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Crystal ball: AFL.com.au's 2017 season predictions

Staff reporters  March 21, 2017 11:13 AM

AFL 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final - Sydney v Western Bulldogs

The Western Bulldogs stunned the footy world by claiming the 2016 premiership. Whose turn is it next?

Nick Bowen

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: St Kilda
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Marcus Bontempelli (Western Bulldogs)
Coleman Medal: Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Jack Bowes (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Jamie Macmillan (North Melbourne)
Headline you'll see: Fyfe turns his back on Vic suitors to re-sign with Dockers
Headline you won't see:  Bring back third man up: Sandi
Game-changer: Quick ball movement will be a huge focus for most teams, with players instructed to play on whenever possible.
Pass the tissues: David Swallow returns from horror injury run to win Gold Coast's best and fairest award.
The new normal: Following the example Hawthorn set last year with Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, clubs will be more prepared to trade star veterans when their lists need youthful makeovers.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney
Western Bulldogs
West Coast
Adelaide
St Kilda
Geelong
Melbourne
-----------
Hawthorn
Collingwood
Port Adelaide
Gold Coast
North Melbourne
Richmond
Fremantle
Essendon
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

>> When is your team playing? Check out the full AFL fixture

Ashley Browne

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Western Bulldogs
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: Geelong
Brownlow Medal: Dan Hannebery (Sydney)
Coleman Medal: Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)
Recruit of the year: Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn)
Surprise All Australian: Dayne Beams (Brisbane Lions)
Headline you'll see: Crowd records smashed
Headline you won't see: Angry Giants fans slam AFL
Game-changer: The art of ruckwork will return with the 'third man up' now abolished. Some will tap, others will punch, while the palm might also make a comeback. It will be beautiful to watch.
Pass the tissues: Sam Mitchell gets a standing ovation from Hawthorn fans during the pre-game warm-up just before the round five game at the MCG.
The new normal: Star player is a late withdrawal from a game then misses another two weeks. Club says he has a 'grumbly' groin. Social media, 'Snowy' on the tram and the second cousin of someone you went to school insist he is serving a ban for an illicit drug and that the AFL is keeping it a secret.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Western Bulldogs
Sydney
West Coast
Hawthorn
Melbourne
Adelaide
St Kilda
-----------
Geelong
Fremantle
Gold Coast
Essendon
Collingwood
North Melbourne
Richmond
Port Adelaide
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Ryan Burton has the talent to make an impact in 2017. Picture: AFL Photos
2_21HaNM16MW1266.jpg

Ben Collins

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: West Coast
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Collingwood
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Josh Kennedy (Sydney)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Will Brodie (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Steve Johnson (GWS)
Headline you'll see: No Shanghai surprise: Chinese support Suns and Kochie goes crook
Headline you won't see: Big-headed Bulldogs rest on laurels
Game-changer: Nathan Buckley saves his job by sharing it more with others. His new focus on delegation and player-empowerment results in more Pies enjoying personal-best seasons and a vastly improved team effort.
Pass the tissues: Jarryd Roughead becomes the All Australian captain.
The new normal: An old normal will return, with handball numbers to go through the roof again following the success of the Bulldogs' famed 'handball club'. And there will be an unofficial competition to see who can deliver the most outrageously inventive (and legal) handball.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
West Coast
Adelaide
Sydney
Western Bulldogs
Hawthorn
Geelong
Collingwood
-----------
Melbourne
St Kilda
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide
Richmond
Gold Coast
Essendon
Fremantle
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Adam Curley

Premier: Western Bulldogs
Runner-up: Greater Western Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Coleman Medal: Lance Franklin (Sydney)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Jacob Hopper (GWS)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Josh Kelly (GWS)
Headline you'll see: NSW clubs dominate 2017 All Australian 22
Headline you won't see: Carlton's former Giants lead club revival
Game-changer: Coaches will find a way to have their star midfielders spend even more time forward and less time off the ground this season, meaning the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Luke Parker, Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe will kick 30+ goals.
Pass the tissues: Bob Murphy retires with a premiership as the Bulldogs go back-to-back.
The new normal: West Coast duo Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell combining to rack up 70+ possessions between them.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Western Bulldogs
Sydney
Adelaide
West Coast
Geelong
Melbourne
Hawthorn
-----------
St Kilda
Essendon
Gold Coast
Richmond
Collingwood
Fremantle
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide
Brisbane
Carlton

Marcus Bontempelli could rest forward more often. Picture: AFL Photos
1_21WBCo16AT3249.jpg

Ryan Davidson

Premier: Western Bulldogs
Runner-up: Greater Western Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Sam Mitchell
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Brayden Fiorini (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Travis Cloke
Surprise All Australian: Steven May
Headline you'll see: Tigers miss the eight, again
Headline you won't see: Power surge saves Hinkley
Game-changer: The AFL has vowed to crack down on the practice, but the super-quick handball (or borderline throwing) from contests the Bulldogs employed so successfully last year was prevalent amongst other teams in the JLT Community Series. Increased ball movement through the corridor will also be prevalent.
Pass the tissues: For a kid that has had terrible luck since being drafted, the football world would be hoping Saint Nathan Freeman's hamstrings would finally let him show his immense talent at senior level.
The new normal: Like it or not, GWS will play finals consistently for the foreseeable future, and be most experts' tip for the flag in that period.

