The best eight teams of 2018 are already in the top eight

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    It might seem obvious, but often the early season ladder can be misleading. Not so in 2018: the best teams of the year to date are currently in the finals seedings.

    History shows we can expect at least five of our eventual finalists to be sitting comfortably inside the top eight after eight weeks of football. Since the turn, an average of 6.5 teams that played finals have been in the eight at the roughly one-third mark of the season – in 2006, 2013 and 2015 we could’ve stopped the season there and then.

    If we did that in 2018, right now, would there be too many complaints? Not complaints about missing two-thirds of a season of football, because of course. But complaints about teams missing out on finals action that ‘should’ve’ made it in? I suspect not.

    From top to bottom, the current top eight have played the best football of 2018, and would be deserved finalists if they manage to keep their spots for the rest of the season. However, we can make the case for some teams on the outside looking in.

    Greater Western Sydney’s biggest struggle has been converting its ground ball game into scoring opportunities. And that’s because it has been forced to turn to a patchwork forward line and attacking outside midfield group, without any continuity.

    The ninth-placed Giants are 12th in scoring, and even worse when adjusting for time in possession (14th). That’ll – presumably – correct itself at least a bit as the likes of Toby Greene, Brett Deledio, Josh Kelly, Tom Scully come back from injury, and Jeremy Cameron gets a decent run at things.

    North Melbourne rose to eighth on my fancy shmancy expected wins formula this week, after playing Richmond closer than anyone not named the Adelaide Crows yesterday. They’re the subject of this week’s Thursday column so let’s keep our powder dry now.

    The Collingwood bubble was let down just a little after yesterday’s stifling affair with Geelong. I didn’t watch the game in full but the bits I saw suggested a team without an answer to the Cats’ defensive zoning, not helped by a poor day in front of goal. They’re certainly a rung or two above the dregs, but still look that far or more behind the best in the league.

    And Fremantle remains as confounding as ever, doing all they needed to do and nothing more against St Kilda. One does wonder how the team would go without the singular presence of presumptive Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe between the arcs. We’ll learn plenty about them over the next four weeks with a couple of tricky away trips and two tough home opponents in the ‘Roos and Crows.

    Nat Fyfe

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

    We draw the line here. The Western Bulldogs are playing for 2021. Gold Coast were never going to be able to do much this season on account of the Commonwealth Games, and so it looks. Essendon might go into voluntary administration before the month is out. St Kilda couldn’t score a snowboarding contest. Carlton are playing for 2021. Brisbane are cursed to lose every close game.

    Those four teams still gunning for the eight with realistic ambition all come with a but. The biggest of those is needing to displace a team above them.

    Fortunately, the season being as it is means Fremantle could jump into eighth spot with an (admittedly very large) win over Sydney. The Giants, with their draw, could surge to third if results broke their way. North has a better percentage than the three teams immediately above them. Collingwood has a fortnight of football that affords them a chance to build on their 50:50 platform.

    Port Adelaide look the most vulnerable of the current finalists, almost by default. The Power hasn’t been the offensive force many expected them to be, and aren’t as glued to their high press as they have been in recent years. Instead, Port is a stoppage machine, as we saw in that stellar second half against the Adelaide Crows.

    Sydney’s win over Hawthorn was full of merit, even if the conditions suited their style better than the Hawks. Winning the way they did – coming from behind, kicking five straight in the last – was all about effort and application.

    You’ve seen the stat but it bears repeating: Sydney is 4-0 away from home, and 1-3 at the SCG (with two of those close losses). Those four away wins are crucial, because once Sydney’s home ground advantage regresses to the mean they will afford an enormous leg up.

    Josh P Kennedy

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    Melbourne’s drubbing of the Gold Coast Suns – 85 inside 50s, a stunning 46 shots on goal, +94 in uncontested possessions – corrected the club’s underlying metrics to the point where their record is who they are. Three weeks into a calk walk patch in their fixture, the Dees look much more like the team I expected them to be coming into the year.

    Hawthorn shouldn’t feel too poorly about their loss to the Swans. Their football identity is clear, and they have the personnel to execute it. Whether they’re a top four team was always an open question, despite what the week-behind mainstream writers told you last week, although they’ve got the game to get there.

