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We’re running out of fairytales: A 2018 AFL ladder prediction

Adrian Polykandrites Columnist

By Adrian Polykandrites, Adrian Polykandrites is a Roar Expert

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    How many more AFL droughts can be broken? (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    The past two seasons have been a realisation of the AFL’s equality dream. Not only have we seen two fairytale premierships, but there have been four different teams on the biggest stage. In fact, the past three seasons have seen six different grand finalists.

    Last year was the first time since 1995-97 that there were three straight years without a repeat grand finalist. That’s happened seven other times in AFL/VFL history and only once has that streak lasted more than three seasons.

    History suggests either Richmond or Adelaide will be back on the MCG on the last Saturday in September, but there are at least a handful of other teams with every right to consider themselves premiership contenders – and what does history know anyway.

    The Tigers will have to get used to being the hunted this year. They look more than up to the task. Their midfield is deep and mature, their defence is rock solid and there’s enough competition for spots among their feisty small forwards that none of them can afford to become complacent.

    Richmond have been accused of lacking an identity in the past, but that’s not the case in 2018. The ruthless Tigers know who and what they are – It doesn’t hurt that they have two of the five best players in the competition – and should be there when the whips are cracking in September.

    Trent Cotchin Richmond Tiger AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Adelaide have spent the offseason licking their grand final wounds and trying to figure out what went wrong in their last game at the MCG. Does Don Pyke write it off as a bad day and keep the faith in the players and game plan that saw his Crows waltz into the grand final, or did he see bigger issues that required drastic changes?

    The Crows are the second-oldest and sixth most experienced team in the competition, they’re primed for another premiership tilt.

    Speaking of primed, last year’s beaten preliminary finalists will be just as hungry as the Crows. The Cats and the Giants both fell a game short of the grand final for the second season in a row.

    For GWS, this year has a different feel. No longer can they rely on natural improvement within their talented list to push them up the ladder. It’s time for them to tighten things up, particularly defensively, if they are to be serious contenders.

    They were up to their ears in it in 2016, but there was something off about the Giants for a large chunk of 2017. Maybe all they need is a bit of luck with injuries, or maybe it’s time for them to grow up.

    The Cats won 17 games in 2016 and 15 games last season. With nine games at Kardinia Park, they should be around that mark again. The bigger question is whether they can modify their game to beat good teams on the much wider MCG.

    While Gary Ablett is obviously a huge addition, the more interesting moves come in the front half, where the Cats have been a little vanilla.

    Tom Lonergan’s retirement should mean Harry Taylor moves back where he belongs and while it’s dangerous to read too much into preseason form, 23-year-old recruit Tim Kelly should add some spark to the forward line, as will Lincoln McCarthy when fit. The Cats are my tip for the flag.

    Gary Ablett AFL Geelong Cats

    (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    There’s been much hand-wringing about the Swans being short-handed at the ruck position after Kurt Tippett’s retirement and Sam Naismith’s ruptured ACL, but there are only about five ruckman in the league who really matter anyway, and Naismith isn’t one of them.

    Sydney need only a warm, competitive body. The midfield is still stacked, the defence stingy and they have Lance Franklin.

    It’s reasonable to assume the first six rounds of 2017 were an outlier rather than a sign of decline for Sydney when you consider they won 14 of their next 16 home-and-away games and had a percentage 155 during that stretch.

    They were the best team in the league for the best part of four months and start this season as one of the teams to beat – contending is just what they do.

    Port Adelaide made plenty of noise over the offseason by bringing in Tom Rockliff, Jack Watts and Steven Motlop. Motlop and Watts have been whipping boys, and for good reason, but both offer plenty.

    Motlop was among the Cats’ best in each of their 2017 finals and Watts is one of the league’s smartest ball users. Rockliff adds toughness and versatility to a midfield group already chock-full of both.

    With as much firepower as the Power have, a return to finals should be expected. Whether they can hold their nerve against the best sides remains to be seen.

    There’s been enough gushing about Melbourne this preseason that I don’t need to add to it. Missing finals last season was a failure and doing so again this year would be doubly so. They should be pushing for top-four deep into the season.

