This past AFL offseason has to rank as one of the weirdest of all-time.
We have seen one club fined in relation to tanking allegations, another busted for draft tampering and salary cap breaches, and a third squarely in the sights of the anti-doping authorities.
Pretty explosive stuff, right? The sort of conduct and/or alleged conduct that can shake a code to its core. And yet as I looked at what has actually changed for each of these three clubs on the field on the eve of season 2013, I couldn’t help but think of the classic Frank Drebin ‘Nothing to see here’ routine.
You know the one – fireworks and explosions going off in plain sight, and there’s Frank confidently and earnestly telling folks to “please be dispersed, nothing to see here.”
For its role in the tanking saga, Melbourne was fined $500,000 and had bans handed to an official and former coach. For salary cap breaches and draft misconduct, Adelaide was fined $300,000, stripped of two picks in this year’s draft, and had club officials banned. Essendon is quite rightly awaiting its fate as the drugs in sport investigation continues, and where it will end up is anyone’s guess. In short, none of these clubs will be without the services of key players in round one.
Nothing to see here folks. Disperse, move on.
And so with week one around the corner, despite a slew of offseason controversies, we are picking up pretty much where we left off at the end of September last year, aside from a few personnel changes. Let’s run the rule over each club using the over/under season win totals posted by the major betting agencies. (If you need a quick primer on this concept visit here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over-under)
Adelaide – over/under win total: 15 (wins last year: 17)
The Crows improved on 2011 by 10 regular season wins and 12 spots on the ladder last year on the back of a rails-run draw and new coach Brenton Sanderson’s tough-as-nails brand of footy. Sanderson returns, looking to maintain the club’s number one standing in contested possession differential, but the draw isn’t quite as soft. The Crows don’t play back-to-back away games all season, but unlike last year they won’t be spoon-fed four games against the Suns and Giants. Look for Patrick Dangerfield to be a consensus top-five player by season end.
Brisbane – 8.5 (last year: 10)
Pre-season results are generally about as useful as a chocolate fireman when it comes to predicting a team’s regular season performance (see Swans, Sydney), but here’s a stat sure to please Lions fans: In the past five years, every team that has made the pre-season final has made the top eight. The NAB Cup winners have the services of former Demon hard nut Brent Moloney and team-mate Stefan Martin for 2013, and with Daniel Rich coming on and Tom Rockliff returning to the midfield, there’s reason to be bullish about the Lions’ chances of making finals. To do so, though, the club will have to turn around last season’s atrocious record against top-eight sides.
Carlton – 14 (last year: 11)
Any discussion of the Blues’ chances this season has to start and end with Mick Malthouse. The supercoach has signed on to do what Brett Ratten couldn’t – take a talented list to the big dance. The Malthouse game plan of long kicks and avoiding the corridor was on display in the NAB Cup, but whether the style that won Mick and Collingwood a flag translates remains to be seen. Plenty of mid-tier players would need to have big years to get the Blues past the competition’s big guns, and the lack of a gun key forward is worrying (and no, Jarrad Waite does not count).
Collingwood – 15 (last year: 16)
Anyone else kind of enjoying the troubles Eddie McGuire has been having with The Footy Show lately? After Malthouse and Travis Cloke ruffled Magpie feathers last year with interviews on The Prez’s old show, Dane Swan put noses out of joint with his own unauthorised segment earlier this month. Has the club truly moved on from the incident? Or will, as Paul Roos suggests, the tension linger until Swan and Dale Thomas’ contract talks are resolved? With a list as good as Nathan Buckley has, off-field distractions are likely the only thing that will get in the way of a top-four finish.
Essendon – 11.5 (last year: 11)
So much is up in the air at Windy Hill that it’s hard to imagine how the season might progress. The Bombers won big with the Brendon Goddard signing, but I’m going to say they could have done without being the club at the front and centre of potentially the biggest crisis the code has ever faced.
Fremantle – 14.5 (last year: 14)
Finished the season with the momentum of a freight train under new coach Ross Lyon, before just falling short against the Crows in Adelaide. Champion Data – the official AFL statisticians – rate the Dockers’ list the fourth-best in the competition, and The Purple Haze should go close to nine wins just at home. We’ve seen what Roscoe did with St Kilda’s defence, and with a talented young batch of mids (ranked fifth) and forwards (third), Freo should finish top four.
Geelong – 14 (last year: 15)
Hard to predict whether the Cats are finally bottoming out after a long period of dominance similar to Brisbane and Port Adelaide in the 2000s, or whether they can buck the trend. Signings like Josh Caddy from Gold Coast indicate the Cats are planning for the future, but with a list as talented as theirs it’s hard to imagine a completely disastrous season. Yes their guns are getting older, (although hands up if you knew Joel Selwood was still 24?), but they are still only the sixth-oldest list in the comp. Geelong is letting fans call their coin tosses this season, and I’ll do the same in predicting the over/under of 14 wins this season.
