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AFL 2014 Rd 22 - North Melbourne v Adelaide

In Patrick Dangerfield's absence, Crows fans have plenty of hope pinned on Brad Crouch's return to the midfield

Adelaide

Can the Crows cover the loss of Patrick Dangerfield?
He's irreplaceable by just one player, so it will take a team approach. There's still enough quality for the Crows' midfield to be more than competitive - Rory Sloane, Richard Douglas and Scott Thompson are star performers - while Brad Crouch (if he can stay fit), his brother Matt, Mitch Grigg, Paul Seedsman and Rory Atkins will need to pick up some slack.

Will Brad Crouch's body allow him to consistently play footy?
He is as a key piece of the puzzle to replace Danger, but getting Crouch onto the park week-in, week-out is the Crows' challenge. It's a softly, softly approach at the moment with the 22-year-old after his leg and foot issues and fans are holding their collective breath.

Is Don Pyke the right man to lead the Crows towards a flag?
Pyke is an astute tactician, knows the club and takes charge of a team with plenty of upside – even without Dangerfield. Pressure will be on to hold a finals place in 2016 and over the course of his three-year deal fans will expect a push towards the top four. - Travis King

Brisbane

Can the Lions unearth a tall forward? 
This question has popped up annually since the bungled Brendan Fevola experiment. In Josh Schache, Eric Hipwood and Jono Freeman the Lions now have some genuinely exciting prospects, but with their light frames, don't expect too much this season – the Lions just need to see a strong work ethic and flashes of brilliance to show they can compete at the highest level.

Is Justin Leppitsch the long-term man for the Lions?
He just signed a one-year contract extension, and with the team he now wants both on the field and off it, Leppitsch has the building blocks in place. The club wants to see some improvement this year, and Leppitsch himself admitted there were no excuses from now on.

Can Pearce Hanley become an All Australian?
Last season was ruined by a hip injury, but when Hanley fires, usually the Lions do as well. The Irishman is the most damaging player at the club and can break lines with both his leg speed and exquisite kicking skills. If he can elevate his game to the next level, the Lions will surely climb the ladder. - Michael Whiting 

Carlton

Who kicks the goals to enable Carlton to be competitive?
This has been a problem for at least two seasons. The likely use of veteran Andrew Walker as a permanent forward will help, but he will need support from others including key forward Levi Casboult and last year's leading goalkicker Andrejs Everitt.

Who provides support for Matthew Kreuzer in the ruck?
Kreuzer underlined his importance last year, having an impact in several games after his return from long-term foot problems. Ex-Giant Andrew Phillips and former Sun Daniel Gorringe have been recruited as back-up but have a fair way to go based on pre-season form.

Are the fans prepared to be patient?
Carlton supporters have always been demanding, with the expectation of instant success. This time they have been sold the club's long-term vision of backing the kids. Talkback radio will be interesting if, as expected, the Blues cop a few beltings. - Howard Kotton 

Kreuzer has talent, but he'll need help in the ruck. Picture: AFL Media

Collingwood

Would it be a failure if the Pies missed the finals again?
As we bathe in March optimism, it would, particularly following their concerted recruiting raids. But it's still possible for the Magpies to improve and be spectators for a third successive September. They'll be better placed next year and beyond.

Can Collingwood make the finals without a significant contribution from injury-plagued Ben Reid?
Probably. Over the past two seasons without Reid, the Pies were still good enough to be in the top four at the halfway mark. But he makes them an infinitely better team with his contested marking, intercept work, creativity and penetrating left foot.

Is Darcy Moore ready to become the forward/ruck option his club needs him to be?
The second-year father-son prospect has the ability to take sky-scraping marks and kick bags of goals, but all Collingwood really needs is a serviceable competitor to play dual supporting roles. The coolheaded 20-year-old certainly appears capable of that. - Ben Collins

Essendon

How many games can they win?
With a full team that has a good run with injury, the Bombers could scramble together a handful of wins across the season despite missing 12 of their best players through suspension. Problems will come if they get hit by some unfortunate injuries and youngsters are forced into playing more games than they might be ready for.  

Who will kick the goals?
Essendon failed to kick more than 10 goals in 13 games last year, and it's hard to see them being much more productive in 2016. But John Worsfold has been keen to bring a more attacking style, and plenty of responsibility will again be heaped on Joe Daniher. A full year from Shaun McKernan should offer some structure around half-forward.

