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AFL Oracle revisited: Grading my pre-season predictions for 2023

4th October, 2023
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4th October, 2023
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The AFL season is done and dusted, which leaves one thing left to do before turning our eyes to the silly season and what next year brings: looking back on my predictions for how 2023 would pan out, and seeing how much of it I got right.

In March of this year I put together four season previews looking at all 18 teams, and trying to guess how their seasons woould go.

You can check them out in full in the links below; but fair to say things didn’t go quite as well as last year – where in 2022 I got seven of the eventual top eight right, this year it was down to four, including having two of the eventual preliminary finalists not even making the eight (including the eventual premiers).

So how did the final ladder shake out compared to how I thought it would look? Let’s find out.

(A note before we begin: the below ladder is how the standings finished following the finals series, and not at the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds.)

>> AFL Oracle, 14-18: Someone ALWAYS surges into September from the bottom five… so who will it be?

>> AFL Oracle, 9-13: These teams just missed the eight – can any of them go a step further in 2023?

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>> AFL Oracle: They made up the numbers last year, but can any of these finals losers go from good to great?

>> AFL Oracle: Which of last year’s preliminary finalists is set for a shock fall from grace in 2023?

1. Collingwood

Pre-season tip: 11th

What I said:

“The way they play invites randomness, and randomness is what I expect to see from the Pies in 2023: except this year, they probably won’t be able to win the volume of close games that they did last year.”

Oof.

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We’re not off to a great start here – and having given myself an A+ this time last year for backing the Magpies to jump back into the eight from 17th, this just stings all the worse.

Not only were the Pies on top of the ladder for all but one week from Round 7 onwards – their bye week – and held premiership favouritism from arguably as early as Round 2, my prediction that their close-game record would normalise actually turned out to be as wrong as possible. The Pies went 8-1 in games decided by single-figure margins this year, including in all three finals – last year, they went 9-1 before losing two finals by six and one point.

The worst part is? If I had to nominate the top-four team I thought likeliest to miss the eight next year (and there’s ALWAYS one), it’d probably still be Collingwood – but there’s absolutely no chance I’ll be doing THAT in next year’s AFL Oracle, after this season’s embarrassment.

Grade: F

2. Brisbane

Pre-season tip: 3rd

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What I said:

“There’s a fair bit of improvement to make to win a flag, and I can’t shake the feeling two rivals at least will continue to keep the Lions at arm’s length.”

Pretty close to the mark – but those two teams I had ahead of the Lions were Geelong and Melbourne, and boy did one of those not work out!

I had the Lions as my pre-season premier back in March 2022, and couldn’t quite see them improving on last year’s preliminary final appearance despite their big off-season. Josh Dunkley and Will Ashcroft certainly had a bigger impact than I anticipated, while Joe Daniher’s improved form gave their forward line greater oomph and the arrival of Jack Payne did wonders for their defensive stability.

Marks off, though, for tipping them to lose the qualifying final in The Roar‘s pre-finals crystal ball: Port Adelaide? Really?

Grade: B+

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3. Carlton

Pre-season tip: 6th

What I said:

“If at least two new teams see September action every season, Carlton are without a doubt the obvious pick. The only question is: how high can they go?”

Who would have thought, with the Blues sitting 15th and on the verge of implosion midway through the season, that me tipping them to finish 6th would turn out to be an underestimation?

I kept faith with the Blues longer than most – claiming the Blues were closer than you think after Round 9 is one of the few things I got right this year – and while I did sour on them before their season turnaround and tipped Gold Coast to beat them on the day when it finally all clicked, I think I deserve credit for predicting they’d get it all together sooner rather than later?

In fact, to hell with it – I’m giving myself an A for that.

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Grade: A

The Blues celebrate.

The Blues celebrate. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

4. GWS

Pre-season tip: 15th

What I said:

“There’s a path back to success for the Giants – but there’s enough doubt over new coach Adam Kingsley’s short-term plans for this team to have me sceptical about their chances of improving too much.”

Aaaaand we’re back to the dregs.

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I was far from the only one to have GWS nestled safely in my bottom four in my pre-season predictions, and while I claim that there’s one team every year who jumps from the last five to the eight, the Giants were below Adelaide and even West Coast – yep, WEST COAST – in my reckoning for that.

This actually might be a worse fail than tipping the Magpies to miss the eight, because at least that failure was solely based on me thinking the Pies’ close-game record would work against them.

This was just a blatant misreading of the significant talent the Giants still had on their list, and failure to comprehend the impact a few missing pieces – Toby Bedford as a pressure small, Kieren Briggs in the ruck, Jack Buckley in defence – would have on making the whole system tick.

Grade: F

5. Port Adelaide

Pre-season tip: 12th

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What I said:

“If the Power can push their way back into the finals, they’ll definitely have earned it – but if this is to be Hinkley’s defining year, then he’s got the cards stacked against him.”

Another disaster – not as bad as for the Giants or Magpies, but a team making top four having been predicted to miss the eight is a very poor outcome.

