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AFL 2023: Every club’s most burning question for the upcoming season

The 2023 AFL season is inching closer and all 18 clubs are fine tuning their skills and strategies for the upcoming practice matches and round one.

With 30 days until the traditional Carlton vs Richmond Thursday night match-up, coaches and players are ramping up their training regimes so they’re ready to go.

But before we delve into what is shaping up to be one of the more even and exciting seasons in recent history, why don’t we stop and take a moment to look at each club’s burning questions heading into 2023.

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The Sporting News has gone through all 18 sides and determined that the following queries are central to your club:

Jump to: Adelaide | Brisbane | Carlton | Collingwood | Essendon | Fremantle | Geelong | Gold Coast | GWS | Hawthorn | Melbourne | North Melbourne | Port Adelaide | Richmond | St Kilda | Sydney | West Coast | Western Bulldogs

What should we expect from the Crows in 2023?

Is this the year Adelaide returns to finals?

The Crows haven’t played footy in September since their grand final loss in 2017 to Richmond, despite coming in as favourites.

What resulted from that would rock the club, with a pre-season camp derailing the potential sustained success the fans were hoping for.

From losing the decider by 48 points to a 12th place finish the next year, the Crows spiral had well and truly begun.

In the years that followed, Adelaide finished 11th (2019), 18th (2020), 15th (2021) and 14th (2022).

Heading into 2023, the Crows are the second youngest side in the competition (behind Hawthorn) and failed to add experience in the offseason.

Izak Rankine joined Adelaide as did Collingwood pair Tyler Brown and Mark Keane, while draftees Max Michalanney, Hugh Bond, Billy Dowling and Luke Nankervis are long-term prospects.

Looking at their results from last year, they defeated finalists Richmond, Carlton and Western Bulldogs which is positive going forward.

However, Adelaide dropped games to GWS, St Kilda and Essendon. Teams they should be beating if they want to make finals.

So what does Matthew Nicks need to do? 

Luckily for the coach, there are plenty of talented players between 22 and 27, whilst their veterans Taylor Walker, Rory Sloane, Rory Laird and Brodie Smith can all still produce high quality games.

Rankine needs to have a career-best season; Sam Berry’s improvement needs to continue; Jordon Butts, Nick Murray and Tom Doedee will lock down the backline; Darcy Fogarty and Riley Thilthorpe need to take the mantle from Walker.

The Crows have proven to be competitive over the past few seasons but have lacked match winners are certain stages.

They’ve got the cattle. All they need to is to put it together for four quarters.

And having a home ground advantage like the Adelaide Oval, where they’ll play at least 12 games, is a great start. 

Adelaide is also under new leadership with Jordan Dawson replacing Sloane as captain.

Where will Will Ashcroft play?

The son of gun player Marcus Ashcroft has come steaming into the AFL system with high hopes and expectations.

Will Ashcroft was clearly the number one player in the 2022 draft pool, but slipped to pick two given his inevitable father-son selection by Brisbane.

A well-established midfielder throughout his juniors, the 18-year-old will need to earn his stripes against Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage, Jarryd Lyons, Dayne Zorko, Jarrod Berry and new recruit Josh Dunkley.

Not too mention what coach Chris Fagan does with forwards Zac Bailey and Charlie Cameron, who have been chucked into the centre to change things up and throw off the opposition.

Ashcroft will have to learn more aspects of the game given the unlikelihood that he will be a first stringer midfielder.

This isn’t doubting his ability or strength in the contest, but we can’t imagine Fagan will chuck the youngster in the deep end, especially early in the year.

With that said, opposition teams should envisage that he’ll start across high half forward, but roll further up the ground.

This is a strategy where Ashcroft could swap with a more attacking player like Bailey or Cameron, ensuring all bases are covered.

To become one of the best midfielders in the AFL, you have to have a capability to hit the scoreboard with consistency.

Ashcroft admitted that is something he is constantly working on adding to his game and beginning his career as a roaming half forward is the way to do it.

What’s Tom De Koning’s best position?

This is something Carlton coach Michael Voss needs to sort out and fast.

