Category - 2013 – List Analysis
West Coast Eagles
For a season riddled with injury to key personnel the Eagles could have been excused for falling off the map in 2012 but to their credit they rallied thanks to the fast tracked development of Jack Darling, veteran leadership and the coming out party of a slew of youngsters.
This offseason saw the Eagles add more talent to an already deep list with Collingwood’s Sharrod Wellingham the headline addition among recycled personnel in Jamie Cripps, Jamie Bennell and Cale Morton.
Veteran lead-up forward Quinten Lynch departed with the breakout exploits of Darling creating a surplus of key position options up forward, whilst discarded youngsters Koby Stevens and Lewis Stevenson seeked more opportunities for senior football with the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide.
West Coast started with a bang last year facing just three finals sides in the first ten weeks, all of which were at home. As the season wore on the younger bodies started to slow down and depth became an issue with their three mid-season losses to Sydney, Adelaide and Fremantle all by over 45 points. The Eagles would finish the year with a 6-5 record against finals sides which suggests there’s definitely a vast scope for improvement heading into 2013.
A fast start could be replicated and serve as the catalyst for a successful season with six of the Eagles first ten games at home (including a round one derby) with the remaining road trips to bottom feeders Melbourne, Port Adelaide and GWS sandwiched between a flight to Brisbane to take on the Lions.
Club and supporters alike have been ambitions for this current group and from a statistical and list analysis perspective they have every reason to aim high.
During the 2012 home and away season the West Coast defence gave up an average of 82.13 points per game, the fourth fewest in the AFL. The positive for the Eagles is that this was consistent throughout the year regardless of the competition. In their eleven games against finals sides West Coast allowed a virtually identical 82.27 points per game which behind grand finalists Hawthorn and Sydney was the third best defensive output when finals sides faced off against one another.
From a statistical standpoint the Eagles weren’t overly impressive at face value in a few areas ranking fifteenth for rebound fifties and fourteenth in one percenters. This was largely irrelevant though as four finals sides ranked in the worst eight teams for both categories essentially meaning that West Coast’s pedestrian output was largely a product of opposition sides experiencing a drought of opportunities going forward.
In the defensive indicators that really mattered the Eagles were superb. West Coast’s opponents ranked;
- Last in goals from marks
- Last in time in forward half percentage
- Seventeenth for marks inside fifty (behind only Fremantle)
- Fourteenth in scores generated from forward fifty
- Fourteenth in goals converted when inside fifty percentage
- Tenth in scores generated from half forward
This impressive negating output was one again mirrored when the Eagles faced finals sides where they allowed opponents to average a league low 8.45 marks inside fifty per game.
If there was one area of concern for the Eagles it was the amount of goals they relinquished from free kicks. West Coast allowed the eighth most goals from free kicks in the competition which left them as the only finals side among the worst nine teams in that category, but on the whole it’s essentially nit-picking and a minor issue.
Offensively the Eagles were below average in comparison to the rest of the competition when generating scoring punch from their backline ranking eleventh in scores generated from half-back and fifteenth in scores generated from kick-ins. This could be brushed aside though given how impressive the Eagles were at limiting opposition output in the same areas. West Coast finished 2012 ranked second behind only Sydney for fewest opponent scores allowed via half-back and third for fewest opponent scores allowed from kick-ins.
Individually the Eagles defensive back-six is very experienced, quite settled and well balanced. There’s penetrating run off half-back from Shannon Hurn and Beau Waters mixed with key position defensive posts Eric Mackenzie, Will Schofield and Captain Darren Glass. Hurn and Waters led the club in rebound fifties with three per game with Waters (5.4), Glass (4.5), Hurn (4) and Mackenzie (4) all averaging at least four interceptions per game.
When it came to man on man defending 23 year old Eric Mackenzie was able to solidify himself as one of the competitions most consistent key position defenders playing all twenty-two games and ranking third in the AFL for one percenters with 8.1 per game. Even at age 32 veteran full-back Darren Glass was just as impressive notching up his sixth season of more than 100 one percenters.
Making up the Eagles back six is reliable user Sam Butler. Butler averaged 2.5 rebound fifties per game in 2012 but his value stems from his disposal, specifically his kicking skills. Of Butler’s 245 disposals last season 191 were effective with 72% coming via foot and just 33 resulting in turnovers. It highlights a West Coast side whose usage is arguably the best in the AFL. Chris Masten (55th overall) was the lone Eagle inside the competitions top 100 for turnovers. To get a better grasp on the Eagles elite usage you can find their overall kicking efficiency, their output in wins/losses and a final ladder here which I compiled and released last week.
The core defensive unit of Hurn, Waters, Mackenzie, Butler, Schofield and Glass represents an average age of 27 and 121 experience. Each of Hurn, Waters and Glass has over 100 games with Glass the only member over thirty years of age. The remaining members are all in their prime and likely to anchor the Eagles defence for years to come.
In reserve Jacob Brennan, Ash Smith and Mitch Brown are quality depth options who have all experienced AFL football and could step right in and produce if injury should strike. The experienced Adam Selwood is another name who can play a role down back if required.
The West Coast defence is among the best in the AFL and impresses at every turn. It’s a unit that has finals experience, depth and evidence of consistent production against all levels of competition. There’s no reason why that status can’t continue for the next three years at a minimum.
The Eagles midfield is the one area of the park where they will be looking to find improvements in 2013. Last year West Coast finished the season ranked seventh in disposals with a specific focus on the uncontested variety where they ranked seventh overall compared to eleventh for contested possessions. It’s no surprise that their preference for uncontested football led to an elite level of output which saw the Eagles ranking third for effective disposals and last in turnovers.
No matter where you looked the majority of West Coast’s midfield indicators were average to above average at best, at least from an offensive perspective. They finished 2012 ranked eighths for inside fifties, seventh for clearances, sixth for scores from stoppages which was admirable but eleventh for scores from turnovers (along with Fremantle they were the only finals side outside the top ten), twelfth for goals from general play and tenth for goals from centre bounces.
Defensively the Eagles appear to have all the makings of a premiership midfield. In 2012 they held their opponents outside the top ten for virtually every midfield indicator outside of clearances where their opponents ranked fourth. West Coast’s opponents would finish their year ranked;
- Fifteenth for disposals
- Thirteenth in contested possession
- Sixteenth in effective disposals
- Fourth in turnovers
- Fifteenth for Inside fifties
- Last in scores from turnovers (West Coast had the fewest turnovers of any club)
- Fourteenth in goals from general play
- Thirteenth in goals from centre bounces
- Thirteenth in scores from stoppages
- Sixteenth in tackles
As great as the Eagles midfield was defensively the deeper you dig into their 2012 output the more their lack of toughness at stoppages stands out, specifically against finals sides. Considering they possess the most dominant ruck duo in the competition you’d expect West Coast to have a significant advantage when it comes to clearances but that failed to be the case last year. The following tables represent each finals sides output when facing one another throughout the home and away season;
2012 Finals Sides v Finals Sides: Hitouts
|Team||Hitouts For||Hitouts Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
Summary: There’s no doubt about it, the Dean Cox/Nic Naitanui combination was head and shoulders above their finals counterparts, and this translated to hitouts to advantage as well as represented below.
2012 Finals Sides v Finals Sides: Hitouts to Advantage
|Team||Hitouts to Advantage For||Hitouts to Advantage Against||Difference|
2012 Finals Sides v Finals Sides: Clearances
|Team||Clearances For||Clearances Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
Summary: Unfortunately full reward wasn’t achieved despite the number of hitouts won with West Coast dropping to third in clearances differentials when facing finals sides. This meant one of two things was occurring; either West Coast’s stoppage setup was out of sync or their midfield as a unit wasn’t ripe enough to handle their tougher, more mature opponents. Considering the amount of delivery the midfield was receiving via Cox/Naitanui there’s no excuse not to be leading the competition in clearances year to year.
This apparent lack of midfield toughness was also evident when it came to opponent scoring sources. Five of the Eagles seven losses in 2012 came against top eight sides with a last minute two point loss to Brisbane and belting at the hands of Essendon the other blemishes on West Coast’s win/loss record. When analysing what happened in the Eagles losses it became incredibly black and white that a breakdown at the stoppages was the catalyst for any negative results. The easiest way to point out what went wrong is to simply look at the following graph of scoring sources for both West Coast and their opposition in wins and losses;
|Wins||Turnovers (Average)||Stoppages (Average)||Kick-Ins (Average)||Centre Clearances (Total)|
As you can see in the Eagles wins they experienced just as bigger differential scoring advantage from stoppages as they did turnovers with a distinct ability to outscore their opponents when it came to generating scoring punch from centre clearances.
In losses, the results flip flopped;
|Losses||Turnovers (Average)||Stoppages (Average)||Kick-Ins (Average)||Centre Clearances (Total)|
West Coast was completely torn apart at stoppages with their opponents seemingly able to score at will whilst severely restricting the Eagles. If there was a blueprint for defeating West Coast in 2012 it was to bully them at the coalface, and teams with heavily contested midfields in Sydney and Adelaide did so with relative ease. Implementing a new found midfield toughness needs to be the focus for this West Coast outfit if they’re to succeed in their quest for a premiership in 2013.
In regards to individual talent the Eagles midfield is quite similar to the rest of their squad makeup with a complimentary mix of experience and youth blended with a plethora of inside/outside class. Long time stalwarts of the club Matthew Priddis, Daniel Kerr, Matt Rosa and Andrew Embley have over 100 games experience with Embley the only member who is over thirty years of age and likely on the decline. With Chris Masten, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Scott Selwood and former Magpie Sharrod Wellingham all under 25 and still to hit their prime the Eagles have more than enough talent to organically develop into a hard bodied entity and make the jump to a consistent A-grade midfield as early as this season.
Matt Priddis, Scott Selwood and Andrew Gaff all ranked inside the top forty in the competition for disposals with Priddis (13.7) and Kerr (11.8) leading the inside charge ranking inside the top twenty for contested possessions. 2013 could very well see the older bodies pass the baton to the up and coming mix given both Scott Selwood and Luke Shuey are more than capable having averaged double digit contested possessions per game in 2012. Shuey and Selwood will both turn 23 this year and with their bodies set to ripen should be able to assume a more prominent role when it comes to clearance work. Priddis led the way last year with 6.7 clearances per game whilst Shuey (5.5) Kerr (5.4) and Selwood (5.2) added great support and were all inside the AFL’s top thirty. The inside production is evident; it’s just the consistency factor that now needs to be achieved.
With Andrew Gaff, Sharrod Wellingham, Matt Rosa and inside/outside threat Chris Masten adding run and carry there should be continuous polished delivery entering fifty for primary targets Josh Kennedy, Josh Hill and Jack Darling. Masten led the Eagles last season with 4.5 inside fifties per game with Gaff, Shuey and Rosa all inside the competitions top fifty. Priddis, Rosa, Shuey, Dean Cox, Scott Selwood and Masten all averaged at least five score involvements per game with Masten and Selwood combining for 55 score assists. It really is a heavily productive and evenly spread midfield when switched on, and in 2013 one that you would think will no longer be relying on the likes of Priddis and Kerr to shoulder a heavy workload against more mature sides.
As far as depth options go the Eagles have a buffet of talent with Patrick McGinnity, Brad Sheppard, Brad Dalziell and former Demon castaways Jamie Bennell and Cale Morton all capable of filling in, with Mark LeCras and Adam Selwood likely to filter through the midfield as well, especially LeCras who when fully fit possesses all the traits required to play a permanent role in the midfield.
Little needs to be said about West Coast’s ruck prospects with All-Australian duo Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox a two-headed monster which is the envy of the competition. The tandem works to perfection with either player capable of causing matchup problems and all sorts of havoc up forward. Last year the two combined for a whopping 1171 hitouts, 65 marks inside fifty, and 52 goals. With Naitanui clouded in doubt with a troublesome groin injury 20 year old reserve ruckman Scott Lycett showed a similar ability to rotate forward is on deck and ready to step in where required.
The Eagles midfield core of Masten, Shuey, Priddis, Kerr, Rosa, Embley, Gaff, Wellingham, Cox, Naitanui and Scott Selwood has an average age of 26 with 126 games experience. It’s every bit of a perfect mix.
With West Coast’s youth brigade now maturing and entering their prime their lack of consistency and absence of week-to-week competitiveness at the stoppages should be a thing of the past. It may be a midfield that is still one more year from hitting its absolute peak but it’s definitely one which is capable of delivering a premiership in season 2013.
West Coast averaged 102 points per game in 2012, the sixth most of any club. What stood out most about this output was the lack of offensive firepower the Eagles experienced against finals calibre opposition. In eleven games against finals sides West Coast averaged just 77 points per game, the fewest of any finals side;
Finals Sides v Finals Sides: Points For and against
|Team||Points For||Points Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
On the whole the Eagles forward line output in 2012 was serviceable but far from spectacular. This isn’t exactly a surprise given three of their most potent attacking options in Josh Kennedy, Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski missed the majority of the season through injury. Thankfully 20 year old key forward Jack Darling (53 goals) was able to fast track his progress and shoulder the goal kicking load with the now departed Quinton Lynch (33 goals), and rejuvenated small forward and former Bulldog Josh Hill (36 goals) chipping in.
With the luxury of a Cox or Naitanui constantly floating throughout the forward fifty the Eagles were able to patch over an otherwise depleted forward line setup which saw them finished the season ranked seventh for marks inside fifty (Only Darling ranked inside the AFL’s top thirty), seventh for scores from forward fifty and ninth for goal conversion when inside fifty. It was no surprise to opposition supporters that West Coast wound up kicking the most goals in the competition from free kicks but outside of those gifts easy scores were relatively hard to come by with the Eagles fifteenth in goals sourced from 0-15 meters which left them among the bottom five teams along with Brisbane, GWS, Gold Coast and the Bulldogs.
The return in 2013 of Josh Kennedy hasn’t had anywhere near the hype it deserves. Coming off a serious injury but still only 25 with 99 games experience the stutter stepping Kennedy is just on the cusp of his prime as far as key forwards go. Only a year prior Kennedy kicked 59 goals and delivered consistently impressive splits against all competition as evidenced below;
Josh Kennedy: Finals V Non-Finals Sides 2011
|Category||Top 8 (9 Games)||Bottom 8 (11 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.66||3.27||+0.61|
With Kennedy largely a stay at home forward Jack Darling will have free reign of the forward fifty ark and when rolling deeper should be able to feed off of the primary attention Kennedy receives to maximize his impact. Darling struggled against the elite defences of the AFL last year as evidenced below, but at 20 years of age with fewer than fifty games of experience that is expected. Make no mistake though Darling has definitely exceeded expectation and is ahead of the curve if not well on the way to superstar status;
Jack Darling Finals V Non-Finals Sides 2012
|Category||Top 8 (11 Games)||Bottom 8 (11 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||1.45||2.36||+0.91|
Along with Kennedy the Eagles will welcome back former All-Australian small forward Mark LeCras who missed all of 2012 through injury. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 LeCras kicked a combined 167 goals whilst registering 171 inside fifties and 95 score assists. Still only 26 years of age with 100 games experience LeCras, like Kennedy, is more than capable of a return to All-Australian form and if his NAB Cup exploits were anything to go by this is a given.
With Mark Nicoski also returning to the fold the West Coast forward line should have enough depth and variety to overcome the lack of scoring production they experienced against finals sides in 2012. Although 29 years of age Nicoski reinvited himself in 2011 as a pinch-hitting small forward totalling 41 goals and 43 score assists whilst playing every game. After Josh Hill’s impressive debut season in Eagles colours it’s likely that Nicoski will be little more than depth fodder in 2013 but that experience and versatility will come in handy nonetheless.
LeCras, Darling, Hill, Kennedy and Nicoski have an average age of 25 and 89 games experience. Key members LeCras, Darling, Hill and Kennedy are all under 27 years of age and form a quality foundation that is set in stone with their best football still to come.
Former Saints Jamie Cripps and Pie Brad Dick are ok pinch hitting forward line options in reserve with point to prove youngster Murray Newman and mature age small Ashton Hams other possibilities.
With Cox and Naitanui offsetting the need for a third permanent key forward, a fully fit Kennedy and LeCras back in the fold, combined with the exploits of Jack Darling and x-factor from Josh Hill, the Eagles forward line will force opposition defences to remain accountable and under heavy pressure throughout the 2013 campaign.
What to Expect in 2013
From a list profile perspective the Eagles are in the mix to deliver a flag and from what we saw last year, combined with the additions of Wellingham, LeCras and Kennedy, anything else should be considered a disappointment.
Of the Eagles (in my opinion) top 25 players only Gaff (41) and Darling (47) have fewer than 50 games experience.
Twelve players on the list have at least 100 games experience with eight of those twelve between the ages of 24-28, thus essentially in the prime. It may be the oldest list in the competition but their veteran personnel are still All-Australian talent or, outside of Kerr, play roles which can be easily managed such as Embley frequently featuring in the sub role, Cox playing forward and Glass permanently at full back.
West Coast’s primary problem last year stemmed from a lack of production at stoppages, specifically against more mature sides which comes with the territory of being a young and developing midfield. It was a midfield more than capable of dominating inferior sides based on pure talent alone but when it came to the best of the best it was a midfield that appeared to be another pre-season away from achieving the growth and consistency required. That hurdle could most definitely be cleared this year with that group now entering their mature phase.
A second issue for the Eagles in 2012 was the disconnect between the ruckman and clearance group. Averaging 22 more hitouts per game than your opponent but experiencing a -2.3 clearances differential is as inefficient as it gets. Looking deeper Dean Cox had just 18% of his hitouts deemed as effective. This needs to be addressed as the Eagles ruck dominance is such a supreme advantage that was largely wasted last season.
There isn’t much evidence suggesting how exactly it’s impacted the playing group but it is interesting to note that the Eagles were last in Interchanges per match in 2012 and were the only side registering fewer than 100 per game. For a predominantly developing midfield group this could have had a negative effect on their ability to run out games or constantly compete at stoppages given their fresher opponents.
This West Coast outfit has all the talent imaginable and the right balance of leadership, youth and class to finish top four at the very least. With some minor tweaking, a little bit of luck from the injury gods and a manic toughness to match their youthful midfield’s supreme skill, the 2013 West Coast Eagles could very well find themselves dancing on the podium in September.
My Best 22
FB. Butler, Glass, Schofield
HB. Hurn, Mackenzie, Waters
C. Gaff, Kerr, Wellingham
HF. Shuey, Darling, Hill
FF. LeCras, Kennedy, Cox
R. Naitanui, S.Selwood, Priddis
Bench: Masten, Rosa, A. Selwood
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
St Kilda Saints
Well, it’s about damn time St. Kilda started culling some veterans and injecting a youth policy, only it’s unfortunate that the two main players to be moved on were core members of the squad still in their prime in Jason Gram and Brendon Goddard. With free agency in full swing Goddard held no punches crowning himself as the first player to fuel the angst of the one-club loyalists who believe that player flexibility is the Devil. In exchange the Saints wound up with WAFL forward Tom Lee, former Suns ruckman Tom Hickey and hours of PED related forum LOL-memes to help smooth over Goddard’s deflection to Essendon.
Jason Gram ran into an off-field spot of bother with an ex which laid the foundation for a thousand one-liners, none of which will be mentioned here as that would be inappropriate and I can’t afford a lawyer.
Dylan Roberton switched states with Jamie Cripps in an unaffiliated move, with the latter moving to West Coast and Roberton embarking on new surroundings with the Saints. Trent Dennis-Lane was traded in from Sydney, adding to Coach Scott Watters apparent fetish for an army of small forwards, and a slew of draft pick acquisitions saw the club receive a much needed youth injection.
Entering his second year as Coach Scott Watters faces the tough scenario of delivering results whilst blooding youngsters, a challenge which can often go pear shaped. With so few prospects under the age of 25 the Saints need to have one eye focused on the future if they wish to remain competitive in years to come. It’s an unfortunate crossroads for a club that recently came close to premiership glory, but it’s a league which takes no prisoners. See: Bulldogs, Western.
Regardless, the primary goal for St. Kilda in 2013 will be finals football and although over the hill these old Saints still have a little ways to go before they completely bottom out.
The St. Kilda defence gave up an average of 86.5 points per game last season, the eighth fewest in the AFL. Although it may appear above average at face value the Saints output was at polar opposites when it came to restricting the elite teams of the competition. In thirteen meetings against non-finals teams the Saints restricted their opposition to just 70.3 points per game finishing with an 11-2 record. Richmond was the only non-finals side to break through the 100 point threshold when facing the Saints with five teams being held to fewer than fifty points. It counted for little though as once the standard stepped up the Saints defensive capabilities went the way of the Titanic.
In nine meetings against top eight sides the Saints allowed an average of 109.88 points per game, finishing with a 1-8 win/loss record. Six of the nine finals teams they faced would eclipse the 100 point mark whilst Hawthorn, West Coast, North Melbourne and Geelong exceeded 120 points. When it comes to defensive output every side looks to the security blanket of consistency. Unfortunately for Saints fans there was very little on offer in 2012. Given similar personnel (minus Brendon Goddard) is backing up again in 2013, those expecting St. Kilda’s leaky back-six to rectify the issue have got little more than a prayer to fall back on.
One of the key problems for the Saints in 2012 was the ease at which quality teams located a target inside fifty. With a clear lack of key position stocks in the St. Kilda defence opposition forwards took full advantage. Against weaker teams it’s much easier for the Saints to remain unaccountable given most power forwards are either inexperienced or delivery isn’t crisp and anywhere near as often. Sam Fisher, Sean Dempster, Jason Blake and Sam Gilbert all averaged at least four interceptions per game last season, zoning off any entries inside fifty with ease. When manning the likes of a Franklin, Hawkins, Walker or Pavlich this essentially goes out the window and the Saints are exposed. The following opposition “Marks from Goals” graph sums it up best;
St. Kilda opposition Marks from Goals 2012
|St. Kilda Opponents||Non-Finals sides (13 games)||Losses to Finals sides (8 games)|
|Average||3.6 per game||7.5 per game|
The Saints relinquished more than five marks from goals in just four of thirteen games against non-finals competition, with Gold Coast, Melbourne, Brisbane, GWS and the Western Bulldogs (twice) all failing to register more than three goals from marks.
Every finals side that St. Kilda lost to (eight games) had at least five marks from goals with West Coast and North Melbourne accumulating a whopping eleven each. Considering on the season GWS had the worst league output for opposition marks from goals with 7.7 per game the Saints output of 7.5, finals opposition or not, isn’t ideal.
It’s arguably a boom period for power forwards in the AFL with Travis Cloke, Lance Franklin, Taylor Walker, Tom Hawkins, Josh Kennedy, Jack Riewoldt, Jack Darling and Mitch Clark among numerous others all at or under the age of 25 with plenty of quality veterans still hovering around. The question for the Saints coaching staff is how do they go about plugging that gaping hole in their key defensive post? Jason Blake led the squad in one percenters at 5.4 per game (39th overall), with Sean Dempster (55th) and Sam Fisher (79th) the only other candidates who featured in the top 100.
