AFL Season Preview – Part 2

Hawthorn

Ins: Jake Fitzpatrick (Melbourne), Ryan Burton (2015 Draft: Pick 19)

Outs: Jed Anderson (North Melbourne), Matt Suckling (Western Bulldogs), David Hale (retired), Brian Lake (retired)

Last year: H/A – 3rd Position (16 wins, 6 losses) Finals – Premier (3 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Josh Gibson

Leading goal scorer – Jack Gunston (57 goals)

Big Question: Can Hawthorn be the first team in the 18-side competition to win four flags in a row?

For – The Hawks will go back-to-back-to-back-to-back!

In the modern era of equalisation it is almost unthinkable that a team could be aiming for its fourth straight premiership. Hawthorn has the odds stacked against them in 2016, however you can never write off this team of champions.

The Hawks have built a dynasty through a combination of unstoppable ball movement and elite kicking skills. Facing the Hawks is death by a hundred cuts, as they slice defences to shred with precision offence.

The Hawks have their fair share of injuries and challenges heading into 2016, with the likes of Roughead, Shiels and Hill set to spend considerable time on the sidelines. They also have an ageing number of champions, who will likely need rest sometime throughout the season.

Irrelevant of where the Hawks finish at the end of the home and away season, they cannot be discounted in the finals. Hawthorn are big game performers, in recent years they have put together some of the most clinical Grand Final performances in AFL history.

If Clarkson can get the Hawks into September at full strength, they are every chance to further etch their names into sporting history.

Against – The Hawks era of dominance ends in 2016

All dynasties must come to an end and 2016 looks like the year the Hawks finally relinquish their hold on the premiership cup. This year the Hawks will face their toughest, as West Coast, Fremantle and North Melbourne will remain competitive, while Geelong and Port Adelaide will return to premiership contenders.

Another negative the Hawks face this year is their ageing list, which is the third oldest in the competition and with the cap on interchanges, the Hawks will need to ensure their players over 30 still have endurance.

The Hawks will also need to break tradition if they are going to win four consecutive premierships. No team since Collingwood in 1930 have won four premierships in a row, with Brisbane in the early 2000s the closest to equalling the Magpies.

The injuries to Jarryd Roughead and Bradley Hill will also make the title defence more difficult and could all but end the Hawks chances this season.

Melbourne

Ins: Thomas Bugg (GWS), Ben Kennedy (Collingwood), Jake Melksham (Essendon), Clayton Oliver (2015 Draft: Pick 4)

Outs: Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), Jimmy Toumpas (Port Adelaide)

Last year: H/A – 13th Position (7 wins, 15 losses)

Best & Fairest – Bernie Vince

Leading goal scorer – Jesse Hogan (44 goals)

Big Question: Should Simon Goodwin be handed the coaching reigns this season?

For – Goodwin should lead the Demons in 2016

Defence is crucial to success in today’s day and age, however offence is what wins premierships and it’s what the Demons lack under Paul Roos.

Under Roo’s last season the Demons were league’s worst offensive squad, averaging just under 72 points a game. They struggled to generate quick ball movement and transition from defence to offence and the scoreboard accordingly suffered.

While it’s a small sample size, Goodwin took over the Demons for the NAB Challenge and the improvements were significant. Over three shorter length match’s the Demons averaged 91 points per game and showcased an aggressive, attacking transition style that left Demon fans speechless.

The Demons have an impressive list of young talent emerging and it is crucial that the right principles for success are instilled early. Roo’s defence style is not what will lead the Demons back to the finals and therefore it is the perfect time for Goodwin to take the lead and Roo’s to take a back seat in 2016.

Against – Goodwin’s time will come, run the course and leave Roo’s as coach in 2016

Melbourne had an outstanding preseason under the guidance of Simon Goodwin, winning all three games in the NAB Challenge. The Dee performances led many to believe Paul Roos should hand the reigns over to Goodwin a year early. But a decision like this can only have major downfalls and disrupt the transition from coaches.

