2018. Richmond are reigning premiers. The Bulldogs are no longer reigning premiers.
What a bizarre collection of twelve words you would have never thought possible.
Who would be so brave to think we can’t have another drought broken, an expansion side’s first, or perhaps another fairy-tale for a side coming from outside the eight to be a flag contender within a year?
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The same coaches under the pump this time last year are still under the pump, messer Hardiwck aside. Umpiring will be umpiring, the MRP will be the MRP, and congestion will no doubt come up before Easter.
Strap yourselves in, another six months of that all too familiar love-hate insomnia kicks off once again.
1. Where to start? Well James Hird coming back to footy is an interesting one. Sure he had some failures as a senior coach, some bigger than others, but no-one can question that he would be astute in the right position. But the idea that it would be controversial, that it needs AFL approval, that its bad PR, please! If the United States is ok with JAL flying direct from Tokyo to Honolulu given that flight path’s history, we can be ok with James Hird back in football I think.
2. The big story of the year, the re-emergence of Fremantle for mine. They can get at least nine wins at their new Optus Stadium, two of which will be in Derbies. They finished first after the home and away as soon as two years ago, yes the wheels fall off soon thereafter, but with a fit superstar captain, a forward line of McCarthy, Walters, Ballantyne, Bennell, Matera, a backline of Johnson, Hamling, Pearce, Wilson, Spurr, Sandilands down to Fyfe, Neale, Mundy, the Hill brothers, plus superstar kids Blakely, Logue, Brayshaw and Cerra, finals are certainly doable and with an ounce of luck a top four show. Wilson will prove to be a great get and don’t forget, Ross Lyon can definitely coach a top four team.
3. Essendon and Port Adelaide are the off-season big spenders, bringing in a plethora of mature aged recruits. For the Bombers, it will help, they are still on the rise, but it’s not flag material just yet. For Port, as I’ll touch on shortly, they will go up, they should have won a final last year and then been in a position to have a crack at GWS for a spot in a Prelim, they are going to be dangerous.
4. The Cats though, got the Son of God back, but what does it do for them? Not tonnes. Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood will win them many games, but they can’t all have 35 and kick 3, the backline needs a chiro, the forward line has a 1990s full forward stuck in a 2018 team, too many question marks. If they didn’t have Danger, it’s a bottom ten team.
5. The new Optus Stadium looks an absolute treat. But alas, all the fixtures this year are either afternoon or twilight, we won’t get the spectacle of a big night game, why, because it would be too late into Melbourne. We can stay up past 10pm on a Saturday if it means Perth gets a big evening game, surely?
6. How’s bout The Footy Show? Oh dear. As popular as Barnaby Joyce at a family values workshop, or an office singles mixer, or a Mardi Gras party.
7. Tom Lynch, my pick, he heads to Collingwood. Not a biased view, but would you be content to put your only key forward talent down back in 2018, leaving an injury-prone All-Australian CHB and an American experiment as your only inside 50 targets if you had confidence in securing one of the best tall forwards in the game for 2019? Yes. The Pies have massive cap room, Pendlebury, Treloar and Sidebottom are all on less than market value, they stop paying Heath Shaw this year as well.
8. Robbo watch, his Top 50, Daniher at 8, Kennedy at 10, have there been too many Melbourne Bitters for Robbo over Summer? Here we go again, another six months of sloppiness?
9. He had Dangerfield at one, Martin at two. Who he had at three will handsomely be on top by year’s end – Fyfe is the best when fit.
10. Carlton play finals in 2019 – Cripps, Curnow, Dow, O’Brien, Petrevski-Seton, McKay, Garlett, Marchbank, Weitering, Pickett – we believe Bolton can coach, so 2019, September, Carlton, bank it.
11. Lance Franklin will surpass 900 goals this year, age 31. Dunstall did the same thing as a 30 year old, finished with 1254, third all time. Buddy is a Hall of Fame Legend lock, arguably the best many of us will ever see.
12. Can’t have State of Origin, can’t save Tasmanian football, but we can junket International Rules to the New York Red Bulls stadium sometime in late Spring? AFL against Gaelic in a sport neither plays in the backwaters of New Jersey – if Trump was AFL CEO then that sounds like something he would do. Pull your head in Gil!
13. Melbourne and St Kilda. Should both play finals. But are either Goodwin or Richardson the next Clarkson and able to take a team the whole way? Not yet convinced. Watch Ross Lyon and the Dockers scoot past one, maybe both.
14. Giants are the big ticket this year and this columns likens their plight to the familiar children’s fable Goldilocks. The eighteenth side is kinda like the Three Bears’ porridge, 2016 was too hot, 2017 was too cold, 2018 will be just right.
15. Where are Hawthorn this year? O’Meara hurts opposition when he isn’t hurt himself, Mitchell doesn’t really hurt for the amount of pill he accumulates, how many other real weapons do they have? Lucky they have Clarko, that will probably account for half their wins alone.
16. Aside from Hawthorn’s third flag, most premiers are boosted by getting off to great starts. The fixture heavily influences that. It’s what quells Collingwood’s overdue rise back up the ladder, they’ll be lucky to be 3-3 at best, but Port should be at worst 5-2 going into the Round 8 Showdown with the Suns in China to follow. Get on.
17. Another one on the AFL… why are we playing the AFLW Grand Final squeezed into a lunchtime in the middle of Round One when had they moved their season one week earlier the pinnacle match could have had a clear weekend from the men’s game, all to themselves? One thing to make a dumb decision but especially at the expense of an outstanding alternative?
18. Brownlow pick? Well it has to be Fyfe. If you want a smokey, Matt Crouch at $34 provides lovely value.
19. Rising Star? Andrew Brayshaw ($15) from Paddy Dow ($9) in a close one-two finish. Some value would be Sam Murray ($21) at Collingwood, should play 22 games and will average 20 touches a week.
20. And the final eight, here’s what we’ve settled on: GWS, Adelaide, Richmond, Port Adelaide, Fremantle, Essendon, Sydney, Geelong