In the parks and fields of Australia, the end of our Summer of discontent is heralded by the shrill cacophony of the umpire’s whistle. The smell of lineament is once again in the air, the flags and scarves are being dusted off and the ice vests are out but no one could have been adequately prepared for the ghastly and ghostly sight of Mick Malthouse in his shorts.

There are some who excel at this time of year. KB and his cohorts continue to attempt to justify their existence by bemusing us all with knee jerk reactions, the MRP are busy setting an example banishing Maxwell to his house and young so and so is going to be the next big thing and of course Carlton and Richmond are both monties to make the eight this season.

The threads have been on the board for a while now: LADDER PREDICTION 2009! There are so many factors that can scatter your carefully considered opinions and calculations to the four winds. Hopefully this pre-season prediction guide can provide you with hope as I predict your team to miss the eight. Let the football season begin!

1. Geelong

Of course you need to take this prediction with a fairly large dose of salt. I am a biased Cat fan and I still can’t believe we dropped that Grand Final to our bogey team Hawthorn last year. I believe our best is still the best. The Catters will go in early with some question marks over the back line with Matty Egan gone and Harley a late starter. Look for a bulked up Harry Taylor to kick on and Travis Varcoe to have a year out of the box. The Cats will have something to prove this season and the last time we had that going for us we won the flag. I reckon we can do so again.

2. Port Adelaide

I have gone on record saying that I rate the Power’s chances this season but before I have had the chance to explain why I have normally been drowned out by hysterical laughter. It’s always good to make people happy but I reckon the players were in the shop at the right time last season and key players such as Chad Cornes will go in fully fit and with a good pre-season under their belts. Last year the Power had a horror early draw but this year their initial run is much more favourable and if they get early wins on the board they will prove hard to stop. I expect Warren Tredrea to have his best season for years now that Cassisi has been elevated to the captaincy and I can see both Corneses and Steven Salopek creating havoc this season. I see them in the top four but probably not in the Grand Final.

3. Hawthorn

The Hawks have proven themselves to be a top combination but for the first time in nearly twenty years they will be the hunted. I never really subscribed to this theory before because my mob couldn’t win a flag but you do notice that EVERY team appears to lift their game when they play you. After a while this takes its toll. The Hawks will start the year with several players underdone and might be slow starters this season but are too good to miss out on the top four and will battle it out with the Pies to play the Cats in the granny.

4. Collingwood

This will be the year that the Pies finally learn to put away some of the lower ranked teams and snaffle that top four spot. In recent seasons losses to teams like Carlton, Richmond and Melbourne have cost them dearly. The Pies have an even list that is young, but experienced. For me the key is getting that forward line right. Trav Cloke needs to find more consistency and do better against the stronger defenders. Anthony Rocca needs to return to compliment the excellent band of smaller forwards this club has. The Pies defence is steadily developing and I can see this side doing fairly well early in the season and hanging on.

5. Western Bulldogs

The Dogs fell away badly when the heat was on last year and while they are still a very competent unit I can’t see where the improvement is going to come from to maintain third spot, let alone climb above the Hawks and the Cats. I reckon that ruck division is on the nose, they need a strong marking forward and look suspect down back relying on injury prone players such as Tom Williams to complete the picture. This unit is well coached and boy do they have some good runners but Eade will have to delve deep into his bag of tricks to get the Pups up to speed again this year. Winning a final might be as far as they go this year.

6. Adelaide

A lot of people are prepared to write off the Crows and normally I’d be up for that but not this time. While Neil ‘The Professor’ Craig can’t get the formula right during the finals he does get it right during the year. I think the younger players in the Crows team stepped up a fair bit last year. Players such as Bernie Vince, Richard Douglas, Ivan Maric, Kurt Tippett and David Mackay showed that they weren’t out of place at senior level and this year they will be joined by another exciting group in Taylor Walker, Aaron Kite, and ‘Rodney’ Dangerfield. The Crows have more youngsters than you think and they’ll make the eight this year and earn themselves a home final.

7. St Kilda

The Saints will be one of those sides that battles it out in the middle of the pack this season. Once again too much is left to too few but at least that too few is a fairly talented bunch in Riewoldt, Koschitke, Hayes, Ball, Dal Santo, Goddard and Fisher. The bottom end of the list was ignored during the Thomas era and while that will come back to haunt the Saints when the Gold Coast come in, they should be finalists until then, if only for just one week.

