Round 10 Preview: Teams are, have been and always will be bad

Brendon Bolton was at the forefront of a media barrage once again this week.

How refreshing and new did it feel to have another week where the football world poured it on Carlton?

Coming off another disastrous effort against the Giants, the Blues remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder with just the solitary victory and exceeded the ineptitude shown two weeks prior against North Melbourne in their 93-point humiliation at Giants Stadium.

As has now become customary in 2019, the media buried coach Brendon Bolton, tore shreds off the playing group and questioned again when or if club administration would act and force changes as their season spirals into a dumpster fire once again.

One quote that caught my attention and was trotted out by Caroline Wilson on both Footy Classified and the Age Real Footy podcast was the advantage teams playing were gaining through percentage boosts and that it would artificially skew the ladder.

Now ignoring the fact that Carlton have been largely competitive in all their games this year – aside from big losses to the Kangaroos and GWS, their biggest loss has been 33-points in Round 1 to Richmond. There is a reality of football, and any sport for that matter, which Caro and indeed the entire football world forgets, some teams aren’t good.

The reality is someone must be at the foot of the ladder, there will never be 18 competitive teams, it’s not possible. Yet we go through this pathetic dance every time Carlton losses a game. It’s mainly a symptom of the oversaturation of coverage, but I think it’s also partly this sudden impatience that rebuilding teams should take no longer than one, maybe two seasons to get back to relevance.

This isn’t surprising that the Blues are struggling again. They’re coming off a two-win season which netted them last year’s wooden spoon and despite some senior additions in the off-season are still young, inexperienced and face plenty of development before they can contend again.

No one, aside from the most optimistic Carlton supporter, could have had the Blues any higher than the bottom six in their preseason ladder predictions (aside from the club themselves ironically, who of course swapped first round picks in the 2019 draft with Adelaide).

Carlton embarked on an all-out rebuild, right as free agency changed the ways teams should regenerate and are still very much near the bottom of the mountain. They will continue to struggle, they will continue to have horrible games and at times, it will continue to seem like all hope is gone, it’s part of rebuilding.

Now I agree that they should be further advanced than where they are, and Sunday was truly horrific. The stagnation in development of the likes of Charlie Curnow, Paddy Dow and Sam Petrevski-Seton is also a concern. But the reality is their list is young, they’re not very good and there will continue to be pain. There’s no need for a forensic microscope every time Carlton lose a game.

As I have unwittingly added to this pile on of Carlton, let’s go the top of the ladder and for the first time this season, the top eight includes the best eight teams. While it is certainly no lock, there is a good chance we’re looking at our final top eight after Round 9.

Stats suggest we should be close as on average 6.5 of the top eight is locked in at this point of the season, so any more than one or two changes would be unexpected.

Right now, at most, there are five premiership contenders and even that can be whittled down. Let’s break down our top eight and where they sit:

Leading the pack – Geelong and Collingwood

These two teams have emerged as we approach the halfway mark and deserve their standing as 1st and 2nd respectively. The Cats have certainly shown more than the Pies, including winning their head-to-head clash in Round 1, however Collingwood haven’t reached anything near their peak and have several gears they can move in to as we approach finals.

Next in line – GWS Giants

Prior to the Hawthorn loss, the Giants deserved to be with the top two, however consistent issues have emerged. While their struggles at the MCG are real and have received far more airtime, their bigger issue in continually failing to mentally show up to games, particularly when they’re seen as strong favourites. Maybe their Round 2 loss against the Eagles saw them walk into a buzzsaw as the reigning premiers enjoyed their first game at home since their September triumph, however their hiccups against Fremantle and the Hawks keep them a step behind.

Stalking but still unproven – Richmond and West Coast

The two most recent premiers are currently unproven for different reasons. The term doesn’t quite fit Richmond, who have shown their depth can hold up despite serious injuries to key players. However, these injuries do keep them behind that top three, especially when you consider their heavy losses they’ve already suffered against Collingwood and GWS. West Coast is a pure form concern. They haven’t really touched the heights of 2018, save for their dismantling of the Giants. They still have to be respected for their feats last season, but they do need to start showing they can replicate that form.

The wildcard – Brisbane

Give respect to the Lions, they’ve come on faster than I expected and although benefiting from a few middle of the road teams falling off from last year, their 6-3 record is legit and it would be surprising if they missed finals. The knock on them is their losses have been bad and they don’t have any major scalps. They did easily account for West Coast, however that was in Round 1 and the Eagles were undermanned. The positive; they’ve largely taken care of business against teams around them on the ladder.

Rounding out the top eight – Adelaide, Port Adelaide

Both South Australians teams are just about where they should be. I haven’t been sold on Adelaide. Their win streak was against a bunch of cupcakes and despite a late charge, fell a point short against the Lions, suggesting they’re a level back from Brisbane and even further behind the top five. Port Adelaide are going to Port Adelaide and once again they smack the teams below them and fall short against anyone above them. Aside from their demolition of the Eagles, their wins have come against Carlton, Melbourne, North Melbourne and Gold Coast. Port are the team most likely to slip out of the finals come September.

Onwards to Round 10, peeps:

Sydney vs Collingwood (-17.5)

Two weeks ago, Sydney’s future looked as bleak as anyone’s, but low and behold they’ve unearthed some young talent. Nick Blakey has come as advertised, Oliver Florent is improving, George Hewett has turned into a very solid tagger and even Ryan Clark got revenge against his old team. However, we can pump the breaks on a mid-season revival until they’ve beaten more than the Bombers and Kangaroos. Collingwood will provide a much sterner test on a ground (or more a city) where they’ve traditionally thrived on.