Blake will be 32 years old in three weeks, and along with defensive stocks Dempster, Fisher, Jarryn Geary, James Gwilt, Arryn Siposs, Tom Simpkin and Sam Gilbert stands 6’3” or shorter. Size isn’t the only issue with a lack of capability or possessing more value in a different position further hampering St. Kilda’s key defensive options. Rhys Stanley has been the name receiving the strongest whispers for a switch to defence and at 200 centimetres it’s an obvious move to trial. Whether or not it will pay off is highly fragile given Stanley’s already raw standing in the game and the decomposing body of Zombie Koschitzke leaving a gaping need up forward.
As a restrictive unit on the whole last year’s St. Kilda defence was above average and a huge reason behind the Saints never losing by more than 42 points. The Ross Lyon game plan may have been disposed of but the discipline was still evident in parts but unfortunately not on the whole, with teams appearing to convert up forward a little too easily;
- St. Kilda were twelfth in goals against (Only non-finals side among the best eight ranked teams)
- Thirteenth in free kicks against inside defensive fifty (Ranked ahead only Fremantle, Hawthorn, Sydney, Collingwood and Adelaide)
- Tenth for opposition time in forward half percentage (No finals side ranked lower than ninth)
- Eighth for opposition goals converted when inside fifty (North Melbourne the only finals side in the top nine ranked teams)
- Seventh for opposition scores from half forward (No finals side ranked in the first nine teams)
From an offensive perspective there was plenty to like about the Saints defence last season. St. Kilda ranked second in scores generated from half back behind only eventual premier Sydney, fourth in scores sourced from kick-ins behind only Geelong, Hawthorn and Carlton, and were eighth in scores generated from defensive fifty. With Brendon Goddard and Jason Gram vacating the unit its fair game to suggest that the above output may dwindle given the impressive penetration and run the two generated out of defence. In turn it gives an aging Saints list an opportunity to inject some much needed youth into the side with Arryn Siposs and Jack Newnes generating the most pre-season hype as possible replacements.
Defensively season 2013 will likely resemble 2012 from an output perspective given the traction this unit has. Sam Fisher, Sean Dempster, Jason Gwilt and Jarryn Geary will no doubt continue as the cornerstones in defence but any significant improvement is unlikely considering the failure to fill the key position void during the off-season.
The Saints midfield is much more settled and balanced with a nice inside/outside mix. Lenny Hayes is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle and although being 33 years of age and coming off heart surgery should be a concern his name is Lenny Hayes which instantly makes age and pain irrelevant. In all seriousness Hayes did lead the Saints in disposals (24.4), contested possession (10.8) and clearances (5.4) in 2012 which left St. Kilda as one of three clubs along with Melbourne and Port Adelaide to have zero players inside the competitions top thirty for contested possession and one of seven clubs with one or fewer players inside the top thirty for clearances. Considering the Saints midfield core of Hayes, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna, David Armitage and Jack Steven is all over 23 and has at least 51 games experience the lack of stoppage prowess minus Hayes is a concern and this shortcoming was most evident against more mature midfields, particularly from a scoring perspective.
St. Kilda Scoring Sources 2012
|Wins||Turnovers (Per game)||Stoppages (Per game)||Kick-Ins (Per game)||Centre Clearances (Total)|
|Losses||Turnovers (Per game)||Stoppages (Per game)||Kick-Ins (Per game)||Centre Clearances (Total)|
In wins St. Kilda outscored their opponents at centre clearances in 10-of-12 games. In the Saints losses they were outscored at the stoppages in 8-of-10 games and outscored at centre clearances in 7-of-10 games. We know that the majority of the Saints losses last season came against finals sides and we know that most finals sides have elite hard bodied midfields. St. Kilda has the second oldest and fourth most experienced list in the competition, how exactly do you overcome those shortfalls when you’ll be reliant upon the same core this season only it’s just another year older? Defensively the Saints midfield was superb on the whole ranking inside the top ten for the majority of categories but again the bulk of these indicators dwindled when facing finals sides. There just wasn’t enough consistency.
We’ve reached the point where St. Kilda’s midfield is still very good but it isn’t good enough to contend for a premiership or make any noise if they were fortunate enough to play finals. The Saints have started to wilt against elite pressure and have lost their advantage at the stoppages not only with scoring punch but as a whole, ranking thirteenth in the competition for clearance differential and in the bottom five teams for contested possession along with Port Adelaide, Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast. The gap between St. Kilda and the AFL’s best finally started to open up last season and it would take a borderline miracle to have it come to a halt. It’s the nature of the beast and goes hand in hand with a veteran squad and list rejuvenation.
Dal Santo and Montagna have reached their ceiling at 29 years of age and aren’t getting any younger. Despite bright lights David Armitage and Jack Steven finding consistency and ball both averaging over twenty disposals per game in 2012, they appear to be great support players but not great game breakers, and not of the premium A-grade cut that the Saints would be hoping for going forward. Waiting in reserve as depth options is more personnel in its prime but personnel which is limited with both Farren Ray and Clint Jones having over 100 games experience but essentially playing niche roles, one as an outside runner and one as a tagger but both with limited tricks to their arsenal.
Thomas Curren, Brodie Murdoch, Nathan Wright and Josh Saunders have yet to take to an AFL field and are unlikely to jump any of the mature bodies at least this season, whilst Jack Newnes, Tom Ledger and Sebastian Ross were given a limited taste of senior footy last season. At this stage Newnes who we mentioned earlier appears to be the one with clear cut ability to make the jump either off half-back or as an outside midfielder but until we see more the jury is still out on whether or not this young group is capable of taking the Saints midfield into the next era.
As far as ruck stocks are concerned the options start and end with Ben McEvoy. McEvoy managed sixteen games in 2012 and led a Saints ruck division which ranked seventeenth for hitouts and tenth in effective hitout percentage. When McEvoy was absent the Saints struggled with Jason Blake assuming the bulk of the load. This left St. Kilda dead last in the AFL for hitout differential and fourteenth for effective hitout percentage differential in 2012 which was ahead of only Essendon, GWS, Gold Coast and Melbourne. If injuries occur it’s unlikely that Jason Blake will be available to pinch hit given the Saints size woes in defence and with Justin Koschitzke’s vertical leap now failing to clear most blades of grass the onus will likely fall on 21 year old Gold Coast recruit Tom Hickey.
For season 2013 Dal Santo, Montagna, Hayes, Armitage, Steven and McEvoy is still a better mix than or at least equal to 80% of the competition. At an average age of 27 with 147 games experience they will again overpower younger midfielders with relative ease and will remain competitive against all comers. This midfield group has a window of two years tops before the backbone breaks and pressure falls solely on Armitage and his 3.2 turnovers per game, Jack Steven, Ben McEvoy and numerous other names which are yet to be determined.
Up forward is where the Saints really shined statistically in 2012 but it was again a case of sugar coating. St. Kilda averaged 106.68 points per game last season, the fourth most in the AFL. Against bottom eight sides they produced a whopping 117.07 points per game, topping the 100 mark in 11-of-13 games including each of their final nine games. That output proved to be hollow against quality defences though with the Saints averaging 91.66 points per game against finals sides, breaking through the 100 mark just three times.
You can essentially list any forward line related indicator and the Saints will spit out a ludicrous number that ranked them inside the top five. Here are the key standouts;
- First for time in forward half percentage
- First for goals converted when Inside fifty percentage
- First for scores generated from half-forward
- Second in goals from 0-to-15 meters
- Second in goals from 15-30 meters
- Third in goals per game
- Fifth for marks inside fifty
- Fifth for goals from marks
A few of those make sense given Nick Riewoldt exists and the Saints mosquito crew is highly effective, but the goals converted when inside fifty percentage and time in forward half percentage were the kickers that caught my eye considering the Saints still failed to play finals. I’ll let the following table sum up the findings;
Goal Conversion Percentage 2012 against Bottom Eight Sides
|Team||Inside 50’s (per game)||Goal Conversion %|
Goal Conversion Percentage 2012 against Top Eight Sides
|Team||Inside 50’s (per game)||Goal Conversion %|
It doesn’t get much clearer than that, with the output of finals opponents the more alarming statistic clearly highlighting the Saints lack of key defensive stocks.
As for the individuals in the Saints forward fifty there are many pundits starting to doubt the effectiveness of Nick Riewoldt but at thirty years of age the captains output is still stellar enough to continue to warrant the tag of a premium forward.
Nick Riewoldt Finals V Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (8 Games)||Bottom 8 (10 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.4||3.4||+1|
Last year Riewoldt joined Lance Franklin, Jack Riewoldt, Jay Schulz, Tom Hawkins, Matthew Pavlich, Drew Petrie and Taylor Walker as one of only seven forwards to average at least three marks inside fifty and three goals in their sides wins.
Unfortunately we couldn’t say the same for poor old Justin Koschitzke who looks all but cooked heading into 2013. Koschitzke put together one of the most inconsistent season’s ever witnessed in 2012, highlighted by a three disposal and one tackle outing against North Melbourne despite spending 83% of the match on the field.
Justin Koschitzke Finals V Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (9 Games)||Bottom 8 (10 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||1.4||2||+0.6|
There’s a significant chance we finally see Koschitzke replaced up forward with a suitable candidate likely to be anything with a pulse. The man formerly known as Wilkes, Beau Maister has been one option that has had some success. The artist formerly known as was productive as a stop gap forward last season and ranked eighteenth in the competition for marks inside fifty with 2.2 per game on his way to fifteen goals although not a single one of those goals came against finals sides, which means he should fit right in as Kosi 2.0. Another potential option here is Rhys Stanley. Stanley averaged 1.2 marks inside fifty last season kicking eleven goals from twelves games including a streak of at least one in seven straight games, but with the aching need for size in defence bookmarking where Stanley lines up is largely a lucky dip.
Making up the rest of the forward line is an assortment of midgets, pests and rapi—get out of here, Mick Malthouse, who had varying degrees of success last year but added an extra element of excitement to the Saints forward line. Stephen Milne led the way in 2012 with 55 goals and will produce again in 2013. Milne plays a role that is more reliant upon being savvy and smart which comes with experience, as opposed to athleticism or durability and has plenty of mileage left in the tank. Joining Milne is veteran Adam Schneider who managed just eight games last season due to injury, and mature aged x-factors Terry Milera and Ahmed Saad who will be looking to build on their combined output of 47 goals, 78 inside fifties, 23 score assists, 136 score involvements and 5.8 tackles per game a year ago.
Together Riewoldt, Milne, Saad, Milera, Schneider and Maister have an average age of 28 with 126 games experience. It’s a forward line heavy on experience and one which will no doubt shine against the lesser likes of the competition. In reserve or as preferred options the Saints will still have the aforementioned Koschitzke and Stanley, along with 22 year old prospect Thomas Lee, former Sydney small forward Trent Dennis-Lane and Sam Dunell who featured sporadically late last season.
No matter which way you cut it this is a St. Kilda forward line, much like the rest of the squad, which is built for the now. The new additions are of a mature standing with Saad the only real key member under the age of 24. With a buffet of unproven and mostly hit or miss talent waiting in the wings the Saints future forward line prospects are largely dressed in mystery.
What to Expect in 2013?
A repeat of 2012.
The Saints will contend for a finals berth this year but they’ve essentially missed the boat for a premiership and are now a good two years behind where they should be when it comes to developing young talent.
Sam Gilbert and Farren Ray are the only players with 100+ games experience between the ages of 24-28. The remaining eleven players on the list with 100+ games experience are over 29.
St. Kilda has the fewest number of players under the age of 25 (29 in total) whilst the next nearest club (Sydney) has 31. The Saints have the highest number of players over 26 years of age and are the only non-finals side with more than four players over 30.
Only Collingwood and Hawthorn have more players with over 150 games experience, except these teams are contending for a premiership and St. Kilda are not. The Western Bulldogs were the nearest non-finals side with seven players having over 150 games experience. St. Kilda has 10.
Five players have over 200 games experience which leaves St. Kilda tied with Geelong for most in the AFL.
The only significant difference between the Bulldogs and Saints list profile (disregarding talent of course) is that the Saints have three fewer members on their list under the age of 25. No Saints fan wants to read any of this but in order to justify the current lists standing they would have to compete for top six accolades at the very least.
A decline is on the way, it’s inevitable, and this could be the last shot this group has of playing in September.
The average age of 24.1 makes this the second oldest list in the competition behind only West Coast. An average games played of 69.2 makes this the fourth most experienced list in the competition.
The 1-8 record last season against top eight sides with their only win against Sydney at Etihad makes the current Saints standing as finals fodder at best black and white.
In the Saints defence for missing finals football in 2012 they were on the wrong end of numerous close encounters. Two of their losses against non-finals sides were by 4 and 8 points to Port Adelaide and Richmond, with three of their losses to finals sides by 13 (Fremantle at Etihad), 4 (Adelaide at AAMI) and 6 points (Collingwood). This is relevant but virtually every team has grounds for using the close loss argument.
The Saints remaining five losses to finals sides were by an average of 34 points indicating that their standing of ninth was largely on point. To say St. Kilda could or should have made the eight last season is plausible; to suggest they deserved to or were hard done by is short-sighted. It’s a harsh standing but along with Richmond they just didn’t do enough and it’s alarming given a team like North Melbourne faced the same number of non-finals sides (13) and finals sides (9).
With a favourable start to the season it isn’t out of the question for the aging Saints to build some momentum early and March into an elimination final in season 2013. Four of their first five games are against non-finals sides from last season and the majority of their games (12) are against non-finals opposition from 2012.
Right now St. Kilda are safe and capable of winning 10-14 games, it’s the next three years ahead that are fraught with danger.
My Best 22:
FB: Geary, Blake, Gwilt
HB: Dempster, Fisher, Siposs
C: Montagna, Dal Santo, Steven
HF: Milera, Riewoldt, Schneider
FF: Saad, Maister, Milne
R: McEvoy, Hayes, Armitage
INT: Stanley, Gilbert, Ray
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
Of all the movement the Tigers made this offseason the most underrated acquisition was the signature of new assistant coach Mark Williams. The former premiership coach possesses all the traits this Richmond squad required and compliments Senior Coach Damian Hardwick like a pint to a parmigiana. Richmond needed experience on all fronts. They ticked this box both in the coach’s box and on the playing field.
Despite bathing in liquor at both the Cox Plate and Boxing Day Test, new Tigers Aaron Edwards and Ricky Petterd will look to continue a Richmond recruiting tradition that has become as lucrative as any in the AFL, and along with Chris Knights, Sam Lonergan, Orren Stephenson and most importantly Troy Chaplin there’s plenty to suggest the impressive streak has continued. It’s a haul of names that voice a familiar tone to the likes of Shaun Grigg, Ivan Maric and Bachar Houli.
It appears as though Richmond have a bit of an unorthodox way of going about their offseason. As far as I can tell they analyse results, Identify a need, and recruit as required. Outlandish I know. I’m not entirely sure why more teams aren’t doing this… They beefed up at every area of weakness.
In the draft the Tigers picked up contested ball magnet Nick Vlastuin, versatile defender Kamdyn McIntosh, Beanpole green Bean enthusiast and son of Bean farmer Liam McBean, and dead-eye dick Matty McDonough.
We’re four weeks away from the start of the season and it’s safe to say no team will go under the microscope in 2013 more than the poor old Tigers. With expectation comes pressure and for the sake of Richmond supporters, staff and players alike, one can only hope those external expectations, regardless of how logical or achievable, are met. Forget the internal KPI’s, Richmond appear to have success defined by the media and opposition supporters.
The “Make or break for Hardwick” headlines have already started. Don’t be surprised to find a double spread calling for Hardwick to be sacked on the Monday morning after round one, even if Richmond wins.
80% of the Tigers list has played fewer than 100 games, and 73% is still under 25.
Finals football for Richmond should be the expectation, but it shouldn’t be an ultimatum.
The Tigers defence gave up 88.31 points per game last season, the tenth most in the AFL. What’s intriguing to note about Richmond’s defensive output in 2012 is their level of consistency regardless of the competition they faced. In thirteen games against non-finals sides the Tigers relinquished 89.07 points per game, finishing with a record of 8-4-1. When facing finals sides they were surprisingly more restrictive, allowing 87.22 points per game in nine contests, registering a 2-7 win/loss record.
The results may be of concern but the consistency shown is a major positive for a young squad with finals ambitions. Richmond finished the year allowing opponents to break through the 100 point threshold just seven times, with only three of those teams (West Coast, Adelaide and North Melbourne) being top eight sides.
Offensively the Tigers defence was one of the AFL’s more impressive units in 2012, ranking fifth in scores generated from defensive fifty. Although last in rebound fifties, ninth for interceptions and tenth in one percenters, the Tigers will no doubt improve on this pedestrian output in 2013 with a more settled back-six headlined by the addition of former Power defender Troy Chaplin.
At 27 years of age and 140 games played Chaplin adds some much needed key position experience to a Tigers defence who last season had only former captain Chris Newman with at least 100 games under the belt in the back end of the ground.
One of the primary problems for Richmond last season was their opponent’s ability to score incredibly efficiently once the ball did enter inside fifty. Tiger opponents ranked eighth in free kicks inside forward fifty (no finals side ranked in the worst eight teams), seventh in time in forward half percentage (no finals side ranked in the worst nine teams), sixth in goals from marks (North the only finals side in the worst nine teams), fifth in goals converted when inside fifty percentage (ahead of only GWS, Melbourne, Bulldogs and Gold Coast), and fourth in scores sourced from half forward (ahead of only Melbourne, Brisbane and GWS). Things will need to tighten up down back.
The reason Troy Chaplin was such a much needed entity stands out most when you asses the individual statistics of Richmond’s defence last season. It was essentially Alex Rance playing the role of key position lone Wolf. Rance was the only Tiger inside the top twenty for both Interceptions (seventh) and one percenters (seventh). Dylan Grimes impressed averaging 5.2 interceptions per game and 5.7 one percenters per game but injury resulted in Grimes playing just nine games. With Chaplin joining the fold Richmond now possess a more settled balance and an increased capability to account for teams with multiple power forwards. Each of Rance, Grimes and Chaplin stands at least 6’4”. Chaplin ranked ninth in interceptions last season and managed to lead the competition in 2011, whilst also ranking 26th overall for one percenters at six per game.
Joining the defensive position stocks down back will be the gritty Steven Morris who burst onto the scene last year with his kamikaze style of play, veteran Chris Newman who still has plenty to offer and classy Bachar Houli who provides penetration and run out of defence.
Of these six only Morris and Grimes have failed to register at least 65 games experience, although given Morris’s mature standing and the impressive early signs from Grimes this shouldn’t be an issue. Combined this core sits at an average age of 25 with 88 games of experience, and now has the look of a complimentary unit that, outside of Newman, should have traction for years to come.
In regards to depth the options for the Tigers are quite versatile with a slew of 21 year olds in Jake Batchelor, Matty Dea and Brad Helbig among numerous utility types in Luke McGuane, Brandon Ellis, David Astbury, Ben Griffiths, and recent draft picks Nick Vlastuin and Kamdyn McIntosh who both featured against the Indigenous All Stars.
Former Demon Ricky Petterd has also been honing his craft down back all pre-season, which could also add another dimension to the Tigers defence.
On the whole Richmond’s defensive prospects for 2013 have improved on the back of savvy offseason moves and organic growth. Losing a key position cog in defence could severely hamper their stability but there appears to be enough stop-gap talent and range of options on offer to cover any minor holes or potential matchup issues.
Led by newly appointed 22 year old captain Trent Cotchin, the midfield is where Richmond is most impressive. We could harp on for hours and have a group Kumbaya about how great Cotchin is but any fan of the AFL knows the story goes and already has their Cotchin man-crush rating at maximum levels. That being said, I can’t help myself.
Cotchin blends together every element of what you want in a footballer, only with perfect hair and the demeanour of a flawless human. There’s really nothing more to add here. He’s headed for the Lenny Hayes “Impossible to hate” Hall of Fame with the way he plays the game, and is one player who doesn’t wow you statistically but rates arguably higher than anyone else when it comes to the eye test.
In 2012 the Tigers midfield output was up there with the best in the competition, ranking inside the top ten for virtually every key indicator and top five in differential rankings for contested possession, clearances, effective kicks and inside fifties. You could include disposals and uncontested possession as well but that output is solely a product of Hardwick’s Hawthorn influenced disposal heavy game style.
For a side so reliant on quality ball use last season it’s no surprise that Richmond ranked among the bottom five sides in turnover differential along with West Coast, Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn. The same could be said for effective kicks where the Tigers sat fifth behind only Sydney, West Coast, Hawthorn and Geelong, which is Midfield Company you want to be affiliated with. Despite winning so much football and utilising it at high efficiency around the ground it all came undone when going forward or sourcing scoring punch from midfield.
Richmond were ninth for scores from stoppages and sixteenth for goals sourced from centre bounces, ahead of only Gold Coast and GWS with Geelong the only finals side outside the top ten. No club should be generating the second most inside fifties but accumulating the twelfth fewest marks inside fifty either. That tells us that last year there was a severe disconnect between the forward line setup and the delivery inside fifty, that or the targeted personnel up forward just weren’t good enough. No matter which angle you look at it the Tigers were one of the worst outfits in the AFL going forward last season.
Defensively this midfield is virtually as sound as it can be. In 2012 Tiger opponents would rank last in disposals, fourteenth in contested possession, seventeenth in clearances, seventeenth for inside fifties (Richmond were top five defensively with Hawthorn, Fremantle, West Coast and Geelong) and first in turnovers. The Tigers were second to only Geelong in fewest opponent uncontested possessions as well, and were the only non-finals club along with Carlton to rank inside the top nine clubs defensively in this category.
If there was an area of concern for Richmond from a defensive midfield standpoint it was the amount of scores their opponents were able to generate from stoppages. 32% of Richmond’s score in 2012 was sourced from stoppages compared to 38% for their opponent. In wins the Tigers had a stoppage scoring differential of +13.3 points per game, in losses this dropped to -12.09.
If you break it down even further Richmond’s midfield woes are all purely a product of being far more inferior from an effective standpoint when it comes to centre clearances. Even in their wins last season the Tigers were outscored 131 to 138 in points sourced from centre clearances. Further to this, Richmond outscored their opponents from centre clearances in just seven games; Melbourne twice, Port Adelaide, Essendon, Brisbane, a depleted Carlton outfit and in their smashing of Hawthorn. In their losses last season Richmond were outscored in points from centre clearances 159-88. For a team with so many close losses that’s the difference between playing finals and watching from the sidelines.
Top eight sides have elite midfields, Richmond need to be tougher at the coalface this year.
