Tonight the 2013 Toyota AFL Season kicks off at AAMI Stadium in Adelaide, ending what felt like was one of the longest off-season’s in recent history, when in reality it was quite short compared to others. The first match could not have been planned better with the two teams causing the most headlines getting it underway; Essendon with the drugs scandal and Adelaide with the Kurt Tippett saga.
These are my predictions for the season up ahead, what looks to be one of the tightest fought yet.
1. West Coast Eagles – The Eagles proved themselves last year after some people, including myself, described their 2011 as a ‘fluke’. West Coast lost in the semi-final to an emotionally charged Collingwood line-up but considering the injuries the side suffered it was a remarkable effort. Stars Josh Kennedy and Mark LeCras all missed large parts of the season but they look fit and firing to go this year. FIRST ROUND VS FREMANTLE: Win by 6 points. FINALS FINISH: Grand Final.
2. Collingwood – Well, what a 2012 it was for the Magpies. Ravaged by injuries all year, including 4 ruptured ACL’s, and hit hard in the finals by the loss of former player John McCarthy, Collingwood under second-year coach Nathan Buckley are ready to go back to that final Saturday in September. Adding Clinton Young, Quinten Lynch and Jordan Russell helped depth problems, almost cancelling out the losses of Chris Dawes and Sharrod Wellingham. FIRST ROUND VS NORTH MELBOURNE: Win by 16 points. FINALS FINISH: Premiers.
3. Fremantle – The Dockers look ready to take the next step. Last year they upset Geelong before going down to Adelaide in the semi-final. Ross Lyon has got a nice young squad at his hands and they will certainly be challenging for the flag for a number of years to come. I think a little bit of inexperience will however plague them this season in the finals. FIRST ROUND VS WEST COAST: Loss by 6 points. FINALS FINISH: Preliminary Final.
4. Hawthorn – Let’s face it. The Hawks choked, once again. This amazing group of players admittedly won the flag prematurely. It’s hard to believe but that was five years ago and Hawthorn have not won the flag since.The recruitment of Brian Lake tells us that coach Alistair Clarkson knows that this premiership window is nearing its closure. I expect the Hawks to still be around the mark this year but not to the extent of last season. FIRST ROUND VS GEELONG: Loss by 5 points. FINALS FINISH: Semi-Final.
5. Sydney Swans – Would it be fair to compare the Swans’ premiership to Steven Bradbury’s gold medal? I’m not saying that Sydney didn’t deserve it, because they certainly did and they came right at the important end of the season, but you can’t help but think had some teams not picked up critical injuries they might have been beaten. They were not the best side of the whole season I think it is fair to say. They’ll come back to earth this year but will still make finals. FIRST ROUND VS GWS: Win by 30 points. FINALS FINISH: Elimination Final.
6. Carlton – 2012 was a hiccup for the Blues but expect them to bounce back. The side of course did not make the finals and lost to Port Adelaide and Gold Coast at the tailend of the season, ultimately costing Brett Ratten his job. The ‘messiah’ Mick Malthouse now has the job but it’s hard to get an accurate reading of where Carlton are. Could possibly be Chris Judd’s last season but a rebuilding process has already been in place for a while now. Interesting year ahead. FIRST ROUND VS RICHMOND: Win by 12 points. FINALS FINISH: Semi-Final.
7. Richmond – It is the Tigers time. 2001 was their last finals appearance ending in a preliminary final loss. Back then the iPod had not even hit Australia yet, let alone the iPhone or iPad. Damien Hardwick has built up his squad depth over the trade and draft period and mixed with an exciting new squad, the world over the next few years will be Richmond’s oyster. The 2013 season will be an introduction to this period. FIRST ROUND VS CARLTON: Loss by 12 points. FINALS FINISH: Elimination Final.
8. Adelaide – The Crows have had their problems in recent times off the field but on the field it couldn’t be more different, with the club coming with a few minutes of a Grand Final berth. The loss of Kurt Tippett won’t hurt Adelaide as much as people think and their younger players will step up to the task. FIRST ROUND VS ESSENDON: Win by 32 points. FINALS FINISH: Semi-Final.
9. Brisbane – These Lions showed what they have in store for the next few years after winning the NAB Cup a week ago. Michael Voss is assembling a very good team but it will still be a year or two before they will hit their straps and the people of Brisbane jump back on board the Lions bandwagon. FIRST ROUND VS BULLDOGS: Win by 25 points.
10. Geelong – As soon as the final siren rang at the end of the second elimination final at the MCG last year, you knew it was the end of an era. As much as Cats supporters would like to think the opposite, Geelong have finally exited the Premiership window. A number of players have retired over the past year or so and players like Paul Chapman look to be slowing down. FIRST ROUND VS HAWTHORN: Win by 5 points.
11. Essendon – The Dons have a talented list and put aside all of the injuries and drug controversies, they could do some damage in this competition. Unfortunately, Essendon are still missing some key components of their side and mixed with the tightness of teams fighting for a spot in the eight, they won’t get there this year. FIRST ROUND VS ADELAIDE: Loss by 32 points.
12. North Melbourne – The Kangaroos snuck into the eight last year unexpectedly. Admittedly, North did have arguably the easiest draw in the AFL and had a fantastic run with injuries. The loss to West Coast in their first final since 2008 would’ve have shaken the players a little bit. Have the second-hardest draw this year and personally I don’t rate their squad. FIRST ROUND VS COLLINGWOOD: Loss by 16 points.
13. St Kilda – The Saints have entered the rebuilding period under second-year coach Scott Watters after a few good years up at the top of the table. The loss of Brendan Goddard will not make things easier for the Seaford-based club either. FIRST ROUND VS GOLD COAST: Win by 20 points.
14. Gold Coast – Many people are not feeling the hype of the Gold Coast Suns and are more excited by the Giants. This shouldn’t be so. Jaegar O’Meara will make his debut this season and this man was supposed to be the number 1 draft pick for 2012 but was pre-selected at the end of 2011. Will be another long year but there will be some joy. FIRST ROUND VS ST KILDA: Loss by 20 points.
15. Melbourne – It is going to be yet another long season for the Dees but there is some light at the end of the tunnel, should they ever get there. Adding Chris Dawes to the line up will strengthen a forward line that already has Mitch Clark, so there is something to fear in the future when their younger players come on. FIRST ROUND VS PORT ADEALIDE: Win by 32 points.
16. Port Adelaide – What a terrible 2012 it was for the Power. They lost to the new boys, sacked their coach and suffered the death of young star John McCarthy. TV personality David Koch is the new president and Ken Hinkley has taken the reigns so the future does look bright. FIRST ROUND VS MELBOURNE: Loss by 32 points.
17. GWS Giants – 2013 will be the last season that Kevin Sheedy will be a senior coach, with Leon Cameron taking over from next season. Again, the Giants are a work in progress and will in a few years be challenging for the flag. FIRST ROUND VS SYDNEY: Loss by 30 points.
18. Western Bulldogs – May or may not be a surprise selection to you but I do not see much upside for the Western Bulldogs. Their squad is rather old and some of the young players have not yet lived up to their exception ala Ayce Cordy. Unfortunately the next few years will not treat the Bulldogs well. FIRST ROUND VS BRISBANE: Loss by 25 points.
BROWNLOW MEDAL: Trent Cotchin. COLEMAN MEDAL: Lance Franklin. NORM SMITH MEDAL: Steele Sidebottom. RISING STAR: Jimmy Toumpas.