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TipBetPro 2017 AFL Season Preview

The pre-season is over and the real thing is just one week away. So now is the time when TipBetPro release our season predictions! So, we have to start with a big disclaimer – the TipBetPro model is built for short term week to week predictions and relies heavily on personnel changes and short term form for our success over the years. So, it is not really set up for long term predictions … as regular readers may know from us unsuccessfully tipping Sydney to slide every season! All the same, we’re not going to let that stop us from analysing the teams and throwing out some predictions on what the 2017 AFL season will bring.

Predicted 2017 Ladder

Squad Breakdown

Have we got anyone left? I assume by now Sydney supporters are rolling their eyes, Geelong supporters have stormed off and Brisbane & Carlton supports have thought yeah fair enough.

So let’s take a look at the sides in a little more detail.

The Team to Beat - GWS

The Giants have a list the envy of any in the competition and are primed to take the competition by storm in 2017. They start the season as comfortably the highest ranked team by the TipBetPro model with 9 Top 100 ranked players and 16 Top 200 ranked players (both competition leading). The Giants midfield not only boasts top tier talent (Callan Ward and Dylan Shiel) but also incredible depth with Tom Scully, Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield poised to break into that elite category. Throw in experienced veterans Ryan Griffen and Brett Deledio as well as versatile midfield/forwards Toby Greene and Devon Smith and you have a midfield that only Sydney can compete with for top tier talent and no-one can match for depth. So do GWS have a weakness around the ground? The answer is an emphatic no. Shane Mumford is one of the league’s highest rating rucks and will relish feeding the midfield; Jeremy Cameron, Jonathon Patton, Rory Lobb are a powerful key forward combination and the brilliant Steve Johnson joins Greene, Smith and Deledio as small/medium forwards. Heath Shaw and Zac Williams are amongst the top rated running defenders in the competition whilst Phil Davis is more than capable of doing a shut-down job on opposition forwards. Injuries to key position players was the only factor in our projections model that saw the Giants slip up (55% of our 10,000 simulations had the Giants Top 2, 82% had them Top 4) but otherwise we have no doubt the Giants are the team to beat.

The Main Contenders – West Coast, Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs

West Coast finished Top 2 in 48% of our simulations whilst the Hawks and Dogs achieved the feat 33% of the time as these three sides stood out as the main threats to the Giants in season 2017.

West Coast have a serious challenge overcoming the (likely season-ending) loss of their highest ranked player Nic Naitanui. However, the Eagles have addressed their main concern from last season by boosting their midfield depth with the acquisition of Hawthorn superstar Sam Mitchell. Suddenly a midfield containing Mitchell, Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff is a midfield to be feared – particularly if Lewis Jetta can rediscover form. Up forward West Coast are well stocked with dual Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy heading a forward line that also boasts Jack Darling and veteran Mark LeCras as well as dangerous (albeit inconsistent) small forwards Josh Hill and Jamie Cripps. Defensively the Eagles have enormous key position depth with All Australian Jeremy McGovern having young gun Tom Barrass, former club champion Eric MacKenzie and the versatile Will Schofield all available as alternatives. Skipper Shannon Hurn will lead the drive off the back line and Brad Sheppard, Sharrod Wellingham and Elliot Yeo are more than useful running defender options. The Eagles don’t quite have the depth of talent as GWS (13 Top 200 ranked players compared to the Giants 16) but their top end is strong. The Eagles test will be getting improvement from their role players that have perhaps underachieved and are currently ranked outside the Top 200 (Wellingham, Masten, Yeo and Sheppard in particular) and if this occurs they will seriously challenge for a flag.

