In a first here on Bulldogs Centre, and with the 2017 AFL season around the corner, I've gone and had a look at every team and predicted where they will finish this season. Today is the bottom ten sides of the competition, with the top eight to be revealed in order on Sunday,
18th - Brisbane Lions
The Lions have a new coach in Chris Fagan and with a new coach, often comes a fresh start. Fagan replaces Justin Leppitsch after three seasons where he could only muster up 14 wins in 66 starts. It wasn't entirely Leppitsch's fault here, as he struggled to put his best 22 on the park consistently and in the end, the Brisbane board were fed up with the dwindling results. With Fagan, he brings some premiership pedigree, playing a key factor in Hawthorn's 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015 premierships.
Whilst the Lions will struggle to put wins on the board this year, they should provide fewer blowouts than 2016. I look forward to see what their prized draft selection in Hugh McCluggage can do after he was highly touted for so long to go as the number one pick, only to slide down to the third-overall pick, whilst I look forward to seeing another year go into the youngsters such as Ben Keays, Rhys Mathieson, Eric Hipwood and Josh Schache.
Having Dayne Beams lead the team this season looked like a head-scratching move, given that he had only played two games last year and that Dayne Zorko looked like the hot favourite after a stellar year, but after seeing Beams lead the Lions to a pre-season victory over the Bulldogs, it looked as if they made a a really good choice. They needed someone to replace Tom Rockliff after a couple of rough seasons as the captain of the team and complete this off-season of change. If the both of them, along with Allen Christensen can stay healthy, then they may find themselves scaring a few more teams this year.
17th - Carlton
It's year two of Carlton coach Brendan Bolton and his 'Reset', and whilst his first year showed signs of improvement here and there, the Blues look like they'll be for another long year. It's to be expected, given they're currently in a rebuilding phase, they won seven games last year, but one of them only came in the back-half of 2016.
Patrick Cripps is a star in their midfield and is only going to get better, but the big weakness is a lack of support. Captain Marc Murphy is a great player, but gets injured too much, but on the back of a healthy pre-season, he looks raring to go, What will prized draftee Sam Petrevski-Seton's role be this year? His talent screams for a spot in the team, whilst the spotlight will be on Bryce Gibbs more than ever this year after his requested move to Adelaide in the off-season failed to come to fruition.
I'm excited to see if Jacob Weitering can back up his impressive debut year down back, and with support such as new recruit Caleb Marchbank and Lachie Plowman as well as elite running defenders such as reigning best and fairest winner Sam Docherty and Kade Simpson, I'd expect him to continue to impress and improve this year.
16th - North Melbourne
After dumping four players with over a 1000 games of experience, including the league's games record holder and a departure of another veteran to a rival club, there's a huge question mark surrounding how far the Kangaroos will slide down the ladder this year. They made the preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015 and were 9-0 to start last year before it all came falling apart, which penultimately led to an Elimination Final exit - prompting the club to restart the process.
I do like Jack Ziebell (picture above) being appointed as captain for this year, he attacks the footy with such ferocity and is the kind of guy who will lead by example and show the younger kids the way. Robbie Tarrant came of age last year and was rewarded with vice-captaincy, which shows that after years of injury-riddled seasons he's ready to finally step up and play some elite footy, whilst they'll be hoping they get injury-free seasons from Jarrad Waite, Shaun Higgins and Todd Goldstein, all three are crucial to North's successes going forward.
I look forward into seeing what recruits Jy Simpkin, Nathan Hrovat, Marley Williams and Paul Ahern bring to their new club? Draftee Simpkin can almost find himself slot into North's best 22 as his talent is enormous, Hrovat and Williams were discarded by their respective clubs but both have displayed flashes of potential in years gone by, and whilst Ahern won't play in 2017 due to an ACL injury, he was still taken as a top-10 selection by the Giants a few years back and will be given time to prove himself at AFL-level.
15th - Fremantle
What a fall from grace it was for Ross Lyon and his charges. They finished the 2015 home and away season on top of the ladder and 12 months later, only found themselves winning four games for the year. Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe broke his leg early in the year and All-Australians Aaron Sandilands and Michael Johnson were sorely missed.
They recruited heavily in the off-season, bringing in premiership players Joel Hamling and Bradley Hill, both men will slot themselves in with no issues, and a talented forward in Cam McCarthy who's expected to take over from retired club great Matthew Pavlich. Expect this team to improve a little bit, but they will find themselves still out of the eight by a fair margin. It comes down whether or not this team can stay fit. If Fyfe can stay on the park and form a solid midfield duo with Lachie Neale, then much is possible with this team. But the questions remain whether or not the new Fremantle captain will stay on-board beyond 2017.
