As a follow up to the Leap Year piece, below are the four sides most likely – in my opinion – to drop out of the final eight in 2014.
Premiers in 2010, runner up in 2011 and a preliminary finalist in 2012, Collingwood’s spluttering 2013 season could either be seen as a portent of things to come or a foundation for better days – depending on your persuasion. One thing is clear though: 2014 is the where the Nathan Buckley era really begins.
The off-season saw Thomas, Shaw and Jolly – all recent premiership stars – depart the club, and in came Patrick Karnezis, Jesse White and Tony Armstrong. Scott Pendlebury predictably replaced Nick Maxwell as club captain and the leadership group has been reshaped.
For a club that has been a habitual top four contender, questions abound.
Travis Cloke was once again a domineering force in attack (68 goals and 190 marks), while Pendlebury and Swan continued to rule the possession count (the ‘Pies led the league in terms of disposals per game). Collingwood’s Achilles heel was in the ruck, where the side ranked worst in the AFL. Youngster Brodie Grundy looks promising, though he is yet to notch 10 games.
The nadir came at Metricon Stadium where they were humbled by the improving Suns, then the following week cut it way too fine against the young Giants outfit at the MCG. These performances were evidence enough for their many doubters that something was not right under Buckley’s guidance, but to combat those fears came strong victories against Essendon and Sydney.
At their best the Magpies are a formidable unit, as evidenced by the continual grief they give Geelong, yet the reverse is also true – the ‘Pies habitually struggle against the potent Hawks.
Every side has injury struggles and Collingwood were no different, though in the form of Clinton Young (sensationally elected to the leadership group after just two games in 2013) they have a virtual new recruit with a booming left foot and big game experience. With Thomas and Shaw now ex-‘Pies his run and carry could prove crucial.
The Magpies have a horror start to the new campaign with five of their first seven games against 2013 finalists, while the other two against North Melbourne and Essendon are far from certain.
Collingwood would want to enter their bye week with a 3-4 record at worst or they could be planning for 2015 earlier than anticipated.
The Power were a club rejuvenated in 2013, with a new coach, new president and a new-found self-belief that saw them topple the much fancied ‘Pies in a massive September boilover. A repeat dose could prove far more difficult.
On the edge of the eight all season, of Port’s 12 wins five came under 10 points, including a miraculous victory in the second Showdown against the Crows. A loss in any of these games would have seen them drop out of the eight on their merits, though like Carlton, they’d have been saved by Essendon’s ban.
A kind early season fixture set them on their path, but it was back-to-back mid season wins over Sydney and Collingwood that gave the Power the confidence to push on and made the competition take the side seriously as a finals contender.
Quality output from youngsters Wines, Wingard, Hartlett and Ebert combined with the seemingly natural leadership of new captain Travis Boak to make Port Adelaide the surprise packet of last season, while the dead-eye Jay Schulz dobbed 49 majors (top 10 in goals and marks inside 50), while Matthew Lobbe proved to be a reliable ruckman in a season that netted 21 games.
Newly acquired forwards Neade and Monfries were dangerous in attack, while Justin Westhoff appeared revitalized under Ken Hinkley and the evergreen veteran Kane Cornes again proved to be great value.
2013 brought us a new and tenacious Power (ranked 3rd in tackles) that hadn’t been seen since their disastrous 2007 Grand Final performance, a display they went some way to putting behind them with their resolute loss to the Cats in the semi final.
The finishing position of fifth was fairytale stuff for the Alberton faithful, but with several legitimate challengers hot on their heels and notwithstanding a relatively pleasant fixture, one feels a replicate will require another sprinkling of magic dust at Adelaide Oval if Hinkley’s Power are to avoid some degree of second year blues.
As everyone knows, the Blues did not qualify for the 2013 finals series on merit, despite the fact that they managed to officially finish sixth after the upset win over the Tigers. An 11-11 home and away record matched that of the previous season, one that saw Brett Ratten sacked for underperformance.
Mick Malthouse’s second year at the helm should see the side gel into a more cohesive unit, and there were moments last term that indicated that Carlton was a legitimate and threatening September outfit.
The flip side however, is their inconsistency. It might seem strange for a side that was only defeated by five goals or more twice for the entire campaign, but from week to week it was difficult to predict just which Blues team would turn up. This trait was exemplified with the pitiful surrender to the Bulldogs late in the season, a game which had they won would have secured a valid spot in the top eight. The Blues twice failed to close out games against Essendon, and only a miraculous last ditch effort at Football Park saw the side secure the final September placing.
On that evidence Carlton, much like North, have the ingredients to succeed but perhaps not the mindset.
In securing Thomas, Docherty and Everitt the Blues were productive in the trade period and have addressed Malthouse’s concerns about a lack of midfield running power. As ever though, it is Carlton’s forward line that places them in the middle tier. The loss of Eddie Betts should be readily covered, but one of either swingmen in Henderson and Waite will need to beat Garlett’s 2013 total of 43 goals if Carlton are to remain in contention.
For that reason, the most important player this term may well be sturdy defender Matthew Watson, for if the 21 year old can solidify a spot in the back six Carlton’s key position woes could be alleviated.
As tempting as it was to include Richmond in this list (the Tigers have not made successive finals campaigns since 1973-74), 2014 represents a new era for the Cats despite finishing second in 2013 and coming within a whisker of a fifth Grand Final appearance in seven years.
There was an odd frailty to the ’13 Cats which saw the side fail at the death in uncharacteristic circumstances on a couple of occasions, and their stellar early season record was flattering on closer inspection. Gone is their air of invincibility and with it the peculiar hold they had over Hawthorn.
The post season saw stalwarts Chapman, Corey, Podsiadly and Hunt move on, and added to the previous departures of Ablett, Harley, Ling and Scarlett, the core of what was perhaps their greatest ever combination has all but disappeared.
Geelong’s youngsters have been ultra -impressive throughout, but now exposed as major players it is unknown whether that form can be maintained. Motlop, Christensen and Duncan were all top 10 in the Geelong best and fairest award, a great sign for their future prospects, but much more of the same will now be expected without the support of previous years.
Unchanged is the Cats’ preferred heavy use of the ball (3rd in handballs and 4th in total disposals), but without the domineering Ottens in the ruck the side has fallen to the bottom four in terms of winning hitouts and closing down opposition big men. Arresting that slide could prove difficult with the inexperienced Blacavs and injury-ridden Vardy the main men, while West was traded to the Lions and Hamish McIntosh is still to take to the field in the hoops.
Their demise has been predicted before, of course, and Geelong falling out of the eight completely seems far-fetched right now. As we’ve seen before with other top teams (see Brisbane of 2005 and West Coast of 2008), once the decline begins the slide can come very swiftly, so a supreme effort from their young to mid-range players is required if their 2013 form (18-4 and 135.6%) is to come anywhere close to being replicated.