A new AFL year begins, with incredible promise

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert


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    Suns player Gary Ablett. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    It’s 2016, and you know what that means? We’re only 11 weeks away from the start of the 2016 AFL season. There’s no time to lose: let’s begin our season preview, right here, right now.

    Towards the back end of last season, we started talking about how the AFL was perhaps as ‘even’ as it has been in years.

    Not even in the financial sense, or in the talent stakes, or crowd attendance, or quality of facilities, or… You get the picture.

    But on the field, more than any season in recent years, it felt as though a team in the top six wasn’t a shoe-in against one from the bottom half of the table.

    Part of that was likely the Fremantle Dockers, who streaked their way to top spot before coasting/sputtering (depending on who you ask) to the September finish line. Part of it was perhaps the underwhelming Port Adelaide side, who confounded everyone by being responsible for two of Hawthorn’s six regular-season losses for the year, but missing the eight. Part of it was the unfamiliarity of Geelong on the wane, or West Coast’s ahead-of-schedule rise, or the Western Bulldogs’ way-ahead-of-schedule rise.

    And yet, it took 13 wins to make it into the finals series. The bottom four of Carlton, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Essendon won a combined 18 games for the year, which was the same as Fremantle amassed (including their Week 1 finals victory). Six teams didn’t break the 80 points per game mark, one of them scoring below 70. Hawthorn and West Coast, the season’s premiers and runners-up, were ranked numbers one and two on my offensive efficiency rating (OER), and first and fifth on the opposing defensive efficiency rating (DER).

    What’s going on here? The answer gets to the heart of what we can expect to see in the 2016 AFL season: perhaps the most even competition for a decade.

    Winners keep winning, and losers are losing harder
    But first, some stats. Footy’s status as a near-structure free, free-flowing contest between a team with the ball and a team without it means offence and defence are interrelated. It’s why Hawthorn and West Coast finished at the top of both OER and DER last season – you can only score when you have the ball in hand.

    Scoring has been on the wane in the AFL for more than 15 years, since the Bombers last tasted finals success. At the turn of the century, the average AFL side could be expected to score 101 points per game, and scores of close to 130 were quite regular. In that year, 27 per cent of all regular season games saw 200 points scored – a figure which has not come close to being matched in the years since.

    In 2015, the average score was 87 points per game, a small improvement on the 50-year low recorded in 2014. However, despite the average points per game falling by 15 since 2000, the number of games that went over 200 points has collapsed to 9.4 per cent.

    The difference is reconciled by one fact, and one fact alone. After falling from a historically anomalous 120 in 2000, the average score for a winning AFL team remained roughly unchanged since 2002: it tends to fluctuate between 105 and 110 points per game. Last year it was 105.9. But the average score for a losing AFL team has declined significantly from 81.8 points per game in 2000, and hit a record low of 67.2 points per game in 2015.

    Good sides still put up good scores, consistently. But in the increasingly professional AFL, bad sides are finding it more and more difficult to score.

    A score of 100 points or more would result in victory 82 per cent of the time in the year 2000. In 2015, it would result in victory 96 per cent of the time. That phenomenon is repeated right across the scoring curve, suggesting as the AFL has continued to evolve over the years, a game requires fewer and fewer points to be scored in order to sort out a victor.

    This hides a peculiar detail which I uncovered when breaking down scoring patterns in the AFL (if you are averse to mathiness, skip ahead to the fun stuff at the next sub-heading).

    In 2012, the average team in the top six at the end of the home-and-away season had scored 0.5 (0.5342) standard deviations above the average AFL score; that number has steadily declined each year since, hitting 0.3 (0.3404) standard deviations in 2015 – the lowest mark since 2007. The mirror has occurred for the bottom six sides, although last season’s end-of-year fadeouts by Carlton, Brisbane and Essendon halted what was a clear trend.

