Just a few more weeks to go before the 2018 AFL season commences and, of course, the salivation will start and many crystal ballers will have a peak into the future and start pondering who will make the finals, and who will miss out.
We don’t believe in giving tips for the final ladder positions for 2018 – it’s so unpredictable and, as we found out in the final minute of the final game in the final round of 2017, the ladder wasn’t resolved until the home and away season was all over.
However, we’re not going to wimp out entirely – in this three-part series, we’ll assess the merits and lists of all the teams, and predict how well each team will go. In this first part, we nominate the teams most likely to miss the finals.
Brisbane Lions: They’ve only picked up one new key player – Charlie Cameron – and there’s not much in this team to excite the crowd for 2018. Sure, they picked up Luke Hodge from Hawthorn, who came out of retirement to play for Brisbane this year, but this has the look of a team still in a solid re-building stage, destined for success in a few seasons’ time. But not just yet. We’re expecting them to be closer to the bottom of the ladder. Prediction: 15 – 18.
Carlton: This is a team that’s working on something, but we’re not quite sure what it is. They’ve got a young team that’s still developing, in a similar way to Brisbane, but it’s not looking like such a great list. Matthew Kreuzer is getting to the stage of his career where he’s tending to become injured more often than not, Kade Simpson is probably in the last season of his career, there’s a couple of Silvagni’s, surrounded by many low-to-mid ranking players. We can imagine Carlton occupying the lower parts of the ladder and wouldn’t be surprised if they’re holding up the ladder after the final round. Prediction: 15 – 18.
Collingwood: There will come a point during this season where the Collingwood board of management will regret extending Nathan Buckley’s coaching contract by two years. Collingwood haven’t made finals since 2013 and they are unlikely to change this in 2018. They’ve got the oldest list in the AFL – not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as the oldest list of 2015 (Hawthorn) was also the premier that year – but there’s something about their ‘oldness’. Ben Reid, Travis Varcoe and Daniel Wells are injury prone, their stars of Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom are no longer the commanding presence on the field. This has the potential to be a horror year for Collingwood, as well as adding pressure for Buckley – and President Eddie McGuire to be shown the door. Prediction: 11 – 14.
Essendon: A team that exceeded expectations and was a bit of a ‘smokey’ in 2017 – making the finals after most of their players re-appeared after serving WADA drug bans. But could making the finals in 2017 be the high water mark for this team? The were bundled out in the first week of the finals, with Sydney needing only one 10-goal quarter to beat them, finally going down by 65 points. The have a few class players – Joe Daniher, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley, Zach Merrett, Jake Stringer and the excitement machine, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – but they’re not supported by enough class. Brendon Goddard is possibly in his last season, but Essendon have added Devon Smith from Greater Western Sydney. We’re expecting Essendon to push for finals, but just fall short. Prediction: 9 – 12.
Fremantle: After reaching the top of the ladder at the end of 2015, and reaching the preliminary final, Fremantle really dropped off in 2016 and 2017, claiming the were into a five-year rebuilding plan that nobody really saw coming. Their list has a number of factors consistent with the other teams we think will be missing out on finals: ageing key players – Aaron Sandilands, Michael Johnson, Hayden Ballantyne, Stephen Hill, David Mundy – and players that look good on paper, such as Harley Bennell and Brandon Matera, but not be able to step up a notch. Of course, they have a Brownlow Medalist in their list – Nat Fyfe – but his presence has not been as obvious as it was in his stellar season of 2015. The way they were wiped away by Richmond and Sydney by 104 points in consecutive games towards the end of 2017 does not augur well for 2018 and there’s a possibility they may even slip further behind the pack. Prediction: 13 – 16.
Gold Coast: This is a team that has seriously underperformed since their inception in 2011 and one good thing about their 2017 season is they could not possibly fall any lower. There was something magical about Gold Coast in some of their matches in 2017 – dual thrashings of Hawthorn and a victory over Geelong – and their list is better than their 17th position in 2017 suggests. Something has never worked for Gold Coast – whether it was not installing the right coach at the start (Guy McKenna), or then replacing him with a coach who was over the hill (Rodney Eade), perhaps they’ve started getting things right with newly-appointed coach, Stewart Dew. There’s something tough and lucky about Dew and we think he’s the one to start gelling the Gold Coast experiment into a masterpiece. Gold Coast will rocket up the ladder, but not quite enough to get into the finals. Prediction: 9 – 12.
Hawthorn: There has been a perception that 2017 was the season that Hawthorn needed to have – fall back to the pack, and then springboard themselves back into final, in a similar way to Geelong in 2016 – they were perennial finalists, dropped out of the finals in 2015 and made it to the Preliminary Final in 2016 and 2017. Hawthorn are a team in transition and they had a number of retirements, and their list has a number of players very close to retirement. Coach Alastair Clarkson has had a magnificent career since 2005, but this list has the feel of those first two years – 2005 and 2006, where Hawthorn were close to the bottom of the ladder, before springboarding into a sustained period of success over the next decade – four premierships, and finals in each year except for 2009 and 2017. There might be some hard times coming up for Hawthorn over the next couple of seasons and we can see them dropping down the ladder in 2018. Prediction: 12 – 15.
North Melbourne: Something happened to North Melbourne at the end of the 2016 season, where Brad Scott abruptly the announced the retirements of club greats – Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo – it’s not quite the same as the sacking of Norm Smith in 1965, but reverberations of that decision by North Melbourne is still being felt. They have the making of a good team, but perhaps the glue that holds the team together has been shot. Todd Goldstein had a shocker season in 2017, but will be looking to boost his stocks in 2018. They’ve got some grunt around the ground – Ben Cunnington, Ben Brown, Scott Thompson, Shaun Higgins, but that’s about it. They may challenge for finals but that might be about it. Prediction: 12 – 15.
St Kilda: There’s something that’s not quite there for St Kilda, and we think it might the coach. St Kilda came off a wooden spoon several seasons ago, and have been close to finals action, but just missing out. For the first season under Alan Richardson, St Kilda went backwards and, unless one of their players such as Tom Membrey or Josh Bruce have a standout year, they might drop down again this year. St Kilda might not have the players to go that extra step to make finals, but they do have a well-averaged team around the group, and if there are standout seasons from the players we mentioned, the team might go up, rather than down. It’s a big ask, and we’re not too sure it will happen. Prediction: 11 – 14.
West Coast: Something it also not quite happening for West Coast and we also think it might be the coach. Adam Simpson was lucky to get his team in the finals in the final seconds of the home and away round, but 2018 might not be so lucky. West Coast was brushed away too easily against Greater Western Sydney in the second week of finals, and they were also brushed away in the final quarter too easily during the home and away season. They’ve got a very poor record in Melbourne and it will take a while to develop a home ground advantage at their new venue, Perth Stadium. They’re had a few retirements and too many of their older players haven’t been performing, such as Mark LeCras and Lewis Jetta. They’ve got a lot of grunt in the forward line with Josh J. Kennedy and Jack Darling, but actually getting the ball to them might be a bit of problem, with a weaker midfield, and too many new and upcoming players that will need to fill the gap. It could be a difficult year for West Coast. Prediction: 12 – 15.