Bottom 6: Gold Coast, Saint Kilda, Carlton, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne.
9th-12th: Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, Adelaide, Sydney.
5th-8th: Essendon, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane, Geelong.
1st-4th: Richmond, West Coast, Melbourne, Collingwood.
As the ladder now stands, my greatest under-estimation has been my beloved Fremantle Dockers. I had them in the bottom six but currently they cling onto eighth spot on the ladder, on the same wins (seven) as seventh place Port Adelaide and ninth place Richmond. For once, percentage is not working against them, an attribute of the team’s consistency this season and eliminating the tendency of the past few seasons of losing games by large margins.
My next biggest under-estimation would have to be the Geelong Cats. Even though I had them finishing in the top eight I did write I felt some unease with that prediction. Well my unease was misplaced, with the Cats being this year’s trendsetters, sitting four points and percentage clear on top of the ladder with a 11-2 win-loss ratio. They have been playing some irresistible football this season. The fab five midfield of Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Tim Kelly, Gary Ablett and Mitch Duncan didn’t quite click last year but they have been on song this season and with the addition of experienced former Bulldog Luke Dahlhaus and Swan Gary Rohan to the forward line, the Cats would have to be the current favourites for the 2019 flag.
Obviously my biggest blooper was predicting that last season’s preliminary finalists, the Melbourne Demons, would finish the season in the top four with a double chance. How wrong could I be? Very wrong as it panned out. They have had their injuries, like all clubs do, and maybe the trading of Jesse Hogan to Fremantle and recruitment of Gold Coast strong man defender Steven May has upset the balance of last year’s well-oiled outfit. But as an outsider observing their performance this year, I think there is a simpler explanation for Melbourne’s dismal season so far – lack of hard work and commitment to support one another on the field.
The team that I next overcooked the most was the other losing preliminary finalists of last season – the Richmond Tigers. Before the season commenced I wrote: “… I have to say that Richmond are the nearest sure thing to being one of the two teams playing on the last Saturday in September. The Tigers are still smarting over going out in last year’s preliminary final to Collingwood and with the addition of Tom Lynch from the Gold Coast to the already potent Richmond forward line, a top four position is highly expected and maybe a second flag in three seasons.”
Well this season so far has had its ups and downs for the 2017 premiers. They have suffered some injuries to key players, none more so than the season ending injury to five-time All-Australian full back Alex Rance in the season opener against Carlton. The three other players that make up the “big four” at Tigerland – captain Trent Cotchin, Brownlow and Norm Smith medallist Dustin Martin and forward spearhead Jack Riewoldt have also been sidelined for varying periods with injuries. Boom recruit Tom Lynch has had some good moments in the black and gold but he is a work in progress for his new team. But the biggest issue for Richmond this season has been their lack of consistency between games and within games. The brand of football and intensity on display when the Tigers defeated the Dockers at Optus Stadium in round eight was as good as it gets. There just hasn’t been enough of it from Richmond up to this point in the season.
I have been pretty spot on with my prediction that the Brisbane Lions would be one of the biggest improvers this season. Currently they sit in sixth spot, a game ahead of both Port Adelaide and Fremantle. The Lions could be sitting even more comfortably in the eight if not for some narrow losses, none crueller than Fremantle’s star Michael Walters’ one-point sealer after the final term siren in round 10 at Optus Stadium.
In contrast, my other prediction on the biggest improvers for season 2019 was Essendon. So far, it has not turned out that way. They have just not been able to string enough consecutive wins together to do justice to my confidence in them pre-season. It may still be possible for Essendon to make the eight but they sit one game and percentage outside it right now. With only nine games to go, it is unlikely that John Worsfold’s charges will be playing finals football in 2019.
I have underestimated the fortunes of the two South Australian teams. I had them finishing outside the top eight but, at the minute, the Crows and Port Adelaide are fifth and seventh respectively.
Adelaide had a slow start to the season, losing three of their first four games. But since then they have been steadily improving and now have eight wins out of thirteen games. The team spirit that propelled the team to the 2017 grand final against Richmond seems to be back, although the football finesse of that side has not fully returned. But they do appear on the march towards the finals and possibly even a top four finish.
Port Adelaide are in a cut throat battle for finals football with Fremantle and Richmond, all sitting on 28 points with seven wins. Inconsistency is the hallmark of Port Adelaide for season 2019, which could also be said of seasons 2018 and 2017.
In round five at Optus Stadium, Port Adelaide demolished reigning premiers West Coast by 42 points in the wet. It was a powerful clinical display by the away team but their problem is that they have not been able to perform at that high intensity level for long enough this season. Although last Saturday night, playing at home against top of the table Geelong, the good Port team was on display, inflicting on the Cats only their second loss for the season.
As for the rest of my forecasts made preseason, I am currently on or near the money.
Collingwood and the Eagles sit in the top four along with Geelong and Greater Western Sydney, who I predicted would finish between fifth and eighth. And as for the other teams that I said would miss the eight, my forecasts are currently looking sound, including the demise of perennial finalists, the Sydney Swans, who although showing recent signs of improvement with consecutive wins against West Coast and Hawthorn, are too far behind to make the eight this season.
Nine more games remain to round off the home and away season and much could happen before the final eight teams to play finals football in season 2019 are determined.
I think the top four as it now stands, will stay as it is, although there is some chance that the Crows could slip in at the expense of the Eagles due to the reigning premiers inferior percentage. In fact, that has been one of the more unusual aspects of the Eagles this season – some ugly losses which have dented their percentage. But overall they are playing well and should still be playing in the last couple weeks of the finals.
The Lions should remain ensconced in the eight for the rest of the season although they are a young side that is still learning to handle the pressures of expectations.
Probably the most interesting mini-competition from now until the end of round 23 is the fight for the bottom two positions in the eight. Unless the Lions are brought down a peg or two, it looks like Port, the Dockers and the Tigers will be fighting it out to remain relevant come first round of the finals. There are only two spaces available so one of the three will miss out.
It could all come down to the final weekend of regular fixtures, round 23, where Richmond play Brisbane at the MCG and Fremantle travel away to play Port at Adelaide Oval, which has not been a good hunting ground for the Dockers.