AFL SEASON PREVIEW

Betfair’s AFL Analyst has rated every team ahead of the upcoming AFL season. He shares his predictions plus Back & Lay betting advice for Top 4, Top 8, Coleman Medal and Rising Star. Read our extensive analysis below.

BEST BETS

BACK: Aaron Naughton – Coleman Medal

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BACK: Carlton – Top 8

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LAY: Richmond – Top 8

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LAY: West Coast Eagles – Top 8

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SEASON PREVIEW

LIST ADDITIONS

Jordan Dawson (trade, Sydney), Josh Rachele (national draft pick 6), Jake Soligo (national draft pick 36), Zac Taylor (national draft pick 44), Luke Nankervis (pre-season draft pick 2)

BREAKOUT YEAR

There is a void opening at the tall forward position with Taylor Walker on the proverbial slide. Enter Riley Thilthorpe, a match-winner and rising star of the game. He’s a natural pick for a breakout – even more so with the Crows needing a big man to step right up.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

The undervalued and seemingly underrated Jordan Dawson was a headline pick-up in the trade off-season. Third in last year’s 2021 Sydney Swans’ Best and Fairest, Dawson will be strong midfield support, and could climb the ladder to beat out Rory Laird or Ben Keays in the Crows’ B&F.

SUMMARY

The pundits gave Adelaide little hope beyond finishing bottom in 2021. Instead, they put up a spirited campaign with seven wins to boot. This buoyed the club into granting coach Matthew Nicks a new contract. On the flipside, they missed key local talent and a glittering 2021 draft pick.

But a winning culture means everything – and don’t be mistaken by the idea that Adelaide can’t bring in new and exciting players. Just look at Josh Rachele, who will plump up a Crows’ forward line that averaged 10.5 goals per game last year.

More development is crucial, plus the highly touted recruitment of ex-Swan Dawson. There are enough sparks in this team to expect a lot of entertainment from this Crows’ side in 2022.

BETTING STRATEGY

To Lay Adelaide making the top 8 is obvious, however this bet offers little value.

Consider rookie Josh Rachele as a Rising Star play at around $15 if he gets games, but the top of the market looks very strong this year.

Riley Thilthorpe won’t win the Coleman Medal, but is a great back-to-lay opportunity.

BACK-TO-LAY: Riley Thilthorpe to win Coleman Medal

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LIST ADDITIONS

Darcy Fort (trade, Geelong), Darcy Wilmot (national draft pick 16), Kai Lohmann (national draft pick 20), James Tunstill (national draft pick 41)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Zac Bailey has the killer instinct to ice games off his own boot. The young midfielder-forward averaged 18 disposals and kicked 31 goals in 2021. If those numbers climb to 24-28 disposals a game and his goal-scoring continues, he could become one of the premier midfielders in the competition this year.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

We’ve given Zac Bailey a push, but for B&F contenders we’re also putting Joe Daniher on the radar. He played 24 games last season, compared to 15 across the previous three years. If his health and fitness hold, the star forward could propel himself to the consistently elite level we’ve all been waiting for.

SUMMARY

After three top-four finishes without a Grand Final appearance, the Brisbane Lions must be getting desperate for success. The club continues to add depth to their list, headed by the inclusion of ruckman Darcy Fort from Geelong.

The Lions led the league in average goals per game last season and should improve with a fitter and more experienced Joe Daniher.

The key for Brisbane will be to peak at the right time of year – and Fagan will be hoping that they time it deep in the Finals. Oh, and by the way… Zac Bailey is coming.

BETTING STRATEGY

Joe Daniher kicked 46 goals from 24 games in 2021 after only playing 15 games in the last three years due to injury. The only time he kicked more goals in a season was 65 in 2017.

Brisbane will have no issues getting the ball forward to him. So if Joe can kick straight, he can put himself in the running for his first Coleman Medal.

BACK: Joe Daniher to win Coleman Medal

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LIST ADDITIONS

Adam Cerra (trade, Fremantle), George Hewett (free agent, Sydney), Lewis Young (trade, Western Bulldogs), Jesse Motlop (national draft pick 27), Domanic Akuei (category B rookie)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Turn your attention down back for this one. All-Australian squad member Jacob Weitering is crying out for a partner in crime due to Liam Jones’ retirement and Caleb Marchback’s delayed return from injury. It looks like Mitch McGovern fills the role. Look for the former Crow to step up or potentially Bulldogs’ recruit Lewis Young to emerge as a critical lockdown player.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Why would Coleman Medallist and All-Australian Harry McKay be a smokey? Perhaps because his AA team-mate Sam Walsh is considered streets ahead of the pack. But club awards are far less one-eyed on the midfield, and this is where McKay has considerable value.