Which of the young players can step up?
This season presents an opportunity for the likes or Orazio Fantasia, Kyle Langford and Jayden Laverde to establish themselves as regular members of the senior team. First-year midfielder Darcy Parish has already shown he looks comfortable at the level, while fellow top-10 pick Aaron Francis has wowed at times internally. Watch him make an impact. - Callum Twomey

Fremantle

Will Harley Bennell be a success at Fremantle?
The Dockers did not have to give up much to acquire one of the most talented, but also most troubled players in the competition. He has had a sheltered pre-season but he now looks fit and at his best he is exactly what the Dockers need.

Can Fremantle find a key defender to replace Luke McPharlin?
He is a loss but the Dockers have played three of the past four finals series without him and have a lot of experience in defence. The emergence of Alex Pearce is exciting for the club's future and the recruitment of Sam Collins adds depth.

Can the Dockers find more goals this season?
They have worked tirelessly on their kicking and ball movement all summer. In 2012 it took a while for Ross Lyon's defensive structures to click but they eventually did. We will know by mid-year whether the work has paid off. - Alex Malcolm

Harley Bennell looks to be just what the Dockers need. Picture: AFL Media

Geelong

Can the team jell?
It will take time because high quality additions playing important roles have replaced equally high quality departures. There is little doubt the Cats will be better in the latter half of the season and in 2017 but if they rack up some early wins, then look out.

Who will replace Jackson Thurlow in defence?
The season-ending knee injury to Thurlow might see Cam Guthrie play in defence more regularly although it also provides opportunities for Tom Ruggles, Josh Cowan or Jed Bews to stake a claim for the vacant spot. Jimmy Bartel remains the press-in-an-emergency option.

Will the Cats' game stand up in finals?
It feels sacrilegious to write this about such a great team but the fact is the Cats have won one final since 2011 and were in the bottom four for contested ball average last season. They also conceded 100 points or more eight times in 2015, the most in 22 home and away rounds since 2006. Their midfield strength must translate into defensive power. - Peter Ryan  

Geelong's Jackson Thurlow is being carried from the field after going down with a knee injury #NABChallenge https://t.co/CGg5XmfVBV

— AFL (@AFL) March 5, 2016

Gold Coast

Can the Suns start delivering on their potential?
Last year was a disaster with injuries and off-field scandals, and after five years in the competition, Gold Coast still seems a long way from the promised land. But with 12 months under Rodney Eade, a culture on the improve, and some luck with injuries, they should at least start heading north again.

Will Jaeger O'Meara and Dion Prestia re-sign?
With O'Meara, the Suns and fair-minded fans want to see the former Rising Star winner back to his best on the field. Providing he does that, the race for his signature will be hot – as it will be for busy midfielder Prestia, who is not only one of the most popular, but one of the best Suns on their list.

Will Gary Ablett return to be the game's best player?
After a shoulder reconstruction and medial ligament tear over the past 18 months, Ablett has barely played, and watched on as Nat Fyfe ascended to take the mantle as the AFL's best player. Ablett, now 31, has had a storming pre-season and despite a recent foot niggle will be in peak condition come round one. - Michael Whiting 

GWS

Will Cam McCarthy return to the club in 2016?
It's highly likely the talented forward has played his last game at GWS, and while the club will no doubt continue to support McCarthy with his personal issues, they have to – and will - move on without him.

Can GWS make the top four?
The Giants meet the Sydney Swans, Geelong, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast and Fremantle twice, with the results of these matches to decide their fate. If they want to seriously impact the finals for the first time, they need 6-8 wins from that batch of games.

Will the Stevie J gamble pay off?
The Giants need a goalkicking small forward, so if the former Cat can snag 30+ and help take some pressure off star forward Jeremy Cameron, he'll go a long way towards helping his side into the eight. - Adam Curley

What will the triple premiership Cat deliver at the Giants? Picture: AFL Media

Hawthorn

Can Hawthorn win a historic fourth-straight premiership?
The Hawks have been unrelenting over the past three years and motivation to go again shouldn't be an issue. Despite some personnel changes, the depth and quality still at Alastair Clarkson's disposal means it'd be a major shock if Hawthorn didn't finish top four and set up another flag tilt.

