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AFL 2018 Season Preview

The AFL Season is nearly upon us and boy are we fired up.

TipBetPro has had great success over the years tipping and betting on AFL matches. What we don’t have much success in is pre-season predictions (last year we had Richmond finishing 15th!) but that’s not going to stop us from giving it another go!

So first let’s see what the bookies are saying:

Runners-up Adelaide and perennial finalists Sydney are the current flag favourites with GWS and defending premiers Richmond the best of the rest. Do we agree with the bookies ... of course not!

So right now – who do our models say are the sides to beat? Our approach to our pre-season predictions is to take the 30 top rated players by the TBP model for each squad. Apply an injury and form random variable for each round to select a “best 22” for any given round. Apply an improvement factor for younger players. And simulate 500 seasons based on the 2018 AFL fixtures – the results are as follows:

1. Port Adelaide – Last Season 7th – Premiership Odds $9.00 – Expected Wins 17

What??!! Well we certainly didn’t expect this but on review we love the prospects of the Power in 2018. The acquisition of Tom Rockliff adds another midfield/forward to Port’s impressive array of arsenal in this area which allows them greater flexibility to rotate Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard to take advantage of opposition match-ups. Jack Watts and Steven Motlop are handy recruits (and the much maligned Lindsay Thomas adds depth should injuries strike) and a significant portion of their playing group are approaching the traditional peak footballing age. Port’s midfield is incredible when you add in ruckman Paddy Ryder and young bull Ollie Wines and their forward line is dangerous with Charlie Dixon, the versatile Justin Westhoff and a host of dangerous smalls. The Power’s defence is a question mark for us with a lot relying on unheralded defenders such as Jack Hombsch and Tom Jonas but we don’t have them marked as low as others. The Power have a tough start to the season with away trips to Sydney, Essendon and West Coast as well as home games against Geelong and Adelaide within the first 8 rounds. Survive that start with a 5&3 or 6&2 record and we can see Port dominating through the mid part of the season to set them up for a great chance at a minor premiership.

2. Adelaide – Last Season 2nd – Premiership Odds $6.00 – Expected Wins 17

South Australia are enjoying a great sporting year with the Strikers winning the BBL and at the time of writing, the 36ers sitting in 2nd in the NBL. We expect that to continue in the AFL with the Power and Crows the teams to beat in 2018. Notwithstanding the Grand Final disaster, the Crows were the best side in 2017 and have added a star in obtaining Bryce Gibbs from Carlton. However, whilst we love the look of Adelaide, we do rate the Crows slightly lower than 2017 with Charlie Cameron off to Brisbane, Jake Lever to Melbourne and the likely loss of Brodie Smith for the entire year to an ACL in last season’s finals series. Similar to Port, we rate Adelaide elite in both the midfield and forward line but have concerns over their defence, particularly with the loss of Lever and Smith. Still good luck stopping Adelaide forward of centre – the Crows should once again be in premiership contention.

3. Collingwood – Last Season 13th – Premiership Odds $26.00 – Expected Wins 16

We know, we know – the Pies are perennially over-rated by the TipBetPro model, largely due to our bias to midfielders. We didn’t like this result when the model spat it out and we like it even less now with a look through the Pies extensive pre-season injury list (not to mention the club imposed suspension to Jordan De Goey). It could be an ugly start to the season for the Pies. However, that is not to say there is not good reason for the Pies high rating. The Pies midfield is sensational with Brodie Grundy in the ruck and Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, Steele Sidebottom and Daniel Wells (if fit!) running through the midfield. Combined with a soft fixture (each of Carlton, Brisbane and Fremantle twice is very generous) which is factored into our projections (we rate the Collingwood squad 5th but have them finishing 3rd with a friendly fixture) and we do like the Pies as a big mover in season 2018. The risks though are obvious. Up forward the Pies are heavily reliant on the inconsistent Alex Fasolo and injury prone Jamie Elliott and do not have a noted tall target. Whilst in defence, they are strong with their mid-size running defenders (Travis Varcoe and Jeremy Howe), however there is question marks on their talls with the untested Darcy Moore likely to be required to step up and have a huge year down back. This is a definite upside projection which will need a bit to go right but with such a soft fixture we like the Pies to at least return to finals action in 2018.

