Welcome to 2022 and the precipice of another season without much content to keep our minds engaged.
I’ve decided to start the new year’s off right – and two weeks late; thanks, COVID – with a list of every single club’s new years resolution.
Adelaide Crows: Thorpedo mark 2.0
The Crows have been developing nicely, the latter half of last season notwithstanding. But to take that next step their offence will need to become dramatically more potent. With the drafting of Josh Rachele, Jake Soligo, and Riley ‘Thorpedo’ Thilthorpe the Crows are on the edge of creating a fearsome forward line.
Like their omnivorous animal kingdom counterparts, the Crows need to develop multiple avenues to goal, and with the scandal embroiling former captain Taylor Walker, the Crows have the perfect opportunity to expedite the development of their players and surge back up the ladder.
Brisbane Lions: hear them roar
I think it is a safe bet to say that the Lions are the Katy Perry of the footballing world. They’re at times hot and then cold in seemingly nonsensical ways; at other times they’re plastic bags floating on the wind. In 2021 they were at the mercy of COVID and injury and having to spend large stints of time away from their home base, and it clearly took a toll on the mental health of their players.
What they need to do is develop the Gabba into a fortress as well as improve their horrendous record at the MCG. The Lions should roar and remind everyone why they deserve a spot at the top of the food chain.
Carlton Blues: meet expectations
A spine that features Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow should not be missing finals. They have new coach Michael Voss coming in, making him the third coach in six years, and with Luke Sayers zealously working behind the scenes, the Blues need to succeed right away. Very rarely are senior coaches given a second chance at AFL level, and that only increases the impetus for Carlton to challenge for the eight.
My new year’s resolution for Carlton is for them to stop Carlton-ing it up and get into the eight after nine years in the wilderness – 11 years if you count it from when they last legitimately made the finals.
Collingwood Magpies: gracefully phase out their veterans
The Magpies have built a useful cohort of youthful players with which to build their next flag tilt. However, before they can do that they need to look at gracefully moving on the players that are already at the tail-end of their careers. In so doing they will be able to imbue the younger players with a sense of history surrounding the storied club and be able to redirect attention from the innumerable scandals that have impacted the club over the past two years.
With Scott Pendlebury fracturing his ankle, he can begin a move into a pseudo coaching role, where he can encourage and develop players with his knowledge of the game. Much as it pains me to admit it, he is clearly an intelligent and thoughtful player.
The Magpies resolution is for them to develop a healthy respect for their culture and to move their veterans on.
Essendon Bombers: win a final
The Bombers surprised the entire footballing world last year when they made the top eight. Gone were the pretensions at preseason hype, the big-name trade targets and the machinations surrounding Adrian Dodoro and whatever outlandish offer he was pursuing. Taking their place was the calm certainty and cultural resilience that the Bombers’ best footy could stand up against any opposition.
I want to say that the Bombers could win the premiership, and theoretically any side could, but right now I would settle for them ending their agonisingly long drought without a finals win, as this year’s draft class will not have been alive when the Bombers last won a final.
Fremantle Dockers: lose the yips
The Dockers have an accuracy problem. It extends beyond their captain, who had a horrendous return of six goals 21 behinds last year, though he is emblematic of the wider concerns that the Dockers have when it comes to goal kicking. The Dockers average the second most behinds per game in the league, exacerbated by their bottom three placing in the number of goals they kicked throughout the year.
Part of this will improve thanks to the signature of West Australian dead eye Jye Amiss, who should go part of the way to rectifying the problems the Dockers have had in front of goal. However, the Dockers need to work on getting the ball into more dangerous positions inside 50 so they can take higher percentage of set shots rather than peppering the goals with a kitchen sink approach.
Geelong Cats: develop a game plan that stands up in finals
It may sound like a cliche, but the Cats are no September specialists. They are one of the most successful clubs in the home-and-away season thanks to their home-ground advantage, but they wilt when it comes to the pressure cooker of finals football. The Cats have an inability to counter the hyper-defensiveness of sides that come into finals. They instead continue to insist on relying upon their tempo footy to contain and minimise the damage, whereas in finals all that is out the window and sides are willing to risk it for the proverbial biscuit.
The Cats have numerous questions surrounding their game style in September, the most significant of which regards halting opposition momentum. If they allow a side to get on a run, they seem unable to stop them, as we saw in their preliminary final against Melbourne last season, and their recent prelim and grand final against Richmond.
Gold Coast Suns: staunch the bleeding at the contract table
One thing has defined the Gold Coast Suns in their short history, and that is homesick players wanting out of the club and willing to take drastic measures to force their way out. If the Suns want to show that they have succeeded in their rebuild, they will extend each of their out-of-contract stars, headlined by the trio of super draftees Ben King, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine.
Of course it is not only possible but likely that they will lose some of their out-of-contract players next year, which is why it is integral that they succeed from day one, otherwise this may very well be the final nail in the coffin of the Gold Coast Suns experiment.
However, this is a new year, and though it might be the COVID talking, not only am I backing the Suns to extend their players they need to but I reckon they will make finals as well.
Greater Western Sydney Giants: no more suspension for Toby
The Giants have elected to move to a co-captaincy model, and were it not for the repeated indiscretions of their talismanic pocket dynamo, they would have made him captain outright. However, they are going to be without Toby Greene for five weeks to start next year, as he made demonstrative and unreasonable contact with an umpire at a match last year.
Greene is fast becoming the most suspended player in AFL history, known more for his antics than his skills, and the Giants will be hoping against hope that the captaincy has a moderating and calming influence on his temperament.
