The second half of the 2013 AFL season is well under way and after a weekend of upsets, the race for the finals is wide open.
2013 has been one of the more unpredictable AFL seasons in recent memory. Highlighted by dramatic comebacks and big upsets throwing pre-season predictions into chaos, with as many as twelve teams still in the hunt to play finals football. Powerhouse clubs Hawthorn and Geelong sit in the top two positions on the table going against the trend of the unpredictability in 2013. The Hawks sit atop the table with star forward duo Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead leading the way along with their experienced hard-bodied midfield. The addition of former Bulldog defender Brian Lake has allowed the Hawks to solidify their once-shaky defence and allowed the Hawks to rack up an eleven-game winning streak to sit atop the AFL ladder. With exciting small-forward Cyril Rioli still to come back into an already potent forward line; it’s hard to see the Hawks missing out on one of the top 2 positions on the ladder.
Geelong sits second, and whilst racking up ten wins to the halfway point of the season, coach Chris Scott is unhappy with his teams form describing it as ‘inconsistent and frustrating.’ Scott’s concerns came to fruition on Sunday, as the Cats coughed up a 52-point third quarter lead to lose just their second game of the season. The loss may act as a wake-up call for a young Geelong side, with big games against premiership contenders Fremantle and Hawthorn in the next fortnight. A side hungry for its fourth premiership in seven years, the Cats have once again been led by tough captain Joel Selwood, Brownlow Medallist Jimmy Bartel, and the mercurial Steve Johnson; and with six of its last ten games at their home fortress at Skilled Stadium, the Cats look set for another deep run into September.
Fremantle and Essendon have been two of the big improvers in 2013. The Dockers in their second season under coach Ross Lyon appear to have finally adapted to his stringent defensive game plan conceding an average of only 53 points in their last six games. The Dockers rise to third on the ladder has been quite remarkable, considering captain Matthew Pavlich, All-Australian ruckman Aaron Sandilands, his replacement Jonathon Griffen, and utility Kepler Bradley have all missed large chunks of the season due to injury. With those key players returning and the potential for home finals at Subiaco, the Dockers look set to give September a real shake again. The off-field drama at Essendon has been the story of 2013, yet through the dark cloud of the ASADA scandal, the Bombers have been able to play their best football of the James Hird era. The addition of star free-agent Brendan Goddard and the return to full fitness of David Zaharakis and Brent Stanton to complement 2012 Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson, has seen the Bombers midfield become one of the greatest in the game. Question marks remain over the Bombers ability to finish out the season, but after such a positive start, the Bombers should settle neatly in the second half of the eight.
Reigning premiers Sydney have continued on their merry way in 2013, flying under the radar to be sitting fifth after thirteen rounds. A disappointing loss to Port Adelaide last weekend set the Swans back slightly but with key recruit Kurt Tippett playing his first game the Swans still have room for improvement. The Swans midfield lays claims to the best in the land with Hanneberry, Jack, McVeigh, Goodes, O’Keefe, Kennedy and Jetta, highlighting the Swans impressive depth. With several key players still to return, the Swans are well placed to defend their premiership.
2013 appears to be the year that Richmond finally breaks a twelve-year finals drought. The Tigers mix of talented first round picks and players recycled from other clubs appears to have clicked as Damian Hardwick’s men look to entrench themselves in the top eight. Richmond hit 60,000 members for the first time in the past week and the Tiger Army has reason to be excited. Brandon Ellis, Nick Vlaustin and Reece Conca have joined fellow experienced first round draft picks Brett Deledio and Trent Cotchin in helping to add depth to a talented midfield, providing plenty of opportunities for Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt. The mix of youth and experience appears perfect and has the Richmond set for September action.
If the Tigers are on the rise, then Collingwood may be heading in the other direction. Whilst the Magpies still have a talented core headlined by Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Travis Cloke, it appears to be a side struggling to find the balance of blooding youth and playing its experienced list. Although rumours of discontent amongst the playing group have been suggested throughout the media, coach Nathan Buckley has done a good job of keeping the Magpies in the race for the flag. Injuries to key players Dale Thomas, Dayne Beams, and Alan Toovey have hurt the Magpies momentum but at 8-4 are still in an excellent position to play finals football.
South Australian football has seen some sort of a shift this year with Adelaide struggling to recapture its excellent form from last year and Port Adelaide being the competitions big improvers. Port Adelaide sits eighth on the back of some impressive come from behind victories against West Coast and Sydney. Whilst Port have been impressive, their draw gets tougher. A genuine query is whether or not its young, inexperienced bodies will hold up near the end of a long first season under coach Ken Hinkley. Adelaide on the hand has had the second year blues under coach Brenton Sanderson. Struggling to replace key forwards Kurt Tippett (move to Sydney) and Taylor Walker to a season-ending ACL injury has proved to be challenging. Patrick Dangerfield and Richard Douglas have been the stars for a team that may be capable of making a run to the finals.
Carlton appears to have finally adjusted to new coach Mick Malthouse’s game plan stringing together some good form after a 0-3 start. A talented team on paper who just need to gel, Carlton’s run home is tricky with games against most of the top eight; an injury to star midfielder will make the Blues quest for a finals berth even trickier. West Coast is another team that has failed to live up to expectations in 2013, mainly due to injury and players out of form. The passion of coach John Worsfold has been questioned and rumours have been swirling about whether he will continue on next year. His first priority however, will be to find his team into some form and hope they can make a run to challenge for a top eight berth.
2013 has been an unpredictable year and whilst several teams have entrenched themselves in the top eight, the positions are still open for change. The top four will be hard to change and it appears the tightest battle will be for eighth spot. Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Carlton and West Coast are fixed in a four team battle more than likely for one spot in the eight, a battle that may come down to the last round where Port play Carlton and West Coast play Adelaide. In regards to teams outside the eight, the Crows appear to have the best draw and are the most talented side that can make a significant run at the finals.
10. West Coast
11. Port Adelaide