The reason for this is De Koning comes out of contract at the end of 2023, with a looming reunion with brother and premiership player, Sam, at Geelong circling.

Not too mention all other rival clubs who’d be interested in snaring the athletic and versatile tall.

But focusing on the Blues in 2023, De Koning’s best position seemingly is the ruck.

In the absence of Marc Pittonet, the 23-year-old took the mantle as Carlton’s number one big man and flourished in the role.

Between rounds six and 19, De Koning averaged 12 disposals, 19 hitouts and was an imposing figure through the midfield.

His aerobic ability helped him get across the ground better but would struggled against the bigger bodies when he couldn’t get a run a jump.

We also know De Koning has struggled up forward (four goals in 2022) and given the two pillars in Charlie Curnow and Harry Mckay, there’s no real need for him down there.

But like his brother at the Cats and the role Mark Blicavs played, could the tall Blue play in the backline?

It’s a foreign concept that Chris Scott brought to the attention of the AFL world, but could De Koning were to start in the ruck and spit into the backline?

This could be a solution for Carlton, especially given their low stocks in key defenders.

Jacob Weitering and Lewis Young battled bravely last year, but when either of them went down, it was game over.

De Koning could be the saviour.

Will all four Pies inclusions play in round one?

Collingwood did an excellent job in recruiting on a needs basis during the 2022 offseason, like a scene from Moneyball.

They needed a key forward and got Dan McStay.

They needed a key defender and had Billy Frampton slot straight into the club.

They wanted more speed around the forward line and snared Bobby Hill.

And most of all, they desperately needed a clearance-based midfielder and they bagged 2018 Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell.

These four inclusions totally offset the loss of Brodie Grundy (and Ollie Henry), providing coach Craig McRae with a more balanced list to a team that lost a preliminary final by one point.

But will all of them play in round one?

Mitchell is an absolute lock barring any injury concerns while McStay will take his place alongside Brody Mihocek in the forward line against Geelong.

The other two are interesting given the way the Pies want to play and what they were successful at last year.

Frampton definitely adds a key pillar in the backline, allowing new-captain Darcy Moore to play as a more roaming, intercepting defender.

His inclusion will also help out Jeremy Howe and Brayden Maynard, who played undersized at times.

Hill, however, will struggled to find a spot in the round one side.

Like Ollie Henry who just couldn’t cement a position under McRae, Hill will have to beat out Jack Ginnivan (kicked 40 goals), Jamie Elliot and Beau McCreery.

Then in the forward line could be Mason Cox as well as resting midfielders like Jordan De Goey and Patrick Lipinski.

And who could forget the mid-season draftee Ash Johnson, who featured in the last nine games of the year and was super impressive.

For a coach, it’s good having selection issues and McRae has plenty of those.

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But the way the summer has played out, Hill looks like the only recruit (along with the draftees) who won’t be starting on the park against the Cats.

Who takes over as skipper from Dyson Heppell?

A lot of conjecture has surrounded whether or not Dyson Heppell will continue as Essendon captain in 2023.

Beginning his reign in 2017, Heppell has navigated the club through some murky waters, including the post-drug saga where he, along with 34 teammates, were banned for two years from the AFL.

The 30-year-old took over from Brendon Goddard and has been a strong and admirable figure out at Tullamarine.

However, the time has come for the 213-gamer to step aside, allowing the next group of leaders to take the club in a new direction.

There has been an era of change at the Bombers, with Brad Scott appointed coach, new players coming into the group and a revamped board.

Next up, the captaincy. So, who is in line to take over from Heppell?

Midfielder Zach Merrett has been flagged as a leading contender after being in the leadership group for the past few seasons while Andrew McGrath couldn’t be too far behind.

Defender Mason Redman also put his hand up for the role, if the Bombers lean that way.

Scott is privy to three strong candidates that can lead Essendon into its next phase.

As mentioned, Merrett seems like the favourite. However, the potential appointment could take away from his own individual role of the team, which is to extract the ball from the centre and deliver it to the forwards. Think of GWS’ Stephen Coniglio.

McGrath has leadership qualities but doesn’t strike the general footy fan as someone who’d don the captaincy belt, making for a worthy lieutenant.