The Hawks are the most intriguing side and hardest to place. Two of the Hawks superstars in Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis are gone but their effective replacements of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara whilst not as highly rated at present, both have an upward projection based on their age/experience which could well see them rated very close to S.Mitchell/Lewis by season end. However, the biggest reason for the Hawks remaining a contender is the return of new skipper Jarryd Roughead. The forward line for the Hawks remains the highest ranked in the AFL with Roughead joining fellow tall forward Jack Gunston and dynamic medium smalls Cyril Rioli, Luke Breust and Paul Puopolo. All 5 of these forwards are rated by TBP in the Top 75 players in the AFL – an achievement that puts the Hawks well ahead of any other forward line. The Hawks midfield is no longer at the level of some of the teams around them but the likes of Shaun Burgoyne, Luke Hodge, Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith as well as T.Mitchell and O’Meara is still more than handy. Defensively, the Hawks are expected to slide a little with Josh Gibson, James Frawley, Ben Stratton and Grant Birchall, whilst highly credentialed players, all on the decline. All up a few holes in the Hawks list but if their new midfielders gel and provide enough opportunities to that irresistible forward line, the Hawks will remain exceptionally hard to beat.

The third of the “main contenders” is the defending premiers the Western Bulldogs. It seems strange to say that we are projecting solid improvement in the Dogs yet have the premiers finishing 4th. It is easy to forget the Dogs were actually 7th on the ladder before their incredible finals series in 2016 and despite achieving the ultimate they are still far from the finished product. At the risk of offending Dogs fans everywhere – the 2016 Dogs were likely the weakest premiership side in modern times … not that it matters, they’re still a premiership side! The Dogs strength is unquestionably their depth which has just got better since 2016 with the return of Bob Murphy and Stewart Crameri and the acquisition of Travis Cloke. The Dogs boast 16 Top 200 ranked players – equal to that of the Giants and well ahead of the Eagles (13) and Hawks (12). Only the one genuine superstar (who else but Marcus Bontempelli) at the Dogs but so many players on the bubble of joining that elite category including a hungry midfield group of Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, Mitch Wallis and Lachie Hunter. Defensively the Dogs aren’t rated that high individually but this is certainly a case of the collective adding up to more than the sum of the parts. Easton Wood and veteran Matthew Boyd are the only Top 100 ranked defenders but the damaging Jason Johannisen and perfect role players such as Dale Morris and Marcus Adams still make the Dogs defence a tough one to crack. Up forward is where there are the most question marks for the Dogs. Jake Stringer and Tom Boyd had a tough 2016 but Boyd in particular excelled in finals and perhaps that is the confidence boost they need to increase their output in 2017. If not, Cloke and Crameri are on hand to help out this season and give the Dogs enviable key position depth in a position where they have traditionally struggled. The Dogs won’t be favourites to go back to back but they should be up and amongst it once again – and if 2016 is any guide, they only have to be around the place in September to be a serious threat!

Expected Finalists – Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Adelaide and Sydney

Ah we’re going to cop some flak for this. In addition to perennially under-rating Sydney in our pre-season predictions, we typically over-rate Collingwood and Port Adelaide. I blame the fact that the “team” factors that go into our weak to weak predictions aren’t carried forward in our long term predictions model as we can’t pre-empt which sides will have the best defensive structures (inevitably Sydney are exceptionally strong in this department and Port are on the weaker side). Still forgetting all that – let’s take a look at the reasons why we expect Collingwood and Port to jump into the Top 8.

The Pies are a side that is teetering between greatness and mediocrity. Only 3 Pies players (Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar and Steele Sidebottom) are rated by the TBP model inside the Top 100 players in the competition which is an equal competition low. If the Pies 2nd tier players don’t come on there is every chance that the Pies will crash further down the ladder than their disappointing 2016 season (indeed although “on average” we had the Pies finishing 5th, some projections had the Pies falling as low as 17th!). What works in the Pies favour is that many of their 2nd tier players have an upward projection and are expected to be Top 100 players by season end. The likes of Jack Crisp, Taylor Adams, Brodie Grundy and Alex Fasolo are all on the rise whilst there is also class added by more experienced campaigners such as Daniel Wells (if fit!), Jeremy Howe, Travis Varcoe and Chris Mayne. The Pies are strong through the middle (and indeed this drives much of their high rating) and solid down back but the question mark is up forward. A huge scoring load is likely to fall on emerging forward star Darcy Moore, the enigmatic but inconsistent Alex Fasolo and the returning Jamie Elliott which is unlikely to strike fear into opposition defences. Find a forward line that works and make no mistake the Pies will surprise and push Top 4; however, if Moore/Elliott/Fasolo fail to fire, it could be a long year for Pies fans.

