A DEAKIN University PhD candidate has uncovered evidence on the impact injuries to key players has on a team's ability to make the finals.
Daniel Hoffman and his research team trawled through more than 15,000 player injuries from the 18 clubs between 1997 and 2016, which resulted in 51,331 missed matches, to reach his findings.
It might seem obvious that a higher injury attrition rate heightens the difficulty to qualify for September, but Hoffman's study finally offers proof – and at what stage it becomes harder.
The study, which has been presented to AFL clubs, found that if a team's 10 most valuable players missed a combined 27 matches, it finished ninth or lower on average and missed the finals.
Further, a side drops one ladder place each time one of those important 10 missed nine games in a season through injury.
Teams where no valuable players missed a match were 12 per cent more likely to reach the finals.
Hoffman used various methods to quantify who those players were, and the most effective one was to base the results off the club's top 10 in the best and fairest the previous season.
There were variables in this, where, for example, Brisbane's star recruit Lachie Neale – the Dockers' reigning club champion – would be included in his new side's top 10 most valuable players.
"We listed where all the possible missed matches could be for key players, so starting from zero all the way to the team that missed the most matches," Hoffman told AFL.com.au.
"Then we extrapolated that model to assess where that team would typically finish at the end of the season for every single number of missed matches.
"So if a team missed zero matches to their key players, they would typically finish fifth. I'm not saying they would definitely finish fifth, but on average they would finish fifth.
"Some teams would finish first, and some would finish eighth, for example, then as teams missed more matches, they will go down the ladder.
"It gets to a threshold where as soon as it gets to 27 missed matches to those key players, that's where teams are more likely to be non-finalists than finalists."
Differences in teams finishing the season as a finalist or non-finalist in terms of the total number of missed matches to their valuable players. Data points represent individual teams, injury burden represents the number of missed matches per team per season. (B&F = best and fairest)
Richmond's drought-breaking 2017 premiership benefited from a glorious injury run.
The Tigers' top four players in their 2016 best and fairest count – Dustin Martin, Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt – missed only two games between them out of a combined 100.
Riewoldt was absent in both of those home and away matches, whereas the other three played all 25 games, including finals.
However, the study's data was based only on regular season matches to ensure consistency across all 18 clubs.
Every team played 22 games each season in the time period, except for Adelaide and Geelong, which had 21 in 2015, because of the abandoned match after former Crows coach Phil Walsh's death.
Interestingly, applying the same philosophy this year, with help from Champion Data, illustrates the enormity of Richmond's achievement to be inside the top four.
FULL INJURY LIST Who's ruled out and who's a test?
No club's top 10 from last year's best and fairest has missed more games than the Tigers' 56, even with star recruit Tom Lynch playing every match and replacing 10th-placed Josh Caddy in this count.
There appears to have been an increased hit on the AFL's stars this season, based on the table below, but Greater Western Sydney and Adelaide are also performing well despite their injuries.
By contrast, North Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and Brisbane have enjoyed a golden run.
2019 MVP INJURY TOLL
- Numbers apply to last year's club champion top 10 https://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-10-07/top-10-best-and-fairest-from-every-club
- There were swaps at Brisbane (Neale for Beams), Carlton (McGovern and Newman for Rowe and Wright), Collingwood (Beams for 10th-placed Maynard), Essendon (Shiel for Goddard), Fremantle (Hogan for Neale), GWS (Williams for Shiel), Melbourne (May for 10th-placed Lewis), North Melbourne (Polec for Macmillan), Port Adelaide (Burton and Lycett for Polec and Wingard) and Richmond (Lynch for Caddy)
- Chad Wingard didn't apply for Hawks, because he would have replaced 10th-placed James Sicily