The 2019 AFL footy season kicks off tonight after much anticipation. We’ve had practice matches and JLT since February, but that’s pretend football and does nothing but pique the appetite for the authentic and rip-roaring real thing. There’s a number of notable rule changes this year which may have a profound effect on the game. They were trialled through the pre-season and looked good, but most teams will have held back revealing their tactics until the season proper begins, particularly in regards to kick-ins. It could make for some exciting footy this year, and will suit some teams more than others.
Last year I gave a preview of the season and I’ve been asked to do so again. I think I know who the top teams will be, but every season there is a surprise. I expect there will be this year too, though I haven’t forecast it. My smoky is Brisbane for what it’s worth. They’re coming together nicely and have a good squad of talented players. I don’t think they’ll make the finals this year, but will present a real danger. In years to come I’m certain they’ll be a contender.
So who have I picked for the finals?
The popular pick right now is Richmond, deemed to be the best team over the last two years but who were eliminated last year in the prelim in what was a surprise result.
It’s hard to look past Richmond. They’re a proven lineup and they’ve added Tom Lynch to the run on team. If they had one weakness previously it was that they had but the one reliable tall up forward in Jack Riewoldt. Lynch takes a lot of the pressure off and is a serious player in his own right. I think they’ll be top 4, but I’m not as bullish as some. They’ve had an excellent run with injuries the last couple of years, and they have less depth this year than previously. And I wonder whether they might have been worked out a little bit, though the new rules muddy that. Certainly I reckon Martin will be a great beneficiary either in midfield or up forward.
My pick is Melbourne. They were patchy last year, but when they were good they were very good, and were impressive in the finals. Their one great weakness was the lack of a big defender, but the recruitment of May is a big win, and the loss of Hogan is well covered up forward. They’re close to the complete team, their only minor deficiency is the lack of outside pace. I think quick teams will be suited by the rule changes, but they move the ball quickly so likely offset. I think some of the constraints of the new rules may also benefit Melbourne by reining in some of Goodwin’s preferred tactics, which I don’t think have always benefiited the team. I think he’s a excellent coach otherwise, and I’m tipping Melbourne for the grand final.
Adelaide could be the other grand finalist, though I’m not sold yet. They have the talent and, on their day, can be irresistible. Last year was poor, but then they had a shitload of important players injured. The jury is out for me, but I’m wary.
Last year’s grand finalists will be thereabouts. The winners, WCE, will have a stronger team going into the season with the return of Gaff and Shepherd, and Naitanui further down the track. I don’t think they’re the best team in the comp, but they’re canny and professional and I think they’ll be thereabouts.
It might be my innate anti-Collingwood bias, but I think they over-achieved last year. There’s a part of me that thinks they won’t be so prominent this year, but then they have good players either returning or being added to the squad. And sometimes teams just click, and what was over-achievement last year becomes the new norm. Jamie Elliott will be great addition, assuming he stays fit, and I’m a fan of Beams – though given their midfield depth believe the benefit will be only incremental. They’d have been better of recruiting a tall forward IMO. I rank them somewhere in the 4-6 range.
My team is somewhere about there, Essendon. We’re close to being the complete team also with no obvious weaknesses. There’s pace aplenty, a lot of flair, and attacking half-back line and a dangerous forward line. Add to that Dylan Shiel and the Bombers are a contender. We go into the season without Hooker and Daniher but, both very good players. We can cover Daniher – he was absent most of last season – but Hooker leaves a bigger hole. He’s important to structure and a fine player to boot. There might be a slow start to the season, but the team will be flying at some point.
I think the premiership team will be one of those. GWS are always about, but they’ve lost good players, including important structural players. Not a fan of their coach either. They’ll make a run at some point, but will fade. Geelong are perennial finalists but I was prepared to write them off – they’re an aging team. They’ve recruited well though, and I think Ratogolea will be important for them.
I’m tipping Sydney and Hawthorn to both miss the finals, but North Melbourne could be thereabouts. Port Adelaide are rebuilding, but have recruited well and, other than the Lions, the rest are nowhere. GCS to win the wooden spoon – no surprises there – and Carlton to improve before fading as the season goes on, winning 4-6 games.
Let’s see how I go – like I said, something will jump up, and all predictions are contingent on variables such as injuries.