Port Adelaide have been one the great under-achievers since their barnstorming run to the Preliminary Final back in 2014. They have the players to improve rapidly in 2017, most notably the return of Paddy Ryder, however Port Adelaide have been a classic example of the whole adding up to less than the sum of their parts in recent years. Port look good on paper. Robbie Gray is a superstar equally damaging in the midfield or up forward whilst Travis Boak, Chad Wingard, Ollie Wines and Justin Westhoff are deservedly top 100 ranked players. Below this group, players expected to take leaps forward have stagnated or gone backwards. Hamish Hartlett has struggled to become the player he looked in his earlier years, Charlie Dixon can tear games apart up forward but very rarely does, Brad Ebert has never really improved after a big first year at Port and Jared Polec epitomises the very definition of inconsistency. All of those players (and a few others) have shown glimpses of being star players and their player rating is high enough from those glimpses to have us predicting a Port rise up the ladder. However, consistency is the key and Port will know as well as anyone from recent years that talent is not enough to succeed in the brutal business of AFL.

Adelaide are a nicely balanced team but their midfield depth just drops them below some of the other contenders. Rory Sloane is a Top 10 ranked player and he is fed by a proven top tier ruckman in Sam Jacobs. After Sloane though, the Crows fall away with their next highest rated midfielders being Scott Thompson who is past his peak and the Crouch brothers (Matt and Brad) who look fantastic but are not quite at their peak yet. The season-ending injury to Cam Ellis-Yolmen further stretches this depth and the Crows midfield group is clearly the lowest rated of our projected Top 8. However, if the Crows midfield clicks (and with the projected continued improvement of the Crouch brothers they just may) – the forward line is one of the highest rated in the competition. Eddie Betts is a superstar and is made even more dangerous by operating at the feet of the immensely talented key position trio Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch and Josh Jenkins. Down back the Crows are well served by the great work from Daniel Talia to restrict the oppositions best forward and enabling the likes of Rory Laird and Brodie Smith to be amongst the best rebounding defenders in the league. The Crows should make the 8 but are perhaps a couple of midfielders short of being a premiership threat.

And finally Sydney – we have them making the 8 this year! The Swans boast a competition high 6 Top 50 players with superstar forward Lance Franklin fed by an amazing midfield including Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack. When you add in versatile forward/ruck Kurt Tippett, young guns Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills and the ever improving Dane Rampe and you have the makings of a premiership side. However like in previous seasons, we have grave concerns over the Swans depth. The Swans overcame it last year through the incredible break-out seasons of Allir Allir, Tom Papley and Callum Mills. With Tom Mitchell gone and a bit of depth lost in Toby Nankervis, Ben McGlynn and the Richards brothers – the Swans will again be looking for unproven players to step up to remain a premiership contender. The likes of Zac Jones, Daniel Robinson and Brandon Jack will need to improve if the Swans are to repeat their stunning run of 2016 and be there on that last Saturday in September.

Contending for Finals – Gold Coast, Melbourne, St Kilda, Geelong, Essendon, Fremantle

Over our 5,000 simulated seasons, we have less than a game separating these 6 sides when considering average wins over the simulations. All would require a bit of luck with respect to injuries and player development to push for finals but all are good enough if things go their way.

Some quick comments:

Gold Coast – The great Gary Ablett is back, David Swallow is back, Tom Lynch is poised to become the premier key position player in the competition, Steven May is now a premier key position back and Aaron Hall, Touk Miller, Adam Saad, Kade Kolodjashnij and Jack Martin all are starting to show plenty and are projected to improve further. Add in new recruits Michael Barlow, Pearce Hanley and Jarryd Lyons and you have all the ingredients for a huge improvement on 2016.

