Folks, we’ve reached the final preview. Today is Swans, Eagles and Bulldogs.
We hope you’ve enjoyed as much as we have had writing for you.
1. Where will the mystery boys from Sydney finish? Can they play finals AGAIN!?
TB: Slightly less of a mystery now that we’ve seen them tread the boards against GWS. The swans are to be admired, in 10 years they haven’t bottomed out, and yet they’re perennially competitive, very competitive.
They look a team set to be challenging for finals again. Sure you can’t get much of a form line in a game against the Giants, but we did get to see some of the younger Sydney brigade and how they’ve progressed. Up until James McDonald laid him out Luke Parker looked very good and so did Lewis Jetta! He broke lines, split packs and added plenty of dash to a solid and tough midfield headlined by Josh Kennedy, Kieran Jack, Gary Rohan, Craig Bird, Jared McVeigh, and Dan Hannebery.
Throw in Ryan O’Keefe when he returns Adam Goodes when he feels like it and the big Mummy and gee wilkers you got a solid engine room. Ted Richards, LRT and Andrejis Everitt down back, Sam Reid, Goodes again up forward and they really do have a great side. They couldn’t miss finals with that set up.
Who knows Goodes could win another brownlow, who ever really knows with Sydney.
TL: Can and will. They haven’t lost any talent at the top end and have developed a system that manages to get their younger players at a level required to be competitive instantly at the top level.
They have the most honest list in the comp, with few standouts, but I find it very hard to find a chink in their armour. Goodes just keeps getting better with age, Bolton has discovered where the goals are after 10+ years of senior footy, the usual suspects of O’Keefe, Malceski, McVeigh and LRT continue to get the best out of themselves and then there is the Sydney Recycling factor – all of Mumford, Kennedy, Shaw, McGlyn, Richards and Mattner all started their careers somewhere else, and all a major contributors in Sydney’s best 22.
Add the gun youngsters – Hannebery, Meredith, Reid, Jack, Rohan, Parker, Jetta, Johnson and Smith – to the aforementioned senior unit and Sydney has a pretty handy line up in 2012.
Kennedy is my pick of the bunch this year. I was not surprised to see the inaugural Brett Kirk medal hanging off his neck last Saturday night. I expect him to pick up many more accolades along the way this year. He has this amazing ability to extract the ball from a stoppage (he was, after all the competition’s #1 stoppage player in 2011) and if he can push forward and get on the scoreboard, don’t be surprised if he adds a Bobby Skilton Medal to his trophy cabinet this year.
If ‘Joey’ and the rest of Sydney’s younger brigade all start to take that next step, we will see Sydney finish deep in finals footy this year.
JD: I’ve penciled them in for another finals appearance. Josh Kennedy is about to explode and make every Hawthorn fan think ‘what if?’. Sam Reid looks like he could be the competition’s next gun centre-half forward. Gary Rohan has Stevie J (and Lingy) written all over him, while Hannebery and Jack have cemented themselves as first picked players. Throw in a handful of youngsters like Nick Smith, Parker and Jetta with Rhyce Shaw, McGlynn and Grundy, and you have a pretty strong list. Let’s not forget the rapid improvement of Big Mummy. The guy is a beast.
2. Are they the most durable and steady team of the last 10 years?
TB: This is something we do know! YES! A Premiership two GF appearances and countless finals they are always around the mark. It’s been a good 10 years if you’re a Swans supporter.
TL: There are very few teams in the comp that have managed to stay ‘up’ for such a long period of time – they have featured in 8 of the last 9 finals series.
They have a knack of finding, or developing, like-for-like replacements around the ground. They have lost many premiership heroes from the formidable 2005-2006 teams; players like Barry Hall, Jared Crouch, Leo Barry, Darren Jolly, and Adam Schneider and of course spiritual leader Brett Kirk and mastermind coach Paul Roos.
The men in charge at the Harbour City have developed a system which has ensured the holes these men leave are easily filled by the next crop, which are groomed whilst in waiting to take their spots. Whatever blueprint the Sydney masterminds are using… it works!
JD: Certainly the most consistent team. Geelong is right up there with them in the durability stakes. While most have arced and rebuilt, Sydney has cleverly topped up and filled holes as well as smoothly transitioned from Paul Roos to John Longmire. And there older players - Goodes, O’Keefe, McVeigh, Bolton - keep playing well and nurture the kids.
3. Will GWS success hurt or hinder the ‘Bloods’?
TB: The extra exposure the GWS will bring to Sydney will only help them. Perhaps it will galvanise some half heated Sydney fans who don’t want the new boys stealing all the glory (in many cases im sure it’ll work the opposite way) but more exposure. They finally get a derby match and they don’t have to worry about getting beat by GWS anytime to soon.
