SO much prediction and banter goes on in March, a lot of it hot-air to be honest. It’s either totally predictable, soft or unintelligent.

This column promises to tell it how it is and not waste your time with another spiel that the Bulldogs will win the flag again, Dangerfield will go back-to-back, and that it’ll be basically the same top eight as last year. Because of course everyone tipped the Doggies this time last year, didn’t they?

See at the bottom my predictions for the year.

1.    The big fiasco of the week was Tony Sheahan, son of Mick, filming Sam Newman interviewing Mick Gatto. First and foremost, Sheahan did the right thing to film it, he is a journalist, he is obliged by his craft. Secondly, if the Footy Show wants to film an exclusive interview, don’t do it in a populated, public place like a restaurant. However, Sheahan should have done better to either speak to Gatto or Channel Nine once he finished filming on his phone, which he failed to do.

2.    Luke Hodge, the four-time premiership player and two-time Norm Smith medallist, legend of the Hawthorn footy club, club-suspended for Round One, it’s a big story. Why? Well he had three to four days off, agreed leave, to go ‘large’ for his brother’s 21st birthday. Let’s just say Luke enjoyed himself far too much for a professional in March, so much so punishment was unavoidable; he went properly ‘large’.

3.    Sure, it was published that the Hawks’ leadership group made the call but don’t for a second think Alistair Clarkson either had no say in the disciplinary action nor was engaged to validate the thoughts of said leaders. No chance.

4.    The Footy Show is having a shocker in the ratings. Last week they debuted with 199,000 viewers in Melbourne, last night that dropped to 174,000. The footy being back next week should help, but this show once was a primetime juggernaut. It’s just a case of what kind of improvement the show will now need in order to avoid the ever-so-ruthless network executive axe, it’s looking awful.

5.    SEN poured a tonne of cash into its new breakfast show of Garry Lyon, Tim Watson and Hamish McLachlan however the first survey book of the year was horrid. Although Triple M’s Hot Breakfast took a few years and a number of talent changes before it went from cellar-dweller to No.1 in Melbourne so it might be a case of patience and time before we judge the SEN boys based on the ratings.

6.    Essendon in 2017, very hard to judge given the interruptions of the last few years. However, 2014, the last somewhat unaffected year, they finished in the eight. 2015 they had the rollercoaster ride of being suspended all summer, being cleared prior to Round One and then the CAS appeal mid-year, then last year we all know they had the suspensions kick in. If we rate their 2014 performance, there’s a really good 2017 in the Bombers this year, every chance.

7.    Further to aid their rise up the ladder, the Dons have a reasonably soft draw: five finalists in the twelve games before the bye, and they double up against only one finalist in Adelaide. 

8.    Travis Cloke had an “ok” JLT Community Series and will be an interesting watch over the start of the season. The Dogs’ committed to Cloke well before the finals series but ultimately after their success in September they wanted to change their mind, no surprises there. Ultimately they followed through on their commitment through good faith, a more merciless club would have made a different call.

9.    The Pies have a problem with Daniel Wells – if he plays more than half the games this year they have done well. He didn’t start the pre-season well and even with a modified program he will miss Round One – not good at all.

10. Melbourne will start the season without a major sponsor. They’re doing better on-field and Paul Roos has been good for them, but the off-field smell still lingers. They never pull the greatest crowds, their membership remains a bit soft and in terms of attracting a back-of-jumper sponsor, surely a club called “Melbourne” could do better.

11. This will be messy right the way through, but it seems much to the annoyance of David Koch and his beloved Port Adelaide, the Gold Coast Suns will be sporting red and yellow in their clash in China later in the year, the Power don’t seem to have an out at all anymore.

12. The Giants have a tough draw this year, their success last year dictating that somewhat, but the first half of the year is actually quite good, so whilst they might get chased down by Round 23, expect the GWS to be ‘games’ clear by the bye rounds.

13. At the same time, North Melbourne will have a horrid start to the year, every chance they’ll be in the bottom four by the bye rounds with work to do to ‘salvage’ anything out of their season.

14. Ken Hinkley is a coach in the spotlight and their start to the season doesn’t help him either, Sydney in Sydney, Adelaide and GWS in the first month, they could be cooked by the end of April.

15. But it’s at Punt Road where the coach is under the most pressure. Damien Hardwick has a very nice first start to the season, playing only one 2016 finalist in the first five weeks. Any bad losses there and the media coverage will be ugly.

16. Max Gawn looks to be in for a big year as the game’s premier ruckman, buoyed by the change to the third man up rule. However, look for Brodie Grundy to be up there for All-Australian squad selection as well. The Pie in the second-half of last year, in a poor side, averaged over 20 disposals, five marks and 30 hitouts a game.

17. Nick Riewoldt looks destined to have a Matthew Richardson-esque, career-twilight, gem of a year on the wing. Get your Brownlow value now while you can, perhaps not to take Charlie out, but in your exotics certainly.

18. The big noise is on St Kilda and Melbourne to take the leap this year into the eight. The Saints, perhaps, as for Melbourne, it’ll be another year for the Dees. They’ll show flashes again this year but their inconsistency and inexperience will hold them back for another 12 months.

19. The Hawks should be up there again this year but unlike at any time since their 2008 flag, winning enough games for top four will rely on too few and they’re every chance of facing an Elimination Final at best in the first week. Those ‘too few’ are very good, but other teams will be able to expose their lesser types far more than ever before.

20. The team that will improve the most this year will be Fremantle. Let’s not forget that once they suffered a few upset losses very early in the season they effectively chucked in the towel – their record indicates they were a far worse team than what they actually were. With 12 games still in Perth and with an easier draw for finishing lowly last year, the Ross-Lyon coached team should rebound strongly. Top eight-strongly? Let’s go with ‘only just’.

TOP 8: SYDNEY, GWS, WEST COAST, WESTERN BULLDOGS, ADELAIDE, HAWTHORN, ST KILDA, FREMANTLE

GRAND FINAL: GWS defeatsWest Coast

WOODEN SPOON: Brisbane Lions

BROWNLOW: Daniel Hannebery (Sydney)

RISING STAR: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)

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