My AFL season predictions continue, with the teams from 12th to 9th:
St Kilda Saints
Why here: After finishing 1st, 3rd and 6th on the ladder in the past 3 seasons it’s hard to escape the fact that the Saints are on the slide. They finished last season strongly, but were outplayed by Sydney in a home final and were well behind the top 5 teams. A few early defeats could damage confidence and bring about a season of relative mediocrity.
Key man: Despite suffering a career-worst season in 2011, Nick Riewoldt should still be regarded as one of the game’s best forwards. Winner of a club record 5 best & fairest awards, he’s courageous, inspirational and an amazing athlete. His kicking may occasionally let him down, but he should still have a few good years left in him.
One to watch: Tom Simpkin should get the first crack at being the Saints next full back after the departure of the much-maligned Zac Dawson. He played two decent games last season, is mobile, competitive, and has good skills. However at only 191 cm he'll likely struggle if left one out against some of the bigger forwards.
This season will be a success if… the Saints young guns start to make a real contribution. Too much still relies on their older players, whose contribution can be expected to slowly diminish as they approach 30. The Saints need to be looking forward as much as concentrating on the present.
Why here: Essendon have been talking themselves up over the pre-season, but for my money still lack the real class at the top-end to reach the finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. They have a difficult run home, so could see themselves in and amongst the 8 all season long before falling away in the last 6 rounds.
Key man: Jobe Watson should be more ably supported by the bigger Essendon bodies this year, but much of their play will still resolve around him winning the contested ball in the middle. His kicking skills have increased considerably over the past few seasons and he’s now also capable of popping up with a few crucial goals.
One to watch: Jake Melksham established himself as a regular last season, playing all 23 of Essendon’s game. Entering his 3rdseason, the classy onballer can become the Bombers next genuine superstar midfielder
This season will be a success if… the Bombers get off to a good start. If they can get past a competitive Kangaroos side in round 1, winnable games in rounds 2 & 3 emerge and they can gather the momentum needed to take them to the finals
Why here: It feels dangerous to put the Swans so low after they’ve reached the finals 13 times in 16 seasons, but I think that the Swans may stagnate this year whilst over teams challenge and overtake them. They’re a well-coached team with few weaknesses who will be difficult to beat, but have an extremely tough run home which could trip them up at the final hurdle.
Key man: Despite being on the wrong side of 30 Adam Goodes is still one of the most dangerous players in the AFL, capable of single-handedly winning any game. The dual Brownlow medallist won his third best and fairest last season and will still be looked towards by his teammates when the Swans need a lift.
One to watch: Trent Dennis-Lane hasn’t yet cemented himself in the Swans starting 22, but this year could be the year he truly breaks through. With an impressive record of 22 goals from his first 11 games, he’s a natural goalscorer who should flourish when given a run in the starting line-up.
This season will be a success if… the Swans lesser lights take the next step and provide the club with a more even contribution. There’s a sizable gap between Sydney’s top players and their bottom players. If that can be closed a run deep into September isn’t out of the question.
Why here: New coach Brenton Sanderson has been a breath of fresh air at the Crows, with their uninspiring footy of the past 2 seasons seemingly behind them after an undefeated pre-season. I still don’t feel that the Crows have the personal to challenge the top team, but they’ve got good momentum behind them which can take them to the brink of a finals spot.
Key player: 2012 could be the season when Patrick Dangerfield fully realises his potential. The explosive midfielder has previously been brilliant in patches, whilst never consistently dominating. He has the pace and ability to break open matches and with some more consistency will become one of the best players in the competition.
One to watch: It’s hard not to love Rory Sloane when you watch the way he goes about his footy on the oval. The hard-nut midfielder is a fan favourite who always gives his all, and should delight the crowds in Adelaide for many years to come.