8th – Richmond
Allow me to quickly and momentarily state the obvious, Iâ€™ll be brief, I promise, Iâ€™ll be succinct, like ripping off a Band-Aid, OK are you ready, here we go, no procrastinating, right now, go time, let me say itâ€¦ Richmond have underachieved in recent seasons. There, done. That didnâ€™t hurt too much did it. Any side with proven performers like Matthew Richardson, Nathan Brown, Darren Gaspar, the Bowden boys and Kane Johnson should be making finals, regularly. We all know the jokes about the Tigersâ€™ accepted (almost traditional) mediocrity. Being without the services of Coughlan and Simmonds are huge setbacks for a Richmond team that needs to take the next step for the sake of the sanity of their supporters. It seems like a lifetime ago that Coughlan was in his career-best Jack Dyer Medal winning form, it was in fact back in 2003. Richmond will miss his hardness around stoppages as much as an elderly billionaire will miss his own hardness around Anna Nicole Smith. However, it is an interruption to the pre-season of Troy Simmonds that is my major concern as I go out on a limb and place the recently pedestrian Tiges into my top eight. He only missed the one match in 2006 and he will need a similar run this season for the Punt Road boys to still be playing in September. I am not sold on the Kingsley factor, yet. I believe he will indeed largely benefit from not being the main man, as he was in Geelong, yet his actual abilities at AFL level are still shady in my humble opinion. My primary reasoning for this act of blind faith in the â€˜07 â€œyellow and blackâ€ attack are Nathan Brown and Terry Wallace. A fit, prepared and healthy Nathan Brown will rejuvenate and inject a sense of belief right throughout Tigerland not only throughout the course of the season, but also on a smaller scale within individual matches and quarters. Wallace not so much as a coach, more so as what his contract and commitment represents. Finally I feel as though Richmond has some severely and sorely sought squad solidarity, synchronization and sanguinity.
Watch for in 2007:
The second tier. Richmond in 2007 all depends on whether a crop, a plethora, a swagger, a pride of players can proudly put their hands up at the same time. I refer to players with a few years in the system, names like Foley, Hartigan, Hyde, Newman, Pattison, Pettifer, Schulz, Tambling and Tivendale. In addition the already proven entities of Deledio, Tuck, Polo, Raines and Krakouer will benefit their teammates immensely if further advancement is delivered in 2007. Keep an eye on Jarrod Oakleigh-Nicholls who should show something special this season, earlier rather than later. Furthermore, there will be plenty of eyes on Jack Riewoldt, hopefully Plough gives him productive opportunities during this, his first, AFL campaign.
First five matches are all at the MCG, which is very appealing. Rounds 7 and 8 see them paying the price for this early home ground luxury as they play both these matches at AAMI. They also go to Subiaco twice, Geleong once and to the SCG. Three of their last four games are back at the â€˜Gâ€™. It is a tough draw, like most others in this age of a national league.
7th ï¿½ Adelaide
I am sure there is plenty of others that would have the Crows pegged to finish a lot lower (or higher for that matter) than 7th. I propose that if anything, they will finish above where I have them placed. The thing with Adelaide is that it is very arduous to single-out why they are so successful, effective, productive. Similar to Vegemite it is difficult to explain why theyâ€™re so good, they just are. This time a year ago, heading into last season, not many would have perceived the consistently high ladder position that the Crows held for 22 weeks. 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 â€œcity of churchesâ€ 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. Although I have them at seventh, mark my words, the Crows could win the Premiership, after all they were a class above all others in regards to their superior percentage in 2006, finishing nearly 22% ahead of the eventual Premiers.
Watch for in 2007:
Now that the Crows have started using Marty Mattner across half-back he is delightful to watch, whether carrying and bouncing while probing kicks inside 50 or playing tall, being menacing and defending like an Energizer Bunny on heat. James Sellar, who grew up barracking for the Crows, could quickly expose himself as an excellent draft pick for Adelaide who got him at number 14. Also 2007 should see the further emergence of young talents like John Hinge, Bernie Vince, Richard Douglas and Jason Porplyzia. Also keep an eye on the tenacious Matthew Bode who last year looked like a player that will, from now on, attack every season as though it is his last.
Rounds 2 through to 6 should prove quite tough for the Crows. This period will give an early season indication as to whether or not we can expect performances like those witnessed in 2006. They only meet last yearâ€™s two grand-finalist teams once each, both at AAMI Stadium. A fairly consistent fixture without too many glaring peaks and troughs. They might struggle over at Skilled Stadium right after an undoubtedly tough showdown with Port in August.