Thus leaving Redman, who has skyrocketed in everyone’s estimations in 2022.

The dashing back-man even got an endorsement from former player David Zaharakis on SEN.

“But there are some great leaders at the club, Mason Redman is a really good leader,” Zaharakis said.

“I reckon they’ve got some really good players in the wing, but whether they want them to be captain or whether they get voted in, I don’t know how they do it.”

David King also believes the “wildcard” defender will succeed Heppell.

“I think it’s a good time to make a change. I think they will make a change. I think they’ll ask less of Dyson,” King said on SEN.

“But I could see a wildcard there. Someone like Mason Redman for me is the perfect role model for your youngsters coming in if you are regenerating a list.

“I think the way he plays is absolutely the way we all love players to play. He’s fully of bravery, full of dash, has a team first approach, he’s a great teammate, he’s a great preparer, he’s an arm around kind of guy, but he’s happy to deal a few home truths that will upset a few.”

Over to you Essendon.

Does Fyfe play forward or midfield?

This has been one of the biggest burning questions over the preseason, especially given the growth in Andy Brayshaw, Caleb Serong and Will Brodie across 2022, not too mention the acquisition of Jaeger O’Meara from Hawthorn and the departure of Rory Lobb.

Fyfe has etched his name into the history books as one of the great modern midfielders, snaring two Brownlow Medals (2015 and 2019) and three Doig Medals.

However, the past three seasons have proven difficult for the champion, playing 36 matches due to injury, including seven in 2022.

Handing over the captaincy recently, Fremantle were able to handle the absence of their star player, making the semi finals and going down to Collingwood by 20 points.

Fyfe’s re-introduction back into coach Justin Longmuir’s team does cause a few magnets to be shifted around but does the 30-year-old start: Forward or midfield?

A lot of pre-season footage has shown Fyfe playing a lot inside 50 as a second or third tall, with his aerial prowess and contested marking a feature of his since he began in the AFL.

Longmuir has the ability to start Fyfe forward and using him as a mobile option alongside Matt Taberner and the resting ruckman of Luke Jackson or Sean Darcy.

With that said, the two-time Brownlow Medalist can also be deployed in the midfield whenever the opposition has momentum, with his experience and knowledge in the position an asset to the Dockers.

Similarly to Collingwood and Scott Pendlebury, who initially started across half back but inserted himself in big moments to quell opponents or kickstart his own side.

Can anyone replace Joel Selwood?

Most games as an AFL captain (245 games), most wins as captain (160), most finals played (40), Geelong games record holder (355), four-time premiership player, six-time All-Australian, three-time Carji Greeves Medallist and a smattering of other individual accolades.

Joel Selwood is arguably one of the most decorated players the game has ever seen. Not too mention the most courageous (four-time AFLPA Robert Rose Courageous Player in 2009, 2012-2014) and selfless competitor in the modern era.

The recently retired Cat has done it all, hanging up the boots shortly after his fourth flag and final game in a Grand Final.

However, his absence has left a massive hole down at Kardinia Park, with the club having to appoint a new skipper for the first time since the 2012.

Who could possibly follow in the footsteps of such greatness?

Well, luckily for Geelong fans, there are plenty of possibilities.

Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs pose as the likeliest to step into the captaincy.

AFL commentator and SEN personality Dwayne Russell believes Dangerfield should be the Cats’ next skipper, even if it’s for a short period of time.

“I would put Patrick Dangerfield in for two years, that’s what I’d do. I think he doesn’t mind facing the media,” Russell said.

“If Tom Stewart wants it, then absolutely give it to him but I’m still of the belief that a midfielder is a better guy to have the captaincy than a key defender, I’ve always thought that.

“So that brings Mitch Duncan into play as well, so I’d be more inclined to give it to Dangerfield, even just for one year.”

Although AFL clubs tend to select midfielders as leaders, Stewart has more than earned his right to be skipper of the Cats.

Overlooked in multiple drafts, the four-time All-Australian was selected at pick 40 as a mature-ager after getting the nod from Geelong legend Matthew Scarlett at South Barwon.

Since debuting in 2017, Stewart has featured 126 times, won the 2021 Carji Greeves Medal and added a premiership medal at the end of last year.

