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2008 Crystal Ball – Part 2

2008 Crystal Ball – Part 2
Mar
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Written by AFL Online on 23rd Mar 2008

The response I have received regards the first 2008 edition (13th – 16th) of the OWAAT Crystal Ball has been absolutely inspiring. I would like to thank everybody for their input via email, via the OWAAT Forum, via our radio show and via random insults hurled on the street from angry fans of the teams I lobbed into the bottom four this time around. Just a timely reminder, I did place MY team in there too! Enough looking backwards, I have been looking over my shoulder ever since posting my last ramblings, let’s launch into stage two which encompasses my optimistic forecast for correctly predicting 9th on the ladder through to 12th.

12th – Melbourne Demons

What am I doing? Sure they are celebrating their 150th year of Australian Football but they burnt me last year and I am still showing them a lot more respect than many other footy followers. I just cannot peruse their list and imagine them losing 16+ games. I can foresee the Dees making the Finals, I genuinely can. Due to their revolting performances throughout 2007 it is easy to forget that this is an AFL team that was good enough to win a Final the season prior. Nevertheless 12th position is as courageous as I was willing to be this season. I’m like most football followers in that I know very little about the abilities of Dean Bailey as a coach, I do know he spent five years under Mark Williams at Port during an era of relatively wonderful success, and Port do have a decent track record of delivering quality coaching options. If recent history is anything to go by he just needs to get Melbourne into a Grand Final to secure his job for a decade! Injuries struck several key Demons’ role players in a disastrous 2007. Fit and healthy contributors such as Brock McLean, Colin Sylvia, Clint Bartram, Brent Moloney, Ricky Petterd, Matthew Whelan and Jared Rivers should help boost their forgettable 15th place finish of last season. Nathan Brown’s retirement really took me by surprise, he led Melbourne in marks, was second in kicks and third in handballs. There are opportunities for young Demons to stand up and be noticed in 2008, will they? I believe a few will, but it will still leave the Dees wanting. They should be an exciting team over the coming years, but 2008 will see them struggle at times. This is a new era and yesteryear needs to be forgotten about ASAP.

Watch for in 2008:
There is undeniable excitement surrounding the potential of Nathan Jones, his opportunities will be plentiful in the coming season, he will have every chance to prove to Dean Bailey what he is capable of. Matthew Bate is a genuine hard-running footballer at the AFL level. He managed a third place finish in 2007 in the Demons’ Best and Fairest, and will become more noticed by those outside of the Melbourne FC fraternity. If he can add a few more goals during his 2008 season then he should cause troubles for opposition defenders. Also Aaron Davey is very important if the Melbourne Demons are to be inspired throughout 2008. Last season he kicked 24 goals in just the 18 matches he played.

Most Important Players:
Brock McLean, Brad Green and Cameron Bruce

What I Said Last Season:
aniel Bell finished 2006 in a very strong fashion and I understand that has continued on into the preseason, expect him to maintain his stellar showings in the seniors. Matthew Bate could well prove to be the new stand-out for the Demons as the 2007 season unfolds, similar to McLean, Jones and Carrol in ’06.

Fixture:
They play Hawthorn twice in the first nine rounds, they meet West Coast only once, and that is not until Round 20, and similarly they only meet Port once as well and that is during the following weekend of Round 21. Their first five matches are in Victoria, with four of those at the MCG against Hawthorn, the Bulldogs, North Melbourne and the Blues. Five of their last six games are at the MCG with a possibly season defining clash against Richmond in Round 22. Melbourne only plays one night match in 2008, and that is against the reigning Premiers.

Interesting Statistics:
The Demons have made the Finals in every even-numbered year since 1996. They have seven players on their list who are eligible for an over-28s nightclub. Their reigning Best and Fairest James McDonald is a machine, he tallied 131 tackles in 2007, and his nearest teammate was Nathan Jones who still laid an impressive 86. Jeff White was the only Demon to play every match last season. Half of the listed Melbourne players weigh between 80-89kg.

Certainty of Prediction – 29%:
Like I said above, I still believe they can make the eight, however, they are also a team that is one of the favourites for the Wooden Spoon. Melbourne is difficult to gauge in their 150th season, and could surprise many if their top players can remain fit and confident. In last season’s Crystal Ball I was way off, this time around I am hoping for a better result, just like Melbourne themselves.

