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AFL preseason: We should have paid more attention

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Expert
2nd June, 2019
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It seems a lifetime ago that we took the AFL pre season competition seriously.

Go back 25 years and the cup (which you’ll most likely know as the Fosters or Ansett Australia Cup) was a highly regarded guide to the season ahead.

From its first year in 1988 to 2001 (the end of Ansett and thus, end of its naming right sponsorship), four pre season cup winners and one grand finalist (Brisbane in 2001) went on to win the premiership that year and another 12 sides competing in the pre season grand final played finals that same year.

Since then, there have been a number of new sponsors and formats, but with all the changes has also come a change of perception from fans and the AFL world.

The pre season cup, which is now a round of games called the JLT community series, has lost the interest of the public.

But is our lack of attention costing us?

As we edge towards the halfway mark of the season, it appears the JLT series might’ve been a good indicator as to where your club was heading this season.

Despite each side playing just two pre season games, there is plenty that can be taken away from it.

Adelaide Crows

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JLT: 4th – 2 W (Port Adelaide, GWS) 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 8th – 6 W, 5 L

There was big hype around Adelaide leading into 2019, with an expectation they would deliver a similar season to 2017 instead of 2018. Despite a strong JLT campaign, they haven’t backed that up in the first half of the year.

They’ve definitely improved on last season though and are ahead of the ledger, but producing nothing mind-blowing like you’d expect from the preseason talk.

Brisbane Lions

JLT: 2nd – 2 W (Hawthorn, Melbourne), 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 5th – 7 W, 4 L

It’s hard to go past Brisbane as the feel good story of the year. After the improvement shown in 2018, I definitely expected some movement up the ladder but not a game outside the top 4.

Chris Fagan has built a strong culture and unbreakable bond between the playing group who are taking the field and playing impressive footy every week.

Their self-belief is driving them towards finals for the first time a decade.

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Carlton Blues

JLT: 9th – 1 W (Essendon) 1 L (Collingwood)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 18th – 1 W, 10 L

The Blues seem to be taking one step forward and two steps back this year. Each time they look to have improved, they dish up the same old poor skilled performance a week later.

Despite some encouraging performances this season, it has been overshadowed by their inability to shrug the familiar poor form.

They look to have slightly improved but it seems like it’ll be quite some time before it comes to fruition.

Liam Stocker

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Collingwood Magpies

JLT: 5th – 2 W (Fremantle, Carlton) 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 3rd – 8 W, 3 L

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Collingwood keep going from strength to strength in 2019 and it all began with a solid JLT campaign. While the pre season game against Carlton was close, Collingwood walked away with the victory and have enjoyed many more so far this year.

Essendon Bombers

JLT: 15th – 0 W 2 L (Carlton, Geelong)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 10th – 5 W, 6 L

An accurate reflection on the Bomber’s first half of the season, which has been ordinary. There is a big gap between their best and worst and their middle ground is currently outside the top eight.

To put it simply, they beat up on the teams below them and, with the exception of Brisbane, struggle against more quality opposition. Essendon haven’t lived up to the hype placed upon them.

Fremantle Dockers

JLT: 18th – 0 W 2 L (Collingwood, West Coast)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 9th – 6 W, 5 L

Fremantle are clearly a long way off the worst team in the competition.

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Despite losing to both 2018 grand finalists in the pre season competition, they have defeated one of them (Collingwood) and fellow premiership fancy GWS away from home in 2019.

The Dockers have churned out some ordinary performances, but haven’t been disgraced. They’re sitting ahead of the ledger and certainly haven’t gone backwards.

Geelong Cats

JLT: 11th – 1 W (Essendon) 1 L (West Coast)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 1st – 10 W, 1 L

It was very much a story of two halves for Geelong in the JLT. They lost to the reigning premiers in Perth the first week but came out firing against Essendon and have barely dropped a beat since. Geelong have already reversed that week one JLT defeat as they demolished West Coast at GMHBA in Round 6 this year.

While the JLT ladder doesn’t reflect the first half of their season, their performance against Essendon in week two sums it up perfectly. They suffocated the Dons with manic pressure and a high tackling game style – exactly the same as they’ve done to most of their opponents this year.

Gold Coast Suns

JLT: 12th – 1 W (Western Bulldogs) 1 L (Sydney)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 17th – 3 W, 8 L

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You can judge the Suns season as glass half full or empty. I personally think they’re on the right track. They seem to have found a long term coach in Stuart Dew and are starting to lock away some key players.

However, they have won their three games by a combination of just 10 points – whether that’s clutch or luck, I’ll let you decide.