The 29-year-old’s story could easily be turned into a movie but is missing just one piece: Captaincy.

Although the position of skipper isn’t just given to fit the perfect script nor the best guy at a footy club, but in Stewart’s case, they would all be by-products of his appointment.

Admittedly, all three would do a tremendous job but there can only be one. 

Your move Geelong.

How will Ben King go in 2023?

King missed the entire 2022 season with an ACL injury.

The absence of the forward put a major dampen on the Suns’ campaign, especially given his 47 goals the year prior.

However, the King-sized void was filled with experienced duo Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult, who combined 79 majors and proved to be lethal as Gold Coast closed in on its first finals appearance.

The Chol-Casboult pairing came as a shock to most given the latter was picked up after being delisted by Carlton but proved to be a stroke of genius.

And now that King is back, the trio can create a formidable partnership that can place the Suns in September action for the first time in their existence.

But what should we expect of the soon-to-be 23-year-old?

By all reports, King is on track for round one and has recovered well from his knee injury.

Although, the bar shouldn’t be too high for the returning forward, despite his obvious talents.

King will add another avenue to goal under Stuart Dew but shouldn’t be the primary target.

In the past, clubs have become too key-forward centric which ultimately hinders their ability too put on winning scores.

But for Gold Coast, they have found two other options (Casboult and Chol) that can spread the opposition’s defence thin and give greater opportunities for the Suns to claim victory.

But back to King and his 2023 season.

Suns fans will love to have him back but they should just pray he gets through the season unscathed.

Adding to that, if the Victorian can add 30-40 goals, Gold Coast should chalk that up as a win.

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What can Aaron Cadman produce in debut season?

Taken at pick one in the 2022 Draft, Cadman was highly sought after by all AFL clubs.

However, the Giants did hold the prized pick and were never giving it up, especially since they were crying out for a key forward to join their club.

Exits of Jeremy Cameron, Rory Lobb, Jonathon Patton and Cam McCarthy left the burden up to Harry Himmelberg and an inexperienced Jake Riccardi as well as Jesse Hogan.

Cadman’s arrival gives new-coach Adam Kingsley a bit more flexibility with how the team can be structured up, including using Himmelberg as a defender when needed.

The 18-year-old has been likened to Jeremy Cameron during his draft season, boasting athleticism and uncanny ability to hit the scoreboard at will, making it a nightmare for defenders.

So what can he produce? Let’s compare to other key forwards’ first years.

Hogan slotted 44 goals in a struggling Melbourne side back in 2015, while Cameron kicked 29 goals in GWS’ inaugural season.

Cadman’s undeniable talent could have him hitting around the same marks, which in a debut season is impressive.

The Giants would be happy if he could snag two goals per game but make it through 2023 unscathed.

With Hogan and Himmelberg the likely targets, it will offer Cadman some reprieve, as he will likely receive the second or third defender.

Not to mention the presence of Toby Greene up forward.

If that turns out to be the case, GWS fans should expect the Victorian to get off the leash at time, but like any inexperienced footballer, go quiet other weeks.

Did the Hawks remove too much experience?

Ben McEvoy, Liam Shiels, Jack Gunston, Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara, Daniel Howe, Tom Phillips. 

These are the names that left Hawthorn at the end of 2022.

Admittedly, McEvoy and Shiels were to retirement but the rest were traded or delisted.

1,257 games of experience departed the club, leaving the Hawks as the youngest (23.1 years old) and most inexperienced (42.6 games) team in 2023, according to DraftGuru.

But will this hurt them?

Coach Sam Mitchell and his assistants clearly have a plan to start from the bottom and develop the young group all at once in hope they peak at similar times.

This theory has been seen before: Melbourne when Paul Roos took over in 2014 as a part of a succession plan.

The Demons drafted players like Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver and bided their time until they developed into the game’s best players. 

Ironically, Hawthorn did this back in 2004 when Alastair Clarkson was given the nod to lead the club.

They selected players like Luke Hodge, Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead, Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell in hope they’d be the core to lead the club into the future.

Melbourne won the premiership in 2021 and look like contending once again while the Hawks won four flags in eight seasons.

