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Team Previews 2015

Team Previews 2015

(Reviews in Pink Below after end of 2015 season)

Added 31 Mar 2015

This is the first and final preview.

Quick Summary
Here is the final 18 for 2015.  The higher the variance, the more likely teams may be to surprise (either to the upside or the downside)

The 6 top teams in order of expected wins
Hawks
Port
Swans (high variance)
Cats (high variance)
Roos (high variance)
Dockers

The 6 middle teams in order of expected wins
Tigers (high variance)
Suns
Crows
Pies (high variance)
Eagles
Giants

The 6 bottom teams in order of expected wins
Lions
Bombers (extreme variance)
Blues (high variance)
Dees
Dogs
Saints

An explanation for each team and their prospects follows:

Adelaide Crows

On the cusp of the top eight
12 wins and 9th  

(Actual finish = 13.5 wins {2 points for the non-game vs Geelong} & 7th before the finals; they did well after losing Brent Reilly
& Matt Crouch for the whole year; sadly, the year will be most remembered for the murder of coach Phil Walsh; maybe their positive pre-season form was slightly under-rated; well done to Scott Camporeale for his fill i role and then for not wanting the 2016 top job)

Last year: 11 wins and 10th

Vital rounds in 2015: 9-17 (Dockers at home, Blues away, bye, Hawks at home, Lions away, Cats at home, Eagles away, showdown, Suns at home) ; all these are winnable games, but none are dead certs; they will need to be playing well in mid-season and win a minimum 5 of these to be in a position to play finals.

Players to step up in 2015: Cameron Ellis-Yolmen (starring in NAB) (he did well)  & Tom Lynch (with his injuries of 2014 behind him now) (he did well) 

Preview: It is hard to get a good feel for how the new coach will go compared to the old coach. Phil Walsh does have the advantage of a fit Taylor Walker (a surprise choice for captain) for R1.  The coaching change will be marked as a slight positive.

They begin their season with a home game against highly rated North Melbourne.  The Roos had many big men with interrupted pre-seasons – so they could be vulnerable early.  Next, the Crows venture to Etihad to play the Pies. Collingwood have also had their problems in the pre-season.  The Crows would be a much better chance to win both of these games now (given the current troubles of the Roos and Pies) than most people thought when the fixture originally came out.  With a home match against the Dees in R3 and then an away game at Etihad versus the Dogs in R3&4, they are a chance to head to the R5 showdown undefeated.

It is noted that their 2015 draw is slightly tougher than in 2014.

Losing Brad Crouch for 8 weeks recently was a blow – especially as he looked ready to fire.  And Brent Reilly + Andy Otten are on the long term injury list.  The Patrick Dangerfield question (will he go?) should have no impact on the team performance (cf Gazza and Buddy in recent years)

Their pre-season form gets a tick.  All this adds up to a similar finish to 2014.  They are a chance for the finals – especially if something goes wrong for one of the teams selected 5 – 8, but the Crows are tipped to just miss.

Brisbane Lions

Improving
10 wins and 13th
(Actual finish = 4 wins & 17th; injuries absolutely killed them off in 2015; are players of note who missed 10 games or more were Claye Beams, Michael Close, Jonathan Freeman, Darcy Gardiner, Pearce Hanley, Jaden McGrath & Trent West; on top of that, Tom Rockliff missed 7, Jack Redden missed 5 and Dayne BEams 6 of the last 7 games & James Aish disappointed as well as having multiple injuries; with all this – and a relatively young list – they never had a hope)
Last year: 7 wins and 15th

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 – 6 (Pies at home, Roos away, Tigers at home, Eagles at home, Suns away then Blues away); Brisbane is likely to start as favourite in about 7 or 8 games this year.  Assuming they win most of them, they will still need to pinch a few others to give the final eight a shake.  That is why their first 6 weeks is critical.  They are a big chance in R1 against a somewhat underdone (but stung by a big loss to the Dogs) and undermanned Collingwood and again in R4 at home to the Eagles, but would probably be underdogs in the other 4 games.  They would need to win 3 – 4 of these first six in order to keep themselves in touch with the top 8.

Players to step up in 2015: Daniel Merrett (after almost being traded in late 2014) (season ruined by injury) & Taylor Lewis (he won the Rising Star off the back of a limited pre-season; this year he has had a good pre-season) (struggled)

Preview: The Lions have stabilised well since 5 players walked out at the end of 2013.  Now they have landed the prize recruits of Dayne Beams (ready to go) and Allen Christensen (coming off an injury interrupted pre- season and should do better in 2016 than this year).  Credit must be given to Justin Leppitsch and his team for the more positive mood.