How big an impact will Jarryd Roughead's injury have?
Many agree it will be a blow, but not a catastrophe because of Hawthorn's flexibility. The obvious benefit will be to provide Tim O'Brien and James Sicily with extra opportunity to claim a spot. Finding Roughead's two-goals a game average shouldn't be a problem, but his leadership could be missed.

When is the right time to say goodbye to their ageing champions?
It's unlikely to be determined until later in the year, but Shaun Burgoyne, Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson's form will be watched carefully throughout this season. All four are playing elite football still and could easily go on, barring major injury, but Clarkson will probably want to stagger their farewells. - Travis King 

Melbourne

Is Jesse Hogan's contract status a cause for concern?
Hogan is not out of contract until the end of 2017 and both parties have put negotiations for a further extension on hold until the end of this season. So is it time for Demons fans to panic? Not yet. Hogan is keen to wait until the AFL's new collective bargaining agreement kicks in at the end of the year before signing a new contract and capitalise on his significant value to the club. Melbourne is comfortable with where the dialogue sits and it will continue to provide the right environment so the 21-year-old can continue to flourish. 

Is Simon Goodwin ready to coach in a year's time?
The Demons have been building up to the moment Simon Goodwin takes the coaching reins from Paul Roos for a while now. Roos has made it clear that the 2016 team is his, but Goodwin's responsibilities will be increased significantly. Goodwin has already coached the team through the NAB Challenge and the Demons are keen to fast-track his development by giving him an opportunity to meet with the club's board, coterie groups and the media. Melbourne wants to make sure the senior assistant is well equipped to take the full-time role once 2017 rolls around. 

Who does Melbourne turn to as its second tall-forward option?
Hogan is the obvious linchpin up forward for the Demons but he needs support. Chris Dawes has been struggling with a persistent calf injury and won't be fit for the start of the season. Sam Frost and Cameron Pedersen are the two in line to take the spot, with both able to provide versatile options either up forward or as the back-up ruck to Max Gawn. Frost's athleticism and speed make him an attractive prospect after a promising pre-season. - Ben Guthrie

Sam Frost's size and athleticism makes him an attractive forward option. Picture: AFL Media

North Melbourne

Can Daniel Wells and Jed Anderson add the outside class North needs? North's inside grunt has never been in question, but the competition's top teams have had a clear edge in run and outside class in recent seasons. Wells' ability to stay healthy after two injury-plagued seasons will be crucial to the Roos' premiership hopes this year, while former Hawk Anderson could also boost their X-factor.

Will North's veterans start to slow down? Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Jarrad Waite and Nick Dal Santo remain key players for North. For the Roos to be top-four contenders this season, most, if not all, of them need to remain close to their best.

Can the Roos go further than a preliminary final? North has done remarkably well to win four finals in the past two seasons, but has it peaked with its consecutive preliminary final appearances? Many would say yes but the Roos will take heart from their brave preliminary final performance against West Coast away from home. - Nick Bowen   

Port Adelaide

Can Matthew Lobbe re-establish himself as a top AFL ruckman?
Patrick Ryder's absence through suspension for 2016 places more pressure on the shoulders of ruckman Lobbe. The Power big man had a down year in 2015, after a strong 2014 campaign, and he and Ryder struggled to form any sort of chemistry. Now the clear No.1 ruck option, the former vice-captain has every opportunity to reassert himself and prove to the Power why he is so valuable. 

Do the Power return straight to finals action?
Many predicted the Power to win the premiership last season and that didn't eventuate. In fact, Port missed the finals altogether and finished in ninth position. Without Ryder and also Angus Monfries, the challenge of returning to finals football is going to be tough. If the Power can rediscover the fast-paced football that was a staple of their 2014 preliminary final push, then anything is possible. 

Can Charlie Dixon make Port a premiership-calibre side?
The former Gold Coast forward is talented but questions remain over his durability – particularly after a pre-season knee scare – and whether he has improved his off-field habits. Dixon has reportedly fitted in well at Alberton and he looms as an important pick-up, especially with Ryder sidelined. The 25-year-old, who played 65 games in five seasons with the Suns, has the potential to make a significant impact at his new club. - Ben Guthrie 

Dixon's form at his new club will have a big influence on Port Adelaide's 2016. Picture: AFL Media


Richmond

Is this the year Dustin Martin becomes an All Australian? The Tigers are looking for ways to become a team that wins finals and Martin shapes as the key. Nominated in the 40-man squad the past two years, if he takes the next step so do the Tigers.

