With the conclusion of the 2015 AFL draft and the release of the 2016 home and away fixture we now have a good idea of what all 18 teams look like on paper. We’re almost a quarter of a year away from the start of a new season and anybody would be insane to try and predict what the ladder would look like at the conclusion of round 23, as injuries, poor form, poor coaching and poor meshing of players are something that are almost impossible to account for at this time of year. With that said, I’m going to ignore everything and attempt to somehow come up with a prediction of each team’s win/loss record for 2016.
Obviously it’s next to impossible to be anywhere near spot on when trying to put together something like this as a team’s performance can fluctuate erratically from one season to the next (see Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs and West Coast), but by taking into account how a team performed in 2015, what it’s list looks like, how their development is tracking, how hard their fixture looks and other relatively measurable factors, we can look to make educated guesses on which teams will be rising and falling next year.
As a disclaimer, some of the win/loss totals in this prediction will be too high or too low (something that will be evident when looking at teams I’ve placed at the bottom of the ladder) as it’s hard to predict upsets or a form slump midseason. However, what is more important is the placing on the ladder, rather than the hypothetical win/loss total I’ve given them.
Thanks to a number of key offseason recruits, Geelong appear poised to jump not only back into the top 8 after missing out this season, but to reclaim their spot as best team in the league. The free agent signing of Patrick Dangerfield has been heavily discussed and he will certainly have a huge impact on the Cats’ success, however the signings of Scott Selwood, Zac Smith and Lachie Henderson will have an equally big impact on the Cats pushing their way back into the finals. Selwood and Dangerfield give the club an incredible amount of midfield depth, while Zac Smith can pair up with Mark Blicavs for one of the most talented ruck duos in the league, bolstered even more by the removal of the sub rule. Henderson also provides them with a solid key defender, and an insurance policy if either Tom Hawkins or Mitch Clarke misses a stretch of games up forward. Combine those recruits with a relatively young list of talented players who are continuing to develop, and Geelong has a serious chance of going all the way.
Fremantle look as though yet again they’ll be in the hunt for a premiership in 2016. With the list they’ve assembled and the serious home ground advantage they’ve developed, they’re assured to finish around the top of the ladder, even if they happened to regress slightly from years past. While they do have some ageing players in their side (Pavlich, Sandilands) and lost a a great key defender in Luke McPharlin, what’s most exciting is the chance for Nat Fyfe to play an uninterrupted season. While some have labelled him as injury prone, Fyfe really only had one injury last season that continued to escalate due to a whole lot of bad luck. Even despite that Fyfe showed with only one good leg he’s still one of the best players in the league. Fyfe is in the prime of his career and looks to only be getting better and better. Not to mention the addition of Harley Bennell, if it works well for the Dockers, means that there’s yet another extremely talented midfielder opposition teams need to put effort into stopping, taking even more pressure away from Fyfe. The biggest question marks surrounding the team are the lack of scoring ability and a genuine key forward as well as Ross Lyon’s coaching when it comes to getting things done at the business end of the season, but there is not doubt that this side is set to win a lot of games next year.
- North Melbourne
For a number of season now North Melbourne have seemed poised to make the transition from good to great, however massive drop-offs between their best and their worst and question marks over Brad Scott’s coaching have seen them unable to push into the top four. In two successive years they have managed the impressive task of making a preliminary final from outside of the top four, and if there was ever a time for them to make a push during the home and away season to cement a top four position and make a grand final it’s now. One of the significant upsides for North Melbourne is that they have a significant amount of young players who are starting to come into their prime or are getting close to it. There are veterans like Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Daniel Wells and Nick Dal Santo who could potentially see a drop off in form this season thanks to father time, but for the most part their list is full of life. When playing up to their full potential almost no one in the league can match it with North Melbourne, and as their younger players continue to mature we should be seeing the good North Melbourne on a regular basis in 2016. Perhaps one of the most intriguing things to watch for next season is how Jed Anderson performs. Anderson made a real impression at Hawthorn when he was healthy enough to crack into the senior line-up, so if he can put together a full preseason and play a significant portion of the season North may have found one of the biggest steals of the 2015 offseason.