The Lions finished with an awful percentage of 69.26 last year.  Although many are talking them up as finals contenders, it is unlikely to happen in 2015. Despite their poor showing last season, they were actually lucky in catching opposition teams at the right time.

A positive for them is that they look slightly better placed this year in terms of injury.  They have Pearce Hanley, Ryan Harwood and Trent West (not really needed if Leuenberger and Martin are both fit) out for extended periods.  Last year they had many players out for lengthy periods.

It will really help if Martin and Leuenberger can both remain fit and firing.  Nonetheless, they are still lacking in quality talls.  Losing Patfull is a minus (he’s sort of a tall at 190cm).  Most of their other talls are in the very early stages of their career.  One at the other end is Daniel Merrett.  He should have a better year in 2015 after being talked about as a trade at the end of 2014.

Should some of their younger tall players take big strides forward, they could push up into the 9 – 12 bracket.

Carlton

Thereabouts again
8 wins and 15th (but with high variance)
(Actual finish = 4 wins & 18th; they had a great tussle with the Lions for the spoon; things were looking crook when the coach fell out with the administration; by the time the sacking occurred, the season was gone; players news was mostly negative – except for Patrick Cripps and a healthier Matthew Kreuzer; Dale Thomas missed most for the year & Bryce Gibbs for 12 games; but the disharmony at the club was probably the major factor
Last year: 7 wins and 13th

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 – 7 (Richmond, Eagles away, Bombers, Saints, Pies, Lions at home then Giants at home); they aren’t expected to play finals, but would be some sort of chance in all of these games (and Pies, Dons + Saints have some early season troubles); they will need to get off to a flier (say, 5 wins minimum), because the rest of the fixture is tougher.

Mick Malthouse cannot see them losing a game!  This quote was spoken to provide confidence to the supporters (and maybe the players, if they are a little pessimistic at present).  One should not assume that Mick is delusional.  The comment needs to be taken in context and he knows the challenge that confronts him.  It helped to sell a few newspapers!

Players to step up in 2015: Patrick Cripps (has been great in NAB) (starred!)  and Simon White (been healthy long enough now to hit his straps) (slowed by 2 x knee injuries)

Preview: The Blues have traded away today for a better future in letting Jarrad Waite (who said he left because the Blues were rebuilding) and Brock McLean go.  They also moved on their “problem cases” in Jeff Garlett and Mitch Robinson.

Their imports from other clubs (Kristian Jaksch, Liam Jones, Jason {king} Tutt and Mark Whiley) are at the younger end of the spectrum.  So their young list has quite a bit of improvement in them.

And they are generally a lot healthier now than in 2014. It is noted that up to 20 players had ops at the end of the 2013 season; many fewer than at the end of 2014.

It would be nice if Matthew Kreuzer could finally get onto the park.  The fact that Cameron Wood has been upgraded from the rookie list already indicates that they aren’t expecting Kruze back any time soon. And Andrew Walker may also be a few weeks away – having completed very little of the pre-season.

The team should eventually click and could surprise to the upside, but this is more likely to occur in 2016 and beyond.

Collingwood

Somewhere in the middle
10 wins and 10th (but with high variance)
(Actual finish = 10 wins & 12th; analysis was about right, but they outperformed expectations in a sense – they had some injury troubles – Ben Reid, Steele Sidebottom & others; plus they lost Lachlan Keeffe + Josh Thomas for the ENTIRE season; 2018 top four plans remain intact

Last year: 11 wins and 11th
Vital rounds in 2015:
19 – 23 (Blues, Swans away, Tigers, Cats then Bombers); if they are still alive by then, the last 5 rounds will be a real challenge; they will potentially be outsiders in all 5 games (with the possible exception of the Blues and Bombers games) – and may need to win 4 or 5 of them to play finals.

Players to step up in 2015: Dane Swan (Pendles back him to prove the critics wrong – has been a prolific ball-winner every year except 2014 when he battled injuries) (he was really good) & Ben Kennedy (should be a regular this year) (ordinary and then dumped)

Preview: At the end of February, things were rosy at Pieland. They had just towelled up the reigning premiers in the very first NAB match of the pre-season and everyone was talking of a quick return to the top rungs of the ladder.  But (beware of the ideas of) March has been a pretty rough month for the Pies.  They lost their next 2 NAB matches (narrowly to the Blues and were then flogged by the Dogs when they played something close to their best available team.  Prized recruit Levi Greenwood hobbled off in that game and will now miss half the season.