11th – Fremantle Dockers

Michael Voss, Robert Walls, Stephen Quartermain, Malcolm Blight and Tim Lane all listed Fremantle in their 2008 top three during Channel Ten’s coverage of the NAB Cup. I cannot figure out why. Yes, Matthew Pavlich is the seemingly perfect modern day footballer, but why is there consistently pre-season hype surrounding the only AFL club yet to win a Premiership, yet to appear in a Grand Final? Is it because they won a Final in 2006? Their only Finals victory from four attempts. They are by far the league’s most unproven entity and every year I’m subjected to folks ramming their greatness in my face. There is no doubt in my mind that they will lose Round 1 against Collingwood. Imagine they lose Pavlich to a knee injury, their lack of depth will quickly become obvious. They are lucky to have their three-time Best and Fairest Peter Bell back for another year, I dread to think what this club might be like without him. Also they will be without reliable Shane Parker in 2008 for the first time in the club’s history. The team’s leading in-and-under player, Paul Haselby will need to get his injury concerns under control sooner rather than later, otherwise the Dockers’ fans will quickly realise how important he is to the side when attempting to gain possession of the footy. There are plenty of positives about the Dockers, I understand that much, but I’m certainly not going to slot them into my top three. Youngsters Drum, Duffield, Mundy, Murphy and Warnock will all play quality minutes in 2008, nevertheless this club has shown that it struggles to turn things around when the losses pile up. Fremantle need to win away from Subiaco or they will never win a Premiership. They won ten matches in 2007 and eight of those were at home. I wish new coach Mark Harvey the best of luck, he was one of my favourite players while I was growing up. In fact the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Essendon legend might be just the thing that Fremantle needs. I never thought I would witness Harvey in purple, might be even harder watching him belt out that terrible song after a win! There is a bunch of recycled players at the Dockers, which is not exactly a proven recipe for AFL Premiership success.

Watch for in 2008:
As weird as this is, I am going to put forth a rejuvenated Des Headland as a player to keep an eye on for 2008. If he can maintain a mature focus and commitment, then he could be on the brink of changing the football public’s perception of him. His talent is irrefutable, and if he can produce some consistent performances the Dockers will be the benefactors. However, the entire football world now knows that he is susceptible to on-field banter. Also, I have to mention Rhys Palmer, because I always do anytime I get the chance. This kid looks fantastic, I have watched plenty of impressive footage of him dominating for WA. Many of you would be aware by now that I wanted the Dons to take him with their sixth pick, and I am sure that Mark Harvey was glad his previous home was not the current home of Palmer. The Dockers po
unced and he should get plenty of early chances to show the fans why the Dockers were so keen. Also Byron Schammer is a somewhat forgotten entity over in Fremantle these days, he is capable of generating 20+ productive possessions regularly, after an interrupted 2007, we should see a healthy Schammer become very important to Mark Harvey’s game plan.

Most Important Players:
Matthew Pavlich, Paul Haselby, Josh Carr

What I Said Last Season:
The nephew of former Fremantle coach Damian Drum and also the nephew of Richmond legend Francis Bourke, as well as cousin of Geelong captain Steven King, Marcus Drum not only has the pedigree, he can play. At just 19 he looks set to become a regular feature for Freo down back. I will be interested to see how the Dockers use Michael Johnson in 2007, he certainly knows how to find the ball and boasts a tall athletic frame, a similar player to a guy on the East Coast called Adam Goodes. I might also add that if David Mundy played in Melbourne then Victorians would know as much about him as they do Griffen and Deledio.

Fixture:
After the first 14 Rounds of the season we should have a very good indication of how good the 2008 Dockers are, because they play a different opponent in each of those matches. The Dockers play Collingwood in Rounds 1 and 22. From Rounds 5 to 21 they are interstate every second week, which means they play at Subiaco every second week as well. Eight of their 2008 matches are Sunday afternoon fixtures.

Interesting Statistics:
The Dockers are second favourite (after Geelong) to be the last team in 2008 to lose, which is extraordinary considering they play the Pies at the MCG first up. Freo is paying $7.00 to be the last AFL team to lose a game in 2008 and the Cats are at $3.50. Pavlich has lead the goal kicking for the past three seasons at Fremantle averaging 68 goals per year, and he won the club’s Best and Fairest in each of those seasons. Fremantle have defeated Carlton in their last 9 straight meetings.

Certainty of Prediction – 75%:
You watch folks, the Dockers will not finish inside the top four like so many are predicting. If they do make the Finals I believe it will be 7th or 8th at best and off the back of a fortunate run with injuries.