SUMMARY

Carlton treaded water in 2021 yet again with a single-digit win count – the third season in a row. It resulted in the most painfully prolonged exit of a senior coach in memory when David Teague was sacked. So, what can Brisbane Lions legend and Ken Hinkley’s right-hand man Michael Voss achieve?

The first thing he needs to repair is Carlton’s defensive structure. The Blues’ inability to stem a run of opposition momentum hindered their progress in 2021. Weitering has stepped right up on the last line of defence, but it takes a full-team effort to stop repeat attacking bursts.

Carlton snagged the biggest off-season prize in Adam Cerra from Fremantle. They will look to Paddy Dow, Zac Fisher and Zac Williams to lift their games. But the real story is the unstoppable Sam Walsh, who re-signed on a long-term contract, and may force the old dark navy Blues inside the 8.

We might get a first glimpse of what’s to come in Round 1 when the Blues face Richmond. It’s becoming a relic of a rivalry, but Carlton have not won this game since 2013 and would love to get that monkey off their back.

BETTING STRATEGY

BACK: Carlton – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Nathan Kreuger (trade, Geelong), Patrick Lipinski (trade, Western Bulldogs), Nick Daicos (national draft pick 4), Arlo Draper (national draft pick 45), Cooper Murley (national draft pick 49), Harvey Harrison (national draft pick 52), Charlie Dean (rookie draft pick 2)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Pat Lipinski is by no means a “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” scenario. But his absence from the Bulldogs’ best 22 in the Grand Final signalled a need for a fresh start where more opportunities would lie. Lipinski is a ball-winner and could become one of Collingwood’s best players in 2022.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

We’re dropping Nick Daicos right in this conversation because of Sam Walsh. The Carlton star was a raw talent among a mediocre list who rose above to land fourth in his rookie year B&F. With Daicos, he’s surrounded by a solid midfield structure, an organisation that will do everything to make him a star on day one, and one of the best mentors in Scott Pendlebury.

SUMMARY

Collingwood turn over a new leaf in 2022 following the exits of club president Eddie McGuire and legend Nathan Buckley as coach. The Pies bottomed out on-field in 2021 with just six wins, finishing one spot behind the wooden spoon. And while expectations won’t be sky-high for Craig McCrae in his first year, this is Collingwood we’re talking about: being rooted to the bottom is no place for a commercial powerhouse club to exist.

So how do they climb the ladder? It starts with the number 4 draft pick Nick Daicos, son of Peter. We’ve said enough about Daicos above, but he could have walked into Collingwood’s best 22 last season. Then there is Lipinski and Geelong recruit Nathan Kreuger. Brody Mihocek remains hugely under-rated. Darcy Cameron will develop even further. There is a plentiful mix of developing young talent and high-profile veteran stars to see Collingwood slingshot into mid-table. But what of Jordan DeGoey? Expect the masses to continue scrunitising this club no matter what. We think they shouldn’t put too much pressure on the Pies on paper. But that is easier said than done.

BETTING STRATEGY

LAY: Collingwood – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Jake Kelly (free agent, Adelaide), Ben Hobbs (national draft pick 13), Alastair Lord (national draft pick 46), Garrett McDonagh (national draft pick 50), Patrick Voss (rookie draft pick 9)

BREAKOUT YEAR

There are three candidates who could truly balloon in 2022. Nic Cox is a top prospect with incredible skill for a big man, while Archie Perkins is dangerous. But Harrison Jones might be the one now he’s taking the mantle from the retired Cale Hooker. 20 goals from 16 games in his second season (first actually playing) was a bright start, and he’s bulking right up despite injury frustrating his pre-season.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Immense talent is one thing, but having the will and heart to compete against all odds is what makes Sam Draper a mighty fine footballer. He’ll need to smooth over some rough edges, but his stoppage game was the type of quality the Dons could rely on last year.

Draper played just 13 games In 2021. He’ll need to stay fit and increase his tackling numbers, but all going well this Bomber could end up polling big in the B&F count.

SUMMARY

New coach Ben Rutten returned the Bombers to a respectable mid-table home in 2021. But there was more bubbling behind that 11-12 win-loss: Draper, Cox, Perkins and Jones showed maturity beyond their years. Darcy Parish’s form skyrocketed the midfielder into one-time Brownlow contention. Their competitiveness and youth-backed spunk could have turned a close Finals loss the other way as well.