    Adelaide got their heart ripped out against Port Adelaide. But down most of their starting core midfield from last season – friends, Paul Seedsman, Rory Atkins, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood are fine players but should not be your fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh highest disposal getters – still has plenty of upside. Perhaps the only concern is the Crows have played a fairly meek slate of opponents to date, which will circle back in the second half of the season.

    Geelong have crept all the way up to third, playing their own way as tends to be coach Chris Scott’s method. Content to play in their back half, the Cats are anything but quick, and long to play keepy off. That could be to help an undermanned back six, which was a little less undermanned this week following the return of Harry Taylor (who had two intercept marks and three score launches among his 20 possessions). And the tough part of the Cats’ draw is over.

    That leaves us with the teams in the top two seeds, who happen to face each other in the last game of Round 9. Richmond and West Coast have been the two standouts in a year where there has been fewer standouts than we’re used to. They play with the same ethos – speed with the ball, intensity without it – have the two best defensive sets, and contrasting looks forward of the ball. On paper it looks like the game of the season to date and it should play out as such on the lightning Perth Stadium deck.

    Of all the teams sitting pretty inside the eight, the Eagles and Tigers are the two sitting prettiest. After Sunday that won’t change, but we will know for sure whether we’re all chasing Richmond, or whether West Coast deserve to sit alongside them.

    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 (96)

    • May 14th 2018 @ 8:00am
      Reservoir Animal said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      GWS probably the only team outside the 8 that can get in. Am not willing to bet on who’ll fall out.

      • May 14th 2018 @ 10:43am
        Perry Bridge said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Form and injury and luck will play it’s part.

        Giants and North in a classic 8 point battle down in Hobart this weekend – the sides 3-8 have games they really should win so it’s vital for both GWS and Nth to win to not fall off the pace.
        West Coast hosting Richmond the clear match of the Round 9.

        In Round 10 West Coast travel to Melb to take on Hawthorn. Melbourne and Adelaide have an 8 pt game. North travel to Perth to play Freo and the Giants host Essendon. Port have the week off after their China jaunt.

        In Round 11 GWS travel to Adelaide, the Hawks and Port have an 8 pt game. And North host Brisbane.

        The teams with the easier run in the next 3 weeks are Geelong (v Ess, Carl and Gold Coast) and Sydney (Freo, Brissie and Carlton).

        Hawthorn have Brissie, West Coast and Port.

        If North get past GWS this week, then they have Freo and Brissie for perhaps some respite depending how the returning players at Freo shape up.

        Then it’s into the bye rounds – and we see Geelong v North, and Port v Richmond as a couple of standout games in Round 12.

        I don’t particularly want North to be a finalist this year – finishing 8th and going out in the first week would be of very limited benefit.

        • May 14th 2018 @ 10:56am
          me too said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          what you’d rather they finish ninth? Or worse? who in the world would choose that?
          finals would be a great reward and experience for the players if they make it.

          • May 14th 2018 @ 12:46pm
            Perry Bridge said | May 14th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

            #me too

            I kinda wanted another bottom 4-5 finish with about 6 solid wins and another bunch of narrow losses and get another top 5 draft pick of a classy midfielder.

            However yeah – if it’s 9th-10th, then may as well sneak in for a finals match and you never know – – and we know that North can play finals type footy.

            However – I’ve been consistent all along – the fact that guys like Wood, Garner and Turner who have all been around a fair few years now – none of them are at 50 games yet – – I saw Dan McStay for Brisbane, 22 yr old, 66 games – perhaps too many before he was ready but – he’s got that base.

            Looking at the North side – Anderson (improving now, not much opportunity at Hawks) now 33 games age 24. Daw of course, age 27 and only 37 games (looking to be settling now in defence), Wood (age 24 only 28 games), Turner (age 22, 44 games), Dumont (age 22, 47 games). The more recent arrivals of Simpkin (age 20, 21 games) and Clarke (age 20 11 months, 29 games) have had a less interrupted path so far.

            And then there’s Taylor Garner who hasn’t returned this year.

            Getting games into these guys is important – – if they stay mostly fit and get some continuity then there IS a scope for improvement individually and as a team that means we could yet be a threat if we get into the 8. But I’m putting the horse before the cart – get the games into these guys – if we do that, then the finals might follow.