    What does this all mean? It says that despite the top-line numbers showing the difference between a winner and a loser on any given day, the gap between the best and the worst sides over a full season is closing. At a high level, it appears the league is just about ready to return to the days of the mid-2000s, after the competition went all whacky around the time that Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney came into being.

    Settling down
    Between 2009 and 2011, the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants hoovered up an obscene amount of AFL-quality talent. This was all at the behest of League HQ, who, in learning lessons from previous expansion sides, knew it would take both quantity and quality to get the two new kids on the block going.

    In the 2009 offseason, the Suns signed 12 players from around the country that were not quite old enough to make that year’s national draft, and pinched a further 12 from the Queensland and Northern Territory recruitment zones. Then in 2010, the Suns were granted six of the first 10 picks in the draft, as well as the 11th, 13th, 15th, 26th and 43rd picks (many of which they traded away for existing talent).

    That year also saw the Suns given the ability to sign up to 16 uncontracted players from current AFL clubs in a one-way free agency set-up, and had an extra $1 million in the salary cap to facilitate the moves. The Giants were afforded similar concessions between 2010 and 2011.

    This allowed the two new clubs to build monstrous war chests of AFL player capital, which they could either use to build from within, or to assist in greasing the trade wheels. But it also meant clubs that ended up around the bottom of the ladder (in 12th position or lower) in those years didn’t receive the usual spoils.

    Who were those clubs?

    Melbourne and Richmond finished there three times, Brisbane twice, and a number of clubs once. For the Dees and Lions, their mediocrity couldn’t have come at a worse time, and in many ways their continued poor performance can be partially pinned to expansion.

    But really, all that this collection of drafting capital by the expansion sides has done is delay the distribution of talent around the league.

    Of the 40-odd preselected, undrafted or mature-age signings, and top draft picks made by both Gold Coast and GWS in their first two years of existence, more than half ended up playing for other teams. The list is quite amazing, and I won’t run through each name, but here’s a snippet of each.

    Gold Coast wheeled and dealed their way through Charlie Dixon, Tom Hickey, Tendai Mzungu, Dayne Zorko, Jonathon Ceglar and Maverick Weller. That’s a solid list.

    But check out who was selected by Greater Western Sydney: Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, Jamie Elliott, Steven Morris, Luke Brown, Jake Neade, Dom Tyson and Sam Frost. These players were all taken in the concession period by the Giants, and have now forged careers at other clubs – many plying their trade in black and white stripes.

    It means that the Suns and Giants are heading into the 2016 seasons with lists primed to rise up the ladder; right now I’d wager the Giants will finish ahead of the Suns, mostly because I like the mature-age talent that Greater Western Sydney have assembled more than I like that which is available on the Coast.

    As we discussed in October last year, the Suns’ mature age players have been a near-cataclysmic failure, particularly when compared to the Giants. That came into play last year when the Suns lost their entire starting midfield.

    But it also means that the impact of these concessions has, for the most part, washed its way through the system. Last season’s bottom four – Essendon, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Carlton – made up close to half of the first round of the draft, and indeed did make 50 per cent of the first-round selections (if the academy selections made by Brisbane, Greater Western Sydney, and Sydney are removed from the equation).

    Keeping the successful, successful
    By contrast, this cycle has benefited the teams that finished around the top of the ladder in those years. There’s no doubt the likes of Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood are incredibly well-run franchises; the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda do a pretty bang-up job with far fewer resources available. But with the regular growth and decay cycle of years gone by temporarily halted by the expansion teams, clubs with established talent heading into this period were in a position to do well.

    The teams that finished in the top six this year were all in well into list-building mode when the expansion sides came along. Here’s the average age rank and games played rank for last season’s top six in 2011, when the full impact of the draft distribution hit the league (data courtesy of Draftguru):

    Age Experience
    Hawthorn 7th 6th
    West Coast 12th 10th
    Fremantle 9th 12th
    North Melbourne 13th 13th
    Sydney 3rd 3rd
    Adelaide 14th 14th

    Other than the permanently old Sydney Swans, who until this upcoming year had gone to market with a list in the top six for both age and experience every year since 2009, each of these five clubs did most of their hard rebuilding yards in years prior.