While Essendon exceeded all expectations, they shouldn’t be vaulted into top four contention – let alone Premiership. Youth and depth must continue to grow. It’s the key for the Bombers to take the next step towards winning a Final in 2022. We’re giving the Bombers a little more room for error and currently think the are unders in the top 8 market. They’ve been given no favours by their draw (rated second hardest in the AFL), so a good lay opportunity presents itself.

BETTING STRATEGY

LAY: Essendon – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Will Brodie (trade, Gold Coast Suns), Jordan Clark (trade, Geelong), Jye Amiss (national draft pick 8), Neil Erasmus (national draft pick 10), Matt Johnson (national draft pick 21), Eric Benning (national draft pick 54), Karl Worner (rookie draft pick 8).

BREAKOUT YEAR

Hayden Young must overcome hamstring and ankle issues that have plagued his career so far. He’s a prized young defender who ranks above average for marks and tackles, so he’s proven at winning footy in the back 50, making space and stopping attacking plays at ground level.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Alex Pearce is probably one of the most underrated players at Fremantle. Statistically, Pearce isn’t phenomenal but has proved to be incredibly important to Freo’s winning chances week-to-week.

SUMMARY

Fremantle’s recent history is concerning: no better than 11th in their past five seasons. But coach Justin Longmuir is dynamic and has young stars Sean Darcy, Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw in play. Will Brodie and Jordan Clark will fill immediate roles in the Dockers’ best 22. Top-10 draft picks Jye Amiss and Neil Erasmus give them added potential. David Mundy shocked all with a near-career best season in his mid-30s. And Nat Fyfe is unquestionably a superstar when he is fully fit.

But depth is the concern. Not to mention Fyfe’s fluctuating health. Whether they have parts ready to make a leap up the ladder is up for debate. If Fremantle gets banged up again in 2022, their season could end in disaster.

BETTING STRATEGY

LAY: Fremantle – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Jonathon Ceglar (trade, Hawthorn), Tyson Stengle (delisted free agent, Adelaide/SANFL), Toby Conway (national draft pick 24), Mitch Knevitt (national draft pick 25), James Willis (national draft pick 32), Flynn Kroeger (national draft pick 48), Cooper Whyte (national draft pick 64), Ollie Dempsey (rookie draft pick 13)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Brad Close was an easy pick for Chris Scott’s best 22 come Finals time. A defensive small forward with fierce tackling and forward pressure traits, which released teammates Jeremy Cameron and Gary Rohan into goal-scoring opportunities.

Close inked a new two-year deal recently and will want to capitalise with a more attacking game on top of his usual intense work ethic.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

As Geelong’s list demographic continues to age, the Cats will be looking to some younger players to take some more responsibility. Brandon Parfitt shares his midfield time with the likes of Dangerfield, Selwood, Guthrie, Smith, Menegola – and certainly holds his own.

SUMMARY

Geelong has repeatedly denied the idea of rebuild. Year after year they put themselves as Premiership contenders, playing at an elite level against the best to generally make top four. But the Chris Scott-led Cats have one – just one – flag to show for it in a decade. And you can comfortably argue that was simply a product of the Bomber Thompson-led era.

Pundits question Geelong’s balance of veterans and youth. Of the top 125 players in the league according to AFL player ratings, Geelong has 11 – all over the age of 28. It is now predictable for opposition teams to push that aging list on the field by playing a fast brand of football and try to run the Cats off their legs.

The Cats have been vocal about their commitment to age over beauty. But this is not the time to be conservative. To win a Premiership in 2022, Chris Scott needs to bring a sense of unpredictability to the lineup. That’s where Tyson Stengle comes in. A fantastic season in the SANFL has led to his pick-up as a delisted free agent, and Stengle should offer plenty for Cats fans to be excited about.

More game time for Quinton Narkle, Max Holmes, Francis Evans, Sam De Koning and Cooper Stephens is imperative. It’s about time the Cats zigged while everyone assumes they will zag.

BETTING STRATEGY

Prefer to maintain a watching brief on Geelong this year.

If Jeremy Cameron can play most of the season, he’d be a strong Coleman Medal chance, but there’s little value to tease us.

What a bold statement it would be to Lay Geelong top 8 … we’re thinking about it. Market below.

LAY: Geelong – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Mabior Chol (free agent, Richmond), Mac Andrew (national draft pick 5), Charlie Constable (national draft pick 63), Levi Casboult (rookie draft pick 3), Sandy Brock (Academy pre-selection), Bodhi Uwland (Academy pre-selection)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Noah Anderson finished eighth in the 2021 club champion award, so expectations for the 2019 recruit should be much higher. The former number 2 draft pick could explode into the season and become one of the most improved players of the competition.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Jack Lukosius will likely be all the talk by the end of the 2022 as clubs circle to sign – and they’ll have good reason.

