They have lost gun defender Jake Lever and the speedy Charlie Cameron and added classy veteran Bryce Gibbs, but the most significant change for the Crows could be the injury to Brodie Smith, which will probably sideline him for the season. They missed him on grand final day last year and it raises questions on what to do with Gibbs. Should they use him across half-back to cover Smith and Lever, or to stiffen a midfield that was considered light on for depth? The former Carlton star will almost certainly do some of both. The Crows rate Jordan Gallucci, so Cameron’s loss may not be felt as much as anticipated.
Prediction: Top six is likely. Top four well within reach. A few players should be haunted by dismal efforts on grand final day.
There is excitement in the camp with Hawthorn great Luke Hodge, Cameron from the Crows and No.1 draft pick Cameron Rayner coming in. It eases some of the pain of Tom Rockliff leaving and another top-end draft pick, Josh Schache, walking out on a recently signed contract. The Lions have emerging talls in Harris Andrews, Daniel McStay and Eric Hipwood, but the wins will depend on the performances of the great Daynes — Beams and Zorko. Both are top shelf. Hodge’s role will be to steady the camp and help build an environment that keeps Rayner and others in place.
Prediction: They won’t want another wooden spoon, but don’t expect them to climb too far. 12th to 18th is the likely slot.
They bring in Matthew Kennedy from Greater Western Sydney, Matthew Lobbe as ruck cover for Matthew Kreuzer and Cam O’Shea in defence. No.3 draft pick Paddy Dow is tipped to be a gun. But you get the feeling there is pain ahead for Blues fans and coach Brendon Bolton. Gibbs is gone, Kade Simpson turns 34, Marc Murphy and Dale Thomas will turn 31 and Patrick Cripps is coming off a broken leg. And Sam Docherty will miss the season because of a knee reconstruction. Bolton is on staff — he doesn’t have the safety net of a contract to fall back on. Ouch.
Prediction: Anything above bottom four would be a win. Bolton will start the season as the coach in the hottest seat.
If there isn’t improvement from within they won’t improve because they didn’t trade, and draft picks Jaidyn Stephenson and Nathan Murphy will need time. The Pies have a strong midfield but it doesn’t connect with the forward line unless Daniel Wells is fit and firing. Expect Darcy Moore to be tried in defence with Ben Reid forward. The mail is also strong that Brayden Maynard will get a run as a big-bodied midfielder.
Prediction: Expect the Pies to be in the race for the bottom end of the eight, but they still look more likely to miss than make it. Coach Nathan Buckley will continue to walk a tightrope.
The Bombers were big traders with Devon Smith, Adam Saad and Jake Stringer coming in. Smith will add depth midfield and forward, Saad is a dasher from defence, but Stringer is the big one here. If he comes off he adds punch to a forward line that is already threatening and on the improve, but “The Package” has been mediocre for 18 months and looks a hit-and-miss player. Joe Daniher looks awesome in attack, Zach Merrett is a gun on-baller and Andrew McGrath looks an emerging star. They lose Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton and Brendon Goddard is turning 33.
Prediction: Finalists last year, they should be top six in 2018. The Bombers are building
Nathan Wilson (who turns 25 on Sunday) and Brandon Matera (soon to be 26) come in, Aaron Sandilands (35), Michael Johnson (33) and David Mundy (32) are going around again. Lachie Weller and Harley Balic have left. Top-end draftees Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra are good pick-ups. But the Dockers remain a list in transition. If Sandilands, Mundy, Johnson, Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, Harley Bennell, the Hill brothers and Michael Walters fire, along with Wilson, there is a critical mass of class. But there are still no confirmed tall targets in attack and they finish the year with 24 players 22 years or under.
Prediction: Ross Lyon needs more wins than eight, a percentage significantly higher than 74 and the number of 40-plus point defeats significantly lower than the eight suffered in 2017. He needs to play and grow youth, otherwise the pressure mounts. Finals are more possible than likely.
Gary Ablett comes home and Tim Kelly gives them a mature-bodied player to add depth midfield. The Cats have lost Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie out of defence, but most critics will have the club in flag contention. I will too, but to complete the fairytale Ablett must defy age and dodgy shoulders. Geelong will be something to behold midfield if little Gaz holds up, but it is worth noting that he has managed 49 of a possible 88 games in the past four seasons. Expect opponents to “test” the shoulder.
Prediction: You have to have them in contention. One thing is for sure, they will be worth watching.
They lost Ablett and Saad but added Weller for dash from half-back, and he could go midfield as well. Rookie coach Stuart Dew will confront two problems. He needs to keep more of his best 22 on the park and he needs his team to show enough to convince co-captain and gun forward Tom Lynch to re-sign. If he does those two things, the ladder finish for the Suns this year won’t matter greatly, which is a good thing because the odds are it won’t be high.
Prediction: Bottom six. If they could win eight to 10 games, play strongly at home and be competitive most weeks, Dew would get a tick for his first year at the helm.
They kept Josh Kelly but lost Devon Smith and Wilson, Steve Johnson retired and Shane Mumford has succumbed to injury. Those who believe that this spells the end of the Giants’ tilt for a premiership should remember that they dealt with severe injuries all last year and still managed to make a preliminary final. If they get full seasons out of Ryan Griffen, Brett Deledio and Jeremy Cameron, they have pretty much all you need to contend.