10th – Adelaide Crows

I had the Adelaide Crows this high prior to their impressive run in the NAB Cup, which we all rate about as highly as Delta rates the Poo! As The Monkees said ‘I’m a Believer’ when it comes to the boys from the city of churches. Their fans will be praying for another Finals appearance, their 7th in the past eight AFL seasons. In fact, probably a higher priority is just to finish above their cross-town rivals and the reigning Grand Finalists. Even if that sees the Crows in 15th and Port in 16th, that would be considered a somewhat productive non-Premiership year. I am of the opinion that, perhaps with the exception of Geelong, the Crows have the most settled, reliable and consistent backline in the AFL, a significant reason for their regular Finals appearances. Defenders like McLeod, Bassett, Bock, Johncock and Rutten form a unit that is the envy of many other AFL teams. However, for 2008 it is a sprouting of second tier players that I think too many people are underrating. The likes of Van Berlo, Porplyzia, Vince, Knights, Jericho, Tippett and Griffin all look destined for more improvement in the coming 22 rounds. Right them off at your peril, I still feel I will regret leaving them out of the top eight, nevertheless a third of their playing list has changed and elements like a Mark Riccuito are not easily replaced. They will head into a new campaign without Bode, Hudson, Mattner, Meesen, Perrie, Torney and Welsh. I also believe Scott Thompson is one of the more underrated players in the AFL right now, this might change if he can kick more goals in 2008. Neil Craig is a quality AFL coach and has done a commendable job in recent times, I do not expect that to change. There is no doubt that the Crows will continue winning games with low scores on the board, nevertheless, this is Adelaide playing to their strengths, something St Kilda need to learn to do. After all, four ladder points is still four ladder points regardless of the number of goals kicked. Having said this, it has probably already been implied that I harbour concerns regarding their forward line, and I do. Especially given the departure of Scott Welsh, their leading goal kicker from last season, in fact this is probably why I don’t have Adelaide higher on the Crystal Ball ladder, can they kick enough goals across 22 rounds? Time will tell.

Watch for in 2008:
Bernie Vince is looking likely to rack up at least 100 games as a Crow. The product of Woodville – West Torrens, for whatever reason, seems as though he has been around longer than just his twelve senior appearances at AFL level. Hopefully the injury hiccups are behind him for now, as the Crows stand to benefit greatly from his desire to win the footy consistently, similarly to the now retired Riccuito. Also Scott Stevens, the ex-Swan seems to have finally found a home rotating through the Crows backline, his versatility may be called upon to slot goals if need be later in the season, very capable of doing so.

Most Important Players:
Andrew McLeod, Simon Goodwin, Scott Thompson

What I Said Last Season:
When analysing the Crows a good place to start would be their backline, they have a defensive unit that combines incredibly well as a team, anchored by Rutten and Bassett. Andrew McLeod looks ready to rock once again and with Neil Craig expertly utilising Mark Riccuito up forward it is fair to claim that the boys from the “city of churches” still have two genuine AFL superstars in their mix. Add to this Graham Johncock, Tyson Edwards, an emerging second tier of contributors and a guy called Simon Goodwin and the recipe for wins is beginning to become apparent. No Hentschel and no Biglands will detract from their 2007 flavour but I am confident the Crows will once again taste the sweetness of Finals football.

Fixture:
The Crows have five Saturday Night clashes coming up this season, and play at the MCG three times. They only meet St Kilda once and that is not until Round 21. Two of their last three games are to be played at Telstra Dome and they meet the Western Bulldogs in the first and last rounds of the season.

Interesting Statistics:
Adelaide know how to start a game strong, on average in 2007, the Crows kicked 3 more goals per first quarter than any of the other three quarters. However, on six occasions during the season they were ahead at quarter-time and lost matches. With Scott Welsh now gone, there is no player on the Crows’ 2008 list that kicked 30 goals or more in 2007. Andrew McLeod needs to play 17 more matches to reach the illusive 300 games milestone, he is still only 31 years old. The Crows list in 2008 has 179 Finals matches worth of experience, and yet has only kicked 100 goals in those September appearances.

Certainty of Prediction – 59%:
I am not too concerned that the Crows will make much of a fool of me, I don’t subscribe to theories of a 2008 Wooden Spoon. I did hope to fit them into the Finals, however, after more detailed deliberation that was not possible in the end. If anything they will only sneak into the top eight so assigning them 10th spot is not too far off. Anywhere from sixth to twelfth is my opinion regarding one of the sides that most folk are most uncertain about.