He had a breakout year in 2021 – above average for disposals and elite for kicks and marks. Remarkably, he finished only tenth in the best and fairest in 2021, making him a clear smokey for this year’s best and fairest.

SUMMARY

There were promising signs from the Suns in 2020, which led to enthusiasm that they could push towards the Finals last year. The crossover will happen when Gold Coast combines rusted-on leadership with star-studded talent. Then they will start to click. Because we can talk about Noah Anderson, Jack Lukosius, Matt Rowell, and Sam Flanders all day and night. Potential is the Suns’ alternate nickname. These kids must keep fighting and grinding against the elites of the league. And when that’s all done, they must execute in attack. Eighth in tackles for 2021, but last in goals. It’ll get no easier now that Ben King is done for the season with a pre-season ACL injury.

So the Suns need to get a few things right: win some of their own ball. Fight to get it back. And stay fit and willing enough that after they are completely exhausted, they can put that Sherrin between the tall sticks.

BETTING STRATEGY

Despite the recent injury to Ben King, Gold Coast should win more games than Hawthorn this year. Lay least wins of the season $4.8.

LAY: Gold Coast – Least Season Wins


LIST ADDITIONS

Jarrod Brander (delisted free agent, West Coast), Finn Callaghan (national draft pick 3), Leek Aleer (national draft pick 15), Josh Fahey (national draft pick 42), Cooper Hamilton (rookie draft pick 11)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Harry Himmelberg has kicked more than 36 goals twice from five seasons (39 in 2019 & 36 in 2021). For the Giants to properly contend, they need goals and Harry could be the man.
Giants players often sneak under the radar, like most clubs outside Victoria, but if Himmelberg can kick 45+ goals in 2022, he’ll become one of the Giants’ best players.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

The Giants’ top 4 in the Kevin Sheedy Medal was no shock. Kelly, Greene, Hopper and Taranto are decorated players in the league.

The next best was Sam Taylor, another GWS player who slips under the radar. As the 2021 season progressed, Taylor was a noticeable improver. In Round 21 against the Cats, Taylor had 21 disposals, 8 intercept marks and led GWS to a win against a Geelong forward line boasting Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins.

If that performance becomes a weekly occurrence, Taylor will certainly be in All-Australian and Best and Fairest contention.

SUMMARY

We’re still wondering if the Giants peaked in 2019. The club has made the Finals five times from their last 6 seasons, but their September showcase has been part admirable, part disappointing.

It could be due in part to a list that can’t stay together. Every year it seems the Giants lose another quality member of their best 22. Toby Greene, Nick Haynes, Lachie Whitfield, Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper are great footballers, but those guys need more out of their support cast.

What we do know is that a fit and healthy Giants’ team are highly likely to repeat their pattern of making Finals. They were the fourth-best tackling team in the AFL last year, but if they are going to redeem on their endeavour it must come from scoring when the opportunities arise. The Giants were eighth for scoring and inside 50s in 2021, so the brilliant midfield must give their refreshed forward line every chance to deliver in front of goal. And it can’t rest on the big shoulders of Jesse Hogan and Harry Himmelberg.

BETTING STRATEGY

Giants have made the top 8 five out of the last six years and with some luck with injuries, we think they can do it again.

BACK: GWS Giants – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Max Lynch (trade, Collingwood), Fionn O’Hara (Category B rookie, Ireland), Josh Ward (national draft pick 7), Sam Butler (national draft pick 23), Connor Macdonald (national draft pick 26), Jai Serong (national draft pick 53), Ned Long (rookie draft pick 5)

BREAKOUT YEAR

We are doubling down on young Hawks forward Dylan Moore despite him hitting his straps in 2021. He has the perfect mentor in Jack Gunston to help progress his AFL career and become one of Hawthorn’s most dangerous forwards.

Moore had above season averages for goals, tackles, marks and disposals for a small forward, with some of his best performances coming in the second half of 2021.

If he puts a full year together, he could become a very important piece in the Hawks’ forward setup for years to come.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Out of every club, Hawthorn’s best and fairest smokey has been hardest to judge. If Hawthorn improves, we expect their best midfielders Tom Mitchell and James Worpel carry the load – both Best and Fairest winners.

We don’t want to put too much pressure on him coming back from an ACL injury, but we know how important James Sicily is to Hawthorn’s lineup. He was in incredible form before his injury and the football world will be hoping he can get back to his best. If he does, he is certainly a top contender for the Peter Crimmins Medal.

SUMMARY

New coach Sam Mitchell does have an excellent record for quickly improving a squad, as evidenced by the West Coast midfield’s sharp rise to the top in their 2018 Premiership year. But we’re placing zero expectations on the Hawks squad in 2022. Why? Because they are a far younger team in the formative stage of a rebuild.

