2015 AFL Season Preview: Top 4 to take on a familiar look
It is that time of year. The moment where all the armchair experts come out of their long offseason of sitting on the beach wallowing in their dramatic increase in free time, laying huge, unsuccessful bets on the Spring Carnival and generally sniping Shane Watson for being a mediocre number three and an average bloke, to dissect the coming AFL season. The pointless articles written by bored journalists that pump up every team in the AFL after ‘the best preseason of their lives’ start cropping up which inevitably leaves most footy fans frothing at the idea of an actual game of footy being played. So what better way to mark the coming season than by making predictions that you will look back on in six months time and laugh at your horribly misguided judgment?
This year, in a similar vein to the previous couple, we are met with the arduous task of slotting 5 teams into the 8, along with the obvious predictions of Port, Hawthorn and Sydney up the top. The reason I have listed these three as locks is that they appear to have limitless depth. You only have to look at Hawthorn’s atrocious run with injury last year and how, beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, weathered it without any sign of trouble. Whether they can manage to squeeze another year of brilliance out of Hodge, Mitchell and Lewis is another matter entirely.
Sydney will be hungry for redemption from their horror Grand Final day. They had an incredible season last year excluding their rusty opening month and that one day in September that saw them trounced by a truly exceptional football side. They’re too talented to drop off. Port Adelaide, my prediction for the minor premiership (they’ve won a few in their time so this is no guarantee for further success), has added Patrick Ryder to a list teeming with talent. Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard are two of the most freakishly talented players in the competition. Add that to a strong spine of Carlisle, Trengrove, Lobbe, Westhoff and Schulz and you’ve got the core of a very solid football side. Mix in a terrific midfield and the unpredictable quantities of Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard and the pint-sized Jake Neade and you have a side that is capable of top 4 and then some.
Fourth spot is an absolute gamble this season. Can Fremantle manage to squeeze out another year from its ageing core of Luke McPharlin, Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands? I’m unconvinced. I am unsure where their goals are going to come from. Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne are terrific small forwards, but where is the second tall? The Kangaroos will be a threat once more but bridging the gap from a finals participant (albeit one who made a preliminary final) to that of a genuine contender is hard work. Their reliance on Petrie and Harvey is still huge, particularly when reviewing their thrilling win over Essendon in the Qualifying Final. The jury is still JUST out.
Then there is the perennial presence of the Geelong Cats. After finishing an unconvincing fourth after the regular season and bowing out in straight sets, Geelong has been big movers in the off-season. Mitch Clark is a massive inclusion for the inconsistent Travis Varcoe, and will allow Hawkins some breathing space. Whether he can stay on the field is crucial. Their hopes rest on a few factors. The continued development of Smedts, Guthrie, Caddy, Lang and Hartman, the desperate need to reduce their reliance on their profusely talented captain in Selwood, and, most importantly, the requirement for Bartel, Kelly and Johnson to evolve into Geelong’s version of Mitchell, Hodge and Lewis. If they thrive, Geelong finishes top 4. They wilt, and Geelong face the uncertainty of the mid table abyss.
Who will fill the bottom four of the eight… stay tuned…