Hawthorn (3.5) vs Port Adelaide

The term ‘flat-track bullies’ is thrown around a fair bit these days, but somehow, every year it fits perfectly in describing the Power. They beat up on the dregs and never get close to any serious contender. Their current record against fellow top eight teams is 1-4 and as mentioned, their only decent win came against West Coast. Admittedly they have battled through a pretty serious injury toll and need to take care of business against a Hawks side which are around three weeks away from correctly throwing in the towel on their season.

Western Bulldogs (-8.5) vs North Melbourne

I continue to stand by my feeling that with a better coach this Bulldogs team could thrive. Despite falling away late against the Cats, the Dogs played some brilliant football. Their ball movement was crisp, their foot skills were impressive, and their outside run was damaging. They have the makings of a solid list despite deficiencies in the key position department across the ground. Their backline was manhandled by Geelong in giving up 21-goals. Thankfully they won’t face the same offensive force on Saturday.

Adelaide vs West Coast (+8.5)

I’m not ready to give up on the Eagles and I’m equally not ready to believe in the Crows. West Coast are indeed showing some worrying signs and if Melbourne weren’t such a disaster right now, they would have lost comfortably last Friday night. The Eagles feel like a team who will never put it all together this year, but I’ll stick with them for now.

Richmond (-13.5) vs Essendon

Devon Smith and Joe Daniher both done for the year in the one week. Despite being within striking distance of the top eight, this Essendon season feels cooked and they can’t be trusted to make any indents against the top teams. Dreamtime at the ‘G has been fairly one-sided of late and despite Richmond’s injury list continuing to grow, the Tigers feel like they’re hitting another gear, particularly if Dustin Martin can repeat last week’s effort.

Gold Coast (+32.5) vs Geelong

Watching the Suns fall away in the last quarter against the Power last week was annoying, they deserved to be closer and definitely deserved to cover the line. For a team so bereft of talent, Gold Coast are exceptionally coached. They seem to finally be getting genuine output from Jack Bowes and Ben Ainsworth, but you would like to see a little more from Jack Lukosius and Ben King needs some time to get used to the AFL level. The Cats have traditionally used their trip north as an excuse for a holiday and could be minus Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett, who are both due a rest.

Melbourne vs GWS Giants (-9.5)

The dreaded trip to the MCG for the Giants. Melbourne provide them a perfect opportunity to smash that deficiency, while also giving them a chance to get their heads straight and take care of a weaker opponent. Take nothing from their cakewalk last week, that smashing was always on the cards. A team like Melbourne is one they’ve occasionally struggled against, unless they arrive ready to kill.

St Kilda vs Carlton (+17.5)

Whacked in the media ad nauseum again, expect a much more spirited display from the Blues and inevitably fall short once again. Not sure what to make of the Saints this season, their injuries have clouded any sort of proper measurement which makes the handling of Alan Richardson far more difficult. They’re stuck in limbo.

Fremantle (-5.5) vs Brisbane

Fremantle follow a similar pattern where they’ll dish up a few stinkers and have an odd surprise game maybe one a month or so. That game is due up and I don’t like the idea of a young Brisbane team travelling across the country. Their interstate record has been patchy so far, with big losses against Essendon at the MCG and the Bulldogs in Ballarat. Open up the taps a little Ross and let your team score.

Season Record

36/81 (44%)

Geelong can reap the benefits of holding firm on Kelly

Following the 2008 season, former Sydney forward Ryan O’Keefe knocked back Sydney’s three-year contract offer and sought a trade back to his home state of Victoria.

Premiers Hawthorn quickly emerged as the front runners and O’Keefe looked destined to join the Hawks during trade week.

The issue was no deal could be brokered and with the prospect of being vulnerable to the order of the pre-season draft, O’Keefe eventually re-signed with Sydney, played out the rest of his career for the Swans, winning a Norm Smith medal and a premiership.

Prior to 2018, this stood as the last occasion where a high-profile player expressed a desire to leave his club yet was forced to remain with no trade ever eventuating.

With the advent of free agency allowing more fluid player movement once players came out of contract after extended periods at the one club, it also changed the way contracted players were treated with clubs seemingly always willing to accept trade requests from players and complete deals, sometimes at the last minute.

Tim Kelly seemed destined to force his way back to his home state of Western Australia after he finally publicly announced his desire to be traded to West Coast after a year of rumours that he and his family were unhappy living in Geelong.

Despite public pressure, the on-going perception that ‘deals just get done’ and the threat of losing Kelly for less or no compensation in a year, the Cats didn’t buckle and moved on after failing to receive what they viewed as adequate compensation.

It was a change of reputation from the team down the highway, but it’s reaping major benefits and will continue to do so through the season and into this year’s trade period.

Geelong had three key factors in their favour which made it beneficial to hold onto Kelly, all aside from the fact he immediately become one of the club’s and indeed the league’s best midfielders.

The first was having Kelly under contract. While that hasn’t really meant much of late, with the likes of Josh Schache and Gary Ablett forcing trades while under contract, Geelong still held leverage over Kelly and rightfully used it. He’s also on an extremely low contract. It’s worth mentioning the benefits of having a top five player on your list being paid a second-round draft pick salary.

Second was Kelly’s value was only going to go up. Barring a major injury, the on-baller was going to improve, he was entering the prime of his career, had no wear and tear on his body at the top level and had a year within the AFL system under his belt. The Cats were going to be able to come to trade table with a higher prized recruit than the previous year.

The third and potentially most intriguing factor which the Cats benefited from waiting on, was Fremantle entering the picture. Despite protestations from Kelly (and his West Coast-centric manager) against the idea of heading to the Dockers, there was a chance that if Geelong held firm, Kelly would have to relent and open a two-horse race between the WA clubs. Seemingly, that has happened and now Geelong can seek the best deal from two possible destinations.