Roos may have the title of ‘head coach’ but Goodwin will be running the show at the Demons. Similar to the structure at GWS when Kevin Sheedy was handing the reigns to Leon Cameron, Roos will be the face of the club and the one to take the heat when performances a poor, while Goodwin will be the coach behind the scenes, planning for the future of the club.

Another season under the guidance of Roos will also benefit Goodwin in the long run. Roos is a top coach, with over ten years of coaching experience. Whenever Goodwin feels as though he is out of ideas or needs an encouraging voice, Roos will be there.

North Melbourne

Ins: Jed Anderson (Hawthorn), Farren Ray (St Kilda)

Outs: Ryan Bastinac (Brisbane), Daniel Currie (Gold Coast), Nathan Grima (retired – Essendon)

Last year: H/A – 8th Position (13 wins, 9 losses) Finals – 4th Position (2 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Todd Goldstein

Leading goal scorer – Jarrad Waite, Drew Petrie (42 goals)

Big Question: After falling short two seasons in a row, is it Premiership or bust for the ageing Kangaroos?

For – The Roo’s premiership window is quickly closing, the time to strike is now

North Melbourne are a curious case heading into season 2016. They boast the second oldest list in the AFL and seem to be stuck between the contenders and pretenders category.

On paper the Roo’s have a talent stacked list, however lack the x-factor required to split games open on a regular basis. North will be hoping that a rejuvenated Wells will be able to provide the spark through the midfield, however his injury history is concerning at best.

Unfortunately the Roo’s list is not getting any younger and the time to strike is nigh. North must improve their team defence, especially their ability to win defensive one-on-one contests, of which they were worst in the league last year.

If Scott can find a way to stop the leaking of goals and the Roo’s senior players can stay fit throughout the season, they will provide a real threat in September once again. However, with their list profile, the Roo’s need to be doing more than just making up the numbers in 2016.

Against – The Roos plan and list run deeper than Premiership or bust in 2016

The stats don’t lie. North Melbourne have the oldest list in the AFL. The Kangaroos must show their premiership credentials this year but is it the end of the world if they don’t make it?

The list will have a significant overhaul in the next two seasons when the likes of Harvey, Petrie, Dal Santo, Firrito, Waite and Wells call time on their careers.

The Roos have already started the rebuild by recruiting three key defenders in last years draft. The likes of Zibell, Atley and Cunnington are in the age bracket to become the leaders in the next few seasons.

Ben Brown, Kayne Turner, Mason Wood and Taylor Gardner are impressive young forwards and with eleven players under the age of 21, the Roos will continue to challenge for the flag in the years to come.

Port Adelaide

Ins: Charlie Dixon (Gold Coast), Jimmy Toumpas (Melbourne)

Outs: Kane Cornes (retired), Andrew Moore (Richmond), Paddy Ryder, Angus Monfries (12 month ban)

Last year: H/A – 9th Position (12 wins, 10 losses)

Best & Fairest – Robbie Gray

Leading goal scorer – Chad Wingard (53 goals)

Big Question: Will 2016 see the Power storm back up the ladder, or is there 2014 form behind them?

For – The Power’s 2014 season was a flash in the plan, it will be more of the same in 2016

It seems inevitable that the Power will surge up the ladder this year. After beinn a whisker away from making the 2014 Grand Final, the Power were favourites to win last years Premiership, but ended the year in 9th position.

Many in the media believe last year was a minor hiccup and the Power will return to their best, like Geelong when the missed the finals in 2006 and won the premiership a year later.

But as the competitiveness of the competition increases, can the Power stand alone as the best side in the competition as Hawthorn has done in recent years?

Today’s competition is much more even than the one Geelong dominated in 2007. A single slip up can be the difference for a side finishing fourth and ninth. The power have talent like Hamish Hartlett, Chad Wingard, Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray to win the premiership, while Sam Gray and Brendon Ah Chee are on the up.

It is the pillars as either end where the Power struggle. Jay Schulz’s best is behind him and Charlie Dixon is yet to show consistency in his game. John Butcher is surely on his last chance and the losses of Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries will be felt.

