Frankston leading goalkicker Brodie McLaughlin has earned a chance to train for a list spot at Gold Coast after a terrific year up forward for the Dolphins. Picture: AFL Photos

Position: 15th
W-L-D (%): 8-10-0 (86.96)

Players Used: 59 (30 VFL, 29 AFL)
Played Every Match:
S Conforti, J Eyre, T Hird, A Lord
Debutants: 26

Longest winning streak: 4 (Rounds 10-14, Rounds 18-22)
Best win: Round 18: Essendon 13.9 (87) def Southport Sharks 12.13 (85)
Biggest win: 38 points, Round 14: Essendon 16.14 (110) def Williamstown 10.12 (72)
Longest losing streak: 8 (Rounds 1-9)
Worst Loss: Round 7: Essendon 9.8 (62) lost to Box Hill Hawks 23.18 (156)
Biggest Loss: 94 points, Round 7: Essendon 9.8 (62) lost to Box Hill Hawks 23.18 (156)

Liston Medal: J Stewart 10, J Atley 7, B Bernacki 7
Coaches MVP: N Bryan 28, J Stewart 28, J Atley 25
Goalkickers: K Baldwin 24, P Voss 19, A Waterman 14, J Stewart 14

Disposals: B Bernacki 23.8, T Cutler 23.3, B Ham 21.4
Kicks: T Cutler 16.9, J Fitzgerald 13.3, G McDonagh 12.6
Marks: B Zerk-Thatcher 8.1, B Ham 5.7, A Francis 5.3
Handballs: B Bernacki 12.3, J Atley 12.3, B Ham 9.7
Tackles: J Atley 5.4, S Rasinac 5.1, P Voss 3.9
Hitouts: N Bryan 32.6, C McBride 7.0, K Baldwin 1.9
Clearances: B Bernacki 7.0, J Atley 6.5, B Cootee 4.9
Inside-50s: S Rasinac 4.8, B Bernacki 4.6, T Cutler 4.0, W Golds 4.0, B Cootee 4.0
Rebound-50s: T Cutler 5.5, B Zerk-Thatcher 4.7, J Fitzgerald 3.9

What went right: Once they got the season started (halfway through), the Bombers showed some promising signs. The 'no-name' midfield was outstanding for most of the year, led by Brad Bernacki, Stefan Rasinac and Billy Cootee, while Joel Fitzgerald was terrific in defence. The win over Coburg in Round 10 which broke their 0-8 start was memorable for its lucky bounce, but they turned that slice of fortune into a wonderful run home that yielded eight wins in their last 10 matches, including a stunning upset of Southport Sharks in Queensland.

What went wrong: The Bombers forgot the season started in March and simply didn’t turn up until the year was cooked. While they went within three points of stunning eventual premiers Casey Demons in Round 2, losing those first eight games by an average of six goals turned the season into one of development. Their three biggest losses all came at Windy Hill as they went 4-5 in home games (including a loss to Frankston at The Hangar).

Summary: Two seasons in one for Essendon. The first half of the year was terrible and by the time the Bombers played Coburg in Round 10 it was hard to see where a win was coming from. But that all changed on the back of a Hail Mary snap and a freak bounce from Jake Sutton. The Bombers came to life from the victory and only lost twice more for the year to give themselves plenty of confidence heading into 2023.

Grade: 5/10

Essendon's Nick Bryan (against Carlton's Jesse Glass-McCasker) ranked No.5 in the VFL for hitouts average with 32.1 per game. Picture: AFL Photos

Position: 16th
W-L-D (%): 7-11-0 (84.71)

Players used: 40
Played every match:
J Cucinotta, H Hooper, J Weidemann
Debutants: 8

Longest winning streak: 1 (seven occasions)
Best win: Round 14: Port Melbourne 9.7 (61) def Werribee 7.16 (58)
Biggest win: 51 points, Round 18: Port Melbourne 19.9 (123) def Sandringham 10.12 (72)
Longest losing streak: 3 (Rounds 1-3)
Worst loss: Round 12: Port Melbourne 14.12 (96) lost to Box Hill Hawks 15.12 (102)
Biggest loss: 69 points, Round 19: Port Melbourne 8.11 (59) lost to Gold Coast SUNS 19.14 (128)

