Early autumn is one of my favourite times of the year.
The warmth of the midday sun fades into a cool evening perfect for sleeping, nature teems around us, and the football season is about to begin.
It is a time of anticipation, when all 18 teams in the league can hope and dream of success and victory, before the inevitable wave of disappointment settles on 17 of them.
The amateur soothsayers of the footballing world love to put their minds to the task of predicting the upcoming season’s results based what seems to be solely on the previous year’s.
That’s too simple and straightforward a task.
As such, I have randomised a ladder in the last few seasons and attempted to justify the results that the randomiser gave me.
While I have often had a pretty good match in general for several teams, we’ve yet to have a team listed at No.1 here win the premiership.
Will this year finally be the one? Let’s find out what the list is.
18. St Kilda
While there are many teams that I’m sick of winning, there is no team I’m sick of losing more than St Kilda.
Some teams you don’t mind having long periods of losing seasons because of the fan base or the players on the team or the club’s stupid mistakes, but none of those really apply to the Saints.
Their fan base are perfectly fine as opposing fans go, their players are for the most part decent footballers and their club hasn’t committed any major faux pas aside from a bad choice in training base.
So, what is it that keeps the Saints down the base of the ladder year after year?
Maybe that’s the thing – being ‘fine’ isn’t good enough in a competitive industry. It’s like a new local restaurant that you try once, describe as fine when asked, but never think of again.
The Saints need to be better than fine, bolder and more strident. Sadly, none of those words apply to their coach or leadership so I don’t see much from St Kilda this year.
17. Port Adelaide
Port Adelaide are one of those teams that are impossible to get a feel of. The really annoying thing is that they’ve been like this for the last five years.
Whether the issue is the player base or the coaching or some combination isn’t easy to tell either.
Something has to give. This may be a big waste of talent both on and off the field, but I don’t see the Power doing much of anything this year.
They’ll play really well at home and may even knock off a few really good teams, but they’ll struggle on the road. They may even lose the China match this year.
The Bombers have been somewhat a nagging sore in the competition for a while now. Not just because of the doping scandal of six years ago (seriously, six years already?), but because – much like Port Adelaide – it is impossible to decide if the squad they have is any good.
Sure, there are some good – maybe even great – players, but there is an unspeakable element that makes it hard to get a fix on where they are in the premiership race.
Well if this year’s pre-season competition is anything to go by (and something has to justify these rankings), the Bombers will finally answer the question on where they are with an emphatic: “Not very close”.
The Hawks have been thereabouts for what seems like forever. But lately there has been something off in the ‘Born-to-Rules’.
Despite finishing in the top four in two of the last three years, Hawthorn hasn’t actually won a final since the 2015 Grand Final. Perhaps there is some sort of complacency settling in at Waverley Park.
While they still have a really solid team, many of their best players are well past 30 and at that age, the drop off can come quickly. The replacements will have to step up to the level of some great players and, according to the randomiser, that isn’t going to happen.
The self-proclaimed Greatest Team of All was a bit of a middle power last season. The coming of the son of God didn’t lead to an ascension in the Cats’ fortunes or results.
If anything, Geelong seemed to coast by on their Devil’s own luck to qualify for the finals where they were defeated by actual Demons.
Considering that several of Geelong’s most important (not their best) are aging, the problems could come on the injury front and the pick-ups for this season don’t seem like what the Cats need.
In fact, I’m not even sure if the Cats know what they need any more than some random on the internet who can’t even be bothered to write more than an article a season. But then what would I know?
13. North Melbourne
The Kangaroos are one of the most average teams around. They had two really good finals runs about five years ago but apart from that they’ve been stuck in the middle of the ladder for ages.
Never climbing high enough to be a true flag threat, never low enough to be in a rebuilding period.
If North Melbourne is to start to climb into consistent finals and maybe a flag, they’ll need to make some harder choices and develop the players they do have more.
They cut a few older players a few years ago, but it seems that their replacements haven’t yet stepped forward to replace that group. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen this year either.
The Magpies had one of the biggest rises possible last season. Going from comfortably outside the eight to less than a kick from the flag is a rare achievement indeed.
But that just makes all the people suggesting that last year’s ladder will be almost identically repeated this year look even more absurd.
My flawless system of a randomiser I found on Google clearly shows that the Magpies are going to have the second-year blues of all second-year blues.
They had some very good games during the second half of the season, especially during the finals. That win over Richmond was most impressive.
However, there are still plenty of flaws for Collingwood’s rivals to exploit and the Magpies will be found out more than they will find out this year.
Ross the Boss has been in charge of the Dockers for seven completed seasons now. While he did bring them some great victories and a Grand Final appearance, Fremantle now appear to be stagnating.
While they have a great midfield, either end of the ground is just getting weaker year after year. Perhaps no longer?
Whether this slight climb up the ladder is a dead cat bounce or the first small step towards another push for Ross Lyon’s first premiership, it will be an improvement for the Purple Haze.
Now they just have to bring back those giant anchors and then they’ll be a true finals threat again.
The thing about streaks is that they always end. No matter how great you are at something, eventually you will fail at it.
