2010 AFL PREMIERSHIP SIDE ANALYSIS
In the final of a four part series, Tony Keen analyses your side's 2010 AFL premiership chances.
Last year, Sydney missed the finals for the first time since 2002 and will be keen to return to September action in coach Paul Roos' final year at the helm.
Fans will see a new-look Swans' ruck division this season, with former Eagle Mark Seaby and ex-Cat Shane Mumford to work in tandem following the departure of Darren Jolly to Collingwood. The forward line has also undergone a major revamp. Former Brisbane Lion Daniel Bradshaw, promising youngster Jesse White and dual Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes will be the three key targets, while 2009 draftees Gary Rohan and Lewis Jetta will most likely provide support at ground level after impressing during the pre-season competition. It will be particularly fascinating to see how Bradshaw, White and Goodes work together considering they are yet to play in the same forward line due to the knee injury preventing Bradshaw from playing in any of his new club's practice matches.
Sydney's backline will have plenty of run in 2010 as Tadhg Kennelly joins the likes of Rhyce Shaw, Martin Mattner and Nick Malceski. However, the lack of quality key defenders is a concern, with Craig Bolton the only Swan one could confidently say can shut down the elite forwards of the competition on a consistent basis.
PREDICTION: The Swans will undoubtedly be competitive, as they always are, but given the question mark over their key defender stocks, and the fact that it will take time for the new-look forward line to gel, a finals berth will be just out of reach.
It was a case of so close yet so far for a St Kilda side that was a dominant force for the majority of 2009.
The Saints had the best defence in the AFL - conceding a measly 1,411 points - and became just the fourth side since the competition reverted back to 22 rounds in 1970 to win 20 or more games in a season, before progressing through to the grand final where they went down to Geelong by a mere two majors in a modern day classic.
It will be interesting to see how St Kilda responds in 2010. The Saints' attack, led by skipper Nick Riewoldt, who looks in even better shape than he did last year, remains as potent as ever, with Justin Koschitzke to be the key marking target, while dangerous small forwards Stephen Milne and Adam Schneider will feed off the crumbs provided by the twin towers of Riewoldt and Koschitzke. Their midfield is much-vaunted. Nick Dal Santo, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, Jason Gram and the ever-improving Clinton Jones are all quality, while former Docker Brett Peake has impressed during the pre-season and will add some much-needed dash - something Andrew Lovett was expected to bring to the table, but which was not to be. The loss of star defender Sam Fisher for up to four weeks with an ankle injury sustained in the loss to the Western Bulldogs in the NAB Cup decider, is somewhat of a blow, but the beauty of the Saints is that they treat defence as an 18-man responsibility, so they will be able to cover his absence.
While St Kilda boasts many strengths, one major question mark hangs over them - are they mentally strong enough to bounce back after the heartbreaking loss to the Cats on the last Saturday in September 2009? The mental toughness of the playing group will undoubtedly come into question throughout the season following Riewoldt's admission that he and several players sought counselling following last year's grand final defeat.
PREDICTION: It's hard to see the Saints having as dominant a season as they did last year, but they will secure the all-important double chance.
The Western Bulldogs suffered preliminary final heartbreak for the second consecutive year last season. They will be desperate to claim their first premiership since 1954 this year given skipper Brad Johnson, Jason Akermanis and Nathan Eagleton are nearing the end of their careers.
A major weakness for the Bulldogs for some time now has been their lack of a genuine key forward who can be used as a bail-out option, but that problem has been solved with the acquisition of former Sydney premiership player Barry Hall . The big man starred in the NAB Cup, booting 17 goals in three matches, seven of which came in the grand final, to help his new side secure their first piece of silverware since 1970. Hall won't kick a bag every week, but with the likes of classy duo Robert Murphy and Shaun Higgins, Josh Hill, Johnson and Akermanis also up forward, he won't need to.
The Dogs' on-ball division is elite, with 2008 Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney, Ryan Griffen, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross all class acts. The backline is superbly led by All-Australian full-back Brian Lake, but fellow defender Dale Morris has often been forced to fight out of his weight division against some of the power forwards of the AFL. If Tom Williams can fulfil his potential at centre-half back after a wretched run with injuries, the Bulldogs could well end the longest premiership drought in the competition.
PREDICTION: Expect the Doggies to give themselves the best possible chance at capturing that elusive flag by finishing in the top four.
West Coast finished last season on a positive note, winning four of their last five games, and will be keen to build on that momentum this year.
The emergence of young midfielders Chris Masten, Brad Ebert, Tom Swift and co. will take the pressure off Daniel Kerr, while Dean Cox will be supported in the ruck by 'excitement machine' Nic Naitanui. Up forward, Mark LeCras looks set to back up a stellar 2009 season, in which he booted 58 goals, with another big year, and Josh Kennedy is ready to establish himself as an elite key forward in the competition. Throw in Quinten Lynch, Ben McKinley and Naitanui - who will rest up forward when not in the ruck - and the Eagles have an attack that is capable of kicking some big scores.
There is plenty to like about West Coast in 2010, and yet one of the major problems they had last year, which also reared its ugly head during the NAB Cup loss to Port Adelaide last month, was that they allow the opposition to get a run-on and put the match beyond their reach in the space of as little as 15 minutes.
PREDICTION: If the Eagles can find a way to rectify this 'run-on' problem, they should win the majority of their games at Subiaco Oval and pinch a few away from home to scrape into the top eight.