    All of this is to say the last five years of on-field action in the AFL have been influenced by the advent of two new clubs, and the strain on list-building this caused.

    Now that this appears to have settled down, the league is on the verge of returning to something more akin to the 2000s, where eight different teams won the premiership in an 11-year window.

    Over those 11 years, every club tasted some finals action, and the vast majority of clubs had between five and seven winning seasons (ending the year with more than 11 wins).

    Average wins Average % Winning seasons Finals appearances
    Adelaide 12.5 112.7 8 8
    Brisbane Lions 12.0 110.4 6 6
    Carlton 8.4 92.9 3 4
    Collingwood 11.8 108.0 7 7
    Essendon 11.0 103.4 5 6
    Fremantle 9.5 93.0 3 3
    Geelong 13.6 117.9 7 7
    Hawthorn 10.6 98.3 6 5
    Melbourne 9.1 92.5 5 5
    North Melbourne 10.9 95.6 6 5
    Port Adelaide 12.4 106.6 6 6
    Richmond 8.2 85.6 2 1
    St Kilda 11.4 107.4 7 6
    Sydney 12.0 111.4 8 8
    West Coast 10.3 97.3 5 6
    Western Bulldogs 10.5 101.4 5 5

    Compare that to the past five years, since Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have been in the league, and it makes for some interesting reading.

    Average wins Average % Winning seasons Finals appearances
    Adelaide 11.6 110.0 2 2
    Brisbane Lions 7.0 79.7 0 0
    Carlton 9.4 100.0 1 2
    Collingwood 14.2 119.9 3 3
    Essendon 10.8 97.5 3 2
    Fremantle 14.4 116.4 4 4
    Geelong 16.0 125.0 5 4
    Gold Coast 5.6 75.1 0 0
    GWS (4 seaons) 4.0 68.2 0 0
    Hawthorn 17.4 146.7 5 5
    Melbourne 5.0 70.5 0 0
    North Melbourne 12.2 111.3 3 3
    Port Adelaide 9.2 96.5 3 2
    Richmond 12.0 109.9 3 3
    St Kilda 7.8 91.6 2 1
    Sydney 15.2 130.5 5 5
    West Coast 13.6 123.0 3 3
    Western Bulldogs 8.6 88.9 1 1

    Part of the difference is because we’re only halfway to a directly comparable period. But I’d wager a significant part of it is because of the issues discussed above.

    By my reckoning, 2016 is set to be the most even year of AFL action in close to a decade, when the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles’ rivalry was at its peak, and the Geelong and Hawthorn juggernauts were in their embryonic stages.

    If you have any doubts, try this: sit down with a piece of paper, and write the name of each team. Then, think about which ones you would consider crossing off as no chance for the eight at this point in the year.

    I’ve done this exercise, and I only feel completely comfortable doing so with one team: Carlton. There are questions to be answered by every team, sure, but do you put a line through St Kilda? Melbourne? Geelong? Collingwood? Brisbane? Indeed, the two expansion teams?

    What are those questions? That’s what we’ll spend the next 11 weeks finding out, and answering, together. If all goes to plan, we’ll be doing so with more than the written word.

    The 2016 AFL season starts now.

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • January 6th 2016 @ 8:22am
      andyl12 said | January 6th 2016 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Hawthorn are deserved premiership favourites, but this is partly due to lack of clarity on who our biggest challenger is. Wouldn’t surprise me if our greatest threat comes from outside last year’s 8, especially Geelong or Port.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2016 @ 10:34am
        Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        Yeah I have a feeling that’s a big contributor to Hawthorn’s favouritism at this stage of the year. That, plus they are very good at playing Australian rules football. Sorting through the teams is going to be a mammoth task this year, I’ll be leaving it ’til the very last minute to put a projected ladder out.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 10:50am
          The Original Buzz said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          I look forward to that projected Ladder, Ryan. I can’t really pick a top eight at the moment apart from maybe Hawthorn as a definite. There has been a lot of unpredictability in the last two years in teams winning and losing – except for maybe Carlton and Brisbane at one end and Hawthorn at the other.

