We have already gone through the two sides expected to anchor the ladder, so let’s continue moving up and look at a side with plenty of young promise but a recent culture of nothing but disappointment.
Melbourne Demons (16th)
The longest-suffering supporters in the AFL will look at this list and hope that this is finally the year that things start to click. After all, it would be reasonable to expect a premiership winning coach to be able to produce something other than deflection in his third year at the helm.
B: Neville Jetta, Lynden Dunn, Colin Garland
HB: Jake Melksham, Tom McDonald, Heritier Lumumba
C: Bernie Vince, Nathan Jones, Tomas Bugg
HF: Christian Petracca, Chris Dawes, Jack Viney
F: Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan, Christian Salem
R: Max Gawn, Dom Tyson, Angus Brayshaw
I: Jack Watts, Ben Kennedy, Aaron Vandenberg, Clayton Oliver
Hogan has been compared to all the great players and based on what we have seen so far, those comparisons seem fair. Despite woeful service and being the focus of the opposition defenders, Hogan kicked 44 goals and ranked third in contested marks. With another pre-season under his belt, look for Hogan to explode and kick 60+ goals in 2016. His biggest challenge may be getting some help in the forward line.
Garlett kicked a goal in every game last season but bagged three of more on just three occasions; that consistency is admirable but the Demons will rely on him to do more. While there will be a wave of talent changing through the half-forward line, the lack of a second quality big forward is concerning. Dawes has fought injury and came to Melbourne as a high-profile signing, but looks unlikely to be the foil that Hogan needs, putting Melbourne in a tough spot given his contract.
Hogan and Garlett are standouts but the quality quickly drops away from there.
Forward line rating – 4/10
Defence has been a focus of coach Paul Roos, and Melbourne has improved each year in this area by playing a fundamentally defensive, negating style of football. McDonald, Garland and Dunn have developed into valuable and very serviceable players and seem the types around which a solid, functional defence can be established. None will be a star, but that is not important in that area of the field.
A change is on the cards for recruit Melksham, with a role as an attacking half-back flanker likely. His speed and dash will complement Lumumba but leave the Demons exposed the other way should their foot skills not improve. Squad depth is lacking as far as backmen go, with Bugg and Jack Grimes waiting in the wings should they be needed. All in all, the top few players will effectively implement the negativity of the Roos’ gameplan, but the attacking aspect of the backline that is such a strength for flag contenders Hawthorn and the West Coast Eagles is simply not there.
Backline rating – 4/10
The young quality in this group is outstanding. Petracca, Tyson, Viney and Brayshaw are elite young talents and veterans like Jones and Vince are excellent league footballers. How that talent is reflected on field remains to be seen; the side ranked 13th in both totals disposals and disposal efficiency. Not only did they not get the ball enough, they didn’t use it well and that improvements with the ball may well be another 12-24 months away.
Jones has proven himself to be on the cusp of the elite and Tyson was fantastic last season, and it will be intriguing to see how last season’s #2 draft pick Petracca will fare after a knee injury ruined 2015 for him and he has lost a significant amount of pre-season due to an ankle injury.
In the ruck, cult hero Max Gawn proved to be more than serviceable last season and the Demons will be hoping he continues to develop in 2016 as backup options are thin on the ground.
Of the likely top 8-10 midfielders, Jones is the only one older than 24. This group should develop significantly in 2016 and will hope to get a good run with injury so the likes of Watts and Kennedy can be complementary players and not be expected to play key roles.
Midfield rating – 5/10
There are no excuses for a slow start; four of their first five games are at the MCG with just two of those against finalists from last season. They play just one finalist (Hawthorn) from 2015 twice and while they have six 6-day breaks, they have none of those as back-to-back breaks.
Playing at the home of football is an advantage to Melbourne and they have a chance to benefit from a very favourable draw in 2016 in the quest to improve on their 7 wins from 2015.
Fixture rating – 5/10
Roos is a polarising figure, one whose pedigree as a premiership winning coach is undeniable but one who performance and development at Melbourne is highly questionable. His insistence on continually referring to the past at the Demons has become tedious, with some believing he has been very hesitant to take the responsibility that comes as part of being the league’s highest paid senior coach.
Simon Goodwin will take over the reins in 2017 and is reportedly taking a majority of training sessions this pre-season, with focus surely on fast ball movement and improved skills to complement the negative, defensive teachings of Roos.
Fans of the red and the blue will be eagerly watching the coaches’ box throughout the season and hope Roos hands control to Goodwin with a degree of positivity in regards to the game plan and player development.
Coaching rating – 5/10
Hogan, Petracca, Brayshaw and Tyson are the future, while first round draft picks Clayton Oliver and Sam Weideman, as well as a handful of other players on the list give all Melbourne fans cause for hope in what has been a bleak era for this proud and famous club.
The competition looks to be extremely tight between 9th and 16th and the lack of offensive firepower and poor disposal efficiency look to hamper any hopes of finishing much higher than this. Whether or not that is a concern is debatable as this list is well placed to contend for finals and more from 2018 onwards.
Predicted finish – 16th