    The mid-table scrap promises to be no less interesting than the fight for top-four.

    Until the AFL introduces its “wildcard” round, there’s room only for eight teams to play finals. Essendon, Hawthorn, St Kilda and the Bulldogs are the four most likely.

    All have strengths. All seem to be missing a little something.

    For the Dons, that missing ingredient is midfield depth and class. In Joe Daniher and Michael Hurley they have two of the best key-position players at their position and Cale Hooker is an excellent swingman – though I’d prefer to see him in defence where he’s a gun defender than in attack where he mostly acts as a tall guy.

    Cale Hooker Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

    John Worsfold’s sides have regularly been big on structure and small on imagination. Of the Bombers’ three highly touted recruits, it’s Jake Stringer who’ll most influence their fortunes.

    If he can rediscover his 2015 mojo, it will drastically change the dynamic of their team both around the goals and at stoppages. If he’s the so-so player we’ve seen for the best part of the past two seasons, it’s much less exciting.

    Stringer’s former team should be neck and neck with the Dons. As disappointing as the Bulldogs were in 2017, the Dogs went 11-11. They weren’t a bad team, they just weren’t a good one, which is strange for a reigning premier.

    The Dogs are still strong and deep with onballers and flankers, but there is no obvious solution to their scoring woes. Easton Wood is most certainly not the answer. If they can regain control around the ball, win the territory battle and they can keep their key-position players fit, they can return to finals. That’s a lot of ifs.

    The Hawks are tough to get a read on. They were dreadful to start last season, but finished with six wins and a draw from their final 10 games – and they were the only team to beat Sydney between rounds seven and 23.

    Hawthorn look good in each part of the ground without looking great. They also have the best coach of the past 20 years, so you’re braver than I to bet against them.

    The Saints line up similarly to the Hawks, with good but not great players across the park. They just leave me cold.

    Jarryn Geary St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    West Coast and Collingwood are each flawed with upside, the Pies more so in both areas.

    Count me among the fans of Darcy Moore’s move to defence. Between Moore and Jeremy Howe the Pies have the potential to pick off almost any slow high ball. Brodie Grundy working with Scott Pendlebury, Daniel Wells, Adam Treloar and Taylor Adams makes their midfield one of the strongest in the competition.

    It’s up forward where the Pies’ issues arise. When their best players are fit, it should function well enough. Unfortunately, when you’re relying on Ben Reid, Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo, fitness is fickle.

    The Eagles have no such problems in attack as long as Josh Kennedy and the flakey but underrated Jack Darling are around. And with Jeremy McGovern anchoring the defence, they’re solid enough there as well. The midfield is where it gets thin, though the biggest unknown is just how much of a home-ground advantage West Coast will have given up after moving from the fortress that was Subiaco.

    Carlton and Fremantle were the two lowest-scoring teams of 2017 and that will likely be an issue again this season.

    The Blues look ready to increase the tempo with ball in hand which is a smart move for a team that has built a solid defensive foundation under Brendon Bolton. Carlton aren’t world beaters just yet, but they’re trending in the right direction and are well enough coached and prepared to take advantage of teams who aren’t.

    The Dockers too would be wise to pick up the pace given their best forwards are still their midfielders. Nathan Wilson is one of the best kicks in the league and will add drive off halfback, just who he’s driving the ball to remains a problem. Few players will carry a heavier load than Nat Fyfe; few players are more capable.

    Nat Fyfe

    (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    North Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast all look likely bottom-four teams, but none are without hope – even in a perfect world, someone has to finish last.

    The Lions and Suns are stacked with young talent and each have stars capable of heavily influencing games on their day – Dayne Zorko, Dayne Beams and Tom Lynch are among the very best players in the league.

    As is the case with young, building teams, all you can ask for is improvement.

    North Melbourne have become a bit of a cheap gag, and some of that is fair, but plenty of it is not. With their best 22 on the park the Roos have enough mature talent to make them competitive.

    Whether that’s what you want from a team at their stage of development is a deeper discussion for another day, but while their ceiling is low, North aren’t a team to be taken lightly.