To top it all off, the club face the prospect of losing Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas for the whole season after they tested positive to clenbuterol.  They will miss R1&2 while they await the B sample results (the delay is unacceptable, really).

The Pies began preparing for 2018 last year when they let Heath Shaw and Dale Thomas go (trading in the younger Patrick Karnezis, Taylor Adams, Tony Armstrong and Jesse White).  Then at the end of 2014, they lost Dayne Beams (involuntarily) and Heretier Lumumba – while Luke Ball and Nick Maxwell retired.

They did bring in the above-mentioned Greenwood and Travis Varcoe. Rumours abound that they were keen to snaffle Mitch Clark to assist Travis Cloke.  Speaking of which, Cloke had his worst year for ages in 2014 when it was rumoured he had a back injury.  His NAB numbers have been modest – despite spending over 90% of game time on the ground.  So there may be some concerns about him; but, then again, he may be merely pacing himself.  His early season form will be watched with interest.

Despite Eddie McGuire and Gary Pert talking up the Pies (marketing work), Nathan Buckley has said that they will be better in 2016 and then better again in 2017.  Scott Pendlebury, in a pre-season interview, mentioned 2018.  Put that year on your fridge, Magpie fans.  That will be the next chance for Collingwood to be a top four team and a premiership chance.  There will be plenty of improvement seen in the list in those years.  In particular, Grundy and Witts will be in their prime by 2018.

Essendon

Possible big slider, but with extreme variance
9 wins and 14th (but with extreme variance)

(Actual finish = 6 wins & 15th;

Last year: 12 wins and 7th (prior to the finals)
Vital rounds in 2015:
19 – 23 (Giants away, Crows at home, Suns away, Tigers and Magpies); the Dons have been fast out of the blocks in recent seasons, but have hit the wall late in the season; the run home this year will be challenging – and they are likely to be needing several wins in this period to clinch a finals berth.

Players to step up in 2015: Tom Bellchambers (chronic injury worries in 2014 and Ryder has left the club) & Joe Daniher (did ok in 2014 off a limited pre-season; should improve in 2015)

Preview: In the 2014 preview, you would have seen: “They are the hardest team to assess due to the ASADA / WADA stuff – and that still may not be over.”  Not much has changed!  Let’s hope it doesn’t get mentioned prior to the 2016 season. At least, for now (31 March) they are free to play and the footy fan can treat the matter as finished.

Here’s how the news positive news on 31 March was received in the streets of Essendon


The Dons have not had the ideal lead-in to the season in terms of match practice.  For reasons unknown to the common folk, it seems to be impossible to replicate the real game pressure and intensity when you are having an intra-club practice match.  Hence, most of the players will be short of a gallop when they begin their season.

Of interest is that they begin with the Swans and then the Hawks.  They weren’t really expected to win either of those 2 games – even with everything going well.  But the main query will be: how will their unusual pre-season affect the entire year?  Will they be right for R3 -5 (Carlton, Collingwood and St Kilda)?  They would probably start favourite in all 3 games had they had a normal preparation for the season.

The 2 possibilities are that they may be set up to start with a bang (powered by an “us against them” mentality).  Alternatively, they may build up slowly (with the possibility of dropping off late in the season).  Their progress will be tracked with interest, but expect a bumpy ride.

Only 11 of their top 25 players have played NAB matches at all. And, even then, many of these 11 didn’t play a heap of game time minutes.  As a guide, the Swans (picking them because they one of the teams most likely to take it easy on players in the NAB series) had 16 players play 200+ minutes in the NAB series.  The Bombers only managed 2 players over 200 minutes (Jonathon Giles and Jackson Merrett)

They play the Roos off 2 x 6 day breaks twice – in R7 and again in R17; so the fixture from R3 onwards hasn’t done them any favours.

Finally, another reason to give them an extreme variance is the coaching changes.  Not just that Mark Thompson came in for a year while James Hird was stood down.  It was more that James Hird was not present at the 2014 B&F and not mentioned once during the evening.  Then suddenly Thompson was gone and Hird was back.

On 31 March 2015, Thompson never got a mention at Essendon.  Hopefully (for the team’s sake), they don’t have players with divided loyalties over the coaching situation.  Another favourite son, Mark Harvey, comes back as an assistant.