Melbourne – From a side that not that long ago didn’t have a Top 100 ranked player – the Demons now have 6 including elite Top 50 talent in Max Gawn and Nathan Jones. The acquisition of experienced star Jordan Lewis and the impending rise to superstardom of Christian Petracca and Jesse Hogan bodes well for the Demons to continue their progression up the ladder. Defensively, other than Tom McDonald, the Demons are ranked lowly but if they can build a strong defensive structure there is immense midfield talent and enough forward talent for the Demons to return to finals.

St Kilda – The Saints appear to be on the rise but the TipBetPro model still has some question marks over whether the Saints will continue to rise. Jack Steven is a superstar, David Armitage is elite and Jack Newnes is heading that way. However beyond that group there is still too much reliance on veterans Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt and Sam Gilbert (and to a lesser extent experienced duo Shane Savage and Mav Weller) who are not projected to improve further. So if the Saints are to continue to progress look for the next wave of youngsters – Seb Ross, Tim Membrey, Jack Billings and Paddy McCartin to step up to reduce the reliance on the Saints veterans.

Geelong – Easily the most controversial selection to miss the Top 8 is Geelong who we see as our big slider of the year. In 2016, we had our doubts due to the lack of support backing superstars Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Well that support network has only got worse with the loss of Corey Enright to retirement and Josh Caddy to Richmond. Tom Hawkins and Cam Guthrie are the only other Cats rated as Top 100 players with Harry Taylor, Mitch Duncan and Steven Motlop just outside. Dangerfield and/or Selwood will win enough games with their own brilliance to keep the Cats as finals contenders but if either of that pair go down watch for a huge Cats slide.

Essendon – The great unknown is how Essendon will perform with so many of their list returning from a year long suspension. The TipBetPro model largely protects the rating of the Bombers players with Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell coming straight back into the TipBetPro Top 100. The rapid emergence of Zach Merrett, the improvement of Joe Daniher and the discovery of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti are perhaps an unexpected benefit of having so many players out and with the return of the suspended players we expect Essendon will be highly competitive in 2017.

Fremantle – The last of the finals contenders is Fremantle who should improve greatly from a disastrous 2016. Nat Fyfe, Aaron Sandilands and Michael Johnson all missed large chunks of 2016 and will be back whilst Harley Bennell might join them if he can overcome his calf injuries. Acquiring Brad Hill, Cam McCarthy, Shane Kersten and Joel Hamling improves the Dockers depth and helps to somewhat offset the loss to retirement of the great Matt Pavlich. Things would have to turn around significantly for the Dockers to make the Top 8 but at the very least they would be expected to improve from 2016.

The sliders – Richmond and North Melbourne

We don’t have high hopes for the Tigers and Roos and see this pair poised to slip into bottom 4 contention in 2017.

Richmond perhaps have the most potential as, even with the loss of Brett Deledio, the Tigers still have 7 Top 100 ranked players (equal 5th highest in the competition). Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia should improve the Tigers midfield and any side that has Jack Riewoldt and Shane Edwards (and Dustin Martin on occasion) up forward is dangerous. Throw in the competitions highest rated full back in Alex Rance and the top end of the Tigers list still looks good. It is what follows underneath that looks close to competition worst and Richmond will need massive improvement from their 11-30 ranked players on their list if they are to have any hope of making finals.

North have committed to a rebuild following the delisting of club legends Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie and Nick Dal Santo as well as losing Daniel Wells to Collingwood. Todd Goldstein is the only bona fide star left at North Melbourne with Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow and Jack Ziebell making for a serviceable but far from spectacular midfield. Expect plenty of kids to be developed at the Roos this season and we doubt they would be surprised or particularly phased if a bottom 4 result occurred provided there is signs of development.

The wooden spoon battle – Brisbane, Carlton

The bottom two sides are clear as day in the TipBetPro model (we still have North and Richmond winning on average around 8 games to be well ahead of this pair). Both sides have just 8 Top 200 players – an equal competition low. So the depth isn’t there but neither is the star power with only Dayne Zorko being rated a Top 50 player from the two sides. Development of youngsters for the future is the primary objective for these two sides and that will be reflected in their 2017 win/loss record.

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