Category: Australian Rules Football

2017 AFL season review: St Kilda Saints

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  • 2017 RECORD: 11-11
  • COACH: Alan Richardson, 4th year (32-52-1)
  • RETIREMENTS: Sean Dempster, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt
  • DELISTINGS: Joe Baker-Thomas, Nick Coughlan
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: None

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Nathan Freeman (ankle) should be ready to go for preseason action, and the same goes for Paddy McCartin (concussion problems). Midfielder David Armitage is slowly recovering from a groin issue.

POSITIVES: The Saints showed good signs of growth most of the year, buoyed by some young talent up front and through the midfield. After Armitage went down, Koby Stevens and Jack Steele stepped up and played very well, while Seb Ross is an emerging youngster in that midfield group, too. Jake Carlisle and Nathan Brown are veteran defenders who made strides in 2017. St Kilda scored some nice upset wins along the way, too, beating Richmond, GWS, and West Coast convincingly.

NEGATIVES: St Kilda’s kicking inaccuracy cost them in 2017. The Saints had plenty of big bodies but were maddeningly inconsistent up front, even among normally reliable playmakers like Josh Bruce and Jack Billings. There’s no question that the Saints have a better nucleus of young talent than they’ve had in the past, but the pressure will be on in 2018 after missing the Finals yet again and saying goodbye to retiring club stalwarts Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna.

SEASON OVERVIEW: The Saints should be disappointed in themselves overall after a season filled with promise eventually went downhill. While St Kilda broke even with an 11-11 year and showed flashes of elite play, missing the Finals again hurt, especially since the club wanted to send Montagna and Riewoldt out on a good note. Alan Richardson’s club needs to regroup and address offensive concerns heading into the offseason. Another year of “what ifs” won’t be acceptable.

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2017 AFL season review: Hawthorn Hawks

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  • 2017 RECORD: 10-11-1
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson, 13th year (190-113-2)
  • DELISTINGS: TBD
  • RETIREES: Jack Fitzpatrick, Josh Gibson, Luke Hodge, Luke Surman
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Taylor Duryea

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Grant Birchall, James Cousins, and Mitch Lewis will be limited until January or so after surgeries, Ben Stratton and Cyril Rioli both struggled with knee injuries in 2017, but will be working their way back when preseason practices start in November. James Frawley was bothered by a turf toe injury, but should also be ready to go soon enough.

POSITIVES: The Hawks shook off an ugly 0-5 start which was marked by an avalanche of injuries. A number of Hawthorn’s young players showed a ton of promise in a disappointing year for the club, and while Clarkson shouldered a ton of blame for not kickstarting the youth movement earlier, he has a much better handle on his personnel heading into 2018.

Despite the retirements of club stalwarts like Hodge and Gibson, the Hawks have a solid baseline of talent remaining, including All-Australian midfielder Tom Mitchell, key defender Ryan Burton, the fiery and versatile James Sicily, and the speedy Conor Nash, a convert from Gaelic football. Hawthorn also got a nice surprise when veteran Shaun Burgoyne elected to play on after contemplating an early retirement.

NEGATIVES: Yeah, about that 0-5 start — sure, the injuries played a key role in Hawthorn’s inauspicious first month, but it still left fans dumbfounded that a club only two years removed from its last AFL Premiership would look so unorganized and lethargic on-field. Give Clarkson credit for righting the ship after such a horrific beginning to the season, but that alarming lack of focus and pressure can’t happen again at such a historic club. The Hawks’ big free agent additions, Ty Vickery and Jaeger O’Meara, did very little in 2017.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Clarkson got another contract extension in recent months and is in the process of re-shuffling his staff; the Hawks will presumably look to the AFL Draft and their VFL reserves side to develop players following last year’s disappointing free agent signings.

