2017 AFL premiership season preview


#18 – Brisbane Lions

  • 2016 RECORD: 3-19
  • HOME GROUND: The Gabba (capacity 42,000)
  • COACH: Chris Fagan (1st season)
  • CAPTAIN: Dayne Beams
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jack Frost
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Pearce Hanley
  • DRAFT PICKS: Hugh McCluggage, Jacob Allison, Cedric Cox, Jarrod Berry, Corey Lyons, Alex Witherden

The Lions need to get off to a fast start in 2017, the first season under new coach Chris Fagan and new general manager David Noble.

Bright spots were scarce last season, but the Lions did get solid performances from youngsters like Josh Schache and Eric Hipwood. Now a year stronger and faster, the duo should continue to make strides while surrounded by several key veterans, including former captain Daniel Rich, who signed a five-year extension in the offseason, and the consistent Dayne Zorko, who could contend for All-Australian honors in 2017.

Former Collingwood defender Jack Frost signed with Brisbane as a free agent after an injury-riddled 2016 season in which he only played in 10 games. Frost should form a nice nucleus with another young gun, 20-year-old Harris Andrews, in the Lions’ back line.

Forward Michael Close looked to be in great shape in offseason training after tearing his ACL, and former Geelong player Allen Christiansen is looking to make an impact, but he has continued to have bad luck with injuries.


#17 – Fremantle Dockers

  • 2016 RECORD: 4-18
  • HOME GROUND: Domain Stadium (capacity 43,500)
  • COACH: Ross Lyon (6th season, 67-42-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Nat Fyfe
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Shane Kersten, Bradley Hill, Joel Hamling, Cam McCarthy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Chris Mayne
  • DRAFT PICKS: Brennan Cox, Luke Ryan, Griffin Logue, Sean Darcy

The Dockers had a horrendous 2016 season, dropping down the ladder dramatically and missing the finals for the first time under veteran coach Ross Lyon. The main problem was catastrophic injuries to three main players – forward Nat Fyfe, ruckman Aaron Sandilands, and small forward Hayden Ballantyne – as well as a general lack of depth.

Fyfe, who broke his leg early last year, looked back to his old self in offseason practice, despite consistent rumors that he might seek a trade in free agency at the end of the year. Fyfe will have new help in Cam McCarthy, the former GWS star who missed last season due to undisclosed personal problems. Hawthorn veteran Bradley Hill looks to be a big-time addition and showed some serious chops in the offseason. He’ll be playing with his brother, Stephen Hill, for the first time in 2017.

The Dockers don’t normally stay down for long, and they’ll probably get close to the Finals, but it’ll be difficult for them to crack the top eight immediately. Depth is still a major issue in certain places.


#16 – Richmond Tigers

  • 2016 RECORD: 8-14
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Damien Hardwick (8th season, 74-81-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Trent Cotchin
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Brett Deledio, Ty Vickery
  • DRAFT PICKS: Ryan Garthwaite, Shai Bolton, Jack Graham

The Tigers start off with three straight winnable matches at home at the MCG. That’s important because Richmond started last season 1-6 and never fully recovered or regained their confidence. Getting Gold Coast star Dion Prestia in free-agency was a big deal, but the Tigers also lost veteran Brett Deledio, who signed with Greater Western Sydney.

Second-year forward Daniel Rioli looks to take on a bigger leadership role in Deledio’s absence, and coaches raved about Rioli’s skills in training camp. Prestia looks to have a major role with Richmond, but he could miss the beginning of the season after recuperating from a knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2016 campaign at Gold Coast. The Tigers also got bad news when promising rookie Jack Graham injured his hamstring during preseason training.

Embattled head coach Damien Hardwick might be coaching for his job in 2017, having cleaned house with his assistants in the offseason after the Tigers stumbled to an 8-14 finish and missed the Finals.


#15 – Collingwood Magpies

  • 2016 RECORD: 9-13
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley (6th season, 60-50)
  • CAPTAIN: Scott Pendlebury
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Lynden Dunn, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Daniel Wells, Chris Mayne
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Nathan Brown, Jarrod Witts, Jack Frost, Travis Cloke, Marley Williams, Dane Swan
  • DRAFT PICKS: Kayle Kirby, Sam McLarty, Callum Brown, Josh Daicos

The Magpies are looking to rebound after another disappointing season, in which the team struggled with numerous injuries and general inconsistency. During the trade period in October, the Pies got GWS utility player Will Hoskin-Elliott, who is a gem when healthy, but Collingwood will miss key leaders like Jack Frost, Dane Swan, and Travis Cloke.

