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Dominant Demons, terrible Tigers: An honest review of my preseason ladder

Chief Keeffe new author
Roar Rookie
23rd August, 2021
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Chief Keeffe new author
Roar Rookie
23rd August, 2021
1425 Reads

Earlier in the year, I hastily put together a predicted ladder in the comments section of an article on The Roar. This is how I went.

I figured I may as well revisit that prediction to see how it fared and which clubs overperformed or underperformed according to expectation. My original prediction is below, with the teams’ actual ladder position relative to that prediction in brackets.

Predicted ladder

  1. Port Adelaide (-1)
  2. Geelong Cats (-1)
  3. Richmond Tigers (-9)
  4. Carlton Blues (-9)
  5. Western Bulldogs (-)
  6. St Kilda Saints (-4)
  7. Brisbane Lions (+3)
  8. West Coast Eagles (-1)
  9. Greater Western Sydney Giants (+2)
  10. Sydney Swans (+4)
  11. Melbourne Demons (+10)
  12. Fremantle Dockers (+1)
  13. Gold Coast Suns (-3)
  14. Collingwood Magpies (-3)
  15. Hawthorn Hawks (+1)
  16. Essendon Bombers (+8)
  17. Adelaide Crows (+2)
  18. North Melbourne Kangaroos (-)
Christian Petracca of the Demons celebrates a goal

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

What I got right

Port Adelaide and Geelong in the top four
It wasn’t a massive leap of faith, but I predicted Port Adelaide and Geelong to take the top two spots after the home-and-away season. Port finished second and Geelong third, both one spot below my initial forecast but comfortably with the all-important double chance. Both sides will fancy their chances of taking home the biggest prize in a month, with their qualifying final match-up on Friday night huge for both teams’ chances.

Adelaide and North Melbourne in the bottom four
The consensus bottom two from most footy fans and experts preseason, both Adelaide and North had encouraging stretches – Adelaide early, North late – which suggests promise for the future, but ultimately both landed at the foot of the ladder once more. The Crows’ victory over the Roos in Round 23 was enough to lift them from 17th to 15th but may prove costly at the draft table.

Demise of the Pies
The popular slider for this year proved everyone right after offloading a stack of talent for a measly return as a result of a shockingly mismanaged payroll. The speed of their fall, however, took most by surprise, including most importantly their own list management team. Collingwood’s trading of their 2021 first-round pick to GWS for a stronger hand in the 2020 draft has ended with them giving up Pick 2 this year, something they would not have expected after a semi-final exit last year, and has again left fans doubting the wisdom of the key decision-makers at the Holden Centre. Nick Daicos is the saviour, but they still have work to do just to make up the points needed to match the likely bid for him at Pick 1.


No finals for Freo
A popular tip to rise into the top eight this season, I correctly predicted Freo to again enjoy a football-free September. Once again the Dockers’ young talent showed glimpses, but the likely departure of Adam Cerra this trade period could again set them back in their quest to contend. It’s a familiar tale for Fremantle, who have coasted by on the back of their supporters’ endless optimism for years without yet following through on their supposed potential.

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What I got half-right

Top four bolter
I had Carlton as my bolter from outside the eight in 2020 into the top four this season, but it was actually Melbourne who made the leap. Once again the Blues disappointed massively, resulting in further turmoil for the club that has continually exasperated supporters for a decade and a half. Meanwhile, the Dees made good on their promise and jumped all the way from ninth to the 2021 minor premiership. It’s an outstanding effort from the Demons, and one Melbourne fans will be hoping proves a sign of things to come rather than the outlier that the 2018 season proved to be.