Down back, the Power rely on Alipate Carlile and Jackson Trengrove. If one misses numerous games, the structure of the team becomes unbalanced.

Port can improve this year but it will be difficult considering 13 teams are fighting for a top 8 spot.

Against – The Power will surge back up the ladder in 2016

In 2014 the Power were one kick away from a Grand Final. They were the jealousy of the league, selling out Adelaide Oval weekly and ripping teams to shreds with exhilarating face-paced football.

Unfortunately for the Power, 2015 saw a dramatic fall from grace. Opposition went to work on their run and gun game plan and seemingly found the solution. They played wide, denying the Power the corridor and easy transition and Port crumbled.

Now in 2016 the challenge sits squarely with Hinkley and his men, can they regain their franatic pressure and ball movement to challenge the best once again. The loss of Ryder hurts, although gives Lobbe a chance to regain his 2014 form. Dixon could be anything, however injuries and discipline issues leave question marks over his ability.

Port Adelaide has an elite list, impressive leadership and a rare home-ground advantage. If they can find their best football once again, the Power will be their when the whips are cracking in September.

Richmond

Ins: Andrew Moore (Port Adelaide), Jacob Townsend (GWS), Chris Yarran (Carlton), Daniel Rioli (2015 Draft: Pick 15)

Outs: Nathan Foley (retired), Chris Newman (retired), Chris Knights (retired)

Last year: H/A – 5th Position (15 wins, 7 losses) Finals – 7th Position (0 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Alex Rance

Leading goal scorer – Jack Riewoldt (54 goals)

Big Question: Can they win the elusive final?

For – Richmond will find the missing piece of the puzzle and taste September success

After shedding the infamous 9th position curse, the Tigers now face a new mental demon, the September curse. Plain and simple, Richmond has failed to win a final in three consecutive post-season campaigns.

However, it is not all gloom and doom for the Tigers in 2016. With a few game-style tweaks and the acquisition of a running half-back (Chris Yarren), the Tigers look primed to mount a serious assault on the top 4.

The Tigers are a stellar defensive team, conceding an average of only 73 points a game last year. However, they are slow to take the game on and generate fast ball movement, which is leading to a lack of scoring power.

The Tigers need Yarren’s re-bound off half-back to generate fast ball movement, as well as to unearth an elite small forward to help lock the ball inside forward fifty and relieve the scoring pressure of Riewoldt.

The Tigers still lack the polish and final touches to truly contend for a premiership, however 2016 will be the year the leaders stand up and the Tigers bury their demon and win that elusive final.

Against – The September curse will continue for the Tigers

Richmond must win a final in 2016. For three years the Tigers have competed with the best teams in the AFL but have fallen short in the finals. Some may call it a curse, while others will say the side is not talented enough.

The 2015 post-season saw Richmond linked with every player looking for a new club, including Adam Treloar, Steve Johnson and Harley Bennell. In the end the Tigers brought in Chris Yarran, Jacob Townsend and Adam Moore. The inability to recruit an A-grader is what will prevent Richmond from winning a final. Sure, all three recruits will do a job but would they be selected in a team like Hawthorn or West Coast.

Richmond is an outstanding defensive team, conceding merely 73 points a game in 2015. Attacking wise they struggle, scoring 100+ points in only six games. Apart from Jack Riewoldt, the forward line setup is poor. Steve Morris was tested as a small forward but failed. With scores expected to increase, Richmond must develop a forward setup that doesn’t rely on Jack Riewoldt to kick three goals a game.

St Kilda

Ins: Jake Carlisle (Essendon), Nathan Freeman (Collingwood), Jade Gresham (2015 Draft: Pick 18)

Outs: Farren Ray (North Melbourne), Adam Schneider (retired), Ahmed Saad (delisted)

Last year: 14th Position (6 wins, 15 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Jack Steven

Leading goal scorer – Josh Bruce (50 goals)

Big Question: Can St Kilda replicate the form of the Western Bulldogs from last season?