I can't wait to see more games poured into the likes Lachie Weller, Connor Blakely, Ed Langdon and Alex Pearce. All four showed steps in the right direction last year when the Dockers needed them to step in, Top-10 draftee Griffin Logue looks like he'll play a fair amount of football this year, whilst Freo will be wanting ex-Sun Harley Bennell to make his Fremantle debut sooner rather than later after he missed all of 2016 with injury problems.
14th - Richmond
This is a big year for coach Damien Hardwick and where he stands as an AFL coach. The Tigers took a massive step backwards last year after making finals appearences from 2013-15. I'm not sure if this team has what it takes to play finals this year, but if they don't at least shown signs of improvement, then it could be Hardwick's last year at the helm in Tigerland.
Their midfield has been bolstered significantly with the additions of Josh Caddy from Geelong and Dion Prestia from the Gold Coast and will certainly benefit Dustin Martin and captain Trent Cotchin, and don't count out former Sydney ruckman Toby Nankervis either, his pre-season suggests that he's out to make the number one ruck spot his own. Alex Rance is arguably the best key defender in the league, but apart from him there isn't a lot going of support in defence. Same thing applies to Jack Riewoldt, who doesn't have a lot of support down forward.
I'd like to see more from their younger brigade of players. Oleg Markov and Jason Castagna showed promising signs late last year, Daniel Rioli played 18 of 22 games last year and looks like he's going in the right direction, whilst draftees Shai Bolton and Jack Graham look as if they'll might get some significant game time this year.
13th - Gold Coast Suns
The last couple of seasons have seen the Gold Coast Suns wrecked by injuries, but when you look at the list this team has, they have the personnel to make some noise. But the big problem is their injuries, Rodney Eade is a good enough coach in the AFL, and with a fully-fit team, can do anything. Their midfield is still relatively young, but that's why they brought in guys such as Michael Barlow, Pearce Hanley, Jarrod Witts and Jarryd Lyons, as all four bring in valuable experience and will cover the losses of Jaeger O'Meara and Dion Prestia and other injuries which will occur this year.
I love their keys both down back and up forward. Co-captains Steven May and Tom Lynch are often underrated but both are incredibly talented and are the right choice going forward which is a big call, considering they're replacing Gary Ablett who's arguably one of the greatest players in the modern era, however, has had the last two years plagued with injury. Lynch, fresh off a 66-goal season has able support with Peter Wright who is slowly coming into his own as a key forward, whilst May, provided he keeps a level head, will play a huge role down back along with Rory Thompson who does get overlooked from time to time.
Is Rodney Eade in serious jeopardy? Since he took the job of head coach in 2015, the club has managed to only win 10 games in 44 starts. It's not his fault as the club has had a horrendous run with injuries, but everyone knows that he can coach a fast-paced style that can take a team far in the premiership season, his history with the Bulldogs and the Swans can attest for this, but for it to happen he needs more from a humber of his players. Just to name a few, Aaron Hall can seriously play but he can be inconsistent at times, Jack Martin has teased his brilliance for far too long and I can sense Kade Kolodjashnij and Touk Miller are nearly ready to jump into the elite group of players in this side, such is their talent.
12th - Essendon
Essendon will welcome back a host of big names from suspension in the new year and with this, they are proving hard to predict. Will the suspended players return with a reinvigorated attitude towards the game? or has this drugs scandal finally taken its toll on the players? I can see them scaring a number of sides this year and will threaten for the eight, but they'll miss out.
In 2015, they wheels fell completely off at the tail-end of the year which penultimately gave James Hird his marching orders. But a lot has changed since then. Zach Merrett has emerged as a star midfielder, Darcy Parish will become one as he's now surrounded by players like new captain Dyson Heppell as well as Watson, Stanton, Colyer and Myers, guys like Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti have come from nowhere to be key factors in this team, and there's a young man called Andrew McGrath who was taken with the first pick in the draft last year who will slot right into Essendon's back six.
Key players Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker are vital in where the Bombers are heading in 2017. Hurley plays his best footy down back and so does Hooker, but we last saw him playing as a foil to Joe Daniher who looks ready to break out as a bona fide star down forward. Can discarded pair Josh Green and James Stewart find regular spots down forward and take some pressure off of Daniher? John Worsfold is a premiership coach, and given the talent he has at his disposal, I can't see why this club can't challenge for finals again.