          Port fell down last year after being tipped as a contender for the flag. The Bulldogs climbed the ladder and surprised everybody in the last two years. The crows held their own after the passing of their coach and did a bloody great job of it (I put that down to having an ex-Carlton player as fill-in coach 🙂 ). Richmond almost won a final again and have been hovering around the edge of the eight and will either rise or fall this year (I am tipping they will rise).

          Freo and the Eagles both capitulated in the finals and both games were over at quarter time. This may change this year. The rest of them are unknown quantities and hard to say what they will do with any degree of accuracy.

          • January 6th 2016 @ 10:56am
            Milo said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:56am | ! Report

            Bit harsh on the Eagles TOB!

            • January 6th 2016 @ 12:11pm
              andyl12 said | January 6th 2016 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

              But Milo, it is true that sides who lose GFs by big margins often struggle in the years that follow.

              But even if it weren’t for such a hoodoo, WC need to come to terms with the fact that they flew under the radar in 2015 and that in 2016 sides will be trying harder to find ways to beat them. Similar things have haven’t to surprise-packet sides in the past and I’m yet to see evidence that West Coast are ready for this. Also, they will probably have a harder draw in 2016.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 12:33pm
                Milo said | January 6th 2016 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

                AndyI12 you can make a case for and against WCE going well in 2016 based on past runners up. There’s been quite a few who’ve bounced back after 40+ defeats… Sheedy’s bombers in 84 spring to mind in addition to Blues of 87 to name a couple which im sure you don’t remember too fondly. Even the Swans in 2015 didn’t disgrace themselves. The difference perhaps you’re alluding to is that the Eagles had come from a long way back rather than being thereabouts in the previous year.

                But I still see the eagles as having a bit going for them in 2016 in terms of talent, coaching, attacking ability and even home ground. Their run is tough but manageable. I expect them to be challenging top 4 again short of an horrendous run with injuries.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 12:43pm
                Don Freo said | January 6th 2016 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

                With WC’s returning key defenders and Freo’s very experienced young players…with an injection of more youth…those 2 sides have a movement forward that is not apparent at Hawthorn.

                Hawks age will see them slip down the top eight…maybe just missing.

          • January 6th 2016 @ 12:10pm
            Balthazar said | January 6th 2016 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            ummm, did you watch the first Prelim? Freo was within a goal in the 4th quarter. Even Clarko said he felt it was imperative they did not hit the lead. The score only blew out towards the end of the game when Freo started taking risks and those risks did not come off.

            New Year’s resolution: won’t comment on any suspect umpiring in the 4th that may have impacted their momentum.

            • January 6th 2016 @ 12:31pm
              Don Freo said | January 6th 2016 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

              The input of Stevic in quarters 1, 2 and 3 still worthy of comment?

              • Roar Guru

                January 6th 2016 @ 1:47pm
                SportsFanGC said | January 6th 2016 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

                I think it is fanciful to think that the Hawks will miss the 8.

                Don Freo I know you are fixated on Stevic but it is just a tired and lame argument. Time to move on and if Freo are as good as you say and believe then they should be Top 4 in 2016 having a crack at a Premiership from the comfort of two home finals at Subiaco.

                I have literally not seen another poster on this site so hung up on an umpire that allegedly cost his team a shot at a Premiership.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 2:14pm
                Don Freo said | January 6th 2016 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

                Have you figuratively seen another poster do that?

                I do it literally so Hawks fans can understand too. The passage of time might dull your memory but it doesn’t change what actually happened. I delight in those who find this reminder to be uncomfortable.

