2016 is here and the AFL season promises to be another gripping, must-watch 26 weeks of action. Throughout January I will run through a full preview of each team, in predicted reverse-ladder order and list the best 22 at each club (injuries pending) as well as ranking each club out of 10 in five categories.
The categories have been weighted from the most important (forward line) down to the least important (coaching) of the five.
· Forward line – never has scoring been more important than it is in today’s football. Conversion rates are key and the highest scoring teams have the best chance of success.
· Backline – a close second to attack in terms of importance. Versatility is key and defending with a zone is as prevalent as an old-fashioned, man on man back six.
· Midfield – so many players run through the middle, but the best midfields are almost always playing on the biggest stage of all and the best players play their best football in the middle of the ground and on the ball.
· Fixture – each draw is assessed based on opponents played twice, travel, six-day breaks and any other relevant information available.
· Coaching – each team’s coach will be rated out of 10, with comment on their career record, recent history and potential to improve.
Now the criteria has been stated, let’s take a look at the side predicted to finish 18th in 2016.
The Lions narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in 2015, winning just four games on the back of the second-worst forward line and second-worst back-line. Their midfield has depth and may have improved slightly from last season but there seems little doubt they are destined to sit at the foot of the ladder yet again.
B: Ryan Harwood, Darcy Gardiner, Justin Clarke
HB: Tom Cutler, Harris Andrews, Pearce Hanley
C: Ryan Bastinac, Dayne Beams, Tom Bell
HF: Allen Christensen, Josh Walker, Dayne Zorko
F: Josh Green, Josh Schache, Lewis Taylor
R: Stefan Martin, Ton Rockliff, Mitch Robinson
I: Daniel McStay, Marco Paparone, Sam Mayes, Daniel Rich
There is very little to write home about here. As the second overall pick in the national draft, Schache represents the future of the Lions and should be thrown straight in at full-forward. Learning on the job will benefit this rare talent, and it figures to be a baptism of fire given the lack of support he will have.
Recruit Josh Walker will find the going tougher than he did at Geelong and will look for consistency; of the 19 goals he kicked in 15 games last season, 12 came in just three games. The small forwards in the team are serviceable; Josh Green does his job and Lewis Taylor keen to respond to a nightmare 12 months where he fell from the heights of the NAB Rising Star to being dropped from the Brisbane line-up and being in trouble with the law.
Forward line rating – 2/10
Hanley may well play midfield but if not he stands out as the star of this group. Arguably the most talented Irishman to ever play in the AFL, he will look for an injury-free run after a poor few seasons on that front. Youth is on the side of Gardiner, Andrews and Cutler and the Lions need to embrace the growing pains that will come with them playing together while Clarke and Harwood are two players the club will rely on to develop and take the next step, as they should do 50 games into their respective careers.
This backline should be selected with an eye for the future, meaning Daniel Merrett should only be used in times of crisis and may not add to his 181 game career, a tally which has him 55 games ahead of any other player on the list.
Backline rating – 3/10
This is the one area in which the Lions can be competitive. Beams is an A-grader and Rockliff is not far behind while Christensen, Zorko and Robinson provide solid depth. Recruits Bastinac and Bell come to Brisbane looking for opportunity (Bastinac) and to return home (Bell) and both should provide the Lions with quality service. If Beams can remain injury-free and Rockliff can settle into being the second or third best midfielder, the Lions may well surprise and be able to cover the losses of Jack Redden and James Aish.
Ruckman Stefan Martin is one of the more underrated big men in the league, and reportedly considered leaving the Lions over the off-season. His choice to stay at Brisbane should reap rewards for both sides as Martin will look to replicate 2015 where he ranked fifth in the AFL in hit outs and first in contested possessions among ruckman.
Midfield rating – 5/10
The Lions have a decent draw, playing just one of last year’s top 8 (West Coast) twice and also playing fellow strugglers Carlton and Gold Coast on two occasions. Old Fitzroy fans will be excited to see them in action seven times in Melbourne, while they have just five 6 day breaks.
For all the positives listed above the first three weeks shapes as a brutal test as they play the Eagles in Perth, North Melbourne and Geelong. Any hopes of a resurgence may well be knocked out of the park by Round 4.
Fixture rating – 6/10
Justin Leppitsch has coached for two years and won just 11 of 44 games. He hasn’t had a strong side, but is yet to show any signs of being a successful coach and while he could argue injuries and lack of talent have hampered him the signs of friction at the club are not positive. Leppitsch may demand respect as a former champion of the club, but that alone won’t translate to coaching success. He needs this limited list to buy-in for him to have a chance at success as a coach, let alone have his job at the end of 2016.
Coaching rating – 3/10
The talent is simply not there and while the midfield depth is solid, the weakness at either end of the ground mean the gap between the Lions and a majority of the competition are a chasm too great. Lions fans would be best served settling in and watching the development of Schache, Andrews and McStay.
Predicted finish – 18th