Unanswered questions going into AFL 2009

With a lack of free agency and long-term contracts the norm in the AFL, there isn’t nearly as much change from year to year in AFL lists as in other sports like the NFL or NRL. Nevertheless, many old verities in the AFL are changing or look like changing in the near future, many of which will have implications for fantasy coaches. Let’s look at some of them.

Who will Michael Voss’s new favourites be?
I am a believer in the old chestnut of a coach turning players into miniature versions of himself. Many of the Brisbane Lions of their premiership years played like Leigh Matthews used to, none more than Voss himself. As a coach in the mid-oughties, Matthews had his favourites and his black sheep, but I got the feeling that he had lost the players a bit, as the young kids coming through the system tended to get a bit lost and not play as much in the Barney mold. Albert Proud was probably the signature example of this as far as fantasy coaches are concerned, as well as the lost opportunity that Bradd Dalziell was for the majority of Dream Teamers who only wished he could have debuted earlier in 2008.

Going into 2009, Voss has the perfect chance to impress his own philosophies on the Lions playing list. This means turning the list over to some degree, which has already started with the trade of Anthony Corrie to the Magpies. In some ways this was a strange trade as the Lions aren’t blessed with small forward talent: Rhan Hooper is even more inconsistent than the average small forward, Jared Brennan has been shifted to the midfield, Ashley McGrath seems destined to stay full-time in the backline. While there is also a positional battle going on for the third tall between Lachie Henderson, Mitch Clark and Scott Clouston, that’s not traditionally a great position for fantasy, so the small forward slot is the one to keep an eye on in the NAB.

How long has Mick Malthouse got?
Frequent reader of this blog will know my anti-MM stance, so I won’t belabour the point. Suffice to say, Heath Shaw is about as popular as poison in the Fanplanner, which is proof enough of how Malthouse is just about done. Very few fantasy coaches are prepared to back Heater to rise above the pathological inability of his coach to cope when opposing coaches decide to tag him out of the game. Without any signs of progression in the NAB, I can’t fault fantasy coaches for washing their hands of him until Malthouse gets the boot.

What’s to become of Trent Croad and Xavier Ellis?
Croad is likely to be out for the first half of the season following complications relating to the foot he broke in the grand final. Possible replacements for him range from Stephen Gilham, Thomas Murphy, Mitch Thorp, Jordan Lisle to Robert Campbell. The one long-term option to fill that full back role who isn’t likely to play in round 1 is Ryan Schoenmakers, who will take a while to unlearn how to be a forward at Box Hill. Thorp and Lisle would be great Super Coach plays if they win that battle. Meanwhile in the Hawks midfield, the status of Ellis’ spot in the best 22 remains under threat after his long-term injury, as I blogged about previously.

Whither Essendon’s spine?
There’s an interesting thread on BigFooty at the moment entitled Your teams current spine and your teams spine for the future, started by a Bombers fan who nominates Michael Hurley/Patrick Ryder/David Myers/Scott Gumbleton/Jay Neagle as the goal to goal line of Essendon’s future. You could argue about Myers over Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton or Sam Lonergan, but it’s the key position players we’re worried about here. Of those five, only Ryder is anywhere near good enough on exposed form to fill those slots. This means, of course, that the other four, not to mention the others vying for those spots, are going to need a lot of audition time in the middle during 2009. A fair few Don fans seem to think the bad times are over and finals beckon once again, but I suspect they will be rudely confronted this year by a world without Matthew Lloyd, Scott Lucas and Dustin Fletcher, sooner rather than later. Every game that these three play for the seniors this year is another lost opportunity to build that future spine. Does coach Matthew Knights have the intestinal fortitude to sacrifice four points for future potential? I hope that he does, for the club’s sake if not for the sake of fantasy coaches who want to get on board Hurley and Gumbleton.

Will youth policies really take hold at Sydney and Adelaide?
This year fantasy coaches who bet on an easing of traditionally frugal strategies of getting senior games into kids at the Crows and Swans were rewarded by breakout years from Jason Porplyzia, Bernie Vince, Kieren Jack and Craig Bird. Injuries played a big part in Vince’s rise, while Sydney specifically held Ben Mathews in the reserves to give Bird his shot. With both clubs on the downward slide after years of contending for the premiership, it’s hard for their coaches to let go and descend into rebuilding mode.

For Neil Craig, he’s already committed to a positional battle between Greg Gallman and Aaron Kite to replace the retired Nathan Bassett, although rumours from Crows training have Trent Hentschel being tried out there as well. His aging star midfielders in Tyson Edwards and Simon Goodwin will have to get rotated a lot more or move outside the guts to prolong their careers, with ready-made replacements in Brent Reilly, Chris Knights and Nathan Van Berlo waiting to be given more responsibility. We still won’t know after the pre-season if there truly is a generational shift at Westlakes on in 2009.

At the Swans, it’s going to be fascinating to see what their round 1 team is, because as we know, the tradition at Sydney under Roos is very minimalist in team changes, with hardly a spot being shifted beyond injury or suspension. Noises have been made about Lewis Johnstone being Barry Hall‘s heir apparent but you’d think Johnstone would serve an apprenticeship in the twos first. As the old list by far in the AFL, Sydney desperately needs some renewal in its 22. Ed Barlow is arguably the most promising of the prospects from a fantasy perspective, with a straight swap with Adam Goodes in his midfield role not out of the question as Goodes may be relegated to specialist forward status. Daniel O’Keefe and Brett Meredith both suffered from injuries this year, delaying their debuts, but 2009 should see them out on the park with the big boys. O’Keefe as an outside midfielder is more of a fantasy target. And of course there’s the young ruckmen who will have to replace Peter Everitt in 2009, Daniel Currie and Jesse White, with Jake Orreal in the rookie ranks. All three of those kids are already popular in the Fanplanner, with good reason.

Were the Eagles and Power merely dogging it this year?
If you look at Port Adelaide’s midfield, as I did earlier this week, it doesn’t look like a group that could finish bottom four. Sure, Chad Cornes was injured, but was this a 7-15 team? I don’t think so. Similarly, after years where the team regularly clocked up 400 possessions in a game, the Eagles suddenly and catastrophically fell apart this year. Many fantasy coaches, me included, picked players purely on the basis of them joining in the stat frenzy, but that all evaporated very quickly with perennial March champions like Beau Waters, Mark Nicoski and Shannon Hurn all letting us down. Sadly for Eagles fans, I think there’s no quick fix down at Subi, and they’ll have to endure more 100-point floggings in 2009. For Power fans the prognosis is a little rosier, I think. If the brothers Westhoff can come on, along with better years for Warren Tredrea and the underappreciated Brett Ebert, they could bounce back reasonably well. Either way, there’s a lot of players on both lists who underperformed this year who will tempt fantasy coaches with scintillating preseasons. Don’t be fooled!

I’m sure there are other questions you would like to have answered. If there are enough of them, I might do a version 2 of this post! Have at it in the comments.

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