The major talking points ahead of the 2022 AFL season

The 2022 AFL season is less than two months away, however the code manages to continue to clog the headlines for the right and wrong reasons.

With clubs now back into the swing of things in the pre-season, there are a plethora of questions that will be answered between now and the conclusion of this year.

We cast an eye over the five major talking points for the year ahead in what will be a drama and action-filled campaign.

The futures of the Suns’ free agents

While the Suns continue to develop their young talent, there will be one topic that dominates headlines… The futures of Ben King, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine. 

So far, none of these three players have expressed any desire about leaving the Gold Coast, but until they sign a contract extension then their futures will be heavily scrutinised in the media. 

King headlines the trio as one of the most talked about upcoming free agents in the past few seasons. Originally from Victoria, there has been plenty of speculation about a possible return home in the next off-season. One potential destination is St Kilda, where he would be reunited with his twin brother, Max. Essendon is another club who has been heavily linked. If, however, he makes it known that he wants to move back to Melbourne, then almost every Victorian team would likely make a play for the talented forward, who finished equal seventh in the 2021 Coleman Medal race, a market that holds great value at Ladbrokes.

Lukosius and Rankine had up and down seasons in 2021, but are still both young and talented prospects. They could make a valuable addition to any team in the league, but there are two in particular that could scare the Suns. Both being South Australian locals, there have been rumours over the past few years about a potential return home for the pair. If the Suns and these two young talents underperform again in 2022, then they could decide that a fresh start might be the best for their careers. 

While the Suns will be hoping to move up the ladder and push towards finals, one of their top priorities in the upcoming season is to retain all three of these young players. The Suns have improved their reputation and have been able to re-sign and attract talent over the past few years. Keeping all three aforementioned free agents will help solidify their future and go towards making their debut finals appearance. 

Will Carlton make the finals? 

After filling up with high draft picks throughout the middle of the 2010s, Carlton was primed for success. After some big off-season recruiting of Adam Saad, Zac Williams, Jack Martin, Mitch McGovern and Caleb Marchbank to name a few, the list was starting to look like a finalist on paper. 

With the development of Harry McKay, Jacob Weitering, Patrick Cripps, Charlie Curnow and Sam Walsh, the pieces appeared to be there. 

The Blues were never able to put it all together for a full season, and have continued to disappoint fans over the past few seasons. Instead, the club just teased the potential with only flashes of brilliance. 

In the 2021 off-season, there ended up being big changes for the club. A new coach, coaching team and CEO headlined the total overall of the club. Add in talented players Adam Cerra, George Hewett and Lewis Young, and the Blues will be hoping they have enough to take them over the finals hump. 

2022 appears to be one of the most competitive seasons to date, with Carlton, Richmond, St Kilda, Fremantle and West Coast all thinking they have a genuine shot of making it back into the top eight this upcoming season. While only time will tell if the Blues will make it, if they don’t, we could be seeing even more changes in the 2022 off-season.  

Can anyone stop Melbourne?

The Demons were the surprise team of the 2021 season. After making it to the preliminary finals in 2018, they failed to make it back in the following two seasons. Not only did they bounce back into the finals but quickly became the most dominant team in the league throughout the year. 

After finishing on top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season, they found another level that no other team in the competition could compete with. 

Throughout the finals series, they played three games against Brisbane (finished 4th), Geelong ( 3rd) and Bulldogs ( 5th). Throughout those three appearances their average winning margin was 63.3 points. 

Throughout the off-season, the Demons didn’t lose any of their pieces from the 2021 Grand Final team and instead added some more depth. Luke Dunstan adds some further depth to the midfield, while Jacob van Rooyen and Blake Howes are talented draft picks who could make an impact over the next few seasons. With Adam Tomlinson also set to return in 2022, will anyone be able to stop the Demons from winning another premiership this year? 

How will COVID impact the 2022 season? 

With the pandemic still affecting life in 2022, only time will tell how it will impact the upcoming AFL season. We have seen its impact interrupt many other sports in the past few months. 

In the AFLW, the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane Lions had been ravaged by the virus. It meant that both of their Round 2 games were rescheduled and their opponents had to play each other. 

COVID has also drastically impacted the NBA. By January 4 there were already 1035 games missed due to COVID health and safety protocols. This equates to over 13 games missed per day over the first 78 games of the season. 

We have also recently seen how positive cases and vaccination stances have impacted the Australian Open. 

While the season is still a few months away, it is still looking likely that COVID protocols, changes of venues and a flexible schedule might all be a part of the upcoming season. 

Can Richmond bounce back?

After a year plagued by injuries, Richmond missed the finals for the first time in four years. 

While it feels like a long time ago, it was only 2020 when Richmond won their third premiership in four seasons. Having a look at their grand final team, only two players that suited up aren’t still on the list, as David Astbury and Bachar Houli both retired at the end of last year. 

Given a better run of injuries, it seems entirely possible that the Tigers could see a resurgence this upcoming season. Vlastuin, Stack, Prestia, McIntosh, Nankervis, Martin, Lambert, Edwards, Balta and Cotchin all missed at least five games last season. 

While 2022 is looking like one of the tightest finals races for a while, with the Tigers experience and talent they will likely be one of the teams fighting for a finals spot come the end of the season. With Dustin Martin, they have one of the league’s best players capable of turning a match off his own boot. 

If the Tigers do make the finals, they have shown an ability to elevate their game to another level when September arrives. No other team in the top eight would be happy to play Richmond once the post-season rolls around. Having the most damaging and influential player in the league, coupled with an experienced and well executed team makes them a genuine threat against anyone in the competition.  

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