At least Port’s late-season fade saved me from the humiliation of having the grand final be played between two teams I had finishing 11th and 12th pre-season, because that looked well and truly on the cards for a while there.

So for all you Power fans out there frustrated about how meekly 2023 ended, at least know that I expected things to be significantly worse!

Grade: F

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6. Melbourne

Pre-season tip: 1st

What I said:

“Frankly, it would be a waste of a team as star-studded as this one to only win a single flag.”

Any danger of Melbourne not capitulating in finals at the MCG?

Having tipped the Dees to finish second in 2022, I again had them right at the pointy end of things to start 2023 – and again, they looked on course for much of the year before squandering a golden chance to add a second flag in September.

At least they made it to the second week of finals, which means no fail grade – but I wasn’t strong enough in my conviction that the Brodie Grundy-Max Gawn combination would struggle to work, and I definitely didn’t see the Dees’ defence becoming as vulnerable as it looked at stages this year.

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Grade: C

7. St Kilda

Pre-season tip: 13th

What I said:

“There will be bright spots for the Saints in 2023, and the odd shock win to give supporters a taste of things to come under Lyon once more, but there are just too many holes in the list and too many unknowns to tip them to improve with any great confidence.”

Like the Power, this looked like a dead set shocker of a prediction when the Saints burst out of the blocks with a 5-1 start, and while they’d normalise from there, at no stage did they leave the top eight.

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That’s enough for a D grade, if not the outright fail that I would have scored had Ross Lyon maintained their form from those whirlwind first few rounds; and be warned, their list demographic and my respect for Lyon’s coaching has me more conflicted about where to place the Saints next year than any other team.

Grade: D

Max King celebrates a goal.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

8. Sydney

Pre-season tip: 5th

What I said:

“The Swans will be contending for the flag for a long time yet, and it’s almost impossible to see them emulating the Crows, Giants and Power and compounding a grand final embarrassment with a rapid fall from grace.”

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I was convinced the Swans would buck the trend of grand final thrashings bringing with them a fall outside the eight… and they very nearly left me with egg on my face!

Points for having the Swans fall outside the top four, which eventuated; but I certainly can’t claim to have seen their rapid fall from grace, especially early in the season, coming.

That being said, by the end of the year they were well and truly playing in that 5-8 range I had them in pre-season: so a nice, solid B is a fitting grade, if I do say so myself.

Grade: B

9. Western Bulldogs

Pre-season tip: 7th

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What I said:

“With pressure mounting on Beveridge, I’m mounting the Dogs to pull together despite it all, and led by the Bont, storm their way to… another 5th-8th finish and a fifth elimination final loss in nine years.”

At least they avoided losing another elimination final?

I saw a lot of pundits tip the Dogs to be a big slider this year, so I certainly wasn’t too far wrong in thinking they would stagnate in 2023 rather than outright regress.

Having said that, they still missed the eight entirely, something I dreaded but didn’t actively tip; so despite only being two places off, I can’t give myself an A for this like I did for the Blues.

Grade: B

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10. Adelaide

Pre-season tip: 8th

What I said:

“If the Crows can turn Adelaide Oval into a fortress, then they could easily fight their way to a 12-win season, which might just be enough to sneak their way into September.”

My tip of the year in 2022 was Collingwood making the eight; and the Crows were one goal umpire away from being this year’s equivalent.

Alas, my smoky finalist missed out in the most heartbreaking fashion, and with it so went my chances of a rare A+ grade. Still, I think I deserve credit for both anticipating Adelaide Oval becoming a fearsome place to travel to again (the Crows went 9-4 at home, with two of those losses by a solitary point) and having the Crows as one of 2023’s big improvers.

Grade: A

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11. Essendon

Pre-season tip: 16th

What I said:

“While they have a very solid core, led by the likes of new skipper Zach Merrett, Peter Wright and Darcy Parish, there’s too much flakiness from the rest of the team to have any confidence in them doing too much improving in 2023.”

I’ll be honest; I saw the Bombers being the team that lost five of their last seven games, including a 100-point thrashing and two 70-pointers and only narrow wins over West Coast and North Melbourne, for the entire season.

But up until that messy end, the Dons properly surprised me; 4-1 after five rounds and with a run of four successive wins mid-year, they were well and truly in the race for the eight right up until GWS handed them a penultimate round walloping that threatened to undo all their good work.

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With that said, they weren’t a long way off where I had them pre-season, so no fail grade.

Grade: C

12. Geelong

Pre-season tip: 2nd

What I said:

“Even if someone else does pip them for the minor premiership (looking at you, Melbourne), they’ll still have to pry the cup from Chris Scott’s cold, dead fingers.”

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Oh dear.

There’s always one team that misses the eight from the top four, and I’ll be honest, the Cats were the team I thought had the least chance of falling from 2022’s preliminary finalists.

Sadly, a combination of injuries and an ageing list meant the Cats were in finals jeopardy for virtually the whole season, from their 0-3 start to their Round 23 loss to St Kilda that sealed their fate.