                You could always not read it or delete it.

                I’m glad to have been able to add to your education.

            • Columnist

              January 6th 2016 @ 2:14pm
              Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

              I don’t want to fan the flames of this Stevic/Hawthorn thing. But I kind of do.

              I’m working on a piece that looks at free kick counts delineated by umpire. This little branch of discussion prompted me to play with the numbers a little.

              Can you name the only umpire that has a positive free kick differential for away Hawthorn games umpired in the past five years (and has also umpired 12 away Hawthorn games, so its not a sample size issue)?

              (other than this one, I’ll be keeping the results anonymised)

              • January 6th 2016 @ 2:59pm
                Balthazar said | January 6th 2016 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

                No but I’d be interested to hear…

                You are possibly asking the wrong person though. I only watch Hawthorn when they play Freo (and have thereby saved myself from the GF abomination). If my memory serves me correctly, they haven’t played an away game against Freo, apart from the PF and an EF a few years back, since 1995 or thereabouts…

              • Columnist

                January 6th 2016 @ 3:03pm
                Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

                There’s a clue in the first line of my comment.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 3:07pm
                andyl12 said | January 6th 2016 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

                If only one umpire has a positive differential for Hawthorn away games then that proves the umpiring fraternity are FAR more likely to be against us than they are for us.

                Hawthorn wins the majority of its away games- most of them without Stevic blowing the whistle- which proves that class sides can overcome negative free kick ratios. Take note 17 other sides.

              • Columnist

                January 6th 2016 @ 3:09pm
                Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                I wasn’t editorialising, it was just a comment based on hard data. Its worth noting that over the five year sample, the away side has received two fewer free kicks on average when team and umpire are removed as variables.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 4:22pm
                Balthazar said | January 6th 2016 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

                Interesting. I assume the +ive differential favoured the away team?

                Well I did say in a post on an earlier thread that a number of clubs had complained about him but was attacked by one of the rabid Hawth Koreans on this site for daring to use Bigfooty as a source of comments by disgruntled opposition fans

              • January 6th 2016 @ 5:12pm
                Mocca said | January 6th 2016 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

                I watched the 2013 Prelim the other day. The incredible bias displayed by the umpires that night, particularly umpire Nicholls, was worth a good five goals to Geelong. Somehow the best team ended up winning anyway.

                I guess some clubs win and other clubs make excuses.

              • January 6th 2016 @ 5:09pm
                johno said | January 6th 2016 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                No real surprises there.

                The real surprise is how the AFL appointed this guy to the Freo/Hawthorn PF and then again in the GF.

                The other surprise is how Clarkson got away with bagging the umpiring in WA after the West Coast game at Domaina and then got his preferred umpire dished up on a plate for the final 2 games of the season against the WA teams. AFL capitulated big time to the pressure

              • January 7th 2016 @ 8:11am
                andyl12 said | January 7th 2016 @ 8:11am | ! Report

                Mocca- Spot on.

                Johno- Codswallop.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 8:53am
                Bob said | January 7th 2016 @ 8:53am | ! Report

                Interesting comment – you are implying that Stevic is the only umpire not influenced by the crowd and, therefore, the most impartial of all umpires.

                From my observations, Hawthorn cop it pretty hard from the umpires. They were absolutely caned by the umps in the 2008 GF, but still won (actually they were always caned by the umps when playing Richmond, Sydney and Geelong). From my eye, watching every game, it does seem that the Swans are by far and away the darlings of the umpires. And I’m not talking about free kick counts – they are irrelevant – I am talking about dodgy decisions and non-decisions. A team can win a free kick count by 10 and still be harshly dealt with by umpires.

              • Columnist

                January 7th 2016 @ 10:50am
                Ryan Buckland said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:50am | ! Report

                And this is the huge asterisk I will be putting on these numbers when they’re published; it only includes decisions, not non-decisions, which can quite obviously be just as important.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 8:58am
                andyl12 said | January 7th 2016 @ 8:58am | ! Report

                Agreed Bob. Goodes in particular had a special relationship with the umpires. And Buddy has had a better run with umps since he moved to Sydney.