    Dig as deep as you might in anticipation, every season throws up its share of surprises. Time to get on with the real stuff.

    Ladder prediction

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

    Premiers
    Geelong

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    The Crowd Says (137)

    • March 16th 2018 @ 7:49am
      Kris’ said | March 16th 2018 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      The Buddy Franklin experiment will fail again to bring a premiership.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 9:35am
        Birdman said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        hopefully that’s right Kris but I see them in the frame for another grand final (loss) this year

        • March 16th 2018 @ 11:34am
          Guttsy said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          And the fact the Swans have made the grand final in recent years, is in no small part thanks to Buddy, should also be acknowledged.

          • Roar Guru

            March 16th 2018 @ 11:45am
            Cat said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            While also acknowledging that Buddy’s mega contract has certainly caused the Swans depth to be eroded. Sydney has also become too ‘Buddy-centric’ and unbalanced.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 16th 2018 @ 11:49am
              Lord Dunsborough of the MCC said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

              This from a man whose club is held aloft by the hamstrings of 3 titans and a host of minnows

            • March 16th 2018 @ 12:48pm
              Guttsy said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

              I would argue that so far Buddy has been worth every cent of his back loaded contract and that any future pain of that back loading is going to be significantly reduced by the competition wide AFL player pay increases that are now coming through the pipeline.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 1:03pm
                Cat said | March 16th 2018 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

                If his contract is actually back-loaded much. You are assuming facts not in evidence. Sure, let’s pretend we know exactly how his contract is structured and big chunks were put in with the assumption a 20% pay rise was coming (which in and of itself would have been a heck of a feat of future telling). While 17 other clubs get to go out and spend additional money and re-sign their own pending free agents or chase other targets Sydney again has to sit on their hands and remain relatively inactive due to lack of cap space – even though it just went up 20%!

              • March 17th 2018 @ 7:21pm
                Mark said | March 17th 2018 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

                Usually other fans sook that Sydney are able to sign whoever they want. Nice to see the reverse (although it’s still a sook).

              • March 16th 2018 @ 1:29pm
                Guttsy said | March 16th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                Cat,

                There is a price to be paid for bringing a player of the quality of Buddy to your club. And given Buddy won the Coleman last year, I would suggest anyone who says he wasn’t worth his money last year can’t be taken too seriously.

            • Roar Guru

              March 16th 2018 @ 1:43pm
              Cat said | March 16th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

              I never commented on whether he was ‘worth the money or not’. You pointed to him as being to reason the Swans played in GFs, I was just countering that argument.
              Off field, certainly Buddy has been worth it. On field? Highly debatable. Will never know the multiple alternative people the Swans could have been brought in for the money, nor the effect they could have had.
              What we do know is the Swans were one of the most balanced teams, not relying on any one individual prior to Buddy and they actually won flags. With Buddy they have been at times very one dimensional and when Buddy has missed the Swans have been a shell of themselves. We also know the Swans have not won any GF since he has arrived.
              Those are the facts.

              • March 16th 2018 @ 2:44pm
                Guttsy said | March 16th 2018 @ 2:44pm | ! Report

                Cat,

                I guess our difference here is somewhat philosophical. I look at you as a “the game is won an lost in the midfield” type of person and as a result you value outstanding midfielders moreso. Where as I am more of a “the game is won and lost at the pointy ends” type of guy and as a result value outstanding key forwards and key defenders more. No doubt the ratings of players and the accolades in the game support your point of view but when I watch a match of footy its not what I see.

              • March 17th 2018 @ 7:23pm
                Mark said | March 17th 2018 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

                Cats have not won a flag with Danger. What an average team you support.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 5:52pm
        GoSwans said | March 16th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

        The fairytale will be Buddy winning another two (but this will only be possible if the umpiring isn’t 2016 standard).

