Seven Sleeps to go

Greetings and Welcome to 2014 to all.   The summer is coming to a close and the AFL season approaches but it has been a hot, hot summer since my last correspondence.  Before we take a forensic investigation of the upcoming season, a review of the events of summer is worthy.   Australian cricket fans approached the summer with fear and trepidation after the events in the winter of 2013.  It has turned out to be a summer of redemption.  The resurgence of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin has made this scribe reassess both of these players.  (Mind you Haddin keeping to spin is still a bother).  What we saw from the Australian Team was a complete destruction of English Cricket that has cost careers and left the Poms in tatters.  The lack of fight and competiveness of the English team was disappointing for those anticipating a live test at the G on Boxing Day.   So we looked forward to the tour of South Africa against the Number One test side in the world.  The Indian tour of South Africa showed how they approached the game, being more intent on protecting their status as Numero Uno than on winning a test match.  It was an engrossing series and disappointing that there are only three matches – although the players are well cooked by now.  All tests have been one sided and once again home-side made to order pitches were on the agenda.  The ploy has failed badly in this test match as Australia look to wrap up the series.  South Africa will hold their number one mantle for now, but they too are in a spot of bother with the departure of Jacques Kallis and now Graham Smith.  In Amla and de Villiers they have a pair of the finest players, but in David Warner the Australians have a match winning opening batsman and the captain can play when he needs to.   But bowlers win matches and the praises for the efforts of MG Johnson are worthy and well-deserved.  His partner in crime Ryan Harris though is worthy of equal praise his skill and guile with the ball and at speeds not far off the MGJ express.  Most of this carrying a knee injury requiring surgery, hope he can come back in great order but memories of MG Hughes never really recovering from knee surgery linger.   But this is really a preview and prediction for the 2014 AFL Season.  Once again I have looked at every game and every team and rated each team’s chances in the games as to where my examination says the points are likely to go.   Ratings and allotted points can be considered in the following manner:   4 – David and Goliath battle with David not even having a stone. 3 – Favoured and team should win 2 – a 50/50 game where winner impossible to call at this early stage 1 – Underdog, but not without a chance 0 – This would be David   Again I have included the upside and downside for each team.  Upside being where they win all their 50-50 and better games and downside where they lose all their 50-50 games.   The grades of the competition appear to be pretty unbalanced this year, which makes for a very difficult season to make predictions.  Only Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle are in A Grade at the moment but there are several candidates who could join them but have too many question marks over them to really be part of the elite.  At the other end of the scale only 4 teams cannot entertain finals prospects in GWS, St Kilda, Melbourne and Brisbane – with Gold Coast and the Doggies highly unlikely.  Which leaves 11 teams trying to fill the remaining 5 places – are we closer to equalisation than the AFL believes?  Of those the Pies, Blues and Bombers are the biggest conundrums with over 36 points between their downside and upsides.   There are a couple of standouts in the draw.  First of all someone served Vlad a bad meal in Brisbane and they have been handed a horror which is why they cannot entertain finals aspirations.  The other is Geelong who rate lower this year with some of the personnel challenges they have, however with the luxury of 8 games at the Kardinia Park pretty much makes them a lock for the top four.

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Comments
Hawthorn

1

67

60

88

They have the biggest out with the departure of Buddy, but have traded well to pick up McEvoy.  They look to be flying and they have generally played well with Franklin not in the team.  But he will be a significant loss and release the oppositions best defenders to lesser players.  Yeah, yeah what about Roughy, Gunston and Cyril…..- good as they may they ain’t Sir Lancelot!  What does make them still the yardstick is their balance of talent in all areas.  They appear in better shape than 2009 and whilst there are a few questions, they still rate as the top team.
Geelong

2

66

56

80

A lot of experience departing the cattery, but clearly plenty of confidence in the remaining crew by only supplementing their list with young bucks.  At full strength they will be a force to be reckoned with again.  However there are concerns with a number of early season injuries and the season ending ACL injury to Nathan Vardy.  Given those concerns the Cats do have the propensity to fall away this year, however their home ground advantage gives them plenty of gimme games.  As a result they are rated 2nd, despite not believing they are in the best four teams.
Sydney