Give the 2017 Hawks credit: they improved dramatically as the year went on, and even when their Finals hopes were shot, they still made a consistent effort and developed a better work ethic at the contest, while also identifying a few budding stars. It’ll be interesting to see if Clarkson’s team can make another Finals push in 2018 with a younger lineup and a few key veterans returning from long-term injury woes.

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2017 AFL season review: Collingwood Magpies

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  • 2017 RECORD: 9-12-1
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley, 6th year (70-65-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Jesse White
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Tyson Goldsack, Lachlan Keeffe, Ben Sinclair, Josh Thomas

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Magpies had pretty bad luck on the injury front, but a number of those players should be ready to go for preseason, including captain Scott Pendlebury, Travis Varcoe, Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Daniel Wells.

POSITIVES: The Pies were able to pull off some big upsets along the way, including Geelong, Sydney, and West Coast. While it sometimes seemed that Collingwood would never have the same healthy players on the field as they had the previous week, the Pies showed some flashes. Players like forward Daniel Wells, ruckman Brodie Grundy, and halfback Jeremy Howe all stepped up and answered the bell when they were needed. Former Giant Will Hoskin-Elliott was one of the Pies’ more promising young free agent additions, and Steele Sidebottom also continued his classy form.

NEGATIVES: Collingwood continues to drop winnable games, as they can’t seem to play four quarters of footy when it counts the most — they were eliminated from Finals contention as early as Round 16. Touted free agent addition Chris Mayne barely did anything in his Magpie debut, and plenty of other players battled injuries and inconsistency, including Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Travis Varcoe. De Goey also came under scrutiny after a bizarre early season suspension that called his character into question (he hurt his hand in a bar fight and then lied about it to club trainers).

SEASON OVERVIEW: While the Pies have been able to be competitive on a weekly basis, there’s no getting around the lack of enthusiasm and consistency around the historic club. Four seasons with Finals action seems like an eternity for faithful fans, and there are bound to be plenty of changes in the offseason. With embattled coach Nathan Buckley sticking around for at least two more years, the Pies need to take big steps forward in 2018, and that starts with a sense of urgency around the ball and better defensive pressure.

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2017 AFL season review: Fremantle Dockers

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  • 2017 RECORD: 8-14
  • COACH: Ross Lyon, 6th year (79-55-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Zac Dawson, Garrick Ibbotson, Shane Yarran
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Hayden Ballantyne, Zac Clarke, Michael Johnson, Nick Suban

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Zac Clarke, Matthew Uebergang, and Alex Pearce all missed the 2017 season with various knee, leg, and hamstring issues and will be looking to make a preseason comeback. Michael Apeness and Lachie Neale will also be recovering from knee surgeries.

POSITIVES: It was an up-and-down season for Fremantle, but they began the rebuilding process around their known quantities, like superstar Nat Fyfe, as well as debuting several exciting players such as youngster Brennan Cox and free-agent addition Cam McCarthy. The Dockers shook off an ugly first month to notch a couple of notable wins, including big victories over Melbourne, Essendon, and the Western Bulldogs.

NEGATIVES: Injuries took their toll late in the year as the Dockers suffered three 100-point defeats and ultimately dropped 11 of their last 13 matches. Ruckman Aaron Sandilands was never 100 percent all year due to hamstring troubles, and while his replacement Sean Darcy did admirably, the Dockers are just a different team when Sandilands isn’t dominating the hit-outs in the middle. Hayden Ballantyne is one of the game’s most electric small forwards when healthy, but he frequently isn’t, leaving some to wonder if he’ll continue his career. (Coach Ross Lyon remains confident that the 30-year-old Ballantyne will elect to play on.)

SEASON OVERVIEW: It’s kind of a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full deal for the Dockers. While the fans have been grumbling about Lyon’s coaching methods and the general lack of consistency, there’s plenty to like about the young talent that was thrown into the fire this year. Docker supporters can also take solace in the fact that they still doubled their win total from 2016, locked in Fyfe for a long-term deal, and opened up a new state-of-the-art training facility.

