The 2019 season begins on Thursday night with the traditional Richmond versus Carlton fixture at the MCG.
Here’s how your team is shaping up.
Not since the Tigers won the flag by 80-plus points in 1980 was a team in a better position to win back-to-back flags than Richmond in 2018 … but it didn’t.
In response, Richmond let go a bunch of foot soldiers like Reece Conca, Brandon Ellis, Sam Lloyd and Anthony Miles and spent big bucks on Suns ex-captain Tom Lynch. How will he work in Jack Riewoldt’s forward line?
The Tigers have talent, a winning game style and a team-first mentality – the holy trinity for winning flags. It also means they have no excuses.
Reigning premiers. Who would have thought that?
But West Coast played a great brand of football at the right time and took home the silverware.
The question is: Can it be the first non-Victorian side to go back to back since Brisbane in the early 2000s?
A tougher draw will make it difficult – the Eagles have trips to Geelong, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Alice Springs to contend with.
But can the twin towers of Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling stay on the park? The same question goes for the unlucky Nic Naitanui.
An easy draw last year and a grand final appearance. This year the Pies face the hardest draw on paper, so they will need to be on top of their game. Adding Dayne Beams to an already packed midfield was a masterstroke.
He is a goal-kicking midfielder who will complement the talent of Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom. If they can get Darcy Moore on the park regularly, then things are looking rosy in the big-man stakes.
There is enough talent at the Magpies to suggest they will be thereabouts again in 2019.
Ladder positions are normally good indicators of where you are at as a team – except Hawthorn’s flattering fourth-placed finish in 2018.
The Hawks are not that good. A softish draw, some lucky wins and suddenly they were fourth. The fact they lost both finals was a better reflection of where they are at.
Brownlow winner Tom Mitchell going down for the season is a huge blow. They can’t expect old stagers like Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and Jarryd Roughead to go to another level.
The good news for new guys – Tom Scully and Chad Wingard – is that recruits normally play better footy at Hawthorn.
Converted defender Tom McDonald is the new sheriff in town. Will T-Mac be the big gun up forward they dreamt Jesse Hogan would be?
Steven May from the Suns will add grit down back. The Demons do have a fine crop of young midfielders in Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw.
As talented as they are, midfield depth is key in modern football and these guys need to keep stepping up.
There were lots of bad finals performances in 2018, but Sydney’s effort took the cake.
For them to improve to happen, players like Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, Aliir Aliir, Ollie Florent, Tom Papley, Will Hayward and Harry Cunningham will have to produce high-quality football week in, week out.
Dependence needs to change and the pressure must be heaped upon those who have carried the load for so long: Kieren Jack, Luke Parker, Jarrad McVeigh and Heath Grundy.
Buddy Franklin is hitting 32 and struggles to get as fit as he once was. That’s not great, given so much rides on his broad shoulders.
Despite letting Dylan Shiel, Tom Scully and Rory Lobb walk out the door, the Giants still have talent in spades.
They will need it to kick into action early as the first four rounds include trips to Perth and Geelong, and hosting Richmond and Melbourne.
That’s a solid start but when you have Josh Kelly, Callan Ward, Phil Davis, Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield, Jeremy Cameron, Shane Mumford, Heath Shaw and the enigmatic Toby Greene, you’d be very surprised if you didn’t turn up ready to play.
Expect the Giants to be up there again.
The Cats have all the ingredients to make a beautiful cake, but somehow the mix is never quite right and it doesn’t turn out as tasty as it should be. Especially in 2018 when Gary Ablett Jr was supposed to be the cherry on top.
We will find out in the tough first seven rounds whether Geelong has fixed the recipe. Luke Dahlhaus from the Bulldogs will help but adding a player like Gary Rohan, who can’t nail down a position, to similars in Cam Guthrie, Scott Selwood, Brandon Parfitt and Nokia Cockatoo-Collins, and you have a bunch of nomads filling holes around the stars.
A settled line-up is a hallmark of great teams and it’s something the Cats should be striving for in 2019.
The good news for Kangaroos fans is they have addressed one of their glaring inefficiencies: Some outside run. We all know the likes of Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell can win the hard footy but some polish on the outside was badly needed – hence the recruiting of Jasper Pittard and Jared Polec from Port Adelaide.
Polec had a break-out season last year, and the Kangas will need him to improve even further considering the dollars it took to get him. Aaron Hall from Gold Coast has enormous talent, he just doesn’t use it often enough.
Did they overachieve in 2018 or are they on the rise? Time will tell.
This side should be better than it is. It has the Gray boys, Ollie Wines, Justin Westhoff, Brad Ebert, Travis Boak, Paddy Ryder and others – yet it hasn’t won a finals game since 2014.
Is it the coach? Is it the players? What about this fabulous ‘winning history and culture’ we keep hearing about?
This is coach Ken Hinkley’s last chance – chairman David Koch won’t suffer another season like 2018.
Port doesn’t need more players. It needs a psychologist, higher standards, unrelenting effort and a team-first mentality.
Do that and a finals berth is a real chance.
The Bombers haven’t won a final for 15 years.