TL: It will certainly take the shine off the on-field success that the Bloods will no doubt be enjoying. And it may even see NSW footy fans deflect to the new pin-up boys of the comp. But any success in the Rugby-dominated NSW is a good thing for the game.
If the success of GWS has the effect of raising the profile of AFL in NSW then that, in turn, will be a good thing for all involved in Aussie rules in the Harbour City.
JD: The addition of GWS won’t hinder the Swans, it’s great for the game in Sydney. They are two very different supporter bases, and I genuinely mean that with no tongue in cheek. Sydney won’t lose supporters to GWS, but rugby clubs out West are competing with a juggernaut like the AFL which will not let GWS fail. 8,000 members already is a tribute to the breadth of our great game. Another team means more stories, which means more newspaper inches, which is only positive thing for the game.
TB: Sam Reid - I just love young forwards!
TL: Sam Reid
JD: Gary Rohan
WEST COAST EAGLES
1. They surprised last year, can we expect more improvement?
TB: Last seasons bolters might come back just a little this year.
There elder statesmen really exceeded expectations in 2011 and to maintain top four contention they would have to have the same output. That could be tough. But they are another team with some very exciting young players; Luke Schuey, Andrew Gaff, Jack Darling and an absolute athletic freak Nic Natinui so who knows what may happen this season now that they’ve had more time in the game.
Most likely is that the youngsters will get better while the older guys drop off, seems pretty logical. Question is whether they can align the peak of the young brigade before the older players like Cox, Emberly, and Glass drop off. This is the season to do it. As captain planet used to profess “The power is yours!” West Coast Eagles.
TL: They certainly did surprise everyone last season, with a dramatic turnaround from wooden spooners to top 4 and preliminary finalists.
But I think last year opposition teams were waiting for, and expecting, their bubble to burst, without putting any real thought into the Eagles. This year they can expect a hell of a lot more scrutiny than 2011.
However, their forward press is as good as anyone’s in the comp. Their kids are just about the most exciting in the business, with Naitanui, Gaff, Shuey and Darling all looking to improve again this year. And then their senior core includes the likes of Cox, Kerr, Embley, Glass and Kennedy – it’s a pretty handy line up, and one that will surely see them take part in September action all over again.
JD: They were so close last year. Expect them to be top four again in 2012 barring injuries. For a club that was expected to bottom out, they have done a remarkable job. They’ve recruited well, filled some holes, and their midfield looks even stronger. Let’s hope Daniel Kerr’s bung hammy and shoulder can let him play at least 20 games.
2. How big is the loss of ‘The Frenchman’ LeCras?
TB: Always a big deal when a player of his quality goes down. They seemed to cope fairly well without him for the first half of last year and their forward line is very strong. This year they could’ve really used his match winning abilities in the close games, might cost them 4 points, that could mean 1 or 2 spots on the ladder.
TL: Huge. I rate the Frenchman as the best small forward in the business. His loss has just cost the Eagles 50-70 goals in season 2012.
And now we’ve learned that born-again forward flanker – and the man who afforded Le Cras more time in the midfield last year – Mark Nicoski, will join his blonde-haired buddy on the sidelines early in 2012 after tearing his hammy right off the bone.
For as good as the Eagles were last year, they can ill-afford to lose quality players this year. Compared to the comp’s big boys, they don’t have the depth to cover for big name players and it is for this reason only that I can’t see them reaching the heights of season 2011.
JD: He’s a talented player so he’ll be missed, but new recruit Josh Hill will fit straight in. They covered him last year, but they are a very well rounded team and their midfielders kick goals. They also have one of the better forward lines in the AFL (see below). Expect Luke Shuey to take another massive leap in his absence.
3. Do they have the best Forward line in the league (Kennedy, Darling, Natanui/Cox, and Shuey)?
TB: With LeCras it is certainly the best or equal to that of Hawthorns. Without him it is slightly less potent, only slightly. Big marking bodies wall to wall down there at West Coast. Darling pushes up the ground well and provides a link to Kennedy. Schuey will play more through the midfield but is very partial to a goal or two. Cox and Nic Nat pushing forward will cause all sorts of problems. That front six is a big headache for any opposition defence.
I am still going with Hawthorn as the best, Cyril, Buddy, Gunston, Hale and Puopolo, and Breust rotating through there.
TL: Any forward line with Buddy and Junior-boy would argue that they are probably the most potent attack in the comp, but the Eagles certainly have plenty of talent in their forward half.
