Although I tend to stick away from gratuitous prediction posts about sport on this page, I thought I would chuck it up anyway for those who are unaware of the sport and its happenings to gawk at the ridiculous terminology that I drop and for those fans who actually want to view how the sport operates. I have posted a 6 part series to sportsmash.com.au that is slowly being revealed but I thought I would release it to a select audience on Trifles and Tidbits: A blog about stuff that people talk about, first up. Enjoy.
2015 predictions: Part I – the top 4.
It is that time of year. The moment where all the armchair experts come out of their long offseason of sitting on the beach wallowing in their dramatic increase in free time, laying huge, unsuccessful bets on the Spring Carnival and generally sniping Shane Watson for being a mediocre number three and an average bloke, to dissect the coming AFL season. The pointless articles written by bored journalists that pump up every team in the AFL after ‘the best preseason of their lives’ start cropping up which inevitably leaves most footy fans frothing at the idea of an actual game of footy being played. So what better way to mark the coming season than by making predictions that you will look back on in 6 months time and laugh at your horribly misguided judgment?
This year, in a similar vein to the previous couple, we are met with the arduous task of slotting 5 teams into the 8, along with the obvious predictions of Port, Hawthorn and Sydney up the top. The reason I have listed these three as locks is that they appear to have limitless depth. You only have to look at Hawthorn’s atrocious run with injury last year and how, beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, weathered it without any sign of trouble. Whether they can manage to squeeze another year of brilliance out of Hodge, Mitchell and Lewis is another matter entirely. Sydney will be hungry for redemption from their horror Grand Final day. They had an incredible season last year excluding their rusty opening month and that one day in September that saw them trounced by a truly exceptional football side. They’re too talented to drop off. Port Adelaide, my prediction for the minor premiership (they’ve won a few in their time so this is no guarantee for further success), has added Patrick Ryder to a list teeming with talent. Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard are two of the most freakishly talented players in the competition. Add that to a strong spine of Carlisle, Trengrove, Lobbe, Westhoff and Schulz and you’ve got the core of a very solid football side. Mix in a terrific midfield and the unpredictable quantities of Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard and the pint-sized Jake Neade and you have a side that is capable of top 4 and then some.
Fourth spot is an absolute gamble this season. Can Fremantle manage to squeeze out another year from its ageing core of Luke McPharlin, Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands? I’m unconvinced. I am unsure where their goals are going to come from. Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne are terrific small forwards, but where is the second tall? The Kangaroos will be a threat once more but bridging the gap from a finals participant (albeit one who made a preliminary final) to that of a genuine contender is hard work. Their reliance on Petrie and Harvey is still huge, particularly when reviewing their thrilling win over Essendon in the Qualifying Final. The jury is still JUST out.
Then there is the perennial presence of the Geelong Cats. After finishing an unconvincing fourth after the regular season and bowing out in straight sets, Geelong has been big movers in the off-season. Mitch Clark is a massive inclusion for the inconsistent Travis Varcoe, and will allow Hawkins some breathing space. Whether he can stay on the field is crucial. Their hopes rest on two factors. The continued development of Smedts, Guthrie, Caddy, Lang and Hartman. They desperately need to reduce their reliance on their profusely talented captain. Just as important is the requirement for Bartel, Kelly and Johnson to evolve into Geelong’s version of Mitchell, Hodge and Lewis. If they thrive, Geelong finishes top 4. They wilt, and Geelong face the uncertainty of the mid table abyss.
2015 Predictions: Part II
This is where it gets really tough. It is all well and good to be throwing around your supreme Hawthorns and your surging Port Adelaides, but when you get to that 5 to 9 vicinity, things get sticky. There is a change that occurs every year that forces us to reevaluate, but all in all, you could argue that historically there is rarely a year of radical change in the make up of the ladder. I’d consider radical change to be that of Hawthorn missing the finals in 2009 after winning the 2008 premiership, not Gold Coast making their first finals series in 2015 (which I believe will happen, although Bluey McKenna’s sacking still bothers me). In saying that, the magnanimous Kendrick Lamar once stated ‘we live in a world on two different axles’. Perhaps in the light of the shocking reduction in MCG food prices, we are due for one of those revolutionary football seasons. Perhaps we are also due for a cut in beer prices too, Gillon.