This should give Hawthorn fans some belief that they can do it again. The club isn’t beating around the bush and attempting to get mature-aged players to fill a role.

They’re backing the talent on their list to improve and move forward with the times.

This isn’t too say that experience isn’t worth its weight in gold, given only one player, Luke Breust, is over 30 years old with Chad Wingard and Sam Frost joining him soon.

However, the bold backing of a three-to-five year plan is impressive from Hawthorn and could spell sustained success over many years.

Will ‘Gawndy’ be the perfect combination?

Melbourne’s acquisition of Brodie Grundy from the Pies has been examined, questioned and explored in every way and shape possible since last year’s AFL Trade Period.

During that same time, the Demons lost 2021 Rising Star Winner Luke Jackson to his home state and Fremantle, resulting in a plus-one, minus-one transaction.

Grundy joins his new club as a two-time All-Australian and best-and-fairest winner at the Pies, so we know he has super talent.

The 28-year-old was also considered the best ruckman in the game, along with Max Gawn, during 2017-2020 given his midfielder-like ability to follow up from the contests like no other big man.

But will having ‘Gawndy’ (mix of Grundy and Gawn) in the one team prove to be prosperous as Melbourne reach for premiership glory?

The answer to this isn’t straight forward given the potential deficiencies of playing both in the best 22 but the pairing can be a dominant force.

Starting with the deficiencies, both aren’t known forwards, despite Gawn “resting” in the front half during 2022.

The 30-year-old hasn’t kicked more than 16 goals in one season and that won’t be return enough in 2023.

Similar with Grundy who averages a goal every three games in his career.

Playing both could also mean having a slower forward line, with Ben Brown and Tom McDonald, not to mention Jacob Van Rooyen and Josh Schache when needed.

However, the positives would be the midfield dominance.

The Demons essentially won a premiership based on centre bounce dominance during the 2021 Grand Final, kicking seven goals out of 21.

Although Jackson played that back-up ruck role perfectly, Grundy will be just as good if not better.

Obviously the answer to ‘Will Gawndy work?’ will be determined in some time but there’s an air of excitement by what the former Pie will bring to the club in 2023 and beyond.

What is a pass mark for North Melbourne in 2023?

2022 reaped two wins and a percentage of 55.8

2021 resulted in four wins, a draw and a percentage of 70.3.

Both seasons produced wooden spoons, their first since 1972.

However, coaching great Alastair Clarkson has joined North Melbourne along with Brett Ratten and Todd Viney to re-direct the club away from rocky shores.

Top draft prospects George Wardlaw and Harry Sheezel will also be donning the blue and white stripes.

Experience came in the eyes of Liam Shiels, Daniel Howe, Darcy Tucker, Griffin Logue and Ben Cunnington has made a miraculous recovery from testicular cancer to get himself right for 2023.

Jy Simpkin and Luke McDonald were named as co-captains and will breathe new air into the club.

In summary, plenty of changes have occurred, but what will this yield?

Kangaroos fans should still be patient with their club despite the new direction it’s heading in.

Sitting 13th for average age (24.1) and 10th in games experience (64.4), Clarkson’s side should be competitive.

If North Melbourne were to put five, six wins together but boast a percentage in the 80s in 2023, that would be a pass mark.

The players have had to learn a new system, train with new additions and get to work on fresh ideas passed down by the coaches.

Starting from the ground up, these things take time to build but it’s nothing Clarkson hasn’t done before.

Are the Power’s youngsters the real deal?

Connor Rozee. Zak Butters. Jason Horne-Francis. Mitch Georgiades. Xavier Duursma. Todd Marshall.

This is Port Adelaide’s next generation, filtered through the midfield and forward line and expected to take the club to great heights in the future.

All six have shown plenty of potential, especially Rozee who was crowned with his maiden All-Australian jacket and club best-and-fairest in 2022.

Butters made the AA squad in 2020 while Horne-Francis is a former number one pick who crossed from North Melbourne at the end of last year.

Georgiades and Marshall are quickly establishing themselves as forwards for after 32-year-old Charlie Dixon departs and finding ways to hit the scoreboard.