Watch for James Sicily on his much-anticipated return from an ACL injury, while Jack Gunston will be keen to get more time on the park. The big interest will be identifying the difference in game styles between Alistair Clarkson and Mitchell. Clarko’s men were handball heavy in 2021, so keep one eye on the numbers there.

It’s all a bit of a mystery for a team that was so decorated for so long under the tutelage of one of the greatest modern-day coaches of all time. This year is different. And at $7.80 we think there is some value for least wins.

BETTING STRATEGY

Hawthorn are a pretty easy top 8 Lay opportunity, at $7.80 on the Betfair Exchange, they could also be value for least wins.

BACK: Hawthorn – Least Season Wins

LAY: Hawthorn – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Luke Dunstan (free agent, St Kilda), Jacob van Rooyen (national draft pick 19), Blake Howes (national draft pick 39), Taj Woewodin (national draft pick 65), Judd McVee (rookie draft pick 16), Andy Moniz-Wakefield (category B rookie)

BREAKOUT YEAR

What a year for young Jake Bowey. It only took him seven games to find a Premiership Medal. The thing is, there were plenty of talented players vying for Bowey’s spot in the side, but the young defender didn’t give his coach Simon Goodwin any excuse to kick him out.

Bowey is still in contention for the Rising Star award. All of Bowey’s best performances came in the Finals and if that was anything to go by, Bowey is set for a big year in 2022.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Luke Jackson will climb up the player ratings very quickly in 2022 and we predict he’ll be in the AFL top 25 by the end of the year. The importance of Jackson to Melbourne’s quest for back-to-back Premierships can’t be understated. Like Tom Hawkins in 2011, we believe Luke Jackson had his breakout game in the 2021 Grand Final. Look out for Jacko… He’s coming.

SUMMARY

We know the story now: a first Premiership in 57 years. But it was delivered in devastating fashion, as the Demons ripped the Bulldogs apart in the relocated Grand Final. Simon Goodwin’s side ranked top 3 for disposals, goals inside 50 and contested possessions – and first for tackles. That last statistic proves that mentally the Melbourne Football Club are switched on.

The team remains much the same in 2022. Expect natural improvement from youngsters Kysaiah Pickett, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers and Jake Bowey. Adam Tomlinson will boost the defence (if he can crack the side) while free agent Luke Dunstan ensures that competition for spots in Melbourne’s best 22 will remain fierce.

But the player with the most regard from our perspective is Luke Jackson. While captain Max Gawn leads the way in ruck, Jackson’s ability to win ball in the air and on the ground make him a terrifying prospect. His third-quarter heroics changed the complexion of the Grand Final. The ease in which Goodwin can make a tactical switch and plant Jackson in the middle – releasing Gawn up forward – must trigger opposition teams into a deep lake of anxiety-induced sweat.

Clearly the Demons are the fancied front-runners to win the flag in 2022. How can they sustain themselves for the full Winter? The extra motivation of winning one in front of their faithful at the MCG is crucial.

BETTING STRATEGY

BACK: Melbourne – Premiers 2022

BACK: Melbourne – Top 4

BACK: Melbourne – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Callum Coleman-Jones (trade, Richmond), Hugh Greenwood (delisted free agent, Gold Coast Suns), Jason Horne-Francis (national draft pick 1), Josh Goater (national draft pick 22), Paul Curtis (national draft pick 35), Miller Bergman (national draft pick 38), Jackson Archer (national draft pick 59)

BREAKOUT YEAR

It’s a clear pick for a breakout year. Jason Horne-Francis showed talent beyond his years and it’s a talent that North Melbourne is desperate for. Given his physical attributes and pre-season reports, he is deservingly at the top of the market with Daicos for the Rising Star Award.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Tarryn Thomas continued to improve as season 2021 went on and with his best performances coming in the latter part of the season. Thomas finished eighth in the Best and Fairest in 2021 and if he continues to churn out performances as he did against Carlton in Round 19 last year (23 disposals, four goals), he wins the award.

SUMMARY

The Kangaroos have been one-eyed on the draft for the past few years. Another five rookies were added for 2022 – including the prized number 1 pick Jason Horne-Francis. He has all the physical attributes to become an elite player and made headlines with his 24-disposal, three-goal performance for South Adelaide in their 2021 SANFL preliminary final.