- Port Adelaide
I’m treating 2015 as simply a bump in the road for Port Adelaide. In 2014 they were a kick away from defeating Hawthorn in a preliminary final, and with the way Sydney played in the 2014 grand final they may very well have been premiers had they overcome the Hawks. Sure their 2014 schedule was much easier in comparison to 2015, but I refuse to believe that they had actually regressed to a bottom eight team. We saw flashes of their brilliance this year, such as their two wins over Hawthorn while also defeating North Melbourne and Fremantle, and I tend to believe that this is the true Port Adelaide rather than the one that lost games to Brisbane and Carlton. Their brand of fast, free flowing football is beautiful to watch and impossible to stop when it’s up and running, however the club will need to work hard over their summer to again be touted as the fittest team in the competition as they looked out on their feet in the second half of many games this year. Charlie Dixon will be a handy addition to the team and taking a gamble on Jimmy Toumpas could pay off hugely if he lives up to even half the potential surrounding him when he was drafted in 2012.
This could finally be the year that the Hawthorn juggernaut drops away. Signs that they were beginning to fall away appeared at times last season, and despite winning a third straight grand final so convincingly it looks like this is the year that they’ll finally drop out of the top four. The Hawks’ off-season activities give the appearance that this is a reloading year, where they’ll attempt to be extremely competitive but ultimately be trying to set the club up for the next five years. The loss of David Hale should be offset due to Jonathon Ceglar waiting in the wings, while an injury free year from premiership cult hero James Frawley will offset the retirement of Brian Lake. Losing Matthew Suckling will hurt the Hawks’ depth and ageing veterans Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Josh Gibson are also nearing the ends of their careers. It looks as if this will be an experimental year where Alistair Clarkson tests the clubs’ young players to find the next crop that take over the current premiership heroes and takes Hawthorn back to the top again. Hawthorn still has plenty of talent that will propel them to a home final, but seeing who they lost over the summer with the only offseason addition being Jack Fitzpatrick, it’s hard to see them grabbing a double chance yet again.
The Tigers found themselves yet again on the receiving end of a first week exit from the finals in 2015, which left them searching for the x-factor that will push them deeper into September. This is the reasoning behind bringing Chris Yarran to the club during trade period, however it remains to be seen how much of an impact he will make. Yarran had moments at Carlton where he was spectacular, but often was ice cold when things where tough on field. If this same Yarran is present at Richmond next year, then the Tigers will be calling for his head quickly, however if the explosive, game-changing half backman shows up regularly it could see Richmond push past the first week of the finals. The Tigers played some of the most exciting football last season, particularly in wins against Hawthorn and Fremantle, but year after year they seem to have stretches of very poor football and losses to teams that they should account for easily. Additionally, questions have been raised over the teams’ leaders; particularly captain Trent Cotchin who was hardly sighted in their elimination final loss. We know what this team is capable of at their best, but there are still many question marks over whether they’ll ever be able to put together a cohesive season.
To the surprise of most people I’m picking Sydney as a teams that will suffer a significant drop off in performance next season. The Swans lost of a host of quality players in the offseason including their number one ruckman Mike Pyke and champion Adam Goodes, while the only significant pickups were of Michael Talia and Callum Sinclair (who has Pyke’s huge shoes to fill). However, what is more alarming is that they were on the whole very disappointing in 2015. The fact that they were able to stumble into a top four slot was nothing short of a miracle considering how poor they looked at times throughout the year, and I think this year will see them start to lose some of the games that we would’ve chalked down as an automatic win in previous years. The Swans give off the vibe that they have crashed into their ceiling and will now begin their descent down the ladder. They did have significant injury issues at times and I’m sure the controversy surrounding Adam Goodes and Lance Franklin’s mental health battle may have affected the teams’ run, but it just seems that this team is far better on paper than they are in reality.
