What we know for certain halfway through the 2018 AFL season

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    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.

    Jack Riewoldt

    Jack Riewoldt (Photo by Matt King/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    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.

    Patrick Dangerfield

    (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    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.

    Brett Deledio

    Brett Deledio of the Giants. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    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.

    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 (51)

    • June 4th 2018 @ 8:21am
      Rob said | June 4th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      What we also know is Melbourne are third fav for the flag. We know second in line with the bookies is West Coast and we know West Coast wouldnt get within 10 goals of Richmond or Melbourne on the MCG.

      2 horse race after 11 rounds. Richmond and Melbourne will finish 1 & 2.

      • June 4th 2018 @ 8:54am
        truetigerfan said | June 4th 2018 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        Very hard to see WC being dislodged from a top 2 finish. From there would be a shoe in to play in the GF.

        • Roar Guru

          June 4th 2018 @ 9:26am
          spruce moose said | June 4th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

          Sydney beat them in Perth. There’s no thinking they couldn’t do it in Perth in the finals.

          • June 5th 2018 @ 2:38pm
            TheCunningLinguistic said | June 5th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

            Spruce, that was well before the Eagles were settled and before they had their best team on the field. I’m thinking they would very much be looking forward to having a crack at Sydney at the SGC, to return the favour!

        • June 6th 2018 @ 3:59pm
          Eddy Jay said | June 6th 2018 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

          I would be so sure about that. In 2012, West Coast were top of the ladder after 11 games. They struggled for the rest of the season, finished fifth, knocked out by Collingwood in week two of the finals. It’s a long season.

      • June 4th 2018 @ 10:13am
        Rick said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        “West Coast wouldnt get within 10 goals of Richmond or Melbourne on the MCG.” – last year it was 9 points between Richmond and West Coast, so I guess what we know is the above statement is without basis.

        Melbourne losing Lever also leaves a very big hole to fill with the D’s yet to face Collingwood, Port, Geelong, Adelaide, Sydney, West Coast and GWS.

      • Roar Guru

        June 4th 2018 @ 10:14am
        Cat said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        We also know if punters knew as much as they claim to know it wouldn’t be the house getting richer all the time.

      • Roar Pro

        June 4th 2018 @ 11:43am
        Darren McSweeney said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        Melbourne’s 3 losses this year have all been at the MCG.
        100% record playing somewhere other than the MCG.
        I wouldn’t necessarily say that West Coast wouldn’t get within 10 goals, except maybe the sheer shock of actually playing Melbourne at the MCG, it hasn’t happened since 2014.

        • June 5th 2018 @ 10:53am
          Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          And they got flogged in 2 of those convincingly

      • June 4th 2018 @ 4:05pm
        Jungle Jim said | June 4th 2018 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

        We know the MCG hoodoo and cliches for WestCoast are dead and buried. They now have new training grounds that are a similar size to the MCG and Etihad, as do Fremantle Dockers..and Optus Stadium is a similar size also. It’s no longer relevant as an issue.
        If they don’t win at MCG it’s not because of the oval size.
        Lets move on.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 10:52am
        Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        I can’t wait to play Melbourne at the MCG let’s see you beAt a decent team at the MCG both hawks and Richmond gave you a good old flogging

    • Roar Guru

      June 4th 2018 @ 8:34am
      SportsFanGC said | June 4th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Based on current ladder position we can rule a line through everyone from Essendon in 12th through to Carlton in 18th for Finals Footy in 2018.

      Long second half of the season coming up for fans of those bottom seven teams who have absolutely nothing to play for other than draft picks in November…

      • Roar Guru

        June 4th 2018 @ 10:22am
        JamesH said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        The Bombers (like a few others in that group) aren’t playing for draft picks at all. They’re playing for consistency. They’re playing to get their core playing group more familiar with each other, their coach and the game plan. They’re playing to get more games into the likes of McGrath, Ridley, Langford, Laverde, Guelfi, Parish, Francis, Mutch and Clarke. They’re playing to become a better side and take momentum into next season.

        Not that a top 10 draft pick will hurt, mind you…

        • Roar Guru

          June 4th 2018 @ 10:55am
          SportsFanGC said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Not suggesting that any Club is specifically playing for draft picks, rather that it will be an outcome for the remainder of their season where their final draft position lands.

          Play kids, make calls on veterans that don’t offer enough, send players for surgery etc. These Clubs should get their house in order for the Trade Period and Draft followed by Pre-Season.

          Its a shame that at Round 11 this is the case but the AFL is what it is and the goal of Equalisation is getting further and further away each year if performances of the bottom Clubs are anything to go by.

          • June 4th 2018 @ 11:55am
            Aransan said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:55am | ! Report

            To me the losses by Essendon against Richmond and the Swans in last years Elimination Final had similarities, the striking observation was how big their opponents bodies were in relation to their own. This will only be overcome with a couple of pre-seasons and more experience. No doubt that will also apply to other clubs in the lower bracket. Richmond were certainly up for their match against Essendon.