Liston Medal: H Hooper 12, E Templeton 7, J Gasper 6
Coaches MVP: E Phillips 52, H Hooper 36, E Templeton 33
Goalkickers: M Signorello 25, J Gasper 24, A Anastasio 19, F Roberts 19

Disposals: E Templeton 26.4, M Lentini 24.6, H Hooper 23.4
Kicks: E Templeton 16.8, H Hooper 15.7, M Lentini 14.4
Marks: E Phillips 9.8, E Templeton 5.8, H Hooper 5.4
Handballs: T O’Sullivan 11.3, M Lentini 10.3, E Templeton 9.7
Tackles: N Holmes 5.9, E Templeton 5.1, H Hooper 5.1
Hitouts: P Hunter 26.4, T Hofert 17.0, J Briskey 5.6
Clearances: E Templeton 6.0, M Lentini 6.0, H Hooper 4.9
Inside-50s: E Templeton 5.4, M Lentini 5.3, H Hooper 5.1
Rebound-50s: C Wagner 4.5, J Weidemann 4.1, T Cameron 3.9

What went right: It took a while for the Borough to settle in under a new coach after 13 years under the great Gary Ayres, but once Adam Skrobalak got his game plan bedded down the green shoots were there for everyone to see. Port won every second game from Round 8 onwards, including wonderful victories under lights over highly-fancied Werribee and Carlton and a remarkable comeback against Frankston. They also had near misses against finalists Sydney Swans and Box Hill Hawks that they could have won on another day. Ethan Phillips’ emergence as an intercept defender was the biggest positive though.

What went wrong: After winning only one game last year, the Borough were competitive most weeks, but would be ruing letting that game against the Hawks get away, when they were 14 points up in time-on of the last quarter. They were competitive in the first three weeks but couldn’t get over the line, falling to 1-5 after seven rounds, which put paid to their finals hopes. They only managed to get seven games out of star ruck recruit Paul Hunter due to injury. Their last eight losses came by an average of seven goals, which they will need to tidy up.

Summary: This proud club would be stinging from consecutive seasons outside the top eight, but the signs are good if they can keep this squad together and add a couple more experienced heads, which they are doing. Climbing from 1-9 to 7-11 is a big jump in one season and it would take a brave person to say the upward trajectory couldn’t continue, even with star Corey Wagner being drafted by Fremantle. They held Werribee goalless in the first half and showed character to hold on, should have beaten Box Hill Hawks and came from 45 points down to stun Frankston, a team that beat them by 16 goals last season. Strap yourselves in Port fans, good times aren’t far away again.

Grade: 5/10

Ethan Phillips with the 2022 Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal during the VFL and VFLW Awards Night at Crown on September 12, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Position: 17th
W-L-D (%): 6-12-0 (92.44)

Players used: 43
Played every match:
J Begley, W Fordham, T Mynott
Debutants: 13

Longest winning streak: 2 (Rounds 3-5, Rounds 7-8)
Best win: Round 7: Frankston 13.8 (86) def Carlton 12.7 (79)
Biggest win: 56 points, Round 15: Frankston 18.10 (118) def Geelong Cats 8.14 (62)
Longest losing streak: 4 (Rounds 10-14, Rounds 18-22)
Worst loss: Frankston 11.11 (77) lost to Port Melbourne 12.9 (81)
Biggest loss: 80 points, Round 14: Frankston 4.11 (35) lost to Southport Sharks 16.19 (115)

Liston Medal: W Fordham 18, J Newman 9, T Duman 7
Coaches MVP: W Fordham 50, T Mynott 32, J Newman 32
Goalkickers: B McLaughlin 24, W Fordham 18, J Begley 16

