2016: Officially the most boring home and away season in history**

It’s late on Saturday night mid way through round 6 of the AFL season. The final siren goes down at Kardinia Park and Gold Coast lose to the Cats by 120 points and fall outside the top eight for the first time in 2016. The Crows take their spot after a win earlier that day. It marks the last time the composition of the top eight will change at rounds end for the entire season.


Congratulations Kangas, Cats, Swans, Doggies, Giants, Eagles, Crows and Hawks – you’ll all be playing in September. Its April and the season is already over for 10 of the 18 clubs. How boring. Especially for me, a Port supporter.


Round 6 2016 marked the earliest time in AFL history that this phenomenon has occurred. A browse of the excellent AFL Tables website shows that the previous record was Round 11 2010, five weeks later.


Everyone still remembers the excitement of 2014 when Richmond climbed from 16th in Round 14 to 8th in Round 22, and won their final game in Round 23 to hold on to it. For much of this season St Kilda, Port Adelaide and Melbourne have danced around 9th and 10th on the ladder, but could never bridge the gap when it mattered. For St Kilda that gap was only percentage points by season’s end, but large one at that.


The top eight finals qualification system was first used for the 1994 AFL season and with just 15 teams it presented the best ever chance in history to play finals. That year the top eight was not decided until the very last round (Round 24), when Richmond went from eighth to ninth on percentage after a big loss to Geelong.


The following two seasons followed the same pattern, the top eight not settled until after the final round. Even going back to the first AFL branded season in 1990, the top five (as it was then) was still changing up to Round 16.


But here comes the first asterisk component of the headline. Depending on your definition of AFL ‘history’, the above relates to 1990 onwards. So to be fair, I’ve also had a look at the earlier VFL records. There is one season that stands out for possibly dislodging our 2016 record, but there’s a few caveats. The 1967 VFL season saw the composition of the top four (as it was then) remained unchanged after Round 5. However, the 1967 season only had 12 clubs and 18 rounds so it’s difficult to make a direct comparison. And whereas the composition of the top eight remained the same for 18 weeks in 2016, it was only 14 in 1967.


The most obvious reason behind the 2016 milestone is the unusual form of North Melbourne. The Kangaroos won their first nine games of the year and proceeded to lose 10 of its next 13.  After sitting on top of the ladder for nine weeks straight to Round 12, they had slumped to eighth spot just four weeks later. But by this point they only needed two more wins for the year to reach the magical 12 that usually means a finals spot, and that made it more difficult than normal for any other team to break in.


So this brings us to the second asterisk in the headline. Because the composition of the top eight has been boring, the jostling for positions in it has never been as exciting. Heading into the final round of the season only one win separated 1st from 7th, with four of the clubs changing position by the end of it. The Premiership race seems as open as it’s ever been with Adelaide and West Coast still a chance despite being outside the top four.



About Mike Hugo

Occasional contributor, illustrator of Footy Places and other things (see my web store below).


  1. G’day Mike,

    No change for the top eight club for 14 rounds doesn’t mean boring in my opinion.

    I wish St Kilda could have won over Hawthorn or North Melbourne. Then we could climb up to the eighth in the late season.

    As a St Kilda supporter, seeing such big improvements was great. I’m excited to the 2017 season.

    And GWS’ first appearance at the final series is nice to see.

    There are some positive stuffs in the footy in the 2016 season, I think.

    Just my thoughts.



  2. Thanks Yoshi – yes the headline is a bit ‘tongue in cheek’, with there being some hope for the 3 teams mentioned to still make the eight with a few weeks to go. In the past two seasons (funnily enough) I’ve become a big advocate of a ‘final nine’ which is consistent with the NRL’s 8/16, but still less than the A-League’s 6/10.

  3. A weird year, Mike. The SANFL top five was in place at the end of Round 5, Anzac Day, with most teams only four games into their season. Gotta be close to some sort of record too.

  4. You’re right Mike. Richmond have been phoning in sickies since June.
    The only solution is to have a Division 1/Division 2 structure. The losers of the Elimination Final are relegated to play offs with the bottom 10 teams over the last 3 weeks of the finals. Why should they all be rewarded for their incompetence with extra holidays?
    The top 6 (or Premier League as I prefer to call them) would play off for the finals, and only play each other once next season (reward for excellence).
    Also some compensation for the GST money that the rustbucket states are still stealing from us.
    Unbiased of Subiaco

  5. Dave, sounds like that could be some sort of record too. If only we had a SANFL Tables dot com.

  6. Mike there were 12 sides in the VFL back in 1967.

    Yep the eight was set early in 2016, but correct me if i’m wrong, don’t we usually have seven finalists ‘confirmed’ by round eight. I’d be surprised if there has been a year in the recent past that a number of sides aren’t ‘safely positioned’,in the eight well before the halfway mark of the season


  7. Thanks Glen, will get that error fixed. Had a quick look at 5 past seasons (2011-2015) and there was no change to 7 of the top eight teams only after R15, R17, R9, R17 & R16. But yes the higher you go up the ladder the less change there is.

  8. John Butler says

    Thanks Mike. Much of interest in that.

    Do we put this down to the AFL’s equalisation efforts being overwhelmed by their commercial imperatives?


  9. Great observations Mike. You have identified that either 2016 is an anomaly or this is the first stage of the consolidation of a two class system that foretells the future of the AFL. I suspect it’s the latter. We the fans should pay your article considered regard and be alert and vigilant to how 2017 plays out.

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