With the power players currently have over trade negotiations is it hard for clubs to hold firm, they have no ability to seek maximum compensation as the player can veto any trade to a destination that doesn’t suit him.

Hence why players are dealt so easily, even while under contract. But Geelong were right then to hold firm and the decision looks even better now. Kelly is a genuine Brownlow contender whose value has shot past any players dealt in recent trade periods. He’s probably the best player to request a trade since Chris Judd.

Now West Coast maximised Judd’s value through the ability to sort through a bevy of offers from Victorian clubs. As Geelong only has one, maybe two teams in play, they don’t quite have that option, but they are in a stronger position to deal this off-season than last.

West Coast’s reported final offer was their two second-round picks in 2018 (20, 22) and a future second-round selection in this year’s draft (that will presumably fall somewhere in the mid-20’s). Against Steven Wells’ M.O. and the reputation of the Cats as the ‘good guys of trade week’, the Cats held out for a future first-round pick in this year’s draft and never baulked from their demand.

Now Kelly is undoubtedly worth at least two-first round picks and then some, considering he looks more complete than past players who were dealt for that price including Adam Treloar and Dylan Shiel.

Of course, the entirely alternate scenario which could become a reality and was strengthened by Geelong buying time accredited to them through Kelly’s contract, is they convince him to stay.

While it’s highly likely he seeks a trade as soon as Geelong play their final game later this season, the Cats have had another year to work on making Kelly and his family happy in Geelong. They have taken notable steps off field and their 7-1 start and premiership favouritism surely couldn’t hurt their chances either.

It may not exactly set a precedent in future years, but the Cats have shown the benefits of holding players to their contracts and not faulting the second a contracted player wants out. Clubs still have some leverage and Geelong has used that to their effect and will more-than-likely benefit from it, either through a sweeter deal come October, or Kelly signing an extension with the team.

The only thing that hasn’t changed for the Cats appears to be still losing a great player, which Tim Kelly has already become.

Round 1 Preview: Get over it Richmond, move on

Richmond’s Nathan Broad didn’t have quite the same level of fun as his teammates, this off-season.

It is finally here, Round 1, marking the official end of the off-season, dominated by one team, guess who?

Yes, if you’re a fan of any of the other 17 teams, you’ve no doubt enjoyed the last six-months, a Tigers lovefest across all forms of media. Damien Hardwick recounting on a daily basis how he had to change his methods after the 2016 disaster. Dustin Martin suddenly becoming a marketable face of the league, and for some reason, Bonds underwear. Alex Rance again trying to drum up some publicity with a faux retirement. Jack Riewoldt’s wedding. Brendon Gale being Brendon Gale, etc. etc.

After the Bulldogs broke their premiership drought in 2016, I didn’t think the level of coverage on a single team could be topped, that the media could spend more time focusing on a single team, but alas they have. And I get that there will be a greater focus on the reigning premiers, it makes sense. You’re going to hear about the Tigers more than say, North Melbourne, who no one ever has any interest in, particularly this year. However, at some point, enough is enough, surely.

The entire 2018 season has been built on Richmond, from the marketing by the league, to the marketing by major TV networks, to which players are constantly being promoted. And I pray and hope, it all falls apart and quickly.

Richmond have eight marque games on either Thursday or Friday night, with the ANZAC Day eve game against Melbourne on a Tuesday night thrown in for good measure. Can you imagine if the Tigers put up a Bulldogs-like premiership defence? Wouldn’t it be glorious. A slow start, in-fighting, injuries, turmoil and the return of supporters threatening to microwave memberships and burning down Punt Road, the good old days.

Anyway, what else has been going on outside of Richmond? Well the AFL has botched Tasmania and how to handle sex scandals inside AFL House. Collingwood are still a dumpster fire. Jeff Kennett is back, that’s just what we need. And some Melbourne players didn’t want to go on a pre-season camp, which means according to some meatheads in the media, we should write off their entire season before it even begins.

I do enjoy the likes of Wayne Carey and Cam Mooney calling Melbourne players soft for going to the AFLPA to voice their concerns regarding training habits at the clubs. It’s not like that’s the reason the AFLPA exists and I mean they don’t even go around king hitting opponents off the ball, now that’s toughness.

So, the season begins tonight, which means it’s still prediction season. Some general thoughts for the 2018 season. Sydney’s midfield will return to being a powerhouse. I don’t like the Port Adelaide hype but it’s more deserved than the Essendon hype. Free agent and trade acquisitions seem to guarantee success in the eyes of some, the Bombers have major holes. The Dees will play finals and are the best chance at replicating the Dogs and Tigers of years before. For some reason, I’m bullish on Fremantle, I like what they’re building despite their deficiencies up forward. Gold Coast not having a home ground for half a season is an absolute travesty, although Stuart Dew seems like a competent coach. Geelong will do what they do every year under Chris Scott and fall short in the finals and North will be irrelevant, again.

