2017 ladder predictions: The top three

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    We’ve finally reached the top three in my 2017 ladder predictions. It’s good news for NSW footy fans, and fans of the reigning premiers.

    3rd: Western Bulldogs

    In a nutshell, what’s going to happen?
    Nobody could’ve predicted last year’s miracle premiership, but could the Bulldogs snag another this year? They’re definitely in the mix.

    One of the biggest things about the Bulldogs is that they managed to win the premiership without some of their most important (well, I guess the word important is arguable) players. No Bob Murphy and no Mitch Wallis, for instance, the Doggies having a heartbreaking injury run. The impressive thing is, they’re going to get all of those players back this year.

    Having Murphy, especially, on the field again will be so important for the club.

    Adding these players to their group of very talented players and you’ve got a team powerful enough to challenge almost anyone. They’ve got great depth, too, with a 2016 premiership the cherry on top of their brilliant 2016.

    The Bulldogs are going to finish the home-and-away season in a better position than last year, but it’s impossible to predict how far they’ll go in the finals.

    Most influential new player?
    The Bulldogs only recruited in one experienced player during last year’s trade period – Collingwood’s Travis Cloke – in a deal that I still have a few reservations about. Nonetheless, Cloke has impressed in his first few JLT games, and is shaping up to be a nice addition.

    So they lost more than they gained in the trade period. Joel Hamling now plays for Fremantle, while Nathan Hovrat plies his trade for the Kangas and Koby Stevens is with the Saints. The latter two mean that the Bulldogs have lost a bit of midfield depth, but it’s Hamling’s loss that could potentially be the most damaging, given his impressive finals series form.

    Draft-wise, the Bulldogs snared a decent group of players, with ruck-prospect Tim English the most promising.

    Travis Cloke of the Magpies kicks a goal

    Predicted surprise win of the season?
    Their Round 5 match-up against Greater Western Sydney is one match I am unashamedly looking forward to. Coupled with the fact that it’s going to be on free-to-air, on a Friday night, and you’ve got one hell of a match. After their preliminary final conquering, the Bulldogs will be striving to get another win over their young yet brilliant rivals.

    Their Friday night match against Sydney in early April will also be exciting encounter, while Round 3 against Fremantle (funnily enough, the last team to beat them in a premiership game) could be a good game, depending on how Freo is tracking.

    Worst potential loss of the season?
    They’ll be wary of the rapidly rising Victorian teams – St Kilda and Melbourne will especially be out to poach a win off the reigning premiers, and that’ll be possible. We’ll see.

    Geelong is another team which smashed the Bulldogs twice in 2016, so their Round 9 match-up at Simmonds Stadium will be an intense game.

    Best and fairest winner?
    Not surprisingly, it was Marcus Bontempelli who took out the Charles Sutton Medal last year, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t pick it up again.

    2nd: Sydney Swans

    In a nutshell, what’s going to happen?
    The Swans got so close to glory last year. Could they finally snag a premiership this year? I’m not predicting finals, but a second-place finish will definitely give them the best possible chance.

    They’d be bloody hungry – three grand finals in the past five years would lead any team to be desperate for another premiership – and their team is scarily good. I mean, any side with a midfield containing Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Issac Heeney and Calumn Mills is going to be right in the mix.

    Sydney also have a knack for making young players into ones to watch. Allir Allir, Tom Papley, George Hewitt? A year ago, I didn’t know who they were. This year? I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

    Simply put, they’ve got an excellent team.

    Aliir Aliir of the Sydney Swans bumps a North Melbourne Kangaroos player

    Most influential new player?
    The Swans got no new players in throughout the trade period, but in the draft they nabbed Oliver Florent, a dude who I’ll confess to being pretty impressed with. It’s a good result for Sydney, and Florent could entirely possibly get some regular games – especially if Heeney is still out with glandular fever throughout the early few weeks of the season.

    Surprise win of the season?
    Well, they certainly wouldn’t want to lose to the Bulldogs again. Last year’s election day loss was bad enough, but the grand final was heartbreaking.

    Thexe teams meet up again in an exciting Friday night showdown in Round 2.

    They Swans would also love to beat Geelong and West Coast, while a repeat of their monster victories over Collingwood and Fremantle last season will keep the camp happy – and boost their percentage.

    Worst potential loss of the season?
    The two Sydney Derbies this year will be rough, tough contests. The top eight will be so close that these two games will probably matter. Sydney wins both, and they very well could take GWS’s top spot. Lose both, and there’s every possibility that they’ll fall out of the top four.

    I’m exaggerating here, of course, but it’s going to be tight at the top.

    They’d hate to lose more games to rivals Hawthorn, and they’d want to avoid a loss to St Kilda – a team that has been very, very close to knocking off the Swans as recently as last weekend’s JLT Challenge fixture.

