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What will 2012 bring to the world of AFL?

Eager to get his footy socks on for another season, Nick Ciantar casts his eyes ahead to AFL 2012 and gives his predictions for the year in football.

2012 comes as the first year where 18 clubs compete at AFL level. Greater Western Sydney comes to the fray as team number 18 and as the second team in the state of New South Wales. What lies ahead for them? Will they be the same as Gold Coast the year before? How will Kevin Sheedy go as a coach, second time around? Will Geelong and Collingwood stay at the top? Can St Kilda ‘do a Geelong’ in 2012? And how will Fremantle go with arguably one of the best coaches in the league?

These and many more questions will need to be discussed and answered, to see who will be crowned as the 2012 AFL premiers. Firstly: to the new fixture format for 2012.


The new fixture

With 18 teams, the fixture needs to be altered so every team can get a fair break with days between games and the new television rights. All games this year will be telecast live on Fox Sports. Channel Seven has four games, with all being live except for the Saturday afternoon game. The traditional Friday night game will now start at 7:50pm. Saturday now has five games: one at 1:40pm, then at 1:45pm, a twilight game at 4:40pm and two games at 7:40pm. Saturday’s fixture will now benefit all viewers for a whole day of non-stop footy.

Sunday will still have the same early and twilight games, however the 2:10pm game now starts at 3:15pm, as a lead-in for the Channel Seven news. There is still no Good Friday footy, however the Thursday night footy and Easter Monday footy are still the same. The Monday night ‘Dome Match’ between Carlton and St Kilda remains, whilst the floating fixture in the last round of the year will be announced closer to the date. Most blockbusters or regular games between teams are still on, but maybe just at a later time than usual.


What will happen to the Geelong juggernaut and the ruthless ’Pies?

Will the 2011 grand finalists fall or will they both stay strong? Geelong has lost Brad Ottens, Cameron Ling, Cameron Mooney and Darren Milburn, whilst Collingwood lost Leigh Brown and Leon Davis. That is over 1000 games in experience gone, with some of them being multiple premiership players and the backbone of the team. The departure of Mick Malthouse will also affect how Collingwood goes this year.

You cannot discount Nathan Buckley. A great of the game, he has gained some valuable experience from Malthouse, however, it will take time for the players and himself to adjust to the new setting.

As for Geelong, they have a fantastic list. They blooded some youth last year and this team that has been up since 2004 will only get stronger. Names such as Bartel, Chapman, Selwood and Scarlett will be hard to stop.

While they have both lost some valuable players, I predict they will be a top-five team this year and I would not be surprised if one or both make the grand final yet again.


What lies ahead for the West Coast Eagles?

Many have already predicted that West Coast will fall this year — that they will finish below Carlton, a team that they beat in the finals. The Eagles have players at the prime of their careers in Dean Cox, Darren Glass, Daniel Kerr, Mark Lecras, Andrew Embley, Matthew Priddis, Quinten Lynch and Adam Selwood. With that valuable experience, they can lift any team to great heights. The young players such as Andrew Gaff, Nic Naitanui, Chris Masten, Jack Darling, Luke Shuey, Scott Selwood, Brad Sheppard and Murray Newman have strong potential to be the new breed of champions.

You cannot forget that in 2010, they finished last and seemed to have no hope at all for the next few years. John Worsfold was told to improve, or he was out. Yet in 2011 they finished fourth, a remarkable achievement. They defied the odds and they will do it again.

They came within 20 points of beating Collingwood, away from home in what was the first final for many players, then won a nail-biting final at home against Carlton. They were easily the most improved team of the year and a top-four spot is a must again for this year.


Now for St Kilda

Can they achieve what Geelong did in 2011, or will they take a year to accept Scott Watter’s new game style?

St Kilda was marred with off-field indiscretions in 2011 and it all showed in their form in the first half of the year. Going into round eight with only a win and a draw was not the best start and the finals looked slim. The window seemed to be firmly shut, though they managed to get a home final and looked to be in rampaging form by then.

However, since then, the football world went into shock and a new St Kilda has emerged. Salary cap was a major issue and Zac Dawson left to join Fremantle for more money. Also losing Ross Lyon to Fremantle in a dramatic turn of events, they went into the trading period without a coach, yet still managed to get some young players. Scott Watters has now stepped into the coaching position.