For – St Kilda are primed to jump up the ladder in 2016

No one expected the Western Bulldogs to play finals last season, just like no one expected Port Adelaide to surge in 2013.

St Kilda have been rebuilding for the past five years and in that time they have secured some extremely talented youngsters like Josh Bruce, Jack Billings Hugh Goddard and Paddy McCartin. Added to this they have retained the services of club veterans, Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Sam Fisher and Sean Dempster.

Riewoldt is an inspiring captain in the mold of Robert Murphy. The inspiration and guidance he brings to the youngsters is something money can’t buy.

Rapid development in the young players will help the Saints surprise a few teams and could see them make the finals.

Against – St Kilda are still years of challenging for a top eight position

St Kilda are still clearly rebuilding after their last brigade failed to steal a premiership in the 2008-11 era. Richardson has the game style and pieces of the puzzle to take the Saints back to the top of the table, however they are still a few years from challenging the top eight.

The Saints have built their game style around manic pressure and pure effort. They surprised everyone with their six wins last year and at times looked incredibly dangerous. However, there is a clear gap between the older players and youngsters, the later of which will take time to develop.

The young list of Bruce, Billings, Lonie, Dunstan and McCartin are guns in the making, while Richardson’s off-season focus on quicker ball movement should allow them to prosper in their roles.

Whether the likes of Riewoldt, Montagna and Fisher can hang on while the youth develop is yet to be seen, regardless the future is bright at the Saints. Richardson will be looking for his squad to hit the 8-10 win mark in 2016, but expecting them to jump into the eight is incredibly optimistic.

Sydney

Ins: Callum Sinclair (West Coast), Matthew Talia (Western Bulldogs), Callum Mills (2015 Draft: Pick 3)

Outs: Lewis Jetta (West Coast), Craig Bird (Sydney), Adam Goodes (retired), Mike Pike (retired), Rhyce Shaw (retired)

Last year: H/A – 4th Position (16 wins, 6 wins) Finals – 5th Position (0 wins, 2 losses)

Best & Fairest – Josh Kennedy

Leading goal scorer – Lance Franklin (47 goals)

Big Question: Can Franklin find his form and return to his dynamic best?

For – Franklin will re-discover his Coleman Medal form in 2016

Lance Franklin is one of the most dynamic and exciting player the competition has seen for some years and will re-discover his best form in 2016.

The 2015 season was Franklin’s worse goal return (47 goals) for 10 seasons and his fewest disposal count for eight years. However, Buddy was clearly struggling with a back-ailment throughout the season, as well as facing his own personal battles.

With the addition of Sinclair, the Swans now have another big man to take the pressure off Buddy. Franklin will be given ample opportunity to shine and looks fit and raring to go after a big pre-season.

Many believe the Swans will fall in 2016, yet seem to forget about the Swans star-studded midfield, elite young talent (Heeney, Mills) and potent forward line. If the mid-field can give Buddy enough of the ball, the competition will quickly remember just how damaging Franklin can be.

Against – Franklin’s best days are behind him

This is a crucial year for Buddy and the Swans. In his third year at the club, Buddy still has another six years to run on his contract. But what was shown last year will not give hope to either Buddy or the Swans that he will be playing in 2022.

The personal reasons that sidelined Buddy for the finals campaign was unfortunate and will not be the cause of concern for his future.

His form and recurring injuries will be what keeps the Swans coaches and officials awake at night.

Last year was not the Buddy that we have come to love. It was a thicker Buddy, who didn’t have the urgency around ground which was on show in 2014.

Whether it was a plan by the fitness staff or the niggling back injury that was the reason for the thicker Buddy is still unknown.

So far this year, Buddy has appeared leaner and has had more urgency in his game. But as the months get colder and the body begins to ache, will Buddy stay fit? More importantly, can Buddy carry on playing for another six years?

Time will tell what is in store for Franklin and the Swans.