9th – St Kilda Saints

Underachieving at St Kilda is a tradition, that is why supporters of all other teams like to see them do well, or should I say do OK, I mean it’s not much of a concern because they’re never really going to be too much of a threat anyways, especially come September. Why should 2008 be any different to the last 30 years, another great list packed with talent another mediocre season. They had their opportunity to win a Premiership in 1997 with a team that many consi
der (myself included) to be more lacking in talent than the current list. However, Stan Alves had that side playing to their strengths (and then he was gone), and that is why I believe a seemingly defensive minded Ross Lyon is the wrong fit for the Saints. St Kilda should be approaching AFL games like the NBA’s Phoenix Suns used to (before they got Shaq) and that is via an unashamed focus on attacking. If the 2008 St Kilda side can kick long to their weapons in the forward line they will look like contenders. The Saints have lost 7 of their past 9 Finals appearances dating back to that last quarter Grand Final effort of an electrifying Darren Jarman in 1997. Regardless of what has occurred in the past, there is no denying that the window of Grand Final opportunity for the current group is rapidly closing, so much so that I don’t see them winning more than twelve games in 2008. Once again the Saints enter an AFL campaign with one of the best lists going around, and again they will fail to live up to unfair expectation, hype that is completely undeserving, excitement that lacks precedent similar to that surrounding Fremantle. It is extraordinary that an AFL player of Nick Riewoldt’s ability has never played in a Grand Final, in fact it is just not good enough. Riewoldt’s new teammate Adam Schneider has appeared in twice as many Grand Finals as Riewoldt and made his debut two years later. I appreciate that the Saints were again hit hard with injuries last season, very inconvenient ones right throughout the year. However, injuries are a part of the modern game and key players like Luke Ball, Nick Riewoldt (has won four of the last six club Best and Fairests), Lenny Hayes, Max Hughton, Nick Dal Santo (has played 102 games straight), Fraser Gehrig, Sam Fisher and Justin Koschitzke are all a year older and are again susceptible to physical breakdown. If the Saints remain predominantly healthy they might make the Finals, only to stumble yet again. They will not reach the top four in 2008 and certainly will fail to feature in the final Saturday of September. On another note, as we all know Andrew Thompson and Brett Voss have both retired and will not feature as Saints in 2008 for the first time in a long time, I just wanted to congratulate them both on amazingly underrated AFL careers.

Watch for in 2008:
One player who regularly featured in the best players for the Casey Scorpions last season was the Saints’ 2006 first round draft pick David Armitage. St Kilda fans will be very excited to be seeing plenty more of the kid from the Sunshine State, because I believe he is already a fan favourite. His 2008 could well cement himself a midfield position for years to come, a great modern player to watch with a good dose of traditional hard nose attributes. Also 24 year-old Clinton Jones has played just six AFL games in his career and looks likely to add to that figure significantly this season. The Western Australian has poise and vision that makes him appear a likely type across half back or through the centre parts of the ground.

Most Important Players:
Nick Riewoldt, Nick Dal Santo and Sam Fisher

What I Said Last Season:
If they can keep their collective focus fixed on winning football matches “one week at a time” then that speculative window of red, white and black opportunity is very much ajar. If all the components can remain fit then we should see one of the greatest forward lines to walk onto a football oval since Ted Whitten’s beloved State of Origin days when The Big ‘V’ would shoot it out against those try-hard South Australians with guys like Ablett, Dunstall and Lockett all wearing the same jumper. Injuries are the primary variable in the resultant fortunes of every team’s 2007 season campaign, that has been proven beyond doubt in recent times. The Saints have struggled to have their best players available for most of this new millennium, if they can change that throughout this year then St Kilda can win their first Premiership since 1966.

Fixture:
The Saints travel to Subiaco twice in the space of four rounds later in the season, a tough ask for the best of AFL sides. They meet the Crows just once and not until Round 21. St Kilda are fixtured to play eight Saturday Night matches this season and nine of their first eleven games are at the Telstra Dome, a ground they do enjoy.

Interesting Statistics:
Nine of their players are listed as weighing 95kg or more. Missed the Finals in 2007 for the first time in four seasons. Nick Dal Santo polled the maximum of three Brownlow votes in five matches in 2007. In 2008 they have five players on their list from the Gippsland Power and eight players with a surname that begins with the letter ‘G’. St Kilda also boasts ten players that have appeared in AFL matches for other clubs. The Saints have defeated Carlton and Richmond the last nine times they have played them dating back to 2002 and 2003 respectively. St Kilda only lost two of their final eight games in 2007.

Certainty of Prediction – 64%:
They might make a fool of me, then again so might all 16 AFL teams. 2008 will again be a long season full of roller coasting trends and form variations. Nevertheless, it all seems too familiar for me to confidently slot the Saints in the Finals. Here we go again, another March of promise seemingly destined to turn to an August of desperation.

Well there we go folks, we’ve passed the half way mark with an overdue second installment of the infamous OWAAT Crystal Ball. I’m just like you, very excited that footy is back and full of opinions with another season upon us. To the astute amongst you, it will be recognized that my final eight is now known, even if the order is not. Just around the corner, is more Crystal Ball as I divulge the teams I expect to be battling for the 2008 AFL Premiership Flag.