- West Coast
Perhaps even more shocking that predicting Sydney to finish seventh is that I’ve predicted 2015 grand finalist West Coast to barely scrape into the finals. Much like Adelaide’s drop in 2013 and Port Adelaide’s this year, I see West Coast’s 2015 season as an anomaly. A combination of a decent team, a new coach, an easy fixture and the biggest home ground advantage in the AFL saw them overachieve by a long way. There is no denying the Eagles were incredible throughout 2015, but all signs point to it being a perfect storm allowing them to find their way to a grand final, rather than this being a sign that they’re becoming a powerhouse. Scott Selwood is a significant loss for the sides’ midfield depth, while trading Callum Sinclair for Lewis Jetta seems like a huge mistake as I see Jetta as someone who’ll be sighted twice a season (not to mention the awkwardness that exists between him and the supporters after last season). It’s possible that the Eagles will completely embarrass me next season, but I just don’t see them repeating last years effort with a much harder fixture and an entire offseason where 17 other teams while have ripped apart their game plans.
- Western Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are another team who I believe will fall down the ladder after an anomalous 2015 season. The Bulldogs surprised everyone with just how good they were at times and for quite a large portion of the season they seemed as if they might squeeze into the top four. However, their laughably easy schedule may have been the biggest cause of this sudden rise. They really only had two or three wins against decent teams, while beating up on weak teams for the rest of the year and suffering heavy losses against teams like Port Adelaide and West Coast. More importantly they only brought in Matt Suckling during the offseason, which is hardly an amazing inclusion. The Bulldogs have the talent to make it near the finals again, but with improvements from teams surrounding them it’s hard to seem them making the top eight.
Season 2015 was full of adversity for the Crows. The tragic passing of coach Phil Walsh immediately rendered the result of the year meaningless, and qualifying for the finals seemed unimportant in the scheme of things. In the meantime however, they have lost Patrick Dangerfield who is without a doubt one of the most damaging players in the league. In response they have added mostly depth players with question marks hanging over their head like Dean Gore, Curtly Hampton and Troy Menzel, while also signing a college basketball player and a cricketer. The loss of Dangerfield will immediately drop this team down a few notches, while the stronger fixture due to making the top eight will make 2016 a much tougher test on the field. The Crows ability to still win games of football despite facing incredible tragedy shouldn’t be ignored and that kind of mental fortitude should one day help them taste the ultimate success, however losing a player of Dangerfield’s stature will be too much for the team to cover.
Every year under Nathan Buckley Collingwood appears to start out strong but quickly fades into irrelevance and I believe that is where this teams’ rightful place is. It seems like every season a handful of new young recruits get game time, show something impressive initially but never go on to recapture that potential and they start all over again the following season. Time is ticking on the careers of players like Dane Swan and Travis Cloke who have served the club for quite some time now and finding the net generation of Collingwood players is imperative. A lot of hope is riding on incoming recruits James Aish and Adam Treloar to be this next generation, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fit in. Collingwood did look quite impressive in flashes last season, but losing nine of your last eleven games including matches against Melbourne and Essendon isn’t a great sign and there are legitimate queries about Buckley’s ability as head coach.
- Gold Coast
2015 was nothing short of a disaster for the Suns. They went from being unlucky to not make the finals in 2014, to a season where Gary Ablett played less than a handful of healthy games, they lost just about any notable player on their list to injury, had numerous behaviour problems off the field and to top it off a drug scandal which has seen Harley Bennell leaving to Fremantle. With everything that went on in 2015 it’s hard not to believe that the Suns will improve next season, however it’s hard to see them realistically making it anywhere near the finals. Sure they have Gary Ablett and some of the best up and coming midfielders, but to lose Harley Bennell, Charlie Dixon, and Zac Smith in a single offseason while only adding Daniel Currie and Matt Rosa is something to be worried about. The Suns will probably beat a number of teams on talent alone at times next season, but it remains to be seen whether there is any structure or depth to be found at the club.
