Will the Bulldogs continue to bark?

Tears flowed freely from the faces of Western Bulldogs players. It was not because they were injured, nor was it because they failed to grasp the opportunity to sit outright second on the ladder. The tears flowed for the agony of a wounded teammate, wailing in despair knowing his season is over and the chance to make history all but ended.

With hearts the size of Phar Lap, the Western Bulldogs have been able to warn off any challengers that have come their way. Whether it was the season ending knee injury to skipper, Bob Murphy, the tear of the hamstring to Jason Johannisen or the bust up between teammates, Tom Boyd and Zaine Cordy, the Bulldogs have fought and won every battle, captivating the footballing public in the meantime.

But has the Bulldogs hopes of winning the clubs second ever premiership ended with the single snap of a leg?

Football can sometimes be a cruel game. In 2005 Richmond won seven of their first nine games to sit third on the ladder. During this period, star forward; Nathan Brown was in career best form, featuring predominately in the Coleman medal race, with 32 goals.

But in a cruel blow, Brown suffered a horrific broken leg against Melbourne in Round 10. The injury ended Brown’s season and dented the Tigers hopes of playing finals as the club won only three more games for the season.

This week, Richmond legend, Matthew Richardson admitted that the Brown injury had affected the entire playing group and was one of the reasons for the Tigers slide in form.

It is too early to tell whether Mitch Wallis’s injury will have the same affected as that of Brown’s on the Richmond playing list, but what remains certain is that the Bulldogs have the leadership, mentality and talent to help the club reach success this season.

Led by Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd and Easton Wood, the Bulldogs have leaders who can help the younger members of the squad move through these tough times, by focusing on the task ahead.

As seen after the Murphy injury in Round 3, it has been the young guns such as Marcus Bontempelli, Caleb Daniel and Jake ‘The Package’ Stringer who have taken on the added initiative and have become match winners.

The love shared between the senior coach and his players will also have a positive impact on the Bulldogs premiership push. At this weeks press conference Luke Beveridge fought back tears while discussing Wallis’s injury, showing that he, like his players was affected by the incident but will continue to put on a brave face and focus on what the club can achieve.

We have already seen in 2016 that underachievers can achieve glory through adversary, evident by the Leicester City fairy tale. With a team full of players that have been discarded from big clubs and a coach who has had his reputation tarnished by failing to achieve success with big name teams, the Foxes were able to edge out the billion dollar clubs to win the English Premier League.

The time is right for Bulldogs success and so far the club has ensured they have every chance of winning this years premiership flag. Injuries are a factor that cannot be controlled by the club. But what the Bulldogs can control in winning and that is what will aid them in their quest for success.

The five most talked about sporting teens of all time

We all love a teenage sporting star. There is something about seeing a young starlet showing their capabilities on the grand stage of their preferred sport. Last week the AFL world was abuzz by the debut of 18-year-old Jack Silvagni. Silvangi comes from a family full of football history, as both his father and Grandfather are members of the Carlton Team of the Century. In the wake of Silvangi’s debut we have compiled a list of the five most talked about teenagers of all time in the world of sport. Some of these adolescents are from decades gone by, while others still have their best years ahead of them. No matter what sport they are from, these starlets have had the weight of expectation held upon their shoulders from the start of their careers.

  1. Patrick Cummins

Patrick Cummins burst onto the international cricket stage in 2011 at the age of 18. In his debut test for Australia, Cummins took seven wickets and scored 13-second innings runs to guide Australia to victory over South Africa.

Cummins became the talk of the nation and was tipped to lead the Australian bowling line up for the years that followed. But injuries have curtailed Cummins career and he has not played at test for Australia since his debut.

Time will tell if Cummins ever reaches his potential but when he does return, he will certainly be under less attention than years past.

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Patrick Cummins

  1. Jack Watts 

Jack Watts was a fan favourite before he even made his senior AFL debut for Melbourne. The 196cm forward plied his trade with the Sandringham Dragons at TAC Cup level and attended Brighton Grammar before being selected as the number 1 pick in the 2008 National Draft, ahead of Nic Naitanui and Daniel Rich.

Possessing a strong pair of hands and recording the second fastest time by an non-indigenous player in the 20 metre sprint, Watts was regarded as a promising prospect, who would guide the Demons back up the ladder.

Given the number four guernsey, previously worn by the great Norm Smith, Watts made his senior debut against Collingwood in round 11, 2009. Senior Collingwood players tormented a physically frail Watts and he was gang tackled in his first touch of AFL football.

For such promise, Watts has never been able to fulfil the expectations placed on him. Coaches have tried playing Watts in different positions but he has never been able to grasp the opportunity with both hands, leading many to proclaim him as one of the worst number one picks of all time.

Now in his eighth year in the AFL, Watts has finally shown glimmers of his potential and has kicked 27 goals in 14 games this season.

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Jack Watts in his first game

  1. Anthony Martial

Very few people knew who Anthony Martial was when Manchester United signed the 19-year-old Frenchman in August 2015 for £36 million, a record price for a teenager.

United supporters were livid with the signing as they saw it as United being unambitious in the transfer market and a rash purchase, considering at the time United’s only recognised striker was Wayne Rooney.

Expectations were high on Martial leading into his first game for the club, which was against rivals Liverpool. Martial started on the bench and was brought on in the 65th minute, with United leading 2-1. Martial silenced his doubters and became a fan favourite when he went on a spectacular run to score United’s third goal and clinch the victory.

Eight days later, Martial scored twice in a 3-2 away win to Southampton. By the end of the season, Martial had scored 17 goals in 57 appearances for the Red Devils, won the Golden Boy Award for best young footballer in Europe and cemented his position in United’s starting line up.

Martial has also been tipped to be a star of the French national side in the decades to come and is part of the French squad for the 2016 Euro’s.