What will Watters and his men bring to St Kilda? There already seems to be a breath of fresh air at the club. There are only a few small injuries currently. Will the arrival of some much needed youth be enough to bring them back to their almighty and fierce best?

If players such as Nick Riewoldt, Brendon Goddard and Leigh Montagna get back to their best, then it does seem very likely. But let’s not forget they played a whole year without Norm Smith medalist Lenny Hayes and half a year with no James Gwilt. These experienced two are a must for the team. 2012 could finally be the year that they taste that ultimate glory. But they do have some fierce, new competition that needs to be dealt with.


What about Hawthorn – the side that has been luckless for the pass couple of years?

Last year, Hawthorn had one of the hardest years, dealing with suspensions and injuries. Yet they still managed to be a goal away from a grand final berth. At the end of last season, Hawthorn recruited Jack Gunston to the club to add some extra attack. With the likes of Jarryd Roughead, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Jack Gunston, it looks like one of the most promising forward lines this year and if they can get it working, they will be hard to stop.

Hawthorn has some of the footballing elite and a very strong core, unlike most other teams – a top-four spot is nearly certain. However, the ruck division of the team seems like the weakest. Players like Bailey, Hale and Pattison on the rookie list are not your everyday ruckmen. While Bailey does have the potential to be a star, he has been very unfortunate with injuries. At the moment, it does look like he has overcome them, but only time will tell. If Hawthorn can go through a year with few injuries, they will be a major threat for the flag this year.


With some of the top half of the table looked at, what will happen to some of the bottom-half teams like newcomers, GWS?

Greater Western Sydney, the eighteenth and final team for the time being, is set to enter the world of AFL against its rivals Sydney in round one. What do we expect of GWS this year?

GWS has a mixture of old and new. With experienced players such as Luke Power, Chad Cornes, Phil Davis, Setanta O’Hailpin, James McDonald, Rhys Palmer, Tom Scully, Dean Brogan and Callan Ward, they have role models who can teach the newbies valuable things on and off the football field. Added to them is a mixture of young stars, such as Ward, Palmer, Scully and Davis. What these players can bring to the club is on-field experience for many years to come. GWS has also picked up some stars at the draft such as: Jon Patton, Stephen Coniglio, Taylor Adams, Tom Downie, Nick Haynes and Dom Tyson. GWS’s first couple of years will be a learning curve for all the players. They will most likely finish in the bottom three this year, but the experience that they will gain will be vital. With Kevin Sheedy coaching, GWS will have a very good future.


Let’s look at one last team – the Fremantle Football Club.

We all know what happened in the off-season between Fremantle and St Kilda, so no point in going back over that. However, how will Fremantle play this year? Will Ross Lyon bring over the slow, defensive style of football? Or will Lyon bring over an attacking flare that he did not display at St Kilda? If it is the former, will this game style be able to work on the massive ground of Paterson Oval? My tip is that it will not work, as it succeeds mainly on the smaller grounds such as Etihad Stadium.

How will the players respond to a new coach? Now, Ross Lyon is one of the best coaches in the game and he has been since 2009. Lyon may not have won a flag, but he has consistently performed at St Kilda. Fremantle has played an attacking game style for the last few years and I do expect this to change in a small amount. With players such as Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands, Hayden Ballantyne, Michael Barlow, Greg Broughton, Paul Duffield, Nathan Fyfe, Stephen Hill and David Mundy, they have a good base and some stars. If coached correctly and managed well, they could finish in the top four and have the chance to win a flag in the next few years. Though, for 2012 it is all about management and getting the right game strategies in play.

It will take Lyon some time, as he has coached mainly on small grounds such as Etihad Stadium and the SCG. But he is a strategic coach and will employ a powerful game plan for all of his players. He will most likely play Matthew Pavlich similar to a Nick Riewoldt role — high forward and on the wing. Lyon will change players’ positions — he is a master of that — and will change small adjustments which will give Fremantle that extra little bit of strength. Fremantle has a star ruck, a star midfielder, a star forward and some x-factor players, and with the new coach in Ross Lyon, a new game plan will be very beneficial for the team in the next few years. I expect Fremantle to finish seventh to tenth this year, as it will take a year or two to adjust.

2012 brings a season full of anticipation. It will be a year of more controversy, classic games, great marks and goals and it will bring a new premier. Another big year in football waits.


Nick Ciantar is  going into his second year of a Bachelor of Social Sciences student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @nick_saint13.

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