As the first bounce of the new AFL season draws nearer, we cast our eye over each team’s crystal ball to bring you our definitive season preview for all 18 teams over 4 packed editions!
In Part 1, we start in the doldrums with our predictions for the teams that will occupy the bottom 5 spots on the ladder. Sadly for these teams, we here at Mike or The Don think their chances for the flag are about as good as Brendan Fevola playing in the AFL ever again.
Greater Western Sydney
Coach and Coaching style: Kevin Sheedy; Sheeds’ coaching style? Does anyone know? Has a penchant for thinking outside the box – including playing players in seemingly unfamiliar positions and creating feature matches (“Dreamtime at the ‘G” and Anzac Day, to name a few). All that seems to be clear is Israel Folau will be up forward, Scully, Palmer and Ward in the middle, Davis holding up the fort down back, some veterans plugging a few holes – Luke Power, Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan, 17-18 year old kids everywhere else and a helluva lot of finger and toe-crossing.
Star player and reasons why: Tom Scully; it is actually yet to be seen whether Scully will turn into the superstar player we all expect but his obscene paypacket (relative to other players of his age with a similar number of games played) adorns him as the Giants star players. Has a wonderful left foot and all the makings of an elite midfielder with aggression at the contest, but will have to wait and see whether he can justify the big bucks he’s pulling in.
Up-and-comer: Take your pick. With so many new and talented players to blood, there will soon be a multitude of up-and-coming stars this season. However, the one I think worth keeping eyes out for is highly rated Number 1 draft pick Jonathon Patton. If he turns into anything slightly resembling Jonathon Brown it could be very scary for the rest of the competition. Other likely superstars (among many) are Stephen Coniglio and Dylan Shiel, but another worth looking out for is 24 year-old mature-age midfield recruit Stephen Clifton who comes with a solid VFL background and a lot of promise.
Team Summary: Gold Coast showed last season that the first season in the competition will come with it’s ups and downs – sadly more of the latter in terms of results. I expect GWS to start reasonably well but to really struggle in the latter part of games and especially in the last half of the season as the pace of the game and demands of a 22-round season catch up with the younger kids.
Predicted Finish: Wooden Spoon
Coach and Coaching style: Michael Voss prefers a riskier Geelong-style attack but it has been hard to see in the last few years as the Lions have rapidly turned into one of the easy-beats of the league. Last season was really a struggle as they even lost out to newcomers and neighbours Gold Coast (one of only 3 wins for the Suns in 2011). I anticipate Vossy trying to limit damage more than take too many risks in 2012 as the Lions look to blood a lot of their youngsters in what will surely be termed a “year for the future.”
Star player and reasons why: Jonathon Brown (when fully fit) is an all-time champion forward. Solid hands, a massive frame and the ability to turn or win a match singlehandedly are all characteristics of the Lions skipper. Either unluckily or unfortunately, however, has been the big man’s run in with horrific facial injuries – this preseason he will undergo surgery on his melon for the 3rd time in less than 12 months. Here’s hoping he gets it all sorted out and gets back to playing for the Lions sooner rather than later – for the Lions benefit and so we get to see one of the great dominant forwards in action.
Up-and-comer: The Lions have many up-and-comers in 2012 – Patrick Karnezis has been very handy in only 11 games so far, so too has Sam Sheldon and James Hawksley but for genuine A-grade potential, it’s hard to go past Todd Banfield. A super quick, tackling machine who is very handy around goals is just what the Lions require in the forward line – and Banfield has delivered in his 41 games thus far. His only question mark revolves around an inability to run out 4 quarters as he normally burns out by the end of the 1st half. Hopefully his jets burn well for all four quarters for the length of this season so he can start to deliver more consistently on his promise and raw talent. Also keep tabs on Jack Redden who hasn’t missed a game since his debut in 2009 and is constantly on the rise.
Team Summary: The off-season departure of forward Mitch Clark, eventually to the Demons, will hurt the Lions even more so due to the loss of Jonathan Brown for the first few games of the season. Add to this the loss of Brent Staker for the entire season and champion Luke Power defecting to GWS and things are starting to look mighty thin on the ground. Hopefully a few players missing through injury last season (primarily Daniel Merrett and Josh Drummond) can feature more prominently but even if they do, it’s hard to fathom too many wins from the Brissy Lions in 2012.
Predicted Finish: 17th – luckily GWS are around this season otherwise the Lions may have been a genuine threat for the wooden spoon.
Coach and Coaching style: It’s difficult what to make of Guy McKenna’s coaching style thus far. The Suns’ first season only brought 3 wins so a lot of what the coaching department would have worked on was aimed at player development and ensuring the young squad all got their fair share of game time. A lot more of the same in 2012 can be expected.
Star player and reasons why: Gary Ablett is arguably the best player in the competition. A Brownlow medallist, 2-time premiership player, 3-time AFL Player’s Association MVP and the highest paid player in the league by some margin is some CV. More than that is his determination and workrate over four quarters, not to mention his consistency over the length of a season, and from season to season.