We’ve seen that Freo can be a lethal side when they have the horses to pull it off, but a lack of depth and experience throughout the lineup hasn’t helped in some of their more humiliating losses. They were reasonably competitive most weekends, but they’ll need to show more grit, durability, and finesse if they’re to move up the ladder in 2018.

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2017 AFL season review: North Melbourne Kangaroos

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  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brad Scott, 8th year (94-90)
  • DELISTINGS: Will Fordham, Lachlan Hansen, Matthew Taylor
  • RETIREES: None
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Scott Thompson

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Kangaroos were exceptionally unlucky on the injury front in the latter half of 2017, which played a large part in their stumbling to the finish line. Getting Nathan Hrovat and Marley Williams back from season-ending ailments will be key, and Jy Simpkin, Braydon Preuss, Sam Wright, Ben Brown, and Jack Ziebell will also have minor surgeries in the coming month or so.

POSITIVES: Ben Brown established himself as one of the AFL’s most consistent kicks and the Roos’ big target up front, booting 63 goals in the 2017 season. Key players such as Braydon Preuss and Jy Simpkin were able to be influential when they were healthy, and the Roos also got encouraging seasons from defender Robbie Tarrant and aggressive midfielder Luke Macdonald. The Roos also extended their winning streak over their crosstown rivals, beating the Melbourne Demons twice.

NEGATIVES: The Roos struggled right out of the gate and never recovered, starting 0-5 to match their worst start since 1972. A young team, North Melbourne struggled late in games and dropped four contests by 10 points or fewer, and there’s no excuse for them losing 10 out of their last 12 games, either. Former All-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein suffered through a disappointing season, and fellow big man Majak Daw struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Coach Brad Scott got a two-year contract extension following the season finale, but there’s no denying that his Roos need to take a major step forward after missing out on postseason play for the first time since 2013. When North was good, they were really good, but when they were bad, they were awful. The club has been linked to several potential free agents, including Richmond’s Dustin Martin, GWS’s Josh Kelly, and Geelong’s Steven Motlop, although it’s yet to be seen if the Roos will get any of them.

There’s still talent left on the list, although much of it is young — 11 players made their debut for North this year, and they could stand to grab a couple of classy midfielders via free agency or the AFL Draft. Quite frankly, following the retirements of club legends Nick Dal Santo and Brent Harvey this time last year, it was always assumed that 2017 would be a year of growing pains for North. Getting back to the Finals in 2018 would be a big first step if the Roos are to cement their standing as a relevant squad again.

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2017 AFL season review: Carlton Blues

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  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brendon Bolton, 2nd year (13-31)
  • DELISTINGS: Andrew Gallucci, Kristian Jaksch, Liam Sumner
  • RETIREES: Dennis Armfield, Daniel Gorringe, Matt Korchek
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Kade Simpson, Simon White

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Sam Rowe (torn ACL) and Andrew Phillips (recurring foot issues) are two long-term injury concerns for the Blues, while Ed Curnow and Patrick Cripps were two midseason injuries that cost Carlton down the stretch.

POSITIVES: The re-emergence of Liam Jones as a lockdown defender was a big bright spot for the Blues in 2017, while skipper Marc Murphy shook off old injury woes to record one of his best seasons in years. Levi Casboult enjoyed a notable uptick over his 2016 form and finished as the team’s leading goal-kicker once again.

Murphy, Sam Docherty, and Bryce Gibbs once again proved their worth in the midfield, and the Blues’ defense also looked much better overall. Matthew Kreuzer was outstanding as the Blues’ ruckman and was another player who put past injury issues behind him.

The Blues also pulled off a couple upsets in their 2017 campaign, including Round 3 over Essendon and a narrow Round 12 triumph over the GWS Giants.