Ladder

Western Bulldogs
Greater Western Sydney
Sydney Swans
Adelaide
Geelong
Hawthorn
West Coast
Essendon
-----------
St Kilda
Melbourne
Gold Coast
Collingwood
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide
Fremantle
Richmond
Carlton
Brisbane Lions

Nat Edwards

Premier: Sydney
Runner-up: Greater Western Sydney
Wooden spoon: Brisbane Lions
Moving up: Essendon
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Patrick Dangerfield
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Recruit of the year: Jaeger O'Meara
Surprise All Australian: Dylan Shiel
Headline you'll see: Port sees red as Chinese fans side with Suns
Headline you won't see: Hawks bomb on Jaeger trade
Game-changer: Drawing free kicks for a high tackle is going to be very tough in 2017 with the umpires cracking down on shrugging the shoulders and dropping the knees. Several clubs have benefited from this over in the past, and will need to find a new tactic quick smart. 
Pass the tissues: After a year out of the game, Jarryd Roughead returns to lead the Hawks and has a phenomenal year, winning Hawthorn's best and fairest.
The new normal: 40-plus possession games for Patrick Dangerfield as he waltzes towards yet another Brownlow Medal.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney Swans
West Coast
Hawthorn
Geelong
Western Bulldogs
Adelaide
Melbourne
-----------
St Kilda
Collingwood
Richmond
Essendon
North Melbourne
Gold Coast
Fremantle
Port Adelaide
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Port Adelaide's Sam Powell-Pepper is set to make an instant impact. Picture: AFL Photos
7_AA090317MW0186.jpg


Lee Gaskin

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: West Coast
Wooden spoon: Brisbane Lions
Moving up: St Kilda
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)
Coleman Medal: Eddie Betts (Adelaide)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Recruit of the year: Zach Tuohy (Geelong)
Surprise All Australian: Zac Williams (GWS)
Headline you'll see: Electric Eddie kicks goal of the year for third straight season
Headline you won't see: Dusty becomes regular panel member on The Footy Show
Game-changer: After the Dockers kick the first point of the game, Ross Lyon instructs them to play keepings off for the next two hours as they hang on for a gritty 1-0 victory.
Pass the tissues: Nat Fyfe has a spectacular season for the Dockers and finishes just one vote behind Dangerfield in the Brownlow Medal.
The new normal: Every side is running at least a dozen players through the midfield to copy the versatility of the Bulldogs.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney Swans
Geelong
West Coast
Adelaide
St Kilda
Hawthorn
Melbourne
-----------
Western Bulldogs
Richmond
Gold Coast
Port Adelaide
Collingwood
North Melbourne
Essendon
Fremantle
Carlton
Brisbane Lions

Ben Guthrie

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: West Coast
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Essendon
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Adam Treloar (Collingwood)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Oliver Florent (Sydney)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Luke Dahlhaus (Western Bulldogs)
Headline you'll see: Opposition clubs cry foul at Giants' dominance
Headline you won't see: Port Adelaide president David Koch declares club is rebuilding
Game-changer: The corridor kick. Teams will look to use the '45 kick' (a pass inboard on a 45-degree angle) more than ever to open up the ground and exploit opposition zone defences. The reward of hitting the 'corridor kick' far outweighs the risk as teams focus on transition footy.
Pass the tissues: Jobe Watson is named to the All Australian team after a year out of the game, giving him a consolation prize after losing his 2012 Brownlow Medal.
The new normal: The hybrid defender will take away the need for teams to pick key backmen in position. Even though they are undersized, hybrid defenders can generally cover the ground quickly and defend space more efficiently than key defenders. Players such as Jeremy McGovern and Jeremy Howe will thrive.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
West Coast
Sydney
Western Bulldogs
Geelong
Adelaide
Essendon
St Kilda
-----------
Melbourne
Hawthorn
Gold Coast
Collingwood
Fremantle
Port Adelaide
Richmond
North Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Could Adam Treloar claim his first Brownlow Medal? Picture: AFL Photos
6_AA280217MW0342.jpg

Travis King

Premier: West Coast
Runner-up: Greater Western Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Nat Fyfe (Fremantle)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Tim Taranto (GWS)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Bradley Hill (Fremantle)
Headline you'll see: Power out on Hinkley
Headline you won't see: Cats skipper booked again for speeding
Game-changer: High-risk, high-reward kicking into the corridor.
Pass the tissues: Emotional Jobe Watson bows out by winning Bombers best and fairest.
The new normal: The introduction of a twilight Grand Final sounds the death knell for the traditional 2.30pm bouncedown. 