3

65

64

84

They have gone “All In” on Buddy – and in reality they have to win the flag in the next two years.  As smart as the Swans are with their contracts – they have a few beauties that are going to attract plenty of suitors when they are up for grabs.  With Tippett, Franklin and Reid up forward they will have a potent mix plus a fine midfield to provide the service.  Buddy could go back-to-back.  The nature of their play always gives the opposition a theoretical chance and as such their rating suffers.  If their forwards click then the theoretics go out the window – but until it does they will finish 3rd before going on to be the 2014 Premiers.
Fremantle

4

64

60

76

Get Stuffed Lyon has hunted for more goalscoring power with Sylvia and Gumbleton, but those plans are in tatters with the plight of Gumbleton.  Not sure Sylvia is in the best 22.  The question is whether Lyon coaches for the list he has or coaches the list to play his “style”?  I reckon we will see another solid year from the Purple Stranglers, who will dominate their fortress to give them a good kick into the finals.  Still not sure it can win the big one, but having lost one they will be hungry to go one better.  The vagaries of the draw have them rated 4th at the end of 23 rounds.
Collingwood

5

59

44

88

Heath Shaw aside the Pies have not lost much from the best team for much 2013.  They have found an able replacement for Darren Jolly in Grundy, the prospects of Taylor Adams are very good and they will get Alan Toovey back early in the season.  Will Jesse White be the replacement for Leigh Brown they expected with Chris Dawes and The Big Q?  The Q still remains.  There is plenty of quality, but to my mind there is no quantum leap improvement coming in 2014.  However their favourable draw and competitiveness holds them in good stead for a 5th place finish.
Carlton

6

57

44

80

Heath Scotland will be the defining player for the Blues in 2014!  If he continues to be in the best 22 players then another ho-hum season awaits – but if the younger players genuinely step up and are played then the seasons prospects are much brighter.  Enough has been said of Dale Thomas and if he can reproduce close to his best form he will be a great asset.  The Blues have had a much vaunted midfield for a couple of years, but it has been too shallow.  With the inclusion of Thomas and improvement of the likes of Bell, Menzel, Graham and Buckley they will bat a bit deeper and the locks placed on Murphy and Judd will not affect the team as much.  Would be handy too if Brock McLean couldn’t get a game.  And just for Mayo – the real trump card is Cameron Wood!  The Blues are not out of any game as such could be threat, but they also have the propensity to implode.  Expecting a better and more even effort in 2014 and a 6th placed finish
Essendon

7

53

36

76

The toughest team to assess – what will be the effect of the disgrace that 2013 was.  On the field the immediate issue will be the effect of not having Tom Bellchambers for the start of the season.  Crameri going will affect the dynamics of the forward line and Big Joe will have to grow into his name quickly.  Even under the cloud last year they continued to win big games and were top four material till round 18.  Underestimate the Bombers at your peril – Bomber fans may think 7th underestimates them but given the ongoing turmoil it’s as high as they could be rated.
West Coast

8

52

44

64

Like Adelaide big things were expected in 2013, but a myriad of factors saw them perform well below expectations.  What is the true form 2012 or 2013?  This pontificator has written them off in both years due to questions on their ageing stars.  They have lost a couple of those – and still have powerful forwards in Kennedy and Darling.  But the big question is around Natanui, if he is fit and firing they might make that leap back up the table.  Expecting they will re-establish dominance at Subiaco and that will help them claim the last spot in finals.
Richmond

9

50

40

56

In Shaun Hampson the Tigers have solved an issue getting a decent backup for Ivan Maric.  They were very competitive in 2013 and should be again this year – but again I cannot see an addition to the list that will help them make the jump.  By the same token the coach is level headed and will make sure improvements continue.  Incredibly the Tiges have been rated 9th but much being dependent on the recovery of Big Ivan.
Adelaide

