The AFL season concluded a couple weekends ago, with the underdog Western Bulldogs winning their first premiership in 50-plus years over the Sydney Swans. Playing in front of a crowd of 99,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Dogs took home the flag, capping off a crazy season all around the league.
Here’s the recap for all the teams in the AFL, how they finished in 2016, and what to expect from them heading forward:
Sydney Swans (17-5)
The Swans seemed to fall apart in the Grand Final, despite looking so sharp at other moments of the season. Do they have another comeback in them heading into 2017?
Callum Mills and Aliir Aliir emerged as some quality playmakers for the Swans, adding to the embarrassment of riches in the Swans’ forward line and midfield. Kieren Jack also brushed off some off-field distractions and had a solid season as well.
Veterans Josh Kennedy and Buddy Franklin continue to lead this high-achieving club into the future, but eyebrows were raised when the Swans crumbled so quickly at the tail end of the year. There needs to be a much more concerted effort at every point of the season in order for the Swans to return to the Grand Final in 2017.
Geelong Cats (17-5)
The Cats looked very sharp most of the regular season, playing consistent footy and getting the desired results from their big offseason addition, Patrick Dangerfield. But in the preliminary final against the Sydney Swans, Geelong fell flat. There are lots of issues to address heading forward, including the well-founded rumors that veterans Jimmy Bartel and Steven Motlop could be on their way out of the club.
Geelong definitely made strides in 2016, but they’ve got to finish the job. Still, it’s a reasonable bet that the Cats will be preliminary final contenders again in 2017.
Hawthorn Hawks (17-5)
The Hawks’ chase for a fourth consecutive premiership fell short, as they couldn’t keep the momentum going into the postseason. A shocking loss in Round 20 to Melbourne started the disappointing finish, and by the season finale—a narrow win over Collingwood—the writing was on the wall.
Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge remain some of the biggest names in the game, and fans are excited about breakout years from James Sicily and Ben Stratton. Can the Hawks reclaim a top four spot in 2017? Or is their time in the spotlight all but finished?
Greater Western Sydney Giants (16-6)
This scrapping young team could be the premiership favorites in 2017 after falling just short in this season’s preliminary finals. With an extremely athletic mix of veterans and youngsters, Leon Cameron’s team showed a lot of guts while playing without veteran Cam McCarthy.
Co-captains Callan Ward and Phil Davis stepped up in McCarthy’s absence, as did ruckman Shane Mumford and new free agent addition Steve Johnson. In addition to the aforementioned GWS stars having outstanding seasons, both defender Heath Shaw and midfielder Toby Greene received All-Australian honors.
Adelaide Crows (16-6)
In the first season without superstar Patrick Dangerfield (who was traded to Geelong in the offseason), the Crows didn’t have the free-fall that critics were predicting. In the first full season under coach Don Pyke, the Crows were sharp for most of the year, despite losing to Sydney in the elimination final.
Star forwards Eddie Betts, Tex Walker, and Josh Jenkins had tremendous years for the most part, but Adelaide needs to find more depth in its midfield in order to take the next step as a footy club. The Crows will likely be a postseason contender in 2017, but they need to be able to hold their own down the stretch more consistently.
West Coast Eagles (16-6)
After coming oh-so-close to an AFL premiership in 2015, the Eagles were a postseason disappointment in 2016. West Coast was one-and-done in the elimination final, losing to the eventual premier, the Western Bulldogs. It was a rough finish for a team that looked very sharp early in the year before injuries and inconsistency hit.
Stars Jeremy McGovern and Josh Kennedy were both named All-Australian, and Tom Barress is an up-and-coming defender, but the Eagles remain worried about the health of ruckman Nic Naitanui (who could miss the majority of 2017) and midfielder Lewis Jetta.
