The AFL season is now entering its home straight and we’re beginning to get a decent idea as to how the finals will look by the time the regular season comes to an end. As we’ve seen in the past, though, there is sure to be a surprise or two between now and the start of the finals. But, as we head into the business end of proceedings in the regular campaign, there are a few clubs already making plans for the finals, while others will be well aware they can ill afford to slip up over the next month and a half.
From those teams at the top of the AFL ladder to the ones still battling tooth and nail to cling onto, or climb into, the top eight, this has been a season of shocks, and one of the most interesting in recent memory. While the likes of Greater Western Sydney and Adelaide are looking real premiership material, you’d be a brave soul to rule out any one of up to 10 other clubs springing an upset.
So let’s have a look at the runners and riders that are in with a realistic chance of ending their season by lifting the premiership cup.
Greater Western Sydney: The Giants have lived up to the pre-season hype that had them pencilled in as flag favourites. After four years of struggling at the bottom of the ladder following their arrival into the AFL, last season gave us a glimpse of GWS’s potential, as they reached the final after an impressive fourth-place finish. Last year’s achievements aside, perhaps even the most optimistic Giants fan wouldn’t have expected the club would be sitting at the top of the AFL ladder at this point of the campaign.
Despite struggling with injuries for large chunks of the season so far, head coach Leon Cameron has mixed and matched his squad and done so with some huge success. In Josh Kelly, the Giants have one of the league’s best midfielders and someone who could be the difference for Cameron’s men come the finals. Ably assisted by Dylan Shiel and the ruthlessly consistent Callan Ward, Kelly’s work in the middle has been complemented perfectly by Coleman Medal contender Jeremy Cameron and Phil Davis at either end of the field.
Adelaide: With just four defeats all season, Adelaide’s consistency has been key to their success this year. Currently just behind the Giants in the race to finish as minor premiers and head into the finals with the momentum, the Crows again look a sure bet to be in contention come the final few weeks of the season. Having gained some crucial experience during their finals disappointments from the past couple of years, Adelaide will go into this year’s postseason looking to right more than a few wrongs from recent campaigns.
Last year’s top scorers in the AFL, the Crows are on track to repeat that feat again this season. The club’s offense has been integral to Adelaide’s current place on the table. While there have been a few disappointing defeats this year, one of the most impressive aspects of the Crows’ season has been how they have responded to those losses. Even after back-to-back defeats to North Melbourne and Melbourne, Adelaide bounced back with consecutive wins to get back on track and prove they are a real force to be reckoned with.
Geelong: For punters looking at a potential outside bet that won’t qualify as a long-shot, Geelong certainly have all the tools to upset the odds this season. According to betting comparison site Oddschecker, the Cats are priced at around the 5/1 mark with many bookmakers to go all the way this year. While many people are finding it hard to look beyond the Giants and the Crows, Geelong’s form throughout the majority of the campaign has been as good as any. If it hadn’t been for a three-game losing streak between Rounds 6 and 8, the nine-time premiers would be right there at the top of the ladder.
A lack of reliability up top has been Geelong’s only real issue this season, and even that has improved in recent rounds as the Cats have responded to being written off by large chunks of the media. Helped by the return of Scott Selwood to a midfield that had really missed him, the creative players in the middle of the park have been somewhat freed by having the defensive solidity of Selwood behind them. Head coach Chris Scott might not be under any pressure this season having signed a new contract that keeps him at the club until the end of 2019, but the 41-year-old would love to guide the Cats to a second premiership.
Port Adelaide: Despite a frustrating campaign for the Power so far, there are still plenty who feel Port Adelaide could be potential dark horses during the finals. Following a two-year absence from the finals, the Power now have their destiny in their own hands this season, despite the fact they have failed to string together three wins in a row at any point this year. Capable of beating anybody on their day, Port have a roster of players that can hold their own against anyone in the league. The question is now whether they can find the consistency they have struggled to find during the regular season when they reach the finals.
While much of the focus has been on rookie sensation Sam Powell-Pepper, fellow midfielders Brad Ebert and Ollie Wines have also been instrumental to the Power finding themselves in such a strong position. Ruckman Patrick Ryder’s work at the back has allowed Port’s midfielders to get early ball and allow the likes of Charlie Dixon and Chad Wingard to do what they do best. And with Tom Jonas and Jack Hombsch in the form of their lives in the Power defence, this team isn’t one you should be writing off when we get to the finals.