                But at Hawthorn we don’t blame umpires for the 2012 GF loss, because we know we still could’ve won that game if we’d played good enough footy.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 9:26am
                johno said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:26am | ! Report

                So andy if its codswallop then how does a guy who clearly preferences the Hawks get to umpire their 2 most important games and stuffs up the first one, yet still gets assigned to the GF? Which West Coast stuffed up by being so rubbish

              • January 7th 2016 @ 9:51am
                andyl12 said | January 7th 2016 @ 9:51am | ! Report

                Does he clearly preference Hawthorn? And did he stuff up? Very subjective comments you’re making.

                I think Stevic’s umpiring in the PF simply shows that he doesn’t get sucked in by the aggression of the Subiaco crowd the way many umpires would. For this he should be rewarded, not criticized.

              • January 7th 2016 @ 10:26am
                johno said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:26am | ! Report

                Yeah ….nah. Stevic has issues when umpiring Hawks, just like Dagliesh has when umpiring West Coast

              • Columnist

                January 7th 2016 @ 10:48am
                Ryan Buckland said | January 7th 2016 @ 10:48am | ! Report

                There’s plenty of umpires that have large positive free kick differentials for West Coast at home – I think there was five or six, but I can’t remember their names. But away, like almost every umpire for almost every other team, they’re negative.

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2016 @ 8:41am
      Mister Football said | January 6th 2016 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Great stuff Ryan – you have delivered!

      Look forward to the 11 week countdown.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2016 @ 10:35am
        Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        Thank you sir! Yeah its going to be a busy 11 weeks. I’d think the AFL previews of a lot of other websites, and writers on this one, will start kicking off in earnest in the next fortnight. I just wanted to clear the decks and set the frame of reference early.

    • January 6th 2016 @ 9:32am
      Milo said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Enjoyed the article Ryan.

      Also with regards: “But it also meant clubs that ended up around the bottom of the ladder (in 12th position or lower) in those years didn’t receive the usual spoils. Who were those clubs? Melbourne and Richmond finished there three times, Brisbane twice, and a number of clubs once…”,

      Means contrary to the many barbs thrown the Tigers way in the recruiting department, they really have done a great job in recent, tough times to be more than just competitive. Now we really need to be seeing another couple of steps up by the Tiges in next two seasons to cash in on this, before the other clubs coming up catch up and pass.

      Anyways keep it going and look forward to the future articles.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2016 @ 10:38am
        Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Yes you are very correct. I was really surprised to see the Tigers down at those depths at that point in the League’s cycle. But its worth noting that a lot of the building blocks were in place around the time GWS & GCS came into being.

        There’s no doubting that the Tigers need to go well this year; they arguably ran ahead of schedule a few years ago in making the eight, but given where their list now sits they should be cherry ripe for a pretty decent tilt in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Its why I think they would be mad to do anything but give Damien Hardwick a two year extension on his contract, before the season starts.

        • January 6th 2016 @ 10:47am
          Milo said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          Agreed on Dimma, but maybe until the end of 2017 only at this point. Sure can be reviewed at end of 2016 with another year extension then, but no need to commit now until end 2018 imo. Sends the right signal of performance-based commitment from both parties. On the flip side to others points to do nothing now wrt the contract will only get the media circus up and about and become an unwanted distraction into and throughout the season.

    • January 6th 2016 @ 9:48am
      Tony said | January 6th 2016 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      I admire your work, Ryan. Keep it up!

    • January 6th 2016 @ 10:40am
      The Original Buzz said | January 6th 2016 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      “consider crossing off as no chance for the eight at this point in the year”. Not that easy if you are serious about it. Speculation makes it easier but I can see Carlton and Brisbane out of the eight, after that it starts to get a bit murky on definites.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2016 @ 11:47am
        Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:47am | ! Report

        Yeah it’s a challenge.