Gold Coast – 5 (last year: 3)
Here’s further proof of how good Gary Ablett Jr is (in case you needed it): the statheads at Champion Data compared players in each position against one another. The top player was given a rank of 100 points, the bottom player given zero points, and everyone else fell somewhere in between. Goddard, for example, was rated the best defender and given 100 points, with Heath Scotland next best at 98. Perhaps not surprisingly, despite midfield being arguably the deepest position talent-wise in the competition, Ablett came out on top with 100 points. But next best? Daylight. Then Scott Pendlebury. With 92 points.
That huge gap goes to show just how dominant the little nude nut is, and he should deliver two or three wins all by himself. But 5? Not when coach Guy McKenna has signalled Gablett will spend more time up forward and less time on the ground as the kids get even more run. Even with the addition of Greg Broughton and the natural improvement you would expect from the club’s talented young list, it’s hard to see them adding a couple of wins this year.
GWS – 2.5 (last year: 2)
As far as marquee signings go, Tom Scully < Gary Ablett. And that’s being diplomatic. A year behind the Suns, the Giants are without a single player in the top 10% of his position according to Champion Data, and will be happy with getting game time into their crop of youngsters.
Hawthorn – 17 (last year: 17)
Flag favourites and justifiably so. Champion Data rates the Hawks’ list as the best in the comp. Losing Matt Suckling as a key link from the back will hurt, but the remaining slew of silky left-footers will be joined by prized recruit Brian Lake – who not long ago was considered the best defender in the competition and who was doing everything short of running around with a ‘Please Trade Me’ sign on his back for the Bulldogs the past two seasons. With match-winners like Buddy, Cyril, Mitchell and Birchall stationed on every line, what’s not to like?
Melbourne – 6.5 (last year: 4)
Ahem. What’s to like, apart from the easiest draw of any club? They have a seriously uninspiring list for a club that has had 12 top-20 picks since the end of 2006. The Demons secured established players (of questionable quality) in Chris Dawes, Shannon Byrnes and David Rodan, but have the least experienced list apart from the Suns and Giants. Demons fans – brace yourselves for another depressing year.
North Melbourne – 10.5 (last year: 14)
Overachieved last year to get 14 wins, and have copped the toughest draw of any side for 2013 after getting the Suns and Giants twice each last season. The Shinboner spirit will need to be alive and well for them to challenge the competition heavyweights, given a lack of genuine match-winners around the ground.
Port Adelaide – 6 (last year: 5)
When your biggest off-season signing is Kochie, I’m going to say that doesn’t bode well for your season.
Richmond – 12.5 (last year: 10)
Richmond has been generating a lot of pre-season buzz as potential bolters this season.
That sentence was probably written at the start of at least five seasons in the past dozen years, only for the Tigers to disappoint. This year could be different though, with the club boasting several genuine stars in the form of Cotchin (tipped by club captains as this year’s most likely Brownlow winner), Deledio, Maric, Riewoldt and Martin. Those are the sort of players you can go to war with, and coach Hardwick seems to have a clear vision of where his club is going.
St Kilda – 10 (last year: 12)
With their best player (Goddard) gone, and most of their remaining elite players entering the twilight of their careers, it’s safe to say there’s not much chance of the Saints troubling the top four. Whether they fall out of the eight is the real question, and will depend on how well the form of players like Riewoldt, Hayes, Montagna, McEvoy and Dal Santo holds up.
Sydney – 15.5 (last year: 16)
For those paying attention, the one team that will feel some immediate pain on the field from Adelaide’s misdeeds is Sydney. New recruit Kurt Tippett was fined $50,000 (just a reminder: the Adelaide Football CLUB!! was fined $300,000) and banned for half a season. Always a model of consistency, 16 wins seems about right for the Bloods.
West Coast – 16 (last year: 15)
Rated by Champion Data as the second-best squad behind Hawthorn, and boasting the fourth-most capped list in the competition, the Eagles look primed for a red-hot crack at the flag. The ruck tandem of Dean Cox and Nic Nat is unparalleled, and the Eagles have elite players on every line. John Worsfold knows what it takes to salute in September, and Subiaco remains the most daunting trip in football.
Western Bulldogs – 5.5 (last year: 5)
Already thin on talent, the Dogs lost Lake, Ryan Hargrave and Lindsay Gilbee in the offseason. They have also been done no favours by the draw, facing the fourth-most difficult schedule of any side. Matthew Boyd will have sore shoulders by the end of the season carrying a squad that Champion Data ranks ahead of only the two start-ups and Port in terms of talent.