  1. Ian Thorpe

By the age of 18, Ian Thorpe had already won five Olympic medals and was the face of Australian sport. Thorpe burst onto the sporting scene aged 14, when he became the youngest male ever to represent Australia, while his 400 metre freestyle victory at the 1998 Perth World Championships made him the youngest ever individual male World Champion.

At the 1998 Malaysian Commonwealth Games, a 16-year-old Thorpe won individual gold medals in the 200 and 400 metre freestyle, as well as winning gold in the 100 and 200 metre freestyle relay. Thorpe’s dominance at the 1998 games saw him be named the youngest ever ‘Swimming World Swimmer of the Year.’

Along with Cathy Freeman, Thorpe was the face of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and held the weight of the nation on his shoulders. Thorpe exceeded expectations by winning three gold medals and two silvers.

Four medals, including two gold’s at the 2004 Athens Olympics followed, but injury and a lack of motivation forced Thorpe into retirement at the age of 24.

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Ian Thorpe with one of his five Olympic gold medals

  1. George Best

George Best was the fifth Beatle. Best personified the changing society of the 1960’s and his skill, good looks and undeniable charm made him the envy of men and the desire of all women.

The Belfast born starlet made his debut for Manchester United as a shy 17 year old in 1963. It didn’t take long for Best to lose the shyness, as he would be the pioneer for the celebrity footballer, seen today with the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Best’s technical ability and dribbling prowess made him a target for opposition players who would consistently punch, kick and sledge Best in an attempt to hinder his performance.

Best catapulted to superstar status at 19 when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarterfinal clash against Benfica. Fans, specifically women, flocked to see George Best at every chance thay got, which included camping out in front on his residence and sometimes even breaking into his bedroom.

By 1968, Best was at the peak of his game, helping guide United to their first European Cup, while individually being awarded the Ballon d’Or for best player in the world.

Unfortunately the highs didn’t last for long. A downturn in United’s form and the constant attention from the media and fans led to Best becoming an alcoholic.

Aged 27, Best was released by United due to his erratic behaviour and lack of motivation. Post United, Best played for 18 football clubs around the world and spent most of his time living in America.

There were opportunities to resurrect his career at power clubs like Juventus but Best’s love for Manchester United was so great that he did not want to play for a side that may one day have lined up against United.

Years of alcohol abuse took it’s toll on Best’s health and kidney failure ended his life in 2005, aged 59.

Those who were fortunate to witness the skills of Best will remember talented footballer, who possessed skill, pace and desire never seen on the football field before.

But the highest praise came in the form legend, Pele. Pele, who himself is widely recognised as the best player to ever grace a football pitch, stated that George Best is the greatest player of all time.

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

AFL Season Preview – Part 1

Adelaide

Ins:

Curtly Hampton (GWS), Dean Gore (Geelong), Paul Seedsman (Collingwood), Troy Menzel (Carlton), Wayne Milera (2015 Draft: Pick 11)

Outs:

Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Sam Kerridge (Carlton), Brent Reilly (retired), James Podsiadly (retired)

Last year:

H/A – 7th Position (13 wins, 8 losses) Finals – 6th (1 win, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Patrick Dangerfield

Leading goal scorer – Eddie Betts (63 goals)

Big Question:

Will Patrick Dangerfield’s departure leave a hole too large to be replaced, or can the Crows cover for the loss of their superstar?

For – The Crows will cover for Dangerfield

Losing Patrick Dangerfield will hurt the Adelaide Crows. Unfortunately for Crows fans there are no denying the facts. Only Matt Priddis, Nat Fyfe and Josh Kennedy (Sydney) won more contested possessions last year then Dangerfield. Much of Adelaide’s top three ranking in contested ball last year was due to the Dangerfield effect. However, life after Dangerfield is not all gloom and doom and one would be silly to write the Crows off just yet.

The Crows have one of the most dynamic forward lines in the competition. Last year they were fourth best in converting an inside 50 entry into a goal. Walker (59 goals in 2015) Jenkins (46 goals) and Lynch (32 goals) compliment each other perfectly, throw in Betts (63 goals – equal second for Coleman), Charlie Cameron and Troy Menzel and you have a top-shelf forward line.

The defensive end is still young, but with continued development the likes of Talia, Laird and Brodie Smith will give opposition forward lines nightmares for years to come. The midfield is going to be hardest hit, especially with the fact that Adelaide ranked second last for disposal efficiency (70%) in 2015. Don Pyke is counting on getting the ball into the forward line as quickly as possible and letting his forwards do the rest. It will be exciting, break-neck football that will challenge the best. Dangerfield is undeniably a loss, but Pyke will be hoping, in fact banking on, the system covering his absence.

Against – The loss of Dangerfield is too great to cover

Patrick Dangerfield is one of the game’s most elite players. Averaging 27 disposals a game, Dangerfield also contributed 21 goals last season and averaged 1.1 score assist a game. Added to this is his ability to find the ball in congestion, ranking third for contested possession (15.2 per game) and seventh for clearances (7.1 per game), Dangerfield is a freak. The Crows may have recruited strongly in the off season with the inclusions of Troy Menzel, Paul Seedsman, Curtly Hampton and Dean Gore but all four players have not proven to have the potential of Dangerfield. Paul Seedsman is likely to replace Dangerfield in the midfield but he is more of an outside player, with only 25.4% of his possessions being contested. The Crouch brothers are the likeliest to cover the loss of Dangerfield but Brad has already been reprimanded for failing team standards, while Matt has not had shown any consistency at AFL level.

This will be a year the Crows will have to rebuild their midfield to move forward in the years to come.