Richmond Scoring Source Differentials (2012)
|Richmond||Turnovers (avg)||Stoppages (avg)||Kick-Ins (avg)||Centre Clearances (total)|
Individually the Tigers midfield is largely set in stone with inside personnel Cotchin, Shane Tuck and Nathan Foley meshing well with outside users Shaun Grigg, Brett Deledio and inside/outside talent Dustin Martin. Every player in this mix has over fifty games experience with Martin the least number of games played at 63. There’s three players, Deledio, Foley and Tuck with over 100 games experience and combined the six have an average age of 25 with 123 games experience. That’s a makeup primed to compete at the highest level, or one at least right on the cusp of doing so.
From a contested sense Richmond are ok with two players in the top thirty for both contested possessions and clearances (Tuck, Cotchin), although Tuck was the only member of the squad to register inside the top fifteen. With Tuck likely to retire at the end of the season and Nathan Foley so prone to injury someone will need to make the jump and assist Cotchin at the stoppages if not at some point this season then definitely in 2014. Dustin Martin looks the most capable to slot into the role provided the dark clouds off-field maintain their distance.
Tackling wise it was Tuck (twelfth in the AFL) and Foley (thirteenth) and then daylight until the next Tiger which further underlines the heavy one way nature of this outfit last season.
Offensively the midfielders were superb with Deledio (1st), Cotchin (6th), Foley (10th), Tuck (15th), Martin (32nd) and Grigg (39th) all inside the top forty in the AFL for inside fifties and Cotchin (18th), Deledio (38th), Martin (43rd) and Foley (49th) the top fifty for score involvements. It’s a shame this buffet of forward fifty entries were largely wasted on the likes of a triple teamed Jack Riewoldt, washed up Brad Miller, and combination of Tyrone Vickery’s hollow corpse and Luke McGuane.
In regards to midfield depth the Tigers can mix it up a number of ways with inside/outside youngsters Brandon Ellis, turnover king Reece Conca (3.4 per game), Nick Vlastuin, or take the experienced route with Daniel Jackson and former weapon prodigy Sam Lonergan. Robin Nahas, Shane Edwards and Chris Knights are other possible relief options as well.
Ruck-wise there’s no reason why big Ivan Maric won’t deliver another All-Australian calibre season. Maric simultaneously revived his career and a dead and buried hairstyle on his way to leading the Tigers to the number one spot for effective hitouts. With the powers of the Mullet operating at full capacity it would take a brave man to suggest Ivan would be struck down by injury but if some shock witchery does occur mature body Orren Stephenson is waiting in reserve. Stephenson can’t kick to save himself and looks to have one hand on the mantle as worst player in the competition but in his favour he is tall, so there’s that.
If improvements are made defensively regarding centre clearance work and the forward line can work itself out, the Tigers midfield should experience the results that eluded their first class output last season. The problem areas are so obvious and minor that there’d have to be genuine concern if they aren’t rectified this year.
Richmond averaged 98.59 points per game in season 2012, the eighth most of any club. Against teams outside the eight the Tigers produced a healthy 100.23 points per game, topping the 100 points threshold in seven-of-fourteen games, including their last four. Unfortunately that’s where the positives dried up with Richmond averaging 86.44 points per game against finals opposition, only topping the 100 point mark once against Hawthorn.
Since Matthew Richardson left the building the entire Richmond forward line has taken the form of a busker trying to play six instruments at once. We’re talking about a one man band in Jack Riewoldt. As good as Riewoldt has been that reliance has to stop this season if this club wants to go anywhere. It’s not the eighties anymore, it simply doesn’t work against disciplined defences, and there’s no better evidence suggesting that this is case than the Tigers forward line in 2012.
We know Richmond’s midfield is doing their job; they supplied the second most inside fifty entries per game last season. We know this squad’s usage is superb unless they’re tuned out mentally (two of their three worst games by foot took place again Melbourne and GWS). We know that Richmond had the third ranked time in forward half percentage in the competition last season, so the ball is more often than not in the goal scoring part of the ground. On the back of that elite output, this is where Richmond ranked in some important forward line indicators for season 2012;
- Eighth in goals per game
- Twelfth for inside fifty to goal conversion percentage (Bottom seven clubs with Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Gold Coast, GWS and the Western Bulldogs)
- Fourteenth for scores sourced from half forward (Ahead of only GWS, Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, and behind the no-forward line Western Bulldogs)
- Twelfth for marks inside fifty differential (Bottom seven clubs with Essendon, Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs and GWS)
- Thirteenth in goals from marks differential (Bottom six clubs with Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs and GWS)
- Thirteenth in goal accuracy percentage (50.65%)
To put it in perspective St. Kilda had 58 fewer inside fifties than Richmond last season but 33 more marks inside fifty.
Unless Richmond can employ the same tactics the AFL used for the Melbourne tanking inquiry by being found not guilty of generating marks inside fifty but being awarded goals anyway, this forward line will require a shakeup.
Thankfully the Tigers offseason recruiting strategy brought about a number of new forward line options and a wealth of experience. Although far from being A-graders the likes of Aaron Edwards, Chris Knights and Ricky Petterd are starting to look a whole lot more attractive after 2012’s dismal production.
Locating the right mix in 2013 will be paramount. There simply wasn’t enough continuity in the forward line last season from a second key forward perspective. Jack Riewoldt led the Tigers with 3.8 marks inside fifty per game and then after that it was Brad Miller and Luke McGuane, neither of whom were an obvious long term solution. Tyrone Vickery was the one bookmarked for the role as the second key position target in 2012 but inconsistency and injury ruined any flow on effect from a breakout 2011 season in which he averaged two marks inside fifty per game and kicked 36 goals.
Riewoldt had little to no help last year but that didn’t severely impact his output as evidenced by his splits against finals and non-finals sides;
Jack Riewoldt Finals V Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (9 Games)||Bottom 8 (13 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.7||4.5||+1.8|
Numerous people have touted Aaron Edwards as being the key cog in reducing the opposition focus on Riewoldt and to a degree he will be effective, but when the going gets tough there’s no bigger front runner than Aaron Edwards;
Aaron Edwards (2012: Home and Away)
|Category||Wins (4 games)||Losses (5 games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||4.2||1.4||-2.8|
The opportunity to cement themselves as a permanent fixture alongside Riewoldt is an option for both Vickery and Edwards. Banking on either to grasp it with both hands is another story. Still, time will tell and both are definitely capable. It’s an intriguing element to follow in 2013.
The remainder of the Tigers forward line is generally locked in with small forwards Jake King and Robin Nahas likely to fill the pockets again with former Crow Christ Knights and the underrated Shane Edwards the flanks. Nahas and Edwards combined for 63 goals, 105 inside fifties and 46 score assists last season with Edwards essentially exploding onto the scene from a goal source perspective and putting together an impressive season.
Two intriguing prospects are newcomers Ricky Petterd and Chris Knights who at ages 23 and 25 still have plenty to offer. Whispers of Petterd playing in defence have surfaced but with 69 career marks inside fifty and 55 goals from 54 games you’d imagine the former Demons skill-set will be utilised up forward at some point. Although it appears Knights’s best footy is behind him it’s hard not to hope for the heights reached in 2009 when Knights produced 43 goals, 34 marks inside fifty and 28 score assists. If either can recapture their best form Richmond’s forward line will morph into a whole different level of dangerous.
The foundation of King, Nahas, both Edwards’s, Riewoldt and Knights has an average age of 26 with 93 games experience. The added versatility makes it a much better looking balance than last season but one still soiled in question marks.
Outside of the token midfielder resting in the forward line the Tigers have unpredictable and inconsistent depth in the aforementioned Petterd, Matthew White, Brett O’Hanlon, Luke McGaune and Todd Elton.
What to Expect in 2013?
A roller coaster, one way or another.
If the Tigers set the world on fire like numerous pundits are predicting we might see manic scenes at Punt Road that are on par with the Beatles stepping off a plane in the 60’s.
That being said there’s every chance Richmond miss the heights of finals football yet again, which will no doubt result in Coach Damian Hardwick becoming one of the main acts in the 2013 media circus.
Richmond is in every sense a statistical darling, and possesses a list with the age and experience profile that suggests they could make the jump to the status that has been eluding them for so long. The question is whether or not the balance and talent can emulate that billing.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Tigers recycled player recruiting this past offseason bringing with it a do or die scenario for 2013, which barring an apocalyptic free-fall appears to be a touch unfair given where the squad stands. This list needs to digest 2013 before it can really blossom.
Summing up the list; Chris Newman, Shane Tuck, Aaron Edwards and Oren Stephenson are the only players over 28. That’s not exactly prime time on-field leadership and there’s next to nothing in regards to finals football experience.
Only eight players on the list have over 100 games experience with North Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast the only clubs who have fewer.
Richmond added a sea of experience over the summer but still possess the eighth youngest list in the competition. On average each team playing finals in 2012 had at least twelve players with a minimum of 100 games experience. In 2013 the Tigers will have eight.
The positive is that the fruit is ripening, with fifteen players now with 40-99 games experience, which is the equal second most with Essendon and behind only West Coast.
To suggest that the Tigers need one more year isn’t out of line, but finals football is indeed an ascertainable goal this season.
Nine of Richmond’s results in 2012 were decided by 12 points or less with the Tigers going 2-6-1 in these games. Four of these games were against finals sides (all losses), and included a streak of three straight losses to Gold Coast, North Melbourne and Carlton by a combined 10 points. If Richmond wins those three games they’re travelling to Perth for an elimination final against West Coast.
Considering the extreme level of competitiveness for spots in the top eight this season maybe 2012 was their best chance at playing finals football. It would be a cruel realisation but not surprising given the decade of negativity the club has endured.
The Tigers were the only side last season to defeat both Grand Finalists, although they were 0-7 against the remaining finals sides. They’re begging for consistency, leadership and late game poise.
Statistically the concerns for Richmond last season were largely minor and in part teething problems associated with enduring organic growth. To a degree an aspect of this has been addressed both on and off the field through the addition of experienced personnel. It appears correct in theory but the success in practice will tell the story. This club knew what needed to done and they reconfigured accordingly.
Forecasting whether or not it will all come together in 2013 is taking a stab in the dark.
That being said, a little luck is all these Tigers really need.
My Best 22
B: Morris, Chaplin, Grimes
HB: Newman, Rance, Houli
C: Foley, Tuck, Martin
HF: Knights, Riewoldt, S.Edwards
F: King, A.Edwards, Nahas
R: Maric, Cotchin, Deledio
Int: Grigg, Vickery, Ellis
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
Has there ever been a more unbearably entertaining and horrifically gripping week in football? I struggled to sleep all week let alone get this North Melbourne preview finished on time with not only our game but every sport being thrown into a cloud of PED finger pointing, match fixing shenanigans and who-the-hell-even-knows taking off in every direction. It’s been a week of dropped jaws, nervous sweating and rare relief depending on who you support. Hopefully our Essendon readers (all three of you) haven’t dropped the toaster in the bathtub just yet, although I might soon join you if this media circus doesn’t subside soon enough.
The worst aspect of football in this day and age is everything that doesn’t take place on the field winds up being shoved down your throat ad nauseum. Sure, this whole drugs fiasco is an incredibly significant moment that will reshape our game forever, but the TMZ-FL offseason has been as insufferable as it is captivating. It’s been bittersweet due to accusation overload, there’s too much rumour among so few facts.
News will break at midnight and accusations are on Twitter at 12:01am, everyone now has “mail”, obviously fake twitter accounts apparently turn legitimate, random user ShartFart_69 on a forum has the scoop but can’t say anything more than that they have the scoop, and what the hell are sources in this era? Apart from appearing to be largely inaccurate they seem like a waste of time.
It never ends.
As much as you want to ignore it and have everyone take a minute to grasp some reality, it still finds a way to overwhelm you like the plague.
Things I Google’d this week that I never thought I’d Google included: Peptides, GHRP-6, Lance Armstrong drugs, ACCC, WADA, ASADA, The Pharmacist Essendon, The Weapon Essendon, Dr. Ageless Essendon, How to stop shitty nicknames being associated with Essendon, Stephen Dank, Dank Ageing Clinics, Not the Dank YouTube Moe (x50), Peptides (again), Kyle Reimers credibility (no results), Essendon 2012 delisting’s, NRL LOL!, Vitamin Injections, Trent Croad Bikie Gangs.
I can’t remember a week like it and I would empty my life savings for a ball to be bounced in the middle of the MCG. An attempt to desperately switch the focus back to footy is the only reason this preview even made its way to being 70% completed, let alone proof-read.
I never thought I’d be dribbling uncontrollably at the mere thought of the NAB Cup.
After losing an elimination final to West Coat by 96 points North Melbourne were met with the harsh reality that in 2012 they just weren’t ready to make some serious noise. Achieving their goal of making the finals seemed to be enough to satisfy the Kangaroos with their final weeks of the season unravelling in disappointing fashion. Still, this squad is young and that experience is invaluable. They know where they are now, they know they have more work to do and more importantly they know they’re on the right path.
There were many changes made over the offseason with ruckman Hamish McIntosh vacating after 10 seasons, Cam Pedersen switched guernseys with Jordan Gysberts of Melbourne, whilst Aaron Edwards was handed a lifeline by Richmond after being delisted due to a surplus of key forwards. Taylor Garner was added via the draft and Ben Jacobs was successfully nabbed from Port Adelaide. Young Suns defender Taylor Hine was acquired and reserve ruckman Dan Currie moved across from the Swans. Mitchell Wilkins was taken with pick 47 whilst Sam Gibson, Aaron Mullett and Majak Daw were upgraded from their rookie deals.
North Melbourne will look to season 2013 with the goal of cementing themselves as finals regulars before making the next jump to fop four contenders. They’re no certainty to achieve those KPI’s (even this season), but they’re closer than a lot of people think.
The North Melbourne defence gave up 95.31 points per game in 2012 but struggled to contain the quality sides in the competition. When facing non-finals sides the Roos relinquished an impressive 86.28 points per game but against top eight opponents this ballooned to 111.12 (excluding the elimination final loss), which was far and away the highest among all finals sides as shown below.
|Team||Points For||Points Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
As stale an argument as it is the “soft draw” line of thinking was warranted considering this leaky defence faced non-finals calibre forward lines in fourteen of twenty-two games. Including their finals loss to the Eagles this defence allowed over 100 points in six of nine outings against finals opposition. With a flip-flopped draw turning the heat up in the kitchen, including four of the first five games against last season’s top six, any ambition to build on a finals campaign of a season ago will be heavily influenced by how much improvement comes from this all but settled back-six.
Looking at what went wrong last season is rather straight forward with the majority of the Kangaroos defensive indicators standing out more than the concern on a current Essendon members face. When finals sides faced each other North allowed the most opponent marks inside 50 of any club and their aforementioned 111.12 points allowed per game was nearly twenty more than the next ranked finals side (Collingwood). In comparison to their top eight counterparts North leaked more goals than the Cook Islands National soccer team. Against any calibre opposition things weren’t much better with the Roos finishing seventh for most opponent marks inside 50 and fifth for goals allowed from marks.
Offensively there’s no room for complaint considering last season this defence were third in scores sourced from half back and sixth in scores sourced from kick-ins. Any blemishes are related to the pure defensive aspect of the game. Given the core of the Roos defence is only now coming into its prime we should see the restrictive indicators progress to a more acceptable output.
Individually there’s a lot to like and now that the kids are starting to shine through we should finally see some consistent week-to-week units take the field in the defensive end of the ground. One of the main issues coming into 2012 was finding a name who could add value coming off half-back, especially with Brady Rawlings moving on. Any doubts were eliminated almost immediately with Shaun Atley stepping into the fold and taking the reins like a ten year veteran.
Atley’s jump from 2011 to 2012 was impressive and he would finish fifth in the Syd Barker Medal. Playing in every game Atley accumulated 219 more disposals in his second year than he did his debut season but would commit just twelve more turnovers (41 in total) with a disposal efficiency exceeding 80% (although only 47% of all disposals were via foot). Atley’s ability to produce value offensively through his run-and-carry saw him finish seventh in the competition for total bounces and up his score involvements per game from 1.6 to 3.7. Barely twenty years of age and only 39 games into his career Atley has already bookmarked himself in the best twenty-two.
Joining Atley off half-back is Jamie MacMillan who in turn has utilised quality disposal to iron out a spot as a permanent fixture. Playing all 23 games in 2012, of MacMillan’s 359 total disposals 275 were effective with only 33 resulting in turnovers. Like Atley, MacMillan also averaged 3.7 score involvements per game, although MacMillan was the more kicking dependent of the pair with 57% of his total disposals via foot which makes the low turnover count even more impressive. Other possible options at half-back for North are new Power recruit Ben Jacobs, 2011 first round draft pick Brad McKenzie (who still needs more time to mature) and Aaron Mullett who featured sporadically last year. Jacobs is the most likely to see time here although from all reports has been circled for a more midfield focused role.
The remaining members of the Roos defence is a nice mix made up of some much needed experience in Scott McMahon and Michael Firrito, and key position stocks in Scott Thompson and Nathan Grima. All four members of this group were in the AFL’s top fifty for rebound 50’s last season led by Thompson who was nineteenth overall at 3.9 per game. They would emulate this top fifty ranking feat for interceptions as well with Thompsons leading the AFL at 6.8 per game. Discipline down back was superb with only Thompson among North’s top ten for free kicks against giving away a mild 1.2 per game. Nathan Grima impressed against premium key forwards and led the way in one percenters, ranking third in the competition with 8.1 per game which was a career high.
Scott Thompson was the standout of the Roos defence is 2012 and was a borderline All-Australian level talent who produced career highs in interceptions, disposals per game and contested marks, but also committed a career high in turnovers. A focus for North this year will be limiting those turnovers, an area where backline members Sam Wright and Michael Firrito are also coming off career highs. In games North Melbourne lost they allowed opponents to source over 70 points per game via turnovers compared to 43.5 in games they won.
Turnovers were most prevalent when the usual names were absent and this is where depth becomes an issue as there is a lack of experience in reserve defensively. MacMillan, McMahon, Firrito, Grima, Thomspon and Atley are all under thirty and at an average age of 25 and 87 games experience, a very nice mix. Out of their defensive depth options only Luke Delaney and likely utilities Sam Wright and Ben Jacobs have more than ten games experience. Mullett and Cameron Delaney looked ok in spurts last season and the addition of Taylor Hine from the Gold Coast is another handy acquisition, but a loss to one or two stalwarts in defence could seriously hurt an already flaky backline, especially when facing quality opposition.
Outside of waiting a couple of years for that depth to come along this Kangaroo defence should be set in stone for at least this season with only Firrito on the cusp of turning thirty. It feels like the first season in years that North have had backline continuity from season-to-season. This should result in improvements in consistency, cutting down on turnovers in the most volatile part of the ground, and limited their ninth ranked opponent time in forward half percentage, an area where they were the only finals side to rank outside the top eight.
We all know the Roos game plan last year was built on run-and-carry with a fetish for handball and it made a whole lot of sense given the lack of hard bodies, experience and foot skills in their engine room. In two years’ time though this will be a midfield primed for success with some serious talent laying impressive foundations. Statistically there were only two-standout sore thumbs surrounding the Roos output and they were contested possession and turnovers, which are a common theme throughout the side.
North ranked among the bottom six clubs in the competition for contested possession differential along with Port Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, GWS and Gold Coast, and was in the bottom six again for turnover differential with Carlton, Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast. North were also the only finals side among the worst eight turnover teams in the competition. That’s not a group of teams anybody wants to be affiliated with.
The positive here is that whilst the turnovers were a huge concern (as highlighted earlier) the contested possession output needn’t be on red alert, at least not until Bastinac, Cunnington and Ziebell move through that 24 year old threshold. Those three were great last season but virtually impossible to forecast leading into the year. 2013 should see a bigger focus on succeeding at the stoppages, but again, another year of maturing couldn’t hurt, especially with the success of the happy handball mantra.
The heavily uncontested run-and-carry game style saw opposition clubs ranking dead last for tackles per game when facing the Kangaroos and allowed North to somewhat sugar coat their lack of classy disposal. The Roos would rank third in disposal and uncontested possession differential and second in handball differential. It’s clear that North love to handball but when they were called upon to operate via foot last year it was far from a disaster as evidenced by the kicking efficiency ladder below;
|Kicking Efficiency (%)||For||Against||Differential|
In their wins last season the Roos had a kicking efficiency of 68.41% and their opponents 63.22%. In losses this dropped to 62.91% for North whilst their opponents rose to 67.63%. Port Adelaide was the only side who were deplorable via foot in the Kangaroos losses last year but then again that was a game the Roos should have won.
During their six-game win streak late in the season North held their opponents to 61.6% kicking efficiency. What’s important here is it highlights North Melbourne being more than capable of maintaining a high pressure environment week-to-week.
With the majority of losses to finals sides it’s natural that the Roos kicking efficiency differential suffered in these games, and the raw output when finals sides played each other indicated exactly that;
Finals sides v Finals sides; Kicking Efficiency Breakdown (Ignore Adelaide, this KPI is irrelevant to their style.)
|Team||Kicking Efficiency For||Kicking Efficiency Against||Difference|
North’s midfield is essentially performing to expectation and they will only improve given it’s an inexperienced list. Last year only three teams, St. Kilda, Sydney and inexplicably the Western Bulldogs (get me a bucket) broke the 70% kicking efficiency threshold against North. They also held five different teams (all wins) below 60% efficiency via foot. As the bodies get bigger this output should go up another level again.
Personnel wise the North Melbourne midfield starts and ends with Andrew Swallow. The newly appointed skipper cemented himself as one of the competitions premier midfields on his way to a third Syd Barker medal, leading the AFL in tackles and ranking in the top 25 for disposals, contested possession, score involvements and was eighth overall for clearances (career high).
Vice-Captain Jack Ziebell missed six weeks of 2012 due to kamikaze antics and although we all love Jack’s “team first-consequence later” mindset it needs to be quelled to a degree as his attack on the ball has become integral to this midfield. Ziebell is the only other Kangaroo (with Swallow) to sit inside the AFL’s top fifty for clearances (5.5 per game) and contested possession (10.9 per game). If there’s one area for Ziebell to work on it’s on lowering his 3.2 turnovers per game. The same goes for youngster Ryan Bastinac who despite a career high in disposals last season butchered the footy too often in open space with three turnovers per game.
Ben Cunnington is another inexperienced Roo who made significant strides in 2013 playing in twenty games and averaging 5.4 tackles per game. Along with Bastinac, Ziebell and Atley, Cunnington has all the makings of a 200 game player. Once they fill out this core will be legitimate stoppage and run-with menaces, and as a North Melbourne member it explains why I’m writing this accompanied by several towels.
Bastinac’s disposal needs work but until its fine-tuned rookie elevation Sam Gibson and the “I can’t believe he’s finally consistent” Daniel Wells will be the Roos penetrating class via foot on the outside. Since debuting Gibson didn’t miss a game, and despite a reputation of being fond of the odd Lamb Shank 63% of Gibson’s total disposals were via foot with only 10% of all disposals resulting in a turnover. Let’s bury that myth. Wells and Gibson were the only members of this North Melbourne outfit to rank inside the top fifty for kicks per game with Wells eight in the competition for score involvements per game and fourteenth for Inside 50’s per game, he’s crucial.
