Casey Demons players celebrate with the premiership cup after their Smithy's VFL Grand Final win over Southport Sharks at Ikon Park on September 18, 2022. Picture: Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos

Position: Premiers
W-L-D (%): 20-1-0 (170.48)

Players used: 52 (24 VFL, 28 AFL)
Played every match:
Debutants: 19

Longest winning streak: 17 (Rounds 1-21)
Best win: Grand Final: Casey Demons 10.10 (70) def Southport 5.8 (38)
Biggest win: 110 points, Round 8: Casey Demons 26.21 (177) def North Melbourne 10.7 (67)
Longest losing streak: 1 (Round 22)
Worst loss: Round 22: Casey Demons 8.9 (57) lost to Brisbane Lions 10.11 (71)
Biggest loss: 14 points, Round 22: Casey Demons 8.9 (57) lost to Brisbane Lions 10.11 (71)

Liston Medal: L Dunstan 16, K Chandler 12, M White 12
Coaches MVP: L Dunstan 64, K Chandler 40, J Munro 37
Goalkickers: M Brown 38, J van Rooyen 36, K Chandler 29

Disposals: L Dunstan 25.8, J Munro 22.1, A Tomlinson 21.9
Kicks: A Tomlinson 18.0, O Baker 15.7, L Dunstan 15.6
Marks: M Brown 6.7, A Tomlinson 5.6, K Chandler 5.4
Handballs: J Munro 13.3, L Dunstan 10.2, B Laurie 8.2
Tackles: J Munro 8.5, T Bedford 6.7, M White 5.7
Hitouts: M Daw 26.4, J Bell 17.0, S Weideman 9.5
Clearances: L Dunstan 6.8, J Munro 6.0, M White 5.3
Inside-50s: L Dunstan 5.6, M White 4.9, O Baker 4.3
Rebound-50s: A Tomlinson 8.6, O Baker 2.9, D Smith 2.8

Jimmy Munro ranked No.2 in the VFL for tackles. Picture: Quinn Rooney/AFL Photos

What went right: Almost everything. The Demons were the dominant force in the competition from the time they belted Sandringham to open the season, and apart from the odd game (Essendon, Box Hill Hawks, Geelong, Carlton) they were rarely challenged. While having a strong Melbourne list certainly helps, a key part of Casey’s dominance comes from its VFL-listed leaders, with skipper Mitch White and vice-captain Jimmy Munro being two of the genuine stars of the VFL. The respect those two men have across the league was borne out by how pleased for them many rivals were that they managed to secure that drought-breaking premiership.

What went wrong: How do you find fault with an almost perfect season? The obvious one is the loss to the Lions in Queensland in Round 22 that cost the Demons an undefeated season, but they avenged that result in style in the preliminary final. Losing No.1 ruckman Majak Daw to retirement mid-season would be the other, but they covered him expertly by sending key forward Sam Weideman into the centre circle in the finals. Fraser Rosman’s untimely hamstring injury costing him a flag would be the only other hiccup.

Summary: The best team all year was comfortably the best team on Grand Final day. A premiership seemed Casey’s destiny from the time it kicked the first eight goals against nearest rival, the Southport Sharks, in Round 7 and the Demons duly delivered on a wintry day in September. A first flag in more than two decades was a fitting reward.

Grade: 9.9/10

Position: 2nd
W-L-D (%): 15-6-0 (139.23)

Players used: 35
Played every match:
K Boakye, J Dawson, T Fields, J Heron, J Joyce, R King, M Pescud
Debutants: 3

Longest winning streak: 8 (Rounds 8-17)
Best win: Round 3: Southport Sharks 19.16 (130) def Werribee 11.12 (78)
Biggest win: 106 points, Round 22: Southport Sharks 21.18 (144) def Coburg 4.14 (38)
Longest losing streak: 3 (Rounds 18-21)
Worst loss: Round 18: Southport Sharks 12.13 (85) lost to Essendon 13.9 (87)
Biggest loss: 38 points, Round 19: Southport Sharks 6.14 (50) lost to Collingwood 13.10 (88)

Liston Medal: J Dawson 22, B Woodcock 22, B Crossley 6
Coaches MVP: J Dawson 120 (winner), B Woodcock 87, B Crossley 24
Goalkickers: J Townsend 37, B Gowers 31, M Pescud 29