Brisbane

Ins:

Ryan Bastinac (North Melbourne), Tom Bell (Carlton), Jarred Jansen (Geelong), Josh Walker (Geelong), Josh Schache (2015 Draft: Pick 2)

Outs:

James Aish (Collingwood), Jack Redden (West Coast) Matthew Leuenberger (Essendon), Jed Adcock (Delisted)

Last year:

H/A – 17th Position (4 wins, 18 losses)

Best & Fairest – Dayne Beams, Stefan Martin, Mitch Robinson, Dayne Zorko

Leading goal scorer – Joshua Green (25 goals)

Big Question:

Will Brisbane return as the Kings of Queensland?

For – They will finish ahead of the Gold Coast

It is a crucial period in the history of the Brisbane Football Club. For too long now the club has been in the football wilderness, failing to make finals and failing to entice fans to attend games. The Lions are just as important for the Queensland market as Sydney is for New South Wales. And with the Gold Coast also in the bottom threshold of the ladder, Queensland needs a team to improve. Thankfully Brisbane is on the up. After years of not being able to hold onto young promising players, Brisbane now have a core group to build a list around. The Lions have the youngest list in the competition, with only one player over the age of 30. Captain Tom Rockliff is only 26 and with the aid of Daniel Rich, Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson, the Lions have an impressive midfield group, which should improve their contested possession differential, losing the count by -10.3 per game. Tall forward, Josh Schache will be key to the future of the Lions and will take time to develop and support from Josh Walker, who has shown he can be a handful up forward.

Because the Suns are also a poor side, it won’t be difficult for the Lions to finish higher on the ladder. Six to eight wins this season should do the job.

Against – They will again succumb to the heat of the Suns

The state of football in Queensland will once again be a major issue for the AFL in 2016. Brisbane is undergoing a tedious rebuild and the Suns are staring down the barrel of there first rebuild only five years after entering the competition. However, Brisbane will struggle to compete with Gold Coast’s raw talent for the immediate future and will once again play second fiddle to the Suns.

Brisbane has the youngest and most inexperienced list in the AFL. Their top tier-talent, such as Rockliff and Hanley, have both struggled with injuries in recent years and their ability to generate a winning score is shaky at best. Joshua Green has led their goal-kicking for the past two seasons, which not taking away from his talents, is an embarrassing statistic for Lion forwards. The likes of Schache and McStay will provide Lion’s fans with hope for the future, but for the here and now there is a clear lack of scoring power.

With the return of Ablett, Gold Coast looks likely to jump up to around the 8-win mark, which Brisbane is still a few seasons away from reaching.

Carlton

Ins:

Daniel Gorringe (Gold Coast), Sam Kerridge (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (GWS), Jacob Weitering (2015 Draft: Pick 1)

Outs:

Tom Bell (Brisbane), Lachie Henderson (Geelong), Troy Menzel (Adelaide), Chris Yarran (Richmond)

Last year:

H/A – 18th Position (4 wins, 18 losses)

Best & Fairest – Patrick Cripps

Leading goal scorer – Andrejs Everitt (31 goals)

Big Question:

Is this the first step in the creation of a Carlton dynasty?

For – This team will lead Carlton to a premiership

Carlton’s path to rebuild has reminded me of Richmond when they appointed Damian Hardwick in 2009. Both sides selected a coach from the reigning premiers, Hawthorn to lead the rebuild and both coaches quickly stamped the imprint on the club by shelving the dead wood and heavily relying on the national draft.

Though Richmond have not won a premiership yet they are on the right path and that’s what will give Carlton hope.

The Blues have targeted their big man department in last years draft, recruiting Jacob Weitering, Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Jack Silvagni. These four players will take time to develop but Carlton know this is a long term rebuild.

The results will be ugly this season. Last year the Blues conceded 107 points a game, while only managing to score 69.3 points on average, the lowest in the league.

Everyone expects Carlton to finish bottom four once again this season. But is that really a bad result? Another poor season will enable the Blues to again select the best young talent in Australia, that will help them return to the top of the tree.

So strap yourselves in Carlton supporters, because the seeds for success have already been planted.

Against – Carlton will continue to struggle in the years to come

Carlton have the raw core of a team on the way back up the ladder. The likes of Weitering and Cripps will provide Blues fans with glimpses of hope for years to come, however the rise up the ladder is not imminent for Carlton.

2015 was a disastrous year for Carlton, they sacked their coach, finished dead last and played devoid of spirit and fight. Brendon Bolton is an inspired choice for coach, however he doesn’t have the personal he had at Hawthorn to work with. The Blues lack structure on the field, they lack leadership and they lack attacking prowess. Casboult is an exceptional mark, however lacks the kicking ability and Walker has not been able to find his best form in recent years. This leaves Andrejs Everitt as their leading goal scorer (team high 31 goals in 2015), which is not sustainable moving forward.

The Blues have managed to put together a few pieces of the puzzle in rebuilding this broken club, however their road back to premiership contention is a long and windy one. Blues fans are unfortunately in for more of the same in 2016 and for the foreseeable future.

Collingwood

Ins:

James Aish (Brisbane), Jeremy Howe (Melbourne), Adam Treloar (GWS)

Outs:

Nathan Freeman (St Kilda), Ben Kennedy (Melbourne), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide)

Last year:

H/A – 12th Position (10 wins, 12 losses)

Best & Fairest – Scott Pendlebury

Leading goal scorer – Jamie Elliott (35 goals)

Big Question:

Is it a failed season if Collingwood miss the finals again in 2016?

For – After starting 8-3 for two consecutive seasons and fading late, Buckley’s men must make finals in 2016?

While the 2016 season is not a case of make or break for the Magpies, there is a justified level of pressure on Buckley’s men ahead of the coming season. After getting off to 8-3 starts in 2014 and 2015 they have fallen away in the second half of both seasons. The excuse of youth, inexperience and injuries is wearing thin, it’s time for the Magpies to stand up.

Collingwood has openly stated that this teams premiership window is 2017-2019, however going into that window without any finals experience for the majority of the squad is a concerning issue.

