It’s an intriguing exercise to peruse the official AFL team photos.
If you knew nothing about the game and were asked to nominate the dominant side of the competition you may look at the demeanour or the builds of the respective teams to make your decision.
You may even search for a glint in the eye, or an easy smile that could betray the identity of the premiership winner.
The thing is, even if you had only two teams from which to choose, you could never be certain.
Appearances can be deceptive.
I was looking at the picture of the Sydney Swans from The Herald Sun liftout and what struck me about the 2012 Premiers was how un-premier-like they look.
Notwithstanding the intimidating presence of Kurt Tippett in the centre (I didn’t realise he was such a big man – being taller than Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke) and Rhyce Shaw’s eerie impersonation of Ned Kelly on the gallows, the Swans just look … well, bright.
The luminous red and complimentary under-lighting are more suited to a Ralph Lauren fashion shoot than a photograph of hardened footballers.
On the other side of the liftout, however, is the seventh placed Geelong. Sporting chain gang uniforms and rugged provincial expressions, they still contain a sizeable portion of their hard-edged triple-premiership squad.
With the scary looking Paul Chapman and Josh Hunt forming the margins and a seriously intense coach in the middle they look more like winners, and certainly more fearsome, than the bright-eyed Swans.
Last year, Hawthorn – the team Sydney conquered in one of the great grand finals – also looked more like winners with ten top 20 National Draft selections in their line-up compared to Sydney’s paltry four.
Even after the Swans won the 2005 flag, the rest of the competition didn’t expect them to be a force for long and so agreed to a continuation of the $900,000 salary cap allowance for their city’s higher cost-of-living.
Their tune has changed markedly, however, since the Swans have won another premiership with a more modest outfit, and managed to recruit star forward Kurt Tippett.
Although they realise Sydney is genuinely disadvantaged in its ability to attract and retain talent, the other clubs are now calling for an end to the allowance.
The argument put forward by some officials – and Leigh Matthews last year, which was ironic considering he was vehemently critical of calls to abolish Brisbane’s allocation allowance after their three consecutive premierships – is that the Premiers should be losing players; not gaining ones the calibre of Tippett.
Last year’s team however was a result of judicious recruitment. They gathered together a group of quality players (mainly hard-working, team oriented, moderately skilled and value for money) rather than stars who cost an arm and a leg.
Also, partly thanks to the cost-of-living allowance, enough excellent players – Adam Goodes, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Jarrad McVeigh, Ryan O’Keefe, Jude Bolton, and Nick Malceski – have hung around the place long enough to be classified as veterans freeing up another $600,000.
Now the rest of the competition is getting extremely nervous.
Sydney have added Kurt Tippett to their premiership winning roster and they may even go back-to-back, but they still look like they should be modelling Ralph Lauren polos.