Disposals: J Dawson 29.2, B Woodcock 28.2, M Manteit 21.1
Kicks: B Woodcock 17.6, J Dawson 13.2, J Lockhart 12.1, R Davis 12.1
Marks: M Pescud 6.0, M Manteit 5.1, F Thurlow 5.1
Handballs: J Dawson 16.0, B Woodcock 10.6, M Manteit 9.9
Tackles: B Crossley 5.6, J Dawson 4.8, J Joyce 4.8
Hitouts: F Thurlow 26.5, B Crossley 26.4, D Charlesworth 2.8
Clearances: J Dawson 8.8, B Woodcock 7.0, J Joyce 5.2
Inside-50s: B Woodcock 5.0, T Fields 4.9, J Dawson 4.4
Rebound-50s: R Clark 4.6, A Fyfe 4.1, M Willis 3.4

Southport's Jacob Dawson finished top 10 in five different stat categories, including a win in the rebel Coaches MVP on Liston Medal night. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

What went right: Most things were spot on for the Sharks. They have been a revelation since joining the VFL at the start of last year, recording 24 wins from 31 matches and making a Grand Final in their first completed season. Jacob Dawson and Boyd Woodcock finished first and second in the Rebel Coaches MVP award and equal second in the Liston Trophy. The Sharks made nine trips to Melbourne and finished with a positive 5-4 record, proving they weren’t just flat track bullies using their home state advantage, with two of those four losses coming to the dominant premiers in Casey Demons.

What went wrong: The loss of ruckman Fraser Thurlow to a season-ending hamstring injury in Round 17 was a huge blow, even though Brayden Crossley produced a sensational effort to carry the Sharks all the way to the premiership-decider. Jacob Townsend was on track to dominate the Frosty Miller Medal, but four reports and two suspensions put speedhumps in his season, even though he still managed 37 goals. The three consecutive losses late in the year that cost them a home qualifying final was also a sore point for coach Steve Daniel.

Summary: People wrote off the NEAFL clubs as being out of their depth when they joined the VFL at the start of last season, and Southport took that as an affront and set about proving them wrong. And how. Averaging almost four wins every five games and making a Grand Final at the first time of asking earned them admiration and respect, especially given they were the only standalone team to reach the top eight. A measure of their character, though, is the fact they weren’t satisfied with second spot and will set themselves to be even bigger and better in 2023.

Grade: 9/10

Position: 3rd
W-L-D (%): 15-6-0 (120.96)

Players used: 42 (17 VFL, 25 AFL)
Played every match:
T Abberley
Debutants: 12

Longest winning streak: 5 (Rounds 11-17)
Best win: Round 22: Brisbane Lions 10.11 (71) def Casey Demons 8.9 (57)
Biggest win: 104 points, Round 2: Brisbane Lions 25.6 (156) def North Melbourne 7.10 (52)
Longest losing streak: 1 (six occasions)
Worst loss: Qualifying Final: Brisbane Lions 5.8 (38) lost to Southport Sharks 12.15 (87) 
Biggest Loss: 51 points, Preliminary Final: Brisbane Lions 7.6 (48) lost to Casey Demons 15.9 (99)

Liston Medal: R Mathieson 21, D Robertson 11, M Robinson 6
Coaches MVP: R Mathieson 72, D Robertson 46, T Berry 33, R Lester 33
Goalkickers: T Fullarton 27, B Coleman 24, K Lohmann 20

Disposals: R Mathieson 33.5, M Robinson 31.3, D Robertson 24.9
Kicks: M Robinson 19.5, R Mathieson 15.8, R Lester 14.7
Marks: M Robinson 7.5, R Lester 6.1, C McFadyen 5.7
Handballs: R Mathieson 17.6, M Robinson 11.8, D Robertson 11.5
Tackles: D Robertson 6.8, M Robinson 5.5, T Triffett 5.1
Hitouts: D Fort 28.7, K Lane 15.6, H Smith 7.6
Clearances: R Mathieson 8.9, D Fort 6.9, D Robertson 5.6
Inside-50s: M Robinson 7.3, R Mathieson 6.2, T Berry 4.5
Rebound-50s: C Michael 3.8, R Lester 3.7, D Wilmot 3.2

Mitch Robinson ranked No.1 for inside-50s per game in the VFL, finishing top 10 in three categories. Picture: Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos

What went right: The Lions were outstanding, led by quality AFL players who were pushed out of AFL team by the club's healthy run with injuries. The likes of Rhys Mathieson, Mitch Robinson, Deven Robertson and Ryan Lester would get a game in a lot of AFL teams and they carried the Lions back to the pointy end of the VFL ladder after a disappointing 2021 when they reset – a decision that paid off in spades. Being the only team to beat Casey Demons showed what they were capable of, while getting games into their young talent in 2021 also set them up well.

What went wrong: After charging into second spot, Mitch Hahn would have every right to be a little disappointed with the finals, where the Lions were brushed aside by both Grand Finalists, including being thrashed by the Sharks at their home fortress, while they had to fight to overcome Carlton in the semis. The QClash loss to Gold Coast in Round 18 would also rankle, being their first loss at Moreton Bay in six years.

Summary: A wonderful season from the Lions. They were annoyed when their 2021 season was rated as a failure given their fall from 2019 NEAFL premiers to 17th at 3-7 in their VFL debut, given they had a huge turnover of players and had made a conscious decision to rebuild last year. Hahn was proven right. To charge straight back up to second after the home and away season is something to be proud of and they will be confident they can repeat the dose and perform a little better in September.

Grade: 9/10

Position: 4th
W-L-D (%): 14-7-0 (103.55)

Players used: 50 (19 VFL, 31 AFL)
Played every match:
J McLennan, N Moyle
Debutants: 20

Longest winning streak: 8 (Round 16-Semi Final)
Best win: Semi Final: Gold Coast Suns 15.9 (99) def Sydney Swans 12.15 (87)
Biggest Win: 69 points, Round 19: Gold Coast Suns 19.14 (128) def Port Melbourne 8.11 (59)
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rounds 3-4; 14-15)
Worst Loss: Round 3: Gold Coast Suns 7.19 (61) lost to Carlton 17.11 (113)
Biggest Loss: 76 points, Round 14: Gold Coast Suns 9.13 (67) lost to Casey Demons 21.17 (143)

Liston Medal: B Fiorini 16, C Burgess 9, J Sharp 9
Coaches MVP: B Fiorini 47, C Burgess 31, C Constable 30, J Sharp 30
Goalkickers: C Burgess 63 (winner), A Sexton 34, S Day 32

Disposals: B Fiorini 36.1, S Flanders 30.8, C Constable 28.6
Kicks: J Sharp 21.1, B Fiorini 20.3, D Macpherson 17.6
Marks: J Sharp 7.9, J Corbett 7.2, C Burgess 6.4
Handballs: B Fiorini 15.9, J Tsitas 13.8, S Flanders 13.6
Tackles: B Fiorini 7.7, J Tsitas 6.8, C Constable 5.3
Hitouts: N Moyle 39.1, M Conroy 7.0, S Day 0.9
Clearances: B Fiorini 9.0, J Bowes 6.8, N Moyle 5.4
Inside-50s: B Fiorini 6.3, J Bowes 5.8, J Sharp 5.5, C Constable 5.5
Rebound-50s: R Atkins 5.5, O Markov 4.1, J Sharp 3.5

Ned Moyle ranked No.1 in the VFL for hitouts per game in 2022, winning Team of the Year honours. Picture: Jason McCawley/AFL Photos

What went right: Close games. The Suns gave their supporters an amazing ride, even though their nerves would still be recovering! They played eight matches decided by single-figure margins and won seven, with the only defeat being an eight-point loss at Sandringham way back in Round 4. The wins included stunning upsets of Queensland rivals Brisbane Lions and Southport Sharks, top-four team Sydney Swans (twice) and the highly-rated but underachieving Werribee.

What went wrong: The Suns struggled for consistency early in the year, mixing head-turning wins over Sydney Swans, Werribee, Collingwood and Footscray with defeats to bottom-three teams Williamstown and Coburg. Fair to say there wasn’t much else to be disappointed about as they snuck under a lot of clubs’ guards and showed there could be bright future at Metricon Stadium.

Summary: A remarkable finish to the season. The Suns were languishing in 13th spot at 6-6 after losing at Coburg in Round 15 and there was absolutely no indication of what was to come. But from the time they escaped with a stunning four-point home win over Frankston in Round 16 despite being outplayed for most of the day, rookie coach Jackson Kornberg produced a remarkable resurrection for his team and they became the most unlikely of preliminary finalists. While Southport was a class above that day, there would have been no argument if Jackson Kornberg had been named VFL coach of the year.

Grade: 8/10

Position: 5th
W-L-D (%): 13-7-0 (122.05)

Players used: 50 (22 VFL, 28 AFL)
Played every match:
W Gould, L Rankin, Corey Warner
Debutants: 16

Longest winning streak: 8 (Rounds 13-22)
Best win: Round 22: Sydney Swans 15.12 (102) def Box Hill Hawks 6.9 (45)
Biggest win: 111 points, Round 13: Sydney Swans 24.17 (161) def Williamstown 7.8 (50)
Longest losing streak: 2 (Qualifying-Semi Final)
Worst Loss: Round 4: Sydney Swans 13.7 (85) lost to Northern Bullants 15.14 (104)
Biggest Loss: 59 points, Round 6: Sydney Swans 8.7 (55) lost to Brisbane Lions 17.12 (114)

Liston Medal Votes: R Clarke 15, J Bell 12, L Taylor 11
Coaches MVP: J Amartey 51, L Taylor 51, R Clarke 38
Goalkickers: J Amartey 37, B Ronke 30, H McLean 26

Disposals: R Clarke 33.8, L Taylor 29.0, D Stephens 26.1
Kicks: L Taylor 19.0, H Cunningham 18.4, D Stephens 18.2
Marks: H Cunningham 8.9, H McLean 7.3, L Taylor 7.1
Handballs: R Clarke 17.0, A Sheldrick 10.4, S Wicks 10.3
Tackles: R Clarke 5.9, S Wicks 5.6, A Sheldrick 5.1
Hitouts: P Ladhams 19.7, C Sinclair 19.3, L McAndrew 9.1
Clearances: R Clarke 6.4, P Ladhams 4.7, J Bell 4.7, A Sheldrick 4.7
Inside-50s: R Clarke 5.8, D Stephens 5.8, L Taylor 4.4
Rebound-50s: W Gould 6.0, H Cunningham 4.4, D Stephens 3.0

What went right: The simple answer is a lot as the Swans bounced back from a horror 2021 that yielded only two wins to charge into the top four with an outstanding season that mirrored what the AFL team achieved. The signs were there as early as Round 1 when they ended Footscray’s undefeated run with a big win at Whitten Oval and they also thrashed a powerful team in Box Hill Hawks on their own deck in Round 22 to secure a double chance in the finals. In between, they won seven of nine trips to Melbourne, losing only to eventual premiers Casey Demons twice. So much to build on and so much to be excited about.

What went wrong: Blacktown International Sports Park. Despite the huge win over a horribly undermanned Williamstown at Rooty Hill, the Swans would be happy to never have to venture to the west again. In four trips, they lost twice to Gold Coast Suns including the semi-final that bundled them out of the premiership race in straight sets, and a defeat that represented wooden spooner Northern Bullants’ only win of the year.

Summary: It was a successful home and away season for the Swans as they did almost everything they needed to do. But fifth appears to be the correct result for them, with the seven losses including two to premiers Casey, one to runner-up Southport Sharks and one and two preliminary finalists Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns, with the loss to the Bullants being the outlier. They had all the ingredients for a deep finals run and will be disappointed by how it all ended.

Grade: 7.5/10

Ryan Clarke was the No.2 ranked disposal winner and handballer in the VFL on averages before breaking back into Sydney's AFL team. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

Position: 6th
W-L-D (%): 12-8-0 (118.50)

Players used: 53 (26 VFL, 27 AFL)
Played every match:
A Cincotta
Debutants: 12

Longest winning streak: 3 (Rounds 1-3)
Best win: Elimination Final: Carlton 15.10 (100) def Collingwood 10.8 (68) Victoria Park
Biggest win: 55 points, Round 6: Carlton 17.12 (114) def North Melbourne 9.5 (59)
Longest losing streak: 2 (Rounds 7-9, Rounds 19-21)
Worst loss: Round 7: Carlton 12.7 (79) lost to Frankston 13.8 (86)
Biggest loss: 24 points, Round 4: Carlton 11.6 (72) lost to Richmond 15.6 (96)

Liston Medal Votes: P Dow 18, B Crocker 10, W Setterfield 8
Coaches MVP: P Dow 81, W Hayes 40, B Crocker 25
Goalkickers: B Crocker 38, N Cahill 29, P Dow 16

Disposals: W Setterfield 29.2, P Dow 29.1, W Hayes 28.8
Kicks: L Stocker 17.7, W Setterfield 16.1, W Hayes 14.5
Marks: B Crocker 5.5, W Hayes 5.5, S Durdin 5.4
Handballs: P Dow 16.1, W Hayes 14.3, W Setterfield 13.1
Tackles: J Trudgeon 7.4, L Fogarty 6.2, W Setterfield 5.0
Hitouts: A Mirkov 30.6, J Glass-McCasker 8.0, J Cripps 4.1
Clearances: P Dow 8.2, W Setterfield 5.4, L Fogarty 5.1
Inside-50s: P Dow 4.8, W Setterfield 4.6, L Fogarty 4.1
Rebound-50s: L Stocker 6.4, S Durdin 4.0, W Setterfield 3.3

What went right: The Blues started the season like a house on fire with big wins over eventual preliminary finalists Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns and elimination finalist Box Hill Hawks as they raced to second spot at 5-1 after six rounds. A couple of narrow losses put them back under the radar and they snuck along in the bottom half of the eight without any fanfare. But nothing sparks a Bluebagger more than a sudden death showdown against Collingwood, and not only did Carlton have two of them in consecutive weeks, but they won them both, dumping the Magpies out of the finals on their home deck.

