Season Preview 2011

By Lachlan Walmsley

I know many of you have been looking forward to this like Thomas Muster looks forward to clay court season and blondes.

Firstly remember that the season preview is prepared on the absurd notion that no sides get injuries. To illustrate this point, if Brendon Goddard or Joel Selwood play all year, then St Kilda and Geelong are quite capable of finishing in the top four. If either were to break their leg in Rd 1, both sides would struggle to make the top eight.

In recent years, there has been a tendency to have a few sides clear at the top; a big blanket across the next ten; and a couple that put the que in the rack by May. This year, I see a clear top three, a middle dozen that could finish in any conceivable order and a rock-solid bottom two.

1. Western Bulldogs: I am confident it can be the doggies year. And what a breath of fresh air it would be. They’ve waited patiently and I hope they get their moment. The Cooney, Boyd, Griffin, Ward, Cross combo is a dream midfield. Higgins should have been absolutely flogged over summer. If he can step up, then they are on.

Player watch: Shaun Higgins; I know he’s been around a few years, but you get the feeling this is the year he will make his move. I see 35 goals and 450 quality touches.

2. Hawthorn: My long time loathing for the brown and gold, leaves me feeling a bit numb as I pick them to finish top two. Massive heavy armoury, which has been well documented. No team would want to run into them in Melbourne in September because you just don’t know what Buddy and Cyril would do.

Player watch: Brad Sewell; Hawthorn’s best player for mine in the 2008 grand final, I think he has set himself for a big year.

3. Collingwood: This may sound a tad unfair given their tremendous achievement last year, but I consider them a wonderfully even and well drilled team. They start every game three goals ahead due to the extra man in the coaches box.

Player watch: Daisy Thomas for me is now one of the top few players in the game. He has developed beautifully along the years. Tremendous player.

4. Fremantle: History shows that a decent WA is nearly unbeatable at home. Well I think the Dockers are a good side and are set for a 14 win  or more season. They have some terrific young players with Fyfe, Hill, Suban and Ballantyne the standouts.

Player watch: Nat Fyfe; is surrounded by more hyped young players with worse haircuts, but this guy is a star. A wonderful talent. Reminds me of a young James Hird.

5. Adelaide: Not the sexiest side, but Neil Craig’s crow bots will win plenty of games this year. Fit and even, NC demands a contest till the final siren. If they win 10+ home games, a top four spot could be theirs.

Player watch: Phil Davis; Matt Rendel knew what he was doing when he called this boy’s name at #10 in 2008 draft. One of the best young KP players in a game favouring the midfielders more and more.

6. Carlton: I’m traditionally pretty harsh on the blues. They’ve done a great job for a few years of picking the ‘high’ draft pick, but then seemingly forgetting you have 44 players on a list.

Player watch: Brock McLean; now you’ve stopped laughing I think this guy is critical to them. If he is fit and firing, the blues will have another dimension. Every team needs a couple of heavy war tanks to split the pack and get the ball rolling their way. I think he could be Carlton’s man.

7. St Kilda: I really feel for saints supporters, if not their team. They’ve been in front at the 25 minute mark of two consecutive grand finals and won neither. Ouch. Well coached and with a nice spread of talent across the ground. Its been written by others, but they just need that bit more from 18-25 and they’re right there. It won’t get any easier though and I predict a small slide.

Player watch: I find Brendan Goddard to be one the most irresistible talents I have ever seen. In fact, I sort of ponder the role the press plays in a players reputation. I might open myself up to a shirtfront here, but I believe BJ (what a great nickname btw) will finish his career ahead of the modern day greats; Voss, Riccuito, Hird and Buckley.

8. Geelong: We’ve had a great run, so I shouldn’t squabble. If I could change one game it would be 2008 gf, where I’m still not quite sure what happened. I’m also very bitter about AFL taking our best player from one of its clubs. I maybe being overly romantic, but a part of my love for the game died that day. But all good things come to an end. I am slightly more optimistic on some of Geelong’s unfamiliar players than is probably warranted. If our best six or eight players all stay on the pitch, we can finish high again. And Joel Selwood is a freak.