    Best and fairest winner?
    Josh Kennedy just beat out his teammate Dan Hannebery to receive the Bob Skilton medal last season. Both, you’d expect, would be good chances to take the award out this year.

    Yet, in an award seemingly biased towards midfielders, it’s too hard to predict. That’s how good the Swans are: you’ll see it in the Brownlow, where they take votes off each other, and it’s what’s making this club’s award too fragmented to accurately predict.

    1st: GWS Giants

    In a nutshell, what’s going to happen?
    It’s difficult to find the superlatives I need to describe how good GWS are going to be this year. The Giants have built a very good list, with strong players throughout all areas of the ground.

    Any team facing them either in Sydney or Canberra should be rightfully nervous. Facing them away, you might have more of a chance.

    There’s two things, though, that need to be considered.

    Fristly, how good can they be away, on the biggest of stages? They’ve got ample opportunities to prove the critics wrong, and it’s likely they will. For their sake, I hope so.

    Secondly, hanging over the Giants is the threat of injuries. Their best 22 is excellent, but many commentators have pointed out a lack of depth. Unfortunately for the GWS, they experienced something of a taste of these dreaded injuries during their final JLT match against North Melbourne last weekend. Stephen Coniglio won’t line up in the first few rounds of the season, and it’s likely that youngster Aidan Corr will also miss at least one, while Steve Johnson is also under an injury cloud.

    Steve Johnson and Toby Greene embrace in the AFL Finals 2016

    Many young and talented players have departed the club in the past few years (read: Jack Steele), so the Giants would want to be careful to not put too much pressure on their rawest, newest players.

    Although, there’s one player who might be the exception to that rule….

    Most influential new player?
    That player is Tim Taranto – and perhaps Brett Deledio.

    Deledio was the Giants’ only experienced recruit in 2016, and the former Tiger will add an important touch of experience and class to the midfield.

    Taranto was their first pick (and second overall) at the draft, and has rewarded them in a massive way. Playing all three JLT games, he averaged 17 disposals. The kid’s got talent, that’s undeniable.

    GWS also – somewhat spontaneously – drafted Freo duo Matt de Boer and Tendai Mzungu, which will add a smidge of experience to their still-developing playing group.

    Surprise win of the season?
    First and foremost, they’d be hoping to win their first-round match against the Crows at the Adelaide Oval, where they’ve never won.

    Match-ups against Sydney, the Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Geelong also look like promising matches – and matches that would be vital to win. Games against West Coast (in Perth), the Hawks (in Tasmania) and Geelong (at Simmonds Stadium) are also doubly important, as they’re on big, unfamiliar stages – it’s not like the Giants can’t win them, though.

    Worst potential loss of the season?
    They’d want to avoid losses to teams like Collingwood, like last year, and be on guard when facing teams like the Suns, Saints or Melbourne, because all three are up-and-comers who’d love nothing more than to poach a win against this season’s premier team.

    Best and fairest winner?
    It was Toby Greene who – I will admit, in a surprise to me – picked up the Kevin Sheedy Medal in 2016. The brilliant Tom Scully is my pick for this year, but in a team populated by so many fantastic midfielders (like Sydney), it’ll be close.

    Quick recap

    This season, ladies and gentlemen, is shaping up to be a great one. Here’s my final predicted ladder:

    1) GWS Giants
    2) Sydney Swans
    3) Western Bulldogs
    4) Adelaide Crows
    5) West Coast Eagles
    6) Geelong
    7) Hawthorn
    8) St Kilda
    9) Fremantle Dockers
    10) Melbourne
    11) Port Adelaide
    12) Collingwood
    13) Essendon
    14) Richmond
    15) North Melbourne
    16) Carlton
    17) Gold Coast Suns
    18) Brisbane Lions

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    The Crowd Says (3)

    • March 17th 2017 @ 3:06pm
      sammy said | March 17th 2017 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

      I think that is a pretty accurate ladder prediction..for this time of year, but I think it will end up very close to that at years end

    • March 18th 2017 @ 8:53am
      Craig Delaney said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      Well constructed series of predictions AD. There are question marks over almost every team vis-a-vis likely performance level. Not least of which your Dockers. You could easily have them too low at 9, but equally too high. GWS look the goods but that always feels shaky to me. I too would predict a Sydney derby for the GF, but hope I’m wrong. For a smokey I’d say the Crows or the Eagles. But the former is biased.

    • March 19th 2017 @ 2:58pm
      Scott said | March 19th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

      GWS will be freakishly good for a long time. I want to write an article on here, if I get the time, on how they could potentially stay in the top 4 for 10 years or more. The one thing that could stop them this year though, is that they don’t yet have a huge following. Having half of the crowd going for the Bulldogs in the prelim last year may be the only reason they aren’t already premiers. As the top team they will start attracting large opposition crowds to away games which will make it that little bit harder. By next year I think they’ll start to get a bit of a following and they will be scary good by then.

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