10

48

36

60

Great expectations for 2013 were stymied by the loss of Tex Walker early in the season after losing Tippett to the Sydney squillions from Sydney.  They get Tex back and along with the JPod and Eddie Betts the forward line could be pretty potent.  The midfield is very capable and improvement is expected from Crouch and Grigg which will more than make up for the loss of Bernie Vince.  Concern though about the quality of their defence and dependence on “Sauce” Jacobs in the ruck.  They have a few gimmes with GWS, Gold Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda all at Adelaide Oval and only trips to meet Fremantle and Geelong at impenetrable fortresses.  But I have to see to believe if there is any genuine improvement and as such I have them down for 10th.
North Melbourne

11

44

40

52

The Kangas are touted as being the next big thing – again.  Yes – they lost games by small margins, but I do not see an exponential improvement in this list.  Their touted inside brigade are good – but not sure who will jump out to be a star.  The dependence on Goldstein in the ruck hurts them – as good as he is the load needs to be shared and he has not worked well with his counterparts thus far in his career.  If they can turn some of those losses around they could challenge the eight, but at this stage an 11th placed finish is the prediction.
Port Adelaide

12

40

20

44

Was it a one season wonder?  They had a great 2013 and played a brand of footy that was great to watch.  There is no reason to believe they will not repeat the effort this year.  However I suspect they will go a couple of steps back as they will not catch anyone by surprise in 2014.  They have also paid a price for their success with a pretty tough draw and as a result they have been rated in 12th place.
Western Bulldogs

13

34

20

36

A great finish to 2013 and the inclusion of Stewart Crameri has them yapping out at the kennel.  They can make the jump with a couple of their young midfielders capable of joining Ryan Griffen in the elite category – in particular Tom Liberatore.  They do have an unhealthy dependency on Will Minson – if he goes down they are in bother.  Could make the eight, but more likely to shape it in 2014 with a 13th placed finish.
Gold Coast

14

25

12

36

Jack Martin is the big inclusion for the Suns and he is only just turned 18.  They will be the next big thing!  Not so sure it will be this year though, they will improve but not at the rate some predict.  The loss of Campbell Brown will have an impact on them, but his loss will be of benefit in the long term.  They still have plenty of tough games this year and I expect marginal improvement rather than a quantum leap to finish 14th.
Melbourne

15

22

8

28

They have the biggest in with Paul Roos coming into save the Dees.  He brings with him a fair degree of talent which will undoubtedly improve the team along with a more hard-nosed approach to the game.  Critically though will be their ability to keep their best team on the park and especially Mitch Clark.  They will have a role in defining the final eight but they won’t be part of it in 2014 where they look like finishing 15th.
Brisbane

16

19

4

20

The generational change is nearly complete with the retirement of Simon Black – only Jonathan Brown remains of the Threepeaters.  Plenty of young talent wanted out also.  Whatever is said about Sydney and their use of the “allowance” there is no better reason for it to stay by looking at what happened to Brisbane and their inability to maintain players.  It certainly has something to do with the club, but without an extra financial incentive the tug of home will always be strong.  Brisbane have teased in the last couple of years but in reality on the back of pretty soft draws, that has been well and truly sorted out this year.  The midfield will improve with a year more experience and Leuenberger finished 2013 as probably the best in the business – Trent West will be a great support.  But there is still much to develop at either end of the ground and will be also rans for mine at 16th.
St Kilda

17

15

4

20

The most critical recruit here is Alan Richardson.  He has done his apprenticeship and will instil a better vibe around the place.  However they made some other critical trades which may hurt initially but will pay off in the long run.  Another year of pain on the ground for the Saints, but unlike 2013 they will see the future more positively.  The round 2 encounter with GWS is likely to determine the Wooden Spoon, a win at Etihad should lock in 17th place.
GWS

18

12

0

12

A few handy pickups from other clubs, but in reality another year to develop.  Will cause some headaches but will not trouble September.  They are rated at 18 but really only on the fact that they only meet St Kilda once and at Etihad.  If they win that Round 2 encounter then 17th spot beckons.