North’s developing midfield stocks will enjoy the Horne-Francis boost – chief among them Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Tarryn Thomas, Tom Powell and Will Phillips. While the signs point to another bottom-four year, that should not be reason to remove all optimism. Todd Goldstein is a perennial top-class ruckman. Callum Coleman-Jones has the potential to lift the attack well above last year’s dismal 18th ranking for goals scored. Nick Larkey kicked 42 goals and should improve further, while Aaron Hall’s reinvention into a handy half-back flanker was timely.

On-field consistency will be the problem for a very young list that is expected to tire with so few pre-seasons under their belt. We’ll watch and see for North, but Larkey’s goal-scoring prowess might tickle our fancy for the Coleman Medal.

BETTING STRATEGY

BACK-TO-LAY: Nick Larkey – Coleman Medal

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BACK: Jason Horne-Francis – Rising Star


LIST ADDITIONS

Jeremy Finlayson (trade, GWS), Sam Skinner (delisted free agent), Josh Sinn (national draft pick 12), Hugh Jackson (national draft pick 55), Dante Visentini (national draft pick 56), Jase Burgoyne (national draft pick 60), Trent Dumont (rookie draft pick 14)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Port Adelaide are a high-scoring, accurate team and there are several key players to target for opposition defenders. This makes Mitch Georgiades’ third season ripe for a breakout. He’s got all the attributes to make him a dangerous forward, but not threatening enough to warrant the opposition number-1 stopper. This should work in his favour in 2022.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Zak Butters will hopefully put all his injury troubles behind him and put together a consistent year for Port in 2022. In his career he scores above average for disposals, tackles and marks.

SUMMARY

Port Adelaide are a case of so-close-yet-so-far. A little luck and maybe Ken Hinkley’s men would have made the Grand Final at least once in the past few years. The Power fell away again in 2021 after challenging for the minor premiership. They must get their act together in September if they can properly stake their claim for a flag.

The loss of Peter Ladhams for Jeremy Finlayson may affect their ruck depth, but often these scenarios have different outcomes. The Port backline is solid, while Brownlow Medallist Ollie Wines and Travis Boak lead a powerful midfield ahead of Zak Butters.

The Power ranked sixth for goals scored in 2021, which is good, but the forwards were unreliable come September. Pressure needs to be applied to Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades to ensure they relieve any burden placed on Charlie Dixon, who could not repeat his All-Australian selection in 2021.

If Georgiades and Marshall can kick over 70 goals between them, the midfield should have confidence that their forward targets will deliver. Plus the option of Finlayson (23 goals from 13 games last year) is particularly useful. We’ll know early whether Port Adelaide are on track for another Top 4 year.

BETTING STRATEGY

There aren’t many markets that interest us in terms of the Power. Confident they’ll make finals but not much value at the current price. Mitch Georgiades is a huge price for the Coleman, for a high scoring team.

BACK-TO-LAY: Mitch Georgiades – Coleman Medal

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LIST ADDITIONS

Robbie Tarrant (trade, North Melbourne), Josh Gibcus (national draft pick 9), Tom Brown (national draft pick 17), Tyler Sonsie (national draft pick 28), Sam Banks (national draft pick 29), Judson Clarke (national draft pick 30)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Readers may double-take when they see Jack Graham as Richmond’s breakout player choice.

Given Richmond’s best 22 are filled with mostly experienced senior players, it was difficult to choose someone that really fit the bill. Graham had one of his more consistent seasons in 2021 but only averaged 19 disposals, and 1.8 clearances per game.

We’re zoning in on AFL’s tackling data, which rates Graham as elite. If he can find more of his own ball inside and out, there is no doubt that Graham has the attributes to become as one of the top midfielders in the competition.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Toby Nankervis was confirmed as one of Richmond’s co-captains for 2022. Nankveris has been unable to pull a full season together in recent years due to injury but is fit and firing ahead of 2022.
Strangely, since arriving at Punt Road, Nank has never finished in the top 10 of Richmond’s Best and Fairest. The Tigers ruckman is very important to their lineup and 2022 will hopefully be his best year as a Tiger.

SUMMARY

The club who had entered a dynasty era for four years’ running slammed into a brick wall in 2021. Many were nervously prepared to trust them, despite poor performances occurring as early as April. But the door slammed shut when Dustin Martin’s season abruptly ended.

Where to now? Has the premiership clock ticked past midnight? Here’s both sides of the debate.

The Tigers won a shortened, hub-riddled 2020 premiership, which ended in October. A quick off-season turnaround dealt the club a blow, as players like Martin, Dion Prestia, Noah Balta, Kane Lambert, Bachar Houli and Nick Vlastuin struggled for fitness entering the new year. This tested the club’s depth, but true to form the Tigers remained a Finals contender for much of the season.