4. Sydney – Last Season 5th – Premiership Odds $6.00 – Expected Wins 14

The Swans are our 3rd highest ranked side (4th after fixture adjustment) and have an area of strength with a higher rated backline than the three teams projected to finish above them (and all those projected to finish below them as well!). The Swans are blessed to have proven stars such as Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery and Kieren Jack running through the middle with future stars Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills providing back-up. Perhaps where the Swans drop off a little from the Crows, Power and Pies is the lack of a recognised ruckman although Sam Naismith showed great potential last year. Up forward the incomparable Buddy Franklin leads a dangerous forward line also featuring Sam Reid, Tom Papley and Gary Rohan whilst down back Heath Grundy seems to get better with age, Nick Smith is a great stopper, Dane Rampe provides great versatility to play tall or small and Jake Lloyd enjoyed a break-out 2017. Very few faults with the Swans and they look set for a return to Top 4 action in 2018.

5. Melbourne – Last Season 9th – Premiership Odds $15.00 – Expected Wins 14

Another expected 2018 bolter are the Dees. The clues are all there in their 2017 performance – belted Adelaide in Adelaide, dominated Richmond until half their side got injured, overcame West Coast in Perth, crushed Port Adelaide and many other impressive performances. However, the Dees copped a tough run with injury and inexplicably were defeated twice by North Melbourne as well as getting done by an under-strength Collingwood in the last game of the season that ultimately cost them a finals spot. The Dees strength and weakness is their youth. Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jesse Hogan lead a strong youthful brigade that are tracking ahead of their cohort but, as youth are prone to doing, they can be very inconsistent with their performance. Adding Jake Lever firms up the Dees defence and releases Tom McDonald to play up forward alongside Hogan to give the Dees a well balanced side. Our highest ranked Victorian side (albeit expected to finish below Collingwood based on a tougher fixture), we see Melbourne as a near certainty to return to finals action in 2018 and possibly even challenge Top 4.

6. Western Bulldogs – Last Season 10th – Premiership Odds $23.00 – Expected Wins 13

The Dog suffered one hell of a premiership hangover in 2017 but we expect them to bounce back in 2018. The nucleus of that 2016 premiership side is still very much in place and whilst there can be little doubt that team out-performed relative to talent in 2016, there is also little doubt in our mind that they under-performed in 2017. The Dogs have elite small-medium size players in every position but fall below some of their competition with below average key position players and rucks. They will be hoping Jackson Trengove can fix a leaky defence whilst there his high hopes for a breakout season from Jack Redpath in the forward line. Unlikely to be a premiership threat but we expect the Dogs to be there in September.

7. Geelong – Last Season 3rd – Premiership Odds $9.00 – Expected Wins 12

How big a difference will one G.Ablett make to the Cats? Dangerfield, Selwood and Ablett all at their best gives the Cats potentially the greatest midfield trio of all time! However, Ablett’s best has been few and far between in recent seasons as he has struggled with injuries up on the Gold Coast. Outside of this trio our concerns with Geelong are the same as 2017 – not enough quality foot soldiers. Mitch Duncan is a very good midfielder, Tom Hawkins is a strong key position target and Harry Taylor is a versatile defender who can drift forward … but otherwise the Cats are generally below average in most positions on the ground. We have a lot of volatility for possible finishing positions for Geelong in 2018. If the likes of Daniel Menzel, Zac Smith, Mark Blicavs, Cam Guthrie etc have big years then alongside the Cats big 3 this could be enough to just about take them to a premiership. However, any injury/drop off form to the big 3 and without others stepping up and the Cats may battle to make finals.