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney
West Coast
Western Bulldogs
St Kilda
Melbourne
Geelong
Adelaide
-----------
Hawthorn
Collingwood
Fremantle
Gold Coast
Richmond
Essendon
Port Adelaide
North Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Howard Kotton

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Hawthorn
Wooden spoon: Brisbane Lions
Moving up: St Kilda
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Callan Ward (GWS)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Marc Murphy (Calrton)
Headline you'll see: Board backs Hardwick/Buckley
Headline you won't see: Malthouse to coach his fifth AFL club
Game-changer: The new ruck rule banning the 'third man up' will lead to a better spectacle. Play won't be as congested and purists will delight in watching the two ruckmen going head to head.
Pass the tissues: Young Magpie Sam McLarty, whose battle to get to the elite level has been well documented, wins a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination on the back of several impressive performances. 
The new normal: If the JLT Community Series is any indication, clubs have followed the Bulldogs' template for success with the use of handball. Statistics show there have been already many more handballs than kicks – but will it last? Unlikely.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Hawthorn
West Coast
Sydney
St Kilda
Gold Coast
Geelong
Western Bulldogs
-----------
Adelaide
Melbourne
Fremantle
North Melbourne
Collingwood
Richmond
Essendon
Port Adelaide
Carlton
Brisbane Lions

Ben Ainsworth has the skill and strength to excel early. Picture: AFL Photos
5_AA230217AT0236.jpg

Dinny Navaratnam

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: West Coast
Wooden spoon: Brisbane Lions
Moving up: Richmond
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Trent Cotchin (Richmond)
Coleman Medal: Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Mitch McGovern (Adelaide)
Headline you'll see: Good Friday footy a success
Headline you won't see: Clarkson: I shouldn't have traded Mitchell and Lewis
Game-changer: Teams go handball-heavy to break through opposition defences.
Pass the tissues: Jobe Watson racks up 36 disposals to help Essendon to a two-point victory on Anzac Day, wins Anzac Medal.
The new normal: Players go to extreme lengths to avoid deliberately rushing behinds.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney
Western Bulldogs
West Coast
Geelong
Hawthorn
Adelaide
Richmond
-----------
Melbourne
Collingwood
St Kilda
Gold Coast
Essendon
Fremantle
Port Adelaide
North Melbourne
Carlton
Brisbane Lions

Jennifer Phelan

Premier: GWS
Runner-up: Adelaide
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Rory Sloane (Adelaide)
Coleman Medal: Jeremy Cameron (Greater Western Sydney)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Wayne Milera (Adelaide)
Recruit of the year: Jordan Lewis (Melbourne)
Surprise All Australian: Daniel Wells (Collingwood)
Headline you'll see: Martin to stay a Tiger
Headline you won't see: Power lose first 10 games, Kochie fine with it
Game-changer: 'Third man up' ban sees more clubs play two recognised ruckmen.
Pass the tissues: The Bulldogs go back-to-back and Bob Murphy wins the Norm Smith.
The new normal: More small forwards in contention for the Coleman Medal.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney Swans
Western Bulldogs
Adelaide
West Coast
Melbourne
Hawthorn
Geelong
-----------
Collingwood
St Kilda
Richmond
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide
Fremantle
Essendon
Gold Coast
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Jordan Lewis should improve the Demons in his first year there. Picture: AFL Photos
4_JLT1WBMe17AT0865.jpg

Peter Ryan

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Adam Treloar (Collingwood)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Jack Bowes (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Bradley Hill (Fremantle)
Surprise All Australian: Callan Ward (GWS)
Headline you'll see: Players win landmark pay-deal
Headline you won't see: Trading ban on Greater Western Sydney
Game-changer: A club playing two ruckmen has massive advantage at stoppages.
Pass the tissues: Essendon's first win for the season.
The new normal: Clubs rest their stars as they are more focused on finishing in top eight with their best team on park than winning the double chance by finishing top four.