        • May 14th 2018 @ 12:49pm
          reuster75 said | May 14th 2018 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

          West Coast v Hawks at the MCG will answer more questions than the game over in Perth against Richmond (unless they either smash Richmond or get smashed) as we all know they’ve struggled at the MCG and we know they’re very strong in Perth. If their home form holds then you’d expect top two finish but it’s eerily like 2015 when they got blown away in GF.

          • May 14th 2018 @ 1:31pm
            Reservoir Animal said | May 14th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

            Except they’re playing at Etihad.

          • Roar Pro

            May 14th 2018 @ 1:35pm
            Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            Yes that and the Melb teams have the advantage of playing the GF on home soil every year!

            • May 14th 2018 @ 2:47pm
              Reservoir Animal said | May 14th 2018 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

              Do you have a better idea?

              • Roar Pro

                May 14th 2018 @ 3:34pm
                Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

                I would say to make it an even comp but we all know that is never going to happen. For a start the Melb teams do about a quarter of the travel of interstate teams but we live in a Big country and there are a lot of teams in Melb so not much you can do about that even if you did move/merge/get rid of a few of the Melb teams

                All the states have large enough stadiums to host a GF, and before you say none hold as many people, neither do most of the NFL stadiums in a country of 250 million people and it does not stop them moving it around. All the money is in the TV rights anyway so the argument the GF HAS to be played at the MCG is redundant.

              • May 15th 2018 @ 7:04am
                Rob said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:04am | ! Report

                No. Other states do not have stadiums with the capacity to host the GF. Have a look at the size of the stadiums that host the Superbowl – none are as “small” as the SCG, Adelaide Oval or Perth Stadium.

              • May 14th 2018 @ 4:02pm
                Reservoir Animal said | May 14th 2018 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

                “All the states have large enough stadiums to host a GF, and before you say none hold as many people, neither do most of the NFL stadiums in a country of 250 million people and it does not stop them moving it around.”

                To host a Super Bowl, your stadium has to have capacity of 70K plus. Rules out pretty much all the non-MCG AFL venues.

                “All the money is in the TV rights anyway so the argument the GF HAS to be played at the MCG is redundant.”

                It’s not just about money, it’s about giving people the chance to attend a Grand Final. Thought you would’ve realised that.

                Recently the AFL extended the MCG’s contract. And that is because no other state or venue put in a comparable bid for the event.

              • Roar Pro

                May 14th 2018 @ 5:59pm
                Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

                70k stadiums in a country of 250 million people! Pretty sure last time I checked we had about a tenth of that!

                Give me a break with the letting more people go to it. The majority of seats at the GF are allocated to corporate’s.

                Did you see all the bids did you? I have not seen any of the details of those bids anywhere. Can you supply a link? Where there any stipulations on bids that may have ruled out every other bid bar the MCG? eg Stadium must hold 90k??

              • May 14th 2018 @ 8:20pm
                Football Head said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

                So your argument is that the grand final only needs to be held in a stafium with a capacity of 7,000..?

              • May 14th 2018 @ 8:36pm
                Reservoir Animal said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:36pm | ! Report

                “The majority of seats at the GF are allocated to corporate’s.”

                Right, so corporates are contracted to get at least 50,000 Grand Final seats. That means if you hold the game at the Gabba, the SCG, or numerous grounds there will be no seats left for anybody non-corporate. Not one. Zero.

                Even if you hold it at Optus Stadium you’re only left with 10,000 seats. You can bet your life they’ll all be taken before a single club member gets a ticket.

                “Did you see all the bids did you?”

                I don’t need to. I know that all of them involved small, dinky grounds in either small, dinky towns or places that would have inferior tourist environments to Melbourne. In Sydney you can hardly even get a drink after 10PM.

              • Roar Pro

                May 14th 2018 @ 8:52pm
                Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

                Yeah that’s what I am saying. Lets play it in a 7,000 seat stadium.

                Which of the States main stadiums has a max capacity of 7,000 by the way?

                Thanks for your input

              • Roar Pro

                May 14th 2018 @ 8:59pm
                Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:59pm | ! Report

                Well done RA.

                You just summed up the arrogance of every Victorian football fan.

                Like the little kid yelling to mummy and daddy “look at me”!

