Friday, 23 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 4th-1st

Fremantle Dockers

Why here: The Dockers were cruelled by injuries in 2011, having at least 10 players ruled out each week of the season. They still managed to finish 11th, and have the talent to better their 6th place finish in 2010. Much will depend on how quickly they manage to adapt to new coach Ross Lyon’s demands. If they embrace his methods a high finish is on the cards.

Key Player: Is there anything Nathan Fyfe can't do on the football oval? Despite his relatively skinny frame he’s one of the best contested marks in the competition, and can rack up contested possessions like few others. Should he increase on his tally of 18 goals, which is well within his capability, he’ll be the complete AFL player.

One to watch: Hayden Crozier gained national attention midway through last season with his spectacular mark against WA in the national under-18 championships. He’s unlikely to get much of a chance in the seniors this term, but if given a go is certainly capable of something equally special with his leaping ability.

This season will be a success if… the Dockers adapt quickly to Lyon’s defensive gameplan. They’ve got the potential to be a great side, and whilst they may still be a year or two from challenging for the flag they can ruffle a few feathers this year.

Geelong Cats

Why here: The footy production line down at the Cattery continues, with the next batch of Cats youngsters appearing ready to step up and keep the Cats in Premiership contention. They’re a well-rounded side with few weaknesses and a strong gameplan, and the 7 home games they play at Kardinia Park could easily provide 28 points for home.

Key Player: New captain Joel Selwood is the beating heart of the current Premiers. Fiercely competitive on the field, he always gives his all and rarely has a bad day at the office. If there’s a contested possession to be won and Selwood is around the ball expect him to emerge with it.

One to watch: Billie Smedts has been much-hyped in the pre-season and the young Cat should get plenty of time on the oval to showcase his skills. Quick and agile, the utility player seems to have finally gotten over his injuries and is ready to make an impact.

This season will be a success if… the Cats win another Premiership. It’s difficult to see the Cats finishing outside the top 4 after 5 consecutive seasons in the top 2, so they should be in the mix at the business end of the season.

Collingwood Magpies

Why here: The Magpies smashed the competition for the majority of last season, before limping home and falling over in the Grand Final. They’ve got a strong line-up with star players all over the field, and have given plenty of playing time to their youngsters over the past few seasons, who have shown they’re up to the task when required.

Star player: Scott Pendlebury may be the Brownlow favourite, but Travis Cloke is more important for the Pies structure. An imposing forward, he’s quick and strong, making him almost impossible to stop in a one-on-one contest. His kicking improved last year, and in the first half of last year’s Grand Final he was unplayable.

One to watch: Peter Yagmoor showed plenty in the pre-season for the Pies, and should get his chance to impress in the seniors this term. A lovely kick of the ball, he plays off the half-back line and is capable of helping to fill the gap left by Leon Davis’ departure.

This season will be a success if… the Pies avoid any more long-term injuries. They’ve already lost Krakouer and Macaffer, and any more setbacks will begin to severely test their depth. Otherwise it’s hard to see the Collingwood juggernaut coming to a stop anytime soon.

Hawthorn Hawks

Why here: The Hawks have been the pre-season fancies for many tipsters, closing in on the Pies in the Premiership betting market. It's easy to see why they're so liked; they've got a good mixture of youth and experience, with sublime kicking skills all over the park. Since round 1 last season they've only lost to the Cats & Pies, so have to be considered as one of the favourites.

Star player: Lance 'Buddy' Franklin is one of the most exciting players in the history of football. At his best he's capable of scoring a major from anywhere within 60 metres of the goal, with his booming left foot a real weapon. His only problem is some inconsistency with his goal kicking, particularly with set shots, however when he's getting 150+ shots a season that can be excused. 

One to watch: Jack Gunston won the Mark Bickley award for Adelaide's best young player in 2011, before controversially stating his desire to move back to Victoria and naming his preferred team as the Hawks. He's a great kick of the ball and should find plenty of space in the forward line to significantly improve on his tally of 19 goals from 12 games last season.

This season will be a success if... the Hawks successfully manage their players throughout the season. The Cats & Pies have both learnt in the past couple of seasons how important it is to have your star players ready to perform in September, so the Hawks will have to make sure they're similarly well prepared.

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