        • March 17th 2018 @ 12:28pm
          Simoc said | March 17th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          The thing is Buddy Franklin is great for AFL footy and the place to showcase him is Sydney. He’s like the Messi or Ronaldo of soccer. It’s fantastic when he’s on the park for people who love the game.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 7:12pm
        The Ghost said | March 16th 2018 @ 7:12pm | ! Report

        The sad old tragic Swans will once again choke when it comes to winning a grand final. Their strike rate in grand finals is pathetic. If the Swans choke again, questions should definitely be asked about Longmire’s coaching. The Sydney old boy network who make decisions at board level have made mistake after mistake, which has allowed this club to be the AFL’s great pretenders. The lure of Buddy was meant to bring them a premiership. Tippet was meant to be the added extra, that would make that premiership a lock. Sadly Sydney are stuck in the born to rule cheque book recruiting days of Doc Edelsten. Sydney are sinking like Malcolm Turnbull’s government. Mr harbourside mansion will once again watch on in disgust, as his ugly ducklings fall into the quagmire unable to swim to safety, as the mighty Tigers go back to back.

        Eat ’em alive Tigers!

        • March 17th 2018 @ 7:25pm
          Mark said | March 17th 2018 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

          You lost 3 eliminations in a row (once losing to a team who finished 9th). Definitely the last person who should be talking about choking.

        • March 19th 2018 @ 4:30am
          Tricky said | March 19th 2018 @ 4:30am | ! Report

          You reckon the Swans premier strike rate is poor, well go look at Collingwood they’ve had a go 43 times for a paltry in fact insulting 15 wins. Since 1970 they’ve had a 11 shots at the title for a demoralising 2 wins. Bag the swans all you want but when it comes to losing GF’s they’re not as bad as some -certainly no club as bad as the Pies!

    • Roar Rookie

      March 16th 2018 @ 8:40am
      Mac Hawk said | March 16th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Predict a Richmond v Melbourne GF.
      My gut feeling is that Adelaide will dissapoint, Geelong’s big three will struggle with injuries, GWS will be once more falling short of fire in the big games . Swans without injuries are the most likely to upset my call but …I think they will be hit with enough to wobble the ship.

    • March 16th 2018 @ 9:03am
      Birdman said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Freo will be much higher (around the last final spot) and Geelong will not salute

      • March 16th 2018 @ 9:28am
        Macca said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        At the very least I would swap Freo and Collingwood.

      • Roar Guru

        March 16th 2018 @ 10:08am
        Penster said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        I’ve got Freo & Collingwood in the 8 and Hawks and Sydney vying for a spot, with Geelong, Adelaide, GWS & Port dropping.

        • March 16th 2018 @ 2:33pm
          Birdman said | March 16th 2018 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

          wow – Pies in the 8?

          Have you and Rick D ever been seen in the same room?

    • March 16th 2018 @ 9:07am
      Macca said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      “The Blues look ready to increase the tempo with ball in hand” This is very true, although the loss of Pickett for 3 months isn’t ideal for both speed of ball movement and increased scoring. Really tough break for the kid who looked like he had finally got his body right and set himself for a big season. Hopefully he can still have an impact in the second half of the year.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 9:56am
        Darren said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Agree Macca big blow for him and the team

        • March 16th 2018 @ 10:05am
          Macca said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          Hopefully it opens the door for someone else to take their opportunity – Garlett or Cuningham spring to mind.

          • Roar Guru

            March 16th 2018 @ 10:47am
            Col from Brissie said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:47am | ! Report

            Yeah big blow for the youngster, he looked like he was ready to show us what talent he has. On a better note for the Blues they have locked Dow away until the end of 2022. All the young talent are buying into what the future looks like for the club.

            • March 16th 2018 @ 10:54am
              Macca said | March 16th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

              I read those 2 article in the wrong order today, first thing I saw was Dow had resigned and was very happy and then I scrolled down and got kicked in the n*ts by Pickett injury – I was really confident of him making a big difference for us this year.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 11:44am
                AdelaideDocker said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

                I did the same thing! I went from “oh, that’s great for the Blues” to “oh damn, that’s a big loss”.

                Bloody Friday morning mixed emotions!

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 11:48am
                Cat said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

                Sorry for being pedantic, but there is a huge difference between ‘re-signed’ (to sign again) and ‘resigned’ (quit).

