Tiges for top four: 2009 AFL ladder predictions

Any footy blog worth their salt has a ladder prediction. See if the FanFooty projection matches yours.

1. Geelong. No surprises here. They will burst out of the blocks with fire in their nostrils to kick the wounded Hawks while they’re down in the grand final replay. They have two tougher games after that in Richmond and the Pies, but after that their draw leaves them a smooth run to lead the competition from go to whoa. It will feel rather hollow for Cat fans, who know after the events of September 2008 that it will all mean nothing if they can’t peak in the finals. From a fantasy perspective, I see no halt to the tsunami of points that their midfielders have been generating during their glory run.

2. Hawthorn. I am not all that confident about this pick as I don’t think the Hawks will be nearly as far ahead of the chasing pack as they were last year, due to what I expect to be a terrible opening six weeks of the season. Of their first six games I would only be sure of beating the Eagles, which could leave them at 1-5 by the beginning of May. Their draw opens up to a much more friendly set of fixtures after that, though, so I think coach Alistair Clarkson probably won’t mind starting as underdogs and coming home with a wet sail to allow Geelong to be the frontrunner again. There will be rich fantasy pickings in the mid-price and rookie improvers in the first part of the season, with proppy premiums like Luke Hodge and Lance Franklin being much better as upgrade targets for a solid second half run to the finals.

AFL Rd 5 - Richmond v Carlton

3. Richmond. According to the unwritten rule that every top 4 prediction must have a team from outside the top 8 the previous year, Richmond is my pick to be that team. Their problem has always been the bottom half of their best 22 dropping away rather sharply in skill and determination, but I think the improvement in players like Daniel Jackson and Matt White, along with more consistency from players like Richard Tambling and Jack Riewoldt topped off with Ben Cousins and maybe club-lifting cameos by Mark Coughlan and even Graham Polak, and the Tigers are looking to me like the best bets to survive the new cluster-focused AFL. Their first three games against Carlton, Geelong and the Bulldogs will go along way towards deciding their year, seeing as how they are such an emotional club, and I expect them to be 2-1 at least out of that sequence to give them the confidence that they can match it with the heavyweights.

4. Western Bulldogs. The Dogs outperformed themselves last year, and ran out of puff towards the end of the season. It is a very good sign for the club that they are practically injury free to start the 2009 campaign, nonetheless, and that combined with their now-traditional run of games at Docklands in the last half of the year will see them scrape into the top four.

5. Port Adelaide. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Port dogged it towards the end of last year, making them by far the most likely to be the bottom four side that lifts themselves into the eight, as one always does. The Power are much better than bottom four, with a midfield that should improve out of sight under the hardcore fitness regime of former Bulldog assistant coach Cameron Falloon. There are still question marks over their forward line, however, with much better years needed from Warren Tredrea and Brett Ebert if they are to get anywhere near top four.

6. Collingwood. I expect Mick Malthouse to get sacked mid-year as the first coaching casualty of Clarko’s cluster. Collingwood FC is a resilient club, however, and they’ll bounce back with a new gameplan, maybe even under Nathan Buckley. As one of the few sides that has the cattle to stop Geelong, NAB Cup grand final notwithstanding, they have the ability to make the eight… they just need a coach who can allow them to play a winning style of footy.

AFL Rd 20 - Carlton v Richmond

7. Carlton. Look scarily like the Eagles of the mid-oughties in structural terms with a scintillating midfield and a flawed forward line, though it’s a year too early for them to really challenge. It’s definitely not good news that Brendan Fevola is injured early, as their attack is painfully dependent on him. The major reason that I have Carlton behind Richmond in this ladder is that top four sides are built on defence, and I rate Richmond’s tall defenders ahead of Carlton’s. You only have to look at how many shootouts the Blues were drawn into last season to see that they can’t play a lockdown style with their current personnel. The addition of Chris Johnson may help in some respects but they need some more hard-nosed defenders prepared to sacrifice their own games… is it too late to clone Jarrad Waite?

8. North Melbourne. I bag Dean Laidley a lot on this site, but you have to respect the Junkyard Dog’s ability to keep his underpowered list competitive every week. To me, this side is all about Drew Petrie and the small forwards Lindsay Thomas and Matt Campbell. If the latter pair can fire with midfield supply from Petrie dominating in the ruck and around the ground, the Roos can win games. It’s going to be a scrap for this last finals place and if they do get there and have to play Port, I pity their supporters, but they deserve my vote.