There are no excuses on the quality of the Magpies list. They have a stellar midfield, arguably one of the best collection of under 22 year olds in the game and a superstar in Scott Pendlebury. They have shown in previous years they can match it with the best, only falling one or two goals short of the likes of Hawthorn, Fremantle and Sydney last year.

The Pies have shown the faith in Buckley, who recently received a contract extension, however it is crucial the Pies and Buckley make an appearance in September this year. The Collingwood faithful need to see the development the club has boasted of, as well as providing crucial finals experience to the young players who will carry this team for years to come.

Against – Collingwood’s development does not necessarily mean finals in 2016?

When Buckley took the reigns from Malthouse, it was clear that significant change was looming at Collingwood. Out with the rat-pack and in with the elite youth, as the Pies traded experience for young, uncapped talent. At their best, the Pies have shown they can match it with the competition elite, but they are yet to show the consistency required for finals footy.

The Pies have all the pieces for long-term success. Darcy Moore has the makings of a superstar, the mid-field is stock full with A grade talent and the defence is young but developing quickly. They have shown an increased focus on quick ball-movement throughout the NAB Challenge, although still struggle clearing the ball from their defensive fifty.

Collingwood could play finals in 2016, in fact some believe they could do more than just make up the numbers. However, from the outset the coming season looks incredibly even, with twelve teams genuinely fighting for top eight spots.

Buckley’s men are still one or two seasons away from fully realising their potential, and with the logjam of talent fighting for finals this year, it would not be a failure of a season if the Pies sit out September once again.

Essendon

Ins:

Matthew Leuenberger (Brisbane), Craig Bird (Sydney), Darcy Parish (2015 Draft: Pick 5), James Kelly, Matthew Stokes, Matt Dea, James Polkinghorne, Ryan Crowley, Jonathon Simpkin, Mark Jamar, Sam Grimley, Nathan Grima (Top up players)

Outs:

Jake Carlisle (St Kilda), Jonathan Giles (West Coast), Jake Melksham (Melbourne), Tom Bellchambers, Travis Colyer, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hibberd, Heath Hocking, Cale Hooker, Ben Howlett, Michael Hurley, David Myers, Tayte Pears, Brent Stanton, Jobe Watson (12 month ban)

Last year:

H/A – 15th Position (6 wins, 16 losses)

Best & Fairest – Cale Hooker

Leading goal scorer – Joe Daniher (34 goals)

Big Question:

Will Essendon be the first team in the AFL era to complete a winless season?

For – Essendon will be the first team in AFL history to go the season winless

Essendon’s 2016 season is in shambles before it even begins. The list has been gutted by the WADA ban, leaving Essendon with a bare-bones squad which will most likely struggle for form and consistency.

Forget inexperience in the midfield and gaping holes in the defensive line, Essendon’s greatest issue lies in their forward line. Last season the Bombers only managed an average of 72 points a game, its lowest points average since 1956. Upon entering the forward 50 they generated a score only 42% of the time, the worst in the AFL. Take away their elite ball users, such as Watson and Heppell, and scoring will become significantly harder. This year will be a true test for Joe Daniher, who will be asked to lead the forward line and handle the bulk of the scoring load.

The last team to go an entire season winless was Fitzroy in 1964. Worsfold has his work cut out to save the Bombers from entering the record books for all the wrong reasons.

Against – Essendon will find a way to avoid a winless season

Let’s put it in perspective, no team has gone winless for an entire season since Fitzroy in 1964. Even the 1996 Fitzroy side and the St Kilda and Melbourne of the late seventies, early eighties won at least one game. The reality is Essendon have a poor team this season but it is infallible to believe they will not win a game this season. Essendon supporters looking for inspiration can look no further than Melbourne in 2012. In the 2012, Melbourne lost the first nine games of the season by an average margin of 57 points. In round ten they upset Essendon, who had won eight of their first nine matches. If Essendon are going to win a game however they will be relying on Joe Daniher to perform. Daniher is the one threat in the Essendon attack but he will also need some assistance from the other big men. Sam Grimley has shown in the NAB Challenge he can take a strong mark but will need to improve his kicking.

It will be a difficult season for Essendon but expect them to win at least one game this season.

Fremantle

Ins:

Harley Bennell (Gold Coast)

Outs:

Ryan Crowley (delisted), Luke McPharlin (retired)

Last year:

H/A – 1st Position (17 wins, 5 losses) Finals – 3rd Position (1 win, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Aaron Sandilands

Leading goal scorer – Michael Walters (44 goals)

Big Question:

Can Fremantle taste the ultimate success with the defensive-minded Ross Lyon at the helm?

For – Ross Lyon can lead the Dockers to their first flag

Can defence win a Grand Final? Well, looking at the NFL it certainly can. The Denver Broncos won this year’s Super Bowl with the best defence in the competition, defeating the Carolina Panthers, who had the best offence. Ross Lyon will look at this and continue to have faith in his philosophy. Fremantle are a consistent side finishing in the top four for three consecutive years under Ross Lyon. In the 2013 Grand Final, inaccuracy prevented them from winning their maiden Premiership, but since then they have failed to reach the Grand Final. Last year saw a change in the Ross Lyon philosophy. For the first nine weeks when the Dockers were undefeated they averaged 94 points per game, the sixth highest in the competition at the time. As performances began to slide, the Dockers scoring reduced to end at an average of 84.4 a game. Though the Dockers attack varied, their defence remained resolute, having the second best defence in the competition (71.1 points against). Fremantle’s stingy defence allowed them to end the season on top of the ladder.

But will defence lead to a premiership for the Dockers? Of Course it can. The issue facing Fremantle is their inability to score from turnovers. Fremantle were 15th in the competition for scores from turnovers, averaging 44.1 points. If they can improve this area of their game and continue to defend well than they can win this year’s premiership.

