In Part 1 and Part 2 we covered the bottom 10 teams but now we get stuck into the juicy part of our AFL Season 2012 Preview – the Top 8. In Part 3, we uncover our predictions for the teams that we think will fill position 5-8 come season’s end.
Coach and Coaching style: Scott Watters is another of the new coaching brigade that will be unveiled in 2012. The Western Australian and former Collingwood assistant comes very highly rated and seems to have an emphasis on rebuilding the St Kilda outfit while still remaining competitive in the league – a noticeable trend in the modern game seen most successfully at Geelong last year. The jury is out on the type of game style specifics we will see from Watters’ Saints but not much would be expected to change from the high press “Saints footy” implemented so successfully by Ross Lyon.
Star player and reasons why: Nick Riewoldt has been a nightmare matchup in the last decade for opposition teams with his high work rate, good leap and solid hands. When he is firing the Saints are incredibly hard to stop so Saints fans will be hoping he can consistently deliver a high output and can develop better accuracy in front of goals – the only part of his game that is a genuine weakness. Other star players well worth mentioning also are Brendan Goddard, Lenny Hayes and Sam Fisher.
Up-and-comer: Expect to see a lot of young players filter through the Saints this year as they look to feed games into players who have been starved of opportunity in recent years. Out of the many that will get significant game time one to look out for is defender Tom Simpkin. He has only played 2 AFL games but at 191cm and 90kg he has the physicality and sufficient VFL experience to make it big for St Kilda – even more so given the role down back that has been recently vacated by the departure of Zac Dawson to Fremantle.
Team Summary: A new coach, new players and an ageing list all seemingly point to the Saints continuing their downslide from 2010 (Grand Finalist) to 2011 (6th). However, they do welcome back the likes of champion midfielder Lenny Hayes as well as James Gwilt down back – both of whom missed out significantly in 2011. With an agreeable fixture I expect them to make the finals, but only just.
Predicted Finish: 8th
Coach and Coaching style: Brad Scott has done quite well with a seemingly modest list since his arrival in 2010. His hard edge as a player (where he won two premierships with the successful Brisbane Lions in 2001 and 2002) has rubbed off on his North Melbourne team as has his focus on defense. Two 9th placed finishes in his first two years indicate he is on the right track but he will be looking for his charges to knock off at least one or two of the better teams in the competition this year so they can make that jump into the Top 8. North’s main problem has been an ability to beat teams around them on the ladder but fall well short against the top sides.
Star player and reasons why: North Melbourne players often get a raw deal when it comes to talking about star players for mine. They have genuine A-grade talent but fly under the radar given the club’s relatively low supporter base. Names like Drew Petrie, Daniel Wells, Hamish McIntosh and, of course, Brent “Boomer” Harvey are well worth a mention with the top players in their respective categories. However, the one player that stands head and shoulders on another level is midfielder and new skipper Andrew Swallow – an A-grade ball magnet and in-and-under player who continually leads the possession and tackles stat lines for his team. The 24 year-old should add significantly to his 2 Syd Barker Medals by the end of his career.
Up-and-comer: North Melbourne have done very well at blooding youngsters and given them considerable game time to develop. 15 of their list of 45 players have played between 13 and 50 games and include very promising players like Shaun Atley, Ryan Bastinac, Liam Anthony, Levi Greenwood and Ben Cunnington, to name a few. One who has real star potential though is Jack Ziebell – a great leader and very handy with his disposal, he has arguably the most potential on North’s very promising list. 41 touches in Round 17 last year against the Bulldogs shows he knows how to find the footy, too.
Another Kangaroos up-and-comer: Majak Daw
Team Summary: It’s probably a bit of a measured call saying the ‘Roos will make it into the 8 this year – two 9th placed finishes in 2010 and 2011, a great list with massive potential, young players that have already played a lot of games and a coach that knows what it takes to succeed indicate another step forward for North Melbourne in 2012.
Predicted Finish: 7th
Coach and Coaching style: John Worsfold; pressure, pressure and more pressure. Worsfold’s 2011 Eagles strangled opposition teams – especially in their opponents back half – leading to turnovers, goals and many, many wins.
Star player and reasons why: Dean Cox; the Big Cox showed last year why he is still the premier big man of the competition. Has a great knack for kicking important goals and racks up the touches across the ground like a midfielder. A genuine superstar. Also very much worth a mention here are midfield superstars Daniel Kerr and Matt Priddis, as well as key defender Darren Glass – all players in the top echelon in their respective positions.
Up-and-comer: Chris Masten has been in and out of the team playing a variety of roles for a few seasons now but with a permanent shift to the now highly-rated Eagles midfield he should find more of the action. Has now had enough games and time under his belt (54 games over 4 seasons) to build the physicality and mental toughness needed to deliver at the elite level. Keep an eye on big forward Jack Darling, who impressed last year; also, of course, Nick Natanui in the ruck and up forward to both keep making giant leaps forward.
Team Summary: The Eagles were the surprise packet last year, going from wooden spooners in 2010 to a preliminary final in 2011. They will be incredibly tough to beat at home but of their 12 home games, they do have visits from other top 4 contenders Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn and Carlton as well as two derby games against the Dockers, which can always go either way. Their problem won’t be winning those games at Perth, but more having to back up those very tough games on the road the next week. The floated under the radar for a large part of last season and that factor is lost as every team will be looking to knock them off their Top 4 perch. As such, I see them dropping a few more games in 2012 and also falling out of the top 4, but only just.
Predicted Finish: 6th
Coach and Coaching style: Ross Lyon made the astonishing switch over to the west after being “headhunted” by the Dockers. Lyon’s loyalty and character were questioned as his switch meant incumbent Fremantle coach mark Harvey was left without a job. It would seem Lyon’s brand of “Saints footy” – characterized by a high forward press that creates turnovers in the opposition’s defensive 50 metre arc – was well appreciated and highly valued by the head honchos at Fremantle.
Star player and reasons why: Matthew Pavlich has been a big, imposing feature for Fremantle’s forward line for a decade. A shift in recent years further up the ground has added grunt to a somewhat lackluster midfield where his big frame and physicality has given the Dockers composure and stability across the ground. With 256 games and almost 500 goals, he is a true great of the game and a wonderful servant for Freo.
Up-and-comer: Alex Silvagni showed in patches last year that he has great potential to turn into an elite defender in the AFL. He has the ability to hold off opponents in a contest and uses the ball well when it requires rebounding. At 24 years of age, 24 games played and a decent height and weight (191cm, 90kg) he has the physical attributes to go with sufficient experience to be a rock of the Fremantle defense for many years to come.
Team Summary: Very even across the board and bristling with standouts in each department – Pavlich, Sandilands, Fyfe, Mundy, McPharlin, Broughton and Barlow, to name a few – a lot can be expected of Fremantle in 2012. With 12 games at Paterson’s Stadium, a very agreeable draw and arguably the leagues most valuable working coach, a Top 4 finish would not be entirely out of the question.
Predicted Finish: 5th
Be sure to keep tabs with us on Twitter and Facebook for our final part next week where we unveil our Top 4 for 2012 as well as predictions for the Premier, Brownlow and other awards that are always impossible to predict correctly at this time of the year.