9. St Kilda. When fit and firing, the Saints have enough class to beat the lesser sides, but continue to struggle with many of the top eight. Unfortunately for Saint fans, the list is currently wracked with injury, especially in the key positions. Their spine of Max Hudghton, Matt Maguire, Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke have all been struggling with injuries of varying severity, with both backmen out for the start of the season. Their reliance on Rooey and Kosi to produce is going to be even more pronounced this year with no Charlie Gardiner, and seemingly no ready made replacement at the underappreciated third tall forward position. They really should be at least 3-1 after a first month of Sydney at home, Adelaide away and then both WA teams at home, but I suspect with their injury list and Riewoldt a traditionally slow starter, they will be staring down the barrel come the month of May.

10. Adelaide. This looks like a team in transition to me. A Neil Craig side is never going to bottom out, but with Simon Goodwin, Andrew McLeod and Tyson Edwards being sidelined in favour of younger players like Chris Knights, Nathan Van Berlo and Brent Reilly, there’s a dip in the Crow’s future before they can reach for the heights of the top four again. The biggest problem is the forward line, as it was last year, with Brett Burton out for the first half, Jason Porplyzia injured, Nick Gill underdone, and Craig having to rely on an extremely iffy trio of Trent Hentschel, Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker to kick his goals. That he has been trialing Jared Petrenko as a small forward shows how desperate Craig has become. Coming off a year where they had a very soft draw to start with in 2008, they will tread water this year at best, as other teams go past them.

11. Brisbane. Speaking of teams in transition, the Lions are going to play a lot differently to the way they did last year, at least to start with. Michael Voss has got the squad plying a much more possession-style gameplan with a lot of touches going through the hands of halfback players along with more than a little flooding. What we haven’t seen from the Lions is how this plays out when they have both Jonathan Brown and Daniel Bradshaw standing inside forward 50. Say what you like about the Leigh Matthews gameplan, he at least knew what his list’s strengths were, and that began and ended with getting the ball as many times to Brownshaw as humanly possible. Will Voss’s plan of kick-to-kick between halfback lines (or handball-to-handball) nullify this strong point of Brisbane’s structure, or will the increased scoring efficiency of their forward line become more important as the inside 50s dry up? This remains to be seen in a fair dinkum match. I suspect that the Lions might lose a fair few matches by big margins this year when their nascent structure gets blown apart, similar to the 2003-era Hawks when they suddenly switched gameplans and had to rebuild the way they played footy.

West Coast Eagles Training Session

12. West Coast. I hope for Eagles fans’ sakes that Dean Cox plays all year with that broken cheekbone, because without him they are spoon material. Last year was their bottoming out, and they will win a few more games this year purely due to the Subiaco home ground factor. They still have a lot of work to do to get anywhere near the top 8, though. Putting 22 games into Mitchell Brown will be a start, as will full seasons for Chris Masten and Brad Ebert.

13. Essendon. Sadly, the injury curse hasn’t lifted in 2009, with Andrew Welsh already gone for the year, Scott Lucas looking wobblier than a cockie in King St on a Thursday night, and Scott Gumbleton whose lower back is apparently made out of softer plasticine than the rest of him. Brent Prismall won’t appear until midyear, Jobe Watson is still a limited footballer, Patrick Ryder gets beaten too often and it’s Dustin Fletcher‘s last year. I can only see one game they would be confident of winning in the first 11 – Freo at home in round 2 – so to my mind they’ll have to pull another unlikely mid-season run of wins to avoid the bottom four again this season.

14. Sydney. Yes, this is the year they finally fall in a heap. It has been a long time coming. With injuries, retirements and age catching up with the Swans all at once, this is the season Paul Roos has been dreading. Their list is looking more bare than a fake Pauline Hanson double page spread. They’re one more Barry Hall brain explosion away from contending for the spoon. Shouldn’t be long now! At least they won’t be able to whinge about never having any high draft picks. Oh wait, but Gold Coast FC gets to pick 12 kids out of the draft pool this year! Aww.

15. Fremantle. You can’t expect anything from the Dockers this year. The cleanout of their list will inevitably lead to more and more losses. Instead of being competitive for most games as they were in 2008, they will lose a lot more games in blowout results this year. At least Mark Harvey won’t have to worry about criticisms of his team giving up three-quarter-time leads, as most games will be over by then.

16. Melbourne. Still a rabble, I’m afraid. They will need the priority pick. Their backline shows promise but their forward spine of Michael Newton and Brad Miller is not going to put the fear of God into any AFL team. Their only hope is if Brock McLean has a great year, also-rans like Nathan Jones drag themselves out of mediocrity and their few good players like Brad Green are used by coach Dean Bailey in attacking positions rather than filling holes in the defensive half. Bailey is not an AFL-level coach, unfortunately, and he may have the decision taken out of his hands anyway if the Demons midfield continue getting slaughtered like they did last season.

How about you lot, what are your ladder predictions? Give me your top 8, at least, in the comments.

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