Against – Fremantle will never be premiers under the defensive-minded Lyon

Ross Lyon is a historically stubborn coach. His philosophy is rooted in a defensive heavy game-plan, which has ultimately fallen short against the offensive powerhouses of the competition.

In his time at the helm of the Docker’s, Lyon has led Fremantle to twenty final appearances. His side has conceded 100 points only three out of the twenty finals, which is the perfect platform for September success. Unfortunately, in those twenty finals the Docker’s have only scored over 100 once. Lyon’s defensive game-plan may work throughout the home and away season, however when it comes to Grand Finals against powerhouses such as Hawthorn, the system crumbles.

If Fremantle is to win a flag under Lyon they must adopt a more aggressive, attacking game style. Scoring 85-90 points in a Grand Final against a Hawthorn style team just won’t hold up, no matter the defensive pressure. The clock is ticking for the Dockers, who enter the 2016 season as the oldest team in the AFL, and the pressure is squarely on Lyon’s shoulders.

Geelong

Ins:

Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide), Lachie Henderson (Carlton), Scott Selwood (West Coast), Zac Smith (Gold Coast)

Outs:

Dean Gore (Adelaide), Jarred Jansen (Brisbane), Dawson Simpson (GWS), Steve Johnson (GWS), Josh Walker (Brisbane), James Kelly (retired – Essendon), Jared Rivers (retired), Matthew Stokes (retired – Essendon)

Last year:

H/A – 10th Position (11 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Mark Blicavs

Leading goal scorer – Tom Hawkins (46 goals)

Big Question:

With their offseason recruits will Geelong bounce back into premiership contention, or are there unrealistic expectations on the 2016 Cats?

For – The expectation for the 2016 Cats is unrealistic  

In 2015 Geelong missed the finals for the first time since 2006, which would normally signal the beginning of a rebuild. However, the Cats have seemingly skipped the rebuild phase with numerous off-season acquisitions.

The additions of Dangerfield, Henderson and Zac Smith are undoubtedly great additions to any list, however it does not necessarily correlate with an immediate jump back up the ladder. Dangerfield will significantly assist Geelong in the critical clearance area, which they were league worst in 2015. However, as Hawthorn has showed it is team over individual that brings ultimate success, and Dangerfield will not be sole solution to Geelong’s issues.

Geelong will most likely rise up the ladder once again in 2016. They will most likely make finals and could possibly send a scare through the top four. However, there is more water that must go under the bridge before Geelong are true premiership contenders again. And not even Patrick Dangerfield can change that.

Against – The Cats will find themselves back in September action once again

2016 will be a year of change in the AFL. As the gap between teams continues to reduce, Geelong has done everything possible to return to finals action and emerge as a premiership contender. A ruthless trade period saw the Cats snare players who will automatically make the side better. Patrick Dangerfield is arguably the game’s best player and has already shown his value in the NAB Challenge. Lachie Henderson will be a handy acquisition to the Cats defence while Zac Smith is an upgrade on Dawson Simpson and Hamish McIntosh. Last season saw the end of the Cat’s era but allowed them to test some of their youth. Jackson Thurlow, Darcy Lang, Nakia Cockatoo, Jake Kolodjashnij and Cory Gregson showed they have potential to become top class, while Josh Caddy finally showed signs of being a star in the competition.

Apart from Hawthorn, who are in a league of their own, all teams bar last years bottom four have a chance of making the finals this year. If Geelong can manage to scrape in and potentially finish top four then they certainly can win this year’s premiership.

Gold Coast

Ins:

Daniel Currie (North Melbourne), Jarrad Grant (Western Bulldogs), Matt Rosa (West Coast), Callum Ah Chee (2015 Draft: Pick 8)

Outs:

Harley Bennell (Fremantle), Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide), Zac Smith (Geelong)

Last year:

H/A – 16th Position (4 wins, 17 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Tom Lynch

Leading goal scorer – Tom Lynch (43 goals)

Big Question:

Will the return of Ablett correlate with a rise up the ladder, or is it more of the same for Gold Coast in 2016?

For – Gold Coast will continue to struggle in season 2016

A horrendous year ended with a disappointing trade window, which saw the Suns lose Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon. Gold Coast have to start performing if they are going to have any significance in a market not accepting of sport teams. The Suns are in a rebuild, five season after they entered the competition. Rebuilding for a second time will not increase supporters expectations on an improved season. The list looks devoid of leadership, with Gary Ablett and Michael Rischitelli the only two leaders in the team. Nick Malceski has been a failure and seems to only care about his retirement fund.

The Suns season rests in the hands of the little master. Ablett must play an entire season if they are going to prevent finishing in the bottom four. The return of Ablett would also be a boost for players like Aaron Hall, Jack Martin, Touk Miller and Callum Ah Chee, who will feel a foot taller. Attacking wise, the Suns need to find an option outside of Tom Lynch. Sam Day has had numerous opportunities but has failed to impress.

If Ablett can play an entire season then the Suns may improve, but it appears difficult as the talent around him does not seem capable of improving.

Against – The return of Gaz will spark the Sun’s into action

The fate of Gold Coast season and future lies solely on one mans shoulders. Ablett is the life-blood of the Suns and history has shown that his performance directly correlates with the team’s performance.

Under Ablett is an elite crop of young talent, who with the correct leadership can blossom into excellent players. The likes of Lynch, Prestia, Saad, Hall, O’Meara and Kolodjashnij will carry this team for years to come, however much of their talent is being wasted sitting on the pine recovering from injury.

If Eade can get his best team on the park every week Gold Coast is a team to be feared. The Suns desperately need on-field, off-field leadership and a healthy Ablett to succeed, if they can achieve that the future is bright.