Hawthorn Hawks: regain the honeymoon period
Rookie coaches, particularly coaches that are scions of those same clubs, are frequently given a honeymoon period to get their bearings. However, thanks to the acrimonious and contentious exit of Alastair Clarkson from the Hawthorn Football Club, driven in large part by the ambitious Sam Mitchell and Jeff Kennett, Mitchell will not be afforded this courtesy. However, if the Hawks can unexpectedly surge up the ladder, then Hawthorn fans would quickly fall back in love with their side, as winning is always a panacea for ills in the footballing world.
Mitchell has clearly shown he can coach, but as I asked in my review of Hawthorn’s season, how much of that was Mitchell and how much was the remarkable ‘reverse tank’? In the words of Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States, how will Mitchell cope when the buck stops with him?
Melbourne Demons: more of the same, thanks
The Dees finally broke their 57-year premiership drought last year. The Demons faithful will be hoping that, unlike 2018, their miraculous surge up the ladder is not mirrored by an immediate decline back downwards. The Dees are significantly better served by the players they currently have available now, and those players also have the confidence that comes from rising to the pinnacle of the AFL landscape.
However, by the same token, avoiding the antipathy that inevitably sets in after the euphoria of victory is one of the hardest things to do, and the Demons will be eager to show their wares in front of their home crowd in 2022.
North Melbourne Kangaroos: no more blowouts
The North Melbourne Kangaroos became the first side since Essendon in 2019 to lose a match by over 100 points, the crushing coming in the Good Friday clash of 2021. The trend line for the Roos over the first half of last year does not make for optimistic reading, losing by an average margin of 41 points. Their only win came to the similarly lowly Hawthorn.
The blowouts were a natural consequence of pushing the youthful brigade of Kangaroos into the spotlight, and with the deep cuts of 2020 and the wooden spoon of 2021, the Kangaroos are still in a developmental mode, but they would be eager to consolidate the improvements, led by overall No. 1 pick Jason Horne-Francis.
Port Adelaide Power: develop a deeper midfield
Outside of Ollie Wines and Travis Boak, the footballing public has a hard time identifying the third string of midfielders at Port. Zak Butters and Connor Rozee are both flankers, while Xavier Duursma is a halfback and wingman. As Boak rapidly approaches the end of his storied career it is becoming increasingly less likely that he will be able to perform at a high level, so the Power will need to plan out a succession from one of their young brigade if they want to break the Hinkley Hoodoo with preliminary finals.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the role injuries played in hampering the development of their younger players, with Butters, Duursma and Rozee all spending considerable amounts of time out of the game. However, if Port want to perform on the highest stage, they will need to develop that middle tier of players and stand up to sides they consider better than them.
Richmond Tigers: win another flag
Every side should be aiming to win the flag at the start of the year regardless of how unlikely it may seem, but for the Tigers the drive is a little more urgent. Their key forwards are rapidly approaching the twilights of their careers, while Dustin Martin has the unfortunate loss of his father to deal with.
The Tigers jealously guarded their bevy of picks with the intention of contending immediately, so their new year’s resolution can only be to win another flag before they reach the inevitable cliff.
St Kilda Saints: make finals (at a minimum)
Brett Ratten heads into the last year of his contract eager to prove that the performances of his charges were no fluke. With Melbourne ending their 57-year curse, that leaves the Saints with the longest standing premiership drought (1967). Ratten will seek to have his game style vindicated and in so doing make the finals.
Complicating matters is the extremely unemployed Alastair Clarkson, leaving Ratten staring over his shoulder. I get the feeling that after last year the Saints just expected all the pieces to come together, particularly after the Adelaide game in which they had a couple of players refuse to travel, and this did not occur. But 2022 is a new start, and their choices at the trade table should make a big difference almost immediately.
Sydney Swans: Buddy to get 1000 goals
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin has been a stalwart and a mercurial forward for nearly two decades now. He currently has 995 goals, four Coleman medals, 12 club goal kicker medals – six apiece at Hawthorn and Sydney – and eight All Australian guernseys, including one as captain in 2018. Yet Lance Franklin will be 35 by the time he starts footy this season, and he has shown a tendency to get injured in big moments, so it is vitally important that the Swans get him to 1000 goals in the early part of the year in front of their home crowd, COVID permitting.
To make 1000 goals is an astounding achievement, one that will probably never be rivalled again, and it is a testament to the prolonged time Franklin has spent at the top of the sport.
West Coast Eagles: take two steps backwards
The Eagles are at a crossroads as we head into 2022. They traded extremely aggressively to get their hands on Tim Kelly, who is undoubtedly a good player, but their actions have left them with no first-round draft picks since 2014, with the delisting of Jarrod Brander and the retirement of Daniel Venables.
The Eagles have only just recently re-entered the draft space, and given the severe issues with their game plan, the best thing they can do is drop down the ladder and load up on a bevy of high picks to enable them to attack the draft in 2022. That is why their new year’s resolution is to take two steps back to go forwards.
Western Bulldogs: break the cycle
The Adelaide Crows in 2017-18, the West Coast Eagles in 2015-16, the Swans in 2014-15 and Port Adelaide in 2007-08. What do these sides have in common? They are all sides that have been pumped in a grand final who either missed the eight or did considerably worse the very next season. My new year’s resolution for the Bulldogs is for them to break this cycle and remain at the pointy end of the AFL ladder, which may be difficult to do given the idiosyncrasies that have defined Luke Beveridge’s time at the Bulldogs.
With the talent they have coming in they can easily fill the hole left by Josh Bruce, but it remains to be seen whether they can source a talented key defender. The Bulldogs will be thereabouts again next year, but I am filled with questions pertaining to their game style as well as their reliance on getting the rub of the green, not to mention the inconsistencies between years at the Western Bulldogs.
Well, there you have it, folks. Leave your thoughts in the comments below and I will do my best to respond.