It’s been a long time coming but North Melbourne finally has a midfield with a touch of class and some depth options. Leigh Adams, Cunnington, Swallow and Ziebell make up the inside core which has an average age of 23.5 and 76 games experience, with their outside unit of Gibson, Wells, Bastinac and newly acquired Ben Jacobs at 23.56 years of age and 65 games experience. This group is on the cusp of hitting their straps and likely one more season away from really ripening into their prime.
From a midfield depth perspective the prospects for 2013 are serviceable. Levi Greenwood, the much unfairly maligned Liam Anthony (2012: Top 10 uncontested possessions per game, top 30 Inside 50’s per game), Ben Speight and the latest victim of the Demons sabotaged youth brigade in Jordan Gysberts are the primary options, with the versatility of Atley, Jacobs, Harvey (post-suspension), Lindsay Thomas and Kieran Harper also likely to feature heavily. This group should prove more than capable of filling several midfield holes.
Ruckman Todd Goldstein had a down year compared to the heights of 2011. Playing the same number of games, Goldstein had only 32 fewer disposals in 2012 but had 19 fewer clearances, 10 more turnovers, 48 fewer tackles, 29 fewer Inside 50’s and 93 fewer hitouts than he did in 2011. Ranking sixth in the competition for hitouts per game Goldstein made the most of his taps ranking third overall in effective hitouts. With McIntosh moving on Goldstein should get back to his all-around best.
If injury strikes the Roo big-man they will be neck deep in strife with reserve options Daniel Currie and illegal firearm Majak Daw combining for a whopping zero games experience. Although many doubt this really matters, given Majak’s rumoured ability of being able to kill any object, either dead or alive (I don’t write the rules), with a mere glance.
In 2012 North Melbourne averaged 107.22 points per game, the third most in the competition. Brad Scott finally unleashed the three-headed key forward monster of Petrie-Hansen-Tarrant and it’s all but guaranteed the same structure will trot out for this season.
If Drew Petrie was 30 going on 25 things would be just about perfect for the Kangaroos. The forward had arguably the best season of his career in 2012 coming within a whisker of the Coleman medal kicking 58 goals and finishing sixth overall for marks inside 50. If there’s one knock on Petrie it’s his inability to produce bags of goals against premium opposition with just eight of his 58 home and away goals (14%) coming against finals sides. Petrie’s finals v non-finals sides’ splits tell an ugly story;
Drew Petrie: Finals v Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (8 Games)||Bottom 8 (14 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.25||2.85||+0.60|
In games against the top eight North average 50.71 inside 50’s per game and 12 marks inside fifty per game. In games against the bottom eight North average 59.07 inside 50’s per game and 12.35 Marks Inside fifty per game. North didn’t go inside fifty as often against finals sides but they were more efficient at finding targets. Petrie simply wasn’t anywhere near as effective at hitting the score board against the elite teams of the competition but neither were the rest of the side with the Kangaroos season average of 107.22 points per game dropping to 92.12 when facing finals opposition.
Lachie Hansen played just twelve games last year but carved out a niche up forward producing an accurate 20 goals to just four behinds. Robbie Tarrant all but joined Hansen as a contender in the rejuvenated draft pick hall of fame with 23 goals from 25 marks inside fifty including three different bags of four goals, and three handfuls of three goals from his sixteen games.
Small forward Lindsay Thomas looked to have attracted a terminal case of the “yips” in 2011 but to his credit bounced back kicking more goals in 2012 than Adam Goodes, Paul Chapman, Stewart Crameri and Hayden Ballantyne to name a few. Thomas’s career best 38 goals 19 behinds (compared to 21.36 in 2011) were backed up by a career high for inside fifty’s. The inside fifties were of great benefit but Thomas’s 3.3 turnovers per game led the Kangaroos and needs to be addressed leading into 2013.
Boomer Harvey’s mission to discover the fountain of youth was a success with the 34 year old playing ever game in 2012 and finishing just one goal shy of a career high with 35 goals (26th in the AFL), but will miss the first six weeks of 2013 through suspension. Kieran Harper is the name most likely to shoulder the load in Harvey’s absence. Harper played every game in 2012 and kicked 25 goals predominately as a substitute with Sam Wright another name who possesses the versatility to play forward.
Offensively this is a North Melbourne outfit that is very explosive ranking behind only Hawthorn for goals per game, were sixth for goals from marks, second for scores off turnovers and led the league in goals from 0-15 meters. Turn the ball over and the Kangaroos counter attack football will make you pay the full admission fee.
Defensively the Kangaroos forward line lacks discipline ranking third for opponent scores sourced from defensive fifty and seventh for opponent scores sourced off half back. They were the only finals side among the competitions seven worst teams for both categories. It’s simply too easy for opponents to navigate their way out of defence.
The forward line looks to be largely set in stone with Aaron Black the only name who could have a significant impact if given the opportunity, with Majak Daw also a possibility. Draft picks Taylor Garner and Mason Wood will take time but are quality acquisitions for the future nonetheless.
Harvey and Petrie aren’t getting any younger and for this forward line to continue to be productive beyond the next two-to-three year’s one of Hansen or Tarrant has to make the jump to premium key forward (assuming this group grows organically). Harvey, Petrie, Thomas, Tarrant, Hansen and Harper have an average age of 26 and 135 games experience with only Harper and Tarrant amassing fewer than fifty games. This forward line is primed to compete right now.
What to expect in 2013?
A true indication of exactly where they’re at.
The 2013 fixture will see North Melbourne face Collingwood, Hawthorn, Adelaide and Geelong twice. If the core under 25, specifically those in the midfield, can have success facing a much tougher draw it will not only silence the critics but signal the Kangaroos arrival.
A 3-6 win/loss record against finals sides in 2012 indicates that North are probably another year or two away from being able to shrug off the “will they or won’t they play finals?” question marks.
The depth test will be just as important as a dream injury run last year saw the Kangaroos play their preferred personnel the majority of the time. It’s interesting to note that North also ranked seventeenth in interchanges per game, with only West Coast having fewer.
As far as the average AFL neutral is concerned, they need to grasp that this is not a North Melbourne side whose best player is still Boomer Harvey, and it’s a club that last year played more games than the 96 and 115 point losses to West Coast and Hawthorn. Those losses are part of the learning curve, just like late fadeouts against Port Adelaide and motivational lapses against the Western Bulldogs.
As crazy as it sounds these things happen to every club, especially a club who is young, inexperienced and still developing. Fortunately for North they were a club who still played finals football regardless of these hurdles.
The perception that North is old is also a head scratcher. There are just eight players on the list 26 or older; only GWS, Melbourne and Port Adelaide have fewer. There are two players over 30 (granted they’re Boomer and Petrie); only Gold Coast and Melbourne have fewer. 24 players on the list are between 22 and 25; only Adelaide, Melbourne and Port have more. And only Essendon, West Coast, Richmond and Sydney have more players with 40-99 games experience.
It’s a very solid balance of youth and experience with seven players having played over 100 games. The kicker here is that four of those seven players are 28 or under with only Harvey, Petrie and Firrito over 28 years of age. This is the sixth youngest list in the competition, younger than Adelaide, Essendon, Richmond and the Bulldogs, who won 10 of their final 13 games and now has a taste of finals football to boot.
Experience wise the Roos have the fifth most inexperienced list with an average games played of just 51.1, ahead of only Adelaide, Gold Coast, GWS, Melbourne and Port Adelaide.
81% of their list is 25 or younger and 59% of the list has fewer than 40 games experience.
For a list younger than Adelaide, Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fremantle, Geelong, Hawthorn, Richmond, St. Kilda, Sydney, West Coast and the Bulldogs, the Kangaroos are in a much healthier on-field position talent wise than the majority realise.
What I’d give to have that replicated on the balance sheet…
Last year was a great result, but until this team matures they won’t consistently hit that goal of becoming a lock for finals football, or be in a position to consider the jump to a top four contender. There are no guarantees for North Melbourne this season.
Once this side ripens though, it will be tailor made for Larry David.
I hate putting the membership cap on to finish off and cannot stand blind bias but one thing I love about watching my Roos is that there’s not a single player with a shit haircut or unbearable ego on the field, and there’s finally enough depth to keep hunger and motivation amongst the squad at a premium. Long gone are the days of despair associated with who replace the late omission of a Shannon Watt or Troy Makepeace.
Elimination finals aside, it’s a helluva fun time to be down at Arden Street.
To buy your 2013 North Melbourne Membership, please pho— Alright, I’m sorry, I’ll stop.
My Best 22
FB: Scott McMahon, Scott Thompson, Michael Firrito
HB: Jamie MacMillan, Nathan Grima, Shaun Atley
C: Daniel Wells, Ryan Bastinac, Sam Gibson
HF: Brent Harvey, Robbie Tarrant, Jack Ziebell
FF: Lindsay Thomas, Drew Petrie, Lachie Hansen
R: Todd Goldstein, Andrew Swallow, Leigh Adams
I/C: Kieran Harper, Sam Wright, Ben Cunnington
SUB: Ben Jacobs
EMG: Liam Anthony, Dan Currie, Luke Delaney
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
Well, what a week.
I’m going to apologise straight off the bat. I’ve been that consumed in the news the last few days that I almost forgot about this article. If it doesn’t live up to the standards, I’m sorry, and yes this is one of those times where I’m writing an article half asleep.
GWS, well what do you say? With only two wins and an average losing margin of 77 points, we could leave this here without any analysis and we’d all come to the same conclusion; they are babies.
A massive 82.7% of their list has played under 20 senior AFL games. Like I said with the Suns last week, they’re not going to rise up the ladder anytime soon. Their experienced talent is either too old to be around when they rise up (Chad Cornes, Dean Brogan, Stephen Gilham, Setanta O’Hailpin), not good enough (Rhys Palmer, Bret Thornton) or pretty young themselves (Callan Ward, Phil Davis, Tom Scully).
The improvement (and when I mean improvement, I mean finals contenders) will come from the 33 players that have played between one and twenty games. I’m of the theory that players start to reach their peak around the 80 to 100 game marks, so you do the math. They’re at the very least three seasons away, and then they will be a scary unit IF they can keep the majority of their good, young players.
The Giants out-stunk the Suns in their respective inaugural seasons, with a percentage of 46.17% compared to 56.27% and 8 losses by 90+ points compared to 4. Having said all that, I’d take the Giants’ list over the Suns’ any day of the week regardless of early results.
Why I prefer the Giants’ list to the Suns’ is because of their list balance. Take a look at the Suns’ depth chart here http://www.footytragic.com/blog/list-analysis/list-analysis-gold-coast-suns/#comments and then scroll down in this article and take a look at the Giants’. The Giants have young depth on every line, but I also think they have the nudge on quality, namely Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton being the absolute standouts in the key forwards category; a major benefit. The Suns don’t have anyone that looks like they’ll be a consistent goal-kicking threat yet.
There really is no point delving too deep into the stats for the Giants, no point at all. It’s all about the individual players’ performances and forecasting what they’ll do in the coming years.
I mean, over the year, the Giants had a differential of -41.7 points in scores from turnovers, -25.7 points in scores from stoppages, only created 2.5 turnovers a game in their forward line, and spent 14.9% less time in their forward half than their opponent. What do you take from that? It’s not the lack of structure; it’s the experience and ability to implement it for four quarters. The Giants did have some very good first halves. On average they were down by 32.7 points at half time, being within 20 points in 9 of 22 games.
As expected, the Giants ranked 15th or worse in basically every statistical category under the sun, apart from rebound 50’s (1st) and being the 3rd least tackled team in the competition. Both stats are hardly surprising. It was always in their backline, and they rarely had the ball to be tackled. Again, there’s not much to take from that. The good news for Giants’ fans (I only know one) is that as Yazz once said, ‘the only way is up’. Now that bloody song is stuck in my head.
IN: Stephen Gilham, Lachie Whitfield, Jono O’Rourke, Lachie Plowman, Kristian Jaksch, Aidan Corr, James Stewart, Bret Thornton, Joseph Redfern, Zac Williams.
OUT: Stephen Clifton, Rhys Cooyou, Jack Hombsch, James McDonald, Luke Power, Tim Segrave.
The Giants lost 566 AFL games combined from James McDonald and Luke Power over the off-season due to retirement and a talented key defender in Jack Hombsch. Apart from that, they added another five first-round draft picks and two experienced key defenders in Bret Thornton and Stephen Gilham.
Lachie Whitfield was the ultimate coup, being the number one pick in the 2012 draft, complimenting GWS’ raft of inside midfielders with his very good outside ability. Jono O’Rourke doesn’t quite have the class of Whitfield, but he does a similar job, and Lachie Plowman will become a tallish running defender long term. I’m still not quite sure Plowman was worth the number three draft pick, but we’ll re-assess in a few years!
Aidan Corr is an athletic key defender to replace Jack Hombsch and Kristian Jaksch is a key utility who can play either end of the ground, but I think his best spot is at centre half back with his very good kicking skills.
You’d expect Lachie Whitfield to have the most impact out of the draftees, and he’s excelled as an under age player throughout his junior career, so the step up shouldn’t be too difficult for him.
You can’t really say the Giants have a ‘defence’ yet. These are the players who had a run through there in 2012;
That’s a grand total of 18 players, and I didn’t even include some midfielders who had brief stints off the half-back flank in some games.
Phil Davis was the bookend, playing all 22 games. He did concede lots of goals, but who wouldn’t? With more help his defensive game will only get better, but he also did his bit offensively, averaging 14.9 disposals, 5.5 marks (1.1 contested), 2 intercepted marks and 3.3 inside 50’s. His efficiency was down 9% on his time at the Crows, but again, with better players and systems around him eventually, it will only go back up. He’ll prove to be well worth the cash GWS invested in him.
The other reliable defender they have is Chad Cornes, although now at 33 years of age, injury is catching up with him. He played 16 games in 2012 and now will miss the start of this season with a knee injury.
Stephen Gilham and Bret Thornton were two experienced pick ups to help out with their young defence, but both aren’t traditional key defenders who are particularly strong one on one.
Tim Mohr’s the obvious guy to directly help Phil Davis, because of his age (24) and he did show a very good ability to play on the opposition’s key forwards and restrict them. He averaged 5.4 spoils a game and also 1.2 intercepted marks going with his excellent offensive ability as well, showcasing his long boot on a multitude of occasions. He kicked the ball at 79.6% and averaged 3.6 rebound 50’s; a solid output for a full back.
There are no ‘locks’ in the GWS backline for the small defender position apart from maybe Matthew Buntine who only played 6 games and Tomas Bugg who may very well be played in the midfield in the future. Adam Kennedy got a good run through there, playing 15 games, Curtly Hampton 17 games and Sam Darley 9 games.
You’d think if fit, Buntine will play off the half-back flank for the majority of the season, and he’ll only improve on his output in 2012. We didn’t get to see his kicking ability too much, as he handballed more than he kicked, but you’d hope they free him up and let him use his strengths.
Adam Kennedy can find the ball, and showed that particularly early in the season with 28 possessions on debut, but then got given shut down roles and only went on to average 13.8 disposals and only 1.9 rebound 50’s a game. His ball use was very safe, with an efficiency rate of 80.2%.
Sam Darley was much-hyped in the pre-season, representing a similar type to Hawthorn’s Grant Birchall with his run off the backline. Due to injury and form he only managed the 9 games but he did show what he is capable of as a rebounding defender, averaging 14.2 disposals, 3.6 marks and 3.4 rebound 50’s a game.
Tomas Bugg was definitely one of the most impressive Giants in 2012, playing 18 games and stopping some of the opposition’s better players. He started better than he finished, but still managed to average 17.6 disposals, 4 marks and 3.2 tackles a game showing his ability offensively and defensively. Long term you’d think he becomes a midfielder, but at the moment, even though he’s inexperienced, his stability will be needed in the backline.
This is definitely the scariest line in the future GWS team. Just ponder these names and look forward five years;
There are 14, ‘potential’ above average midfielders at their disposal; scary. Five or six is enough to give you a Premiership, but 14? That’s not including Anthony Miles and Jacob Townsend who also showed signs of being very good players.
Callan Ward was enormous in 2012, and showed he was an astute pick up by the Giants despite the criticism they copped because he hadn’t ‘broken out’ yet. Well, it was always going to happen, and he did. He became elite, averaging 24.4 disposals (12.4 contested) at a brilliant 70.1% efficiency, with 4.3 marks, 5.1 clearances, 5 tackles and 3.9 inside 50’s a game. His consistency was to be admired; only going below 20 disposals in 3 games despite copping a tag most weeks. Ward is only 22 years old, so there is still improvement to come. His price tag was worth it, he’s a gun.
Speaking of price tags, you have Tom Scully. I’ve never understood the hate. Take a look at your 20 year old self, with the money that was dangled in front of him, and tell me you wouldn’t do the same. Apparently he can’t play footy either. Huh? In his three seasons (yes, only three), he’s never averaged under 20.3 disposals. Much of his short career has been hampered by a knee injury, but he still managed 19 games in 2012. I’m not sure what people expected of him in 2012 to be honest. The chances are he’ll never live up to his contract, but there are probably only two players in the AFL that are worth that money anyway. The money’s not the point. He is going to be (arguably already is) a damn good quality footballer, who yes, is overpaid, but so what? That’s the expansion factor, not his fault. Providing he’s fit, I’m predicting he’ll elevate himself in the competition in 2013 in a big way. Defensively (ironically the part people don’t notice) he’s been on the ball since he came into the league, but we haven’t seen the best of him offensively. It’s time for Sheeds to release the shackles on Scully, and we’ll see an absolute star.
Toby Greene was statistically one of the best 18 year old footballers we’ve seen in the AFL. He’s built like a jockey, but he couldn’t stop finding the footy, averaging 28.4 disposals, 4.9 clearances, 3.3 tackles, 3.3 inside 50’s and also involving himself in 32% of GWS’ scoring chains, putting him only behind Gary Ablett. His kicking was a problem though, only going at 50.2% and averaged 4.1 clangers a game, ranking 3rd in the competition. He’s a great kid who’s worked super hard on his game since U/16 level, so I have no reason to believe he won’t improve on his kicking.
Adam Treloar started slowly but then worked up and ended up having just as good a season as Toby Greene. In his last 6 games of the season, he averaged 27.3 disposals, 7.3 marks, 2.2 tackles, 3 inside 50’s and 1 goal. His kicking was a highlight, going at 70.4% but only 34.4% of his possessions were in a contested situation. You’d also expect him to improve on his 1.9 clearances, 2.7 tackles and 2.6 inside 50’s a game in the future.
These guys were well supported by Stephen Coniglio, Taylor Adams, Dylan Shiel, Dom Tyson and Will Hoskin-Elliot at times through 2012. They only averaged 11.8 games between them, but each showed that they will not only be good, but they’ll be close to elite.
Hoskin-Elliott displayed his ability with a 5 goal haul against Gold Coast off a wing, but consistency will be his biggest task to overcome. He ranked poor in most categories, averaging only 2.2 inside 50’s, 1 rebound 50, 0.7 clearances and 1.2 tackles plus only getting the ball 11.6 times a game with an uncontested possession rate of 60.3% which he’d want to improve since that’s his strength.
Dylan Shiel, an absolute bull at the contest, suffered a lot of injuries through the pre-season and had a disrupted year as well, only managing 12 games. Still, he showed his ball-winning ability and defensive attributes, averaging 19 disposals, 3 clearances and 3.8 tackles, plus also going head to head with some of the best midfielders in the game.
Stephen Coniglio also started slowly, being used sparingly in the midfield and mostly played off the half-forward flank to start the season but then he got released in round six against Carlton, finishing off the season with 7 of his last 8 games over 19 disposals. He never got a good run at it in the second half of the season due to injury, playing only in rounds 15, 16 and 19, yet he was prominent in all those games. He averaged 21.5 disposals a game but his kicking was only going at 58.6% despite winning 66.8% of his disposals in an uncontested situation. That’ll definitely improve, as will his goal kicking. He only managed 2 goals in his 12 games. His 2.8 clearances and 2.6 tackles a game will no doubt increase as well.
Taylor Adams was extremely impressive, having a similar season to what Dion Prestia did at the Suns in his first dig. He went under the radar I thought, due to his unfashionable, in and under approach, but his 19.9 disposals, 3.9 clearances and 3.5 tackles a game are nothing to be sneezed at for a 19 year old.
It is no secret I have a huge man crush on Dom Tyson, but unfortunately he didn’t help me out in 2012. He had his fair share of injuries, and now he’s out until at least May. Tyson is all class, and I often compare him to Scott Pendlebury, but due to only 10 games of which 3 were substitute affected in 2012, we didn’t get to see it all that much. He did have three games where he showed glimpses;
Round 7 vs Gold Coast: 21 disposals, 80.9% efficiency, 8 marks, 6 inside 50’s, 4 clearances, 1 goal.
Round 22 vs St Kilda: 24 disposals, 79.2% efficiency, 8 marks, 4 tackles.
Round 23 vs North Melbourne: 26 disposals, 73.1% efficiency, 5 marks, 1 goal, 3 inside 50’s.
The kid’s a gun.
Anthony Miles is the other mystery of the GWS midfield. He’s can find the footy at will but the word around was that he wasn’t on side with the coaches at times which is the reason why he didn’t get consistent games despite dominating in the NEAFL.
In terms of the ruck, Jon Giles was one of the stories of the season. He came in and really became an attacking force in the ruck, kicking 18 goals. He averaged 14.3 disposals, 3.5 marks, 22.1 hit outs and 3.5 clearances a game. After spending time at Port Adelaide, he’s now 25 years old and in the peak of his career. He demanded a better contract and got one. He’ll only get better.
A forward line that will include Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton in the future is good enough already. Devon Smith will be the small forward and then they have the ‘X-Factor’ (I hate saying that) of Nathan Wilson and Curtly Hampton plus the never ending list of midfielders they have at their disposal. It’s a dangerous mix that probably lacks one more genuine forward.
Having said all that, and despite Jeremy Cameron’s 29 goal debut season, they won’t tormenting opposition defences for at least another few years.
Jeremy Cameron was outstanding for a 19 year old, averaging 10 disposals, 5 marks (1.6 contested) and 1.8 goals a game, but there’s still a lot of developing to do.
The same goes for Jon Patton, who was hampered by injury all season. I put him in the same boat as Tom Hawkins. We won’t see what he’s capable of until he’s at least 24 years old and most likely he’ll cop some criticism along the way, just because people love to do that when a highly touted player isn’t dominating from the get-go.
Out of the smalls, Devon Smith had a great first season. He was an absolute ball magnet at U/18 level, but also hit the scoreboard heavily. He showed that last season, despite his inaccuracy, kicking 10 goals and 19 behinds. His forward pressure was outstanding, averaging 4.3 tackles a game. He definitely has the scope to become a goal kicking midfielder, but his contribution up forward as the main small forward is much needed.
Kristian Jaksch and Adam Tomlinson are candidates for the third tall role, but personally I see both as more suited to defence.
