice collection of talent through trades, free agency and both the national and pre-season/rookie draft. Most notably they added Jack Viney, a much hyped young midfielder and the son of Melbourne legend Todd Viney.

If they can develop and integrate Viney properly, they can have a solid young midfield with Jack Grimes, Viney, Dom Barry, etc. Perhaps if Melbourne can pick up that one star, they can became a solid team in the model of Fremantle or North Melbourne.

However, until the Demons can prove they in fact can properly develop their talent or get a star player, they’ll stay where they are on the ladder.

Mark Neeld is just a horrible coach, and every win the Demons achieved in 2012 was orchestrated by the players.

Many praise Neeld for his efforts to “inspire his troops” to the win over Essendon in round 10, but truly, it was the spectacular effort of his leadership squad to inspire the team and the stepping-up of some lesser players to pull out the victory.

Perhaps they are hoping he’ll develop with the team. But he has shown no signs of doing that as of yet, and if he doesn’t soon, he may be sent the way of Dean Bailey.

And Melbourne will be yet another few years back of becoming a respectable team, which is something they can’t afford.

The Melbourne Demons have the potential to be one of those minimal-stars teams like the Dockers or the Kangas that are up and challenging for the eight each year. That said, they are quite a while away from winning anything of note.

Teams that have built from scratch and been successful in the last few years, such as West Coast and Hawthorn, have taken between 5 and 10 years to build. And Melbourne are just scratching the surface. They have to get things right soon, or it could be a long way back to the finals for the long-suffering Demons.

Prediction: 14th

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Speaking of teams building from scratch, there are the Kangaroos. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it as well.

While they did end the year disappointingly, getting destroyed by West Coast at Patersons, that is hardly cause for concern, because that unlucky draw hardly undoes any of the brilliant season that the Kangaroos had.

However, like the Dockers, they have failed to really improve their list this off-season, and how much that will count against them for now remains to be seen.

North had a really encouraging season this year.

As a fan of another side, enjoyed seeing them succeed. The Kangas had plenty of impressing wins, including victories over Geelong, Adelaide, and most notably an eight-goal demolition of Collingwood.

That is what you’d describe as “encouraging”, and “showing some signs of life”.

The Kangas have plenty of young players, all with very high ceilings, and while in time, hanging on to them all will become a problem, for now, they need to utilise them as best as possible to develop them to build team culture and success.

When they build this, there’s a better chance they will knock back the big bucks to stay at Arden Street.

In other words, for goodness sake, bring back the Shinboner spirit!

Many times I have compared North to the Fremantle Dockers, and the downfalls of the two sides are also similar. While North Melbourne have a very good group, they chose not to add too many best-22 quality players.

Ben Jacobs and Jordan Gysberts are fringe-players, and players such as Taylor Hine and Daniel Currie have played eight games between them – all 8 of them by Hine.

While they have only been together a year or two, last year’s squad was clearly not good enough to compete in the finals against the best, and with everyone else improving, the Kangaroos need to as well.

This year, they didn’t. Hopefully for them, less is more.

North needed a better off season. Yes they had a good first-round draft pick in Taylor Garner, but he is far from an assured talent, and getting thumped by the Eagles proves that the Kangas are still a way off from hanging with the big boys yet.

Let’s hope someone on their list explodes this year.

After all, they all have the potential to.

While I do enjoy seeing them succeed, I am not sure they will this year.

Prediction: 10th

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