Anyway, as we covered in Part I of my mindless predictions, the Kangaroos and Fremantle are still in my calculations for finals football. The ‘Roos have a burgeoning list, and what really impressed me last season was their ability to run and carry the ball and a more nuanced approach to the defensive side of their game. Todd Goldstein was outstanding in their Semi Final victory over Geelong and he provides a firm launching pad for their impressive midfield that won’t be hurt too much by the loss of B Grade midfielder Levi Greenwood. Side note: Whilst not a star, Greenwood will be a solid addition to Collingwood’s youthful squad. Aaron Black needs to pull his finger out for them to figure in top 4 calculations. What may stimulate Black into bigger things is the fact that big dopey Jarrad Waite is sniffing for a position. Black simply doesn’t do enough for a man of his immense structure. The other question for me is can they keep Robbie Tarrant and Jack Ziebell on the park for sustained periods of time? With the addition of Shaun Higgins, the Roos have numerous X-factors who can turn games. Ziebell is the most important one. Just look back to his four-goal haul against the Crows in Round 22 for an example of this.
I’ve spoken about Fremantle’s deficiencies already. They rely heavily on old men (apologies Matthew, Aaron and Luke, I’m talking in football years here) in their spine and hurts their premiership prospects. Their midfield is too good to see them drop out of the 8 but I simply don’t believe they will be a major threat to the top 3. Hayden Crozier has arrived and is built in the Chad Wingard mold, however despite the quality of their small forwards, I’m not sold on the depth of Fremantle’s KPPs. Someone needs to give Pav a chop out. Is former rookie Matt Tabener the man? Huge pressure on his shoulders. They’ll slip to 7th.
This brings us to the Suns. Although the encounter was held in an area that should never host a game in spring, let alone the end of summer, the Suns were particularly impressive against Geelong. Tom Lynch is ready to explode, O’Meara, Prestia and Bennell have come of age and most importantly, Ablett is apparently fit and I’d be getting down to the TAB to chuck a pineapple on another Charlie being placed over his beautiful, bald head at the end of the season. The major off-season acquisition of Nick Malceski is massive. He is a calm, even-tempered defender in his prime, something every club could use. This is the year the Suns will shout out their intentions and Eddie McGuire will respond with a furious call of ‘too many concessions!’ 6th spot.
Ladder thus far:
2015 Predictions – Part III
8th place. You’ve been invited to the picnic, but you’re really just there to keep the ants off the rug. There will be no Camembert and Pimms for you. Do you guys remember the time the Tiges won 10 in a row only to be swallowed up and spat out at Adelaide Oval? Well, seeing as no Tigers fan will ever talk about the time they sat on a bus for 9 hours to witness that tripe, I may as well remind you that it was not pretty.
Essendon are a very talented football side. Dyson Heppell is one of the best players in the competition and he will put paid to any doubters this season. However, I’m hugely concerned about the fact that they have already experienced so much angst and worry, in addition to the likelihood of potentially lengthy bans approaching, and the season hasn’t even started. If they have to play with a bunch of recyclables, they will seriously struggle. For that reason, I have placed them in 11th place. I don’t doubt that they have the ability to play finals football; I am more in the boat of placing an asterix next to their name. That, and they lost Paddy Ryder who is one of the most underrated players in our game today.
So who will come 8th? There are three other teams I considered heavily for the final position. Collingwood, West Coast and Richmond. Richmond confuse me. I personally view Richmond as one of several sides I hold a soft spot for. However, they frustrate me to the point of breaking my coffee table and I don’t even barrack for them. They break down too often during games, losing concentration or taking the foot off the pedal. When they are going, it is exhilarating. Houli rebounding, Martin palming off competent tacklers and Riewoldt taking on the world. But when they are off, they are seriously off. I don’t think they have nearly enough depth to be a strong contender. Conca, Vlaustin and even Taylor Hunt need to rise to the level of Miles and Brandon Ellis for them to play finals footy again. 10th.
Where, oh where, do we place Collingwood? They were unfairly criticised last year in the wake of a huge injury toll, an embattled coach and a bored former superstar. Buckley is the right man for the job, but their list needs time. Nathan Freeman is a hugely exciting prospect, along with Jordan De Gooey who appears to be Beams’ heir apparent. On Beams, Collingwood are now an elite midfielder less but I don’t think he is irreplaceable. I’d like to see Elliot go through the midfield more, and Varcoe playing the role that made hi m such a threat at Geelong as an attacking swing man. However, truth told, if Swan is playing as well as they say he is, their base midfield of Sidebottom, Pendelbury and Swan could be looking a whole lot juicier.
I really like West Coast this year. However, in saying that, Eric Mackenzie and Beau Waters are major losses. It has completely changed my thinking in where to place them. I still believe they have a quality young side with a strong forward line, although Darling hasn’t been training at full capacity, yet the importance of Mackenzie was underrated last year and 2013. He was enormous at full back. Mitch Brown has to step up and be their number one defender. Andrew Gaff may join Priddis in the midfield elite this season, but can Naitanui do it in the ruck on a weekly basis? MacKenzie’s loss is too big to ignore. 9th.
2015 ladder (pending Essendon bans)