That is one of the most important lessons that one must learn growing up, closely followed by what you learn from your failures and prevent them happening again.
Sport is one of the most obvious cases where this applies, and the Swans have one of the most impressive streaks going.
Sydney hasn’t missed the finals since 2009, and John Longmire has never missed the finals as a head coach.
Such a record can’t last forever and even if everyone likes to predict that a particular streak is going to end right now, his streak has to end now.
It is a chance for the Swans to reassess their approach and tactics and, perhaps, set themselves up for their next streak as permanent finals fixtures.
9. Western Bulldogs
The one club that has to have an annoying name, the Bulldogs are going to end up in that most annoying of positions.
Since attaining their flag, they’ve sat around the middle of the also-rans. Now they’re going to rise to the heady heights of the peak of the also-rans.
The Bulldogs might have to adjust their structure more than most because of the new rules and that can cause a team’s season to be derailed before they even get started. Their good players will keep them in touch, but it won’t be enough.
Last year’s secondary big climbers will suffer from a lesser form of second year blues, according to the randomiser.
This isn’t a big neon sign saying “Bad times ahead” but it is a moderate sized xenon sign saying “Don’t be comfortable. You can easily fall off the pace if you stop trying and competing.” They probably need to work on shortening their messages for noble gas signage.
Melbourne will both cause some upsets and be the victim of a few upsets this season. They’re going to be a tipster and gambler’s nightmare this year. But that could be really entertaining to watch.
7. Gold Coast
Much as Hemingway once pondered the nature and soul of the expatriate in The Sun Also Rises, so must we ponder the soul of a club of expatriates in the Gold Coast Suns.
They haven’t had much of one for a while, even in the latter years of Joshua, son of Joseph, Ablett’s tenure there. When they lost their captain midway through the season to an acknowledged free agency move, that seemed to be as far as a club could possibly sink.
But rather than drill a bore beneath what was once the barrel, the Suns have recommitted to Stuart Dew’s plan. Some solid acquisitions during the off-season and a new approach can get the Suns to their first finals appearance.
I’m backing them to do it, apparently.
6. Greater Western Sydney
The Giants are just not quite there. They have all the talent and when their plan works, it is devastating to all other teams.
The problem is that the other team generally doesn’t want their plan to work (unless they’re after a draft pick or two). So, the Giants have to figure out how to get their plan to work more often or come up with a back-up or two.
Until then, GWS will continue to be a finals threat, but not quite a flag contender. The Giants will struggle early before figuring how to use the new 6-6-6 rule to their advantage.
While it will be too late to fully take advantage this season, next season they march on the MCG.
Umm… Hmm. You know, spite can be a powerful motivator and I would feel very safe in betting that there are few clubs that have as much spite as the Old Dark Navy Blues.
No one likes to lose, especially for a long time. But I think what would hurt Carlton more than not winning anything for more than two decades, is that it means everyone else gets to enjoy you not winning anything for more than two decades.
The time has come for the Blues to pay that hatred back with some vengeance. They have the motivation, the only question is if they have the players, coaches, plan and chance.
But hey, even bingo doesn’t give you that much of a head start.
Much like twins who can’t stand each other, the Crows and the Power have similar recent histories: a mixture of great play and inexplicable failure.
While the Crows have more recent success, their failure in the 2017 Grand Final was as bad as any appearance Port Adelaide has inflicted on their fan base.
However, Adelaide has got a very good squad and solid coaching staff. If they can put last season aside as an aberration, they can get right back into competing for the flag.
They may decide to work a little harder on their defence, but the new enforced structures may mean the Crows are part of a lot of shoot-outs.
I think this and the next entry are two of the easiest of the whole list to justify. Thank you, randomiser.
Richmond has barely lost any of their premiership members and have somehow managed to pick up some big names in the off-season.
While one could descend into conspiracy theories and cast aspersions on the Tigers, this one will not do so. I’ll reserve those comments for snarky asides during the season proper.
2. West Coast
The defending champions will get a chance to defend their championship this year but will go oh-so-close and lose it on the last day in September.
Much like Richmond, the Eagles haven’t lost much since their premiership win. In fact, if they get a luckier run with injuries and ‘brain snaps’ they could be even stronger.
However, winning a competition isn’t just about what you do. What your opponents do is just a crucial and there is one opponent that will leave West Coast and all others in their dust.
Despite the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” joke, France actually has had more success on the battlefield than any other European power.
The Lions back in the early 2000s were the France of the AFL. La Marseillaise sang out over every AFL stadium in the country as though Napoleon had won Waterloo.
For many of us, especially those who were young and couldn’t really remember football history before the Olympics, it seemed like the era of Brisbane hegemony was endless.
Of course, the Lions did drop off and have only made one finals series since being runners-up in 2004.
But as the Lions’ pre-season form has shown, the time is right for the Empire to return.
Napoleon III is ready to reclaim his family’s glory. A mixture of youth, experience and skill can take the Lions back to their throne as Emperors of the AFL jungle.
So that’s how I think this season is going to go down. How close will I be? Probably not very. But then again, who is?