Prediction: I will have them in my top four. Wilson strips them of run, but when you weigh their injuries from 2017 the upside outweighs the downside.
They have lost Hodge and Josh Gibson. Jarman Impey comes in from Port Adelaide to provide some dash. Shaun Burgoyne will play the season as a 35-year-old. You would suspect much depends on the fitness of Jaegar O’Meara and whether Ryan Burton and Tom Mitchell can build on highly impressive 2017 seasons. Don’t forget the Hawks won 10 and drew one of their last 18 games in 2017, after losing the first four. They did much of it without Cyril Rioli, so there is upside here.
Prediction: Not without hope of a finals return, but Burgoyne’s ability to defy age will be a key. Should finish somewhere between 7th and 10th.
Lever is a great recruit and Balic could be handy, while the majority of the squad is on the up. Boom key forward Jesse Hogan can be expected to improve significantly after a 2017 beset by the death of his father, injury and a cancer scare. They can expect more from Max Gawn, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca and Jack Viney, with the inconsistent Jack Watts the only significant loss.
Prediction: The Dees should have made the eight last year and are improving, so they should definitely make the eight. But does anyone get the feeling we have been here before? No excuses for Simon Goodwin and his team.
Promised the world and didn’t even deliver an atlas during the trade period. They missed out on Josh Kelly and Dustin Martin, but they did snap up Luke Davies-Uniacke at pick four in the draft. It is not all doom and gloom for the Roos, who have a target to aim at in Ben Brown, a player to play on the opposition’s target in Robbie Tarrant and Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell and Shaun Higgins spearheading the midfield. Let veterans Sam Gibson and Lindsay Thomas go as they focus on youth.
Prediction: This reeks of being a list in transition with some more pain ahead. Jarrad Waite, their second target in attack, will play the season as a 35-year-old and they need midfield depth. Bottom six.
Out of nowhere the Power became the AFL’s destination club in the off-season. Rockliff, Watts and Steven Motlop joined, while they swapped Jack Trengoves, taking Melbourne’s and sending theirs to the Western Bulldogs. The Power also lost Impey, Brendon Ah Chee and Lobbe, but none of this trio could claim to be an automatic first 22 selection at season’s end.
Prediction: Anything less than top four is a fail. The kids the Power promoted into the seniors at the end of last season looked good and the recruits show a club in premiership mode.
Hats off to Damien Hardwick. He defied pre-season predictions of doom and gloom and developed a pressure brand of football that stood up when it mattered. Can it go back-to-back? The Tigers are young enough but the Bulldogs showed that pressure brands don’t always survive premiership hangovers. That is the big question for the Tigers — will they still have the fire in the belly to go all the way again?
Prediction: It would be disrespectful not to have Richmond in the top eight but it will be a big ask to expect them to make the top four again. The stars aligned for them in 2017. Of the teams they played twice only one, GWS, played finals. Things will get a lot tougher.
One of the more disappointing teams of the 2017 season. Looked likely to contend for finals but disappeared quietly into the night late in the season. They were like North Melbourne in the off-season, they threw big wads of cash at everyone but no one caught the money. Nick Riewoldt’s retirement hurts and Paddy McCartin’s summer foot injury doesn’t bode well for the most likely Riewoldt successor.
Prediction: They remain a side capable of improving enough to make the eight, but Melbourne look more likely among those knocking on the door. Saints fans might have another year to wait.
They head into 2018 with much the same crew that finished the 2017 season. It was a barnstorming finish to the year after losing the first six games, but they were out of petrol tickets when Geelong put them away in an MCG semifinal. It’s hard to find reasons for them not being there again. Lance Franklin will be 31 but is still playing good football. Jarrad McVeigh will be their oldest player at 33.
Prediction: More of the same for the Swans, who won 14 of their last 16 home-and-away matches last year. Strong contenders again.
The Eagles have branded themselves a list in transition with the retirements of Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis, Sam Butler, Jon Giles and the departures of Josh Hill and Sharrod Wellingham. The big positive is the return from a serious knee injury of star ruckman Nic Naitanui. Ah Chee will get more opportunities in the midfield than he did at Port Adelaide, while the Eagles expect Jake Waterman, Willie Rioli, Daniel Venables and draftee Liam Ryan to make their debuts.
Prediction: Not sure that the Eagles will drop off the cliff, but it is hard to see them climbing much. A successful Naitanui return would add impetus, but there is a lot of class out the door and Mark LeCras may be the next to exit. Bottom end of the eight would be a good result.
Have lost veterans Bob Murphy, Travis Cloke and Matthew Boyd to retirement and shunted Stringer. But handy additions are Jackson Trengove from Port, Hayden Crozier from Fremantle and Schache from Brisbane. They will hope to get Tom Boyd back from mental health issues, while Peel’s Aaron Naughton shapes as one draftee capable of playing some senior football in 2018 given his strong physique and credible performances at league level for the Thunder last year.
Prediction: They should return to the eight provided the class of 2016 realises the party is over. Stringer’s acrimonious departure should have underlined that. Party boys like Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Liberatore and Lachie Hunter have hopefully taken note.