Player watch: I get two for my own side, Mitch brown and Steven Motlop. I’m not expecting either to come in and dominate, but the talk has been there for a couple of years that these two boys can play. I hope their bodies allow them that opportunity.

9. Port Adelaide: Someone will always surprise and for mine it could be Port. Boak and Hartlett could be a terrific one-two. It appeared late last year the team found its heart.

Player Watch: Travis Boak; Superstar. I look forward to him returning to Torquay after 2012 to partner Joel Selwood.

10. Melbourne: hard to place. I feel dreadfully sorry for Dean Bailey. People truly expect instant results nowadays. They say, “they’ve had draft picks, now its times for them to be at the top”.

Player watch: Ricky Pettard; I think this guy can really play. If he gets a good run at it, I think he can become a top class half forward.

11. Sydney: Another team I find hard to place. They have been superbly coached and coordinated these last few years. Not sure ‘the horse’ will prove the raging success Roos was, but who knows.

Player watch: Gary Rohan;

12. Richmond: I think the competition needs Richmond to improve. Many draw quite comfort from the fact the tigers have been so poor for so long, but I am not one of those. The loudest roar I have ever heard at the MCG was when Stewie maxfield kicked a goal from outside fifty on the run against Essendon on a Friday night at the MCG in 1995.

Player watch: They have a few I’m keen on the tigers, but I’ll be really unoriginal and say Trent Cotchin. The guy is an Ablett clone. His time is now.

13. West Coast: They will be better this year West Coast, mainly because they couldn’t possibly get any worse. Start home games 6 goals in front, so expect to see 6-8 home wins. I think they are regretting the Natanui decision badly as the rest of the top ten from that year look unbelievable to be honest (Hill, Hartlett, Hurley, Yarran, Rich, Vickery, Ziebell and Sidebottom anyone). Kennedy was a great pick up though from a tough spot when losing Judd. In an even comp, could fall anywhere 7-15.

Player watch: Keep an eye on young Victorian boy Luke Shuey. He might be alright.

14. Nth Melbourne: A team on the up you’d have to assume. However, I get nervous when teams enter seasons with a handful of players under a cloud. I haven’t seen much of some of their highly rated younger players, but take it as read they can play. Eminently capable of finishing much higher than I have them here.

Player watch: Robbie Tarrant; they been very patient with this guy, so I look forward to seeing what he can do.

15. Essendon: I have a few mates who are Essendon supporters, so I will tread carefully: another 30 or 40 years of suffering and I’ll be almost ready to see them in the top ten. Unfortunately, ‘Knighta’ had to go and his replacement is the golden boy. You have to question men in their late thirties who tip their hair, but he seems to have a better handle on the modern game than flat top did. That said, players win matches. Essendon’s list is reassuringly threadbare. A long year ahead.

Player watch: Jake Melksham; you have to love the way this guy plays. They’ve found one here the bombers.

16. Gold Coast: Hating the Gold Coast of akin to hating a banana split. But I hate the fact they have been conceived out of thin air and received a ridiculous amount of ‘free kicks’ to keep in in foot speak. Try telling a Richmond or Melbourne supporter why its so important they make the finals straight away!

Player watch: Has to be Gary Ablett. Became one of the all-timers and I find it very sad he wont finish his career with us.

17. Brisbane: Ten years ago, Brisbane won the flag. Three of their very best that day were Power, Black and Brown. Unfortunately, these three guys are still Brisbane’s best players and by some margin. I consider Michael Voss to be very limited, not simply because of an ill-feted recruited spree, although this will be the genesis of his demise, but because he seems to lack vision and a game plan. In for a tough few years.

Player watch: Jack Redden. I haven’t seen a lot of him, but I think this guy goes quite well.


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