Fremantle

High up again
14 wins and 6th
Last year: 16 wins and 4th (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 – 4 (Port at home, Cats away, Eagles then Swans at home); the Dockers have some player availability problems  early in the season and have a challenging first month; despite only travelling east once in these rounds, they could potentially lose 3 or all 4 of them if they are a bit off the ball.  They cannot afford to be too far off the pace early if they want a top 4 spot.

Players to step up in 2015: Clancee Pearce (injuries and vests ruined his 2014 season; is in better shape in 2015 and should be able to shake the vest) & Nathan Fyfe (a chance to be rated best in all the AFL in 2015)

Preview: it appears that their premiership window is quickly closing, but maybe they still have this year and next to achieve their goal.  They would ideally like to be 1 or 2 at year’s end (to get a home final in week 1) – if not 3 or 4 and hope for an away win a la 2013.

Ryan Crowley will probably be facing the anti-doping tribunal on 01 May (why so long a wait?) and is on provisional suspension until then.  Anthony Morabito is on the sidelines yet again.  Colin Sylvia is struggling with fitness and injury problems with several players coming into R1 underdone.

If they can survive the tough first 4 rounds, then R5 – 14 are much more friendly.  They would be favourites in 7 of those 9 games, in all likelihood.

For them to win the flag, they would need Pav and big Sandi fit and firing in the finals.

Geelong

Top 4 possible again
15 wins and 4th (but with high variance)
Last year: 17 wins and 3rd (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 -7 (Hawks, then Dockers, Suns and Roos – all at home, Tigers, Magpies and then Swans away); the fixture looked tough for the Cats in R1 – 7 when it first came out; and it doesn’t come any harder than R1; but they have the luxury of 3 games in a row at Kardinia Park in R2-4 against teams that have a few injury / conditioning concerns; and the Pies have dropped down in the rankings since beating the Hawks in NAB1; they are generally excellent starters, but would want to get 4 – 5 wins minimum if they are to target the top 4 in 2015.

Players to step up in 2015: Mitch Clark (didn’t play a game at the Dees in 2015, but looking good in NAB for the Cats) & Joel Selwood (excelled in 2014 off the back of a limited pre-season; better placed in 2015 and is right at the top of his game)

Preview: the Cats actually managed 17 wins last season, but it didn’t really feel like that after going out of the final in straight sets.

They have some long term injury concerns now as well.  Lincoln McCarthy is out until late in the season; Daniel Menzel hasn’t played for years; Nathan Vardy’s return from a knee injury has been delayed and Jackson Thurlow is out for an extended period.  And Steve Johnson comes in to the season underdone.

Another issue that they have is that their age profile is a 2 humped camel – with 9 players 30+, only 5 in the 25-29 window and 18 in the 21-24 age bracket.  Most experts reckon that a player is at his peak from 25-29.  They have lost Travis Varcoe and Allen Christensen as well.

Corey Enright admitted in Feb this year that they probably weren’t fit enough in 2014.  Indeed, they did struggle to run games out – being a poor fourth quarter team.

Put this all together and the conclusion is that the Cats are due to drop down the ladder this year.  But it is hard to tip this – given their amazing winning record since 2007.  Enright did say that they have had a big summer and should be able to run out games better in 2015.

The locals are excited by Nakia Cockatoo (who is flashy and a crowd-pleaser, but has had little match play over the past 18 months).

Their big men hold the key to their success.  They need a ruckman to stand up – Dawson Simpson or Hamish McIntosh.  Both were shot by finals time last season.

Gold Coast Suns

Moving up again
13 wins and 8th
Last year: 10 wins and 12th

Vital rounds in 2015: 9 – 14 (Hawks away; Swans and then Dockers at home , bye, Blues away then Roos at home); this block of 5 games includes games against 4 top premiership hopes and should give them a good feel as to whether they are in the “big league” yet or not.

Players to step up in 2015: Jack Martin (there were big wraps on him in 2014, but he missed half the season through injury; hasn’t set the world on fire in the pre-season, but watch for him to excel in 2015) & Adam Saad (already promoted off the rookie list and should start in R1)

Preview: they have a new coach in Rodney Eade and he is a “first up” specialist.  His teams tend to go well in his first season as coach.  The team is still in the development stage and close to taking the next big step into the finals.

However, Bluey McKenna recently noted on the ABC that many of their big guys have had interrupted pre-seasons.  So it is likely that they will improve on whatever they can produce early in the season.  Remember that the drop-off late last year was not only due to missing Gazza.  They also had a lot of other players injured at that time.  Maybe this cost Bluey his job!