It appears the ASADA saga is never going to end for Essendon and right now 2016 is looking much the same as the past few years. Without a doubt this is taking a huge toll on the players left at the club, but perhaps the appointment of John Worsfold as coach may spark some rejuvenation. However, in the first year under a new coach and structure I don’t expect the Bombers to produce anything spectacular. They lost several players who played regular senior football during the offseason, which will hurt. Craig Bird will add to the depth, however Matthew Leuenberger is so injury prone (has played only 108 games since being drafted in 2006) that he’s only ever played more than half a season three times. Hopefully for the Bombers sake this is the year that the club starts to turn it around, as everyone is well and truly over the constant scandal that has engulfed the AFL world since 2013.
- Greater Western Sydney
Greater Western Sydney appears to be suffering from the same problem that Brisbane has been suffering from for years; all their top young talent wants to go home. Tom Boyd left in 2014, Adam Treloar left this year and Cam McCarthy tried his hardest to get back home to Western Australia. The depth of the Giants is now seriously under question particularly after losing Thomas Bugg, Curtly Hampton, Jed Lamb, Lachie Plowman, Liam Sumner and Jacob Townsend in the trade period alongside Treloar. Steve Johnson and Dawson Simpson were the clubs only additions outside of the National Draft, which raises red flags for season 2016. We know they have quite a lot of talent in their starting 22, but if only a couple of injuries strike it looks like this ship could sink almost immediately. On the flipside, if they manage to stay almost completely healthy they’ll be able to compete with any of the other 17 teams
- St Kilda
The Saints showed an incredible amount of upside in 2015 and in retrospect probably overachieved for where they expected to be. In 2016 expect more of the same for the Saints. The young brigade will continue to develop under Alan Richardson while we get the same consistent output from veteran leaders like Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna. The most intriguing thing to watch this season will be how well Jack Carlisle fits into the team after an incredibly rocky start to life at the Saints. Carlisle is one of the best defenders in the competition when at his best, but at his worst he’s a detriment to the team. When things aren’t going Carlisle’s way it’ll be interesting to see how he responds and whether this offseason may have humbled and matured him.
The Lions couldn’t have had a worse season in 2015. Injuries left the team crippled and removed literally all of their tall forward options, while contract problems with James Aish plagued much of the year. The administration put its foot down in the offseason, refusing to let players leave for nothing in return anymore and it’s now Justin Leppitsch’s turn to lead the club in a positive direction on the field. Ryan Bastinac and Tom Bell bolster the clubs stocks, while Josh Walker gives the club a much-needed target in the forward line, even if he isn’t a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. Brisbane are still very early on in the rebuilding process, so this will be another year of painful losses but a chance to get time into the kids.
Carlton are currently a dumpster fire that new coach Brendon Bolton is being tasked with turning around. His first offseason has seen Jed Lamb, Lachie Plowman and Liam Sumner come to the club, which gives them some seriously, needed depth, but the more serious problem is their top of the line players. Outside of Bryce Gibbs and Marc Murphy this team is completely devoid of top-level talent, and even then these two are hardly reliable. As a result Carlton are going to lose a lot of games by a lot of goals and are not going to look pretty in the process. The best they can hope for is that they find a few gem players throughout the season and the future becomes a little less bleak.
At this point it seems like Melbourne are destined to be perpetually awful. In the offseason they actually traded assets for Jake Melksham, which boggles the mind, while also picking up Tom Bugg and Ben Kennedy. The biggest issue I have with Melbourne is that while Paul Roos will no doubt be able to develop these young players, I have no faith whatsoever that his game style can get anywhere near the top eight in this era. Combine that with a bunch of young players who are still learning to not only play AFL football but also the Roos brand and I get the feeling that Melbourne are going to be having yet another number one selection in the National Draft. Seeing Melbourne be awful yet again is not something I want, but it feels like n inevitability.