Well, we’re 19 rounds down, 18 games played, months of pre-season in the tank, yet the season as it truly matters begins now.
While, September – the month in which the premiership is fought and won – is still a month away, August is upon us, and this month is where premierships are set up and anything can happen. The opening 19 roundss have sorted out the six or seven clubs that are too far off the premiership pace to be considered, but how teams have played in March to July is now redundant.
Form only matters in August and September, as a couple of recent premiers have proven. So, how will the finals deck be shuffled at the end of footy’s second most important month?
Predicted Final Ladder
1 - RICHMOND (18-4)
THE RUN HOME: Geelong (MCG), Gold Coast (MS), Essendon (MCG), Bulldogs (MCG)
Premierships are not won in July, and as far as the best of the competition is concerned, thank God for that. In recent memory, no team has been better placed to take out the cup at this stage. A record membership, an unbelievably strong culture, confidence and belief galore, 4th quarter domination, the mantle of reigning title-holder and thus, premiership winning experience, a home ground advantage on the only ground that matters and a minor premiership that you can now bank on. The flag is not a foregone conclusion, but it is going to take an unbelievable effort to topple this mob. To shake their claim on the flag, somebody has to beat them in a final at the MCG and it does get much more daunting than that.
2 - WEST COAST (17-5)
THE RUN HOME: Fremantle (OS), Port Adelaide (AO), Melbourne (OS), Brisbane (G)
The primary contender to take the Tiger title. Flogged them earlier in the season – however, playing the Tigers on the MCG is a completely different kettle of fish. Having said that, they have rectified a dubious MCG record this season with a comprehensive victory over the Magpies in recent weeks. Two home finals would see them as well placed as they can be. Their best bet is for someone else to knock off the Tigers and to play a non-Victorian team in the Grand Final. No Nic Nat hurts but is by no means a deal breaker, with Scott Lycett proving he can be the best ruck on the ground even with Naitanui present a couple of times this season.
3 - COLLINGWOOD (16-6)
THE RUN HOME: Sydney (SCG), Brisbane (ES), Port Adelaide (MCG), Fremantle (OS)
I’m predicting them to win every one of their remaining four games, and should expect to win a bare minimum of three, with Port Adelaide being a 50/50 encounter. In order to win the premiership, history tells you that the majority of players must have career best seasons. Unfortunately, for the Magpies most of their players are not even on the park. They need to be at their best to overcome the best teams in it and without likes of Adam Treloar, Jamie Elliott, Daniel Wells, Lynden Dunn, Tyson Goldsack and Matthew Scharenberg going into August and September, I don’t think they can get there. Premiership sides need luck – they haven’t had much of it to date.
4 - GWS (14-7-1)
THE RUN HOME: Carlton (ES), Adelaide (AO), Sydney (SS), Melbourne (MCG)
Terrific run home with Carlton and Adelaide already out of the finals race and I suspect Sydney will be as well by the time they play them. No doubt, if they retain their current form, they are a genuine contender, and with Jeremey Cameron returning, I think they are every chance. If they win at least three games, they are set for a double chance and a Qualifying Final battle with the reigning premiers. Lack of MCG exposure may hurt them obtaining their second victory against the Tigers, but if they can somehow manage an unlikely win it busts the season wide open. You could not tip Richmond in a final outside of Melbourne.
5 - MELBOURNE (14-8)
THE RUN HOME: Gold Coast (MCG), Sydney (MCG), West Coast (OS), GWS (MCG)
A team whose best is good enough, and it’s going to take someone else’s absolute best to beat them. We’ve got them winning every game from here on at the ‘G to secure a finals birth for the first time in a dozen painful years. Will the Dees make it the fairytale trifecta? If they get on a roll, watch Melbourne – the city – come from everywhere.
6 - HAWTHORN (14-8)
THE RUN HOME: Essendon (MCG), Geelong (MCG), St Kilda (ES), Sydney (SCG)
I’m tipping to win all bar one game in August, with a cracker against the Bombers this Saturday the big question mark. They are the hardest side to pin down at the moment. If they can defeat their arch rival this weekend, the top four is theirs for the taking. However, if they lose that and a genuine 50/50 contest against the Cats then it is season over. Do they have enough artillery to mount an unlikely premiership challenge? The opportunity is there, if they’re good enough.
7- NORTH MELBOURNE (14-8)
THE RUN HOME: Brisbane (G), Bulldogs (ES), Adelaide (AO), St Kilda (ES)
They have the dream run home. All the teams they are playing on the run home are out of the finals race, so they will win their four remaining games to book a place in the eight. And if they don’t win all four games, well quite frankly they do not deserve to be there. The Kangas are also proven finals performers. If you think back to the unexpected prelim years of 2014 and 2015, more than a few players remain. Do not rule out another prelim surprise but they can’t get any further than that… or could they?
8 - PORT ADELAIDE (14-8)
THE RUN HOME: Adelaide (AO), West Coast (AO), Collingwood (MCG), Essendon (AO)
No side has a tougher final month of the Home and Away season. Wins against Adelaide and Essendon means they scrape into the finals in eighth position; somewhat underwhelming given their current top four presence. Although, a victory over the Magpies at the ‘G would grant them a double chance, assuming other results generally fall as they’re expected to. However, if they do not improve their dreadful skill level that sees their kicking efficiency 17th in the comp, and improve it immediately, they are not going anywhere meaningful.