Richmond’s best 22 still carries premiership players galore. Many of their younger list saw much-needed playing time last year while the aforementioned stars missed repeat games. This could propel them back into the upper echelon once again.

However, we’ve looked at teams that have trampolined back to premiership contention after one off-season. Richmond does not compare favourably. While their side looks similar to the 2020 one, it has aged and cannot rely on just the in-game heroics of Dusty.

This uncertainty means we’re looking at over the odds for Richmond across several markets – including to make the Finals. Despite a full pre-season – and the typical Tiger tough mindset creeping back in – the Tigers are worthy of a Lay.

BETTING STRATEGY

LAY: Richmond – Premiers 2022

LAY: Richmond – Top 8

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LIST ADDITIONS

Tom Campbell (free agent, St Kilda), Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (national draft pick 11), Mitchito ‘Mitch’ Owens (national draft pick 33), Marcus Windhanger (national draft pick 47), Oscar Adams (national draft pick 51), Jack Peris (category B rookie), Josiah Kyle (category B rookie)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Max King won the St Kilda goalkicking award with 38 goals in 2021, but had he kicked straight those numbers could have risen beyond 50. His 48.7% goal accuracy is below average (Harry McKay won the Coleman Medal at 56.9%). But King is young and is winning more ball in the air. Plus – goal kicking can easily be fixed in a pre-season.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

We think 50+ goals in a year would give Max King a top 3 finish in the Saints’ best and fairest count. He was 10th alone in 2021, and with our suggested breakout looming, a surprise B&F could certainly be on the cards.

SUMMARY

St Kilda disappointed everyone – both inside the club and out – in 2021. Injuries frustrated their season, but they can right the ship if some key players stay fit. One of them is Rowan Marshall, who played 13 games last season – and the Saints won eight of them. It’s speculative to suggest the Saints’ form rests on one man – but a full team structure can be built around two-metre-tall impact players, so it’s not utterly ridiculous.

St Kilda slid in the scoring, disposals and tackles count last year. Most of their statistics ranked in the middle of the pack. So it’s crucial players like Marshall, King, Jade Gresham and Zak Jones are up and firing across the year. The club can’t rely on Paddy Ryder and Daniel Hannebery to deliver consistently, but they are useful contributors when fit.

We’re going to keep a close eye on the selection table, because Ryder and Hannebery might still be pushed aside for younger talent to get their chance. A lot of the Saints’ season rests on their talls playing repeatedly. If luck goes their way, we might see the club redeem themselves in 2022.

BETTING STRATEGY

Monitor Rowan Marshall – if fit, back Saints to make the 8.

Any injury concerns that look like he may miss big portions of the year. LAY


LIST ADDITIONS

Peter Ladhams (trade, Port Adelaide), Angus Sheldrick (national draft pick 18), Matthew Roberts (national draft pick 34), Corey Warner (national draft pick 40), Lachie Rankin (national draft pick 58)

BREAKOUT YEAR

We think it’s go time for Nick Blakey. The versatile young utility has been playing predominantly across half-back this preseason. His 2021 was quieter compared to the early standards set in year one and two, but entering his fourth season, Blakey should become one of the Swans’ key big men.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Callum Mills polled in sixth in the B&F count in 2021. Mills averaged 27.5 disposals and 5.3 tackles a game as he finally broke into the midfield rotation. All of this suggests Mills has been under-rated internally, and at 24 years of age you can look for Mills to explode on the AFL scene. His value could potentially be found in the Brownlow Medal markets as well.

SUMMARY

You can’t keep the Sydney Swans down. That’s a testament to leadership and nous of coach John Longmire, who continues to adapt to the ever-changing AFL game. The Swans have only missed the top 8 twice since Longmire started in 2011. Injections of youth, change of game style and key staff changes have revived the club from their recent plight at the turn of the decade.

Sydney ranked sixth for disposals and seventh for tackles in 2021, proving that they consistently put in effort. Their scoring was even more impressive – kicking just 20 fewer goals than Melbourne. The club looks balanced across the ground with young and old, and ruck depth has been rectified with the recruitment of Port Adelaide’s Peter Ladhams.

Lance Franklin is set to mentor the exciting protégé Logan McDonald. The midfield is weighed evenly between inside grunt machines offloading to pacey and polished outside players. The team’s only letdown could be in defence. Tom McCartin is a developing tall, but will Sydney find a way to stop the AFL’s most intimidating, gorilla-type forwards?

Ten years ago, the Swans started their premiership-winning campaign after creeping into the top 8 the year before. There are distinct similarities between 2011 and 2021. Can they replicate?

BETTING STRATEGY

BACK-TO-LAY: Sydney Swans – Premiers 2022

BACK: Sydney – Top 4

BACK: Sydney – Top 8

Click here for links to the Top 8 markets on the Betfair Exchange.