GWS Giants

JLT: 8th – 1 W (Sydney) 1 L (Adelaide)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 2nd – 8 W, 3 L

The Giants have had big wins and losses so far in 2019 but overall they hardly look phased by the departure of Rory Lobb, Dylan Shiel and Tom Scully over the offseason.

They are the only team to defeat Geelong so far this year and have applied the blowtorch to plenty other teams on the way – but, they were flat against the Eagles and Hawks away from home.

The big problem from the Giants will be finding a way to win more regularly at the MCG.

Stephen Coniglio (right) and Josh Kelly of the Giants

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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Hawthorn Hawks

JLT: 17th – 0 W 2 L (Brisbane, Richmond)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 11th – 5 W, 6 L

The Hawks don’t look like the same side that finished in the top four in 2018. They’ve been ok this year but nothing like the spectacular Hawthorn we’ve known for so long.

While they appear to have gone backwards as the pre season results suggest, Clarko is the one man who could make magic happen.

Melbourne Demons

JLT: 13th – 0 W 2 L (Richmond, Brisbane)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 16th – 3 W, 8 L

It was the warning sign the competition ignored as plenty continued to hype up the Dees after a terrific 2018.

Sitting 16th on the ladder with just three wins from 11 starts, it seems back to back finals have fallen out of reach.

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Despite coming within two goals of their JLT opponents, they simply weren’t good enough – a theme that they have carried into the home and away season.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

JLT: 16th – 0 W 2 L (St Kilda, Port Adelaide)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 13th – 4 W, 7 L

Like the Dees, North are another team that should’ve paid more attention to its performances in the JLT. They exceeded expectations placed on them in 2018, only to take multiple steps backwards this season.

What’s now interesting for the Roos is they will play the second half of the season under caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw who obviously wasn’t in charge previously.

If their Round 11 victory over Richmond is any indication of how the remainder of this season plays out, they could be looking to buck the trend.

Port Adelaide Power

JLT: 10th – 1 W (North Melbourne) 1 L (Adelaide)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 7th – 6 W, 5 L

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I’d say the Power’s JLT is a very accurate reflection of them this season, or for the last few seasons. There is a big difference between their best and worst and that’ll keep them just in or just out of the eight.

After Round 11, they’re sitting in 7th spot but their supporters will tell you there’s still a long way to go.

Richmond Tigers

JLT: 6th – 2 W (Melbourne, Hawthorn) 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 6th – 7 W, 4 L

This is very accurate because Richmond is still a very good side that have been hit with injuries that they haven’t always been able to overcome this year.

Yes, they are 7-4 but they haven’t come within six goals of the four sides they have lost to. So they’ve got a bit of work to do but I’d say, given their circumstances, they’ve dug deep and successfully uncovered talent to fill big holes.

St Kilda Saints

JLT: 3rd – 2 W (North Melbourne, Bulldogs) 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 12th – 5 W 6 L

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St Kilda have enjoyed a more successful season than last but they are certainly not in the top four sides of the competition, maybe not even in the top eight.

They started the season off in spectacular fashion, boasting four wins from five starts but they’ve won just one more since then and have the fifth-worst percentage in the competition.

There are certain signs of improvement but there’s still a way to go.

Sydney Swans

JLT: 7th – 1 W (Gold Coast) 1 L (GWS)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 15th – 3 W, 8 L

It appears to be the end of a successful era for the Sydney Swans who have failed to fire in 2019. They have certainly upped their game over the past few weeks but it isn’t the same dominant Swans outfit we are accustomed to.

A 1-1 JLT campaign is flattering to where their season has gone.

John Longmire

(AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

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West Coast Eagles

JLT: 1st – 2 W (Geelong, Fremantle), 0 L
AFL ladder after Round 11: 4th – 8 W, 3 L

The reigning premiers started their 2019 season like they finished the last – on top.

They defeated current ladder leaders Geelong and crosstown rivals Fremantle rather comfortably, and while some may think they’re suffering a “premiership hangover,” they’re actually flying under the radar, similarly to 2018.

There have been a couple of big losses but many premiers and grand finalists are on the receiving end of those during the home and away season.

As for the wins, the margins may not look big on paper but the Eagles go missing in big portions of those games and still find a way to win as good sides do. I wish my side weren’t “looking good” at 8-3 and 4th spot on the ladder.

Western Bulldogs

JLT: 14th – 0 W 2 L (Suns, St Kilda)
AFL ladder after Round 11: 14th – 4 W, 7 L

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Frustrating season for the Dogs to say the least and their two losses in the JLT to average opponents is a running theme of 2019.

They have lost home and away games to Carlton, North and the Suns this season but have won big games against Richmond, Hawthorn and the Lions.

They do have some promising young talent coming through the ranks but otherwise, this season has been forgettable for Dogs fans.