Western Bulldogs (15-7)
The Bulldogs were written off by many, but managed to surprise them all in the postseason and winning their first premiership in decades—and in storybook fashion. Following an injury-riddled latter half of the 2016 season, the Dogs limped into the Finals at the #7 seed, but then they came alive. Stars Tom Boyd and Marcus Bontempelli were red-hot all throughout the finals, and Jason Johannison took home the Norm Smith Medal at the Grand Final.
There’s no doubt that it was a sensational end to a very up-and-down season. It’ll be interesting seeing how the Dogs adjust in 2017—being the hunted rather than the hunter—but there’s no doubt that the 2016 team will go down in history.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (12-10)
The Kangaroos’ 9-0 start had their fans thinking big, but they only won three out of 13 matches the rest of the season and barely sneaked into Finals contention. After being trounced by Adelaide in the opening round of the postseason and making some questionable roster moves, the Roos need to regroup quickly.
However, some notable veterans remain at the club, including captain Andrew Swallow and star defender Robbie Tarrant. Ruckman Majak Daw is an elite athlete who could be one of the best young footballers at North Melbourne heading forward. Still, there are more questions than answers at the club after a disappointing season.
St Kilda Saints (12-10)
Alan Richardson’s team didn’t make the Finals in 2016, but they doubled their win total from 2015 and had some outstanding individual accomplishments. A huge Round 13 win over Geelong was a big momentum-booster heading forward, and it helped kickstart a team that won six out of nine the rest of the season.
With a nice nucleus of developing talent, the Saints have reason to be positive heading forward. Anything less than a Finals berth in 2017 will be considered a disappointment.
Port Adelaide Power (10-12)
The Power suffered through another inconsistent season (10-12) and could never find the right rhythm most of the year. Some ugly losses early included a Round 2 whipping from their crosstown rivals, the Adelaide Crows, and a two-point loss to Carlton in Round 8.
Skipper Robbie Gray has shown admirable leadership, and a late July win over North Melbourne was nice, but Port Adelaide needs a breakthrough in 2017 to cement themselves as a relevant footy club.
Melbourne Demons (10-12)
Finally, there seems to be genuine optimism at the historic footy club. A young team, the Demons missed the postseason yet again with a 10-12 record, but by all accounts, they took a big step forward in 2016 and will look to do the same in 2017 under new coach Simon Goodwin. There were several notable victories in a 10-win season for the Dees, but no one win was bigger than a huge Round 20 win over Hawthorn, a team they hadn’t beaten in nearly a decade. However, this team is still maturing, as evidenced by rough losses to Carlton in Round 22 and lowly Essendon back in Round 2.
There’s still plenty of young talent on the list, including emerging ruckman Max Gawn, and speedy young guns Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, and Jayden Hunt. Melbourne has reason to believe that they can break through in 2017 and return to the Finals for the first time since 2006.
Collingwood Magpies (9-13)
For the third season in a row under coach Nathan Buckley, the Magpies missed out on the Finals with a disappointing 9-13 record. Despite the presence of stars like Adam Treloar and Scott Pendlebury, the Pies were unable to stay healthy or play much consistent footy throughout the season. Case in point: Collingwood upset quality AFL teams like Greater Western Sydney, West Coast, and Geelong, but also suffered upset losses to Carlton, Melbourne (twice), and St Kilda. Perhaps most gallingly, the Pies lost one-point matches in Round 2 (Richmond) and Round 23 (Hawthorn).
It wasn’t all bad news, though. Ruckman Mason Cox made a memorable debut in the ANZAC Day clash against rival Essendon. If he stays healthy and continues hitting the weights, Cox has the raw talent to become a quality big man for the Pies. Jesse White, a 6’4” Queensland product, is also a name to watch—he’s still young and coaches believe that his best playing days are ahead of him. If Collingwood can develop more young talent via the AFL Draft and reload on depth, they’ve got a chance to be eligible for the Finals in 2017.
Richmond Tigers (8-14)
Another underachieving year is in the books at the Richmond Football Club, prompting many to speculate about coach Damien Hardwick’s future. A terrible 1-6 start got the Tigers’ attention, and they rattled off a couple notable wins in May and June, including a last-second upset victory over the Sydney Swans in Round 8.
