This is my next article in a series leading into Friday’s AFL season opener between Adelaide and Essendon at AAMI Stadium, with Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants previewed here.
Last season: 13th
Best-and-fairest: Joel Patfull
Leading goal-kicker: Jonathan Brown (47 goals)
Most recent premiership: 2003
It’s been a decade since the Brisbane Lions completed their hat-trick of premierships, and nine years since they came so close to winning a fourth consecutive flag.
Their downfall since then came as a real surprise, though it had to happen sooner rather than later.
Today only Simon Black and Jonathan Brown remain from the class of 2001-3, who were unbeatable in their heyday.
But now both players are on the wrong side of 30 and well beyond their best form, and it won’t be long until neither player remains at the club.
Even thought the Lions won 10 matches and finished 13th last year, it was a vast improvement from season 2011 when they only won four matches for the year and finished 15th.
They have a young squad of players which has had many years to develop, and now they must become a competitive force which can hopefully take Brisbane back to the AFL finals for the first time since 2009 (and only the second time since 2004).
They did have their moments of triumph last year, with the club winning a respectable 10 matches during the season, including expected victories over the Gold Coast Suns (twice), Melbourne (twice), the GWS Giants and Western Bulldogs.
They also did take the impressive scalp of the West Coast Eagles at home last year.
This shows how brilliant the Lions can be, but they must now take their game to the next level and at least compete against the best, namely last year’s big three of Hawthorn, Collingwood and the Sydney Swans.
If the Lions can knock off any of those clubs, or even others such as Geelong or Carlton, then it will give them real confidence for the season.
I don’t expect the Lions to reach the finals this year, but finishing between 9-12th will be acceptable from Michael Voss’ point of view.
He has been under the pump in the last three seasons and he knows it’s time for the Lions to deliver this season, with the club having not finished any higher than 13th since 2009.
Gold Coast Suns
Last season: 17th
Best-and-fairest: Gary Ablett
Leading goal-kicker: Gary Ablett (26 goals)
Most recent premiership: None
The Gold Coast Suns have had two years to perform in the AFL. And, looking at their coaching department and the experience within the club, it doesn’t appear as if they will improve on their six AFL victories over the last two seasons this year.
The Suns’ 2012 season was shrouded by the coaching future involving Guy McKenna, and the criteria he needs to meet in order to survive at the club.
This speculation got to its head when the club lost its first fourteen matches of the season (21 if you include their last seven losses in 2011); despite this, Gary Ablett’s superstar status still remained and he was even racking up 30-40 possessions in blowout defeats.
The Suns cannot rely on Ablett to win matches, nor can they rely on him to use the ball a lot.
The Suns need to share their workload, which will reduce that of Ablett’s, and perhaps other players in the team can win matches for the Suns.
Like Chris Judd at Carlton, Ablett is not a one-mean team and he will not win every match for the Suns this season.
They do, however, have a talented playing list, ranging from its juniors (Rory Thompson, Charlie Dixon, Trent McKenzie and Zac Smith, among others) to its imports from other clubs (Greg Broughton, Karmichael Hunt, Matthew Warnock and Michael Rischitelli).
These two combinations make for a good football club, and after two years of playing in the same team, they need to make their combinations work on the field.
The Suns’ success was limited in 2012, though they did take the impressive scalps of Richmond and Carlton during the season, as well as the victory over GWS late in the season which deprived them of the wooden spoon.
They almost did not beat Richmond though, as they found themselves 10 points down with 30 seconds remaining, before finding a match winner through Karmichael Hunt.
The win over Carlton was very impressive, as the Suns taught the more experienced Blues a footballing lesson and never let them into the match in any way.
Though it might not be their best AFL victory marginally, it will remain as one of the Suns’ greatest ever victories in their short history.
They won’t do it again this year, as the Blues have since learnt their lesson, but the Suns do have the capability to beat other teams playing like they did against Carlton.
The Suns should aim for four victories this season, which would be a modest target given the talent and experience in their squad. But it won’t be enough to finish any higher than 17th.
The final round match against GWS may as well decide who finishes with the wooden spoon after what is expected to be another long season for both clubs.
Last season: 18th (last)
Best-and-fairest: Callan Ward
Leading goal-kicker: Jeremy Cameron (29 goals)
Most recent premiership: None
The GWS Giants’ first season should not be considered a success, nor a failure.
Though they only won two matches last season, both came against non-Victorian clubs and both came against fellow strugglers the Gold Coast and Port Adelaide.
This GWS team is littered with a mix of talent and experience. When Kevin Sheedy signed on as the club’s inaugural head coach in 2009, he immediately set about bringing experienced players to the club in order to help the youngsters he would eventually recruit from the 2011 and 2012 AFL Drafts.
Experience in former Port Adelaide premiership players Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan, the coach who masterminded that 2004 flag, Mark Williams (who has since left the club), James McDonald, Callan Ward, Tom Scully and Rhys Palmer, the latter two of which were a former number one draft pick and a former Rising Star winner respectively.
They have continued to add experience to the club, with Setanta O’hAilpin returning after a knee injury restricted his first season at the Giants to just one match.
In addtion, they’ve also added experienced Carlton defender Bret Thornton to the backline to help out Phil Davis, who last season had the most goals kicked against him, as well as Stephen Gilham from Hawthorn.
While they won’t combine with the club’s influx of experienced and talented players to lift them off the bottom of the ladder, they can help to reduce the workload of the younger players and help the Giants stay in matches for as long as possible.
Thus potentially reducing the number of blowout losses the young Giants team copped frequently last season.
Last season, the Giants showed glimpses of their potential, but only twice would they finish a match in front.
Their two wins were big ones, first a 27-point triumph against the Gold Coast Suns in Canberra and a bigger win over Port Adelaide a mere three months later.
They also most notably gave Geelong a scare at Skilled Stadium and also came close to beating Richmond midway through the season in a match played in driving rain.
As with the Suns in their debut season in 2011, the Giants also copped a large number of blowout losses.
Prior to the win over Port Adelaide in round 19, they lost five matches in a row by more than 90 points as the season started to take its toll on the young squad.
They have also had to play at numerous different venues throughout the year; their three home grounds in Sydney as well as in Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
The excess travel contributed to those heavy losses during the season.
The Giants should this year aim to reduce the number of such defeats this year, and remain competitive for at least one half of football.
They will also have their chances to win more than two AFL matches, and will fancy themselves against Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns, the two clubs they beat for their two wins last year.
This will also possibly be Kevin Sheedy’s final year in AFL coaching, so the Giants will be determined to perform for him before Leon Cameron takes over in 2014 in what looks to be a good succession plan.
Again I’m expecting the Giants to finish in the bottom two, but it could come down to a final round showdown against expected fellow strugglers the Gold Coast Suns.
So, can the Giants and Suns break out of the bottom two this season? It could take them at least two to three years to do so.
In my next article I will preview the chances of the South Australian clubs.