        From this way out, I’d throw St Kilda up as my surprise finalist for this year. Everything would have to break right, like it did for Port Adelaide in 2013 and the Dogs last year, but their young list is coming together really nicely, and Jake Carlisle fills by far the biggest hole they had at key defender.

        Carlton, well, yeah my feelings on them are well known. And Brisbane could also surprise given they had they have had the worst two year injury luck in terms of games lost in AFL history (I remember reading or hearing somewhere).

        • January 7th 2016 @ 12:39pm
          The Original Buzz said | January 7th 2016 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

          The Saints are the biggest dark horse in 2016 in my book.

          • Columnist

            January 7th 2016 @ 12:49pm
            Ryan Buckland said | January 7th 2016 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            I love the Saints’ list. They are still a little bit shallow in certain spots, but that’s to be expected of a team rebuilding to the extent that they are. I would expect them to be a massive player in free agency, starting this year.

            Admittedly, the free agent class of 2016 is a little bit shallow compared to years gone by – clubs are choosing to lock up their valuable players on long term deals, which is precisely what all of the smart/non-dinosaurs said would happen – but there’s depth players to be had.

            • January 7th 2016 @ 1:28pm
              George said | January 7th 2016 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

              Problem with the Saints is they still rely on the players nearing retirement age far, far too much. Just take a look at the Saints top 10 B&F from last year. They may improve in the short term but they will go backwards again when Riewoldt and company retire.

              • Columnist

                January 7th 2016 @ 1:34pm
                Ryan Buckland said | January 7th 2016 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

                That’s the case last year, sure, but the young players were beginning to assert themselves. St Kilda still have the fourth-youngest list in the competition, and that’s with Fisher, Riewoldt, Montagna, Dempster and Gilbert who will all be 30+ by seasons end. They’re still a young team, but the list of players that are 24-27 reads quite nicely:

                David Armitage
                Jarryn Geary
                Luke Delaney
                Jason Holmes
                Jack Steven
                Cameron Shenton
                Tom Lee
                Shane Savage
                Tom Hickey
                Dylan Roberton
                Jake Carlisle
                Maverick Weller

                That excludes a number of players that are 23 or younger, which is where the vast majority of their list is at.

                I don’t think they’re in the frame for the premiership. But they could most certainly shock a number of the more fancied teams and pinch a finals spot.
                (I should add for clarity, that’s just a dump of all of the players that are aged 24 to 27, and not all of them are good AFL players)

              • January 7th 2016 @ 1:40pm
                Don Freo said | January 7th 2016 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

                George, I don’t think they are RELYING on those older players any more. Even Nick Riewoldt is now more support than prime mover.

                It’s a lot like Freo. When there have been senior stars, it’s too easy to think those stars are #1 players forever. Because they are so good, theystill can play significant roles despite being past their prime but the far more exciting prospect is the strong foundation of new generation players that are moving into on field influence and leadership.

    • January 6th 2016 @ 11:10am
      AnuddaMuddafarker said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:10am | ! Report

      Ryan you have gone to a lot of effort to get those stats….still, the current style of footy has become shocking to watch. It pains me to say I am an Essendon fan and watching their incompetence with the ball was simply torture. Hawthorn and West Coast proved the obvious….you can’t put all your eggs into just the defence or the attack basket, you have to be able to do both!!!! And both also proved that in this Ross Lyon style dominated game, attack is still king.

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2016 @ 11:53am
        Ryan Buckland said | January 6th 2016 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Its not as hard as you may think 😉 just half an hour with a spreadsheet.

        There’s no doubting the style of football has changed in recent years. I find it fascinating to watch, but then again I’m a bit of a football nerd. I’m not so sure its about putting eggs in attacking or defending baskets, as much as it is about a philosophy on the best way to win.