Ladder

Sydney 
Western Bulldogs
Greater Western Sydney
Adelaide
Geelong
Melbourne
West Coast
St Kilda
-----------
Hawthorn
Collingwood
Gold Coast
Essendon
Port Adelaide
Fremantle 
North Melbourne
Richmond
Brisbane Lions
Carlton 

Nathan Schmook

Premier: Sydney Swans
Runner-up: Greater Western Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Nat Fyfe (Fremantle)
Coleman Medal: Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Recruit of the year: Sam Mitchell (West Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Jack Billings (St Kilda)
Headline you'll see: Saint 'Richo' signs on for the long haul
Headline you won't see: Early resolution in Dusty talks
Game-changer: Rewarding tacklers. Blowing the whistle this year instead of play on when the ball spills free could be the answer to congestion.
Pass the tissues: Dumped Dockers ride Giant wave into GF. 
The new normal: Tuesday night parmas for the Tribunal jury. With only five cases in 2016 (down from 11 in 2015 and 15 in 2014), a new low could be set this year.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney Swans
Western Bulldogs
West Coast
Geelong
Hawthorn
Melbourne
Adelaide
-----------
St Kilda
Collingwood
Richmond
Essendon
Gold Coast
North Melbourne
Port Adelaide
Fremantle
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Jack Billings has had a strong pre-season and is ready to fire. Picture: AFL Photos
3_TR150217SB 0006.JPG

Matt Thompson

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Western Bulldogs
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Melbourne
Set to fall: Hawthorn
Brownlow Medal: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)
Coleman Medal: Lance Franklin (Sydney)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Recruit of the year: Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn)
Surprise All Australian: Zach Merrett (Essendon)
Headline you'll see: Players get massive pay rise
Headline you won't see: Dustin Martin splits from celebrity agent
Game-changer: Off the field, now the AFL owns Etihad Stadium, tenant clubs will reap the rewards of newfound prosperity.
Pass the tissues: Fans finally get a full look at Jaeger O'Meara's potential, bringing tears to the eyes of both Hawks and Gold Coast supporters - albeit for different reasons. 
The new normal: The barrier between fans and players becomes further restricted, with more controlled media access meaning we hear less from the stars of the game. 

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Western Bulldogs
Sydney
West Coast
Geelong
Melbourne
Collingwood
St Kilda
-----------
Hawthorn
Essendon  
Gold Coast
Richmond
Adelaide
North Melbourne
Fremantle
Port Adelaide
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Callum Twomey

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: West Coast
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Essendon
Set to fall: Geelong
Brownlow Medal: Nat Fyfe (Fremantle)
Coleman Medal: Tom Lynch (Gold Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Ben Ainsworth (Gold Coast)
Recruit of the year: Jaeger O'Meara
Surprise All Australian: Orazio Fantasia
Headline you'll see: Mitchell makes Hawks pay
Headline you won't see: Dusty calls press conference to update media on contract talks
Game changer: Play on, play on, play on. The 'rush' tactic is in vogue with clubs keen to break open play instead of short-passing the ball to find an opening.
Pass the tissues: Jobe Watson wins Essendon best and fairest and returns to career-best form.
The new normal: Stricter media access to players despite new CBA deal. 

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
West Coast
Western Bulldogs
Adelaide
Sydney
Hawthorn
Essendon
Geelong
-----------
Melbourne
Gold Coast
Fremantle
St Kilda
Collingwood
Richmond
Port Adelaide
North Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

Could Jobe win another Brownlow in a fairytale return? Picture: AFL Photos
1_JLT4GeEs17AT2249.jpg

Michael Whiting

Premier: Greater Western Sydney
Runner-up: Sydney
Wooden spoon: Carlton
Moving up: Gold Coast
Set to fall: North Melbourne
Brownlow Medal: Luke Parker (Sydney)
Coleman Medal: Josh Kennedy (West Coast)
NAB AFL Rising Star: Hugh McCluggage (Brisbane Lions)
Recruit of the year: Pearce Hanley (Gold Coast)
Surprise All Australian: Dylan Shiel (GWS)
Headline you'll see: How long can Bucks hold on?
Headline you won't see: Eddie says Giants losing the Riverina is bad for game's growth
Game-changer: Who's going to be the first to not press everyone up and leave a couple of forwards stationed at home?
Pass the tissues: Nic Nat returns and helps West Coast storm into a prelim final.
The new normal: Signing draftees to multi-year extensions before they've played a game – particularly interstate clubs. The Suns have done it and watch for others to follow. Win-win for player and club.

Ladder

Greater Western Sydney
Sydney
West Coast
Western Bulldogs
Adelaide
Geelong
Hawthorn
Gold Coast
-----------
Melbourne
St Kilda
Collingwood
Fremantle
Port Adelaide
Richmond
Essendon
North Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Carlton

2017 AFL Tipping