Collingwood has some quality pieces in various places, including imposing ruckman Mason Cox, who showed encouraging signs in 11 games last season. Forward Jamie Elliott has shown a lot of promise before he was slowed by an ankle injury during preseason.

Four out of Collingwood’s first six matches are on the road, including a date with Sydney and a trip to Simonds Stadium to play Geelong. Could the Pies surprise while under lower expectations in 2017? Maybe, but they’ll have to hope that all the pieces fall into place at the right time.


#14 – Essendon Bombers

  • 2016 RECORD: 3-19
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: John Worsfold (2nd season, 3-19)
  • CAPTAIN: Dyson Heppell
  • KEY ADDITIONS: James Stewart
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Michael Hibberd
  • DRAFT PICKS: Andrew McGrath, Kobe Mutch, Jordan Ridley, Josh Begley, Dylan Clarke

Let’s start with the obvious: Essendon can’t possibly be as bad as they were in 2016, when a dozen of their best players were suspended for doping before the season started and the team stumbled to a last-place 3-19 record. It was the historic club’s worst season since 1932.

The Bombers return a number of those banned players, including former captain Jobe Watson, current captain Dyson Heppell, Tom Bellchambers, Michael Hurley, and Travis Colyer. Watson and Heppell, both speedy midfielders, should be back in top form soon enough, but Hurley tweaked his ankle in practice recently and might miss the start of the season. Bellchambers has also been slow to return to form after knee surgery.

Some of the better players during the nightmarish 2016 season were Orazio Fantasia, who kicked 29 goals in 19 games, and utility player Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who is still raw, but showed  potential and quickly became a crowd favorite last year. Midfielder Darcy Parish also demonstrated consistent play.

The Dons will look to carve out as many wins as they can under veteran coach John Worsfold, but they aren’t considered a threat to do too much damage in the competition this season. They might spring an upset or two, but getting back to the Finals is unlikely.


#13 – Carlton Blues

  • 2016 RECORD: 7-15
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (100,018)
  • COACH: Brendan Bolton (2nd season, 7-15)
  • CAPTAIN: Marc Murphy
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Caleb Marchbank, Rhys Palmer, Billie Smedts
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Zach Tuohy
  • DRAFT PICKS: Harrison Macreadie, Zac Fisher, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Cameron Polson, Pat Kerr, Tom Williamson

Carlton also has a favorable early schedule, and they’ll be looking to crack the finals in 2017 after a better-than-expected debut under coach Brendan Bolton. They didn’t lose too many players in free agency, either, so this could be a big season for the Blues.

Caleb Marchbank and Rhys Palmer were two solid free agent additions from GWS, and they seem to be really good fits at Carlton. The team’s skipper, Marc Murphy, is finally healthy after numerous injury-plagued seasons, and he enjoyed a fantastic preseason. The Blues will also get former No. 1 draft pick Bryce Gibbs back. Gibbs, now 27 and a key part of the Carlton midfield, is back for his 11th year at the club after trade rumors linked him to Adelaide in the offseason.


#12 – Gold Coast Suns

  • 2016 RECORD: 6-16
  • HOME GROUND: Metricon Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • COACH: Rodney Eade (3rd season, 10-33-1)
  • CAPTAINS: Tom Lynch/Steven May
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jarrod Witts, Jarryd Lyons, Pearce Hanley
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Jaeger O’Meara, Dion Prestia
  • DRAFT PICKS: Jack Bowes, Ben Ainsworth, Jack Scrimshaw, Will Brodie, Brad Scheer

The Suns are really hoping that 2017 is their year, as their fans are growing restless for a Finals berth. Gold Coast had a mediocre season after a promising 3-0 start, and disgruntled playmakers Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia departed in the offseason.

The club was excited to have Gary Ablett Jr. back in training after shoulder surgery ended his 2016 season prematurely. Ablett was linked to trade rumors with Geelong in the offseason, but he remains committed to the Suns and looked sharp as ever in offseason drills.

New co-captains Steven May and Tom Lynch have stepped up in a big way. When healthy, May is a big-time playmaker, and Lynch earned All-Australian honors last season after kicking 51 goals.