NEGATIVES: Scoring, scoring, scoring. The Blues haven’t notched 100 or more points in a game since June 4, 2016. That’s a major problem heading forward, and Carlton can’t afford another season of sub-par kicking. The youngsters on the playing list have certainly developed, but too frequently they’ve elected to play it safe with the footy and have been overly cautious in big games. Carlton needs more explosive playmakers in order to take the next step as a club, and when Curnow and Cripps went down halfway through the season, it killed much of their momentum.

There’s also the added issue of other AFL teams taking a look at midfielder Bryce Gibbs; Adelaide made an unsuccessful play for him last offseason, but he elected to stick around. On the other hand, some of the Blues’ recent free agency additions haven’t panned out as well as anticipated.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Bolton hit a sophomore slump in 2017, with key injuries and a lack of offensive firepower keeping the Blues mostly stagnant. The rebuilding process continues, and Carlton must prioritize locking in Kreuzer, Gibbs, and Casboult long-term, but there’s still a much better foundation at the club than in years past. The Blues can make a run at the Finals in 2018, but they still aren’t likely to have the depth needed to do too much damage. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the well-established nucleus of young players to take another step forward as a unit and help reverse Carlton’s bad luck, especially in close games.

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2017 AFL season review: Gold Coast Suns

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  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Rodney Eade (dismissed midseason, 16-46-1), replaced by interim coach Dean Solomon (0-3)
  • DELISTINGS: Keegan Brooksby, Ryan Davis, Jarrad Grant, Mitch Hallahan, Cam Loersch
  • RETIREES: None
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: None

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Suns’ biggest injury concerns are Tom Lynch (knee), Michael Barlow (leg), and Sam Day (hip), all of whom should be available for when preseason training starts in mid-November.

POSITIVES: The Suns have shown flashes of brilliance within the past year, culminating in a few major upsets — including Round 7 vs. Geelong, Round 10 vs. West Coast — and they beat Hawthorn twice. When their major players are healthy and consistent, the Suns have been able to be a high-scoring, entertaining side to watch. Forward Peter Wright has the potential to be an outstanding target alongside All-Australian Tom Lynch, youngster Ben Ainsworth showed some flashes in 13 games, and the Suns still have speedy playmakers like Adam Saad and Touk Miller.

Despite a very disappointing stretch to end the 2017 season, the Suns’ crowd attendance rate was reasonably solid, although their actual membership rates dipped.

NEGATIVES: Where to begin? Recently-fired head coach Rodney Eade was already under the gun entering the season, and once the wheels came off in mid-July, there was no way he was escaping the axe. Gold Coast CEO Mark Evans is re-evaluating the whole football department from top-down and has already formed a subcommittee to select the Suns’ next coach.

Superstar Gary Ablett won the team’s best-and-fairest award once again, despite playing in only 14 games due to knee and calf problems. While Ablett (age 33) has insisted that he has more games left in the tank, there are still lingering questions about whether he will stay a Sun or go back home to the Geelong Cats. Midfield depth has been an ongoing issue at Gold Coast and they need to use at least a couple of their seven AFL draft picks to address this issue.

Other players who are under the microscope include the injury-prone Michael Rischitelli and Callum Ah Chee. Kade Kolodjashnij and Pearce Hanley were never really at 100 percent in 2017, either (concussion issues and calf problems, respectively).

SEASON OVERVIEW: We’ve learned in previous seasons that once negativity and/or off-field distractions get to the Suns, things can turn ugly fast. Eade walked into a trainwreck when he took over in 2015 and the blame can’t entirely be placed on him; regardless, there are still numerous issues to resolve heading forward. Dean Solomon attempted to right the ship over the last three rounds of the season and is likely the only assistant coach who will be retained by the new staff when they arrive.

Will Ablett commit to playing for Gold Coast once again? Can the squad avoid injuries as a whole? Can Eade’s replacement do better? Time will tell on all fronts, but the Suns do already have a nice nucleus of solid players for the new coaching staff to build around, and they could snag a few names in free agency if they play their cards right. Still, it’s difficult to see this team moving up the ladder significantly in 2018.

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