8. Hawthorn – Last Season 12th – Premiership Odds $26.00 – Expected Wins 12

Amongst a horror year as veterans dropped off and injuries took hold there was some really good news to come out of Hawthorn in 2017 which leaves them well placed for a crack at finals in 2018. Amongst the carnage - Tom Mitchell emerged as an elite midfielder, Ben McEvoy re-discovered his capability to be a quality ruckman, and young bucks Ryan Burton & James Sicily developed into top class defenders. There is upside in the Hawks from 2017 with superstar Cyril Rioli fit again in 2018, young star Jaeger O’Meara finally getting through a pre-season, Jarryd Roughead expected to be more influential in his 2nd year back from his battle with an aggressive melanoma and the experienced James Frawley returning from a rough 2017 year with injury to provide some stability down back. The Hawks finished 2017 well and are primed for a crack at returning to finals action in 2018.

9. West Coast – Last Season 6th – Premiership Odds $41.00 – Expected Wins 12

West Coast are almost universally tipped as a slider following the retirements of Brownlow Medal winning midfielders Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell. Whilst we agree West Coast will likely slide out of the Top 8, we don’t expect the slide will be as severe as others. The Eagles will benefit from the return of top ranked ruckman Nic Naitanui and still boast a highly efficient forward line led by superstar Josh Kennedy and a dynamic defence led by intercept king Jeremy McGovern. Ultimately though we agree with the experts that the Eagles are paper-thin through the middle with little in the way of proven back-up for Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff and that will more than likely consign West Coast to their first season out of the finals since 2014.

10. GWS – Last Season 4th – Premiership Odds $7.50 – Expected Wins 11

The bookies still rate the Giants as a premiership threat but TBP sees the Giants as a big chance to slide in 2018. Shane Mumford, Steve Johnson, Devon Smith, Nathan Wilson have all retired or been traded with no-one coming in whilst the impact of Zac Williams ruptured achilles (we removed him from our Giants team for the season) will be higher than many believe (Williams is our 4th highest rated Giant). The Giants will remain dangerous with Callan Ward, Josh Kelly and Dylan Shiel forming a top-class midfield (albeit with unproven Rory Lobb tapping to them) and Jeremy Cameron, Jon Patton and Toby Greene up forward … however the Giants depth is non-existent, defence is suspect and even with the retirements they still have a good portion of their best 22 whose best days are well behind them (notably Brett Deledio, Ryan Griffen and Heath Shaw). Many will be surprised if GWS miss the top 8, we will not be one of them.

11. Essendon – Last Season 8th – Premiership Odds $14.00 – Expected Wins 11

Jake Stringer, Devon Smith, Adam Saad. A lot has been made of the arrival of this trio to Windy Hill and the possibility that they will bring Essendon greater success. We are not so sure on the Bombers and whether this trio will add much to the Bombers top 4 hopes. Stringer has the most up-side of the trio and at one stage was the most exciting young forward in the competition. However, it has been 2 years since we’ve seen his best and with some non-football issues having an impact it is hard to see whether he will be able to regain the form. Devon Smith is in a similar boat having not had an impactful season since 2014 and Adam Saad was exciting but horribly inconsistent at Gold Coast. Otherwise we believe Essendon out-performed their true potential in 2017 and are unlikely to get the same output in 2018. If Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett, Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti can repeat their 2017 heroics, then Essendon can expect more good times – but any drop off and we think Essendon might be getting their hopes up prematurely.

12. St Kilda – Last Season 11th – Premiership Odds $34.00 – Expected Wins 10

The Saints and Dees have been grouped together for some time as teams on the rise, but we believe the Dees achieved separation from the Saints in 2017 and that gap will grow larger in 2018. In fact there is very little we can see that indicates that St Kilda will do anything other than plateau in 2018. Jack Steven and Seb Ross are terrific midfielders, Tim Membrey is on the verge of moving to the next level as a key forward and Jake Carlisle has his moments down back (albeit he has the habit of being somewhat impetuous) but otherwise St Kilda aren’t tracking that well compared to their competition. The hope is in the youth of the three Jacks (Billings, Steele and Sinclair) in addition to Jade Gresham and Blake Acres. However, if this group doesn’t step up we can’t see how St Kilda can break their finals drought.