Disposals: J Newman 25.2, W Fordham 23.4, C Riley 22.4
Kicks: J Newman 17.9, T Duman 17.0, R Stoddart 13.6
Marks: T Duman 7.0, B McLaughlin 5.5, R Stoddart 4.7
Handballs: C Riley 12.4, W Fordham 10.8, S Fletcher 10.6
Tackles: C Riley 6.2, T Mynott 5.8, L Riley 5.6
Hitouts: L Reidy 21.5, J Rendell 17.6, A Bradtke 12.5
Clearances: W Fordham 5.3, T Mynott 4.5, J Newman 4.1, C Riley 4.1
Inside-50s: T Mynott 4.2, J Newman 3.8, J Begley 3.8
Rebound-50s: T Duman 5.1, J Newman 4.5, J Voss 4.2

What went right: The Dolphins continued their improvement, although their ultimate result might not indicate that. They played some exhilarating football at times, none moreso than the final quarters against Essendon and Carlton, while they beat Williamstown for the first time in 17 years. They also had their chances to knock off three of the four eventual preliminary finalists, going down to Casey Demons by 18 points, Brisbane Lions by six and Gold Coast Suns by four.

What went wrong: The inability to win close games cruelled their hopes of making a push for the finals. They went 1-4 in matches decided by under 10 points, including the defeats to the Lions and Suns and last-minute heartbreakers against Port Melbourne and Richmond, the former after leading by 45 points early in the third quarter. Superstar skipper Josh Newman missed a month with injury, which robbed them of leadership at a crucial part of the season, and star recruit Will Walker going down with a knee injury was another massive blow.

Summary: Hard to get a read on where to rank the Dolphins. You could look at that amazing win over Carlton and the promising displays against the better teams in the competition and say it was a success or go the other way and pinpoint the wins they should have got but let escape by being unable to complete four quarters of footy. It’s probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B. Having Liam Reidy drafted by Fremantle (and former player Tylar Young by Richmond after Mitch Cox was picked up by Brisbane Lions last year) continues to showcase their development skills. The off-season hasn’t been kind so far with local clubs raiding their list. Hopefully they can replace what is heading out to help the stars like Will Fordham and Trent Mynott.

Grade: 5/10

Liam Reidy averaged 21.5 hitouts per game as a first-year VFL ruckman, leading to him being drafted by Fremantle. Picture: AFL Photos

Position: 18th
W-L-D (%): 4-14-0 (72.23)

Players used: 56 (29 VFL, 27 AFL)
Played every match:
J Watkins
Debutants: 20

Longest winning streak: 1 (four occasions)
Best win: Round 4: North Melbourne 13.7 (85) def Footscray Bulldogs 10.19 (79)
Biggest win: 58 points, Round 21: North Melbourne 18.14 (122) def Coburg 9.10 (64)
Longest losing streak: 7 (Rounds 5-13)
Worst loss: Round 10: North Melbourne 11.6 (72) lost to Sandringham 16.10 (106)
Biggest Loss: 110 points, Round 8: North Melbourne 10.7 (67) lost to Casey Demons 26.21 (177)

Liston Medal: M Hore 8, C Coleman-Jones 5, T Thomas 5
Coaches MVP: M Hore 30, C Coleman-Jones 24, H Jones 20
Goalkickers: M Walker 20, C Comben 19, E Ford 15

Disposals: M Hore 26.3, D Tyson 26.1, H Jones 23.8
Kicks: M Hore 21.6, H Jones 12.7, D Tyson 12.2
Marks: M Hore 7.6, M McGuinness 6.2, A Bosenavulagi 6.0
Handballs: D Tyson 13.9, H Jones 11.1, C Lazzaro 10.5
Tackles: C Lazzaro 5.0, K Answerth 4.7, J Watkins 3.6
Hitouts: C Coleman-Jones 23.3, Z Monkhorst 13.3, J Edwards 9.7
Clearances: C Coleman-Jones 7.1m H Jones 4.3, D Tyson 4.2
Inside-50s: C Coleman-Jones 5.0, H Jones 4.3, D Tyson 3.8
Rebound-50s: M Hore 10.6, M McGuinness 4.2, J Goater 3.1

What went right: Apart from a horror trip to Brisbane, the Kangaroos made an impressive start to the season with strong wins over Williamstown and Footscray on their home deck as former AFL-listed players Marty Hore, Dom Tyson, reigning best-and-fairest winner Harry Jones and Mat Walker made their presence felt. They remained mostly competitive and had their chances against finals-bound Collingwood, Sydney Swans and Gold Coast SUNS, plus other near misses against Richmond and Geelong.

What went wrong: Life was tough through the middle of the year as the Kangaroos dropped seven games in a row, while they were belted by top four teams Casey Demons and Brisbane Lions. The season-ending foot injury to Walker mid-year cost them their leading goalkicker, while the midfielders struggled to stamp their authority, with ruckman Callum Coleman-Jones leading the clearance and inside-50 count, while defenders Hore, Jones, Matt McGuinness and Atu Bosenavulagi also outshone the expected major ball winners.

Summary: The Kangaroos battled hard all year, with a solid start yielding two wins in their first four games and a solid finish bringing a big win over Coburg and strong efforts against the Swans and Suns, the second of which they could have won with a bit of luck. They had a good mix of experience led by Kade Answerth, Hore and Tyson and youth headed by Jones, Jack Watkins and Walker, while there was some strong development for their young AFL talent. Expect Alastair Clarkson’s arrival to rub off at VFL level as well as Tom Lynch continues on as reserves coach and Leigh Adams remains involved.

Grade: 3.5/10

Marty Hore (against Sydney's Hayden McLean) was awesome in defence for North Melbourne, leading the VFL in rebound-50s, ranking No.2 in kicks and equal No.8 in marks while also topping the club in disposals. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos

Position: 19th
W-L-D (%): 4-14-0 (62.59)

Players used: 39
Played every match:
J Corigliano, F Gentile, B Gillard, J Maibaum, P McEvoy, L Nelson, M Podhajski
Debutants: 9

Longest winning streak: 1 (four occasions)
Best win: Round 15: Coburg 16.6 (102) def Gold Coast SUNS 11.12 (78)
Biggest win: 44 points, Round 19: Coburg 12.11 (83) def Geelong Cats 5.9 (39)
Longest losing streak: 7 (Rounds 3-10)
Worst loss: Round 6: Coburg 2.10 (22) lost to Collingwood 18.18 (126)
Biggest loss: 123 points, Round 20: Coburg 5.5 35 lost to Footscray Bulldogs 24.14 (158)

Liston Medal: B Gillard 4, P McEvoy 4, N Boucher 3, C Thompson 3
Coaches MVP: J Maibaum 20, N Boucher 19, F Gentile 14, B Gillard 14
Goalkickers: J D’Intinosante 17, E Sibbald 17, S Lowson 15

Disposals: L Bunker 22.6, N Boucher 20.6, B Gillard 19.8
Kicks: M Podhajski 14.0, N Boucher 13.6, B Gillard 11.8
Marks: J Maibaum 6.5, M Podhajski 6.1, P McEvoy 6.0
Handballs: L Bunker 14.4, J Ballard 10.3, C Thompson 9.6
Tackles: A Swierzbiolek 4.2, F Gentile 3.9, L Nelson 3.9
Hitouts: A Swierzbiolek 24.7, E Sibbald 3.6, A Lukic 1.3
Clearances: A Swierzbiolek 4.6, L Bunker 4.1, C Ellis 3.6
Inside-50s: C Thompson 3.6, B Gillard 3.5, L Nelson 3.3
Rebound-50s: J Baddeley-Kelly 5.3, J Maibaum 4.9, M Podhajski 4.4

What went right: The Lions finally won a close game first-up after last year’s horror run. They had their moments, beating Gold Coast SUNS, pushing Sydney Swans and Box Hill Hawks and going within a whisker of derailing Carlton’s season, while they were able to sink Frankston’s hopes. They set themselves for a Grand Final in their trip to Ballarat to face Geelong Cats and produced a stunning display that showed what they are capable of if everything comes together on the same day.