Have elimination finals defeats scarred the players mentally? If the Tigers make the finals we'll get a definitive answer. If they don't, there are bigger issues at Tigerland. The club has been keen not to reflect on 2015 and seems to be doing everything it can to wipe three consecutive elimination final defeats from memory.

Is Damien Hardwick the right man to take Richmond to a premiership? This remains a crucial year for the coach, who has time on his side after a contract extension but still needs to win a final this year to prove his team is on track. His credentials will be hurt without September success in 2016. - Nathan Schmook 

St Kilda

Will St Kilda's young forwards develop enough to lessen the team's reliance on Nick Riewoldt?
Saints fans should be cautiously optimistic. Riewoldt will continue to be the star, but Josh Bruce is only 23 and coming off a 50-goal campaign, while Paddy McCartin will play more than the six games he had last year.

Can the Saints improve their kicking in Alan Richardson's third season in charge?
St Kilda's foot skills were poor at times last year, as is the case with most young teams. Draftees Jade Gresham, Bailey Rice and Brandon White all kick well but only Gresham looks likely to play in 2016. The Saints have worked on their kicking during the pre-season and with another year of experience, expect better ball movement.

How much will the Saints miss Jake Carlisle?
While Sean Dempster, Dylan Roberton and Sam Fisher might struggle against the biggest forwards, their flexibility and experience means the defenders will switch opponents seamlessly. The Saints were fourth in the competition for pressure factor differential in 2015, and the resulting poor kicks by the opposition will help the backline. - Dinny Navaratnam

Sydney Swans

Can Lance Franklin return to his match-winning best?
Fit, healthy and happy after one of his most comprehensive pre-season campaigns in years, Franklin has the base, but can he produce when it matters most? If the Swans can get him quality supply, Buddy could be in for a big year. 

Is this the year the Swans slip behind the Giants?
It's been a dominant run for the Swans since GWS entered the competition, with the new boys winning just one of eight clashes between the Sydney sides. The tide will turn eventually and 2016 could be the year.

Will Callum Mills overtake Isaac Heeney as the club's best young star?
The pair of academy standouts will play at opposite ends of the ground this season, but are equally important to the Swans. If Mills stays fit he'll be tough to beat for this year's NAB Rising Star award. - Adam Curley

With quality supply, a fit and healthy Lance Franklin could be in for a big year. Picture: AFL Media

West Coast

Can the Eagles handle the expectations?
Everyone expects the Eagles to be there at the business end of the year. Adam Simpson has said that handling expectations is their biggest challenge. He should keep the players grounded with his messaging. 

Where will Jeremy McGovern play?
Wherever the coach tells him to. McGovern wants to play ruck and on-ball but the Eagles need him most down back and in occasional stints forward. 

What will Lewis Jetta add?
He had an excellent pre-season but he was very quiet in the first NAB Challenge game against Adelaide and hurt his calf after a blistering first quarter against Gold Coast. His pace and skill could be so damaging at Domain Stadium. If he can deliver consistently he adds another dimension to the Eagles' side. - Alex Malcolm

Western Bulldogs

Are the Bulldogs a legitimate flag contender or still a team on the rise?
Luke Beveridge agrees with the general consensus that the Dogs are the "great unknown" heading into 2016, but the boys from Whitten Oval are quietly confident. If they can sort out the key defensive posts and their array of young talent continues to develop at a rapid rate, they'll be hard to beat.

Is 2016 the year Tom Boyd becomes a star?
With 20-year-old reportedly receiving about a million dollars this season, pressure is mounting for his output to match his pay packet. The signs were promising throughout the NAB Challenge, with the 2013 No.1 draft pick impressive without tearing a game apart. If the Dogs continue to move the ball quickly, the towering forward should have plenty of opportunities to hit the scoreboard.

Can the old Dogs keep on keeping on?
At33 years of age, Bob Murphy, Matthew Boyd and Dale Morris were key planks in the Dogs' resurgence last season. But as many a veteran has found, age can catch up with you very quickly and a repeat of the trios' sparkling form can't be taken for granted. - Ryan Davidson