Transition to power: positional battles in 2009

As Barack Obama prepares to take over as the next US President from George W. Bush, there are a few more power shifts on the minds of fantasy coaches this off-season, with older players looking like they will give up their spots in the senior 22 to younger upstarts… with a few at the Power!

It’s an inevitable part of sport that older champions have to give way to youth. Some teams commit hard to youth policies even before the senior brigade are ready to go, such as with Essendon and Damien Peverill this year. Personnel shifts are not always good for AFL players, it must be remembered. Daniel Cross, beloved of so many coaches in the first half of 2008, eventually succumbed to a little-reported aspect of his game: that his statistics tend to suffer when Scott West isn’t in the team. Nevertheless, fantasy coaches are always on the lookout for a youngster who has a doddering superannuant in his sights, just waiting for the opportunity to see his name on the teamsheet in the old bloke’s spot.

Let’s start with the Power. Brendon Lade has been their #1 ruck through their glory years in the early oughties but when Lade has been injured, Dean Brogan has shown himself to be a more than capable fantasy performer. With Blade getting blunter by the month at the age of 33, Fabian Deluca delisted and Port every chance to draft Tyrone Vickery at #4 this year, the writing is on the wall for the big fella. Brogan is nicely priced, though not at Troy Simmonds 2008 levels. Watch this situation in the pre-season… perhaps not in the NAB itself, but more in the Challenge games.

Also at Port Adelaide, Peter Burgoyne had a pretty poor year culminating with banishment to the SANFL to regain his form. While he did return in R19 and eventually put in two excellent games in the last two rounds, he’s on a one-year performance-based contract and his spot in the team is by no means assured. Waiting in the shadows is Marlon Motlop, who also played in those last two games and showed a bit. He’s almost guaranteed of a nice discount for next year in Dream Team and Super Coach, deflating his price back to a very manageable $182k in DT and $206k in SC. As a small rebounding defender, he could very well be 2009’s Garrick Ibbotson. If he’s named in round 1, look out.

At the Bulldogs, Brad Johnson is 33 years old and his body looked like it this year. Down at Whitten Oval they are crying out for a long-term replacement at full-forward, and Scott Welsh and Will Minson ain’t it. Jarrad Grant is the anointed successor, in more ways than one. He will gain a lot of hype in the NAB – or at least as much hype as the media can muster for a Bulldog player – so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to gauge his effectiveness as a fantasy player.

Windy Hill is full of kids these days, though there are still a few wrinklies to be ironed out. Scott Lucas is on the tips of every fantasy coach’s lips at the moment, with Scott Gumbleton also popular. Is the Bomber half forward line big enough for the two of them? I’m not so sure. One of them has to win out as second tall, I think, and my money’s on coach Matthew Knights preferring the younger player. The other issue there is when the Don midfielders streaming through the centre will see the two players in their peripheral vision, which one they will kick to more often – Lucas probably being the pick of the experienced players, if Matthew Lloyd‘s waving arms don’t catch their eye first. You only have to look at afl.com.au today for signs that the messages are mixed from Essendon: here’s a pro-Gumbleton article and a pro-Lucas one. Picking the victor in this battle between age and youth – or deciding not to touch either of them – is going to be an important factor in fantasy forward lines next year.

The other sequoia in the Essendon lineup is Dustin Fletcher, who is so old that he must have some great stories to tell of playing on full forwards of years past, like Fred Fanning and Gordon Coventry. For fantasy purposes, though, all we’re concerned about is Fletcher’s rebounding duties, which will have to fall on someone else’s shoulders in future. Courtenay Dempsey is one candidate, though I fear it is more in hope than hard logic, since Dempsey’s constantly-twanged hamstrings are even more highly strung than Paul Chapman‘s. David Myers is a more likely pick, though his price will discourage many coaches who would want him to take a step all the way to keeper status to justify buying him, which is probably out of the question for this year at least.

At the Saints, the handover by Robert Harvey is now complete, albeit that the cadre of his replacements (Clinton Jones, Robert Eddy, Jarryn Geary) have already played enough games to price them out of salary cap consideration this year. St Kilda fans spent a lot of hot air talking up Max Hudghton late in the season for All-Australian selection without success, and that’s the last time they’ll be able to do it I think, seeing as he’s now 33. Matt Maguire is not normally a name you’ll read in fantasy blogs but after averaging just over 30 this year and coming off averages of 60 in DT and 74 in SC in his last healthy year, it’s not out of the question that Maguire could be stashed on your bench as a cash cow. Maguire is even more injury-prone than Hudghton, admittedly, so he could only ever be considered as a bench back. Given the insane problems we all had with bench backs and copping multiple zeroes this year, it’s worth looking at.

I spent part of the last blog post talking up Matthew Richardson, so nominating him as being under the gun is a bit cheeky, but nevertheless something should be said about Jack Riewoldt‘s status as his replacement. Richo’s role swinging between wing and full forward meant that Riewoldt played 18 games this year, but it didn’t allow Riewoldt to average more than 58 in either comp. It was perhaps no coincidence that Riewoldt’s best fantasy performance, his solitary DT ton of 105 against the Eagles in round 15, came when Richo was out of the team. The performances of the two are strongly linked, with it being rare that both of them will fire on the same day. If Richo starts the season poorly or misses a stretch through almost-inevitable injury, Riewoldt is the one who will benefit.

I’ve also talked a bit about Darren Milburn and how his selection is probably not going to be as automatic in future years at the age of 33 next April. The recovery schedule of Matthew Egan is currently a point of conjecture in the media, with the Cats hierarchy claiming he’s on track for round 1. The fitter Egan gets, the more pressure will be on Milburn to not slip up.

I’m sure there are other transitions ready to be made out there. Can you think of any?

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