Alex Sexton, Peter Wright, and Touk Miller are other key players to watch for Gold Coast heading forward. Oft-injured Michael Rischitelli has also shown promise in the offseason. The opening of a brand-new training facility has fans excited, but the Suns are a team that needs to show rapid improvement and consistent competitiveness.


#11 – North Melbourne Kangaroos

  • 2016 RECORD: 12-10
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Brad Scott (8th season, 86-72)
  • CAPTAIN: Jack Ziebell
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Marley Williams, Paul Ahern
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Aaron Black, Daniel Wells, Michael Firrito, Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie
  • DRAFT PICKS: Jy Simpkin, Nick Larkey, Josh Williams, Declan Watson

The Kangaroos have some soul-searching to do in 2017. A number of their veteran players were de-listed at the end of the season in a questionable move, with former skipper Brent “Boomer” Harvey electing to retire. On the field, North Melbourne started off 9-0, but fell away during the latter half of the season and barely got into the Finals. Do they have a comeback in them in 2017?

Small forward Lindsay Thomas has been a consistent performer in practice, wowing coaches with his time-trial. Unfortunately, the Roos have been derailed by injuries, including ruckman Majak Daw (knee), utility Sam Wright (ankle), midfielder Taylor Garner (hip), and midfielder Jed Anderson (shoulder).

North Melbourne has a chance to make a move further up the ladder in ’17, but there’s still bound to be growing pains after the departure of so many heart-and-soul players.


#10 – Port Adelaide Power

  • 2016 RECORD: 10-12
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • COACH: Ken Hinkley (5th season, 41-29)
  • CAPTAIN: Travis Boak
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Paul Stewart
  • DRAFT PICKS: Sam Powell-Pepper, Willem Draw, Joe Atley, Todd Marshall

Port Adelaide underachieved in 2016, barely missing out on the Finals and lacking consistency throughout the year. While the club was quiet in free agency, they hit the training track with renewed energy in the offseason, so the mood around the Power has mostly been one of optimism.

Chad Wingard and Karl Amon have been mired with injury issues in the past few seasons, but reports from training indicated that the duo is back to their old form. Rookie Sam Powell-Pepper has also wowed teammates and coaches alike with his fluid ball movement and terrific athleticism.

Key forward Charlie Dixon is still a question mark after offseason ankle surgery, and Paddy Ryder needs to have a strong year after missing all of 2016 due to suspension. The Alice Springs native has looked very solid in offseason drills. Fellow ruckman Dougal Howard will likely miss the first chunk of 2017 after tearing his ACL in training.


#9 – St Kilda Saints

  • 2016 RECORD: 12-10
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Alan Richardson (4th season, 22-43-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryn Geary
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Nathan Brown, Koby Stevens, Jack Steele
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Sam Fisher
  • DRAFT PICKS: Edward Phillips, Ben Long, Josh Battle

The Saints have been enduring the rebuilding process for several years now, but they made some significant steps forward in 2016 and are attacking the new season with a new mentality under fourth-year coach Alan Richardson.

While Nick Riewoldt won’t be the Saints’ captain again, he signed a one-year extension and is still keen to get back into the action for his long-time club. The Saints were excited to get former GWS midfielder Jack Steele in free agency, but he’s been hampered by a nagging foot injury. Unlucky defenders Hugh Goddard and Jake Carlisle have also been victims of the injury bug recently, and they probably won’t be at full strength until a few weeks into the season.

However, Blake Acres and Daniel McKenzie have looked sharp in the offseason and look ready to make big strides in 2017. St Kilda was also smart to re-sign the reliable Sean Dempster and All-Australian winger Leigh Montagna.


#8 – Melbourne Demons

  • 2016 RECORD: 10-12
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Simon Goodwin (1st season)
  • CAPTAINS: Nathan Jones/Jack Viney
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jordan Lewis, Michael Hibberd, Pat McKenna 
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Lynden Dunn, Heritier Lumumba
  • DRAFT PICKS: Mitchell Hannan, Dion Johnstone

The addition of two big-time veterans – Jordan Lewis from Hawthorn and Michael Hibberd from Essendon – will help the Demons immeasurably, and it looks like they’re finally ready to knock on the door of the Finals in 2017.

Although their 2016 season was generally one of growing pains, the Dees discovered some new standouts, including forward Jesse Hogan, young gun Christian Petracca and ruckman Max Gawn. Another youngster, Clayton Oliver, will look to return to form after playing 13 games in 2016 and running into off-field issues.