Having Jaeger O’Meara contributing later this season (after major operations in the off season) would be a bonus; they also need to have Tom Nicholls and Charlie Dixon (both had interrupted pre-seasons) to play at their peak.

If they make finals, it may be tough going for them to get very far this time; but they will still be on the up for a few more years to come.

GWS Giants

The big riser!
10 wins and 12th
Last year: 6 wins and 16th

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 – 4 (Saints away; Dees in Canberra, Swans at the SCG then Suns in Canberra); the Giants will be looking to move up the ladder in 2015 and they will be looking to get a few wins on the board early.  They play the bottom 2 teams of 2014 in the first 2 weeks, then a tough test against big brother at the SCG; finally, a home game in Canberra against another big brother in the Suns.  They need to win the first 2 at least – with some small hope of being 3 and 1 after 4 games. Helping them to pull off an upset is that the R3 game vs the Suns see Gold Coast on the road for the second consecutive week.

Players to step up in 2015: Jeremy Cameron (played under an injury cloud in 2014 and ready to fire now) & Ryan Griffen (“Plough” rates him in the best 5 in the comp; was burdened with captaincy at the Dogs in 2014 and is the right age to really help the Giants)

Preview: the Giants are ready to take Giant strides forward this year. Their draw is friendlier in terms of travel this year.  In 2014, they were on the road for 5 consecutive weeks from R4-8 by virtue of the fact that their 2 home games in this period were in Canberra.  This 5 week period ended with a 111 point thumping by the Eagles in Perth. They had a bye and then were smashed by the Tigers to the tune of 113 points.

These drubbings caused the scribes to put hand to keyboard about what was going wrong with the Giants.  But it was a momentary blip; the very next round they went within 7 points of beating the team coached by the greatest coach in the history of the game (Brendon Bolton – with a 100% strike rate).

This year’s R2&4 Canberra games are split by a R3 away game against the Swans – much better fixturing by the AFL.  The worst they face in 2015 is 3 weeks in a row on the road in R16-18, with R17 being a home game at Canberra.

They have “won” in the “swaps” with the Dogs – in that Ryan Griffen will give the Giants an immediate return for their investment, whereas Boyd is a longer term investment for the Bulldogs.  The underrated recruit is Joel Patfull.  With him in and Phil Davis back for the full year (hopefully), their defence is looking a lot more solid.  And their overall age profile is better than ever before.

Hawthorn

Tipped to finish on top, but three-peat (if there is such a word) unlikely
16 wins and 1st
Last year: 11 wins and 10th (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015:
15-21 (Dockers at home, Swans away, Blues, Tigers, Eagles away, Cats then Port away); the Hawks will be looking for a top 2 finish yet again; and this block of games will confirm whether or not they can do it.  They should be hot favourites to beat the Blues, but all the other matches represent a decent test.

Players to step up in 2015: Jed Anderson (multiple injury worries in 2014, but doing well in NAB and looks set to be in the best 22) & Matt Suckling (did well after missing 2013 with a knee injury; should be further improved now)

Preview: the Hawks look well placed to finish top 4 – and possibly top 2 – in 2015; but defending back to back flags off a huge 2014 GF win is going to be a big test.  The reason for this is that teams which win the GF by more than 6 goals have a poor record the following year.  They either don’t make the grand final the next season or get overrun in the second half of the big game.  Examples of the latter are Geelong in 2007/08 and Collingwood in 2010/11.

It is more likely that the Hawks will be one of those big GF winners that are up near the top for the whole year and be under pressure late in the finals. Apart from this negative, everything else looks rosy for the reigning premiers.

Landing James Frawley should help (although he hasn’t really played all that well for some time – Luke Hodge talked him up, so expect him to play R1); they haven’t lost all that much and have plenty of talent in the Box Hill Hawks to call upon.  And they have the healthiest list of all at the start of 2015.

Melbourne

Slowly rising like a good cake
6 wins and 16th
Last year: 4 wins and 17th

Vital rounds in 2015: 11-17 (Saints, then Cats at Geelong, then Eagles in Darwin, Bombers, Lions at home then the Saints again – this time at the MCG); the Dees will be hoping to move out of the bottom 4 this year; this series of games gives them a chance to win potentially several games and head towards the middle of the ladder

Players to step up in 2015: Jesse {the great blue and red hope} Hogan (let’s hope the Dees finally get a break and this young bloke realises his potential in 2015) & Christian Salem (thereabouts in his debut year, but looks to have taken great strides over the summer)

Preview: it has been a long, hard road, but things look to be heading in the right direction.  Since Neale Daniher finished in 2007, there has been a series of failed coaches and doubts about the off field structures.  Now they have Simon Goodwin in place for the whole of 2015 /16 and then due to take over in 2017.  And Brendan McCartney is also there in the background – with a wealth of experience.