8. Richmond

The Tigers will continue to delight and infuriate both tipsters and fans and they’ll hover at 6-10 all year. This will cause plenty of Tiger claws to be gnawed away by anxious fans as the dreaded ninth looms large but this season I can picture the Tigers snaffling that coveted 8th spot. The key to this side is the ruck support for Troy Simmonds. If the Tigers can develop a genuine support ruck for Simmonds and the big fella stays sound, look for the Tigers to make the finals. If Simmonds goes down so does Richmond.

9. North Melbourne

The Roos will just miss this year’s finals. A strong forward line and a decent ruck set up can only cover what looks to be a short handed midfield for only so long. Brent Harvey is a fine player of course but the support staff of Simpson, Swallow, Harris, Rawlings and perhaps Firrito does not inspire a lot of confidence. Having said that though, this team is always a team that you have to beat, they don’t just lie down and die. I feel a bit guilty writing the Roos off but I think the Power and the Tiges will sneak by them this season.

10. Sydney

Some people have punted the Swannies to as low as 12th or 13th on the ladder but I can’t see that happening. There is still a very good core of experienced players at this club and there are still a few clubs out there that struggle with the Swans gameplan. If Paul Roos can evolve the fairly well known gameplan into something a little different then I believe the Swans could maintain their spot in the top eight but in recent years there hasn’t been too much evidence of this occurring. They’ve been ‘worked out’ to some degree and the cattle they have to implement what is a ‘high intensity’ game style is ageing and increasingly struggling to apply it.

11. Carlton

Carlton say they are coming but I reckon it’s a premature ejaculation. The forward line still looks one dimensional and the Blues have already copped a few injuries which will hamper their early season progress. Judd will be sensational this year but the rucks are still developing and the defence still looks a little light on to me also. I wrote during the summer that the Blues have a large amount of ‘bogey’ teams and beating the Pies twice does not a top eight spot make. Carlton’s progress this season will be how they fare against North, Adelaide, Sydney and St Kilda. They need to start beating these sides consistently but I reckon they are still a year away from being able to do so.

12. Brisbane

Coach Voss will update Brisbane’s game style but for many of the older blokes this will take awhile to become accustomed to. While the Lions will be jumping out their skins for the respected Voss, it will take time for the penny to drop. Brisbane are blessed with two of the best forwards in the game but are also cursed with some of the most inconsistent players in the comp in Brennan, Hooper and ex Demon Travis Johnstone. Finding a consistency of performance is challenging enough for this group, but to do so with a new coach and gameplan will prove to be a serious obstacle to making the top eight this season.

13. Essendon

Essendon’s 2008 was cruelled by injuries but at times Knights’ men played some really attractive football. I reckon Knighter might try a bit more of the same at times but with so many injuries last year perhaps the coach isn’t aware of what his best 22 is and where they should be playing. David Hille will play pretty much a lone hand in the ruck as Laycock is injured already and Bellchambers looks to be miles off the pace. Talk of a new four pronged talls attack is an interesting approach and they’ll need their now trademark speed to prevent opposition backlines from running the ball out. There will be improvement from this group but there’s a lot of work to do yet.

14. Fremantle

Fremantle will be an exciting team to watch this year and as everybody knows they have cleared out a lot of experienced players over the summer. This puts a lot of pressure on returning men in Haselby and Headland to step up and obviously a lot of the burden will once again fall on the great man Pavlich. The Dockers will be up and down like a yo yo but this season it will be easier to work out why as they’ll be a much younger combination compared to last year’s rabble.

15. West Coast

The Coast will be battling it out with the Demons for the spoon again in 2009. The midfield does not look damaging, the Q Man is not consistent and I can’t believe Ashley Hansen is not butter. Cox and Kerr can only do so much and while the Eagles can look forward to significant development from players such as Masten and McKinley, they still look a mile off the pace for mine and will spend another year in the bottom four.

16. Melbourne

Melbourne will improve this year but still finish last. That is a sad indictment on just how bad they were last year. With Jeff White gone the underwhelming Paul Johnson teams up with Mark Jamar in what will be one of the least feared midfield units in the league. The Dees will also go in undersized in defence and have areas of weakness all over the ground. Melbourne will be hoping to win a couple of extra games than they did last year but in reality it is hard to tip anyone else as this year’s wooden spooner.