Pre-season is a bit like Christmas eve – full of positive vibes and anticipation. But surely not every team can be heading up the ladder in 2014.
I decided to feed lots of non-numerical data into my footy predictions software program, and the results were gloomy indeed…
Good new coach, good captain. Sinking ship. Besides Jack Steven and maybe Arryn Siposs, Saints recruiters have very little to be proud of in recent years. No-one quite understands why they let go of Ben McEvoy but everyone understands why Nick Dal Santo and Brendon Goddard wanted out.
Simon Black gone, Jonathon Brown on his last legs. Next tier are uniformly mediocre players and the youngest tier all want to go home. If the Lions’ new, inexperienced coach can win even a few games with this mob, he’ll be doing well.
Nowadays, nearly half of the team are genuine AFL level players. The problem is the other half.
Gold Coast Suns
The Suns were just another battling club until a few wins late in 2013 gave them some hope. Let’s not get carried away. If they can keep their best 22 on the park they’ll be competitive at home, but they still don’t have enough genuine AFL level players.
Plenty of midfield fire-power but not much at either end of the ground. Will be lucky to tread water in 2014.
If any two of Chris Dawes, Jack Watts and Mitch Clark can fire up forward, the Demons could be the big movers in 2014. The forward line and back lines have no weaknesses except a lack of depth.
The main problems with Melbourne in 2013 – lack of midfielders and lack of confidence – have now been corrected. Still, the Dees will need another struggling year while instilling real system and injecting experience into their young list.
A second year under Mick Malthouse will have everybody on the same page, and Dale Thomas will help inject desperation. But with Chris Judd and Jarrad Waite likely to have injury-interrupted years, the Blues are pretty thin on talent, especially up forward.
No more Chapman, Corey, Podsiadly or Hunt means a loss of experience, but the long term injuries to Steven Motlop and Allen Christensen will hurt more, as they were integral to Geelong’s running game. If big Tom Hawkins has another bad year, the Cats could be in for a serious slide in 2014.
Fortunes will rise or fall with Taylor Walker this year. If he has a breakout year, the Crows are headed up. If he has another bad year, the Crows will go down.
Port Adelaide Power
Could get better consistency from John Butcher and Chad Wingard in 2014, but hard to see them improving on last year’s terrific effort.
West Coast Eagles
Good forward line and defence, though not much depth. At crunch moments, the best midfields get on top. The Eagles only have Matt Priddis who can stand the heat. Will struggle away from home.
North Melbourne Kangaroos
If midfield keeps improving, a top-four finish is a possibility, but if Drew Petrie is covered up forward, the Kangaroos are forced to run the ball in. That’s a tiring game plan, and it finds them out in the last 10 minutes of games. The Kangaroos are also a fragile mob. Scott Thompson is about the only consistent footballer at the club.
Can Brett Deledio or Dustin Martin provide consistency in the midfield, or will their foot skills be needed across half back? If the Tigers had picked up Dale Thomas or even Dal Santo, they’d be a chance to move upwards in 2014. Instead, their thin midfield will be exposed again.
The Bombers’ forward line was their weak link in 2013. With Stewart Crameri and Scott Gumbleton gone, they’ll need Joe Daniher or Michael Hurley to become the focal point. They won’t be taking many marks in 2014, so the main forward strategy will need to be locking the ball in.
Great midfield and great all-round depth but Travis Cloke is the only proven performer up forward. The Pies’ goals will need to come from their runners, and the better drilled opposition teams will have strategies to close these down.
No team is more dependent on one player than the Dockers. Matthew Pavlich up forward is irreplaceable. The Dockers’ rebounding is still a weakness, so they’ll be vulnerable to teams like the Hawks, who can win the ball out of the middle and lock it in the Dockers’ back half.
I know we said their midfield was ageing in 2013, and they proved us wrong. But it’s even more ageing in 2014. Hard to see where improvement will come from. Teams with two good defensive talls, like Geelong, will continue to test the Hawks.
If Ryan O’Keefe and Adam Goodes struggle this year, the Swans’ culture will wear thin. They’ll be playing for dollars instead of each other. The Swans’ rebounding is highly reliant on Nick Malceski and Jarrad McVeigh, and much will depend on whether opposition teams can lock down on these two.
In the end, my computer has predicted that only the Swans and Hawks have a chance of finishing in the Top 8 in 2014.
If these two decline in 2014, it’ll make for a season of low quality football but a very even competition.