The key for Worsfold this year will be getting an even spread from his attacking unit. If they can get 20-30+ goals from any on Cox, Darling, Shuey, Nicoski, Lynch, Masten and Embley, and let the big man Kennedy kick his 50+ for the year, they will be posting scores that keep them at the top end of the ladder again this year.
JD: Add the Big Q-Stick into that sentence and you have a scary forward line filled with size, aggression and athleticism. Kennedy isn’t just steak knives anymore, he’s a legitimate forward gun. You have to love Darling’s size and aggression. While the prospect of Nic Nat and Coxy resting in the goal square is enough to give most back men night frights.
TB: Nic Nat
TL: Nic Nat
JD: Daniel Kerr
1. Will Lake return to be the superstar All- Australian he once was?
TB: Geee that’s a tough call. It would have to be a miraculous turn around from where he was last year. He’ll be a damn site better, but maybe not All Australian. Lucky he locked in that contract back in 2010 when he was still good.
TL: AA will be a stretch for the man formerly known as Mr. Harris. He had a horrid run in season 2011, in which he battled injuries and confidence and finally, succumbed to languishing in the VFL.
He seemed to be Rocket Eade’s whipping boy when times got tough for the Doggies. Towards the end of his tenure, Eade asked things of Lake that saw him taken right out of his comfort zone – we can all agree there was no merit in Rocket’s experiment to play Lake back into form as a forward target.
But with a new coach, comes a fresh slate. And surely Brendan McCartney will provide Lake the opportunity to slot back into his favoured Full Back position and instil the confidence in him to do what he does best – play off his man and take marks from opposition forward 50 entries.
JD: My Supercoach team hopes so. I think he will. He’d clearly tuned out with Rocket Eade, so new coach McCartney will do him the world of good and get him motivated. He sounds fit and injury free. Let’s hope he’s back to his best, because at his peak he is a beauty to watch.
2. Can Brendan McCartney inspire this ageing list and have one last crack at finals?
TB: Probably not. I am sorry dogs fans as you are a long suffering group, but facts are facts, and you don’t have a bloody forward line! Jarrad Grant and Liam Jones are not reliable forwards yet. Tory Dickson is a good recruit but kicking 101 goals for Noble Park is less of an achievement than kicking 30 for the dogs. He’ll need to kick 30 for the dogs for them to be any chance for finals.
McCartney’s strength is in his tutelage of players, perhaps he can coax out 50 goals from Grant and Jones. He’ll need to if they want a finals birth.
TL: It would seem this ageing list has aged a little too much to see the Doggies figuring in September action. Bob Murphy is ageless and skipper Matty Boyd is a dead-set superstar, but the game seems to have passed Lindsay Gilbee, Daniel Giansiracusa seems to have got the utmost out of his football career and Brian Lake’s troubles have been well documented. There have been whispers that Adam Cooney’s best football is well and truly behind him at the ripe old age of 26. Daniel Cross battles harder than anyone, but he has no turn of foot and is being found out for speed in the modern game (refer to Leigh Brown’s inspirational chase down on Cross in 2010’s qualifying final).
McCartney will no doubt be hoping to fast-track the development of the next litter of pups in order to see the red, white and blue figure in September action again.
JD: He looks like the right sort of bloke for this list, but I think they’ve missed the window and need to start looking towards the future.
3. What sort of a list has McCartney got to work with?
TB: It’s decent, not amazing or the best list going around, but he still has four guns running the midfield with Boyd, Cross, Griffen and Cooney and the backline is looking alright too. If Higgins could actually do something they would be a bit threatening.
But McCartney is there to get the best out of the young kids and that is the way forward for the dogs. Dallhaus, Liberatore, Cordy, Williams and Roughhead are the players Brendan should be focusing on.
TL: The future is bright. Liam Jones looks readymade to assume the key forward role. Big men Ayce Cordy and Little Rough will continue to develop. Little Libba, Clay Smith and Mitch Wallis will rise through the ranks and take over the midfield in due time. And we can expect Dahlhaus to continue to thrill the fans and provide the dash and flair the fans want to see, but it will take McCartney a few years with this next crop of pups take this club back to finals football.
JD: They’ve picked up some great kids - Wallis, Libba, Talia, Dalhaus and Jones - in recent years who will need more and more games. They’re on the right track. Guys like Gilbee, Giansiracusa and Murphy have been fighting for years, but they won’t have much more fight in them.
Let’s hope Murphy can continue his 2011 All-Australian form, Boyd, Griffen and Cross can keep the midfield ticking and Brownlow medalist Cooney, Higgins, Tom Williams and Lake can overcome chronic injury and reach their best again.
TB: Brian Lake
TL: Luke Dalhaus
JD: Shaun Higgins
Thanks guys, it’s been fun!