What a Sham!   Super Saturday beckons at Flemington before the racing stage is sent to Sydney, the day is well monickered with a fantastic program highlighted by the two Group 1 features in the Australian Cup and the Newmarket Handicap.  There a plenty of other high quality races on the program. The Sires Produce Stakes (G2, 1400m, 2yo SW) sees the babies stretch out to the 7 furlongs.  Form lines are spread with a few backing from the Blue Diamond, however I was impressed with Marcado (2) the week before at Headquarters and reckon he will go two from two.  Awesome Rock (3) won well in a 1300m midweeker, as Hawking (6) at Geelong and Zululand (4) was only 4 lengths off Earthquake in the Blue Diamond. Selections Race 3 – 2-3-6-4

The Kewney Stakes (G2, 1400m, 3yo Fillies) is a ripper of a race.  Solicit (2) will bowl along in front then click up a gear in the straight to try and hold out the closers.  She did it in great style 3 weeks ago, but has better competition tomorrow.  Saralago (9) has good Sydney form and I think will be the best of them and will be my selection if leaders are struggling on the day.  Marianne (3) and Suavito (5) also rate highly. Selections Race 3 – 2-9-3-5

Managed to nail the Newmarket (G1, 1200m, HCP) winner last year down in the weights with Shamexpress (4) but he is carrying a good horse’s weight in 2014.  He takes on a pretty hot field again and there are chances a plenty.  Lankan Rupee (2) and Samaready (3) are flying for Mick Price, but I am going against them only on the weights.  Going with the same formula to win again and Bernabau (14) is the good 3yo and down in the weights.  Unpretentious (9) closed well in the Lightning Stakes and gets 3kg off Shamexpress (4) who should run well again and the Sheikh has Knoydart (10) in excellent form. Selections Race 6 – 14-9-4-10

The Australian Cup (G1, 2000m, WFA) is one the great races on the calendar and this year is no exception with last two Melbourne Cup winners taking on the Cox Plate winner.  Shamus Award (8) and Fiorente (1) will battle it out for honours in the betting ring, but there are other chances.  I am in last year’s cup winner’s corner, Fiorente (1) came back in great order and can reverse the Cox Plate result.  No reason to think Shamus Award (8) can’t hold on, but betting against it and in fact I also think his 3yo counterpart Thunder Fantasy (9) might go past him also.  Green Moon (2) will strip fitter also after his run in the Peter Young Stakes. Selections Race 7 – 1-9-8-2

The penultimate race on the card is the Blamey Stakes (G2, 1600m, SWP) and I can’t find any reason why Foundry (10) can’t backup from the last Flemington meeting and take the chocolates again.  There is some very good competition though with Sea Moon (1), Desert Jeuney (6) and Stipulate (9) my next best. Selections Race 7 – 10-6-1-9

The Chipping Norton Stakes (G1, 1600m, WFA) heads up a great program in Sydney and sees the return of It’s a Dundeel (1).  Quite happy to think he will come ready to win.  A great mares contest in the Wiggle Stakes (G3, 1400m. Mares SWP) where Catkins (2) will give a great sight again and the Fillies in the Surround Stakes (G2, 1400m, 3yo Fillies SW) has Guelph (1) out to remedy her last start failure.

Quaddie   The Newmarket for the first leg makes it pretty tough, if you think it is pretty wide.  Not so bad if you reckon the favourites can take it out.  So will split the investment in to a $15 quaddie with the favourites only and another $15 including a number of the other chances.   Q1 – Favourites in leg 1 2,3,4/1,8,9/1,6,9,10/7,9 72 Combinations, a $15 investment will return 21% of the dividend.   Q2 – Wider in the Newmarket 1,2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10,14/1,8,9/1,6,9,10/7,9 240 combinations and the $15 investment will return 6.25% of the dividend    

Go Blues, Go Friars, Cheers, Sal

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Good summary of the cricket , Sal wonder what odds you would have got re aust winning 7 of the 8 test matches ? Incredible that a 32 year old in Mitchell virtually reinvented himself and several other players taking giant step forwards , Warner in particular . The footy preview shows how difficult it is to predict the final 8 with injuries and the draw the deciding factors ( the crows inj today have probably ruined them ) and agree re Richmond a few inj will quickly end there chances and even tho racing is not my cup of tea the racing previews on this site are thorough and well researched
    Thanks Sal

  2. Skip of Skipton says:

    Cats only play seven games at KP, Sal. Playing the qualifying final there last year meant they owed Etihad an extra game or some bollocks.

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