However, that didn’t seem to affect a turnaround, as the Tigers couldn’t recapture that magic the rest of the year. They notched only a handful of more wins over inferior clubs the rest of the way (Collingwood, Essendon, and Brisbane, to name a few).
Like Collingwood, Richmond just hasn’t been able to play consistent, high-level footy. They could be poised to make some big splashes in the Draft and in free agency, though, so don’t count them out next year.
Carlton Blues (7-15)
It’s been a long process, but there are positive steps being taken at the historic Carlton Football Club. New coach Brendan Bolton has drawn praise for changing the culture, and his team rebounded nicely following an ugly 0-4 start. A huge Round 10 upset over Geelong brought a taste of things to come.
Youngster Jack Silvagni had a rough start in the first few matches of his rookie season, but he improved steadily and has great leaders around him like Patrick Cripps and Bryce Gibbs. Sam Docherty was another quality player who enjoyed rapid improvement in 2016. Blues fans aren’t satisfied yet (are they ever?), but a seven-win debut under Bolton will do as a solid foundation for now.
Gold Coast Suns (6-16)
It was another rough year for the Suns entering their sixth season of existence. Like Fremantle, they were ravaged by injuries all season, including to team captain Gary Ablett Jr., and ended up stumbling to a 6-16 record following a promising 3-0 start. Immediately following the season, stars Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia demanded trades, and were soon joined by other disgruntled veterans who complained about the losing culture and lack of chemistry at the club.
Tough-as-nails Steven May has talent, and fellow forward Tom Lynch was named to the All-Australian team, but this squad still has not been able to put it all together yet. Entering 2017, there are no more excuses. If fiery coach Rodney Eade can’t lead the Suns to a Finals berth next year, he might be looking for work elsewhere.
Fremantle Dockers (4-18)
After three straight seasons of Finals berths under coach Ross Lyon, the Dockers completely fell apart in 2016. Star midfielder Nat Fyfe went down early in the year, as did ruckman Aaron Sandilands, and the Dockers never recovered, finishing a dreadful 4-18 and missing the postseason for the first time in the Lyon era.
Veteran forward Hayden Ballentyne was also banged up throughout the year and could be traded when free agency starts. Lachie Neale was a bright spot, however, finishing with a high disposal count. Fellow youngster Darcy Tucker also drew praise for his play in 2016.
Fremantle will have time to regroup and lick their wounds in the offseason, but their fans will expect nothing less than a return to Finals contention in 2017.
Brisbane Lions (3-18)
What an ugly season. The Lions were listless from start to finish, and a rash of injuries didn’t help the cause. Coach Justin Leppitsch was sacked following a three-win campaign, and the Lions need to improve in nearly every area heading forward.
A four-point home victory over Carlton in Round 21 was one of the few highlights this past season. Heading forward, the Lions must find a quality replacement for the retiring Daniel Merrett. Youngsters Eric Hipwood and Josh Schache were some bright spots on the roster, however, and they’ll be able to form a nice nucleus for the footy club in 2017 and beyond.
Make no mistake, though—new coach Chris Fagan has his work cut out for him to make the Lions into a respectable squad.
Essendon Bombers (3-18)
In January, the Bombers were devastated after a dozen of their current players were banned for the season by the AFL for doping. So, coach John Worsfold had to scramble to put together a quality list of players, but in the end, Essendon was always going to struggle. In 2016, the Dons got their first last-place finish (the wooden spoon) since 1933.
Amid all the doom and gloom surrounding the club, they were still able to get some solid performances from players like Michael Hartley, Orazio Fantasia, and Darcy Parish. The Bombers also discovered a big, athletic ruckman in Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He’s still raw, but he showed some excellent ball skills and a knack for making key tackles.
So was 2016 an aberration for the Dons? It’s easy to think so, and while it’s unlikely that they’ll threaten for the Finals as soon as next year, they’re bound to improve.