AFL 2024 predicted ladder part two: Collingwood can win… if they’re Giant killers

<span>(From left): Adam Kingsley, Lachie Neale, Clayton Oliver, Caleb Serong, Nick Daicos, Ross Lyon.</span><span>Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP</span>
(From left): Adam Kingsley, Lachie Neale, Clayton Oliver, Caleb Serong, Nick Daicos, Ross Lyon.Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Eighth – Carlton

“Robbie Williams just posted your column about Michael Voss with a poo emoji,” my partner told me last September. Excuse me? I really need a new line of work. Robbie hasn’t had a decent song since “She’s The One” but he had a point: Voss and his Blues made mugs of so many of us.

For about 20 minutes last September, the prospect of a Collingwood-Carlton rand final, and everything that entails for our society, was very much in play. The atmosphere resembled an early ‘80s fixture at Princes Park. But then the fever subsided, the red cordial ran out, and the Lions went to work. Carlton had the crowd, double the inside 50s and the smell of history about them. Brisbane had Keidean ‘Kiddy’ Coleman, his gimlet eye, pencil moustache, cobalt blue boots and lethal left boot.

The Blues have to ride that wave again now. After a tough opening assignment against the Lions, their draw opens up for several months. But keeping Sam Walsh and Jacob Weitering on the park will be the key to their season.

Seventh – Brisbane

No one left the MCG on grand final day with anything but admiration for the Lions. So many non-MCG tenants have turned up their toes at the big dance. A slip here, a questionable advantage call there, and it was snatched away from them.

Chris Fagan says the same things every September. We’ll get better each year. We’ll fix the problems. We’ll take learnings’. We’ll fail our way to success. Every year, it feels like the rest of us say: ‘this is their best chance’. They’re always competitive. They’re always hard to toss at the Gabba. And they improve year on year. Five years in a row now, they’ve won more than 14 games. They’ve won 42 of their past 47 at the Gabba, and all 13 last year. I reckon they’re due for a slight correction, but they deserve another shot at it.

Sixth – Melbourne

Melbourne has had six months of ‘what ifs’. What if Caleb Marchbank had filed his fingernails. What if they’d lowered their eyes against Collingwood. What if Angus Brayshaw hadn’t been knocked out cold. What if Clayton Oliver wasn’t in disarray. What if they’d kicked straight.

They let the Oliver story get out of control. Rather than take a hose to the fire, the strategy seemed to be to stand in front of it spraying the word ‘culture’ dozens of times. In football, the word has been pulverised, made redundant. It’s the new ‘learnings.’

Goodwin calls them a blue-collar team. They defend from the high ground. They patrol and gobble. They contest like angry ants. But their connection with their forwards needs tidying up. There’s too many blasters in that midfield. Get that right and keep Gawn in one piece, and this remarkably consistent side can challenge again.

Fifth – Fremantle

In the summer of 2022/23, I had St Kilda as my bolter, and pencilled them in for the double chance. I then saw them in a practice match that was honestly the worst game of football I have watched. The Saints won, but I relegated them about eight ladder positions.

Which brings me to Fremantle, who I’ve been toying with all summer. They were dreadful in their practice match against Port Adelaide, with tedious, creeping ball movement and limited forward options. Christ, I thought, nothing has changed.

I’m holding firm, however, perhaps foolishly. The Dockers had four players in the Under 22 team of the year, the most of any club, including Luke Jackson and Jye Amiss, who both sat out the practice match. They were smashed around the ball too often last year, but have altered their midfield mix. The talent is there but they need to change the way they move the ball. If they can’t, Justin Longmuir will be the coach under the most pressure.

Fourth – St Kilda

Ross Lyon squeezed every drop of ability out of the Saints last year, but the elimination final was an abrupt end – and a reality check. It was 6th versus 7th but they were in different leagues. The Giants went into hyperdrive and St Kilda stood revealed.

The Saints are watertight down back, conceding less points than anyone last year, including the highly rated Melbourne and Collingwood backlines. But it’s a pretty plain, one-paced midfield and Lyon knows it. They were the 15th most potent team, which has been the story of his career.

Lyon didn’t have much to work with however, with Tim Membrey and Max King playing together just twice. Now those two are fit and healthy he has an abundance of speed and good ball users off half back. The second season is often a sweet spot for Lyon-coached teams, and he’ll be hoping this list can finally emerge from footy’s middle class.

Third – Port Adelaide

Whenever I look at Port Adelaide, I think of those pre-2022 Chris Scott teams that were always in the mix, but were never quite good enough, of seasons that showed immense promise, but went up in September smoke in about a quarter of an hour.

There’s sometimes this assumption that Port is an older team, and this is their last shot at a flag. But they were actually the youngest of the eight sides in the first round of finals and were beaten by two outstanding teams. They were ruined by injuries and backline woes, but it was the midfield that let them down.

Port have recruited well and seem to have a really good draw for the first couple of months. They’ll have a crack midfield, but their challenge will be to stop the leaking down back.

Second – Collingwood

In this competition, you’re always vulnerable. Geelong won two finals by a combined 23 goals and were miles off the pace the following year. And this Collingwood team still has holes and vulnerabilities.

There’s always hate for Collingwood. For all the loyalty and lunacy they inspire, there’s double that amount wishing them to fall in a heap. Ok, well done, your coach is a gem, your team is great to watch, you got your flag, now go and be a cursed club again for a few more decades thanks very much.

The Magpies were never going to do a Hawthorn at the end of 2008 and waddle back to training. Nick Daicos doesn’t exactly present as the kind of young man to go on a summer bender and let himself go to suet. “Save room for more tattoos,” McRae told his players at the best and fairest. One is never enough. They want more. It’s like a drug. The question remains – how long can they continue this highwire act?

Premiers – GWS

In 2023, Adam Kingsley took a few months to get his preferred style up and going, and to adapt to the stresses of the job. But the season is long, and it suited a list like theirs. They locked in their style. You could see them coming from the back of the field, picking off stragglers, one by one. By September, their nostrils were flared. They were exactly the sort of team you didn’t want to draw.

The Giants are still filthy they let the preliminary final slip. They sprayed a lot of kicks, missed some very gettable chances, were well beaten at stoppages and copped some interesting umpiring. Kingsley spent his first pre-season teaching the playing list and his assistants. This time around, they’ve backed their list in. They haven’t topped up. They’re confident and ready to take the next step and I’m inclined to agree.