6th ï¿½ Fremantle
You say Frumantal, I say Free-man-tellâ€¦ however you pronounce it, there is no denying the incredible season the Dockers had in 2006. Wow. The collective hats of all AFL followers were off, admiring what Connolly was able to do with his purple super troopers. Like him or not, as a coach, he has done wondrous things for his club and its fans. It is now time for Freo to start working towards winning their first ever Grand Final, now that most other obstacles have been overcome, culminating with their first ever Finals victory last September over the Demons. Matthew Pavlich is an idealistic modern day AFL footballer, possibly one of the leagueâ€™s only true match winners as we head into 2007. The Carr boys, Bell, Hasleby, Black, Farmer, McManus, Parker, Tarrant and Soloman combine for an impressive collection of seasoned AFL performers to compliment the Dockersâ€™ talented pool of youth. If they can maintain their signature style of running footy while continuing to improve the quality and effectiveness of their possessions then the Dockers exciting brand of winning should continue. You cannot win 15 games in an AFL season in this era, finish third on the ladder and be a bunch of lucky pretenders. Most others would have them higher on the list, yet I believe that without the â€œunder the radarâ€ factor that they might have enjoyed in recent times, oppositions will now be building for strong performances against them. Fremantle are now recognised as a top team in this league and as it so happens in sport, I think that Freo in 2007 will be a victim of thei
r own previous success.
Watch for in 2007:
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. If you get a chance to see him this season then you will enjoy yourself.
The Dockers will once again enjoy racking up the scalps at Subiaco, including a handy three there in a row from Rounds 17-19. Obviously they will play the reigning Premiers twice at their home ground (no other team has to, or gets to, do that), plus they face Melbourne and Adelaide twice each. I made mention of it in another edition of the â€˜Crystal Ballâ€™ but I find it odd that they play Port first up and last of all. In general, the Dockers have a relatively standard fixture for 2007 and like an online poker player taking his cash to Crown, they will need to find a process that allows them to win away from home.
5th ï¿½ Western Bulldogs
Many football followers believe that the Bulldogs will again make a rapid rise up the AFL ladder further up into the top eight. This choice of mine to place them in 5th might be frowned upon on the whole, but one thing to consider before loading up your slings and arrows, is that by me slotting them in at fifth I am agreeing. The Doggies played out of their skins last year in the undeniable face of injury-riddled adversity. They were hot, playing electrifying, quality footy for most weeks of the season. Some say they got the absolute best out of their playing group, which is imperative for modern football success. Yet, they only finished eighth. This is something worth considering before you make loud-mouthed and intoxicated wagers with your mates that they will finish top two. The Eagles highlighted the broad gap by defeating them in September action by an embarrassing 74 points. Now do not get me wrong, Luke Darcy is a star and has been sorely missed at Barkly Street, add to that Robert Murphy, Mitch Hahn, an impressive support crew and Brownlow Medalist Jason Akermanis and the 2007 Bulldogs look to have more bite than ever in the clubâ€™s extensive history. Cooney and Griffen are turning more heads than a sunny, topless beach in Scandanavia, and with Scott West, Lindsay Gilbee, Daniel Giansiracusa and Daniel Cross remaining atop the list of the leagueâ€™s most prolific ball winners, the Western team looks likely to see their ladder position heading north.
Watch for in 2007:
Akermanis to strut around the locker room wearing his Brownlow Medal with pride just to get under the skin of a deprived Scotty West! In all seriousness though, letâ€™s hope that the new recruit from the Lions can keep his flapping jaw idle for the sake of his new club, especially as the pressure builds during the season. Brad Johnson may not top 70 goals ever again in his career, however I am confident he will have another extraordinary, smile flashing year for his beloved team,. Will be interesting to see Grant and Darcy in the same forward line, a rare sight of recent times. Shaun Higgins is up to it, he will make an impression at AFL senior level in 2007 if he can stay healthy and therefore available, he is another quality, young prospect that Eade has at his disposal. Andrejs Everitt could well be a fantastic signing for the Bulldogs in future seasons, and we should catch a few glimpses of him later on in the year, particularly if questions are raised about the back line. Scott Clayton, one of the best recruiting managers in the AFL explains that Everitt â€œhas elite agility, excellent closing speed, a great leap and an excellent long right foot kick. He reads the play naturally at centre half back and makes good decisions with great vision.â€
Seven of their first eight matches are in Melbourne and an incredible eight of their last nine are at Telstra Dome, although Rounds 17-20 are against quality opponents. They will be exposed to just the one trip to Subiaco and the one trip to AAMI Stadium. On the whole I do not think the Bulldogs would be too fazed about they schedule they have been handed, it is as friendly as a sedated and lightly drunk Jehovahâ€™s Witness who has just won the lottery! Most football fans, if they needed to pick a team that they would like to see win the Flag, other than theirs would choose the Doggies, who were named on top of my 2007 AFL Ladder of Justified Frustration.
Article written by Mark Franklin from oneweekatatime.com.au