West Coast

Ins: Jonathan Giles (Essendon), Lewis Jetta (Sydney), Jack Redden (Brisbane)

Outs: Matt Rosa (Gold Coast), Scott Selwood (Geelong), Callum Sinclair (Sydney), Beau Waters (retired)

Last year: H/A – 2nd Position (16 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw) Finals – Runner-up (2 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Andrew Gaff

Leading goal scorer – Joshua Kennedy (80 goals)

Big Question: Can the Eagles handle the pressure and expectations from last season?

For – The Eagles will be back amongst the September action in 2016

In 2015 Adam Simpson unleashed his team defensive strategy, commonly referred to as the ‘web’, and the results were immediate and impressive. The Eagles jumped every hurdle on their way to the Grand Final, although ultimately crumbled on the biggest day of the year.

In 2016 the Eagles will see the return of Eric Mackenzie as well as the addition of Jetta, Redden and Giles. Simpson has this list exactly where he wants it, with the perfect mix of youth and experience.

The Eagles are the games best contested ball team, the most damaging post-clearance team and feature the most dynamic forward line in the league. Simpson has flexibility in all positions on the ground, in addition to great depth throughout the list.

This list is primed for success in every facet and something would have to go catastrophically wrong to deny the Eagles September action. Last years Grand Final loss will purely act as motivation for this squad, a squad that the entire competition should fear.

Against – The Eagles will not be able to replicate their 2015 performance

Last year the Eagles were able to surprise teams with this so called ‘web’. This ‘web’ and slick ball movement surprised so many teams that the Eagles made it all the way to the Grand Final.

Expectations and pressure will be increased this year, making it difficult for the Eagles to remain a premiership contender

The returns of Eric McKenzie and Mitch Brown will boost the Eagles defence, but could also affect the defensive setup that proved so successful last season.

Other teams have had an entire preseason to break down the Eagles game plan, meaning Adam Simpson must continue to innovate to remain a premiership threat.

Western Bulldogs

Ins: Matt Suckling (Hawthorn), Jed Adcock (Brisbane), Josh Dunkley (20155 Draft: Pick 25)

Outs: Michael Talia (Sydney), Jarrad Grant (Gold Coast), Ayce Cordy (delisted)

Last year: H/A – 6th Position (14 wins, 8 losses) Finals – 8th Position (0 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Easton Wood

Leading goal scorer – Jake Stringer (56 goals)

Big Question: Is 2016 the year Boyd’s performance matches his pay packet?

For – Boyd will finally find his feet in season 2016

Tom Boyd was handed the deal of a lifetime, but unfortunately it also came with a lifetime of responsibility and crushing expectation.

Season 2015 was one to forget for Boyd. Fourteen game for a return of only sixteen goals, as well as being dropped to the twos throughout the season. One million dollars for a return of only sixteen goals is not acceptable, however Boyd is still developing and his best is still ahead of him.

Key Forwards generally take the longest time to develop and Boyd, 20 years old, is still in his football infancy. He showed his potential throughout the NAB Challenge, showcasing great hands and finish around the goals.

If Boyd is given the opportunity in 2016, he looks primed to hit the 30-35 goal mark. While this still seems measly for his contract, it will provide him with the confidence going forward.

Boyd has the potential to spearhead the Dog’s attack, alongside Stringer, for years to come. We are still a few seasons off seeing his full potential, however Boyd looks set to make his mark on the field in 2016.

Against – Boyd is still developing and is years off his best football

It usually takes a key forward five years to develop into his body. Boyd is in his third year and has shown glimpses of his potential.

Last year more was expected from Boyd, who only played 14 games and kicked 16 goals. Expectations were enormous on Boyd for the fact that he has a million dollar contract.

But apart from his salary, Boyd is just like any other young forward. The Bulldogs did not expect to play finals in 2015 and Boyd was brought in for the future and not for the present.

Supporter and the media will continue to have high expectations on Boyd but they must lower their eagerness because like all young forwards, it will take time.

Written by Daniel Freeman and Christopher Chrysostomou

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