              • May 15th 2018 @ 7:46am
                Reservoir Animal said | May 15th 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

                If crowd size doesn’t matter then why shouldn’t we play it in a 7K stadium? Or better still, play it in my local park, since the venue deal would be cheaper.

                Why don’t these other states simply build 100K stadiums and not keep trying to get something on the cheap? Is it really that hard?

              • Roar Guru

                May 15th 2018 @ 8:04am
                Cat said | May 15th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

                2017 Toyota AFL Grand Final Tickets
                1. AFL Grand Final Ticket Allocation

                The capacity of the MCG will be approximately 100,000 on Grand Final Day.

                In answer to guidelines (a), (b) and (c) the AFL proposes that tickets to the 2017 AFL Grand Final be allocated in approximately the following manner:

                Competing Club Members 16,000 – 35,000
                AFL Clubs (18) 0 – 10,000
                MCC Reserve 16,000 – 26,000
                AFL Members 13,000 – 23,000
                AFL/Medallion Club Members 3,000 – 5,000
                AFL Entitlements/Contractual Obligation 5,000 – 30,000
                Competing Clubs 0 – 5,000

                Total 100,000 (approx)

                That’s the actual allocation just so you can get your facts right.

              • Roar Pro

                May 15th 2018 @ 5:39pm
                Davico said | May 15th 2018 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

                There are some big variations in numbers there Cat. Do you know which of those get priority in order?

              • Roar Pro

                May 15th 2018 @ 5:49pm
                Davico said | May 15th 2018 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

                RA

                Where exactly did I say crowd size does not matter?

                What I said was if a country of 250 million people can have their showpiece event in stadiums smaller than the MCG and there are Stadiums in the other states (NSW 85k, WA 60k+, SA 50k+) then why is it a given that the GF has to be played at the MCG?

                I love seeing the GF at the MCG but it gives a handful of clubs a massive advantage on the most important day in the season and does not reward the team that makes the GF over the course of the season. The least you blokes could do is admit that fact but all you do is come up with excuses and things like “history of the game”!

                Most kids drafted next year would not have a scooby that it was once the VFL

              • May 15th 2018 @ 9:09pm
                Reservoir Animal said | May 15th 2018 @ 9:09pm | ! Report

                I didn’t say a word about history. Just that GFs need to be played at worthy stadia, and outside Victoria everyone’s too childish to build such a stadium.

                You do realise that between 50,000 and 84,000 GF seats are contracted out to people other than club members? You do realise what this means for any Grand Final played away from the MCG?

            • May 15th 2018 @ 2:10am
              Kurt said | May 15th 2018 @ 2:10am | ! Report

              Yawn.

    • May 14th 2018 @ 9:23am
      Another Paul said | May 14th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      No one from 3 – 8 have been very convincing, then again they seem to have played a lot of games between them. Don’t know if that’s an illusion though.

    • May 14th 2018 @ 9:29am
      Milo said | May 14th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      Thanks Ryan,
      I can see GWS just getting in, but who goes out? The only team thats still surprising IMO is the Hawks. Credit to Clarko so far, but not many expected them to bounce back so high so soon. On current form Id give them another seven wins meaning theyre pretty close… but on current form…Can they keep it up? Can also see the Giants winning another eight if only they can get a few of the likes of Kelly, Scully and Greene back asap but realistically the latter two are a fair way off. So maybe they do miss out and this eight really is it.

      Loved this btw ” Essendon might go into voluntary administration before the month is out” Sure to raise the ire of Bomber fans but sill not far off the mark. Keep losing and they may as well start playing for the draft.

      • May 14th 2018 @ 11:51pm
        Doctor Rotcod said | May 14th 2018 @ 11:51pm | ! Report

        Possibly Port.They’ve got a tough run after Shanghai, Hawks ,Richmond,Doggies and Demons,their % is so-so and Robbie Gray isn’t likely to kick 5 in a quarter against sides with better one-on-one defense than the Crows

    • Roar Guru

      May 14th 2018 @ 9:40am
      Paul Dawson said | May 14th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      Can’t fault any of this article – however I maintain that having 18 teams just spreads the misery of no finals further. 16 would be a great number

      Was it 2016 when the top 8 was set after a month and never changed for the rest of the season?