Don’t expect much. We’ll see some really exciting patches here and there, but it won’t come together for a long time.
They’re on the right track to becoming a scary team but opposition clubs will be targeting their young guns heavily too. The good news for them is that they’ll receive healthy compensation for whoever they lose and it’ll just be an endless cycle of early draft picks for the Giants.
Talk about a busy offseason. The Demons had one of the most active trading and draft periods in modern memory with virtually half their list being turned over. If that wasn’t enough thanks to former players and coaches tanking allegations took centre stage and really turned up the heat in the kitchen before logic prevailed and the case was essentially thrown out due to a lack of evidence.*
After trading out and delisting about 604 players including high draft picks Cale Morton, Jordan Gysberts, Lucas Cook, established names Jared Rivers, Ricky Petterd, Brent Moloney and cutting Liam Jurrah the Demons went about completely restructuring their personnel and brought in the much maligned Chris Dawes, forgotten Shannon Byrnes, injury plagued David Rodan and Cam Pedersen from North Melbourne.
2013 will see numerous new faces take the field, although it’s highly likely that results will be similar to those of 2012.
For Melbourne supporters there won’t be any finals football on the cards for a while, but if they possess patience and are prepared to wait the reward might just be worth it given the young talent that’s being acquired. Then again with the Demons development history we’re essentially at the lucky dip stage of forecasting right now. With little draft day hits among so many misses it’s anyone’s guess at this point, but time will tell.
It’s the worst attribute to request from supporters but for Demons fans it’s an unfortunate reality. At the present time “Patience” is the key word for the Melbourne football club, from players to coaching staff, administration and fans. You could argue that they’ve been patient for long enough (especially supporters) and you would be correct. There’s no quick fix though, not with a midfield this young, one which is so absent of on-field leadership and a group that’s had so little time to establish a unified vision due to a lack of personnel traction.
2013 is going to be coated in a lot of ugly, but hopefully there are a few more highlights that mirror last year’s win over a ladder leading Esssendon side and don’t forget Jeremy Howe, who will no doubt continue to consistently activate go-go-gadget pogo mode and plant his manhood on the dome of opposition defenders.
The Melbourne defence gave up 106.4 points per game in 2012, the third most of any club ahead of only Gold Coast and GWS. Melbourne was far from world beaters last year and their defensive output (from a scoring perspective) reflects this. In 13 games against bottom eight sides Melbourne allowed 90.69 points per game and managed to hold three teams below 80 points (GWS, Gold Coast, and Essendon). By comparison in their nine outings against finals sides the Demons leaked 129.11 points per game with every opposition side breaking through the 100 point threshold.
Face value suggests there’s a large gulf between Melbourne and finals football. From a defensive perspective this holds true on all fronts. It’s significant but it’s expected. The important question is whether or not Melbourne’s defence is capable of closing that gap, and do they have the appropriate personnel to do so.
With only one player over 25 the Demons defence has time on its side. The loss of Jared Rivers as a man on man defender hurts for a club so starved of maturity but with a rebuild in full flight remaining at the club made little sense for either party; especially with young key back Tom McDonald bursting onto the scene to join premium back James Frawley.
At 24 years of age and more than 100 games experience Frawley is the centrepiece of the Demons defence and more than capable of going toe-to-toe with any opposition forward. Last season Frawley averaged career highs in one percenters and contested marks but his defensive work wasn’t the issue. In 2012, like many of his Demon counterparts, Frawley would produce a career high in turnovers with nearly three per game. For someone who over the course of their career has disposed of the football via foot 62% of the time that’s not an acceptable level of output. Frawley also gave away a career high number of free kicks although that’s understandable given Melbourne saw more opposition Inside 50’s than any other club outside of Gold Coast and GWS.
An All-Australian defender in 2010 and runner up best and fairest we know that Frawley is capable of much more than what was produced in 2012. With a midfield constantly under siege and so much football flooding into defensive 50 it’s hard to see Frawley building on All-Australian accolades for a while yet. In Frawley’s favour is that there are still a few years to go before his prime hits and when the rest of the squad catches up experience wise Frawley’s standing as one of the competitions premium one-on-one defenders will be front and centre.
Another cog who will be prominent in the Demons defence for years to come is Tom McDonald. A more than capable key back, McDonald exceeded expectations last season playing in twenty games and finishing third in the Best and Fairest. McDonald led the Demons in one percenters in 2012 finishing thirteenth overall in the competition and second among rising star eligible players behind only eventual winner Daniel Talia. As great as he was in a negating role McDonald showed his offensive capabilities out of defence as well and led all rising stars for rebound 50’s, with over 73% of all disposals effective. In a season drowned in negativity McDonald was one bright spark Melbourne fans can hang their hat on. With Frawley and McDonald the Dees key back stocks will be fine both now and in the future.
The third and final defender from a key back perspective is Colin Garland. As a primary key back Garland is undersized but his best attribute is his flexibility. Garland can play on opposition talls, medium sized forwards or pacey small’s if required, but leaving him one out with a premium hulk appears to bring out the worst in his ability. If Frawley and to a lesser extent Tom McDonald can remain healthy Garland can concentrate on being that chop out third defender focused on plugging holes, provided of course form of years past can be recaptured. In 2010 and 2011 Garland averaged over three rebound 50’s and 12 effective disposals per game, this dropped to 2.1 and 9.9 in 2012, with a career high in turnovers to boot.
Outside of veteran Joel Macdonald the rest of the Demons defence is significantly inexperienced although that didn’t matter from a turnover perspective. Even someone at 28 years of age with career disposal efficiency of over 78% prior to season 2012 in Macdonald couldn’t handle the pressure inside defensive fifty. Given it’s all about youth at this point it would be no surprise to see less of Macdonald this year.
The most talked about individual within the Demons defence is the much maligned Jack Watts. We all know the story so there’s no point breaking it down, but as a Watts supporter I believe the criticism was unjust. As for what happened on the footy field last year, Watts was fourth at the club for contested marks, led the Demons in interceptions at 5.5 per game, had a turnover percentage of only 11% and ironed out a permanent spot in a high stress pressure cooker defence. Not bad for a 21 year old with a touch over 50 games under his belt.
From a disciplined perspective the Melbourne defensive unit were acceptable last season with only James Frawley and Joel Macdonald averaging more than one free kick against per game, although as a unit they did give away the fourth most free kicks inside defensive 50 which is a concern but not surprising given the amount of time the Demons spent defending.
For this unit to go anywhere disposal will need to be addressed, specifically via foot. The trio of Nicholson, Frawley and Macdonald averaged almost ten turnovers per game last season. That’s far too many for personnel in the defensive part of the ground and for a side who already owns the fourth highest opponent time in forward half percentage. One name that should improve the Dees usage and give them some pace and penetration off half-back is Neville Jetta. Jetta has essentially played everywhere in his short career thus far but has spent this pre-season training predominately with the backline. Although he managed just six games last year, Jetta used the ball at 75% efficiency with 65% of those disposals via foot.
The core of Frawley, McDonald, Watts and Garland is solid at an average age of 22.5 and 64.5 games experience but after that it’s largely a raffle. The inexperienced Jetta, Strauss, Tapscott, Nicholson, Tynan, Terlich and former Cat Tom Gillies will all get a chance to prove themselves in defensive roles and that in-house competition is a good thing, especially with more senior options in Seller, Macdonald and former Kangaroo Cam Pedersen able to slot in down back when necessary.
Melbourne’s midfield is arguably their weakest area of the ground and was the catalyst for their downfall last season. What’s disappointing about the Demons midfield is that their 2012 midfield indicators mirrored their weakest areas post-2011, and it’s virtually guaranteed that this will be repeated again in 2013.
Melbourne Rankings 2011
- Contested Possession (14th)
- Clearances (11th)
- Inside 50’s (12th)
- Tackles (10th)
Melbourne Rankings 2012
- Contested Possession (16th)
- Clearances (18th)
- Inside 50’s (16th)
- Tackles (7th)
Outside of tackles, which was likely a product of giving up so much football to their opposition (17th in disposal differential), the Demons went backwards. There are a million different indicators which highlight how bad Melbourne’s midfield was last year but the most prominent ones were as follows;
- Last in disposals
- Last in clearances
- Last in uncontested possession
- Last in scores from stoppages
- Last in fewest opponent goals from general play
- Last in clearance differential
- Last in uncontested possession differential
- Last in handball differential
- Last in effective hitout differential
These problem areas are highlighted even further when you compare the Demons midfield splits against finals and non-finals sides, as evidenced in the graph below;
Melbourne: Top 8 v Bottom 8 Opponent Differentials (Average per game)
|Category||Top 8 Differential||Bottom 8 Differential|
Finals sides absolutely smashed Melbourne and this highlights the size of the gulf that exists between the Demons and finals calibre football. The Demons average losing margin was 64 points and the closest they got to a finals side was a 34 point loss to Fremantle at the MCG.
The first problem for Melbourne is winning the ball out of the middle. Their ruck stocks are ok for now with Mark Jamar sitting eighth in the competition for hitout differential, the sore thumb is a lack of hard bodies to win the stoppage when it comes to ground, which is what makes Brent Moloney tapping into Damian Cupido’s motivation last season and eventually jumping ship even more painful. Along with Port Adelaide the Demons were the only side in the AFL who had four or fewer players in the top 100 for both contested possession and clearances. Nathan Jones was the only player on Melbourne’s list to rank inside the top fifty for contested possession with no player inside the top 30, Jones also played a lone hand clearance wise sitting nineteenth overall in the league with 5.6 per game.
What stands out regarding the Demons ability to address these issues in 2013 is that their primary ball winners in Jones, Jack Trengove, Colin Sylvia and Jordy McKenzie missed a total of just 8 games between them last year and produced a disastrous output. You could argue that Trengove’s performance suffered due to the added responsibility of being captain, and he’ll be starting from behind the eight ball due to injury this season, but even if Trengove does have a breakout 2013 where does the rest of the help come from? David Rodan is the most experienced inside midfielder on the Dees list but expecting more than the occasional highlight or blistering quarter of footy is clutching at straws considering his age and injury history. Mature-aged recruit Matt Jones has impressed all pre-season but with zero AFL experience it would be unfair to expect the Michael Barlow like influence Melbourne would love.
Thankfully there is one kid coming through who could answer the Demons contested footy prayers, although as a rookie the level of influence won’t be enough for a complete turnaround in 2013. We’re talking of course about father/son selection Jack Viney who has all the makings of exactly what the Melbourne football club need. Viney is a tough, hard-working bull who appears possessed when it comes to winning the fifty-fifty ball. At 18 years of age Viney won’t dominate to the degree that Melbourne’s stoppage woes simply disappear, the Giants Toby Greene was the only teenager to crack the top fifty for contested possession last year (45th), but it is encouraging to see this area of the ground being addressed. In Michael Evans and James Magner the Demons do have some ball winning depth but those two lack serious polish disposal wise which limits their worth.
From a usage perspective Melbourne were actually better statistically than they appeared last season ranking twelfth in kicking efficiency differential with an output of -1.43% per game, this was only one spot behind Collingwood and ahead of Adelaide. What led Melbourne in their wins was their pressure, specifically tackles where they ranked seventh in the competition, although that was partly due to spending so much time chasing. They may have only won four games but in those games pressure football shined brightest and was reflected in the Demons kicking efficiency indicators where they held opponents to an output of 59.7%. Melbourne were the only club in the competition to hold their opponents to under 60% kicking efficiency in wins and their disparity of +6.8% in those wins also led the league.
Individually the Dees outside midfield stocks are incredibly thin leading into season 2013 with only co-captain Jack Grimes and veteran Aaron Davey having obtained more than fifty games experience. If you remove Davey from the age and games played equation Melbourne’s outside midfield core of Dom Barry, Jimmy Toumpas, Tom Couch, Sam Blease, Jack Grimes and Rohan Bail has an average age of 21 with just 16 games of experience. Toumpas will add some much needed class to this Demons outfit and in time Barry likewise but my word this group is going to struggle this year.
From Melbourne’s entire midfield only Aaron Davey, Jack Grimes and Nathan Jones had disposal efficiency greater than 70%, with Sam Blease, Rohan Bail, Tom Couch and James Magner all under 65% (Blease and Couch were under 60%). Along with the already established Grimes, the likes of Toumpas, Barry and 25 year old Matt Jones are the most likely names to fix the Dees skill woes but with zero games of AFL experience it is going to take time.
If there is a positive for Melbourne’s midfield it’s that they did show significant improvement late last year and registered a +19.4 effective kick differential in their last five games against non-finals sides. It’s not a knock your socks off number considering it came against the likes of Port Adelaide, the Gold Coast and GWS but it’s a positive nonetheless.
No matter which way you cut it Melbourne’s midfield is once again in for a season of hurt. Defensively this midfield allows far too much one way traffic and you have to look no further than their opponent’s heavy amount of uncontested possession to confirm this. It’s a midfield group who last year were in the bottom three for essentially every midfield indicator, whether it was offensively or defensively, with only GWS and the Suns worse off.
Considering the only additions to this already struggling midfield were kids (thankfully quality kids) and basically David Rodan’s 95 year old knees it’s almost impossible to forecast a vast improvement in output. Still, the only way is up, or at least you’d hope, although given the history of Melbourne’s ability (or lack of) to develop high draft picks, question marks will remain over this engine room until their production on the field warrants otherwise. For the sake of Demon supporters you can only hope like hell the coaching staff gets development right this time.
At the start of last year many questioned the heavy priced acquisition of Mitch Clark but any fears were quickly laid to rest with the big power forward essentially dominating all comers with a blistering start to his career as a Demon before a foot injury prematurely cut his season short. Clark is the epitome of doing more with less if 2012 was anything to go by and when the going got tough he stood tall against the best defences in the business. Clarke’s splits against finals sides were superb and if he can get back to his best this output could be even more impressive given there’s going to be a lot more balance inside forward fifty in 2013;
Mitch Clark: Finals v Non-Finals Sides in 2012
|Category||Top 8 (5 Games)||Bottom 8 (5 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.6||2.2||-0.4|
In games Clark played against top eight sides Melbourne lost by an average of 72 points. In those games Melbourne averaged just 39 inside 50’s and 8.6 marks Inside fifty. On the season Melbourne ranked last in disposals, fifteenth in goals, last in effective disposals, sixteenth in Inside 50’s and fifteenth in marks Inside fifty. The delivery was few and far between and more often than not sub-standard, to his credit Clark was able to make the most of a bad situation. Clark totalled 27 marks Inside fifty in his 10 games, next best was Brad Green who had 27 marks inside fifty In 13 games and finally Jeremy Howe with 23 marks inside fifty in 22 games. With Chris Dawes and Cam Pedersen now making defences accountable Clark is one commodity you can bank on for a big year, provided he’s healthy of course.
As far as signing Dawes goes from a structure perspective it makes sense but when you break it down it’s hard to digest given the amount of coin invested. To sum it up Dawes just isn’t that good as far as key forwards go;
Chris Dawes: Finals v Non-Finals sides 2012
|Category||Top 8 (10 Games)||Bottom 8 (10 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||0.9||0.9||-|
Dawes wins enough of the ball but his value is in hitting the scoreboard and those numbers, specifically contested marks, goals and marks inside 50 just don’t cut it. One question many people ask is can Dawes recapture his form of previous years? A more accurate question would be how did Dawes ever have a reputation as an elite power forward in the first place? In 2011 Dawes output was very similar to 2012 with a slight bump in score production and marks Inside 50, but against finals calibre opposition that faded;
Chris Dawes: Finals v Non-Finals sides 2011
|Category||Top 8 (8 games)||Bottom 8 (7 games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||1||1.85||+0.85|
It appears as though Dawes reputation was gained solely because his feet were located on AFL turf, not anything to do with his level of skill. At 24 years of age Dawes should be anything but a poster boy of failed forwards, especially when you consider his size and agility and playing for a contending Collingwood side. In Dawes favour is that the window of potential is still slightly ajar and a change of scenery may be the tonic required to take the next step because as it stands Dawes output in his career thus far has indicated that he just isn’t that good. This is a man who failed to break the top 20 in goals and marks inside fifty in 2010 (his best season), the top 30 in either category in 2011, or top 60 in 2012. Right now he’s headed for the Justin Koschitzke hall of fame of disappointment.
Former ‘Roo Cam Pedersen is the final cog in Melbourne’s key forward setup and like Clark and Dawes he’s 25 years of age and ready to contribute from the get go. Winner of Werribee’s best and fairest Pedersen is extremely versatile and should feature in a number of roles ranging from up forward (especially in Clark’s early absence), to pinch hitting in the ruck and helping out down back. At 194 centimetres Pedersen will make opposition defences accountable which should aid in freeing up primary targets Clark and Dawes.
Combined these three should further improve on the Demons already top ten marks inside fifty per inside fifty percentage of 21.3%, although the way their midfield is shaping up opportunity will be just as sparse as it was last season. For Melbourne It’s not a case of locating targets inside fifty; it’s the lack of delivery on offer.
When it comes to medium sized forwards Melbourne are blessed with the human trampoline in Jeremy Howe who should build on his breakout 2012 where he ranked fourth in the AFL for total contested marks, was second at the club for score involvements and kicked 23 goals. Lynden Dunn is the second medium sized forward who is simply a jack of all trades and master of none. Dunn can essentially fill a number of roles as a Mr. Fix it type with matchups and injury likely dictate where he plays this season.
Geelong recruit Shannon Byrnes will be instilled with small forward duty and the former premiership player who after just nine games in the last two years will be looking to turn back the clock to his glory years of 2009 and 2010 where he was top five in the competition for score assists.
Outside of numerous midfielders rotating through the forward line there’s next to nothing in regards to depth up forward. Losing Clark put the Demons forward line to the sword last year and required Coach Mark Neeld to get creative with Jared Rivers and Colin Garland among a raft of players who were forced to try their hand up forward.
In Clark, Howe and Dawes the Demons forward line setup has it’s foundations but there’s still a long way to go. 17 year old Jesse Hogan is a certified key position beast in waiting and by all accounts is worth the extra patience. Outside of those names there’s very little to get excited about.
What to expect in 2013?
Improvement, competitiveness and consistency, hopefully.
Measuring the Demons by wins and losses won’t give you an accurate indication of whether or not 2013 was a success. The number of games played by their youth brigade and an improvement in output from their midfield stocks should be the primary focus.
This Melbourne squad is incredibly young, especially when depth comes into play, and their experienced players are starved of an elite billing. Three of their eight 100 game players in Rodan, Byrnes and Davey played just ten, four and eight games last year, and Frawley, Jones, Macdonald, Jamar and Syvlia aren’t exactly a buffet of All-Australian talent, or at least the experienced talent required to keep these kids head from going under.
It’s a Demons list that is older but less experienced than Brisbane. It’s the fifth youngest list in the AFL with 72% of their personnel under the age of 25 but 66% with fewer than forty games of AFL experience.
There will be shining light moments, like Eclipsing 50 contested possessions in the fourth quarter against an 8-1 Essendon side last season, but they’re likely to be more rare than a competent Chris Dawes chest mark.
The short term road ahead is one littered with frustration, anger and hard work, but it’s the only way out. Melbourne fans are all too familiar with what’s required and quite frankly they’ve deserved better for a while now. With a little luck Neeld and co will finally have them on the right path so club, players and fans alike will be able to put the nightmare of recent years behind them and actually experience some success.
Season 2013 won’t be the year it all comes together, but it will give a fair indication regarding how far there is to go. If anything the consistent 100 point shellackings should be an event of the past. Six wins would be par but is largely irrelevant and with a dream draw there’s a chance they could surprise a few teams.
Hang in there, ‘Dees fans.
My Best 22:
FB. McDonald, Frawley, Garland
B. Jetta, Watts, Terlich
C. Trengove, N. Jones, Grimes
HF. Sylvia, Clark, Howe
FF. Davey, Dawes, Byrnes
R. Jamar, Mckenzie, Viney
Int. Toumpas, Dunn, Pedersen
You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
* Wild speculation only
Gold Coast Suns
It’s fair to say I bent over when Scotty politely asked, “KP do you mind doing the expansion teams?”
From a statistical point of view, these teams are a nightmare. Most games are blown totally out of proportion, they’re ranked last in most categories, and it’s really hard to be nice.
Thankfully I wrote this article in a happy mood.
Many expected a fair rise from the Suns in 2012, but it was ridiculously ambitious to think that, and it will be a similar scenario in 2013.
Although a lot of the Suns’ issues were controllable, most weren’t. It’s simply impossible for a team who has 60.9% of its list in the 0 to 50 games bracket to really do anything of note. The experience isn’t there, and when you throw in the fact that the only players above 100 games on their list (Michael Rischitelli, Jared Brennan, Gary Ablett, Nathan Bock, Jarrod Harbrow and Campbell Brown) only played 87 out of a possible 132 games combined, they were never going to do well, or improve for that matter.
The good news is that the Suns have pumped in some games to their younger core, namely Dion Prestia, David Swallow, Harley Bennell, Trent McKenzie, Tom Lynch, Luke Russell, Brandon Matera, Zac Smith and Charlie Dixon, who’ll all be pushing 50 games in 2013. Still, it’s a very small, yet talented list. They will push the Suns up a bit, but it’s that second core, and then the third (which includes Jack Martin and Jaeger O’Meara) to really push them into the eight. Personally, I think it will take at LEAST another three to four years which means they’ll most likely have to compensate for a bunch of older guys they’ll lose to retirement and just natural ‘getting old’ syndrome.
So did the Suns improve even slightly in 2012? Well, let’s have a look.
First of all, the simple approach; they won three games, equalling 2011.
Their percentage went up from 56.27% in 2011 to 60.82%.
The only difference was their defence conceded 11 points less per game, and their attack weakened by 1 point a game.
Now let’s look at the stats in three tables; breaking it down in midfield, defence and attack.
Kicking % Difference
Disposal % Difference
Inside 50 Difference
Contested Possession Difference
Uncontested Possession Difference
Inside 50’s Against
Marks Inside 50 Against
% Score Once Inside 50 Against
% Goal Once Inside 50 Against
Marks Inside 50
% Score Once Inside 50
% Goal Once Inside 50
Goal Accuracy %
Before we go saying the Suns did not improve one bit in 2012, it’s worth remembering the six players I mentioned before played 120 of a possible 132 combined games in 2011, a +33 game difference or 5.5 games per player. They did lack ammo in 2012, and obviously didn’t have the depth to cover such important, experienced players. It’s also worth noting that Campbell Brown missed 8 of those games, arguably the player they least needed out of their ‘big six’. This is a massive stat that shouldn’t go unrecognised.
Most notably for me, was a big drop-off in something they can control, and that’s pressure. The Suns weren’t a great pressure team in 2011, but they got worse which is a concern.
The biggest fall was their clearance differential numbers. They were ranked 5th in the competition in 2011, falling to 16th in 2012. Michael Rischitelli’s injury troubles didn’t help. He averaged 4.5 clearances in 2011.
In terms of opposition scoring sources, the Gold Coast midfield and forward line simply didn’t apply enough pressure.