Some major predictions;

Premiers – Sydney
Runners Up – Adelaide
Wooden Spoon – North Melbourne
Brownlow – Bryce Gibbs


  1. Sydney
  2. GWS Giants
  3. Adelaide
  4. Richmond
  5. Melbourne
  6. Geelong
  7. Port Adelaide
  8. Hawthorn
  9. Collingwood
  10. Fremantle
  11. St. Kilda
  12. Essendon
  13. Western Bulldogs
  14. Gold Coast
  15. West Coast
  16. Brisbane
  17. Carlton
  18. North Melbourne

Season Wins Over/Under

Adelaide (15.5) – Over
Brisbane (6.5) – Under
Carlton (6.5) – Under
Collingwood (10.5) – Under
Essendon (12.5) – Under
Fremantle (9.5) – Over
Geelong (14.5) – Under
Gold Coast (5.5) – Over
GWS Giants (14.5) – Over
Hawthorn (10.5) – Over
Melbourne (12.5) – Over
North Melbourne (6.5) – Under
Port Adelaide (13.5) – Under
Richmond (13.5) – Over
St. Kilda (9.5) – Over
Sydney (15.5) – Over
West Coast (10.5) – Under
Western Bulldogs (11.5) – Under

And now, onwards to Round 1;

Richmond (-30.5) vs Carlton

The Tigers coronation in front of 80,000 insufferable Richmond supporters with 10,000 Carlton supporters asking themselves why they bothered to turn up and be surrounded by these people. Despite all the optimism around Brendon Bolton and this improving Carlton list, they only won six-games in 2017 and went 1-9 from Round 14, giving Bolton a 2-18 record between Rounds 14 and 23 across his first two-seasons. They’ve also lost two of their best five players from last year with Gibbs at Adelaide and Sam Docherty being lost for the season with an ACL tear. Hopefully the Blues will stick with Richmond for a half or longer, but a six to seven goal loss is on the cards.

Adelaide (-2.5) vs Essendon

It’s probably no different to any other season, but there seems to be a lot of injuries on the eve of the year. Adelaide haven’t escaped the injury bug with captain Taylor Walker being ruled out of their opener and Brad Crouch looking at almost two months on the sidelines with groin soreness. The Bombers lost Marty Gleeson in the JLT series with a serious ankle injury and small forward Orazio Fantasia will miss several games. These odds are much closer than they should be and the Crows will cruise.

Brisbane (+24.5) vs St. Kilda

The Saints are a strange case, in the words of Damo Barrett, “where are they at?” St. Kilda are stuck in no man’s land, sort of good enough to sneak into the finals, but won’t do any damage. As all clubs seem to love doing, the Saints went and re-signed Alan Richardson despite him not having achieved a thing. Even with this extension, the heat will be on if they’re sitting at home in September once again. They have an easy start against the Lions, who are still a year away from being competitive.

Fremantle (+26.5) vs Port Adelaide

The pre-season buzz team finally gets to roll out their star studded new recruits. Rockliff, Watts, Motlop, Thomas, McKenzie, the assembling of a new dream team at Alberton Oval. If I was making a premiership push off the back of a free agency/trade spending spree, I wouldn’t have picked the two flakiest players in the game. Jack Watts hasn’t played at a consistent level at any point across his entire career and Motlop’s best football was four-years ago. I say bring back Aaron Young, a victim of the modern game where kicking goals as a forward is seen as a negative.

Hawthorn (-1.5) vs Collingwood

Another year begins with Nathan Buckley in charge of a team with no key position talent, injuries and little chance of doing anything. It’s going to fun putting up with another year of a media circus at the Westpac Centre when Collingwood start 2-6 for about the 5th year in a row and journalists are calling for Buckley’s head. At least Cyril Rioli is supposedly going to be back for this game, yay everyone celebrate, Cywil is back!

Gold Coast (Push) vs North Melbourne

It’s hard to find a game so irrelevant in Round 1, but here we go. Fitting that the game is being played in Cairns.

GWS Giants (-17.5) vs Western Bulldogs

There’s been a lot of buzz around the Giants with many believing they’re a legit premiership chance. I do like the Giants and they’ll be up there again, but what exactly have they done to get better? The Giants were a long way off last season, despite their preliminary final finish. In the final month of their season, including Round 23, they lost to the other three preliminary finalists by an average of 39-points and none of those losses were particularly competitive. They did face their fair share of injury issues last year and a fit Stephen Coniglio is a big plus, but their improvement rests on the next group of youngsters from the more recent drafts and how quickly will they get better, if at all?

Melbourne (Push) vs Geelong

I have no idea who will win this game and being a pessimistic supporter, I assume the Cats will be jumped by a hungry side who are surely desperate for finals. Geelong has an injury list the length of your arm and even with Gary Ablett seemingly making his return, Paddy Dangerfield won’t play. He won’t even be there biggest loss for the Round 1, Lachie Henderson’s injury is disastrous for Geelong. They had two legendary defenders retire and have done nothing to replace them. Good luck relying on Harry Taylor as your number one key defender.

Sydney (-17.5) vs West Coast

Short of Geelong’s dominance at GMHBA Stadium, no team had a greater advantage at home than the Eagles at Subiaco. That’s now gone, with the dimensions of their new stadium being closer to Etihad Stadium. They will still no doubt have their ridiculous advantage from umpires each home game, but they’ll be facing a similar challenge to visiting teams, becoming accustomed to the new ground. They don’t get an easy opening against the Swans who will be locked in from Round 1 after the calamity in 2017. An away win first up.

Season Record

0/0 (N/A)

One last note, the over hit on every game in Round 1 last year. The first round generally sees a lot of high scoring, just something to remember.

JLT Series Week 1 Musings: The beginning of a competitive pre-season

Port Adelaide’s Dom Barry had an impressive game against the Eagles.

We had our first taste of pre-season football with four games across the country. Thanks to the league’s bizarre fixturing, the first week isn’t even technically over with Carlton to host St. Kilda on Wednesday night at Ikon Park.

However, we got four solid games, a look at both of last year’s Grand Finalists and two of the biggest players in free agency, Essendon and Port Adelaide, unveiled some of their new toys. Enough to make a few assertions from the beginning of the JLT series.