BACK-TO-LAY: Callum Mills – Brownlow Medal


LIST ADDITIONS

Sam Petrevski-Seton (trade, Carlton), Campbell Chesser (national draft pick 14), Brady Hough (national draft pick 31), Rhett Bazzo (national draft pick 37), Jack Williams (national draft pick 57), Greg Clark (national draft pick 62)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Oscar Allen remains a priority-3 target up forward – behind Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling – so it’s expected that his stats rank average. But he hits above average for tackles as a big man, which is a big check mark. He starts season 4 this year after kicking a career-high 28 goals in 2021. We expect that number to grow as Kennedy’s career enters full twilight.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Tom Barrass finished seventh in the Eagles’ count last season despite playing only 16 games. He pairs up with Jeremy McGovern to make a dangerous backline tandem and could dethrone McGovern as the number 1 defender should McGovern’s fitness plague him.

SUMMARY

The league’s richest club packs the star power in Nic Naitanui, Tim Kelly, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed, Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern. But the Eagles have been disappointingly mediocre for two years’ running. The club, its fans and the local media will not tolerate mediocrity. The key will be for younger, mid-level talent to come through and assume more responsibility in 2022. Only two of the Eagles’ top 10 in last year’s Best and Fairest were younger than 25. One of them was Oscar Allen.

The Eagles can’t pin all their hopes on recruit Sam Petrevski-Seton, but he could slot in, seamlessly in their best 22. It leaves coach Adam Simpson with the job of revitalising the list so it’s in a position not only to win games (which they should and know how to) but to win Finals.

To win Finals you need the hunger and ferocity to match any star power. So it’s worth noting that the Eagles ranked last for tackles in 2021. The club’s desperate for Willie Rioli to return and team up with Liam Ryan, but some tough calls will need to be made on veterans who are potentially masking the development of youth. Hopefully, we will see enough of Luke Edwards, Harry Edwards, Petrevski-Seton and draftees Campbell Chesser, Brady Hough and Rhett Bazzo.

BETTING STRATEGY

LAY: West Coast Eagles – Top 8


LIST ADDITIONS

Tim O’Brien (free agent, Hawthorn), Sam Darcy (national draft pick 2), Arthur Jones (national draft pick 43), Luke Cleary (national draft pick 61), Charlie Parker (rookie draft pick 15), Robbie McComb (rookie draft pick 22), Cody Raak (category B rookie)

BREAKOUT YEAR

Bulldogs fans were eager to catch a glimpse of talented former number one draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan last season, but coach Luke Beveridge was careful with his selection. 2022 could be a different story.

There is no doubting his skill; the question is whether his raw ability will transfer over to on-field at AFL level. Ugle-Hagan played five consecutive games towards the end of last season, kicking seven goals and showing off his incredible skill and ability at times. Given the Dogs’ list profile and position on the Premiership clock, we think this could fast-track Ugle-Hagan’s progress. 25-30+ goals would definitely be considered as a breakout year and that target is well within his sights if he plays enough games.

BEST AND FAIREST SMOKEY

Aaron Naughton has been causing major headaches for Bulldogs’ defenders in match practice during pre-season. His mix of speed, agility and strength as well as his incredible leap make him almost the perfect modern-day forward.

Consider the Bulldogs midfield power and ability to place the football perfectly for their forwards and you have a serious Coleman Medal threat. Naughton’s downfall is goal-kicking accuracy, but if he has been working on that this preseason, he’s a red-hot Coleman chance.

SUMMARY

The Bulldogs were outstanding in 2021, but their campaign see-sawed from flag favourites to outside the top 4. Coincidentally, the same could be said of their Grand Final performance, where the Dogs were fancied to win as deep as during the third quarter. The players are attacking in-game with purpose and polish – rating strongly across goals, disposals, inside 50s, contested possessions, effective disposals, clearances and marks inside 50. But more work might be needed down back. Easton Wood and Lewis Young come out of the side, leaving Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy to head up the defence with Hawthorn free agent Tim O’Brien as fresh support. Josh Schache is also available. We think he’s better suited to a defensive-type forward role after his performances throughout the 2021 Finals, but will probably play in defence this season. Stopping the better forward lines in the league could be a much harder nut to crack in 2022. But the Dogs have some excellent youngsters to watch, including Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Cody Weightman and Laitham Vandermeer.

BETTING STRATEGY

BACK: Aaron Naughton – Coleman Medal

Click here for links to the Coleman Medal markets on the Betfair Exchange.

LAY: Western Bulldogs – Top 4

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