Their opposition outscored them by 27 points per game from turnovers and they only forced 4 turnovers a game inside their forward half. On average the Suns spent 10.8% LESS time in their forward half then their opponents. How were they ever supposed to kick a winning score with that differential?
The stat I found most interesting was the ‘scores from stoppages’. It’s the case for most teams, but when their midfield and forward line were up and about, they did well in all games. In their three wins they were +20, +20 and +21 points in scores from stoppages. In the other games where they won that stat (4 others games), they only lost by an average of 14 points. The problem was in the other 15 games. They lost that stat by a whopping average of 34.3 points and lost the game by an average of 63.8 points! They were just so inconsistent. I am not surprised by the way, nor should you be. Young teams do this.
Anyway, let’s take a look at their off-season and individual players on each line.
IN: Jaeger O’Meara (eligible to play), Jack Martin (ineligible to play), Greg Broughton, Tom Murphy, Jesse Lonergan, Tim Sumner, Clay Cameron, Leigh Osborne, Andrew Boston.
OUT: Josh Caddy, Tom Hickey, Taylor Hine, Michael Coad, Piers Flanagan, Josh Fraser, Sam Iles, Hayden Jolly, Alik Magin, Lewis Moss, Andrew McQualter, Josh Toy.
The Suns lost a bit of talent in the off-season with Josh Caddy and Tom Hickey seeking trades. Josh Caddy’s the biggest hit with his inside capacity but Hickey is a guy I really rate. They could afford to lose him with their ruck depth though.
Having said all that, the talent coming in is arguably better. They obtained two experienced defenders in Greg Broughton and Tom Murphy for basically nothing, plus some elite young midfield talent in Jack Martin, Jaeger O’Meara and Jesse Lonergan which they sorely need.
It’s a daunting task lining up in the Gold Coast defence each week. Their structure often changes on a weekly basis and up to 15 players had a run through there in 2012 meaning there was just no stability.
Matthew Warnock was the only defender to play all 22 games, followed by Matthew Shaw (19), Trent McKenzie (18), Luke Russell (14), Jarrod Harbrow (13), Maverick Weller (13), Danny Stanley (Seb Tape (10) and then the rest all played under 10 games.
You have to feel sorry for Warnock. He’s come from being bombarded as a defender at the Demons, to doing the same at the Suns. He has an amazing career record of 14 wins, 1 draw and 62 losses from 77 games. It’s really difficult to rate his season. You’d have to say he did all he could but he did get some bags of goals kicked on him. He averaged 7.9 spoils and an intercepted mark per games, with 13.1 disposals at 81% efficiency. Tidy numbers for what he was up against most weeks. He should receive some more help in 2013 from Tom Murphy and Greg Broughton.
Tom Murphy comes from a successful Hawthorn side where he struggled to break into for most of his career and was often their whipping boy. He’ll be an important third up cog to the Suns backline and he really isn’t as bad as some suggest. He averaged 14 disposals at 80% efficiency, with an intercepted mark a game and 3 spoils. From his six games in 2012, only once did he not keep his opponent to zero goals.
Jarrod Harbrow is crucial to the Suns run out of the backline. In 2011 he averaged 20.5 disposals at 76.2% efficiency, with 3.8 rebound 50’s a game. He only managed the 13 games due to an elbow injury but the metres he gains with his disposals and poise in the backline is something no other player on their list can provide.
If Nathan Bock comes back and goes forward, the Suns will need one of Jack Hutchins or Rory Thompson to stand up. They also have Seb Tape, but it’s a tough ask for him to come back from a serious knee injury straight away. Rory Thompson only played the 5 games in 2012, following on from his 8 games in 2011, but he’s shown a very good knack for spoiling, averaging 6.2 a game. For his 200cm frame, he’s extremely agile and he does kick the ball very well, boasting a kicking efficiency of 84.4% and also 1.4 contested marks a game. His competition in Hutchins didn’t register a game in 2012 due to injury, but he doesn’t have the athletic capabilities of Thompson nor does he have the height. The Suns must get more games into Thompson, and give him some responsibility in 2013, because going from his performances so far, I’m predicting he’ll stand up and form a handy trio with Matthew Warnock and Tom Murphy. Henry Schade is another promising tall defender, but he’s still pretty skinny and will take a bit more time.
Danny Stanley is pretty experienced and had a go through defence in 2012 after playing up forward in 2011. In his 13 games he averaged 24.1 disposals at 73.5% efficiency, with 7.1 marks.
There isn’t much to boast about in defence for the Suns. Jeremy Taylor is another medium defender who’s only played 10 games. Maverick Weller and Matthew Shaw are the two most experienced small defenders of the younger brigade, but both are yet to do anything of note and both will need to improve their kicking. Joel Wilkinson’s another small defender who’s only played 16 games but to me looks the best player defensively out of the three.
Trent McKenzie played a lot of 2012 through half back, but realistically the Suns need him up the ground. He went from 32 scoring shots in 2011 to only 10 in 2012. The Suns need as much scoreboard impact as they can get.
Greg Broughton is the big pick up. He’ll take the spot of one of their iffy small defenders and he’ll do a good job. He’s been shifted all over the place at Fremantle, but at the Suns he should be able to settle into the backline and not move, even though I still really prefer him as an inside midfielder. He probably won’t exactly get these stats for the Suns, but in his best season in defence in 2010, Broughton averaged 24.3 disposals at 75.8% efficiency, with 5.6 marks, 3.9 rebound 50’s, and 3.4 tackles. If he can get anywhere near that form, which I’m sure he will, the Suns defence goes up an extra cog.
To be honest though, the Suns’ defence is still a bit of a shambles, and it doesn’t look like they’ll find a settled back six or seven anytime soon. I think Tom Murphy, Matthew Warnock, Greg Broughton, Rory Thompson and Jarrod Harbrow and Danny Stanley are the best six defenders they have, providing Nathan Bock goes forward, and then it’s a battle for maybe one smaller defender spot or spot for Seb Tape if he is fit. Still, as hard as they try, Murphy and Warnock are not defenders who you build around, and they’ll get some serious scores kicked against them again if their midfield doesn’t step up in 2013.
Gary Ablett. Is there anything more to say? His season was simply remarkable. He totally reversed his kick to handball ratio from previous seasons, kicking it more and averaging 19.5 a game. That went along with 33.8 possessions a game with 69.1% efficiency, 44.8% of those contested, 3.1 marks, 5.1 inside 50’s, 6.6 clearances, 5.5 tackles, lead the Suns’ goal kicking with 26 goals, and ranked number one for metres gained in the AFL. Anyone who says his disposals don’t have any influence is kidding themselves. He is by so far the best player in the competition, that it isn’t funny. He was involved in 36% of Gold Coast’s scoring chains, which basically translates to the Suns struggling to be able to score unless Gary Ablett is involved. Seriously, 36% for just one player in a team of 22 players. That’s huge.
There’s also a myth that suggest the Suns play better without Gary. An average losing margin of 70 points doesn’t quite reflect that, including a 150 point thrashing. Their closest loss without him was 7 points against the Dockers. I just can’t subscribe to that theory. Yes, some other players might get lazy with him around, but that isn’t his fault. What else is he supposed to do?
His disposals aren’t quite as effective as when he was at the Cats, but gee, you just have to look at what he has around him and watch in awe as he takes on 22 players by himself most of the time, and that’s not being disrespectful to his team mates, that’s just how good he is.
The next best thing in the Gold Coast midfield was Michael Rischitelli, but it is now a question of whether he’ll get back to his best again. In 2011, he averaged 23.7 disposals at 73.1% efficiency with 41.8 of those contested, 4.6 marks, 4.3 inside 50’s, 4.5 clearances, and 5.5 tackles. In 2012 those numbers took a nose dive, with him battling injuries and an alternative role. He and Ablett can create a brilliant experienced duo, but the 2012 season does worry you.
If Rischitelli doesn’t get back to his best, David Swallow, Harley Bennell and Dion Prestia are the ones to stand up, with support from Jared Brennan and Trent McKenzie, and of course Karmichael Hunt.
David Swallow only managed 12 games, succumbing to injury, but he delivered in spades for a second year player when he did take the field. Swallow is exactly like his brother in the contested footy category, winning 49.8% of his disposals in a contested situation. He averaged 18.9 disposals, 3.2 inside 50’s, 3.1 clearances and 3.6 tackles which were slightly down on his debut season in 2011. Providing he is healthy, I don’t see any reason why he won’t make a big jump as early as 2013. Physically he’s ready. It’s just a matter of time.
Dion Prestia is much in the same boat as David Swallow. He also only played 14 games, due to hamstring troubles throughout the season, but he still managed to average 19.7 disposals, 3.2 clearances and 4.2 tackles. A big breakout season looms for the little pocket rocket.
Harley Bennell was the most impressive Sun in 2012 I thought. His season was quite remarkable for a 19 year old, playing all 22 games, averaging 23.7 disposals at 72.9% efficiency, 3.7 inside 50’s, 3.3 clearances, a goal a game and also had his hand in many scoring chains and direct scoring assists. If he’s not already, he’ll be an elite midfielder in 2013 even though he will gain extra attention and quite possibly be the first player tagged in their line up.
Karmichael Hunt improved a ton in 2012, and it was great to watch. He played 18 games through the midfield, winning 14.7 disposals at 73.9% efficiency, to go with 2.7 clearances and 3.5 tackles. He’s proving that he’s going to be a very handy AFL footballer, which will put a lot of people back in their place.
Alex Sexton and Kyal Horsley also got their go in 2012, but neither really showed anything majorly impressive.
Jaeger O’Meara is the big inclusion into the midfield, and should slip straight in and perform. He spend his season in the NEAFL playing only six games, but averaged 19 disposals, 5.2 clearances and 5.2 tackles displaying his dynamic capabilities as a midfielder.
Jack Martin is a year away but he’s much the same.
In terms of the ruck, Zac Smith’s development stalled, playing only 16 games and pretty much falling in every statistical category bar hitouts and hitouts to advantage. His work around the ground and forward presence took a hit, only have 6 shots on goal in 2012 compared to 26 in 2011. You’d think his season was a minor hiccup, and a serious breakout is looming considering he’s now 23 years old.
The forward line received a hit when Nathan Bock went down in round six.
It was just too young to function with Tom Lynch being the main target, receiving cameo support from Steven May, Sam Day, Brandon Matera, Liam Patrick, Campbell Brown and Aaron Hall.
Tom Lynch really impressed in his 17 games, averaging 14.9 disposals, 5.8 marks (1.2 contested) and almost a goal a game. Lynch isn’t the biggest goalkicker, but his work around the ground is first rate.
The other piece to their puzzle, Sam Day, is still struggling. He only averaged 8.1 disposals from his 15 games, with 3.1 marks and just over half a goal a game. Personally, I’ve always thought he’s more suited to defence with his athletic ability.
Steve May showed a lot prowess as a forward in his short stint. He’s only 190cm, but he’s incredibly strong and you liken him to Stewart Crameri. Against Hawthorn he won 22 disposals, 12 marks (4 contested) and kicked 3 goals in a perfect half forward’s game.
Brandon Matera is by far the most exciting piece to this puzzle, and he’s a midget. Statistically he wasn’t huge, but he won’t be far away from the days where he’s winning the ball 20 times and kicking 2 goals a game.
Liam Patrick is capable of the amazing but he can also be fairly ordinary. His kicking was pretty bad in 2012 and so was his forward pressure. He’s still got a long way to go, but if he does find some consistent form he’s a very important cog to the Suns’ forward line.
It’s pretty obvious the Suns’ forward line lacks firepower. They have no genuine goalkickers. You look at GWS and they have Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton. It’s a really big worry.
Don’t expect the Suns to improve much in 2013 if at all. They don’t have the weaponry up forward yet and the defence is still a bit shaky. Their midfield is taking shape and will prove to be one of their strengths, but it is still very young and inexperienced. They might finish above GWS, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish last and GWS leapfrog them immediately. It’s a long road for Guy McKenna and hopefully they back him. They really can’t expect much from this group.
Of all the teams to take the field in 2013 the folk down the highway in sleepy hollow are arguably the most intriguing. Many suggest this is the year Geelong finally loses touch with the competition; others believe they’re still in the mix for a premiership. Opinion is largely split between media pundits and neutral supporters alike given it’s a Geelong squad whose recent premiership stars are either aging or now absent from the field, although outside of the reputation as being old there’s not exactly a mountain of evidence to suggest that these Cats are clawing onto fading hopes of remaining relevant, especially if their results from 2012 are anything to go by.
The Cats eight losses last year all came against finals sides; they defeated who they should and only suffered losses to the competitions elite. If there was one constant that did stick around from previous years it was Geelong’s continued Cinderella script of dominance over Hawthorn.
Unfortunately for the Cats any late season momentum in 2012 was prematurely turned on its head in September. Leading into their elimination final against Fremantle, Geelong were in season best form winning six of their last seven games by an average winning margin of 34 points with their only loss to West Coast by five points thanks to the concussion Gods smiting Tom Hawkins. As the rest of the competition duly adjusted their undies with the threat of another Geelong premiership looking more and more likely, perennial wet towel Ross Lyon and his troops backhanded the Cats with one of the most vicious opening halves of football ever witnessed by a sporting team wearing purple, and that was the end of that.
Season over, a year older and squad rejuvenation was the order of the day for 2013.
The good news for Cats fans is that’s exactly what happened during the offseason with new faces Hamish McIntosh, Jared Rivers and Josh Caddy plugging the most glaring needs and providing Geelong with the opportunity to continue their path as one of the competitions most dangerous sides.
The Geelong defence gave up an average of 85.72 points per game during the 2012 home and away season, the seventh fewest in the AFL. The Cats were consistent throughout and only saw a marginal increase when playing against finals sides where they leaked 89.63 points per game. There were only six games where Geelong gave up over 100 points to their opposition and they came against finals opposition in Hawthorn, West Coast, Collingwood, Adelaide, North Melbourne and Fremantle.
The primary reason for Geelong’s discipline defensively is their level of experience. The Cats defensive unit of Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan, Andrew Mackie, Corey Enright, Josh Hunt and the recently acquired Jared Rivers (in place of the retired Scarlett) will start the season at an average age of 29 with over 160 games of experience. Despite leading the league in free kicks against in 2012, the Geelong defence ranked twelfth in the competition for free kicks against inside defensive 50.
This unit might be aging rapidly but that hasn’t increased their desire to start handing out gifts. They’re as stingy as ever and incredibly difficult to score against. If you play a slow and methodical style you’re simply playing directly into the Cats hands. Geelong led the AFL in interceptions last season at 33.8 per game, registering 2.4 more per game than the next ranked side (Adelaide). Like an experienced group of wisdom filled Monk’s these Cats will utilise their knowledge to take advantage of predictability, they are masters of the roaming defender filling space. Geelong has now led the league in interceptions two years running with Harry Taylor and Corey Enright the two most prominent figures individually. Both players are still in this side and although 31 years of age Enright still plays his role at a high level with exceptional durability.
Geelong might lack pace and explosiveness running out of half back with the aforementioned Enright and Josh Hunt now at the twilight end of their career and this was largely responsible for the Cats ranking fourteenth in the competition for Rebound 50’s. Enright was the lone Cat to rank inside the league’s top 50 for rebound 50’s at 3.5 per game (25th overall) with youngster Tom Gillies (now at Melbourne) next at three per game from his five games played. This forced Geelong to play more calculated out of defence and despite their run-and-carry shortcomings they were able to generate scores with significant success ranking inside the top three for scores generated from defensive 50 and scores generated from kick-ins.
That output is definitely an overwhelming positive but you’d still like to see the Cats more dangerous out of their defensive 50 given they zone off the opponents half forward area so well. News out of the Cattery this preseason has suggested that this may be rectified in 2013 with exciting pair Travis Varcoe and Steven Motlop honing their skills off half-back. This would be a huge asset to Geelong with both players possessing the skill set and pace to emulate a Chris Yarran-like switch from forward to defence.
As far as structures go Geelong’s defensive key position stocks are more than capable of holding down opposition power forwards. In 2012 Geelong opponents ranked tenth in goals converted when Inside 50 percentage, eleventh in total goals, thirteenth in goals from 30-50 meters, thirteenth in time in forward half percentage, thirteenth in scores from half forward and most importantly fourteenth for marks inside 50. That’s the kind of restrictive output that comes with having a veteran defence who instinctively knows how to operate.
The Cats did rank eleventh in the competition for one percenters with Taylor (28th) and Lonergan (46th) the only two members inside the league’s top fifty but it’s not a huge concern given the lack of marking success their opponents experienced. Unfortunately the loss of Matthew Scarlett is a concern and this is where the Jared Rivers signing makes so much sense. Replacing Scarlett with a man-defender in Rivers who has ranked inside the top five in the AFL for one percenters in five separate seasons (04, 06, 09, 2010 and 2011) makes a lot of sense. Despite an apparent down year in 2012 Rivers still ranked 31st for contested marks per game, registering four fewer than Harry Taylor on the season. At 28 years of age Rivers is far from finished and should be a significant asset. Rivers experience and maturity should make the transition easy and allow Geelong to implement the same defensive disciplines that has served them so well in recent years.
If the Cats defence is to fall over in 2013 the likely reason will be injuries. Outside of their core there’s little depth coming through with Cam Guthrie the only individual likely to shake things up personnel wise. Guthrie played 18 games in 2012 and with Josh Hunt suffering from glandular fever during preseason it’s likely that Guthrie will get first crack and nailing down a spot as a permanent fixture. First round draft pick Jackson Thurlow is one option who could feature sporadically with the Cats desperate to fast-track their defensive options for the future considering the current core isn’t getting any younger.
In the Cats favour is their ability to remain incredibly versatile. Key forward James Podsiadly has been groomed to spend time in defence and the return of Nathan Vardy and trade for Hamish McIntosh makes this option feasible with both players capable of investing their time in the forward line. Billie Smedts is another name who can play a role in defence and when you add the potential option of Varcoe and Motlop breaking the lines with their run, Coach Chris Scott has plenty of chess pieces at his disposal.
Geelong’s defensive prospects for the future aren’t as promising as they’d like and a serious injury could really hamper them down back. If fully fit for the majority of the season the Cats will be in good hands and just as restrictive as ever.
Outside of captain Joel Selwood Geelong’s midfield stars might be entering the twilight of their dominance but savvy recruiting and drafting has allowed the Cats to maintain their status as one of the competition’s premiere midfields. We all knew the turning of the tide would eventually happen and that wasn’t more evident than last season with Geelong pumping games into the likes of Jesse Stringer, Billie Smedts, Jordan Murdoch, Jordan Schroder, Jackson Sheringham and George Horlan-Smith with varying degrees of success. Josh Cowan is another highly rated kid internally, but was dogged by an Achilles injury throughout 2012. With Joel Corey, Jimmy Bartel and James Kelly all over the age of 29 blooding youngsters was a necessity rather than a luxury. This essentially left Chris Scott in the rare position of trying to compete for a premiership whilst rebuilding his squad.
They may be old but the trio of Corey, Bartel and Kelly is highly durable and still managed to feature in 59 of a possible 69 games. With Mitch Duncan, Taylor Hunt, Allen Christensen and impressive Gold Coast recruit Josh Caddy all starting to ripen up for a more focal role in a finals calibre AFL midfield the issue of relying on veterans is starting to thin out.
The Cats midfield is their strong point and once the added depth comes through they will be set for years to come under the leadership of Joel Selwood. Geelong’s nucleus of Selwood, Corey, Bartel, Kelly, Duncan, Hunt, Caddy and Christensen is a nice mix of old and young with an average age of 25 and 122 games experience.
From a delivery standpoint Geelong’s forward line have no reason to complain given the amount of entries that came their way in 2012. The Cats ranked fourth in the competition for inside 50’s and third for inside 50 differential, with their output even better when facing finals sides. Geelong would finish the year with the best inside 50 differential of any club in fixtures against finals sides last season, as evidenced by the following graph;
(Data is strictly versus Finals sides)
|Team||Inside 50’s For||Inside 50’s Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
This became even more valuable when you consider just how damaging Geelong are via foot. The Cats were second in effective kick differential and third in kicking efficiency differential with a +3.51% advantage behind only West Coast and Hawthorn. Geelong’s reliance on accurate usage was incredibly telling to the point that it virtually mirrored a win or a loss result.
Geelong would go on to record a higher kicking efficiency than their opponent in 13 of their 15 wins, with the only exceptions being against possession heavy kick-to-kick ninjas Hawthorn and Richmond.
As good as they might be one problem area for the Cats midfield is contested possession and clearance output with Geelong ranking twelfth in contested possession differential in 2012. Joel Selwood was superb and ninth overall in the competition but no player under the age of 29 registered inside the top 50. The same can be said about the Cats clearance output with Geelong ranking fifteenth for clearance differential which was in the bottom five along with GWS, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne. Selwood again led the way and sits inside the AFL’s top five for clearances but then it’s Kelly and Corey as the only other members to register inside the top 50, or any output of note.
Someone has to make the jump and fill this void eventually, but for now the older heads will have to shoulder the load even though they’ve been largely ineffective at doing so. These negatives were most prominent when Geelong faced premium opposition. The Cats had a -4.64 clearance differential and -3.36 contested possession differential (per game) when playing finals sides last year. In four of Geelong’s losses to finals sides they allowed their opponents to source at least 45 points from stoppages with over 38% of all opponent points in 2012 sourced from stoppages compared to 32% for Geelong. That left Geelong outside the AFL’s top ten for scores sourced from stoppages.
For a side so prevalent on keeping the game contested (their opponents ranked last for uncontested possessions and marks per game) Geelong failing to win first use of the football was definitely a contributor to the Cats suffering seven home and away season losses to hard bodied finals sides last year and a problem that needed to be addressed. The addition of ruckman Hamish McIntosh suggests that this will be rectified to a degree.
2012 saw the Cats ranking fourteenth for hitout differential, thirteenth for effective hitout differential and experience the worst effective hitout differential when facing finals sides. Trent West and Orren Stephenson as first choice ruckman just weren’t getting the job done. With McIntosh on board and Nathan Vardy fully fit the Cats clearance woes should have less of a negative impact this year, provided of course that both or even one remain healthy for the majority of the season. Reserve rucking duo Trent West and Dawson Simpson are serviceable at best and will be called upon if either of the first choice personnel require rest or fall victim to injury, although for Hamish McIntosh it’s more of a case of “when” not “if”.
It is interesting to note that Geelong haven’t ranked inside the top five for clearance differential or hitouts to advantage since 2008, so you could argue that the Cats defensive work at stoppages and counter attacking style is what’s important here. It’s true to an extent when you consider that Geelong source 61% of all scores from turnovers and were sixth in score from turnover differential (fifth via midfield turnovers) with only five teams above them (Hawthorn, West Coast, Sydney, Adelaide and Collingwood), but the drop off in stoppage output is a concern as the following contested possession differential table indicates;
Geelong Contested Possession Differential
Poaching Travis Boak would have wiped this issue clean. Those shifty flights to Adelaide were warranted.