Defender Oscar McDonald had a great offseason, coming back bigger and stronger, and Cameron Pedersen has been looking solid while easing his way back in from shoulder surgery. Speedy utility player Jack Watts and defender Neville Jetta were a couple of young players that Melbourne was happy to re-sign several months ago.


#7 – Hawthorn Hawks

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson (13th season, 180-102-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryd Roughead
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Ty Vickery, Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Bradley Hill
  • DRAFT PICKS: Harry Morrison, Mitchell Lewis

The Hawks lost three big-time superstars after the season concluded – and none was more surprising than their trade of Jordan Lewis to Melbourne. But they still got Tom Mitchell from Sydney and Jaeger O’Meara from the Gold Coast Suns in other deals, and there’s reason to believe in the Hawks in 2017 again.

Hawthorn re-signed veteran midfielder Luke Hodge and forward Cyril Rioli, and they’ll remain faces of the club for the foreseeable future. Youngster Ben Stratton had an outstanding season before getting injured late, and his absence was definitely felt during the finals. Hawthorn will also have one of the AFL’s best feel-good stories in 2017 – veteran Jarryd Roughead will return to footy after missing last season due to a melanoma scare.

If the Hawks can regain their mojo late in games, they’ll still be in the mix for a preliminary final, but there’s no denying that they’ve lost a ton of talent from the past few squads.


#6 – West Coast Eagles

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • HOME GROUND: Domain Stadium (capacity 43,500)
  • COACH: Adam Simpson (4th season, 45-24-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Shannon Hurn
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Sam Mitchell, Nathan Vardy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Patrick McGinnity, Mitch Brown
  • DRAFT PICKS: Daniel Venables, Jake Waterman, Willie Rioli, Josh Rotham

The Eagles have the talent to remain Finals contenders heading into 2017, but they still have plenty of work to do to get back to the Grand Final. Getting Sam Mitchell from the Hawks in free agency was a big-time coup, but the Eagles might not have star ruckman Nic Naitanui back after he suffered a string of injuries in 2016, including surgery on both ankles.

Midfielders Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern look to continue their solid work from last season, and two-time All-Australian Josh Kennedy is still the name to watch at forward after leading the league with 82 goals.


#5 – Western Bulldogs

  • 2016 RECORD: 15-7
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,347)
  • COACH: Luke Beveridge (3rd season, 33-15)
  • CAPTAIN: Robert Murphy
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Travis Cloke
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Will Minson, Koby Stevens, Nathan Hrovat, Joel Hamling
  • DRAFT PICKS: Timothy English, Fergus Greene, Patrick Lipinski, Lewis Young

The Bulldogs are still coming down from the high of their storybook season, winning their first premiership in 50 years. So the question remains: was it a fluke?

First off, the Bulldogs return several key players from injury, including skipper Robert Murphy and key defender Lin Jong. The stars of last year’s finish, like Jason Johannisen and Marcus Bontempelli, are also back, and the Dogs nabbed Collingwood free agent Travis Cloke in the trade period. There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about 2017, and the countdown to defending their premiership starts now, but there still needs to be a concerted effort throughout the season to guard against complacency.


#4 – Geelong Cats

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • HOME GROUND: Simonds Stadium (capacity 34,074)
  • COACH: Chris Scott (7th season, 102-39-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Joel Selwood 
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Aaron Black, Zach Tuohy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Corey Enright, Jimmy Bartel, Nathan Vardy, Josh Caddy, Billie Smedts, Shane Kersten
  • DRAFT PICKS: Timm House, Branden Parfitt, Thomas Stewart, Quinton Narkle, Esava Ratugolea, Ryan Abbott

The Cats struggled down the stretch in 2016 and once again exited the finals in disappointing fashion. Despite the presence of best-and-fairest winner Patrick Dangerfield, Geelong wasn’t able to take advantage of the chances they were given in postseason play.

Dangerfield is back, along with several of the team’s major playmakers. The Cats will certainly miss the retired Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright, and they also lost veteran Nathan Vardy to West Coast. Geelong did manage to pick up Carlton half-back Zach Tuohy, who offers lots of speed and athleticism, and their draft picks have looked promising as well, particularly Brendan Parfitt.

The Cats also need more consistent play from forwards Tom Hawkins and Steven Motlop, both of whom are coming off mediocre seasons and who have had occasional off-field issues as well. Motlop had a very poor showing in the finals, while Hawkins was affected all year by a troublesome meniscus.