11th - Collingwood
2017 has been labelled as a 'Finals or Bust' year for coach Nathan Buckley as he faces enormous pressure now to get his team back in the top eight after years of disappointment. The list isn't as garbage as what some may think, the talent is there, but the questions remain whether or not the list will remain reasonably healthy this year. They have a list that can contend for finals, but I can see injuries mounting again on the Pies again and will fall short of the mark, which will probably result in Nathan Buckley ultimately losing his job.
In acquiring veterans Daniel Wells, Chris Mayne, Lynden Dunn and Will Hoskin-Elliott during the off-season, they are as desperate as ever to try and get to September action once again. They will be looking to rely on more than their regulars, led by caotain Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar, Steele Sidebottom and Taylor Adams. Brodie Grundy is fast emerging as one of the superstar rucks of the competition and if Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo remain fit, then the Collingwood forward line will be something to keep an eye out on, with Darcy Moore now the number one key forward in the team following Travis Cloke's departure and Mason Cox continuing to improve.
For the Pies to make finals, they need a whole lot going their way, with fitness a main priority. Daniel Wells has to keep fit, which is already proving to be a struggle, a fit Ben Reid will be a huge asset on this team and they need the likes of James Aish, Jordan De Goey, Tom Phillips, Brayden Maynard and Josh Smith to take further steps in their development.
10th - Port Adelaide
It's been nearly three years since Port Adelaide a goal away from making their first Grand Final since 2007. Since then, the Power have not played finals, and this year the pressure has severely mounted on coach Ken Hinkley to get them back into September action. Their best footy is incredible, but the problem is they don't do it nearly as often as they should be. I don't see them making finals this year either, and this could ultimately be curtains for Hinkley, who's done a sterling job getting them out of the mire when he took over this club at the end of 2012.
The biggest problem for Port is that they need more support for the guys like Robbie Gray, Brad Ebert, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak in the midfield. Hamish Hartlett, Jared Polec and Sam Gray are good players but are so damn inconsistent, they disappear too much when it comes to big-time games. Charlie Dixon didn't do nearly enough for what Port Adelaide gave up for him last season and they missed Matt White and his elite speed last year. They do however regain Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries this season after they both missed last year with suspension.
Aaron Young was a revelation down forward last year and expect him to grow even more down forward this year, but I want to see Chad Wingard dominate games again, I feel like he drifts in and out whenever he pleases, but has got the ability to win matches off his own boot, but with Monfries back into the team, it's certainly possible. I'd also love to see what draftees Sam Powell-Pepper and Joe Atley bring to the table as both men have the ability to play in the round one team.
9th - Melbourne
Melbourne fans haven't been able to smell finals footy for such a long time, and while they are a huge chance to make the eight this year, I think they'll be one of the few sides very unlucky not to make it this year. It's the first year of new coach Simon Goodwin and with the groundwork already laid out by legendary coach Paul Roos, He does face a daunting task to get the Demons to the finals - something the club hasn't achieved in over a decade.
They have the best ruckman in the land in Max Gawn (pictured above) and their midfield is one not to underestimate. Five years ago it was just Nathan Jones with a bunch of scrubs, now it's Jones with fellow co-captain Jack Viney, Dom Tyson, Christian Petracca, Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver, Bernie Vince and of course Jordan Lewis, Their midfield is stacked with awesome talent, it's no wonder they're contending for a spot in the eight this year. Michael Hibberd is a recruit that shouldn't be overlooked either as he has been a star across half-back for Essendon over the past few years, whilst another former Bomber in Jake Melksham finally gets his chance to start on a clean slate.
Can Jesse Hogan elevate himself to greater heights this year? After such an impressive debut year in which he won the Rising Star award, last year saw him stuck in neutral and his negative body language has often been talked about. If his pre-season form is anything to go by, then he will be every chance to improve drastically this year, whilst on the other end can the McDonald brothers continue to impress as a key defensive pair this year? Whilst everybody knows older brother Tom is a highly talented key back, it's his younger brother Oscar that has taken the AFL world by surprise last year, breaking through for 15 games last year.
Stay Tuned on Bulldogs Centre as on Sunday we go through positions eight to first, you don't want to miss it.
Pictures courtesy of Getty Images