Last year produced contrastingly disappointing seasons for both Geelong and Carlton. The question now is whether both teams can rediscover their best form this year.
Last season: 6th (after regular season), 7th (after finals series)
Best and fairest: Tom Hawkins
Leading goalkicker: Tom Hawkins (62 goals)
Most recent premiership: 2011
After five years of never-ending dominance, cracks are starting to appear in the Cat empire, with older players losing their way and their most influential players this century.
Cameron Ling, Cameron Mooney, Darren Milburn, Brad Ottens and Matthew Scarlett have all retired from the game progressively in the last two seasons.
The Cats are still an intimidating side for the opposition, as shown through their forwards James Podsiadly and Tom Hawkins.
Hawkins has lived up to his potential in recent seasons, and last year he sunk Hawthorn hearts with a post-siren goal in round 19 last season.
Once again he will be a headache for opposition coaches as they seek to shut him down this season.
They may have also lost Matthew Scarlett but at least they have gained an experienced defender in Jared Rivers.
Scarlett’s retirement leaves a massive hole in Geelong’s defence and whilst Rivers is a worthy replacement, he still has massive shoes to fill in the backline.
Whether he can live up to being the Cats’ much needed man in the backline remains to be seen.
Another man who has huge shoes to fill at the Cats is Hamish McIntosh, who comes to the club from North Melbourne as the Cats’ belated replacement for Brad Ottens after he retired at the end of 2011.
He proved his worth at the Kangaroos, and was a key player there when the club reached its first finals series since 2008.
Like Rivers, McIntosh will have a huge job ahead of him as Geelong try to maintain stability in a team which has been severely weakened by the retirements of those players I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
The Cats didn’t enjoy as dominant season last year as they had become accustomed to, despite remaining unbeaten at home and defeating Hawthorn twice in the season.
The Gold Coast Suns pushed them on the Gold Coast and the GWS Giants also gave them a scare in the first half in Geelong.
Collingwood reversed three losses to the Cats in 2011 by beating them twice in 2012, both by convincing margins.
This shows that the rest of the competition is closing the gap between themselves and the Cats, who, between 2007 and 2011, were as unbeatable as the Queensland State of Origin team in the NRL.
In the space of a year, the Cats have gone from the hunter to the hunted. But let’s just hope that they don’t suffer a catastrophic decline like the Brisbane Lions did in the years following their hat-trick of flags a decade ago.
Last season: 10th
Best-and-fairest: Heath Scotland
Leading goalkicker: Eddie Betts (48 goals)
Most recent premiership: 1995
After just missing out on a top four finish in 2011 there were high expectations at Carlton.
They began the season very brightly, winning five of their first six matches, but a 67-point win over GWS Giants in round six appeared to be a turning point for the club, as they would end up losing their way for the rest of the season.
The Blues were ravaged by injuries and suspensions (none more so than Chris Judd’s careless ‘chicken wing’ tackle on North Melbourne’s Leigh Adams in round 16 last year) and this led to the downfall of its coach Brett Ratten.
The club also lost many matches that they should have won last year, most notably the penultimate match of the season against Gold Coast.
How I see it is that the Blues treated this match as a holiday rather than a serious make-or-break match, and this would prove to be the final nail in Ratten’s coffin.
The Blues will be hoping that history does not repeat again when the teams come face to face in round 18.
If there were any positives to come out of last season, it is that they defeated Collingwood twice.
The Blues destroyed the 2010 premiers by 10 goals in the third round last season and it was after that performance that the Blues were being touted as premiership favourites.
But the Blues appeared to be over-hyped and the team lost their way for the rest of the season after that. The Blues need to live up to expectations this year and anything less could result in another season of failure.
Mick Malthouse has been brought in to rescue the club following last year’s dismal season. Chris Judd has also relinquished the captaincy, which will be handed over to Marc Murphy.
Without the additional responsibilities that the captaincy holds, Judd can now focus on his own game as he heads towards the twilight of his career.
He will be 30 by the time the regular season ends, but I think he has at least another three good seasons in him.
But the Blues are too over-reliant on him, so they need to share the workload among every player that takes the field, from the defensive line to the forward 50 to the interchange.
Only if they can perform as a team together can the Blues win more matches this season.
The Blues are very capable of making the finals this year, but they must not over-perform during the season, that will most likely lead to more disappointing wins than great victories during the season.
They also won’t want to accept nothing but at least a win over Hawthorn or Collingwood this season.
Though I don’t expect either team to finish in the top four, they should at least aim for a mid-table finish of between fifth and eight.
In my next article I will preview the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants.