SEVENTH. Third. Fifth. Tenth. 

Those are Geelong's ladder finishes, 2012 to 2015.

The easy option for the Cats would have been to take a deep breath and convince themselves that others were right – that their time as a premiership contender had elapsed. 

An embarrassing preliminary final loss in 2014. Another preliminary final loss in 2015. The oldest AFL playing list, by a long way, going into 2016. That was North Melbourne's situation. 

The easy option for the Roos would have been to retreat, to believe what others were saying about them being gallant in having a crack at big success, but that they were a very long way off the ultimate prize. 

Those easy options, to buy time, to ask members for patience and to build for a future crack at a premiership confronted both Geelong and North Melbourne at the end of last year. 

They stared back, though, and continued to make decisions that others scoffed at. They dared to aim high again. 

Six rounds into the 2016 season, they occupy the top two places on the ladder. 

That, of course, is not to say it is where they will finish the year. But as strange as it seems, the fact they were prepared to go all-out for the big prize actually puts them in the minority. 

So careful and conservative – even scared – have decision makers at some clubs become that there may be as few as six teams that genuinely have an all-out crack at a flag each year. 

Certainly, a premiership-striving club is never really competing against 17 rivals.

There are always at least half a dozen clubs that don't stand a chance before round one. Then there is always another batch that just stuff things up. And then there are those that forever seem to be either rebuilding or supposedly preparing for a proper attack at the flag in the future. 

Three-, four-, five-, even six-year plans are everywhere. Those plans often never get near completion, with the eye on the future regularly forgetting that the present is something that should be dealt with as well. 

So attuned have we become to clubs telling us they must prepare for the future that when Geelong dared to attack 2016 even as late-2015 was unfolding in a miserable way, we were told they were borderline reckless.

In came Paddy Dangerfield, Zac Smith, Lachie Henderson and Scott Selwood, at sizeable expense. First-round draft picks – for 2015 and 2016 – were given up. All-time greats in Stevie Johnson and James Kelly were let go in heartbreaking yet courageous-as-they-come list management decisions. Jared Rivers sensed it was right to retire after his best year as a Cat. Mathew Stokes also retired, Josh Walker was traded.

Those who gaze so far into the future that they can't see the now were heard tut-tutting, but who is tut-tutting now? And no matter what happens from here, Geelong should be applauded for presenting itself as a live premiership hope in a season that has turned out to be wide open. 

North Melbourne added Jed Anderson, now injured, and Farren Ray to its list after falling short in the 2015 preliminary final. Zero impact from those two to date. But it was a recruiting strategy that continued the theme of bold and much-queried additions of older players in Nick Dal Santo, Jarrad Waite and Shaun Higgins. 

Again, even if the Roos fall short of a Grand Final in 2016, they would do so safe in the knowledge that they hadn't died wondering in this open year. 

North's hiring policy has shown it won't die wondering in an even year. Picture: AFL Media

With injuries and perhaps father time impacting on the mighty Hawthorn, the 2016 big prize appears there for the taking, and there are at least eight teams in early May that can realistically claim to be premiership challengers. 

Adelaide, despite very obvious setbacks in the past 12 months, is having a legitimate crack at a flag. Well done to it. 

The Brisbane Lions are nowhere near it and Carlton likewise; they had no choice but to use 2016 to prepare for the future. 

Then we get to Collingwood. So hell-bent were the Magpies on seemingly removing everything Mick Malthouse from their operations that they may have forgotten that you need talented players to stay competitive. And they apparently also forgot to accurately place an end-game to their rebuild. It is clearly not this year. 

Essendon in 2016 doesn't need explanation. Fremantle does, and right now it certainly challenges our theory that it is better to go for the now than to prepare for the future.

But it went so close to the ultimate prize in 2013 and finished 2015 as the No.1 team after the home-and-away season. It will never need to wonder what might have been, as it left everything out on the field. 

Gold Coast has become a basket case for a variety of reasons, and is in a state that it did not expect and one that worries the AFL. 

GWS has prepared for a future like no team in the history of the game, and in its fifth year of AFL life is poised to launch a bid at the unthinkable, after finishing 18th, 18th, 16th and 11th. 

Hawthorn is going for a fourth straight flag, with the three it won in 2013-14-15 largely due to aggressive, outside-the-square recruiting for the now. Really, if they miss out in 2016, who cares? 

Melbourne is building nicely, and under Peter Jackson and Paul Roos have set internal challenges that are being met, and will leave the club well-placed for a serious crack at high-end finals from 2018, maybe 2017. 

Port Adelaide is a bit like Fremantle. It has loaded right up, and fallen short to this point, which does leave the future in some doubt. But WADA matters, which were out of its control, have impacted dramatically. 

Richmond has stuffed things up. After three straight elimination finals losses, 2016 was meant to be the year. It won't be. And now officials are scrambling, one even daring to retro-fit past decisions that haven't worked. Some clubs never get it right. 

St Kilda is showing some nice signs, but remains well and truly entrenched in that all-too-convenient zone where it is under no real pressure in 2016 because of its selling of hope for 2018 and beyond. That may be fair enough, but let's see what happens when 2018 arrives. 

The Sydney Swans are like Geelong. Their DNA does not allow for them to ever contemplate a rebuild – and a massive well done to them for that being the case. Yes, they’ve had salary cap assistance, and yes, they've now got player academy help, but they commit to having a crack every single season. And the Swans are on track, yet again, this time with a batch of kids mostly unknown outside the SCG. 

It's not in the Swans' DNA to contemplate a rebuild. Picture: AFL Media

Now that they has emerged from the haze of the drugs fallout, the Eagles have reverted to what they know best and being in the running each year. 

And the Western Bulldogs under Luke Beveridge's coaching, unlike the Bulldogs under Brendan McCartney, are only worried about the right-now. 

If you prepare for the now, you may just luck out. Season 2016 is looming as one of those years. 

Under different leadership and different coaches, North and Geelong could have very easily taken a soft retreat after their efforts in 2015. 

They didn't. They're all-in. And against the odds they are live premiership chances. Sometimes the very best view of the future is to peer into the now. 

Twitter: @barrettdamian