            • Roar Guru

              June 4th 2018 @ 12:10pm
              Cat said | June 4th 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

              Virtually the same size.
              Essendon – Attribute – Richmond
              186.5cm – Height – 186.9cm
              86.6kg – Weight – 86.3kg

              • June 4th 2018 @ 1:48pm
                Aransan said | June 4th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

                The arithmetic mean is only one measure of central tendency.
                If we look at the median values we get using your
                Essendon — Atribute — Richmond
                187.5cm — Height — 186.5cm
                84kg — Weight — 86kg
                25 — Age — 26
                61 — Games — 96.5
                However the median is not a good measure for games played as 10 Richmond players had played 64 games or less.
                I believe the difference on this basis of height and weight is significant.

    • June 4th 2018 @ 9:03am
      Kris said | June 4th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      We know that Brownlow Medalists tend to come from winning teams, so Fyfe’s favouritism looks iffy long before he gets cleared today.

      • Roar Guru

        June 4th 2018 @ 9:31am
        spruce moose said | June 4th 2018 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        It’s a fair point.

        But 2013 and 2014 were exceptions. Ablett and Priddis won it with teams outside the 8. They have been the only two this century.

        It’s unlikely Fyfe will get many 3 vote matches because of the battering Freo are taking.

      • June 4th 2018 @ 10:15am
        Aransan said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

        Gone are the days when a Bobby Skilton of South Melbourne could win one Brownlow let alone three. There was also Fred Goldsmith of South, Roy Wright and Kevin Murray of Fitzroy.

        • June 4th 2018 @ 12:37pm
          Pope Paul VII said | June 4th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          Times sure have changed. The ‘Roy Boys made an art of valiant defeat with dynamic players like Haydn Bunton who collected 3, and Smallhorn 1, from 1931-35. Dinny Ryan took the cake though winning the 5th Fitzroy Brownlow in 6 seasons, when they finished dead last in 1936.

    • June 4th 2018 @ 10:07am
      Perry Bridge said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Any chance Higgins for the brownlow??

      • June 4th 2018 @ 10:11am
        truetigerfan said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        Good call. This bloke oozes class. Great to see him injury free and realising his true potential.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 4th 2018 @ 10:28am
          Mattician6x6 said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          Gaff would be a Smokey, could easily be anywhere from mid teens to early 20s by this time in voting.

      • June 4th 2018 @ 11:25am
        dan ced said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Ooo nice smokey, I’ve been a fan since I saw him at the Bulldogs.

    • Roar Guru

      June 4th 2018 @ 10:49am
      Peter the Scribe said | June 4th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

      Looking at the draw we are headed for a West Coast preliminary final at home and Richmond in the other Preliminary final. It is really difficult to see the 2018 GF not being Richmond V West Coast. West Coast will beat any other side at home in the prelim and whoever plays Richmond will have to play the game of their season. The question is can a Melbourne, a Geelong, a Sydney or dare I say a Collingwood beat Richmond in a prelim final at the G?

      • Roar Rookie

        June 4th 2018 @ 11:07am
        Mattician6x6 said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

        Melbourne v pies will tell me a lot about melb Pete, big crowd, growing expectations, Grundy is a but different to a wb side with no rucks. If rich face melb in week one of finals and lose could become harder for Richmond. All conjecture at thus point.

        • Roar Guru

          June 4th 2018 @ 11:16am
          Peter the Scribe said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          Yeah Matti, Melbourne are scary good ATM particularly their firepower. What concerned me yesterday was the last quarter loss of shape by our defence conceding 7 goals to an undermanned and inexperienced young side. If we do that against a Melbourne, West Coast or Richmond we will lose by plenty. We missed Howe a lot yesterday as he is the general down back but good to see Maynard back, I have big hopes for Maynard becoming a Luke Hodge style back/mid. Mihocek won’t get it any easier than an undermanned Freo side either. Not sure whats actually wrong with Reid. I honestly have no feel for the upcoming Demons game. Haven’t seen enough of them I suppose. If we can get over them we play Carlton, Suns and Essendon so can potentially really set up our season next few weeks.

          • June 5th 2018 @ 10:56am
            Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

            Pies still looking good don’t read too much into those 7 goals the game was done and dusted. They were junk time goals

      • June 4th 2018 @ 11:10am
        Milo said | June 4th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Its early days still. The Tigers’ draw now gets a lot tougher with Port (away), Geelong, Sydney, Adelaide, Giants, Collingwood, Geelong. None of those are locks. While we should make the eight from here, exactly where we finish still has a bit to play out.

    • June 4th 2018 @ 12:58pm
      Angela said | June 4th 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

      ‘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.’

      Hilarious.

      Last season Sydney loses the first six games and still makes finals…this year, once again, they play out of the box.

      A+ for originality Sydney.

      • June 4th 2018 @ 2:14pm
        Maggie said | June 4th 2018 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

        “We know Sydney has won eight games and sits in third place.”

        But as Sydney actually sit in fourth place (behind Melbourne on percentage) it seems we don’t know much at all!

        • June 4th 2018 @ 2:30pm
          Angela said | June 4th 2018 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

          Always appreciate your accuracy Maggie

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