The final instalment of our AFL Season Preview is here! The Top 4 are finally unveiled as well as a few other predictions for the upcoming season. Thanks to all for reading, we hope you enjoyed our crystal ball findings and the very best of luck to your team for 2012!!
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Coach and Coaching style: Carlton supporters like to believe their club is the next best thing, but can you blame them? – Devastatingly poor performances in the early 00’s (three wooden spoons and 5 finishes in the bottom two in the period 2002-07) meant the once often successful club was stuck in the doldrums. However these disappointing finishes meant a raft of early draft picks, which has seen a slow rebuild of this proud club who are now back to enjoying more successful days. Their coach in this rebuilding period, Brett Ratten, commences his 6th season as head coach of the Blues in 2012. Carlton’s game style under “Ratts” has centered on a superb midfield and a knack for exploiting mismatches around the rest of the ground with quick ball movement and good distribution from the back half.
Star player and reasons why: I don’t think there has been a single trade in AFL history that has single-handedly transformed the fortunes of a club more than the Chris Judd-Josh Kennedy trade at the end of 2007. Prior to Judd’s arrival Carlton finished 16th, 16th and 15th; since he has stepped in, they have finished 11th, 7th, 7th and 5th. Coincidence? Hardly. Especially in his early days he single-handedly lifted the mediocre Blues up the ladder (which saw him run away with three consecutive best-and-fairest awards from 2008-10) with his awesome ball-winning ability in traffic and strength. He can be frequently seen in games shaking tackles and clearing a path for his teammates. So for good reason, Chris Judd can definitely be mentioned as one of the game’s greats – two Brownlows and a premiership with his former club West Coast will attest to that.
And this is Juddy when playing injured…can you tell the difference?
Up-and-comer: Carlton’s list has a good spread of players in the sub-40, 40-100 and the 100+ game brackets that stand them in good stead for their premiership ambitions this season. Of the players in the sub-40 game bracket – including Ed Curnow, Andrew Collins, Nick Duigan and David Ellard – the most promising is winger Kane Lucas, who has struggled to crack into the Blues team, posting just 10 games in his two years at the club. Now into his third year he will be looking to shake his previous injury concerns and be a force for the Blues in 2012.
Team Summary: As already mentioned, there are high hopes for Carlton this season. Steady improvements over the last 4 seasons result in a preliminary final appearance being the barest minimum expectation for 2012. Their main concern is not so much their playing or coaching abilities but, like all premiership threats, making sure their best 22 is on the field for most of the season – including the all-important August-September period. That Top 4 finish is predicted but they may struggle to get that preliminary final spot with so many injury concerns. We shall see.
Predicted Finish: 4th
Coach and Coaching style: Nathan Buckley took over this season from one of footy’s greatest coaches in Mick Malthouse. Bucks was a champion player and as a coach he comes highly regarded, so much so that he effectively ended Malthouse’s career through Eddie McGuire’s ill-fated coaching succession plan. In terms of style, this preseason hasn’t shown Collingwood under Buckley in a great light as they have only had narrow wins over the Bulldogs and GWS, a decent win over the Saints and losses to Melbourne and Adelaide (the latter more of a thumping). Not having seen much of the Pies this preseason I can’t definitively comment but as they were premiers in 2010 and runners-up in 2011, you would expect little to change from their game plan – which was well-known as leading the modern forward press (that undid the Cats most notably in 2010) and playing low risk football when in possession – the Pies under Malthouse liked to play along the boundary lines rather than through the more dangerous ‘corridor’.
Star player and reasons why: Being a champion team, Collingwood is littered with star players. Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Heath Shaw, Darren Jolly and Luke Ball are all fantastic players; Travis Cloke on the other hand represents a rare quality that few clubs have and many would pay big bucks to possess (just ask the Demons with their Mitch Clark acquisition this offseason). Cloke is a beast of a player with the ability to pull down contested mark after contested mark, run all day and kick goals from a distance of 60-65 metres (see below, near the end of the video) and you have a player with the ability to win a game singlehandedly. Cloke had been steadily on the rise and expect him to keep getting even better this year, as scary as that may sound for the rest of the competition.
The Best of Travis Cloke
Up-and-comer: Alex Fasolo debuted last season and had a profound effect, slotting goals from left, right and centre (including 5 against Essendon) and re-energizing the Collingwood forward line in the latter half of the season. I expect better things from ‘Fas’ this year as his star continues to rise; as should the promising pair of Dayne Beams and Steele Sidebottom (possibly the greatest name ever) who both had somewhat inconsistent years in 2011.
Team Summary: With a lengthy injury list (Didak, Macaffer, Krakouer) and a few retirees (Davis and Brown) there will be a good spread of young Pies even early on in 2012. Jackson Paine, Peter Yagmoor and Jarrod Witts are amongst a crop of young players yet to play an AFL but all have featured at some stage this preseason and will get their chance. With injury clouds also hovering over Nathan Brown, Chris Tarrant, Ben Johnson and Nick Maxwell I expect the Pies to be ripe for the picking in the early part of the season (especially Round 1 vs the Hawks and Round 3 vs the Blues) before accelerating towards the back end of the year. A drop-off is predicted in ladder position but that won’t mean much to this team come September, where they will feature prominently yet again.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Coach and Coaching style: Chris Scott walked into Kardinia Park and made it all look a little too easy in his debut year. The dual Brisbane Lions premiership winner emphasised a need to regenerate rather than overturn a successful list that was seemingly disintegrating after a dismal finish to 2010 resulted after 4 successive top 4 finishes, 3 Grand Finals and 2 premierships. Generally such a long time at the top requires some sort of bottoming out. Scott showed that careful list management, playing promising young players throughout the year (not just when absolutely required) and honing an already successful game plan does the trick. The Cats duly took their 3rd flag in 5 years and have made it clear they can see a 6th in sight.