What went wrong: Coburg was still capable of putting in an absolute stinker, as shown against Collingwood early on, Richmond mid-season and Footscray the week after its great win over the Cats. Losing the last three games by 123, 58 and 106 points left a sour taste in the mouth of Lions' fans. Like North Melbourne, the midfield was outshone by ruckman Adam Swierzbiolek, who was the leading tackler and clearance winner and will be sorely missed. The defence never gave up, led by best-and-fairest winner and new captain Jesse Corigliano, another departing star in Jack Maibaum, Mitch Podhajski and Jhye Baddeley-Kelly. Full back Harry Nolan (seven), star forward Sam Lowson (seven), Corey Ellis (seven) and Luke Bunker (10) missed multiple weeks, Jacob Ballard retired early in the year and big-name recruit Sam McLarty only managed two appearances.

Summary: Hopes were high for a better season than the Lions were eventually able to deliver. They were better on paper than a 4-14, 62% team but found themselves outclassed too often as they struggled more than most to get over the lack of matchplay and conditioning from the abandoned 2020 and 2021 seasons. The emergence of youngster Flynn Gentile was a real positive but Coburg needs to lock away the rest of their talent and reduce the gap between their best and worst, because their best is really not that far off the mark.

Grade: 3/10

Luke Bunker was 10th in the VFL on handball averages also topped Coburg in disposals. Picture: Morgan Hancock/AFL Photos

Position: 20th
W-L-D (%): 3-15-0 (65.99)

Players used: 40
Played every match:
C Preston
Debutants: 13

Longest winning streak: 1 (three occasions)
Best win: Round 19: Williamstown 11.6 (72) def Carlton 8.10 (58)
Biggest win: 25 points, Round 15: Williamstown 13.9 (87) def Northern Bullants 8.14 (62)
Longest losing streak: 6 (Rounds 8-14)
Worst loss: Round 8: Williamstown 3.16 (34) lost to Frankston 10.15 (75)
Biggest loss: 110 points, Round 13: Williamstown 7.8 (50) lost to Sydney Swans 24.17 (161)

Liston Medal: T Downie 14, L Hunt 7, T Miles 4
Coaches MVP: T Downie 44, T Miles 25, L Hunt 16
Goalkickers: J Ottavi 29, N Gown 17, C Rich 10

Disposals: J Cousins 25.0, T Miles 23.8. L Hunt 22.7
Kicks: T Miles 19.8, J Cousins 15.4, J Greiser 13.6
Marks: F O’Dwyer 7.6, K Dawson 6.6, T Miles 6.5
Handballs: L Hunt 11.5, J Cousins 9.6, N Mellington 8.5
Tackles: N Mellington 5.6, H Bertoli-Simmonds 5.1, N Lever 4.9
Hitouts: T Downie 33.9, B Woodfull 11.0, N Gown 2.5
Clearances: J Cousins 7.0, N Mellington 6.2, L Hunt 6.0
Inside-50s: J Cousins 5.5, N Mellington 4.3, J Toner 4.1
Rebound-50s: J Greiser 6.2, T Miles 6.2, F O’Dwyer 3.2

What went right: The Seagull spirit appeared on a couple of occasions, with terrific home wins over eventual finalists Gold Coast SUNS and Carlton, while they produced probably their best performance to run the Brisbane Lions to two points in the Queensland rain. Tom Downie was a behemoth in the ruck, earning VFL Team of the Year honours and claiming the best-and-fairest, while Teia Miles joined him in the Team of the Year with a wonderful year in the last line of defence.

What went wrong: Injuries to key players cruelled the Seagulls' chances, with skipper Cam Polson and star defender Jack Toner each playing only seven games, the latter due to an ACL. Gun recruit James Cousins missed 10 matches and fellow midfielder Nick Mellington seven, while key player Mitch Hibberd didn’t make it on the park at all after his reality TV appearance. The 111-point hammering from Sydney Swans in Round 13 was the equal eighth biggest defeat in the club’s storied history and its first triple-figure reverse since its winless 1995 season.

Summary: There were concerns the Seagulls were going to dip this season after a host of stars left the club at the end of last year, but it was impossible to see just how high that cliff dive would be. The year turned into one of development after they slumped to 0-5 and they suffered some very uncharacteristic defeats. But there were also some bright spots such as those mentioned above, while their active off-season so far indicates that they are on the fast chairlift back to the top of that mountain.