Teams are taking it seriously, meaning better football

The AFL may have lucked out with the addition of the AFLX. Cutting the pre-season down to just two full games has suddenly prompted coaches and teams to give a damn. Two-games appears to be the minimum players need before the home-and-away stuff begins so clubs have loaded up with teams vaguely resembling their best 22. And with better teams on the field, it meant better games. Richmond looked dominant with a near full strength line-up and Adelaide flexed their muscles for a half. It’s no coincidence three of the four favourites won on the opening weekend and even the Power were within a late game collapse of making it a sweep for the favourites.

Essendon and Port Adelaide’s recruiting sprees got off to a slow start

The Bombers and Power loaded up in the off-season and neither teams would have been overly impressed by what their new additions produced. Essendon were blown off the field after the 10-minute mark of the first quarter, right around the time Jake Stringer was sent off with a nasty looking head gash. The enigmatic forward/midfielder returned periodically from then on, finishing with just the nine-disposals. Adam Saad started brightly with a trademark goal, but went in-and-out from that point. Devon Smith was one positive from the day, the former Giant had a strong outing with 26-disposals and one-goal.

It was an even bleaker picture for the Power who unfurled four of their six new experienced recruits, including Jack Watts and Steven Motlop. Watts was serviceable early with a goal, but only finished with nine-disposals. Motlop was barely sighted, finishing with eight-disposals and even more worryingly, headed to the bench late with a calf strain that could require further time off. Throw in Lindsay Thomas’ four-disposals and Jack Trengove’s 11 and the new boys combined for just 32-disposals on the day.

Melbourne’s hype will continue to grow

Richmond’s demolition of Essendon aside, the Dees’ big win over North Melbourne was the highlight of the weekend. Melbourne looked clinical, organised in defence, produced quick transition off half back and had a host of different goalkickers, including highly touted first year player Bayley Fritsch who kicked three. Jake Lever’s ability to free up their better ball users in defence will be so vital and the likes of Michael Hibberd and Jayden Hunt had a field day releasing off half back. It was interesting to note Christian Petracca spent most of the time at half forward as a move into the centre may be on the cards at some point this season.

Draftees show signs

We only got a glimpse of a few top picks from the National Draft, with three first rounders running around for their respective clubs. Of that trio, Andrew Brayshaw was the most impressive for the Dockers. He only finished with the 14-disposals, but went at 89% efficiency and looked really clean, decisive and intelligent. North Melbourne’s Luke Davis-Uniacke found the going a little tougher, but showed enough with 12-disposals, nine by hand and eight being contested. The other was Jack Higgins who played less than half of the match and seems a longshot to debut early this year. Outside of those highly touted recruits, some other youngster to impress included Port’s Dom Barry whose second stint at the top level saw him shine with 20-disposals and a goal. Adelaide’s Lachlan Murphy looked really lively in the forward pocket, kicking three goals and if the Eagle’s Liam Ryan every holds onto one, he’ll take mark of the year at some point in his career.

All aboard the AFL hype train

A strong haul this off season has Port Adelaide the key hype team of 2018.

Pre-season means predictions in the AFL and like every year, not all clubs will be equal. As the build up to the new season grows, so too will the hype around certain teams.

Hype around a team doesn’t mean they’re instantly considered a premiership threat, or even a lock to play finals, just that they will be a team to watch and improve in some capacity this season.

This isn’t even a prediction on whether pundits will be right about these teams, just a list of the five clubs who will be receiving the most buzz come the start of the season.


First up, a pretty easy example to show not all hype means they’re a premiership threat. Last year’s wooden spooners haven’t finished above 12th since 2009, which was also the last year they played finals. They’ve also finished 17th or lower in the past three seasons. The short of it, the only way has to be up for the Lions. Brisbane will be the buzzy pick of last year’s bottom four or five to become more competitive and potentially tip-toe around the top eight for parts of the season. The list is stacked with first-round picks and the hype will build that Chris Fagan has them going in the right direction.


It would be fair to consider Hawthorn exempt from this list, as there is always media hype around the Hawks. The very idea of Hawthorn doing anything makes the media salivate and with their shock drop to 12th in 2017 means a quick rebound is surely on the cards, especially considering how strongly they ended last year. It’s already begun after James Sicily announced his rise to superstardom with a dominant AFLX performance and with a horde of injured champions ready to return, the hype will be intense come Round 1.


This love will be partly, they came so close and their list looks even stronger so they must improve and partly, please Melbourne for the love of god will you play finals this year?! St. Kilda aside, the Demons are one of the few hard luck stories left in the league and their premiership drought is made even worse by their 11-year finals drought on top of that. Having their hearts ripped out in the final quarter of the home-and-away season will make Melbourne the feel-good story of the year for journalists and add the addition of Jake Lever, the Dees hype will be relentless.

Port Adelaide

The Power shot to the very top of this list as soon as the final bell rang to make the end of last year’s free agency and trade period. Port Adelaide loaded up with Tom Rockliff, Jack Watts and Steven Motlop and post that, Ken Hinkley’s side also added Jack Trengove, Trent McKenzie and Lindsay Thomas. They’ve clearly set themselves for a premiership push and signing big names in free agency earns you instant credibility, for some reason. Port made the jump to 5th last year before their heartbreaking finals exit to West Coast and if pre-season predications will be anything to go by, they’ll be able to go a few steps further this season.


The shock horror of Sydney’s 0-6 was followed by the scene we’ve come accustomed to, the Swans tearing through the league and anyone who stood in their way. Still, despite their second half bounce back, their season ended unceremoniously at the hands of the Cats in the semi-final. Considering they were virtually flag favourites from sixth at the beginning of the final series, it won’t be a surprise to see Sydney leading the nominations for premiership favourites this year. Their list is largely the same, but a hardened resolve will more than likely see them avoid their horror start for a second year in a row and the media will be loving it.