His disposal skills are second-to-none and he has unbelievable strength through his lower body to shake, avoid and stand up under pressure. For such a poor team he was one the league’s best in 2011 – and this was from a limited preseason. Get your money on him for the Brownlow because he hasn’t missed a beat this offseason and will be unstoppable in 2012.
Up-and-comer: Like GWS, the plethora of players to choose from in this category is long and envious. David Swallow, Harley Bennell, Zac Smith, Tom Lynch, Josh Toy and Brandon Matera are a few that will most likely turn into champions by the end of their careers. And let’s not also forget Jaeger O’Maera, although he won’t be seen in Gold Coast colours in the AFL until 2013 due to age restrictions. However one that is new in 2012 and has the footy world taking notice already is Aaron Hall – a “mature age” recruit at 21 years old, he has pace and skills to be a very handy pickup for the Suns in 2012. Impressed in the 1st round of the NAB cup and will get plenty of match time for the Suns, so keep an eye out for a potential star of the future.
Team Summary: It will in all likelihood be an uphill battle yet again for Gold Coast. However, with a year’s experience for many young kids they will be more resilient in 2012. Expect a few more wins, but not many – and definitely expect young Gazza to shine brightest in what will be another development year for the Queensland expansion team.
Predicted Finish: 16th
Coach and Coaching style: Matthew Primus has had a tough time in charge of Port Adelaide since he was appointed midway through the 2010 season. Prior to his senior coaching role he was an assistant under Mark Williams for 4 and a half seasons so he has certainly served a sufficient apprenticeship. Port Adelaide were one of the whipping boys last year, only very rarely putting up a real fight – they even handed Gold Coast’s inaugural AFL win after being 40 points up late into the 3rd quarter. A last round win (and only their 3rd for 2011) over Melbourne meant the Power avoided the dreaded wooden spoon but many believed they were deserving given their lacklustre performances throughout last season. Primus will be aiming to instill aggression and spirit into his charges before any revolutionary game plans are put to the test, and from pre-season form he seems to be getting somewhere in that department.
Star player and reasons why: It’s difficult to chose a true star player from such a disappointing outfit but two players do spring to mind in this category. The first is Travis Boak, now a premier midfielder that is often kept in close check by opposition sides due to his ability to find plenty of the ball. He has been superb for the Power since his 2007 debut and expect him to be one of the go-to guys when the Power’s engine room need to step it up a notch. The other player is David Rodan who has been an absolute revelation since his relatively mediocre days at Richmond. He has Cyril Rioli-like agility, a great sense around goals and is one of the finest to watch in the league when in full flight.
Up-and-comer: You will be again seeing many new faces roll through Port Adelaide again in 2011 as Primus looks to blood as many youngsters as humanly possible. However, one player well and truly on the rise is Jackson Trengove. Nearly poached back home to Victoria in the offseason, (easy to see why given his 197cm, 100kg frame for a key position player) the highly talented 21-year old backman instead pledged his loyalty to Port and will be looking to build on his impressive 41 games notched to date. Keep a close eye also on John Butcher who has showed raw talent as a forward his 4 career games, kicking 11 goals; also there are big expectations on first-round draftee Chad Wingard, a midfielder whose stocks are expected to rise very high – even as early as his first season.
Team Summary: Primus is on the right track trying to instill that desperately needed tonic of hardness and aggression over four quarters. If he can push them hard in this area, they will find wins and may even surprise at times through the year as they have talent and ability throughout the ground – from Shultz, Gray and Butcher up front, Cassisi, Cornes and Boak in the middle, to Trengove and Chaplin down back. However, they will struggle to finish off more quality opponents and will be found wanting in depth as the season stretches on. Will do better this season, but not by much.
Predicted Finish: 15th
Coach and Coaching style: Brendan McCartney; the former Geelong and Essendon assistant has a tough, hard-nosed approach to the game. The first time senior coach wants the Bulldogs to play a more aggressive style especially in and around the ball. From pre-season indicators, he has done well thus far.
Star player and reasons why: Matthew Boyd; the Bulldogs skipper is a genuine, elite, A-grade midfielder of the AFL. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe his season last year – in 2011 he topped the AFL in disposals (701, averaging 31.86 per game) and contested possessions (326, averaging 14.8 per game) and was third in clearances (154, averaging 7 per game). Coming off his second best-and-fairest win in three years, Boyd will be the superglue holding the often fragile Bulldogs midfield together.
Up-and-comer: Shaun Higgins has been in this category for the last few seasons but his injury-addled body keeps him from rising to truly great heights. (By his own admission) the excuses have now run out and with 87 games in 6 seasons now accumulated, he has to start delivering on the star potential he holds. Also look out for impressive youngsters Jarrad Grant, Ayce Cordy and Luke Dahlhaus to feature prominently in 2012 for the Dogs.
Team Summary: The Bulldogs were one of the unfortunate few to drop significantly down the ladder in 2011, somewhat unexpectedly given their three consecutive preliminary finals appearances in 2008-10. A new coach will bring a freshness to the group but having lost Callan Ward, Barry Hall and injury questions over Adam Cooney, Dale Morris, Brian Lake and now Tom Williams, it will be a bit much to expect great things in 2012.
Predicted Finish: 14th