Grade: 3/10

Williamstown's Tom Downie was No.3 in the VFL for hitouts on his way to the club best-and-fairest. Picture: Morgan Hancock/AFL Photos

Position: 21st
W-L-D (%): 1-17-0 (53.24)

Players used: 39
Played every match:
J Boyd, M Doreian, M Gundry, J Velissaris
Debutants: 12

Longest winning streak: 1 (Round 4)
Best win: Round 4: Northern Bullants 15.14 (104) def Sydney Swans 13.7 (85)
Biggest win: 19 points, Round 4: Northern Bullants 15.14 (104) def Sydney Swans 13.7 (85)
Longest losing streak: 14 (Rounds 6-22)
Worst loss: Round 22: Northern Bullants 0.10 (10) lost to Werribee 29.17 (191)
Biggest Loss: 181 points, Round 22: Northern Bullants 0.10 (10) lost to Werribee 29.17 (191)

Liston Medal Votes: T Wilson 14, J Boyd 2, L Mackie 1, J Velissaris 1
Coaches MVP: T Wilson 37, J Barling 18, J Velissaris 9
Goalkickers: J Boyd 24, J Velissaris 22, T Smith 15

Captain Tom Wilson's reputation as a Northern Bullants great gathered more momentum with a fifth best-and-fairest after topping the club in the Liston Medal, Coaches MVP, disposals (seventh in VFL), kicks (fifth in VFL) and marks while also being second in inside-50s and third in handballs and clearances. Picture: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos

Disposals: T Wilson 29.2, W Mitchell 26.8, M King 21.3
Kicks: T Wilson 20.1, D Lawrence 14.0, M King 13.6
Marks: T Wilson 7.4, M King 6.9, M El Nour 5.8
Handballs: W Mitchell 16.0, J Barling 10.2, T Wilson 9.1
Tackles: J Barling 7.5, K Dunkley 4.6, W Mitchell 4.4
Hitouts: L Podhajski 19.1, A Courtney 15.1, J Boyd 3.7
Clearances: W Mitchell 6.4, J Barling 5.6, T Wilson 5.3
Inside-50s: K Dunkley 4.7, T Wilson 4.4, J Velissaris 3.3
Rebound-50s: D Lawrence 6.9, M El Nour 5.1, L Mackie 4.3

What went right: The Bullants made everyone sit up and take notice early in the season by going within a whisker of stunning 2021 minor premier Footscray at Whitten Oval in Round 2 before going one better with a remarkable upset of Sydney Swans at Blacktown two weeks later. They also took former partner Carlton to the brink of a second consecutive result mid-season. Superstar Tom Wilson was imperious again, averaging almost 30 disposals per game, making the VFL Team of the Year squad, polling 14 of the club’s 18 Liston Trophy votes and winning his fifth club best-and-fairest. All going well, the one-club great is set to play his 150th match in the middle of next season.

What went wrong: Depth was a major issue at the Anthill and when they lost a few key players it was very hard to remain competitive. Liam Mackie missed the first six weeks due to a pre-season suspension, Will Mitchell (six), Mutaz El Nour (six), Tim Jones (eight) and Doug Lawrence (11) were also absent for large chunks of the year. Meanwhile, Tynan Smith (four), Liam Podhajski (four), Ethan Penrith (three) and Wilson himself (three) all missed multiple games. Dangerous Danny Hughes and Ben Silvagni disappeared very early and Kyle Dunkley was gone by mid-season.

Summary: The second year of a rebuild can often be harder than the first and that’s how it turned out for the Bullants. Ben Hart just couldn’t get his best team on the field and the job got tougher and tougher as things went on, culminating in the biggest loss in club history against Werribee in Round 22, only the fourth time they have been held goalless in a game and the first since 1908. But there were bright spots as mentioned above, and they got a lot of games into youngsters such as ruckmen Podhajski (since departed) and Andrew Courtney, plus Ben De Bolfo (since departed) and Mackenzie Doreian and they will be better for that.

Grade: 2/10

Also in this series:

2022 Smithy's VFL season review - Part 1: 1st to 7th
2022 Smithy's VFL season review - Part 1: 8th to 14th

Twitter: @BRhodesVFL