AFLX Musings: Take it to grassroots and away from bright lights

Adelaide defeated Geelong by eight-points in Thursday’s “Grand Final”

First off, I get it, AFLX wasn’t created, designed or implemented for passionate, long standing footy fans. As has been the league’s mission throughout the 21st century, the league has two key target groups for this new format, kids and the northern states.

Masters of resting on their laurels and taking their core fanbase for granted, AFLX ignores this group and is built for kids who can’t sit still for longer than five minutes and New South Welshman and Queenslanders who can’t even find an oval ground nearby, let alone would ever visit one for a football game.

Alas though, it was unveiled in Adelaide, at the top level and marked the beginning of the pre-season. So, what were some takeaways from the AFL’s latest wacky creation?

It’s just basketball

End-to-end, players largely congregating around each team’s goalsquares and providing an incentive for taking shots from long range. AFLX was footy merging with basketball, like never before. The real stuff has continually added elements from basketball, but AFLX was essentially basketball with a football and with goal posts instead of baskets.

Lack of any defensive strategy or intensity was zzzzzz

Reminiscent of non-contact drills, the lack of any semblance of a defensive plan from all 18 teams was pretty remarkable. Although slightly understandable considering clubs would have had one, maybe two run throughs at most and they weren’t taking it seriously, most players didn’t even bother to pay attention when their side were without the ball. Tackles were few and far between and while it almost entirely eliminated stoppages, seeing teams just waltz to 40 and bomb long became boring and stale, quickly.

The key gimmick isn’t exciting

Like the six in Big Bash and three’s in basketball, the awkwardly named “Zooper” goal (of course with an attached sponsorship) was a key way to liven things up. 10-points for a goal kicked outside the two 40 mete arcs is reminiscent of the glorious “Supergoal” which lit up the Wizard Cup all those years back. Smoke and fireworks following the booming goal from distance. The main problem? No one at AFL level is unable to kick a goal from 40 metres out, so they happen all the time. On Thursday, Fremantle and Geelong went back and forth kicking zooper goals and they quickly lost their lustre. It has to be a proper achievement to nail a zooper goal and at the rate they were occurring, it isn’t at all.

It served little purpose for the clubs

The teams were almost exclusively filled with first year players & rookies and few teams bothered to send the maximum number of players on their respective flights over. As the format is so unique, it was fairly fruitless gauging how the new draftees handled their first taste of something resembling AFL action. There weren’t any strategical breakthroughs coaches can bring to the real stuff and the games were so short, the level of running will most likely be matched in training across the next week. Nothing really to take away or build on for anyone involved at club level.

I’m not sure if the AFL achieved its objectives, crowds were solid, despite the lack of interest from clubs. AFLX could most definitely work at grassroots level, which would be the aim for the league. But to use the beginning of pre-season to present it to the masses? Let’s just start the JLT Community Series.

Remembering Geelong’s quiet superstar

Corey played 276-games, winning three premierships with the Cats.

I once asked Western Bulldogs Club Doctor Gary Zimmerman, as part of a magazine interview, who was his favourite sports star. Dr Zimmerman took a while to come up with a response, and fair enough too, it’s a loaded question with so many options.

Before answering, he asked me the same question, who was my favourite sports star? I said Joel Corey.

It was easy to forget, in the bevy of superstars which made up the glorious era of 2007-2011, the tall and athletic midfielder from East Perth, in the number 11. For a start, Corey shared midfield time with Gary Ablett, Jimmy Bartel, Joel Selwood, Cameron Ling, Paul Chapman, Steve Johnson, etc. etc. It’s unfair to leave any names out, but you get the idea.

On-field he didn’t really wow you with the utter brilliance of Ablett, the big moment timing of Bartel, the unrelenting courage of Selwood or the mercurialness of Johnson. He was just always there, a clearance machine, running all day, the ability to hit any target no mater what side of the body he used. He may not have appeared on every highlight reel, but via the stat sheet and more importantly, the eye test, you’d notice his impact, even if the wider football community may not have.

Aside from his on-field exploits, the true reason Corey got lost in the shuffle of Geelong’s supreme midfield was his off-field demeanour. Corey may have been the most unassuming three-time premiership and two-time best and fairest winning footballer to have ever played the game.

He wouldn’t appear on any pre-game radio broadcast, you wouldn’t see him on Open Mike and he certainly wouldn’t be found as a panellist on the Footy Show. In fact, the only piece of media I can remember Corey ever doing was the wonderfully produced 2007 Grand Final reflection.

Long after the crowd had gone home and thousands of delirious Cats fans were back celebrating across all corners of Australia, Corey led the team back onto the MCG for a quiet moment or two left to ponder what they had just accomplished.

Not only does the video focus on Corey, he also narrates it, which for many fans of the league and maybe even some Cats fans, may have been the first time you had ever heard his voice. It is fitting that the one-time Corey chose to take a small step into the limelight, it was in front of an empty stadium, with only his teammates by his side.

Thankfully, his brilliance was never lost on Geelong. He is one of only 24-players to have won multiple Carji Greeves Medals. The first coming in 2005 and the second coming in 2008. Frustratingly and by coincidence, both of Corey’s best and fairest winning years ended in utter despair for the Cats.

And maybe by fate, Corey’s career would end on a brutal night for the Geelong Football Club as well. A preliminary final loss to arch rivals Hawthorn proved to be his final game and of course, with little fanfare, he announced his retirement a few weeks later.

