In keeping with recent tradition, the Eagles made a lot of people look silly on their way to the mighty club’s fourth premiership in their 32-year history.
Widely tipped to not just slide, but crater in 2018, West Coast instead thrived, winning ten-straight games after a Round 1 loss to the Swans on their way to a top-two finish.
The maligned Jack Darling was arguably the best player in the competition until he got hurt in Round 11. The equally unappreciated Andrew Gaff put in the best season of his career. Josh Kennedy and Jeremy McGovern did what Josh Kennedy and Jeremy McGovern do, and the outstanding Adam Simpson continued to be outstanding as the Eagles carved teams up week after week.
There are no major changes to the side that knocked off Collingwood in a sensational decider last season. In fact, they might be stronger with Gaff’s return and the injection of some exciting youngsters such as Oscar Allen and Jack Petruccelle – and so there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the thick of it again in 2019.
Much of the same can be said of the Magpies. A side that looked mediocre just 12 months ago suddenly looks mighty. The midfield is as good as any in the league and their versatile forward line works beautifully together as Jordan de Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas rotate around big man Mason Cox.
For all the excitement about a healthy Jamie Elliott, I’m not convinced there’s a spot for him in the Pies’ best side – not a bad problem to have.
Last year’s losing preliminary finalists have had months to stew on their final games of 2018.
The Demons took the steps expected of them last season, but were pathetic in Perth in the finals. The 66-point margin flattered them.
The Tigers weren’t much better. They looked poorly prepared and at times downright uninterested in their 39-point loss to the Pies. Was that defeat an aberration or a true representation of a side that hadn’t looked much chop since July?
You’d be a braver man than I to expect anything less than another top-four finish for the Tiges. Tom Lynch is a mighty addition, and Jack Riewoldt, Shane Edwards and Shaun Grigg the only players on the list to have turned 30 – none are yet 31.
Melbourne too added a key Sun, in Steven May. But the biggest addition to their line-up could be a healthy Jake Lever. The Demons are stacked. Their premiership window is wide open.
After a one-year dip out of finals in 2017, the Hawks returned to September action last year on the back of a 15-7 season. But a straight-sets exit was more reflective of their quality than their top-four finish. With their best player ruled out for the year, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the team of the decade. They’re more likely to finish outside the eight than inside it.
Like the Hawks, Brisbane’s 5-17 record wasn’t a true representation of their worth. Two of those wins came against the Hawks and three of them were by more than 50 points. Widely tipped to leap up the ladder, the Lions will need to avoid another poor start to do so.
Not once in the past five seasons have Brisbane managed more than a single win in their first five games. The AFL hasn’t been kind to them this year; they open the season at home against the reigning premiers, then face the Roos away, Port Adelaide at home, Essendon away, and Collingwood at home. If they can pinch two of those, they’ll have done well, and be primed for a solid season.
Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood and Cam Rayner are as exciting as any young trio in the league, and Lachie Neale is a Brownlow smokey. For the first time in a while, the future looks bright and, more importantly, close.
In Sydney, expectations are lower than they have been for some time, with the Swans tipped to slide and the Giants not the powerhouse it seemed so inevitable they would become.
It’s kind of crazy how much talent is still on the Giants’ list with Adam Treloar, Dylan Shiel, Rory Lobb, Tom Scully, Devon Smith, Nathan Wilson, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Taylor Adams, Jack Steele and others all playing for a team that isn’t GWS.
The Giants should still be good and might just thrive without expectations. Expect a big year from Tim Taranto.
Sydney’s elimination final hiding at the hands of their cross-town rivals was a fitting way to end a season in which they seemed to string together wins on muscle memory.
It’s stupid to write anyone off in a competition as even as this one, and the Swans have made a living proving the doubters wrong. But some good teams are going to miss the eight this season and I don’t think the Swans are going to be much more than an average footy side.
The Cats had a similarly disappointing end to 2018, losing what felt like a changing-of-the-guard game to Melbourne.
With nine games at Kardinia Park, Geelong should still have too much talent to miss the eight. Whether they can do any real damage once finals roll around is once again the biggest question on Chris Scott’s men.
Essendon have had as much publicity as any team this offseason and most of it is justified. They went 12-10 last season and added gun midfielder Dylan Shiel. Should Joe Daniher get back to his best, he’s a top-five key forward in the competition. They’re well-placed to win their first final since 2004.
Last season’s three other 12-win teams will have some say in the Dons’ season.
North Melbourne were one of the surprise teams of 2018 and added a quality player in Jared Polec and a few wildcards in Dom Tyson, Jasper Pittard and Aaron Hall. With the seventh-oldest and ninth most-experienced list, they should be right around the mark for finals again, though I suspect they’ll miss Jarrad Waite.
Port Adelaide will be hoping it’s a case of addition by subtraction after losing Polec and Chad Wingard. There’s still plenty of good players at the Power, but not as many as at their cross-town rivals.
The Crows’ 2018 could hardly have gone worse, but they’re never down for long. As the third-oldest team in the competition, Adelaide are primed to return to the heights of 2017 – they’ll be hoping for a happier ending this time. Rory Sloane seems like the kind of player who’ll thrive as captain.
The Dockers have been searching desperately for a competent key forward since Matthew Pavlich’s twilight years and finally have managed to land not one, but two good ones in Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb.
They’ll miss Neale, though. The midfield suddenly looks very thin. They won’t be easybeats, particularly in Perth, but Fremantle are at least another season away from threatening the top eight.
For so long the Saints and Bulldogs were linked as hopeless clubs with miserable premiership droughts. The Dogs ended theirs, but again both sides look like being cellar dwellers.
The Dogs have a solid list of onballers, and in Aaron Naughton have one of the most exciting young key-position players in the competition, here’s hoping the mad scientist in the coach’s box doesn’t break him in his desperate search for badly needed goals.
The Saints are … I’m not sure what the Saints are other than not very good. Jade Gresham is very good; I suppose that’s something. Giving Dan Hannebery a five-year deal reeks of the worst kind of desperation.
Like Brisbane, Carlton are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sam Walsh looks like he has ‘it’, and their forward line is starting to resemble a real one with Charlie Curnow and Mitch McGovern as its pillars. Patrick Cripps might win the Brownlow.
And that brings us to the Gold Coast. The Suns are back at ground zero. At least they know that. I suspect with everyone on the same page they’ll be well coached and catch a couple of teams off guard, but they’ll do very well to avoid the wooden spoon.
Of course, the past few seasons have shown us how pointless these kind of predictions can be. Start the darn games.
5. West Coast
9. North Melbourne
10. Brisbane Lions
11. Port Adelaide
15. Western Bulldogs
17. St Kilda
18. Gold Coast