Sydney: Even though the Swans are currently sitting outside the top eight, an incredible run of seven wins from eight games means last season’s minor premiers are the AFL’s in-form team. A dismal start to the year saw the Swans lose their first six games, only for John Longmire’s men to turn their season right around and embark on a quite remarkable run. Recent wins over the likes of Melbourne and Richmond, two teams currently in the top eight, has laid down a marker to those teams currently occupying a finals place.
Injuries played a major part in the Swans’ shocking start to the campaign and the return of a number of those players has come just at the right time for a team that really looked set for a horrendous season. If the club could go on and reach the grand final for a second successive year, it would be an incredible achievement considering how they started the campaign. If they could go one better than last year and actually win the grand final, it would have to go down as one of the best comebacks in AFL history. And on current form, that wouldn’t be the most outrageous prediction to make.
Melbourne: It’s been a long time since Melbourne reached the finals, but an even longer time since they won a premiership. While the Demons haven’t finished in the top eight since 2006, not since 1964 have Melbourne been premiers. On the back of a decade of bottom-half finishes, the Demons have surprised a lot of people this season, putting themselves in a very strong position to end their 11-year absence from the finals. Boasting a talented squad that have grown together over the past couple of years, Simon Goodwin’s side have shown they are genuine contenders this season with wins over reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs and a strong West Coast Eagles outfit.
Clayton Oliver has been one of the Demons’ stand-out players, stepping up to the plate and ensuring Melbourne haven’t struggled too badly without the injured ruckman Max Gawn. In his first season in charge, Goodwin has a great chance of doing something that almost nobody believed he could do. While there is still a long way to go before Melbourne can start properly planning for the finals, this team have shown on a number of occasions this year that they are a group of players more than willing to run through walls for each other – something that could be a huge factor come the finals.
West Coast: The 2015 runners-up have failed to live up to their potential this season but that’s not to say they won’t suddenly click between now and the end of the year. A very strong start to the campaign has been somewhat undermined by an inconsistent run of four losses from six games. Fortunately for Adam Simpson’s men, the club’s form during the early stages of the season has been enough to see the Eagles cling on to a top-eight spot despite their recent poor run. That won’t last long, though, and West Coast will need to start putting together a winning streak if they are going to keep those teams below them at arm’s length.
If they do make it into the finals, the Eagles will fancy their chances against any team in the league. As well as their experience from recent years, Simpson should have some of those injured players back in contention. The real problems for West Coast this year has been in their midfield, but if he can get things right in the middle of the park and provide better protection for the defence, this Eagles outfit has very few areas of weakness. While there might be a number of stronger teams heading into the finals, West Coast’s record of finishing in the top eight will only help them during the regular season run-in.
Richmond: This has been a three-part season for Richmond so far. Following a great start to the campaign in which they won their first five outings, the Tigers went on to lose four games in a row before rebounding again by winning four of their last five games, losing only to an in-form Sydney Swans team. For a team that hasn’t won a premiership for 37 years, reaching a grand final alone would be a huge achievement. If they could actually reach the season finale, the Tigers have shown during their two winning runs that they could well actually win it.
In Dustin Martin, Alex Rance and Trent Cotchin, the Tigers have three players performing at the very top of their game. A lack of options up front in terms of tall forwards has cost the club at times this year, but by the time the finals comes around, head coach Damien Hardwick will be hoping to have a full deck with which to play with. If he does, Richmond could well spring a surprise or two against some of the so-called bigger teams in the finals.
So, Who Will Be Crowned 2017 Premiers?
On current form, the Giants and the Crows appear to be the strongest two teams heading into the finals. That said, both of those clubs will be well aware that last year’s minor premiers, the Sydney Swans, are beginning to show the sort of form that resulted in them topping the AFL ladder last season. If the Swans can keep up their current form, they will arrive in the finals as the league’s most in-form team, and someone nobody will want to face. The truth is, this season has thrown up so many surprises already, anything is possible and this promises to be a fascinating finals.