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 11:51am
                AdelaideDocker said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

                Ha, you’re not being too pedantic, Cat.

                I remember when Fyfe re-signed last year, I saw a few comments saying he’d resigned. Scared the hell out of me.

                Grammar matters, folks.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm
                Cat said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

                This: goo.gl/AP4koJ is still my favorite meme on grammar.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 12:06pm
                AdelaideDocker said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

                Opening links whilst I’m sitting in a cafe is always risky, but I wasn’t disappointed.

                Brilliantly funny.

    • March 16th 2018 @ 9:14am
      vocans said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Poly kala, you got the 8 about right but in what order is anybody’s guess at this stage. If any one of those teams clicks this season they would be real goes for the GF.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 16th 2018 @ 9:22am
      Lamby said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      That is a couple of people picking Geelong for top/flag. I can’t see the logic. Where is the improvement coming from? They lose 2 All-Australian’s in Lonergan (well, he has been in the squad) and Mackie and pick up a bloke who will probably struggle to play a dozen games. They will get a bit of organic growth – but pinning their hopes on a over-age rookie? Yes, they will make the finals – but I just can’t see them improving enough to be there at the pointy end of the season.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 9:36am
        Birdman said | March 16th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        it’s beyond me too.

      • March 16th 2018 @ 11:42am
        Joe said | March 16th 2018 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        The biggest addition is the first-choice pressure forwards coming back from injury (Cockatoo, McCarthy, Gregson). It was a position we were almost entirely missing last year due to injury. The majority of our list is coming into the right age bracket for a flag (22-28), and you can’t just write off Ablett. There’s a big gap between pinning your hopes on him and expecting him to contribute nothing. As for Lonergan and Mackie, their class will be missed, but their absence will also make our team a lot quicker. We’re moving Taylor back into defence to cover one, the question is whether or not Kolo, Thurlow or Bews can cover the other. If they can, why would Geelong NOT improve?

        • Roar Rookie

          March 16th 2018 @ 2:50pm
          Lamby said | March 16th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          Cockatoo, McCarthy, Gregson

          Cockatoo probably is a slight improvement on Motlop. But you are in trouble if you are relying on McCarthy (24 yo, pick 66, 177cm, 3 games for a total of 24 kicks) and Gregson (21yo pick 47, 175cm 29 games). Again you might get some good games from them – but at this stage they are essentially 18-22 best players who you hope can contribute.

          Taylor goes back to cover Lonergan, but who covers Taylor up front?

          Why would Geelong not improve? Your midfield is better – but only for 10-12 games, but you still don’t have a competitive ruckman, your back line is worse, your forward line may be slightly better – but you are relying on long term injured players and rookies to suddenly become competitive.

          • March 16th 2018 @ 6:53pm
            Joe said | March 16th 2018 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

            McCarthy has played 27 games (not 3), he’s a quality player and absolutely in our best 22, just had shocking luck with injuries. Gregson was ahead of Cockatoo before he got injured back in 2016. I completely accept it could happen again, but I don’t consider bad luck to be a thing that SHOULD happen, just cos it’s happened before. It’s unlikely Cockatoo, McCarthy and Gregson will ALL be injured ALL season long like last year, and even one of them will improve the forward line. I also think Tim Kelly is likely to be a quality player, but that’s a wait and see.

            Taylor up front has Crameri as a potential replacement, or Stanley, but I think it’s more likely he gets replaced with a crumbing pressure forward – so one of the three mentioned above, or Parfitt. I never personally rated Taylor as a forward, so that’s a position I’m hoping for a lot of improvement. I also think you’ll see Danger (and Ablett) up forward a lot more this year, and that move shouldn’t be underestimated.

            Disagree on not having a competitive ruckman, why so down on Zac Smith?

            “but you are relying on long term injured players and rookies to suddenly become competitive.”

            Suddenly become competitive? I wasn’t aware we were so far off the pace. ‘But you got smashed in the finals.’ So did Adelaide, so did Sydney, so did GWS. Funny, every finals team got smashed when they played away from home.

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