Defensively the Cats midfield will likely improve again given they were among the best in the AFL last season. Geelong limited their opponents to the fourteenth fewest kicks, twelfth fewest disposals and fourteenth fewest inside 50’s in 2012, all the while forcing them to commit the fifth most turnovers. A huge reason for these impressive defensive numbers was Geelong’s strait jacket tackling pressure which was second overall and fourth in differential rankings. Being so aggressive often has its negatives and the Cats were no exception giving away the highest number of midfield free kicks among any side. There’s no doubt that area will be looked at during preseason.
With their ruckman issue rectified, midfield versatility oozing from every orifice (Johnson, Chapman, Motlop, Varcoe, and Caddy) and a fearless policy to invest games in their youth, Geelong will continue their reputation as possessing a dangerous midfield. It’s likely that the veteran brigade will have to support Selwood with the tough stuff for one more year before the up and comers can make a similar mark but there’s little to suggest the veterans are no longer capable of doing so from a skill or durability perspective.
You could sum this section up by simply writing “Tom Hawkins” in gigantic caps and underlining it three times. It might have taken 100 odd games but Tommy boy has stamped his mark all over the competition and now stands out more than an obnoxious tribal tattoo as one of the games premiere key forwards. After 22 games and 62 goals from 100 scoring shots there’s no shame in admitting an increase in Tom Hawkins man-love when the blue-eyed mammoth rips a game apart, especially when it involves momentarily ruining the lives of Hawthorn supporters.
At 24 years of age Hawkins is finally at the maturity level where confidence is consistent and any self-doubt is a demon of the past. You can sum up how good Hawkins is just by looking at his home and away splits against top eight and bottom eight competition;
Tom Hawkins: Finals v Non-Finals Sides (Excludes concussion game v West Coast)
|Category||Top 8 (10 Games)||Bottom 8 (10 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||4.7||3.7||-1|
A consistent key position forward? It’s like finding a Unicorn.
There’s been plenty of talk regarding Hawkins going missing against Fremantle in last year’s elimination final. Not only was the Cats forward line facing arguably the best defensive unit in the competition but their delivery inside 50 was about as efficient as Australia Post on a Sunday. Leading into the game the Dockers were the second ranked scoring defence, allowed the second fewest marks inside 50 and second fewest inside 50’s. Geelong did have 54 inside 50’s that night but their kicking efficiency was a season low 53%.
Unless someone can provide evidence that he was kicking to himself all night that’s not Tom Hawkins fault.
As for the rest of the forward line, Geelong averaged 100 points per game last year but this dropped to 87 points per game when they faced top eight sides. What’s perplexing here is that Geelong led the competition for Inside 50’s against finals sides and Mark’s Inside 50 (posted below) but failed to translate that dominance to the scoreboard. It wasn’t an accuracy issue either as the Cats converted at 53% against finals sides and 54% against non-finals sides. The problem was a drop in scores sourced from general play and stoppages.
Marks Inside 50 v Finals Sides (Per game average)
|Team||Marks Inside 50 For||Marks Inside 50 Against||Difference||Home & Away Ranking|
Geelong’s strength is obviously their marking power up forward with Tom Hawkins leading the charge and to a lesser degree James Podsiadly. The pair combined for 29% of the Cats total goals last season but Podsiadly was anything but consistent and will struggle to cement a spot with Nathan Vardy the most likely replacement. As is the case with the rest of Geelong’s squad the forward line is extremely experienced and joining the key forwards up front again in 2013 will be the ever dangerous veteran presence of Paul Chapman, Steve Johnson and to a lesser degree Mathew Stokes. The only negative is that Podsiadly, Chapman, Johnson and Stokes are all at least 28 years of age.
From a scoring perspective results were mixed partly due to role changes and form slumps. Steve Johnson kicked just 19 goals in 2012, his lowest total since his rookie season and a feat Matthew Stokes would emulate with just 15 goals from 20 games. Outside of his rookie year Stokes had career lows in tackles, marks inside 50 and score assists. At 28 years of age Stokes faces a fork in the road scenario which could see his career go the way of former cat Shannon Byrnes if he doesn’t show something early in 2013. Johnson meanwhile took on a more midfield based role with significant success thus the lack of goal kicking output was expected.
According to the noise out of Geelong’s preseason campaign Paul Chapman is looking as fresh as ever coming off a 2012 campaign in which he located the fountain of youth and averaged over 20 disposals, 4.5 tackles, 3.3 inside 50’s, amassed 119 score involvements and kicked 36 goals. At 31 years of age a drop off is to be expected but until form says otherwise Chapman will maintain his spot in the best 22.
If the rumours of Podsiadly moving to defence are true the health of Nathan Vardy becomes paramount from a structure perspective. Vardy along with new ruckman Hamish McIntosh can play forward and given the key position forward depth is thin both will no doubt feature often with Vardy getting a real crack at etching out a permanent spot due to his leap and contested marking ability.
The two x-factors for this forward line in 2013 will be Travis Varcoe and Daniel Menzel. Unsighted due to injury in 2012 (one game between them) the pair brings a buffet of tricks and much needed versatility. In 2011 Varcoe and Menzel combined for 59 goals, 120 inside 50’s, 39 marks inside 50 and 48 score assists. Given their time away from the game and severity of the injuries experienced it’s unfair to loft significant expectation upon the two but with youth on their side the potential upside here is exciting.
Geelong had the second most interchanges per game differential last season behind only Adelaide. With their older bodies still featuring heavily, the likes of Jimmy Bartel could find themselves playing a more forward oriented role. Throw in Steven Motlop and Mitch Duncan who last season both broke through the 20 goal barrier, combined for 40 score assists and 203 score involvements and the forward line rotations loom as a matchup nightmare for opposition coaches.
Defensively the Cats forward line are quite sound allowing the eleventh fewest scores from defensive 50 and ninth fewest scores from kick-ins last year. In 2012 Geelong essentially ranked inside the top ten in the competition for virtually every forward line indicator that exists, both offensively and defensively.
In regards to pure forward depth Geelong are lacking and the concern about the youth coming through is warranted. With so much squad versatility and a forward line anchored by one of the AFL’s superstar power forwards in Hawkins, scoring punch won’t be an issue for the 2013 Cats.
What to Expect in 2013?
There are plenty of whispers forecasting a fall from grace but given the leadership, experience and variety this squad has to offer you’d be clutching at straws to honestly suggest this team won’t at the very least play finals.
Labeling Geelong old is accurate, they’re old as hell with five players over 30, the third most of any club equal with Hawthorn and behind St. Kilda and Sydney (six each). Fourteen members of their squad are over 26, the equal second most of any club behind St. Kilda. If you weigh it up on numbers alone though the Cats squad has the same average age as Hawthorn (23.96) with 1.5 fewer games experience (66.5 v 68). It’s not exactly a disaster.
Taylor, Mackie, Steve Johnson, Bartel, Lonergan and James Kelly are all under 30 and still playing first rate football, add Selwood and Hawkins entering their prime, their dedication to injecting games into youth whilst still putting an experienced side on the park and the Cats have a few lives left before the club has to question reconfiguring their entire makeup.
Selwood, Hawkins, Varcoe, Hunt, Christensen, Caddy, Motlop, Duncan, Menzel, Guthrie and Vardy are all 24 or younger. If Geelong continues to acquire stop-gap needs like Rivers and McIntosh, whilst bringing in prestigious young talent like Caddy, falling out of touch may never happen.
Geelong need to generate more offensive punch from their midfield, specifically clearances, contested possessions and scoring if they want to consistently defeat the best teams in the competition. Being pedestrian in those areas is predominately what led to their eight losses to finals sides, but this is a team who last season defeated Hawthorn, Adelaide and Sydney in the last six weeks of the season, the patch of the season when a supposed over the hill team should be waving a white flag. Geelong looked much better, and performed much better in those weaker areas as the year wore on.
The future isn’t laden with young stars just yet, but for now the Cats are still built for September. Whether Geelong can go all the way will be determined by how all the new pieces adjust, how much of an impact last years injured players can have and how well the older bodies hold up. Write them off with the “too old, too slow” mantra if you like. It’s been done to death in recent years and has proved to be nothing more than hot air.
The doubters will be right eventually. There’s not enough evidence to suggest that time is now.
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby
Fremantle Football Club
The Dockers were agonisingly close to reaching a Preliminary Final last season; a feat that would’ve been deemed impossible after round 14 where they barely gave a yelp against the Pies at the MCG, slumping to a 6-7 record with their only win of any major significance coming against Geelong in round one at Subiaco.
From round 15 onwards, the Dockers went on a 9-2 rampage, recording an average winning margin of 45.6 points while only conceding 64.8 points a game to their opposition.
The Dockers were unbreakable, with only Adelaide managing to beat them twice in that period; coincidentally a team which doesn’t over possess the football. Ross Lyon finally got the squeeze going to full effect in the second half of the season which was made quite blatant in the statistics.
Here’s a little table outlining their improvement:
Rounds 1 to 14
Round 15 to Semi-Final
Scores From Turnovers Differential Average
Scores From Stoppages Differential Average
Opposition Scores From Kick-In’s
|Forward Half Turnovers Created Differential Average||
|Percentage Time Spent in Forward Half Differential Average||
Tackles Inside 50 Differential Average
Average Points Against
The turnaround wasn’t slight, it was dramatic. Ross Lyon’s stranglehold game style kept the opposition to less than 50 points in six games!
Fremantle are automatically a major threat to go the distance in 2013 because of their defence. I’ll back until my dying day that defence wins premierships, rings, titles and whatever else you want to throw at me.
It’s highly unattractive but awesome to watch at the same time. Ross Lyon is a genius if you’re into strategy. His game isn’t for the purists and as an opposition fan it’s unwatchable, but he continues to revolutionise the game each season, and with the list he now has at his disposal, his crazy master plans may give him that ultimate success he never quite had at the Saints.
IN: Danyle Pearce, Josh Simpson, Tanner Smith, Max Duffy, Jack Hannath, Matthew Taberner, Alex Howson, Craig Moller.
OUT: Dylan Roberton, Nick Lower, Greg Broughton, Antoni Grover, Gavin Roberts, Jay Van Berlo, Jordan Wilson-King, Jack Anthony.
Apart from letting Greg Broughton and Nick Lower go so cheaply, I thought Fremantle’s off-season was excellent. Danyle Pearce is a hugely underrated signing while they also drafted some freakish talents in Josh Simpson and Max Duffy. Duffy especially will be a really good player if he can buy into Ross Lyon’s style. Defensively is where he lacks.
You probably look at the Fremantle defence on paper and think how this team were so stingy, but it’s all about team defence, and having an absolute gun in Luke McPharlin.
McPharlin is the one household name in there and then you have guys who would hardly ever rate a mention in Victorian media like Paul Duffield, Michael Johnson, Garrick Ibbotson, Lee Spurr, Zac Dawson (I’ve always been a fan; he’s not as bad as you say), and Nick Suban.
You know what; I’m going to start with Zac Dawson. For some reason he’s a player everyone loves to bag, but I still maintain St Kilda wouldn’t have even had a sniff in the 2010 Grand Final if it weren’t for him. Ross Lyon likes him, and that’s good enough for me. Despite what many said about his move to Fremantle, he played 18 games and is definitely a part of their best side. He only conceded 1.2 goals per game on his direct opponent, spoiled the ball 5.7 times a game and used the ball at 82% efficiency. There’s not much more you can ask from your full back, and with a set up that Fremantle has, his ‘deficiencies’ (it’s funny when you ask someone why they think he’s crap) aren’t exposed as such.
Luke McPharlin earned All-Australian honours for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 31. Just quickly going back to Zac Dawson, Luke McPharlin conceded 1.4 goals a game on his direct opponent, but he offered much more offensively and defensively. McPharlin recorded 2.6 intercepted marks a game but offensively he was excellent, picking up 16.6 disposals a game at 86.5% efficiency, and 3.1 rebound 50’s. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor for McPharlin yet, but its imperative Fremantle do something while he’s still there as I’m not sure they can get far without him. Having said that, they did win a final without him, but they desperately missed him in the semi-final against Adelaide when Taylor Walker went H.A.M.
Footy Tragic’s favourite player, Paul Duffield, got back to his very best in 2012, not before his usual stint in the WAFL to just get a little kick up the backside. He was imperative to Fremantle’s run out of defence, and most importantly Ross seemed to trust him. Duffield delivered, recording a career-high kicking efficiency of 82.1% from his 19.1 disposals and 3.4 rebound 50’s a game.
A big key to Freo’s success though was the breakout of Michael Johnson. He’s promised a lot but finally delivered a career season at 27 years of age. Similarly to McPharlin, Johnson cut off many attacks, averaging just over 2 intercepted marks per game and 3.7 spoils. Offensively he was used more than ever, recording 19.4 disposals a game at 79.6% efficiency, with 6.9 marks and 3.3 rebound 50’s.
The battle for the small defender positions seem to be between Garrick Ibbotson (who did spend more time in the middle), Nick Suban and Lee Spurr. Spurr was impressive in his 13 games, playing rounds 6 to 8, getting dropped and then playing out the season after round 16. Spurr has some things to work on offensively, but defensively he’d be someone Ross Lyon really buys into.
The Dockers are building a formidable midfield. The addition of Danyle Pearce brings some much needed experience, because apart from David Mundy and Ryan Crowley, Stephen Hill, Nathan Fyfe, Matt de Boer (I told you he’d break out!), Clancee Pearce, Tendai Mzungu, Michael Barlow, and Anthony Morabito (such a shame) have all played fewer than 100 games.
I have no hesitation to drawing some type of parallel between Freo’s second half of the season and David Mundy’s return to the form we saw him in before he injured his leg in 2011. From round 15 onwards, Mundy averaged 24.2 disposals at 61.1% efficiency, but 49.6% of his disposals were in a contested situation. He also averaged 16.1 kicks, 4.8 tackles, 4.7 inside 50’s and 5.7 clearances. Mundy is the complete player now, and he’s due for an uninterrupted monster season. 2013 is it.
Michael Barlow was also back to somewhat near his best form in 2012 after horrifically breaking his leg in his debut season. While his kicking has been a big issue in the last two seasons (going at 54% efficiency), he hasn’t lost his ball-winning ability, averaging 24.4 disposals 5.2 tackles and 3.9 clearances. His kick to handball ratio was also at a career high but that’s most likely due to Ross Lyon’s kicking game style. Barlow’s accuracy in front of goal was also a concern, only converting 36.4% of the time.
The much-hyped Nathan Fyfe only managed 11 games due to his ever constant shoulder issues, but the Dockers were 8-3 with him in the side. The one thing that will keep this kid from being a top five player in the game is his ball use. He was number one in the AFL for clangers per game, bettering his effort of 19th in 2011 and also kicking the ball considerably worse, going from 55.3% down to 49%. Having said that, 51.3% of his possessions are in a contested situation, and he’s a midfielder that grabbed a contested mark a game to go with 4.5 inside 50’s, 3.9 clearances and 3.7 tackles. Fyfe isn’t the complete package yet. There is still some major improvement to come, and let’s not forget, he’s only 21 years old.
My boy Matt de Boer had a career season, recording a 28% jump in disposals per game, and that wasn’t even in a permanent midfield role. Despite this, he still averaged an elite 6 tackles per game and used the ball at 70.7% from a 48.2% contested possession ratio. Not bad for someone with perceived disposal issues. He sticks to what he does best, and that’s why I love him. However I didn’t love him when he had his best game against the Tigers, recording 29 disposals (17 contested), and 13 tackles. These are the types of numbers we can get used to if Ross decides to let him off the leash a bit more.
Speaking of breakout seasons, Clancee Pearce was feeling the love from Ross Lyon. He jumped from 12.6 disposals a game to 19.5 with a better role and increased midfield time. Pearce used the ball extremely well, with a kicking efficiency of 71.3% but also did some very nice inside work, recording 7.5 contested possessions, 2.5 clearances and 4.3 tackles a game.
Stephen Hill didn’t quite have the breakout season we were expecting, but that’s largely due to the constant attention he receives. In his last three seasons he’s gone from 17.3 disposals, to 17.5, to 17.7. He’s barely improved in any statistical category since 2010 and his scoreboard impact has gradually gotten worse, kicking only 10 goals in 2012. His contested possession rate did increase largely in 2012 to 46.5%, but ideally the Dockers would like Hill to get it on the outside for the large majority. It just isn’t happening. Having said all that, the Dockers do rely on Stephen Hill’s production in their victories. These are Hill’s splits in wins vs losses:
This is why I love the inclusion of Danyle Pearce. For some reason he cops a lot of flack, but you can’t change the type of player he is. The marriage at Port Adelaide wasn’t there, simply because Pearce needs quality around him. Pearce has consistently been the first player tagged at Port Adelaide since he won the Rising Star award, yet his level of consistency has actually been very good. He’s averaged over 20 possessions since 2009, missing only 5 games, and being damaging with it too. He was second in the AFL for metres gained for his disposals in 2012, and you’d think his disposal counts will only increase at the Dockers. If Stephen Hill isn’t producing, Danyle Pearce will, and vice versa. It’ll prove to be a damaging duo.
I love club Best and Fairest’s. Ask most people and they’d probably say Matthew Pavlich won the Dockers one in 2012, but it was Ryan Crowley. Officially the most feared tagger in the competition, he conceded more than 20 possessions only once in his 24 games, playing on the opposition’s best midfielder each week. He didn’t do a whole lot offensively, averaging only 14.8 disposals, 2.3 inside 50’s and 2.1 clearances, but defensively he established himself as the best stopper in the competition.
Tendai Mzungu was the other solid contributer through the Dockers’ midfield, mainly playing a non-stat friendly role as a stopper even though he was a monster ball winner at state level. His disposal was questionable throughout the season for the amount of space he finds, but his defensive efforts are something Ross Lyon would absolutely love.
The Dockers do have some young midfielders coming through the system who got a taste at the top level, namely Lachie Neale and Tom Sheridan, but Josh Simpson is a really likely type and they’ll be praying Anthony Morabito will successfully return from a third knee reconstruction, because he’s an absolute gun.
Their ruck department is an obvious strength with Aaron Sandilands but the worry is he’s only played 27 games out of a possible 46 in the last two seasons. He’s 30 years old now, so it’s tough to see the Dockers getting a full season out of him anymore. The Dockers have proven they can win without him, but it’s not entirely convincing. They were 9-5 with him and 6-4 without him last season and in 2011 they were 6-7 with him and 3-6 without him. Despite his utter hit-out dominance, largely Sandilands is ineffective in this area, and always has been. He hovers around the 22% mark for hitouts to advantage but he does win around 5 clearances a game, which is his strength as well as the ball he wins around the ground.
Jon Griffin is a handy back-up for Sandilands, but they lose a lot around the ground, clearances and in the hit-outs.
Zac Clarke is still yet to cement a position in the ruck or up forward, but his talent is unquestioned and I’m guessing there’ll be a lot of clubs sniffing around if this continues.
Their depth through this area is fantastic, and they all seem to play their roles well. The good thing about their group is the fact every single midfielder has improvement in them.
The Dockers have built a nice immediate mix in the forward line but it does look grim post-Pav. The good news is Pav is still at the top of his game, kicking 69 goals in 2012, 55 of those coming in the final 13 games. Pavlich was a bit slow out of the blocks, kicking only seven goals in the first six games, but from round 11 onwards he hit his straps in a Superman effort averaging 17.4 disposals, 7 marks (2.3 contested), 3.7 marks inside 50 and 4.2 goals. Freakish stats. He was mostly consistent in wins vs losses, but his scoreboard impact did affect the result, averaging 3.9 goals in wins and 1.7 goals in losses. The Dockers need him firing, pure and simple.
His support cast consisted of Hayden Ballantyne, Chris Mayne and Michael Walters with cameos from Zac Clarke and Kepler Bradley, but they only contributed 19 goals from 27 games; not good enough for a second tall option.
Ballantyne, Mayne and Walters contributed for 92 goals from a combined 54 games; more than making up for their lack of tall weapons.
Chris Mayne’s accuracy was amazing, ranking number one in the competition at 84.8%, kicking 39 goals and 7 behinds.
The three small forwards were all great defensively averaging at least 3 tackles a game to go with their goal kicking prowess.
The issue for the Dockers is that they have four genuine options up front and then not much else. They desperately need a second tall option to stand up, with Zac Clarke being the obvious selection. Max Duffy is a genuine chance to get lots of games in 2013, and perhaps Hayden Crozier too, but I still don’t think he’s ready yet. Josh Mellington showed good signs in his start, as a manic small forward but injury cruelled him.
Depth up front is a major worry for the Dockers, and if God forbid anything happened to Matthew Pavlich, they’d be in struggle town.
Buddy Franklin is a free agent this season, so you never know!
Finals are a minimum for this side in 2013 with a potential top four berth. They have a masterful coach mixed with a very talented list that has a majority of players in their peak or about to reach it. Their older players are crucial however, and must stay fit for them to be a serious contender.
“So, attractive one day, not attractive the next.”
“Have you come across this?”
“Yes, I am familiar with this syndrome… She’s a two-face.”
“Like the Batman villain?!”
“If that helps you.”
“So if I ask her out again, I don’t know who’s showing up — the good, the bad, or the ugly.”
For those who aren’t familiar that’s a conversation which takes place between Jerry and George in an episode of Seinfeld called “The Strike”, where Jerry is dating a girl who only looks attractive in certain light. It also doubles as an accurate way to sum up Essendon’s 2012 season, and their prospects in 2013. We’ve seen every angle of the Essendon football club in the last 12 months — The good, the bad and far too much of the ugly.
The Bombers jumped out of the gates like a team possessed in 2012, registering a 10-3 record in their first thirteen games with an average winning margin of 39.5 points. Numerous media pundits were labelling them a top four calibre side and a lock for a finals berth, with Jobe Watson earning Brownlow favouritism.
Then the weapon detonated, the soft-tissue injury apocalypse hit, James Hird’s blank stare became a constant feature and Essendon would finish their final nine weeks with a 1-8 record at an average losing margin of 54.1 points, despite Jobe Watson continuing to add to his Brownlow plaudits.
Just how much of the collapse was down to injury, a lack of squad depth or the coaching staff’s lack of flexibility and innovation is largely unknown. One thing for certain is that it’s unacceptable for a club of Essendon’s status, especially one with ambitions to build on a finals campaign from a year prior. The positive for Bombers supporters is that the club has echoed this line of thinking and were proactive during trade week by acquiring a marquee talent in Brendon Goddard.
With a squad striving for finals football it will be intriguing for both neutrals and Essendon die-hards alike to see how the coaching staff and leadership group go about recapturing the Bombers mojo. No team finished 2012 showered in more on-field negativity.
Say what you like about James Hird the footballer, he’s an all-time great. Whether or not that translates to the coach’s box is a whole different ball park. Based on what we saw last season it still remains to be seen whether or not James Hird the coach is Penske material.