      I just think this should be emphasised more – for a lot of supporters it’s season over by May and there’s only so many years you can get excited about watching kids develop. It’s when they’re approaching 30 like Daniel rich and you realise you’ve spent close to a decade with your fingers crossed

      • May 14th 2018 @ 7:51pm
        Bee bee said | May 14th 2018 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

        They could merge GC and Brisbane. That brings it back to 17. Then just wait for one of the Melbourne clubs to go broke and there is your 16.

        SUN Lions still wouldn’t make the eight.

        • Roar Guru

          May 14th 2018 @ 8:11pm
          Cat said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

          No one is going to go broke.

        • Roar Guru

          May 14th 2018 @ 8:44pm
          Paul Dawson said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:44pm | ! Report

          A combined Lions suns team would be competitive every week

          • May 14th 2018 @ 8:51pm
            Slane said | May 14th 2018 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

            A combined ANY team would be competitive every week. Even a combined Carlton/Essendon! If the Suns never existed all their players wouldn’t be playing for the Lions.

    • May 14th 2018 @ 9:40am
      me too said | May 14th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      North have a very kind ‘draw’ ahead of them, courtesy of their abysmal 2017. Keep playing the way they have and they’ll be sitting in the eight come finals.

      • May 14th 2018 @ 1:00pm
        Don Freo said | May 14th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        Freo has an easier draw ahead after having already played 6 of last year’s top 8. 7 of the top 8 after Sydney next week. I’m so looking forward to 2 games against Carlton. That should bump the percentage into the black.

        With so much youth getting experience week by week and great classy experience to return, I’d suggest that any prediction of a final 8 without Freo will have at least one wrong.

        • May 14th 2018 @ 5:04pm
          Dexter The Hamster said | May 14th 2018 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          Who doesn’t love a cheeky little side-swipe of Carlton? Glorious!!!

    • Roar Guru

      May 14th 2018 @ 9:42am
      Rick Disnick said | May 14th 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      I can easily see any of the bottom four sliding out of the eight with ease.

      Sydney the most likely for me. Of those four away games, three of those could easily have gone the other way. Nothing impressive about them whatsoever.

      Collingwood the most likely to step into the eight, but they’ll have to take it, not rely on others falling out.

      • Roar Pro

        May 14th 2018 @ 10:30am
        Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        And of the Swans 3 losses at home they could/should have won 2 which with the away wins would put them 7-1 with the Eagles and Tigers. And that is without the best player in the competition for the last 3 games. Fact they have not been playing that well and have had injuries and are still in the 8 either shows how hopeless the teams beneath them are, or the level of improvement you can expect from them.

        • May 14th 2018 @ 10:40am
          Dav1d02 said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

          “coulda/shoulda/woulda” holds zero-weight for mine. If you apply this rule to the Swans, then you need to do the same to all the other teams as well, and perhaps generate a ‘Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda’ Ladder rather than a factual one…

          • Roar Pro

            May 14th 2018 @ 10:44am
            Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

            Exactly why I replied that way to Rick Disnick saying they could have easily lost the away games!!!!!

      • Roar Pro

        May 14th 2018 @ 10:38am
        Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Oh and they have also played everyone of the other teams in the top 10 except Richmond and have yet to play any of the bottom 5 teams!

        Next 5 games before they have the bye:

        Freo at Home
        Brisbane Away
        Carlton at Home
        St Kilda Away
        Eagles at Home

        • Roar Pro

          May 14th 2018 @ 11:41am
          Davico said | May 14th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          Correction have not played the D’s either from the top 10 but think the point still stands about the draw they have had

      • May 14th 2018 @ 11:25am
        Brian said | May 14th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Sydney had a seriously tough draw and come out 5-3 by beating Geelong, West Coast and Hawthorn away. You can lock them down for the top 8

        • May 14th 2018 @ 1:41pm
          Sammy said | May 14th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

          They have looked strangly more dangerous without buddy due to being more unpredictable. Crows are no shoe in for a high finish as after the bulldogs this week they have a 7 game block against tough teams. If they can come out of that block at 4-3 or 5-2 they are every chance at top 4. Come out of that block with more losses than wins then top 8 is no guarantee. I hope they get back most of their a grade players on the injury list soon as they then should have the team for a crack at top 4

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