Report Card: Grading All 18 AFL Club's Home And Away Seasons
After another season where much of the fixture had to be whittled on the fly, the AFL was somehow able to get through a full 23-round, 198 game fixture.
For eight teams, the quest for a premiership will continue through September even if uncertainly lurks around every corner.
As for the rest, well it’s curtains. Yet before each team goes through the process of evaluation, and in some cases, the process of finding a new coach, we thought we’d go ahead and grade all 18 team’s home and away seasons.
Let’s get to it.
West Coast F
The Eagles entered the season with a league-high 10 All Australians and a league-best 6 straight seasons of finals football. The latter has come crushing down, while it’s hard to think of many Eagles, outside of Oscar Allen and Josh Rotham, who genuinely kicked on this year.
Key Stat- This season, opponent’s generated a scoring shot against West Coast on 47% of inside-50 entries. That ranked 17th in the league behind only North Melbourne (48%).
In a season where the Pies finished as lowly as they have in club history and who’s futility would cost Nathan Buckley his job, Collingwood fans will be keen to close the lid on season 2021 and submerge it deep within the Yarra. If nothing else, Collingwood got a heap of footy into many of its kids, with 3 of their top 30 picks from last year (Oliver Henry, Finlay Macrae and Caleb Poulter) impressing, while Beau McCreery also looked good in the dozen matched he played, averaging more tackles inside-50 per game (2.1) than any player in the league.
Key Stat- Jordan De Goey averaged more than 20 possessions and a goal for the first time in his 7-year career. The only other players in the league to do that this year were Christian Petracca, Marcus Bontempelli and Dustin Martin.
Another wasted season for the Blues in which they’ll be looking for yet another new coach. Outside of their exceptional Sam Walsh, Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay ‘big 3’ the Blues received precious little, ranking 16th for tackle and clearance differential and conceding the 2nd most points in the league.
Key Stat- They only gave him 13 games, but Matthew Owies was one of just 9 players in the league to average at least 2.9 tackles and 2.5 shots on goal per match this season.
Gold Coast D
That’s 6 seasons out of the last 7 where the Suns have finished bottom-4. While Touk Miller was exceptional and will probably earn an All-Australian blazer, few other Suns shone. In fact, the Suns led the league with 5, 60+ points losses having not suffered a single such defeat last year.
Key Stat- The 24-goal gap between Ben King and the Suns next best goalscorer (Josh Corbett) was the league’s 2rd biggest discrepancy outside of Harry McKay's 31-goal break on Eddie Betts.
The Hawks were flirting with an F a couple of months ago however after confirming they would be consciously uncoupling from Alastair Clarkson, they seemed to find their way. Not only did they drop just 1 of their last 6 games, but plenty of young Hawks started to spread their wings. Jacob Koschitzke and Dylan Moore combined for 54 goals, Jack Scrimshaw, James Worpel and James Cousins all averaged at least 20 touches, while Changkuoth Jiath looked great down back ranking top-5 at Hawthorn for intercept possessions and rebound 50s.
Key Stat- The Hawks were the worst first quarter team this season winning just 7 opening stanzas and posting a miserable 72.3 percentage in the process.
While the Crows avoided the wooden spoon for a second straight year, they finished bottom-4 for both points scored and points surrendered. Only the 7 wins, though two of those were momentous ones knocking off both Geelong and Melbourne. Like Collingwood, Adelaide got a heap of footy into a lot of their young players with Sam Berry, Jordan Butts and James Rowe combining for 58 games. Lachie Scholl looks like a gun, as too does Riley Thilthorpe, while it’s also worth remembering Darcy Fogarty and Shane McAdam quietly combined for 49 goals.
Key Stat- Ben Keays was one of just 4 players in the league to average at least 25 touches and 6 tackles. The other 3 (Touk Miller, Jarryd Lyons and Jack Steele) are all deep in All-Australian conversations.
Not since Adelaide in the late 90s has a back-to-back premier failed to make the finals the next season. The Tigers have played so much exhausting footy over the last four years, and when you throw in the demands and disturbances of Covid, the toll was bound to catch up with them. It didn’t help that so many of their stars including Dustin Martin and captain Trent Cotchin missed so much footy this year.
Key Stat- Along with North Melbourne's Aaron Hall, Jayden Short was one of just two players to average at least 7 rebound 50s, 550 metres gained and 10 pressure acts per game.
St Kilda C
Judged purely on last year’s drought breaking season, 2021 was indeed a disappointment. With that said, St Kilda missed finals by just a game, had one of the league’s most challenging injury lists all season, while they were slapped with a fixture that pitted them against more top-8 teams (11) than any club in the league.
Key Stat- Jack Steele had 113 more disposals and 76 more tackles than any other Saint which was the league’s biggest discrepancy in both categories and speaks to how lacking in depth the St Kilda engine room is.