Geelong can make a run at the Grand Final again, but they’ll need to perform at a much more consistent level throughout the season and avoid some of the letdowns of the past. There’s reason to think they can reload and get back to the pre-lims.


#3 – Sydney Swans

  • 2016 RECORD: 17-5
  • HOME GROUND: Sydney Cricket Ground (capacity 48,000)
  • COACH: John Longmire (7th season, 102-45-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Josh Kennedy
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Ted Richards, Tom Mitchell, Toby Nankervis
  • DRAFT PICKS: Darcy Cameron, Oliver Florent, Will Hayward, Jack Maibaum

The Swans had a quiet free agency period after falling in the AFL Grand Final last year, but they did re-sign most of the midfield, including Kieran Jack, Dan Hannebery, and Harry Cunningham. And the Swans’ superstar forwards, Josh Kennedy and Buddy Franklin, will return for more in 2017.

Sydney still needs more from some players in the backfield alongside the reliable Heath Grundy and Dane Rampe. Defender Michael Talia was having a fairly decent year before an ugly off-field incident involving drugs, and the Swans really need Aliir Aliir to stay healthy and continue to improve his form. Aliir has been a feel-good story for Sydney, but his injury-related absence in the Grand Final was felt acutely.

The Swans can get into the preliminary finals again, but there needs to be a more-concerted effort throughout big games if they want to win their first flag since 2012.


#2 – Adelaide Crows

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • COACH: Don Pyke (2nd season, 16-6)
  • CAPTAIN: Taylor Walker
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Ricky Henderson, Nathan van Berlo
  • DRAFT PICKS: Myles Poholke, Elliot Himmelberg, Jordan Gallucci, Ben Davis, Matthew Signorello

Adelaide entered the 2016 season with a bunch of unknowns, with a new coach and the loss of star forward Patrick Dangerfield, who ended up with Geelong. Still, the Crows looked very solid throughout the year before exiting the Finals fairly early.

The forward line remains one of the best around, with Eddie Betts, Taylor ‘Tex’ Walker, and Josh Jenkins all coming back to the club. Coaches are high on courageous 20-year-old defender Jake Lever, but there are still question marks surrounding veterans like Curtly Hampton and Paul Seedsman, both of whom missed large chunks of last season due to injuries.

In the midfield, All-Australian Rory Sloane has returned to the club, as has veteran Scott Thompson, but the Crows’ lack of depth was exposed late in the season, and they need to address that going forward if they want a shot at the preliminary finals. Second-year coach Don Pyke has the Crows on a steady development curve though, and there’s a real chance they could do more damage in the postseason if they stay healthy.


#1 – Greater Western Sydney Giants

  • 2016 RECORD: 16-6
  • HOME GROUND: Spotless Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • COACH: Leon Cameron (4th season, 34-34)
  • CAPTAINS: Phil Davis/Callan Ward
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Matt de Boer, Brett Deledio
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Caleb Marchbank, Cam McCarthy, Rhys Palmer, James Stewart, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Paul Ahern, Jack Steele
  • DRAFT PICKS: Will Setterfield, Tim Taranto, Isaac Cumming, Harry Perryman, Lachlan Tiziani

The Giants lost some developing young guns in free agency deals, but there’s plenty of reason to be high on this team as potential 2017 AFL premiers. GWS roared into the finals and got to the preliminary round, where they lost to their crosstown rivals, the Sydney Swans. But even after a historic year at the footy club, Leon Cameron and his team still aren’t satisfied and are setting their sights on winning it all.

The club’s established stars are back, including co-captains Phil Davis and Callan Ward, All-Australian defender Heath Shaw, and veteran forwards Jeremy Cameron and Steve Johnson. Johnson was everything the Giants needed him to be after joining the club from Geelong before last season, while former #1 draft pick Jonathan Patton enjoyed a return to form after numerous injury-riddled seasons. Hard-hitting ruckman Shane Mumford struggled with a nagging elbow injury in offseason drills, but coaches are excited about his backup, 24-year-old Rory Lobb.

GWS made a big splash in free agency, luring away former Richmond captain Brett Deledio, who adds leadership and versatility to an already-talented midfield group. Another offseason addition was former Fremantle Docker Matt de Boer, who missed lots of time due to injury in 2016, but could do well with a fresh start at GWS.


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