There is a lot of improvement in the group as a whole; but they got teams at the right time in 2014 and don’t get that luxury in 2015.  Nonetheless, the positives outweigh the negatives – so they should be able to avoid the spoon and probably second last as well.

One reason that they have been tipped ahead of the Dogs is that they have recruited significant ready to go players in Heretier Lumumba (who has already been voted into the leadership group), Jeff Garlett (capable of much better than his 9 games last season), Sam Frost and Ben Newton.  All 4 played all 3 NAB games, so expect them all to line up for the Dees in R1.

North Melbourne

Flag chance, but there are risks involved
14 wins and 5th (but with high variance)
Last year: 14 wins and 6th (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015: 1-8 (Crows away, Lions at home, Port at home, Cats in Geelong, Hawks, Tigers in Hobart, Bombers then Dockers away); Several talls for the Roos have had interrupted pre-seasons, so the Roos may possibly start slowly in the season and then finish well; but they cannot afford to get “too far back” as they chase a top four spot; the only certain wins in this block appear to be R2 against the Lions and possibly the Bombers game (depending upon what shape the Bombers are in at that stage)

Players to step up in 2015: Robbie Tarrant (has recovered from significant injuries in 2014 and likely to be in the team early – especially with a few talls injured or underdone) & Joel Tippett (has been promoted off the rookie list and excelled in NAB)

Preview: the time is now (or soon) for the Roos.  They have recruited 2 mature aged players in Shaun (Missy / Henry) Higgins and Jarrad (win a game off his own boot then get injured or suspended) Waite.  This follows on from picking up Nick Dal Santo the previous season.  The list looks ready to pounce, and would have benefited greatly from going deep into the finals in 2014.

The major concern is that many of their talls missed chunks of the pre-season.  Their actual injury list is short – with only Grima and Mullett of the top 30 players definitely out for lengthy periods.  But talls Black, Brown, Daw and Hansen are all underdone at the season’s beginning.  If they can overcome that (and they may – having plenty of tall timber generally) and remain in touch, then they are a genuine flag hope.

If they can be in the top 5 with 6 rounds to go, that should be good enough to finish top 4 – their run home is pretty easy.  Having said that, their draw is fairly tough overall.  If 2015 turns out to be a shocker, fear not Roos fans.  Your team will still be in the premiership window in 2016.

Port Adelaide

Top 2, then a flag
15 wins and 2nd
Last year: 14 wins and 5th (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015: 1 – 5 (Dockers away, Swans at home, Roos away, Hawks at home and then a showdown); it couldn’t be tougher early on for Port; the team would need to be at least 3 and 2 after R5; the only match in which they are expected to be a clear favourite is the showdown; good news is that they enter the new season in better shape (in terms of player availability and pre-season work) than their first 3 opponents.

Players to step up in 2015: John Butcher (Port fans have been waiting for him for a while; this has been his best pre-season and may be ready to be a regular up forward) & Aaron Young (green vest specialist in 2014 who looks to have improved enough to be in the best 21)

Preview: the key to Port being a flag hope this year may well be Paddy Ryder (now cleared to play, along with Angus Monfries).  Matthew Lobbe needed help last year, but his 2 other possible ruck partners (Redden & Renouf) were injured.  Now Ryder fills that gap as a ruck who can move forward to kick goals, while Redden is slowly coming back to form as a back-up option.

Everything looks set for Port to go for the flag this year…but some teams which have a narrow prelim loss do plummet the following season.  Let’s look at this briefly:

Last case was Crows in 2012 – losing the prelim to the Hawks by 5 points and then missed the finals in 2013.

The one before that was Hawthorn in 2001 (lost narrowly to the Bombers) and then missed the finals in 2002.

What the Crows in 2012 and Hawks in 2001 have in common was that they came from a fair way back the previous year (tha Hawks made the finals in 2000, but were a long way off being a challenger).  And also they looked a bit fragile.  Port, however, appear to be on a more stable upward trend. It is a bit of a concern that they were blown away by the Crows in NAB3 this year, but this will be (for now) dismissed as a blip.  If they are struggling by round 5, then alarm bells may be ringing.