Greater Western Sydney

Ins:

Steve Johnson (Geelong), Dawson Simpson (Geelong), Jacob Hopper (2015 Draft: Pick 7)

Outs:

Tomas Bugg (Melbourne), Curtly Hampton (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (Carlton), Jacob Townsend (Richmond), Adam Treloar (Collingwood)

Last year:

H/A – 11th Position (11 wins, 11 losses)

Best & Fairest – Heath Shaw

Leading goal scorer – Jeremy Cameron (63 goals)

Big Question:

Will GWS make the finals in season 2016?

For – GWS will take a giant leap into September

The Giants are on track to beat the Suns to September, and with their developing list the Giants could become September regulars for years to come.

GWS has a list the envy of any team competition wide, a perfect mix of developing talent and mature elite players guiding the team forward. The Giants play an exciting brand of football and look to catch defensive units off-guard by lightning ball-movement up the ground.

The loss of Treloar will hurt the Giants, although there is ample young talent to replace his position. A more pressing issue for the Giants is the health of Shane Mumford, who has already seen an injury scare throughout the NAB Challenge. Mumford is undeniably the Giants most important player, as seen through his injury affected season last year. The Giants won 7 of the 11 games Mumford played last year and only 4 out of 11 without him. He is a vital cog in their team and must stay fit to see the Giants playing in September.

If injuries go the Giants way, and Stevie J can co-exist with Jeremy Cameron and the Giants forward line, then GWS are on the way to their first finals appearance.

Against – Still not ready to play finals

GWS will push to make their first finals series this season. After a 7-3 start to the season, the Giants won only four games for the season. The drop in form occurred at the same time Shane Mumford injured himself. No matter how many star midfielders the Giants have their most important player is Mumford. The Giant ruckman is a leader who controls the game but can he stay fit is the question. Any other year and the Giants would probably play finals. But this year with the competition so even, a single slip up could cost a team a top eight finish.

The Giants midfield is strong but they will miss the class of Adam Treloar. On paper a stockpile of tall forwards looks impressive, but the questions still hover over Jonathon Patton’s ability to stay fit, while Cam McCarthy may not play this year and Jeremy Cameron is suspended for the first four games of the season.

Down back is where the Giants look vulnerable. Phil Davis has had a horror run with injuries and Joel Patfull will be 32 later this year.

The Giants will make the finals in the coming years but don’t expect them to make it this year.

Written by Daniel Freeman and Christopher Chrysostomou

Richmond: What needs to be done to win that elusive final?

Richmond supporters I am sorry to say, but it is time to face reality. Your side will never be considered a premiership contender unless they can finally win a final.

For three years the Tigers have been successful during the home and away season, but have exited the finals early.

2013 was an utter disaster, a game, which Richmond should have won by 10 goals, while in 2014; Richmond never had a chance against a rampant Port Adelaide.

This year was different for Richmond. Supporters may blame the umpire for an incorrect decision, but in reality Richmond were the second best side for the entire game.

26 shots on goal to 17, signals the dominance of the North Melbourne side, who only allowed Richmond to stay in the game due to inaccuracy in front of goal.

So after three years of improvement, Richmond is still searching for finals success.

It isn’t difficult to see the areas where Richmond needs improvement. However, to achieve the pinnacle in the AFL, Richmond needs to act now and start fixing the problems.

The Attack

Coaches love to talk about defending and how keeping the opposition under a certain amount of points will see their side win. But it doesn’t matter how many points the opposition scores if your can score more.

Looking at the last 15 AFL premiers, all teams bar Sydney and West Coast during 2005 and 2006 had a side capable of scoring more than 100 points.

Coaches are so fond of Ross Lyon and his defensive game plan that they fail to realise his style does not win premiership.

This year, Richmond had an outstanding defence, conceding a mere 73 points per game.

Richmond’s attack didn’t prove to be as triumphant, with the Tigers failing to kick more than 10 goals in 11 games.

With this in mind it was surprising Hardwick decided to drop Ben Lennon and Sam Lloyd for the elimination final.

Both players were in good form and had more game time than injury plagued Ben Griffiths and Reece Conca.

Hardwick seems to under appreciate forwards. Looking at the Richmond side it is difficult to determine who would be playing in the forward 50, apart from Jack Riewoldt, Tyrone Vickery and possibility Ben Griffiths.

The experiment of playing Steve Morris in attack this year further fuels speculation Hardwick is not a fan of forwards.

Jeff Gartlett was on the trade table last year and could have been valuable for the Tigers.

This year, Steve Johnson is available and would be ideal as a player-coach at Tigerland.

The Ruck

There is not a single person in Australia who does not like ‘Big Ivan’ Maric. The charismatic mullet is a fan favourite, as too his determination and grit.

But after years of playing as the single ruckman, it seems his body is starting to wear out.

Maric needs a partner in the ruck and no we are not talking about Shaun Hampson.

He needs a ruck partner who is versatile and play as a forward and a ruckman.

Matthew Kreuzer would be an exceptional pickup for Richmond. He is a good tap ruckman and can play forward.

What lets him down is the risk of injury and his salary.

Carlton would not allow him to leave for anything less than $500,000, which is somewhat of a risk for clubs as it is yet to be determined if he can play a full season.

Zac Smith is another option that has been hampered by injury. Before his knee injury, Smith was considered one of the most talented young ruckman in the game.

Since then, he has struggled to cement a place in the Gold Coast side.

The Midfield

The Richmond midfield is full of star names. Cotchin, Deledio, Martin, Miles, Edwards and Ellis all run through the midfield.

However, when one has a bad game or is out injured, it heavily affects the other members. Richmond need another A grade midfielder to complement their existing stars.

Adam Treloar and Patrick Dangerfield would be ideal but it is impossible to see them land at Richmond.

Jaeger O’Meara is one out of left field. He is out of contract next year and there are reports he could seek a move away of the Gold Coast.