North Melbourne C
A first wooden spoon in 49 years, but the Roos don’t look like your typical down and out team. In fact, that looked pretty good over the second half, taking it up to a lot of teams, assisted by a bold David Noble game-plan. Most importantly they got plenty of quality games into a heap of their kids. Tarryn Thomas looks like a future star, Jy Simpkin took a massive leap while Luke Davies Uniacke was the only Roo to average at least 20 touches, 20 pressure acts, 4 clearances and 4 inside 50s per game. As for their pair of 2020 first-round picks, both Tom Powell and Will Phillips looked promising and combined for 29 matches, while Nick Larkey booted 42 goals.
Key Stat- North are the first team since St Kilda in 1985 to spend each and every round chained to the bottom of the ladder.
Missed Finals for a 6th straight season, but there hasn’t been this much positivity in Fremantle in some time. Double digit wins for the first time since 2015, while the Docker midfield is so bright one requires sunglasses when watching them, or at least a writer as good as Dem Panopoulis to analyse it. Fremantle’s attack however continues to leave a lot be desired, and until remedied runs the risk of wasting so many of the club’s other gains.
Key Stat- Fremantle has now hosted a bottom-5 points per game attack for 6 straight years.
Western Bulldogs B
A largely excellent season spectacularly combusted late, dropping their last 3 games and surrendering a top-4 place, the likes of which they’d occupied for 20 straight-rounds. Offensively, the Doggies fell in a heap, in large part due to the season-ending knee injury to Josh Bruce. Over their first 15 games, the Bulldogs exceeded 90 points in 10 of their contests, yet did that just once over their last 7 games.
Key Stat- The last team to sit top of the ladder at the conclusion of round 20, yet miss the top 4? No one. It’s literally never happened before.
Like the Bulldogs, Geelong were a little wobbly down the stretch, dropping 2 of their last 3 games and falling to 3rd which will consign them to a road qualifying final against Port Adelaide. While Geelong did secure a double-chance for the 5th time in 6 seasons, they actually posted a losing record (4-5) against top-8 opponents this season.
Key Stat- Just one of the league’s last 31 premiers has done so with a sub-50% first quarter win percentage. The Cats this season? Just 43.1%.
Port Adelaide B+
Port’s 6-game winning streak to close out the season ensured a second straight top-4 spot, something the club hadn’t done in 17 years. While the jury is still out where their capacity to beat the competition’s best is concerned, there’s no denying that their ruthless ability to dispatch inferior opposition is why they’re still in with a big chance of winning a second club premiership.
Key Stat- Over the last ten years, the only other teams to have back-to-back top-2 finishers were Hawthorn (2012-14) and Geelong (2016/17).
Brisbane Lions B+
A third straight top-4 finish for Brisbane who this time round did it with the best attack in the game and who won a league-best 9 matches by at least 42 points. Despite Lachie Neale missing 7 games and a season-ending injury to Eric Hipwood, the Lions put their head down, particularly down the stretch, winning 4 of their last 5 games and cashing in on the Bulldogs' implosion.
Key Stat- The Lions had the highest kick to handball ratio in the league and the best points per disposal ratio too.
GWS Giants B+
From where the Giants started out this season to where they finished has been pretty astonishing. They’ve had a lengthy injury list all year and thanks to NSW’s handling of its Covid situation have been forced to play a massive 17 interstate games. When you factor in losing their first 3 games, there’s a case Leon Cameron has not only done his very best work, but is perhaps worthy of Coach of the Year honours.
Key Stat- The Giants are just the second team since 2010 (along with the 2019 Bombers) to make the finals sporting a sub-100 percentage.
No team smashed through their pre-season expectations quite like the Bombers. First-year coach Ben Rutten did a masterful job helping to alter the entire tenor of the club while morphing their attack from the league's 14th best to it's 4th. Rutten also oversaw Darcy Parish develop into a star, as well as Jake Stringer’s career resuscitation. Whether Essendon can break their famous 17-year drought of not winning a final is another question. For now, they can celebrate an exceptionally good home and away season.
Key Stat- Not only did Zach Merrett re-sign with the Bombers, but he led the club for total disposals, tackles, pressure acts and effective disposals.
The Swans jumped form 16th to 6th on the ladder within 12 months and were just percentage off a top-4 spot ahead of finals. Speaking of finals, only Melbourne (8) won more games than Sydney (6) against top-8 brethren this year.
Key Stat- A 10 position ladder improvement is Sydney’s second biggest jump in club history, playing second fiddle only to their 1995-1996 transformation that saw them jump form 12th to 1st.
Incredible. Two straight seasons on the outside looking in when it comes to Finals, quickly exchanged for a first minor premiership in 57 years, as well as flag favouritism. Simon Goodwin and the Demons completely re-make their club this season off the back of an incredibly talented and accountable midfield, the best defence in the league and the kind of youth prospects (particularly Kysaiah Pickett and Luke Jackson) which should keep them in contention for years to come.
Key Stat- Melbourne were undefeated (4-0) against top-4 opponents this season. Since 2010, only two other clubs (Geelong in 2013 and West Coast in 2018) have accomplished that in the home and away season.
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