Adding Dylan Shiel from GWS to a team that won 10 of its last 14 games should be enough. Include the progression of Andrew McGrath, Aaron Francis and Zach Merrett, and finals should be a no-brainer.
The AFL is banking on it, after giving them eight Thursday or Friday prime-time slots. The big question is whether Joe Daniher can get himself back in form after a 2018 blighted by injury and a setback in the pre-season.
If he can, this will allow the Cale Hooker forward experiment to be finally put to bed. The same goes for playing Jake Stringer as a midfielder – he will never be a gun mid. If the coach doesn’t get too creative the Bombers will be a chance.
Hopefully this pre-season has been far happier and we will see a return to the Crows of 2017; a team that was powerful through the middle, dangerous up forward and stingy down back. Unlike the soft and inconsistent mob we saw last season.
Rory Laird, Matt Crouch times two, Rory Sloane, Bryce Gibbs, Eddie Betts, Rory Atkins, Richard Douglas, and Tom Lynch are stars. If Taylor Walker can regain some consistent form alongside Josh Jenkins, they are capable of winning enough games for a top-eight finish.
Things would have to go horribly wrong for this side to not make finals.
OK, enough is enough, Bulldogs. The flag hangover has to end. Luke Beveridge will have to work some magic this year because they have more holes in their list than Swiss cheese. They are mostly evident in the key forward stakes.
As yet you can’t rely on Tom Boyd, Josh Schache or Zaine Cordy, and the addition of Sam Lloyd from the Tigers doesn’t fill me with great confidence. Trying to make defenders like Easton Wood and Jackson Trengove as forwards failed dismally, so don’t do that again.
If they are to rebound it will be led by a midfield chock full of quality –players coming into what should be the prime of their football careers.
Talent like Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis, Jack Macrae, Lachie Hunter, Toby McLean, Caleb Daniel, Josh Dunkley and Marcus Bontempelli. There are some tools to work with.
In 2018 it was Cam McCarthy and Shane Kersten; in 2019 it is Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb. Already that is a far more promising key forward duo for Freo.
For a team that has finished in the bottom three for points scored in each of the past three seasons it had better well be an improvement. If not then it’s another season of hell for Docker fans.
Hopefully a far more attacking game style from under-the-pump coach Ross Lyon will help things along. At least the six-six-six rule will prevent him from starting with eight defenders.
The big question is which one of Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra, Darcy Tucker or Bailey Banfield will step up and be Nat Fyfe’s second in charge?
Quite simply, the Lions are building something nice.
A percentage of 89 and average points of 83 in 2018 is a great launching pad for 2019. Sure, they lost Dayne Beams, but they picked up Lachie Neale.
The fact that Neale is 25 says the Lions won that deal. Throw in Jarryd Lyons and Dayne Zorko and they won’t have trouble winning the football.
The bookends are set with Harris Andrews at one end and 21-year-old Eric Hipwood at the other. Cam Rayner will be a star, as may be Alex Witherden and Daniel McStay.
The Saints were disappointing in 2018. While everyone decried their lack of A-grade talent, I look at Jade Gresham, Jack Billings, Blake Acres, Dylan Roberton, Jack Steele, Josh Battle, Paddy McCartin, Tim Membrey, Josh Bruce and Jake Carlisle, as well as Jack Steven and Sebastian Ross, plus the addition of Dan Hannebery and I see enough talent.
Talent that needs a more direct game plan, an increase in teamwork and maximum effort from the first bounce to the final siren. Consistently give us that and the Saints could be the smoky of 2019.
A favourable draw will help, but a loss to the Suns in Round 1 will be disastrous.
Things are crook when both your captains walk out the door. Alex Sexton could now be the Suns’ best player, yet most football supporters wouldn’t know him if he popped up in their porridge.
This typifies the Suns’ list and with the addition of Corey Ellis, Anthony Miles, Jack Hombsch, George Horlin-Smith and Sam Collins from other clubs … that is going to change.
It’s an interesting tactic from the Suns: Get C-grade players and hope to turn them into A-grade players.
Stuart Dew had better be the best development coach the game has seen if the Suns are to advance on 2018’s efforts.
The good news is that recruits Izak Rankine and Jack Lukosius are both guns and will have an impact in their first season.
Much rests on the shoulders of two-metre-tall Peter Wright. It’s time he strung some games together and for Jack Martin to show what a No.1 pick from 2014 can do.
Carlton has not kicked 100 points in a game for two-and-a-half years. Will ex-Magpie Alex Fasolo and ex-Crow Mitch McGovern provide the answer?
Who knows, but a forward line with those two, plus Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Jarrod Garlett should at the very least cause some headaches.
Still, much will rest on the likes of Patrick Cripps, Marc Murphy, Matthew Kreuzer and Kade Simpson.
They need help from the likes of Jacob Weitering, Liam Jones, Caleb Marchbank, Paddy Dow and Alex Silvagni.
There are plenty of C and D-grade players at Carlton who need to step up or step off. This includes the coach Brendon Bolton, who came in because of his teaching abilities. This season is exam time, where you either pass or fail.
Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player. He was named in the All-Australian team four times.