The problem with him is he is returning from a knee injury and may need to be assessed before a club tries to lure him.

Harley Bennell and James Aish seem like realistic options for the Tigers. Bennell is an exceptional talent, with off-field issues.

But in the right kind of environment, he could play his best football and set the AFL alight.

James Aish’s first season in football was very good.

But this year, with talk of his exit from Brisbane, he has struggled to return to his previous form.

A fresh start could see him return to his best and compliment a star-studded midfield.

The Defence

This is one area of the field where the Tigers excel. The defence has been resilient all year and with the likes of Alex Rance, it is not hard to understand why.

The one area of the defence that can be improved is the running halfback position.

Bachar Houli will always be, at best a B grade player.

There is no sugar coating the fact that Houli cost Richmond a chance of finishing in the top four.

When he is playing well, Richmond tends to win, but when he has a bad game, Richmond tend to lose.

Houli is not a player who will lead Richmond to a premiership.

Chris Yarran seems likely to end up at Richmond and will be a better option off halfback.

Leadership

The elimination final proved to everyone that Richmond has very little on-field leadership. Trent Cotchin, Brett Deledio and Troy Chaplin, are three leaders who saved there worst game of the year for the elimination final.

Cotchin is a quiet leader, not one who would voice his disapproval of teammates and stand up when his side needs him most.

But with very little leadership at the club, it is difficult to find a suitable replacement.

The Coach 

Damien Hardwick is a good coach with very little support around him. At a club with better assistant coaches, there is not doubt he would be considered one of the best coaches in the game.

Brendon Lade was brought into the club when Hardwick took over at the end of 2009, with no previous coaching experience. Since than he has become one of the senior assistants, but does not look likely of being offered a senior position any time soon.

Sir Alex Ferguson has always said fresh voices rejuvenate a side.

Maybe it is time for Richmond and Damien Hardwick to find some new fresh-faced assistants who can provide a new voice for the playing list.

 

 

Five players under pressure in 2016

The 2016 AFL season is drawing near and like all seasons, supporters will be setting benchmarks for clubs and players. Each season, new players come under scrutiny and for 2016, I look at the five players who will be under most pressure to perform. Some may be obvious selections, while others may surprise.

Trent Cotchin

Is there a player in the AFL under more pressure to perform in 2016 than Trent Cotchin?

The Richmond captain once again failed to perform in an Elimination final, collecting a lowly nine disposals in the Tigers 17-point loss to North Melbourne, leaving many supporters and critics to question his leadership.

Since becoming captain in 2013,Cotchin has been unable to return to his form in 2012, when he averaged 28 disposals a game, kicked 21 goals and finished equal runner up in the Brownlow medal (Note: Cotchin may claim the 2012 Brownlow medal with Sam Mitchell if Jobe Watson is stripped of the award).

2016 is a massive year for the Tigers, who must end their finals hoodoo and Cotchin must lead from the front if this is to be the year of the Tiger.

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Harley Bennell

2015 was a write-off for Bennell, with off-field indiscretions hampering his on-field performances.

Bennell was booted out of the Gold Coast and has returned to his home state after a failed bid to get a trade to Richmond.

On form, Bennell is one of the most electrifying players in the competition but with off-field issues hampering his career, Bennell could become a waisted talent.

The leadership of Ross Lyon, David Mundy and Matthew Pavlich should set Bennell on a straight path, but with lures of temptation from returning home anything could happen.

 

harley-bennel

Travis Cloke

2016 has not got off to the best of starts for Cloke, with a nude photo scandal coinciding with his axing from the Collingwood leadership group.

Cloke is a dinosaur in the modern game, as his brute force and immobility is well suited for years past.

Cloke had a disappointing 2015, kicking a mere 39 goals, making it two straight years where he has not past the 50 goal barrier.

For a player earning $900,000 a year, Cloke should be kicking over 50 goals a year, considering Collingwood do not have numerous avenues to goal.

With Darcy Moore waiting in the wings, Cloke must step up or face the axe from the Magpies.

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Charlie Dixon

Being touted as the man to take Port Adelaide to the next level, Dixon is expected to have a big season.

Last year was Dixon’s best in the AFL, as he played 16 games and kicked 41 goals.

When at his best, Dixon is unstoppable but the inconsistency to play week in week out is a frustration. Dixon has already had surgery on his knee during the off-season and will see him miss 4-6 weeks of valuable training.

Port Adelaide and Dixon will be hoping this is not a precursor for the rest of the season.

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Brad Crouch 

The loss of Patrick Dangerfield to Geelong has seen Adelaide search in club for a replacement.

Brad Crouch missed the entire 2015 season due to injury but will be striving to fill the void in the Adelaide midfield.

With only 25 games to his name, pressure is high on Crouch, due to his reputation as a junior and stellar first season in the AFL.

In-club, there is little pressure on Crouch, with the Crows happy to be patient with the youngster, but for Crows supporters, they will be anticipating a big season for the promising youngster.

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Radical rule changes on horizon for AFL?

Round 16 provided us with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, culminating in the “worst game of the season” followed by arguably the best showdown of all time.

Aesthetically the pair couldn’t have been more distant, you would have forgiven a foreigner for thinking they were different sports all together. Yet surprisingly the numbers suggest otherwise.

The “state of the game” has been the buzz topic in recent weeks, with experts claiming the game must embrace rule changes, such as zones or interchange cuts, in order to clear congestion around the ball and ultimately lead to free flowing, exciting football.

However as these two stark contests prove, a knee-jerk rule change is unlikely to single handedly fix the complex issue of congestion and low scoring.

The average number of stoppages per game has been rapidly rising for years now, with an average of nearly 75 per game this season, which is a jump of roughly 28 extra stoppages per game in the last decade.

