With the season only a few days away, it’s time to turn our attention to the ladder. 2016 looms as one of the tightest season in recent memory so here is Laurence Rosen’s take. Agree? Disagree? Want to ask a question? Feel free to comment below.
Injuries to Jarryd Roughead and Liam Shiels will make their start to the season tricker than usual but a combination of promising youngsters continuing to develop under the tutelage of proven veterans means sides could land up playing for second spot in 2016.
2. West Coast
Adam Simpson’s ‘Weagles Web’ stole all the headlines last season and while the opposition may begin to figure it out, the Eagles coach has shown he’s switched-on tactically and will be able tweak things if need be. Eric Mackenzie returns after missing the entire 2015 season with an ACL injury so that may allow Jeremy McGovern to play a more attacking role in 2016. If so, watch out.
They knocked the off-season out of the park by snaring Patrick Dangerfield and combined with the likes of Lachie Henderson and Scott Selwood, it effectively means the Cats traded their way into this spot. There are still question marks as to how their forward line sets up but it should be an exciting season for Cats fans.
4. Western Bulldogs
The Bulldogs were one of the feel-good stories of 2015. Besides Stewart Crameri’s twelve-month suspension, their pre-season was a lot smoother than the upheaval that was October 2014. Son of a gun Tom Liberatore returns from an ACL injury while the signs are good for Tom Boyd – who should have a big impact in the forward line. They show no signs of sliding back down the ladder in 2016.
Ross Lyon recently signed a long-term contract extension and that should stabilise the whole football group. There are still queries around their ageing list but this still remains a football team that finished top of the pile last year. Expect another high finish.
6. North Melbourne
The AFL’s great enigma are back for another year and their plight looms as one of the more intriguing narratives heading in the season. Former Hawk Jed Anderson gives them zip in midfield and news of Daniel Wells’ recovery from injury gives North fans plenty to get excited about. A moderate rise is expected from their seventh placing in 2015.
It’s not worth going over the tired and over-used sniggering around their finals form here and regardless of where they finish, the Richmond board has put full faith in Damien Hardwick’s as coach moving forward. Chris Yarran missing at least the first six weeks of the season due to foot surgery isn’t ideal but he will be a trump card in the second half of the year. Seventh seems realistic but it wouldn’t surprise to see them push towards top four.
You could set your watch to the annual pre-season Pies hype and with the summer acquisitions of the high-flying Jeremy Howe, James Aish and star in the making Adam Treloar, there’s cause for optimism at Collingwood. Nathan Buckley is building something special but this side still remains at an embryonic stage of development. Their backline remains brittle, midfield untested and forward line still raw. They will be under immense pressure to deliver in 2016 but a finals birth should be seen as successful season for a list that could be anything in the next few years.
The fortunes of the Swans this year rest on the shoulders of Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett. With the former looking back to his best and the latter spending time in the ruck, they’ll have to carry Sydney this year as things look a lot less bright in other areas of the park. There are huge questions of a one-paced midfield and ageing backline and with the race for the finals as close as ever this season, they could see themselves tipped out of the eight for the first time since 2009.
10. Port Adelaide
Without doubt one of the hardest sides to get a read on ahead of the new season. Angus Monfries missing this year through suspension leaves arguably a bigger hole to fill than Paddy Ryder but the Power are a part of the chasing pack that could sneak into the eight or just miss. Jay Schulz now has a partner in Charlie Dixon and both will need to have big years in front of goal. Dixon has had an interrupted pre-season and will take a while to find full fitness so I can see Port Adelaide missing the finals and re-loading ahead of 2017.
11. Greater Western Sydney
The loss of Shane Mumford ravaged their 2015 season that at one point looked like it would bring a maiden finals birth. The good news for Giants fans is that he’s primed for a big year judging by his NAB Challenge hitouts and will be key if the Giants are to press ahead this year. They will have to win the close ones to have any chance of making the finals but even if they miss, there is little doubt that they are heading in the right direction.
Adelaide making and winning a final after their most traumatic year in club history was the story of 2015 but with a Patrick Dangerfield-sized hole to fill; the Crows could very well slide back out of the eight this year. Wayne Milera plays round 1 after impressing in pre-season but an unproven Rory Atkins, a raw Dean Gore and frankly unfit Troy Menzel will give new coach Don Pyke plenty of headaches in the centre of the park this season.
The Dees didn’t lose a NAB Challenge game and while thirteenth spot may not be as high as some Melbourne fans would like, 2016 looms as the final year of tweaking before Simon Goodwin launches into a full-on finals assault from 2017. Winning more than the seven games than they did in 2015 would represent another step forward.
14. Gold Coast
Ah, the Suns. The mere mention of the go-home factor or a certain bald-headed genius would make coach Rodney Eade tear what’s left of his hair out because Gold Coast deserve more nuanced discussion at their stage of development as a club. Callum Ah Chee arrives as their most significant pick of the draft but the cold-hearted reality is that there are more than a few better football sides than them heading in 2016. Metricon Stadium can become a fortress and as always, home form remains crucial to notching up wins.
The Saints enter 2016 in a precarious position, balancing modest expectations, the phasing out of older players and incremental growth in the playing group. Nick Riewoldt’s move to the wing is clearly designed to clear the forward line for Josh Bruce and eventually Paddy McCartin but one wonders whether they are at a stage when they can cover his forward absence. Jack Billings should make the step up if he stays injury free but this looms as another tough year for St.Kilda.
Things are finally starting to stabilise up north, which after a few tumultuous years represents a step in the right direction. Josh Schache slots rights in and with another two picked up through the Lions academy, things are looking up. In saying that, Brisbane are a way off even challenging for a finals spot.
Carlton can thank Essendon and its troubles with WADA for sparing them a second consecutive wooden spoon. Newly-appointed list manager Stephen Silvagni has bulldozed a fair chunk of last season’s squad so they enter 2016 effectively at ground zero. Blues fans might have to be content with Jacob Weitering intercepts and Patrick Cripps fend-off highlights for a few years yet as Brendon Bolton slowly builds up his side.
Not much to add here, other than to say that Dons fans will be going to the footy purely for Darcy Parish and Aaron Francis watch this year. The heart and soul of the list has been gutted and a success this season represents most of the 12 current players returning next year and the 2015 draftees getting valuable minutes at senior level. They might catch a few sides off-guard but otherwise it’s going to be a long and painful winter at Tullamarine.