Star player and reasons why: There are so many great individuals at the Cattery that I could go on and on about – James Kelly, Joel Corey, Corey Enright, Steve Johnson and Paul Chapman are among the game’s elite, and have been over a long period. Three players (in my humble opinion), however, stand that little bit above the others at Geelong. Firstly, new skipper Joel Selwood has in 5 years placed himself in the top echelon of AFL midfielders, with a great appetite for the contest as well as fantastic ball-winning ability around packs. Matthew Scarlett is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, full back seen in the AFL (not to mention his involvement in one of the greatest plays in AFL football). Used more for his setup of attacks off half-back in the last 3 or so seasons, his ability to hold an opponent sometimes goes unnoticed, but is unparalleled. And thirdly, but certainly not lastly, is Jimmy Bartel. Ruthless when around the ball, supremely efficient when it is in his hands and one of the best overhead marks and kicks for goal in the league, the man simply has it all.
Come on – the guy can do everything
Up-and-comer: 2011 was a year for many of the kittens to show what they were made of, and they repaid Chris Scott handsomely for his faith in the young brigade. Daniel Menzel, Mitch Brown, Nathan Vardy, Cameron Guthrie, Allen Christensen, Josh Cowan and Mitch Duncan all showed they are going to lead the Cats well into the future. Of these talented youngsters, Allen Christensen is the most impressive of the lot. Generally seen on the bottom of packs as well as around goals, he will be looked to more and more to replace the likes of Gary Ablett and Cameron Ling in the middle and up forward. Also worth mentioning here is Billie Smedts who missed 2011 with a hip injury but will feature this year. The Cats thought he was worth using one of their Gary Ablett concession picks in 2010, so expect him to show a bit in 2012.
A Christensen mark - in his 19th career game - on the biggest stage leads to a crucial goal for the Cats in the last game of 2011
Team Summary: At the end of 2010, Gary Ablett cashed his chips for the Gold Coast, Mark Thompson was burnt out and went back to the Bombers, an rookie coach was appointed and everyone though the writing was on the wall. In the end it was a case of too old, too slow, too damn good for the Cats in 2011. So write them off at your peril. However, with pre-season injuries and long-term injuries from last year still keeping some players out, the Cats may struggle in the first few rounds of 2012 (with a visit to Fremantle then a blockbuster versus the Hawks in Rounds 1 and 2). The retirements of Mooney, Milburn, Ling and Ottens will also be heavily felt (especially come finals time) but a high finish is predicted given the high quality of the team across the field. And if they are as good this September as they were in 2011 it could well be 4 out of 6 come the end of 2012 for the Cattas.
Predicted Finish: 2nd
Coach and Coaching style: Alastair Clarkson is one of the forward thinking coaches in the AFL. Under him, Hawthorn have led the defensive revolution which has seen every team employ a zone defensive as their preferred option, rather than the traditional man-on-man. This defensive game style won the Hawks their most recent flag, in 2008, and was the backbone of St Kilda’s near-success in 2009 and 2010, and of Collingwood in 2010. When the Hawks have the ball, however, they are most notable for their highly proficient kicking skills. Clarkson has overseen a succession of draftees with great foot skills (generally left-footers, who are statistically more accurate by foot) who utilize short, sharp passes to penetrate opposition zone defenses.
Star player and reasons why: The Hawks boast many of the game’s best players, and across the park they run deep with talent and ability. Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Cyril Rioli, Shaun Burgoyne, Brad Sewell, Jarryd Roughead, Grant Birchall and Josh Gibson are all at or near the top bracket in their respective positions. Lance Franklin, however, is on another planet as the league’s best forward. “Buddy” is equally amazing and devastating to watch, using great strength, aerial ability and agility to weave his magic and continually kick bags and bags of goals. I generally believe if a team holds him to 4 goals or less, then they’ve done a good job – and there are very very few players in the league where the same can be said.
Also highly rated is the ‘Delicious!’ Cyril Rioli
Up-and-comer: Like their stars, the Hawks also have a lot of very promising young players now coming through the ranks. Isaac Smith, Paul Puopolo, Luke Breust, recent acquisition Jack Gunston, Shane Savage and Tom Murphy are all going to feature for the Hawks throughout 2012. 4th year player Liam Shiels is, however, the most promising. In 2011 he was outstanding in an already outstanding team, averaging 23 touches (8 contested) per game, of which he played all 25. He has only played 42 career games but is well on his way towards being one of the elite midfielders in the AFL.
Team Summary: Last year Hawthorn were only defeated by three teams – Adelaide in Round 1 and eventual Grand Finalists Geelong and Collingwood. Rarely has there been such an impressive team to miss out on a Grand Final position, and this was with injuries to key players at inopportune times throughout the season. I expect them to lead the competition and will be the team to beat come the pointy end of 2012.
Predicted Finish: 1st
FINAL PREDICTED LADDER
- West Coast
- North Melbourne
- St Kilda
- Western Bulldogs
- Port Adelaide
- Gold Coast
- Brisbane Lions
- Greater Western Sydney
Brownlow: Gary Ablett (Gold Coast)
Coleman: Lance Franklin (Hawthorn)
Rising Star: Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide)
Grand Final: Hawthorn v Geelong