What went rrong: The Blues only had themselves to blame for missing the top four, with six of their eight losses coming against non-finalists. They gave up healthy leads to go down to Frankston (48 points up at three quarter-time), Sandringham and Essendon, while they started poorly against Richmond, Port Melbourne and Williamstown and couldn’t catch up. And there was nearly a seventh, but they escaped in a close one against Northern Bullants.

Summary: Carlton was a chance of winning in almost every game, with the four-goal loss to Richmond in Round 4 being its biggest losing margin of the year. But inconsistency proved the Blues’ undoing as they couldn’t win more than three games in a row, while also not losing more than two. They beat teams they weren’t expected to beat and lost to those they were expected to get over. Sixth ends up being about right, but they will be able to dine out on those consecutive wins over Collingwood. That’s a successful year right there.

Grade: 7/10

Paddy Dow's wonderful season for Carlton yielded a third-placed finish in the rebel Coaches MVP, plus top 10s in four other categories. Picture: Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos

Position: 7th
W-L-D (%): 11-8-0 (116.34)

Players used: 51 (26 VFL, 27 AFL)
Played every match:
C Hustwaite, L McMahon
Debutants: 18

Longest winning streak: 5 (Rounds 15-20)
Best win: Round 19: Collingwood 13.10 (88) def Southport Sharks 6.14 (50)
Biggest win: 104 points, Round 6: Collingwood 18.18 (126) def Coburg 2.10 (22)
Longest losing streak: 4 (Rounds 10-14)
Worst Loss: Elimination Final: Collingwood 10.8 (68) lost to Carlton 15.10 (100)
Biggest Loss: 55 points, Round 10: Collingwood 8.6 (54) lost Werribee 16.13 (109)

Liston Medal Votes: C Brown 13, T Bianco 8, F Macrae 8
Coaches MVP: F Macrae 47, C Brown 46, T Bianco 37
Goalkickers: S Fowler 25, O Henry 23, S Glover 21

Disposals: C Brown 26.5, T Brown 23.8, F Macrae 23.7
Kicks: T Bianco 13.6, C Poulter 13.0, L McMahon 11.6
Marks: J Madgen 6.3, L McMahon 5.1, C Poulter 5.1, T Bianco 5.1
Handballs: C Brown 16.6, T Brown 15.2, F Macrae 12.8
Tackles: F Macrae 5.8, A Begg 5.8, C Brown 5.6
Hitouts: T Roberts 32.0, A Begg 14.9, M Hartley 3.1
Clearances: T Brown 7.3, F Macrae 5.1, C Hustwaite 5.1
Inside-50s: F Macrae 4.2, T Brown 4.2, T Bianco 3.9
Rebound-50s: L McMahon 5.8, W Kelly 3.9, N Jetta 2.9

Callum Brown was third in the VFL for handballs and also topped Collingwood in disposals and Liston votes. Picture: Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos

What went right: The start of the season was outstanding for the Magpies, beginning with their epic win over Box Hill Hawks in the opening game. They went on to be 6-1 heading into their second bye in Round 9, with those six wins coming by an average of 44 points. They beat most of the teams they were expected to, going 9-1 against non-finalists, while they will look back on that terrific win over Southport Sharks as the day they showed what they were capable of.

What went wrong: The Magpies would be extremely disappointed with how it all ended, losing to arch-rival Carlton in both the final home and away round and the elimination final, despite going into both games as favourites. The first quarter of the elimination final left the big Magpie Army in stunned silence at Victoria Park, as the Blues booted five unanswered goals to take control of the match. Collingwood won just five of 12 games after the Round 9 bye, and they came in a row in the middle. Against the other finalists they went 2-6 and they dropped home games at the AIA Centre to non-Victorian teams in the GWS GIANTS, Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions.

Summary: As with several of the other top eight teams, it’s hard to say the Magpies deserved to finish any higher or lower than they did, but they would be left feeling like they should have achieved more. They were in the top four with two rounds to go but couldn’t hang onto the spot and left themselves open to that Carlton ambush. They were led by their AFL-listed talent – interestingly most of whom will not be at the club next season.

Grade: 6/10

Still to come:

Tomorrow: 8th to 14th
Friday: 15th to 21st

Twitter: @BRhodesVFL