The half way mark of a season is a time for reflection, and prediction. With that in mind, here are 11 indisputable facts about the AFL season to date.
In a season like this one, there is far more error than precision in our collective predictions. As this week unfolds, you are likely to read a lot about what’s going to happen in the last 100 games of the 2018 season. Or more appropriately, you are going to read a bunch of guesses about what’s going to happen.
That’s the game we play. If we could get it all right in advance what would be the point? For proof positive, go back and read my preseason predictions – admittedly designed to skirt the line between real and ridiculous – and weep. I’ve done it.
To help guide our predictions for the second half, we need facts. Hard, irrefutable facts. There are plenty to be had.
For example, we know that after 11 rounds of football, the West Coast Eagles sit on top of the ladder. The Eagles are also four games and 26.6 percentage points clear of Adelaide in ninth spot.
Despite this, we know West Coast sits second on the premiership betting line. They are behind Richmond, who are second on the ladder, with the best percentage in the competition. The Tigers have also won all eight of their games at the MCG in 2018, by an average of 50 points. We know that this year’s grand final will be played at the MCG.
We know last year’s beaten grand finalists, the Adelaide Crows, sit outside the top eight after 11 rounds. We know the Crows have lost three of their last four games, and sent midfielder Brad Crouch off for season-ending groin surgery over the weekend. We know Rory Sloane is still at least two weeks away from returning. Or do we?
We know Adelaide has experienced player availability issues. But we know that has been the case for almost every team in the competition. North Melbourne has been the least impacted, having 15 players play every game this season.
The ‘Roos are also in sixth place on the ladder, and with seven wins have won as many games as they did in the previous 22 months (going back to Round 19 2016). They are conceding the second-fewest points in the league, and still have six games to come against the teams in the bottom seven.
We know the league is scoring 83.1 points per team per game on average, and that this is the lowest mark in 50-odd years. Things are worse for the bottom six, who as a collective are scoring 68.8 points per game. This is a problem; there is normally one or two teams struggling to put points on the board, but not a third of the competition.
At the other end of the spectrum, three teams are scoring 100 points per game or more: Melbourne (107.8), Richmond (102.2) and West Coast (100.3). Which positions do these three teams occupy on the ladder? One, two and three, of course. That is a correlation we should pay attention to.
We know Melbourne has won its last six games by an average of 66 points. We know these have almost exclusively been against teams sitting in the bottom seven (Adelaide being the exception). Melbourne also lost its Round 1 game by three points after Max Gawn missed a shot that would have won them the game. A victory would have seen the Demons sitting almost precisely level with the reigning premier halfway through the season.
The team they lost to in Round 1, Geelong, has the best defence in the competition by points conceded. We know each of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett are averaging fewer clearances and contested possessions than their respective 2017 seasons. We know Dangerfield is still averaging more than a goal a game, and is one of 12 players to be sitting above the 20-disposal and one goal a game mark.
His teammate Sam Menegola is also above both marks. Their teammate Tim Kelly isn’t too far behind, having kicked nine goals in his 11 games. We think between these five players and Mitch Duncan, Geelong has the deepest top end midfield in the competition. We know, however, Geelong has the worst clearance differential in the competition. We think that’ll correct itself in the second half, and Geelong will emerge as a genuine contender.
We know Sydney has won eight games and sits in third place. But do we believe it? We know Sydney has lost three of its six games at home, and has a perfect 5-0 record away from home. Do we know what to make of that?
We do not.
We know there are three teams sitting on 6-5 with very similar percentages: Adelaide (107.1), Port Adelaide (106.9) and Hawthorn (104.8). We can guess each would feel disappointed to be where they sit after 11 games (or ten in the case of the Power). The two South Australian teams will feel disappointed because they had premiership ambitions. Hawthorn was 5-2 with a percentage of 122 through seven rounds.
Greater Western Sydney sits half a game behind the lot of them, and for now likely acts as the line of demarcation between finals contenders and also-rans. Essendon spent one week inside the top eight, and has a sizeable gap to make up to make it back there. Ditto Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs who are right behind the Dons on percentage.
We think the best thing to come out of Fremantle’s season to date has been Nat Fyfe’s return to planet smashing. We know he’s the current Brownlow medal favourite, but we think he could be in trouble for his elbow on Levi Greenwood. We know there has been a similar incident this year – Tom Mitchell’s elbow to the head of Todd Goldstein – but we know the Match Review system has been anything but consistent this year.
That’s a little bit of what we know, sprinkled with some things we think for good measure. We think this season has been engrossing, if a little tedious at times on account of some middling play. We know that’s not enough to dissuade us, because we think we know the second half of the season will make us rethink what we think we know.
That much we know for certain.