Here comes that hallowed time of the year again. The AFL finals series. A time of the year when best mates become enemies and households become divided in anticipation of do or die football.
Personally, I’ll be getting behind the Bulldogs for this year’s finals. My dad is super keen to see how his boys go, whereas I’m just picking a team that’s actually in the finals. (Bombers, please just get yourselves together for next year.)
I’m going to give my prediction for the final ladder positions and just a brief prediction/analysis for each of the teams.
To be honest, I haven’t noticed much of the crows of late. Either I’ve been too busy or, truthfully, they’re just not high up on my agenda. Even still, the crows have been inside the top 8 for the majority of the season, and I assume they’ll want to stay that way. They’ll be flying high after a performance of the round over Essendon (sigh) and will be rubbing their hands to play lowly ranked Brisbane next week. They’ve got a favourable run to the finals, with the Eagles being the only exception. I give them the edge over Geelong, and thus rule the Cats out of the finals this year. Sorry Geelong fans, but I’d rather you stay out and regroup than be embarrassed by the Doggies.
Ladder prediction: 7th
The Dockers have undoubtedly had a hell of a season, and it’s hard to argue when they’re sitting high and mighty on 64 points. I feel like Freo are working to get to a point to be able to avenge their last two finals campaigns, which have ended in defeat to Hawthorn and Port Adelaide in 2013 (Grand Final) and 2014 (Semi Finals) respectively.
The only blemishes in their season are losses to Richmond, local rivals West Coast and a thrashing by the current premiers Hawthorn. Whether Fremantle can maintain their form in the finals is yet to be seen, but I wouldn’t put it past them to at least be in the prelim finals. An X factor is needed to truly be the best of the best.
Ladder prediction: 1st
The reigning premiers, despite being third place, look set for a 3rd straight trip to the Grand Final I think. Teams still fear the Hawks, who are one of the tightest and strongest playing groups going around at the moment I think. A beautiful balance of young and experienced players, the majority of the current Hawks squad could be together for the next few seasons. If they’re able to pull off a rarely seen three-peat, they’ll go down as arguably the team of the decade. After losing Buddy Franklin two seasons ago, they’ve still looked as strong and as hungry as ever, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.
Ladder prediction: 2nd
4. North Melbourne
Ah the Roos. To be honest, these guys have been my dark horse for the last couple of seasons. They seem to unlock the secret to the toughest, most in form teams, yet they can’t quite always muster up the same strategy every week. Even still, with Boomer showing no sign of quitting, the boys can all take a page out of his book and just keep trucking forward. Although they’re on 48 points, they’ve got a tough run of games coming against opposition who are all higher than them. Their only hope is to win against Richmond and/or the Bulldogs to give themselves the best chance of staying in the 8. I simply don’t see them beating Fremantle.
Ladder prediction: 8th
Now assuming they stay 6th, this will be the Tigers’ 3rd consecutive finals series. Hopefully the euphoria of being in the finals will have worn off and the Tigers can keep their composure. The fans are hungry, so let’s hope the players can mirror the enthusiasm of their supporters. Damian Hardwick has been steering the club in the right direction, a few more key signings and I can see the Tigers making a charge for the top 4 in the seasons to come. I don’t see them being knocked out in the first week this year, potential semi-finalists? We’ll wait and see.
Ladder prediction: 6th
6. Sydney Swans
Sydney have annoyed me this season. I would’ve thought after their loss to Hawthorn last year they’d come back a much stronger and hungrier unit. Well, they probably are hungrier, I guess I just mean in general performance showings. They’ve ground out a few less than impressive wins, but wins nonetheless. As my old man always says, the players all have jobs to do, if one steps down, another is expected to fulfil a role, no matter how big or small. Hopefully they can string together some good wins, without heavily relying on Buddy Franklin, Tippett or Goodes. Regardless, they’re still a great footy team, I see them easily making the prelims.
Ladder prediction: 4th
7. Western Bulldogs
What a turn around these boys have had. From a dismal 14th place finish last season, the Bulldogs have had a revolution by rookie Coach Luke Beveridge. The young and very talented squad have perched themselves very nicely at 4th place heading to the close end of the season, however the Doggies have had a relatively easy run of late. Their biggest test will be West Coast in Western Australia, but the Dogs have set themselves up for a good run at the finals, as well as a solid core for the next few years. Will be good to see Liberatore back in the team next year, adding more depth to the already impressive midfield.
Ladder prediction: 5th
8. West Coast
Eagles have also had a magnificent season, currently sitting second and looking dangerous. Despite the missing superstars Mark Lecras and Nick Naitanui, the Eagles took a strangle hold against Fremantle and dominated the ladder leading Dockers, showing off their depth and sending an ominous message to the top 8 ahead of the finals. The game against the Bulldogs is ladder defining for both teams, but either way I think that the Eagles will be a force in this year’s finals. Looking forward to seeing a ferocious team in the finals, one I can see making the Grand Final no matter where they finish.
Ladder prediction: 3rd
Who misses the cut?
Unfortunately, I don't see a finals campaign for Geelong, Greater Western Sydney or Collingwood. The Cats and Pies have both experienced horribly inconsistent seasons, with Collingwood suffering 5 consecutive defeats during July. Geelong need some players to step up, as their experienced players are declining I don't see their careers lasting much longer.
GWS happens to be the other end of the spectrum, they're in need of a little more experience. Be that in the form of signing some more players, or just another season under their belts. I believe it won't be long until we see the young Giants showing a case for the finals, be it next year or the year after.
There we have it. For now anyway. I’ll write up a team by team seasonal review come the conclusion of round 23. Good luck to all the teams fighting for their finals positions, I’ll be watching keenly.