13. Richmond – Last Season Premiers – Premiership Odds $8.00 – Expected Wins 10

Has there been a less talented premiership side than the 2017 Richmond team? We’re not sure if there has been … and possibly the only competitor is the 2016 Dogs! (It’s been a funny two seasons). Like the Dogs in 2017, we are expecting Richmond to return to the pack in 2018 and fall all the way out of the top 8. We do actually have Richmond’s squad rated 8th but with a tough fixture and a tight battle expected for top spots we like the Tigers to suffer a big fall in 2018. We were horribly wrong last season, but we still believe that quite simply there is not enough star power after Dustin Martin (who surely can’t repeat his amazing 2017!), Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt to be a premiership contender in 2018. We simply can’t envisage history repeating with the likes of unheralded players such as Jacob Townsend, Nathan Broad, Toby Nankervis, Kamdyn McIntosh, Dylan Grimes, Jason Castagna and Jack Graham being able to repeat their 2017 heroics. We’d never be so foolish as to write off a defending premier but surely they couldn’t do it again … could they?

14. Gold Coast – Last Season 17th – Premiership Odds $151 – Expected Wins 8

There is actually quite a jump from the top 13 sides and the bottom 5 and this following group are the sides we’re putting a line through in 2018. The Suns have a friendly fixture (albeit a compromised opening due to the Commonwealth Games taking their home ground) which helps their cause and surely can’t cop as bad a run with injury as they had last season but still we can't see them getting close to finals. Losing Gary Ablett is obviously a huge blow but there is upside with the recruitment of Lachie Weller and Aaron Young and the return of Sam Day so we expect a marginally improved showing from 2017. Most the interest around Gold Coast this season will be whether they can retain superstar Tom Lynch … we’re not sure this season will give him anything to hang around for.

15. Brisbane – Last Season 18th – Premiership Odds $151 – Expected Wins 6

The wooden spooners should expect improvement in 2018 on the back of the acquisitions of Luke Hodge and Charlie Cameron, the return from injury of Allen Christensen and Mitch Robinson and a host of youngsters getting another year of experience under their belt. We are quite bullish about Brisbane who fielded an unbelievably young side last season and were highly competitive for much of the 2nd half of the season. Tom Rockliff gone is a blow, but we think there will be general improvement in the Lions list which will be enough to lift them off the bottom of the ladder.

16. North Melbourne – Last Season 15th – Premiership Odds $151 – Expected Wins 6

North committed to a rebuild at the end of 2016 with a clean out of their champions and continued that trend last year with Andrew Swallow, Lindsay Thomas, Lachie Hansen and Sam Gibson all leaving the club. This leaves the once very old Roos side with an inexperienced and largely unproven list and one that will likely spend 2018 as a development year.

17. Fremantle – Last Season 14th – Premiership Odds $51 – Expected Wins 6

Freo were a “lucky 14th” in 2017 with half their wins coming in thrilling finishes whilst they copped hammerings on several occasions. Nathan Wilson and Brandon Matera are not enough for us to change our opinion on Freo as a side with a good but not great midfield (and that is largely due to the brilliance of Nat Fyfe), a poor defence and a dysfunctional forward line. The X-Factor is Michael Walters who could potentially be an elite midfielder or forward and a huge year from Walters may lift the Dockers on the verge of the 8 … but for us they are more likely to be wooden spooners than top 8 contenders.

18. Carlton – Last Season 16th – Premiership Odds $101 – Expected Wins 4

Carlton are in development mode and they know it. Carlton finished 16th last year and two of the Blues top 5 players won’t be there in 2018 with Bryce Gibbs getting traded to Adelaide and Sam Docherty tragically doing an ACL in the pre-season. For Blues fans, one suspects that in 2018 they would be more interested in the excitement of seeing the development of future stars such as Patrick Cripps (in fairness arguably already a star), Charlie Curnow, Jacob Weitering and Sam Petrovski-Seton showing their wares than winning too many games.

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