If there was one way to describe the impact of Corey on Geelong and the AFL, aside from his three premiership medallions, two All Australians and prominent facial hair, Corey was one of the first truly athletic, oversized midfielders. It has become the blueprint for a prototypical midfielder in 2017. Corey was that player drafted 17-years earlier. It’s little wonder Marcus Bontempelli has turned into a star of the competition, he has the original as his midfield coach.

It’s still a little distressing seeing him in Bulldogs colours on gameday, one would have thought with such little fame off the field, Corey would have retired and wandered off from the game. Alas he continues at Whitten Oval where he was no doubt an unheralded piece of their premiership win.

I hope and I’m sure many other Geelong fans also wish to see Corey back in Geelong colours in some capacity. He did make one trip down the highway as a guest of the club, in a motorcade as they honoured the 2007 premiership team prior to the Round 10 clash against Port Adelaide.

Although with so many club legends there that night, you may have missed Joel Corey and that was no doubt fine with him.

We have reached peak Robbo

Few, if anyone, could have predicted the remarkable transformation of the Richmond Football Club in 2017 under coach Damien Hardwick.

There is good reason for that, seeing as the last time we saw the Tigers in 2016, they were suffering an embarrassing 113-point loss against Sydney at the SCG. They seemed as far away from a Grand Final as any team in the league, only clairvoyants and the most optimistic Tigers supporters could have sensed this turnaround.

Hardwick loomed as the key scapegoat if Richmond didn’t improve on their eight-win total. Herald Sun Chief Football Writer Mark Robinson made this prediction at the beginning of the year;

It wasn’t an awful prediction, Hardwick had barely survived an extensive club review at the end of the 2016 season and even with the additions of Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy, the coach entered his eighth year on thin ice and a slow start could definitely have seen him fired by mid-season.

It’s easy to pick on Robbo, his prediction just happened to appear across Twitter today, you can guess there’s other predictions on Richmond along those lines from so-called experts either on record or not. So, who saw the revival coming, anyone?

There was one man who foresaw the return of the Tigers to September and the Grand Final, one journalist brave enough to stand by Hardwick and back him in to turn his coaching career and Richmond’s fortune around. That journalist was the same man who had Hardwick sacked by mid-year, Mark Robinson.

Back in April last year, a full 17-months ago when all of the AFL world had given up on Richmond and Hardwick, Robinson put all his chips into the middle of the table and backed Hardwick in. The Tigers had started 1-5, the coach and the club were done, yet Robbo still believed.

Now you may be asking why an old article from April, 2016 is relevant now. So much has changed since then, particularly Mark Robinson’s opinion of the Grand Final coach, Damien Hardwick. Well, in the middle of Grand Final week, as the yellow and black army ready themselves to descend on the MCG this Saturday for this first time since 1982, someone wanted to remind the football public of his prediction, why it was Robbo himself of course.

That’s why an article written an eternity ago appeared on the front page of the Superfooty website and was splashed across Twitter timelines.

Mark Robinson has had many golden moments of self-aggrandising. He’s had beers with almost every premiership player in AFL history, has AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan on speed dial, was apparently thanked by Jordan Lewis’ mother for helping him win three of his four premierships and was the moral conscious after Leigh Montagna was suspended during the season.

This latest stunt has to take the cake, not only to even remember he had even written the article, not only to feel it necessary to remind everyone, not only to ignore how he swung the other way a year later, no, it’s none of that, it’s the finer details.

Putting his own name in the headline proclaiming his support of Hardwick, the fact that at first glance it seems as if he has written a fresh article discussing his own past article and the coup de gras, this delicious intro;

“RICHMOND was in a world of pain in April last season, but when Mark Robinson assessed the Tigers he came to a surprising conclusion. Read the column here.”

The analysis of a football savant, right there.

If Robbo wasn’t so devoid of irony and the least self-aware person on the planet, you could have assumed he was doing it for a laugh, or thinking cynically, just doing it as clickbait to get fans riled up, and sure enough there were plenty reminding him of his backflip.

Yet nothing Robbo does has any deeper meaning, it’s all right there on the surface, he believes everything he says without a hint of modesty or sarcasm.

So, when Richmond enter the coliseum of the MCG this Saturday, remember, one man saw it coming the whole time.

Geelong cannot rush the re-signing of Chris Scott

Chris Scott’s current contract comes to an end after 2017.

Most Geelong fans would have felt sense of dread on preliminary night in 2016 when the sole inclusion to the team Lachie Henderson, who was coming off a three-week layoff with injury, started forward.

Sure enough, Sydney embarrassed the Cats with a 10-minute onslaught of physical pressure and precision disposal which Geelong couldn’t match and by quarter time the game was over.

Maybe the extent of the mismatch was surprising, but Geelong fans have come to expect finals failures under Chris Scott, particularly early in finals where the Cats never seem to be prepared for the intensity and the pressure of a massive contest.

For all of Geelong’s home and away success under Scott, their finals record is poor, after 2011 very poor. The Cats have played finals four times since 2011 for two-wins and six-losses. This record creates a quandary for Brian Cook and the Geelong board with the end of Scott’s current contract approaching.

With a year to go on his contract, Scott signed a two-year extension in 2014 and that deal expires at the end of this season. There have already been rumblings that an extension is in the works and may even come before the 2017 season begins. Geelong doesn’t have to look too far back in AFL history to see what a mistake that could be.

Richmond, Fremantle and Brisbane all jumped the gun prior to the 2016 season, extending Damien Hardwick, Ross Lyon and Justin Leppitsch for multiple years beyond 2017. All three decisions proved to be disastrous as both the Dockers and the Tigers tumbled out of the finals and the Lions finished last, sacking Leppitsch in the process.