Of note is that Port was the luckiest side of all in terms of getting teams at the right time (eg: Hawks at home when Hawks had all those mid-season injuries at once); but they also get some help in this regard (getting teams at the right time) in 2015.

And they were best off of all in terms of injuries last year.  They begin 2015 in second place (only Hawthorn has fewer injuries), so this should not be regarded as a negative.

Richmond

Finals the easier way this time
14 wins and 7th (but with high variance)
Last year: 12 wins and 8th (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015:
17-23 (Dockers at home, Hawks, Crows away, Suns at home, Magpies, Bombers then their nemesis: the Roos); Tiger fans will be hoping that they are IN the eight at the end of R16 and fighting to stay in there; they don’t have a gimme game in the last 7 weeks – unless one of their opponents has really dropped off significantly; they may possibly need 4 or 5 wins coming home in the last 7 weeks to make it.

The Tigers were big improvers in 2013 and their challenge is to maintain the progress.  They are a chance for finals, but it won’t be plain sailing

Players to step up in 2015: Kamydn McInstosh (injured for part of 2014; looks to have improved and should be a regular in 2015) & Jack Riewoldt (ok in 2014 after multiple off season ops; a hospital free pre-season this time and looks ready to star in 2015)

Preview: what an emotional rollercoaster for Tiger fans last season. They looked G O R N Gorn mid-season, but flew home to make the finals.  They were ordinary early without Ivan Maric for a long period and also Deledio and Rance for shorter stints.  All three paid NAB2 & 3 this year.

Their first 4 games are vs Blues, Dogs, Lions at the Gabba and then the Dees.  They should be favourites in all four and get off to a positive start (they were 1 and 3 last year) – especially with a healthier list in 2015.

The Tigers did have luck in catching teams at the right time in 2014, but they appear to be just as lucky when the 2015 fixture is analysed.

Some have criticised the Tigers for not trading (bar for picking up the delisted Taylor Hunt). But this is not all bad news.  So long as the list is capable and has improvement in it, a club can persist and progress.

The big risk with them is: what happens if Maric gets injured again?

St Kilda

Hamstrung and will struggle
2 wins and the spoon
Last year: 4 wins and 18th

Vital rounds in 2015: 1-6 (Giants at home, Suns away, Pies, Blues in NZ, Bombers then Dogs) the Saints are favourites for the spoon and, as such, the pressure comes on them early; they do have a chance to pinch a game or 2 in this time frame; but they have significant injury problems to begin the season, so may struggle to cash in on these winnable games.

Players to step up in 2015: Jack Steven (battled a leg problem in 2014; should be back to his best now) & Eli Templeton (broke his arm 2014, but should be right to go now)

Preview: the Saints were 3 and 2 after 5 rounds prior to the Wellington NZ game against the then winless Brisbane.  The Lions had an upset win and the Saints only won one more match for the season.  Their injuries occurred late in the season and they ended up with Paddy McCartin as a result.

They have looked to the long distant future in their trading.  There are no quick fixes on the horizon.  Out goes Rhys Stanley and James Gwilt, with Lenny Hayes retiring.  Their only recruit from another club is Swans fringe player Tim Membrey.

Saint fans will need to be patient – especially as they have a plethora of injuries and currently have the longest injury list.  To make matters worse, they have bad luck with the fixture in that they don’t get to play teams at the right time.  Patience is required.

Sydney Swans

Still near the top
15 wins and 3rd (but with high variance)
Last year: 17 wins and 1st (prior to the finals)

Vital rounds in 2015: 7 – 14 (Cats at home, Hawks away, Blues at home, Suns away, bye, Roos away, Tigers at home then Port at home); the Swans have been known to be a bit rusty early and then really hit their straps after the first few rounds; this R7 – 14 period will go a long way to deciding if they are a top four team or not; they play 5 of last year’s top 8 as well as a tricky away game to the Suns; in fact, if they can get through to R19 in good shape (with the Hawks and Cats again in Rounds 16-19), then they are likely to be able to win their last 4 on the trot as a lead in to the finals.

Players to step up in 2015: Isaac Heeney (extra good in NAB; it is not common for a new recruit to play too many games at the Swans, but he is a chance) & Dean Towers (looks to have improved and might be a regular in 2015)

Preview: had you wandered into the MCG last grand final day with no knowledge of the game, you may have thought it was top playing against bottom.  With the Swans being unable to recruit from other teams prior to this season, and already having lost Malceski, a grim picture could be painted.