As for the squad at his disposal, it shapes up as follows…
Essendon’s defence gave up 95 points per game in season 2012, the eighth most of any club, although these numbers would free-fall like all of their other indicators in the latter part of the season.
In rounds 1-14 Essendon gave up more than 90 points to their opposition just twice (North Melbourne and Richmond) and would scrape home with victories in those fixtures. During rounds 15-23 the Bombers gave up at least 100 points to every side they played except for Port Adelaide. Logic suggests that at face value this was likely due to the absence of key personnel, with a break down across all areas of the ground, specifically the midfield, also contributing heavily.
The problem with this theory is that in large, Essendon’s preferred defence took to the field at a strikingly similar rate from rounds 1-14, where they would register a 10-3 record and rounds 15-23 where they finished 1-8. The following tables sum it up best;
Rounds 1-14. (13 games)
|% of Games Played||77.77%|
Rounds 15-23 (9 games)
|% of Games Played||76.54%|
That is by no means a diabolical differential, at least not one that could explain the complete turnaround in results. The only player to miss significant game time was Tayte Pears who’s position in the best twenty-two is highly debatable. You can argue that the 77% of availability isn’t an ideal number, but why did Essendon’s defensive output seemingly fall off a cliff at the business end of the season?
The answer is quite simple. It was due to a combination of a depleted midfield, skill errors and an increase in the ability of their opponent. This area of the analysis is strictly for discussion of the defence though, so we’ll address those areas relating to the midfield in the next section.
Outside of Dustin Fletcher this Essendon defence is very inexperienced with Fletcher the only core member over the age of 26 with at least 75 games experience. With Fletcher excluded the defensive eight of Hurley, Hardingham, Hibberd, Dempsey, Hooker, Pears and Carlisle has an average age of just 23 with 51 games of experience. With the inclusion of Fletcher that number naturally increases to 25 years of age with the games played experience nearly doubling to over 90 games.
Be that as it may the Bombers still possess a nice mix of young key position and medium sized defenders.
Working in the Bombers favour defensively is their flexibility with Michael Hurley and new acquisition Brendon Goddard two A-graders who can plug holes in numerous roles. Hurley appears to play his most consistent football down back and Goddard adds class to a midfield so reliant on the exploits of Jobe Watson. Either player could line up at opposite ends of the ground, with Goddard anywhere in between depending on matchups. Dyson Heppell is another talent who from all reports is primed for a permanent midfield switch this year but has honed his craft in defence and can move down back if necessary. There’s a lot of guesswork involved at this point regarding where each of the three will line up in round one but having that luxury of flexibility is a definite advantage.
It would have been easy to dedicate this entire section to the ageless Dustin Fletcher who at 37 years old continues to defy the human body rule book. Fletcher was again the heart and soul of the Bombers defence last season and with his key position counterparts still a year or two from hitting their prime, Fletcher will once again anchor the Bombers defence at full back. Any doubts over Dustin’s ability to compete and remain an asset at his age should fall on deaf ears. Fletcher was second in the competition for interceptions per game and rebound 50’s, whilst also ranking inside the top 25 for one percenters and leading the league in torps beyond 70 meters (unconfirmed).
Statistically as a whole, Essendon appeared to be quite active in defence ranking third in the league for interceptions. In fact, they were the only club with four or more players inside the top 30 for interceptions per game (Fletcher, Hooker, Carlisle, Hardingham), and one of only three teams in the AFL (with Brisbane and North) to have three or more players inside the top 30 for one percenters per game (Hardingham, Fletcher, Hooker) although one could argue a decent percentage of that was due to Essendon being under siege from opposition midfields in the second half of the season.
Offensively the Bombers defence was above average in 2012 ranking second in scores generated from defensive 50 and seventh in scores generated from kick-ins, but here is where it gets ugly, really, really ugly. From a defensive standpoint Essendon’s resistance as a unit was virtually non-existent.
A lot of the following statistical indicators take place all over the field so identifying exactly which area of the ground is at fault isn’t black and white but regardless the end result was largely the same, the opposition hitting the scoreboard.
Turnovers were quite low for Essendon last season but the problem wasn’t volume of turnovers it was how easily their opponents profited with the Bombers allowing the seventh most opponent scores from turnovers. That’s far too high for a team with finals aspirations and often results in a defence being left all at sea, as indicated by the following output;
- Esssendon led the competition in scores from turnover differential (bad), despite ranking 12th in overall turnover differential (good). That essentially tells you that the majority of Essendon turnovers resulted in an opposition score, whilst the Bombers failed to take full advantage.
- Essendon allowed the fourth most opponent Marks Inside 50 per game behind only the Bulldogs, Gold Coast and GWS.
- Essendon ranked second for most opponent goals from 0-15 meters behind only the Gold Coast.
- Essendon committed the third most free kicks per game Inside their defensive 50.
- Essendon ranked 14th in goals from free kicks differential.
- Essendon committed the fourth most interceptions per game behind only Melbourne, Port Adelaide and GWS.
- And most importantly, Essendon ranked 11th in opponent time in forward half percentage.
That final stat is a big deal and here is why: Every side that ranked inside the top eight for lowest time in forward half percentage (outside of North Melbourne, ninth) played finals (Carlton were eighth). The top five sides in lowest opponent time in forward half percentage were as follows: West Coast, Hawthorn, Adelaide, Collingwood and Sydney, the five sides who were a class above the rest of the competition. It’s an incredibly accurate measure in terms of team success.
Essendon simply need to work harder, a lot harder, when it comes to aiding their defence. Allowing teams to access the scoreboard so easily is green lighting your own death sentence. Turnovers must be limited in important parts of the ground. The Bombers were 12th in marking differential, so a play on at all costs mentality obviously didn’t aid their cause, specifically the younger bodies that joined the end of season massacres. The turnover issues have to be objective number one for the Bombers as a whole in 2013, especially with a defence that is still finding its feet and thin in depth.
The Bombers midfield is their strength area and is led by one of the finest in the game in Jobe Watson. The only problem is that Watson was left playing the role of lone Wolf in 2012 and was essentially Essendon’s entire midfield. A worthy Brownlow winner Watson ranked inside the AFL’s top ten for contested possessions, disposals, effective disposals, kicks, goal assists, clearances, score involvements and probably 1500 other categories not mentioned. Joining Watson in the midfield this year to bolster their prospects will be the aforementioned Brendon Goddard and a mixture of varying class, inconsistent class, in Brent Stanton, David Zaharakis, Heath Hocking, Dyson Heppell and Ben Howlett with David Myers, Jake Melksham, Travis Colyer, injury hampered Jason Winderlich and unproven midfield youngster Elliott Kavanagh as primary support and depth players.
Their front nine of Watson, Goddard, Stanton, Zaharakis, Hocking, Heppell, Howlett, Myers and Melksham are at an average age of 24.48 and 99 games experience. It’s a very nice mix of experience and youth and one which should have no problems competing with the best in season 2013. It also justifies the Bombers shedding the dead weight of Sam Lonergan, Brent Prismall, Ricky Dyson, Kyle Reimers and Henry Slattery given that group as a whole averaged just 5 games in 2012.
Outside of Watson, Essendon’s midfield was extremely disappointing last season and largely responsible for them falling off a cliff with injuries playing a significant role, but first to the positive news.
From an offensive perspective the Bombers midfield requires little room for improvement. As a unit they ranked second in scores from stoppages, third for Inside 50’s, third for midfield free kick differential and sixth in goal from stoppage differential. Unfortunately that’s where the positives end. Now to the bad, and keep in mind that this entire analysis exists to identify areas that Essendon need to improve on if they’re going to play Finals in season 2013.
As we’re all aware Essendon’s output in the second half of the season took a turn for the worst. The quickest way to identify this is by comparing their splits from rounds 1-14 and 15-23;
Pretty impressive; they possessed an advantage in virtually every area and more importantly the areas that mattered. They won the hard ball, dominated possession and used it more effectively via foot with limited turnovers. All hallmarks of a great midfield.
“Yamahama, its fright night!”
Essendon’s output during this period is the AFL equivalent of Lambs to a slaughter. The only area where they were remotely competitive was contested marking and hitouts, although that was largely irrelevant as next to zero advantage was gained. What’s alarming is the tackle count; it essentially symbolizes a team who (outside of Watson) had quit. There’s simply no excuse for that level of productivity, or lack thereof, when your opponent is possession so much ball. As you can see the majority of those indicators are midfield based.
This is backed up further when you look at both the Bombers and their opponents scoring sources;
Scoring Sources: Rounds 1-14 (Average per game)
Summary: Essendon sourced the majority of their scoring punch via turnovers but experienced the more significant advantage over their opposition when it came to stoppages. Essendon opponents failed to generate more than 30 points from stoppages in ten of their first thirteen games; they were superb at negating opposition midfield scoring punch. These numbers fall in line with Essendon’s midfield dominance in general play from the first half of 2012.
Scoring Sources: Rounds 15-23 (Average per game)
Summary: Fast forward to the tail end of the season and you’ll notice a drastic flip in midfield productivity. Essendon’s scoring ability from stoppages dried up whilst their opponents sky rocketed. In four of their final nine games the Bombers failed to generate more than 20 points from stoppages, whilst their opponents eclipsed the 30 point threshold from stoppages in eight of their final nine games. The same can be said for opponent scoring from turnovers. In Round 22 against Richmond Essendon allowed only five points via stoppages but gift wrapped a season high 90 points from turnovers.
These numbers and how they do a complete reversal in the space of the same season is simply incredible.
So the million dollar question is; what in the hell went wrong with Essendon during this period?
Let’s take a look at the midfield personnel which took to the field during those two periods;
Rounds 1-14. (13 games)
|% of Games Played||76.15%|
Rounds 15-23 (9 games)
|% of Games Played||65.55%|
That’s a decent gap in preferred personnel availability and goes to show how important remaining healthy is (as we saw with Carlton last week), but this is where it gets even more telling. If you break that midfield group down to Essendon’s five most productive midfielders in Watson, Stanton, Howlett, Hocking and Zaharakis you find that from rounds 1-14 that core played in 92% of available games, but from rounds 15-23 that number drops to 68%. Now that is significant and to a degree explains the drop in midfield production.
One area that Essendon do need to improve, especially defensively, is contested possession and clearances. They have arguably the best in the game in Jobe Watson but as good as he is the man needs some help. The Bombers are one of only five clubs in the competition to have four or fewer players ranking inside the top 100 for contested possessions per game. The other four clubs are GWS, Melbourne, Port Adelaide and St. Kilda, not exactly the most esteemed company.
Essendon are also one of only eight clubs to have one or zero players inside the top thirty for clearances per game. The seven other clubs were all non-finals sides except for Fremantle. For the Bombers midfield to really excel one of Heath Hocking, Ben Howlett or David Myers needs to take their clearance work to the next level and consistently perform. If you’re wondering how Brendon Goddard fits into this contested setup he doesn’t. Goddard is not the answer to Essendon’s clearances woes as indicated by his season best of 3.4 per game back in 2010, which would barely break the top 80 today.
Where Goddard excels is in his versatility and ball usage, two characteristics Essendon are screaming out for if 2012 was anything to go by. The Bombers ranked sixth in kicks per game last season and 16th in handballs, although their output from the second half of the season suggests that reliance upon foot skills should have been reversed. In wins last year Essendon had a kicking efficiency average of 68.79% and held their opponents to 65.65% for a 3.13% advantage. In losses that number dropped to 59.92% for Essendon and increased to 69.82% for their opponents, that’s a -9.9% disadvantage.
In their losses, Essendon experienced a kicking efficiency over 65% just once, whilst their opponent would eclipse that mark in every game except for one which was Collingwood on Anzac day, a game which was played in wet and muddy conditions. The Bombers -9.9% kicking efficiency differential in losses would be the worst in the AFL with the Western Bulldogs the next worst club at -5.58%. That’s how bad Essendon were in losses. Even the basic art of kicking a football would abandon them.
Overall, Essendon would finish the season as the third worst side by foot in the competition ahead of only Port Adelaide and GWS. This is why the Goddard coup gets a big tick regardless of whether or not you think the Bombers overpaid. The way we’re headed he’ll be underpaid as early as next year so the contract argument is irrelevant given Goddard is one of the finest kicks in the game. His services couldn’t be better placed.
From a defensive aspect the Bombers midfield needs some serious work as they finished the year ranked outside the top eight in every midfield differential indicator on the board. Tackles, clearances, disposals, effective kicks, contested possession, Inside 50’s, the works. Essendon gave up the fourth most goals per game from centre bounces, allowing eleven more in total than Sydney, including Sydney’s finals campaign.
Essendon’s best from a purely midfield perspective is good enough to play finals football as their stars are in their prime and there is depth coming through, but their worst is actually depressing to analyse and it was far too common occurrence in 2012, where was the backbone? The Bombers need to stay healthy but more importantly they need to find consistency and shoulder the load with Jobe Watson instead of adding to it.
From a ruck stock perspective the Bombers are loaded with tall timber in Tom Bellchambers, Patrick Ryder and David Hille. Sadly this group did their clearance unit zero favours in 2012 ranking second in hitout differential but 15th in effective hitout differential. They’re dominating the ruck but supplying their team with zero advantage.
Recapturing that early season form from last year is no guarantee, but it’s a must if Essendon are to accomplish their goal of finals football. Assuming their core can stay on the park, Hocking and Howlett can take another jump, and combined with the addition of Goddard there is enough evidence to suggest that there will be no repeat of the output we saw from this midfield late last season, you can virtually take that to the bank.
In season 2012 Essendon averaged 95 points per game, the tenth most in the AFL. The positive is that this didn’t waver too badly against quality sides with the Bombers registering 89.2 points per game against finals opposition. Unfortunately Essendon’s lack of defensive accountability in other parts of the ground was contagious. They were every bit a one way outfit last year and their forward line was no exception.
In 2012 Essendon gave up the second most scores from kick-ins behind only Collingwood and allowed more opposition scores to be sourced from defensive 50 than any other club. As serviceable as they were at putting points on the board they were severely lacking in accountability as a unit when it came to doing the dirty pressure work.
What it came to scoring power Essendon’s options were quite sparse in 2012 from a key forward perspective with only Stewart Crameri breaking through the 30 goal barrier (32 goals). The Bombers were one of seven clubs who failed to have three or more top 50 goal kickers, joining Brisbane, Gold Coast, GWS, Melbourne, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs, although this could easily be sidestepped if Michael Hurley plays permanent forward. That is the biggest question regarding the Bombers forward line, do they play Hurley up forward and plug the key forward hole or utilise his contested marking prowess down back where he is needed just as badly?
With Patty Ryder in a similar conundrum as to whether or not his value is at a premium in either the ruck or up forward, the Bombers will likely harness the flexibility of both Hurley, Ryder and to an extent Goddard, and rotate them through the vacant forward spot depending on matchups and the state of the game. It’s a luxury that should see their scoring output improve and it keeps opposition defences continually guessing. For a side so starved of consistency an injury to a key forward could throw their entire season into disarray, especially when you consider the players in waiting.
Scott Gumbleton cannot be depended on from a durability standpoint, small forwards Alwyn Davey, Leroy Jetta and Corey Dell’Olio are anything but prime marking targets. The argument for Hurley as a full time forward is justified when you look at his forward splits against the competitions elite;
Michael Hurley: Finals V Non-Finals Sides
|Category||Top 8 (6 Games)||Bottom 8 (10 Games)||Differential|
|Marks Inside 50||2.83||2.12||-0.71|
Hurley won more ball against the lesser likes of the AFL but his impact from a purely key forward perspective was much greater against the best sides in the competition. This difference in production is likely due to Hurley playing in defence but that’s largely irrelevant, the key forward indicators against top eight competition are concrete and they are exactly what this Essendon forward line needs. James Hird has no doubt flip-flopped on what to do with Hurley. If only the Bombers could fast forward to a 23 year old Joe Daniher, it would solve a wealth of their problems.
Another issue regarding Essendon’s forward line isn’t exactly the personnel, but rather the delivery Inside 50 and the level of efficiency at hitting the scoreboard when it arrives. The Bombers ranked 11th for scores from forward 50 but were second in the AFL for time in forward half percentage. St. Kilda, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs ranked in the top five for forward half percentage as well, all non-finals sides. Keeping the ball in your own half of the ground is great but what’s the point if you can’t take advantage?
The follow numbers suggest a problem exists in regards to precision kicking and forward line targets;
|Team||Inside 50’s||Marks Inside 50||Efficiency|
Melbourne has an excuse as they lacked a serious target up forward once Mitch Clark went down with injury (11 games). The Demons primary problem is that they didn’t get the ball Inside 50 enough, and with such a young midfield don’t expect that to change any time soon. The Demons being so gung-ho with poaching forwards during the trade period should see their efficiency going forward climb again, but it will be a case of plenty of targets, not enough delivery
Port Adelaide on the other hand had a primary target with Jay Schulz taking over 26% of their total marks Inside 50 for the year despite missing seven games. The Power’s problem was that unless Schulz was presenting they couldn’t locate a lead Inside 50 to safe themselves. This will likely improve with the addition of a healthy John Butcher and former Essendon small forward Angus Monfries.
What do we do about Essendon though? How do they combat that lacklustre efficiency and improve their ranking of 13th for marks Inside 50 differential? Is there a shed full of Michael Hurley’s we don’t know about? Planting Ryder as a permanent forward might work. Resting the likes of Goddard, Winderlich and Zaharakis up forward will have its rewards, although where Hurley plays the majority of his football and the level of consistency displayed by Stewart Crameri will ultimately dictate whether or not that percentage increases. 230 more Inside 50’s than Melbourne for just 40 more marks Inside 50 (17%) isn’t ideal.
Essendon’s top four marking targets Inside 50 last season were Stewart Crameri, Michael Hurley, Patty Ryder and Angus Monfries (traded to Port Adelaide). That group combined for 67 games and 113 marks Inside 50. Port Adelaide’s top four marking targets Inside 50 last season were Jay Schulz, Brett Ebert, Justin Westhoff and Daniel Stewart. A group which combined for 65 games and 122 marks Inside 50. Nothing else needs to be said. This area needs to be improved upon, somehow.
For comparison sake, here is the Inside 50 to marks Inside 50 output from last season’s finals sides. (Keep in mind this includes finals games where marks Inside 50 are much harder to come by);
|Team||Inside 50’s (Inc Finals)||Marks Inside 50||Efficiency|
Sydney was horrible going Inside 50 but their defence and midfield won them that premiership, not their forward line. The Swans led the league in scores sourced from half back differential (Essendon were 12th) and goals when inside 50 percentage differential (Essendon 12th). Sydney were second in goals from turnover differential (Essendon 12th) and scores from general play differential (Essendon were 10th). Finally, the Swans were third in scores from defensive 50 differential (Essendon 9th) and goals from kick-ins (Essendon 14th).
Sydney’s scoring strength stemmed from having a well-balanced and free flowing attack. Lewis Jetta and Kieren Jack combined for 72 goals and just 19 marks Inside 50. Buddy had 69 marks Inside 50 and 68 goals. Different strokes for different folks and largely irrelevant, provided you’re playing to your strength of course. With Sydney signing Kurt Tippett those mark Inside 50 problems are now a non-issue. At this stage we cannot say the same about Essendon, especially with all the news suggesting Hurley will play predominantly in defence this season.
From a small forward standpoint the Bombers are solid. Alwyn Davey and Leroy Jetta combined for 51 goals, 47 score assists and 224 score involvements (career high for both). The pair combined for 38 games in 2012, one more than they did in 2011, but they produced a -33 tackle count. Again, first and foremost Essendon need to address the defensive aspects of their forward line.
Overall the Bombers were eleventh in goals per game, tenth for Marks Inside 50 and eleventh in scores sourced from forward 50. Looking at their list, where does the improvement come from? Joe Daniher is the key to their future but he’s not ready to be that difference. Individually the list is lacking but in its favour it is flexible. To suggest an increase in discipline, accountability as a group and creativity from the coaching box is out of reach is too farfetched. It all starts with hard work on both sides of the ball. Time will tell. Going forward this group will improve.
What to Expect in Season 2013?
Anything and everything.
Many people lose sight of just how young and inexperienced this side really is. 81% of Essendon’s list is 25 or younger with their three oldest players and only members over 30 being Nathan Lovett-Murray, David Hille and Dustin Fletcher. Minus Fletcher the current list has an average age of 23 with 50 games experience which would make them the 13th most experienced list in the competition.
Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton and Brendon Goddard are all in their prime and seasoned for finals football, the remainder of the list under 30 years of age is not, with only Leroy Jetta and Alwyn Davey having over 80 games experience. Essendon have just seven players over the age of 26, only GWS and Melbourne have fewer. Their efforts when their backs were against the wall in the final eight weeks of last season highlighted this fact.
The positive amongst all this is that behind only West Coast and equal with Richmond the Bombers have the most players on their list with 40-99 games experience. This would suggest Essendon’s peak is in the not too distant future.
There’s been plenty of concern regarding James Hird’s lack of adjustments in the latter part of the season although stubbornness is understandable from an inexperienced coach given his formula was responsible for a top four ladder position with eight weeks to play.
Concerns were echoed to a lesser degree about Jobe Watson’s leadership. The exploits of a captain should be judged differently when it comes to on and off the field. On the field Watson was faultless, an out and out superstar, inspirational in all facets of his game, but his teammates did not follow. There’s no doubting Watson took more away from last season than anybody else and he will be better for it.
If anything last season was a blessing in disguise for this unit. They’ve felt rock bottom, there is no greater lesson. The players, the leadership group and coaches now have no excuse for a lack of motivation and hunger coming into this season.
How the Bombers bounce back will be intriguing and closely monitored given their billing as a powerhouse club. How successful they are at this stage is still anyone’s guess but there will be an improvement with the best case scenario a finals berth.
For a club riddled in so much two-faced mystery just a season ago it could very well be a season showered in the good, the bad, although not as ugly. Essendon supporters will tell you they’ll bounce back, neutrals will tell you they’re in the September mix with four or five other teams, haters will tell you they’re garbage, and as of right now we’re all guessing.
You can’t measure how a coach’s message is absorbed, how motivated a team is or how prepared they are both mentally and physically. These were all hallmarks of Essendon’s two-faced season in 2012, and they’re all areas which will define Essendon’s season in 2013. The talent is evident but last season showed us that the experience and mental application must still follow. Not to mention a suitable fitness regime.
Evidence suggests that until the Bombers defence becomes more seasoned, their forward line more balanced and their depth more ripe we’re another year or two away from being able to answer the “finals” question with confidence.
The two areas we primarily focused on in this analysis were the corresponding “two-faced” periods of Essendon’s 2012 season. In rounds 1-14 last year Essendon’s opponent had an average ladder position of eleventh. In rounds 15-23 their opponent had an average ladder position of seventh. The injury toll played a part but no matter which way you cut it that’s a significant gap in competition.
The Bombers aren’t quite there yet, but they’re on the right path.
You can follow Scotty on Twitter: @ScottyBarby