And if you think Geelong are different to those situations, there are a lot of similarities between Fremantle of 2016 and the Geelong of this year. Falling out of the top four is a real possibility and it wouldn’t be shocking if they missed the top eight entirely.

Aside from not being prepared for the contest or Sydney’s pressure and some questionable coaching decisions, the Cats major downfall on preliminary final night was a complete lack of midfield depth which was shown up against the league’s best midfields.

To combat the likes of Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery, Josh Kennedy, Tom Mitchell and Kieren Jack, Geelong had Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield and very little else, an issue which plagued them at various times throughout last season. It was fitting that the pair both collected 39-dispoals, with the next best Cats players in terms of disposals being Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright who both collected 26-disposals and who also both retired.

Alarmingly they haven’t addressed the gaping divide between Dangerwood and the rest of the midfield and if anything, the gap has become bigger. Aside from a few standouts performances from Cam Guthrie, Josh Caddy was the side’s third best midfielder yet was valued below Scott Selwood and Sam Menegola and was shipped off for peanuts to the Tigers.

Steven Motlop bore the brunt of the criticism for the rest of Geelong’s midfield, however for someone who arrived out of shape in preseason; his numbers were strong and like Guthrie produced some best-on-ground displays. There were others who produced less than Motlop

Ultimately this lack of midfield depth comes back to development and to a certain degree drafting which just hasn’t been a priority for Geelong as free agency and trading has become the club’s primary source of list building.

Development falls on the coach and a look back at Geelong’s draft strikerate under Scott isn’t very impressive. The Cats have participated in six National Drafts since Scott took over from Mark Thompson and development of in-house players has been a problem.

They’ve only had three first round picks under Scott, which is a problem in itself, but none of the three players are club standouts. Jackson Thurlow has shown the most of the trio and is primed for a big bounce back season after missing 2016 with a torn ACL in the NAB Challenge. Nakia Cockatoo and Darcy Lang are the other two first-rounders and both remain on the fringes of Geelong’s best team and neither played in the preliminary final debacle against Sydney.

Joel Hamling was their first pick in the 2011 draft and never played a game, Jarrad Jansen was a second-round pick who also never played a game and few others are even still on the list.

Mix that with the stagnation of Mitch Duncan, George Horlin-Smith, Jordan Murdoch who are still with the team and Shane Kersten and Billie Smedts who have moved on and it creates a big gulf of talent which hasn’t been replaced from the premiership years.

To counter, Geelong has turned to the trade table, which is always a gamble. From the side who took on Hawthorn last Friday in Launceston, six were traded from others clubs and that doesn’t include Scott Selwood and all of these were recruited in their prime and haven’t been developed by Scott or Geelong.

Taking all those reasons and shoving them aside for the moment, there’s one bigger reason to wait on an extension, it’s simply okay to wait.

Richmond jumping the gun on Hardwick’s extension highlighted a club’s fearfulness of losing a coach driven by media hysteria. There was no need to re-sign Hardwick prior to the season and there’s no need to re-sign Scott now.

Another finals collapse or even worse, a drop out of finals, would be an embarrassment if they had already extended Scott. Hold your cards, play the season out and make an informed decision at the end of the year, because Geelong may have already peaked under their current coach.

Roughead fairy tale born out of necessity

Jarryd Roughead’s return to footy was capped off by being named Hawthorn captain.

It was the feel good AFL story of the summer when Hawthorn announced that Jarryd Roughead, fresh off beating skin cancer, would take over from Luke Hodge as the club’s 36th captain.

From his public announcement that his dreaded cancer had returned and spread in the middle of last year, it was longshot that key forward would ever play again. However, since he joyfully returned to full health, his chances of returning to the Hawks side have become shorter and last week’s announcement certainly confirmed that.

Although it’s great news that Roughead will now captain Hawthorn, the news was somewhat surprising, considering he is still yet to return to the field for a senior game and hasn’t played a single game since the 2015 Grand Final.

Roughead is clearly well loved around the league and Is seemingly on the road to full strength and a return to the field, but it would have made sense for an alternative to be found, at least until the big man had played a decent year of footy in 2017.

The problem the Hawks have and where Roughead’s appointment makes sense is the genuine lack of alternative options.

There is a clear changing of the guard going on at Waverley Park as the premiership era draws towards a close. Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis were both traded in shock deals during the Trade Period, Hodge probably only has a year left, Shaun Burgoyne and Josh Gibson weren’t realistic choices again because of age and Cyril Rioli hasn’t shown any sort of leadership potential throughout his career.

So, the old guard have either moved on or are close to retirement, meaning the Hawks had to look at the mid-tier players, aged in the 24-28 range. Isaac Smith and Liam Shiels were to only two notable candidates around that mark and both must have been in the race as they were awarded vice-captaincy positions beneath Roughead.

The issue with Smith and Shiels is they certainly don’t scream leadership and haven’t had to take on any major roles since being drafted because of that older and more seasoned group leading the way throughout their careers.

This lack of quality leadership options in the “prime” of their careers has been born out of an even bigger issue at Hawthorn, their lack of any quality players in around that age bracket, hence why their Trade Period saga with Gold Coast for Jaeger O’Meara was so drawn out and protracted.

The fairly obvious reason for this dearth of talent is Hawthorn run of recent success which means they either haven’t had draft picks or haven’t prioritised the draft in their list build. Any club would love to not have to worry about the draft, however this is the reality for the Hawks now.

It’s why for the first time since around 2010, Hawthorn aren’t at the top of the list of premiership contenders and an argument can even be made that they are in danger of missing finals for the first time since 2010.

Roughead’s return was going to provide an emotional lift regardless of his standing in the team, but now as captain, the fan favourite will lead a Hawks side, battling father time in an attempt to extend their premiership run.