This rapid rise has ex-players and experts up in arms, with many believing that lowering stoppage numbers will directly correlate with a reduction in congestion and the return of exhilarating footy, such as the kind seen throughout Showdown 39.

The exciting Showdown finished with 77 stoppages. That’s two stoppages over the seasons already extremely high average. The Brisbane-Melbourne clash, or as alluded to the “worst game of the season” finished with only 5 more stoppages, 82.

Those stoppage numbers don’t include centre bounces, so the Showdowns stoppage figures aren’t unfairly skewed by the avalanche of goals scored and corresponding centre bounces.

Yet somehow the aggregate score in the Showdown was 229 points, with Ports score the highest of a losing team since 2013.

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Melbourne and Brisbane managed just 96 points between them. After half time Melbourne managed one goal for the rest of the entire game. Brisbane managed just the three after the half.

Put simply if Adelaide had of taken on Brisbane rather than Port and only been allowed to play for the first quarter, they still would have beaten Brisbane by one point.

Another key argument is that skills have significantly regressed over the years, which is resulting in poor fundamental skill execution and a tendency to avoid the corridor and use the “safer option” of the wings.

The disposal efficiency in the Showdown was at 71.3%. The “worst game of the season” featured a disposal efficiency of 72.3%. That stat alone somewhat defies logic, but the numbers don’t lie.

The disposal efficiency average this season is 72.5%, with the Hawks the clear benchmark with 75.1%. A decade ago, in the Eagles and Swans era, the average disposal efficiency was 77.8%.

So in ten years we have seen a decline of disposal efficiency by 5%. While this is slightly concerning, its understandable considering in the same decade we have seen an increase on average of 24 more tackles or pressure acts per game.

One fact that even the experts can’t deny is that tackle pressure and defensive sets are as intense as ever. Finding space and time for a clear and directed disposal is extremely difficult, which is leading to teams using the safety of the wings.

While there is less chance of a costly turnover playing wide, there is also significantly less chance of opening up opposition defenses. The slow kick-mark approach allows teams to set up behind the ball and flood their defensive fifty.

The likes of Dustin Martin and Cyril Rioli in a one-on-one contest in the forward fifty is the stuff of nightmares for opposition coaches. However too many teams forgo their opportunity of an open forward line, by going wide and allowing the opposition to set-up.

What these numbers prove is that solving the issue of congestion and low scoring is no simple matter. There is no perfect solution, no quick-fix rule change.

Exciting, fast paced and high scoring footy cannot be manufactured, that’s simply not how sport works. It’s the intangibles of the occasion, the atmosphere and contest that create great games such as Showdown 39.

Unfortunately, these great games have been few and far between this season. Its an issue that must be addressed, however as the numbers prove its unlikely that a radical rule change will be the games saving grace.

The influence of Tommy

Tommy Hafey is a legend of Australian Sport and over the years has influenced hundreds of VFL/AFL players as well as thousands of Australians due to his motivational speeches.

When Hafey lost his battle to cancer in 2014, we lost an icon who will always be remembered for his fitness and positive outlook on life, while former players and friends, including Kevin Bartlett and Kevin Sheedy lost a mentor and a father figure.

At the beginning of the 2015 AFL season, I came up with the idea of trying to link every 2015 senior AFL coach to Tommy Hafey.

The objective had to follow the guidelines that the coaches had to either have played under Hafey, or worked with past coaches who had a connection with Hafey.

My findings show that every senior coach can be traced back to the influence of Hafey and this is displayed in the diagram below.

With this broad influence it can be assumed Hafey’s influence will last as long as the great game of Aussie Rules.

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Spooners to premiers within a month

If you ask a person if there has ever been a team to finish last and win the premiership in the same season, they will most likely laugh at you, not realising that the extraordinary feat occurred in the 1916 VFL season.

In the midst of the First World War, Fitzroy achieved the unthinkable by finishing last and winning the Grand Final.

Debate raged in Victoria as to whether football should be played during a time of crisis, with advocates of a ban to football arguing that men deemed fit to play sport should be on the battle front defending their country.

But despite the outrage of the public and the fury of five VFL teams, the Victorian Football League board decided to go ahead with the season. VFL President O.M Williams quoted by The Argus as saying; “Personally I can see no objection to carry on football unless we are to give up every form of recreation.”

Essendon, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda refused to compete, leaving Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond as the competing teams. Each team would play each other four times over a 12-week season and all four teams would qualify for the finals.

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Jack Cooper

Fitzroy list was decimated by the war and were forced to field 11 debutants during the season. One of the players shipped off to war was Jack Cooper, a two-time Best and Fairest winner, who was enlisted by his teammates.

As a sending off gesture, Fitzroy presented Cooper with a gold mountain fountain pen and a shaving kit.

Despite losing key members of the team, Fitzroy began the season with consecutive wins over Carlton and Richmond.

Sitting on top of the ladder, The Maroons season took a turn for the worst in round 3, when they could only manage a draw against Collingwood.

The draw was further soured by the immediate retirement of club great Harold ‘Lal’ McLennan. At 28 years of age, McLennan was forced to end his 134 game career due to persistent back pains. A centre-man with limitless determination and dash, McLennan would later become Fitzroy’s president and devout 70 years of service to the club.

Fitzroy endured a nine game losing streak to end the season as wooden spooners, while Carlton would only lose two games for the entire season and finish on top of the ladder heading into the finals.

In the first week of the finals, Fitzroy took on Collingwood and won by a goal to book a place in the Grand Final against Carlton.

The Grand Final saw Fitzroy comfortably defeat Carlton by 23 points. But by finishing on top of the ladder, Carlton could challenge the result and play a rematch the following week.

With star forward Jimmy Freake injured, Harold McLennan was coaxed out of retirement for the Grand Final.

The moved proved pivotal as McLennan starred and helped Fitzroy cruise to a 29-point victory, completing football’s most unlikely premiership victory.