But there is plenty of room for optimism as well.  They did finish on top last year and Malceski is their only significant loss.  What may have cost them was a fairly long injury list in their 2014 pre-season.  This pre-season looks slightly better.   Players such as Lewis Jetta (has to deliver soon) and Tom Mitchell could really step up this year after various injury problems.

The secret for the Swans is getting good use out of both Buddy and Kurt Tippett.  If they can have them both firing in the finals, they are still a threat.

The Swans are tipped to slide a little, but not dramatically.

West Coast Eagles

In the middle again
10 wins and 11th
Last year: 11 wins and 9th

Vital rounds in 2015: 16-20 (Pies away, Swans at home, Suns away, Hawks at home then a derby); the Eagles will be hoping that they are in the hunt at the end of R15; then they will need to manage a difficult period where they may well be outsiders in all 5 matches; if they can pinch at least 2 of these 5 and be in the top 8 before R21, they should finish the year with at least 2 wins in the last 3 matches; they have home games against the Dogs and Dees sandwiching an away game against the Crows.

Players to step up in 2015: Nick Naitanui (has struggled with injuries and may still be getting over them, but can improve heaps on 2014 form) & Scott Selwood (seems to be over his injury troubles and look for him to get back to his best in 2015)

Preview: the Eagles would rate the hardest done by in terms of pre-season injuries if 22 missed games would have been assigned to the recently retired Beau Waters.  As well as Waters, they have also lost Eric MacKenzie for the year (a pity, because we have so few Erics these days).  Two potential replacements for Eric were Tom Barass and rookie Rowen Powell.  Both these guys have had injury interrupted pre-seasons as well.

The loss of MacKenzie will be felt more than the loss of Dean Cox – if Nic Nat comes good this year.  They also have Scott Lycett and Callum Sinclair to help in the ruck.

Then there is Jack Darling’s non pre-season (due back R5 or 6) and Mark Hutchings delayed start to the season courtesy of a groin problem.

The above preview may suggest a drop-off this year.  But the expected rise of Nic Nat and Scott Selwood, along with improvement of a young list – should see them stay about the same.

Coach Adam Simpson ay feel the pressure if they don’t improve soon.  He may struggle a la Matthew Knights at Essendon due to following in the footsteps of a favourite son.  The fans should give him this year and next (when MacKenzie will return) to produce the goods.

Western Bulldogs

A struggle this year
5 wins and 17th
Last year: 7 wins and 14th

Vital rounds in 2015: 6 – 9 (Saints, Dockers at home, Dees then Giants at home); the Dogs are favoured to finish in the bottom three in 2015; the R6 – 9 window gives them 3 games against opposition that is also lowly ranked. They can virtually avoid the spoon by doing well in this period – especially with wins over likely spoon candidates St Kilda and Melbourne.

Players to step up in 2015: Marcus Bontempelli had clubs drooling in late 2013, but the Dogs snapped him up with pick 4; he looks ready to really blossom in 2015; Brett Goodes was demoted back to the rookie list, but has already been re-promoted after starring in his 2 NAB games

Preview: the Dogs grabbed everyone’s attention with a huge win over Collingwood in NAB3. This performance was rated higher than their other 2 NAB games (a fast finishing win over a depleted Tiger outfit and a fast finishing loss to the Dees where both teams were of similar strength).

They have had coaches from a Geelong background and now have one from Hawthorn.  Luke Beveridge was also at the Pies when they won in 2010.  Something went wrong last year and the end result was Brendan McCartney and the “Geelong team” of Matthew Scarlett and Cam Mooney also departed.  Joel Corey and Steven King still remain, however.  The R23 clash with the Giants in 2014 was a “sack the coach” type effort.  Given the players missing from the Giants team, the Dogs should have won this home match by a space.

Fast forward to early 2015 and the damage done seems minimal.  The Dogs seem to be in pretty good shape as a group, although the big win over Collingwood in NAB3 may have set the expectation bar a bit high.

In reality, they will probably struggle to get out of the bottom four after losing Ryan Griffen (a “swap”, of sorts, for Tom Boyd, but Griffen is in top form right now, while Boyd’s best years are in the future), Adam Cooney and Shaun Higgins.  Tom Liberatore is already gone for the year after a recent ACL injury.

 

But their crop of youngsters looks promising!