9 - GEELONG (13-9)
THE RUN HOME: Richmond (MCG), Hawthorn (MCG), Fremantle (KP), Gold Coast (KP)
The only team that is set to drop out of the final eight which would be an extremely disappointing result if it eventuates. Game against Hawthorn at the MCG is crucial and a must-win if they want to make finals. They must get Tom Stewart back as he has been their best player in 2018.
10 - ESSENDON (12-10)
THE RUN HOME: Hawthorn (MCG), St Kilda (DS), Richmond (MCG), Port Adelaide (AO)
What a shame the Bombers decided to start the season in Round 9 after an embarrassing loss to Carlton set them straight. Besides Richmond, nobody is playing better footy than the Bombers at the moment. They have the potential to be a heart breaker for a couple of their awaiting opponents. Winning every game is their task, but I think Richmond and Port Adelaide will be too strong.
11 - SYDNEY (11-11)
THE RUN HOME: Collingwood (SCG), Melbourne (MCG), GWS (SS), Hawthorn (SCG)
Tough seeing them cracking into the top eight now, but not impossible. Their run home is extremely difficult and we have predicted them to go through August winless. Yep, winless. If that is the case it will be the players’ first September holiday since 2009 for this decade’s most successful team behind the Hawks. Interesting to see the direction they take this off-season.
12 - ADELAIDE (10-12)
THE RUN HOME: Port Adelaide (AO), GWS (SS), North Melbourne (AO), Carlton (MCG)
It’s been a disastrous season for the Adelaide Crows. From Grand Final favourite to a team in freefall. For their season to be over in July must surely be unacceptable, yet amazingly their on-field performances have been far better than their off-field performances. Shambolic.
13 - FREMANTLE (8-14)
THE RUN HOME: West Coast (OS), Carlton (OS), Geelong (KP), Collingwood (OS)
Have Fremantle had the same season three years in a row? After three brilliant seasons from 2013 to 2015, the club fell off the cliff but the expected bounce back just has not happened. The list is just no longer good enough. And PS. Giving Harley Bennell another contract would be irresponsible list management.
14 - WESTERN BULLDOGS (7-15)
THE RUN HOME: St Kilda (DS), North Melbourne (DS), Carlton (DS), Richmond (MCG)
Expected to rack up their worst return from a season since 2004 which constitutes a very bad year. Yes, there have been a few chances but in essence this is still the vast majority of a team that won the flag two years ago. Where have they gone?
15 - BRISBANE (5-17)
THE RUN HOME: North Melbourne (G), Collingwood (ES), Gold Coast (MS), West Coast (G)
Last year, Chris Fagan saved the football club from the depths of despair. Well, that’s what it sounded like at the end of the last year, despite, finishing dead last on the AFL ladder. Now they have won a miraculous four games on their road to five, and according to some, their resurrection is continuing. Seriously, how low is the bar for Brisbane? They currently sit 16th on the ladder above only two appalling teams. Bit of perspective please. Yes, we know they have some good young players but they also have several accomplished, experienced footballers. At some stage you have to start winning when it counts and not just when you’ve fallen out of contention..
16 - ST KILDA (4-17-1)
THE RUN HOME: Bulldogs (ES), Essendon (ES), Hawthorn (ES), North Melbourne (ES)
The loss of Nick Riewoldt and Joey Montagna has hit the Saints hard, and I think the powers that be may now be questioning the urgency of retiring two of their greats. They underestimated their importance, and overestimated the rest of their list. Unfortunately, for the Saints this is just where they are at right now. Talking of making the finals prior to the season was incredibly misguided.
17 - GOLD COAST (4-18)
THE RUN HOME: Melbourne (MCG), Richmond (MS), Brisbane (MS), Geelong (KP)
After receiving the worst draw in football history, remarkably, the Suns look set to lose every game at home on the Gold Coast. A loss to cellar dwellers Carlton has really taken the shine off a terrific victory in Sydney, where they avoided going winless since Round 5 onwards. Players believe the club future is dim if captain Tom Lynch departs. Unfortunately, he has already checked out, and the football club is extremely vulnerable
18 - CARLTON (2-20)
THE RUN HOME: GWS (ES), Fremantle (OS), Bulldogs (DS), Adelaide (MCG)
They have drawn the line in the sand and said enough is enough. Well, at least off-field with an entourage of club figures defending the club’s position, most notably list manager Stephen Slivagni on Footy Classified. And that is great. It shows a football club backing their strategy in and determined to bounce back. Carlton have patted themselves on the back and blown their own trumpet repeating how they will not ask for a priority pick because “we got ourselves into the situation and we’ll get ourselves out of it” and “I don’t want Carlton to be associated in any way to with a priority pick” per the words of CEO Cain Liddle. That means they cannot back down. Even if it has become abundantly clear that Carlton were unaware that the AFL is unable to award a priority pick unless a club requests one, Carlton cannot possibly go back on their word. If the Blues end up with a priority pick come November, they risk looking like a laughing stock. If they backflip, they should hang their heads in shame and start issuing apologies. They can start with their fans.