Eagles rocked
Whereas many had the Eagles again contending for a flag in 2021, my preseason prediction had them scraping into the eight. As it was, they couldn’t even manage that, with a dismal second half of the season consigning them to ‘best of the rest’ status in ninth. Post-season analysis will likely revolve around whether the Eagles should look to rebuild or have one last crack with their ageing champion core of Luke Shuey, Shannon Hurn, Nic Naitanui and Josh Kennedy. Their list is too good to just give up while still capable of competing with the best – a ‘disappointing’ season that ends in ninth is something many clubs would dream of, and this year may prove a small blip on the radar, whereas a rebuild would be painful and has no guarantee of success.

Young Swans’ short spell at the bottom
I was criticised by a few for having the Swans too high in tenth, but they significantly outperformed even that seemingly optimistic forecast from a diehard Swans fan. I might pick them to finish just outside the top four again next year and hope for a similar performance relative to that prediction. Along with Melbourne and Essendon, the Swans were the best-performing team this season relative to preseason expectations.

It seemingly all came together this season for Sydney – the leanest injury list in the competition, established stars (Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Jack Lloyd, Dane Rampe, Tom Papley) at their best, Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills performing to expectation in set roles, bright young talents (Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, Justin McInerney, Jordan Dawson, to name a few) emerging and Tom Hickey somehow turning into a superstar at 29 with his fourth club.

Fans like me will be ruing shock losses to the likes of Gold Coast, Hawthorn and St Kilda, which ultimately cost the club a double chance in finals, ending just percentage outside the four, while simultaneously toasting a season that appears to be the first of many in which they are a genuine chance at competing for a flag.

Tom Papley (R) and Callum Mills of the Swans celebrate

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Dogs, Saints on the rise
The Western Bulldogs and St Kilda appeared on similar paths by the end of the 2020 season, having just played off in an elimination final won by the Saints by three points and both boasting young, talented lists. However, for the most part their 2021 seasons were poles apart, the Dogs dominating the home-and-away season through 19 games as the Saints made a play for most disappointing team of the year. In the end the Dogs lost their last three on the bounce to finish right where I had them during the preseason, and St Kilda stayed inconsistent to the end in tenth.

Suns fail to rise
Similar to Fremantle, many pundits had the Suns as potential improvers this season. As it was, my predicted finish of 13th ended up being overly optimistic as Gold Coast once again flailed in the back half of the season, looking downright uninterested in blowout losses to the Swans (87 points), Bombers (68 points) and Demons (98 points) in August. The easiest preseason prediction in football remains for the Suns to finish in the bottom third of the competition until proven otherwise.


What I got wrong

Richmond contending again
‘Write off the Tigers at your peril’ was the prevailing sentiment throughout most of 2021 and the mindset I took into my preseason predictions. In the end those who wrote off the Tigers were proved correct, as even the best teams must suffer a decline at some stage. Injuries certainly played a part, most notably in a midseason period in which almost all of their midfielders were sidelined and then at the end of the year, with superstar Dustin Martin missing the last month of football. It remains to be seen whether 2021 is the start of a longer fall or a brief spell in the finals wilderness before a return to premiership contention shortly.

Young Bombers to crash and burn
As pointed out by Fox Footy, 57 experts across various media organisations submitted their preseason ladder predictions and none of them had the Bombers making the finals. So while I wasn’t alone in forecasting a dire year for the red and black diehards, I was clearly way off in my prediction of 16th before the year started. This result is made even more meritorious considering the long-term injuries to Dylan Shiel and Jye Caldwell in the opening month, which had many doubling down on the negative prognosis for Essendon and looking justified at 2-6 after eight rounds.

The turnaround since then gives hope not just for Essendon fans but for many other clubs who will be looking for a similar rebuild process when all looks lost. Special shoutout here to the career revivals of Darcy Parish, Nick Hind and Peter Wright, who have all lifted their outputs significantly to lead the Bombers to finals and potentially their first finals win since 2004.

Thus ends my review of my hastily put together preseason ladder prediction. All up I was closer than I expected to be and will be keen to see how I can fare in future seasons.

If anyone is game enough to reveal their own (truthful) preseason predictions, I’d love to see them below.