Making matters worse, I actively wrote after their Round 15 win over Melboune that ‘anyone who seriously thought the Cats were missing finals… here’s your reality check’, so confident was I that they’d do what they always do and at least make the eight. So really, I got Geelong doubly wrong this year.

Grade: F

13. Richmond

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Pre-season tip: 4th

What I said:

“Many things will need to go right for the Tigers to claim a fourth flag in seven seasons in September; but at the very least, the arrival of Taranto and Hopper has improved the best 22 and raised their floor.”

I’m starting to understand why my tipping went so poorly this year.

Another utter shocker from me – I got captivated by the Tigers’ adding of Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper in last season’s trade period, foolishly thinking it would fix their biggest weakness – midfield clearance power – without thinking about the flow-on effect a change of game plan to accommodate that duo would result in.

Sure enough, the Tigers fared better from stoppages, but with Robbie Tarrant retiring and Josh Gibcus injured all year their backline fell apart, while Tom Lynch’s absence from Round 4 onwards blew a gaping hole in their scoring power.

I wondered why on earth so many other pundits had the Tigers falling away this year – safe to say they read the room better than I did.

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Grade: F

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

14. Fremantle

Pre-season tip: 9th

What I said:

“Progress isn’t always linear, and it is very possible the Dockers could improve in many ways on-field and still fall down the ladder.”

Half right: the Dockers certainly fell down the ladder, but they certainly didn’t do any improving this year.

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2022’s most miserly backline sprung multiple leaks, the forward line remained a major problem, and while Luke Jackson had an excellent first season in purple capped by a maiden All-Australian squad appearance, he never quite gelled with Sean Darcy as a ruck-forward tandem team.

Points must be awarded for having the Dockers miss finals; but I’ll be honest, I at no point thought they’d be this bad.

Grade: B+

15. Gold Coast

Pre-season tip: 10th

What I said:

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“The Suns could very easily bank enough wins to book a maiden finals berth – I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them there, but there are just too many other teams vying for those eight spots to put them there.”

At no point this season were the Suns properly in the finals conversation – and given 2023 ends with a new coach and another bottom-four finish, it’s safe to say my faith in their improvement was misguided.

Nine wins was a decent effort, as was a percentage in the 90s, so they probably weren’t a conventional 15th-placed team; but with GWS, Adelaide and Essendon jumping above them from last year’s bottom five, to fall back so substantially was incredibly disappointing for a side that, after 13 years in the AFL, still doesn’t seem to really get it yet.

Having been proved wrong when I tipped them to finish last in 2022, this just confirms my suspicion that I’ll never get Gold Coast right. Then again, it seems even the Suns’ board can’t do that.

Grade: C

16. Hawthorn

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Pre-season tip: 18th

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What I said:

“It’s hard to see them doing anything but sink to the bottom this year. If it helps, they’re on track to still be the best wooden spooner since Brisbane in 2017 – and look where the Lions are now.”

I’m actually pretty happy with this tip – the Hawks weren’t a wooden spooner, and by year’s end they were a competitive and even brilliant team, making my faith in them and Sam Mitchell feel justified.

Most people also had them on the bottom, and judging from the comments of some others in the footy media world *cough cough Damian Barrett cough cough* my expectations on them were a little higher than others, and while they finished 16th, the Hawks definitely head into 2024 with a bright future ahead.

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Grade: B+

17. North Melbourne

Pre-season tip: 17th

What I said:

“Frankly, a good season for North would be to avoid a third wooden spoon on the trot.”

My one and only bang-on prediction! Huzzah!

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If I’m honest, I expected North to be a little better than another three-win season; but a percentage of 71.5 is a definite improvement on a nightmare 2022, and after a mid-season hiatus, Alastair Clarkson is back in the fold and ready to keep dragging the Roos slowly but surely up the ladder in the years to come.

Just about everyone would have had North on or near the bottom in pre-season, so I was hardly going out on a limb with them in 17th – but to hell with it, I deserve an A+ after the shockers elsewhere in this list!

Grade: A+

18. West Coast

Pre-season tip: 14th

What I said:

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“Don’t be surprised if the Eagles turn out to be the team from this bottom five that makes it to the eight – especially if they can turn Optus Stadium back into a fortress – but there are just too many unknowns about the quality of their list in the here and now to back them for such a drastic improvement.”

Me chickening out of picking West Coast to make the eight pre-season might be the biggest bullet dodged in the history of The Roar.

Had I followed through and not gone with the safer (and almost correct) choice of Adelaide, I’d have been humiliated by the Eagles’ latest disaster of a season. While COVID was no longer an issue, injuries reached an almost comical extreme, with the Eagles genuinely struggling to put a fit team on the park at times this season.

14th is still a looooong way off where they ended up – the Dockers finished 14th with 10 wins, a full seven and 43.7 per cent ahead of the wooden spoon-winning Eagles, but at least I avoided the most disastrous tip of all.

Small mercies this season!

Grade: C

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