But will these players take the club to its second AFL premiership?

Each of these Power youngsters were selected in the first round of their respective drafts, so we know they’ve got talent.

And some are starting to emerge as real guns of the competition, despite their age.

Port Adelaide’s surprising and disappointing 2022 season followed back-to-back home preliminary finals which looked like converting into a flag.

A few years on, these youngsters have added more experience and knowledge to their game with Ken Hinkley and the other coaches granting more responsibility.

But now’s the time to lead the club back into finals and with a vengeance.

Hinkley should be entrusting all six with more prominent roles in the team, giving faith that they will deliver on game day.

Will the Tigers’ aggressive 2022 recruiting period pay off?

After falling agonisingly short in the elimination final to Brisbane, Richmond looked at ways to improve their list and get back on top, a place so familiar over the past five years.

The Tigers attacked the trade period with aggression, landing GWS duo Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper in monster seven-year deals.

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Taranto, 25, and Hopper, 26, are primed to take a club forward into the future, with both establishing themselves as elite midfielders of the competition.

Richmond recognised that their downfall in 2022 was their midfield game, which wasn’t helped by the untimely absences of Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin throughout the year.

They were the second worst clearance team in front of only Hawthorn which resulted in a low contested possession count.

Taranto and Hopper are clearance beasts with defensive mindsets which will give freedom to Shai Bolton and Martin to be more aggressive through the middle third of the ground.

Now on paper, Damien Hardwick boasts an extremely deep list, littered with elite talent on all lines.

In 2022, the Tigers were the highest scoring team in the competition and ranked ninth for points against.

Richmond have built a successful brand on pressure and fast ball movement, but improving their clearance game gives them another avenue to score.

Not only that, the club has committed to the Giant pair long-term, meaning they’re preparing for life after Cotchin, Martin and Prestia in the coming years.

Tigers fans should be very excited by the potential Taranto and Hopper have and the longevity at Punt Road.

What will Ross bring to the Saints?

‘Ross the Boss’ is back and St Kilda fans should be excited.

Following the sacking of Brett Ratten, Lyon was signed as senior coach, his second stint at the club (first was between 2007-2011).

In between his spells, the Saints had Scott Watters (2012-2013), Alan Richardson (2014-2019) and Ratten (2019-2022) lead the side but to only one finals appearance during that stretch in 2020.

St Kilda made a semi final and bowed out to eventual premiers Richmond but have failed to live up to the COVID-19 impacted season, seeking change that will hopefully turn the tide.

Lyon comes in as an experienced head and arguably one of the better strategists the game has seen in the past 10-15 years.

Known for his defensive mindsets, the former Fremantle coach has reached the grand final four times (including the 2010 replay) between both clubs and made finals eight of the 13 years.

Despite his suffocating style, Lyon must bring something new and fresh to St Kilda’s 2023 lineup or potentially face another disappointing season.

We know he can create backline structures that prevent opposition teams scoring at will.

But, Lyon must instil dare and belief in his players to attack with ball in hand.

Too many times in 2022 the Saints would kick backwards or sideways, holding possession of the ball but never really challenging their opponents.

St Kilda were ranked 15th for points for, with lowly teams GWS, West Coast and North Melbourne the only ones below them.

Now with Max King out (as well as Jack Hayes and Matthew Allison), Lyon will need to look at creative ways to score.

Seeing that a lack of height is the case, fast, erratic ball movement may be the play in the early stages of the season, giving their small forwards a chance at ground level.

The club didn’t really add much to their list aside from Zaine Cordy, Liam Stocker and draftees Mattaes Phillipou (pick 10), James Van Es (31), Olli Hotton (35) and Isaac Keeler (44).

Meaning the coaching panel and staff believe that the players currently holding a spot at St Kilda are the ones to compete for a flag.

Will the 81-point Grand Final loss leave scars?

Sydney’s 2022 Grand Final performance was utterly disappointing but to have it turn into a blowout could have ramifications that last for years.

Since 2000, there have been six instances where the runners-up have failed to make finals the following year.

Year Team Margin/Opposition
2020 GWS 89 points to Richmond
2018 Adelaide 48 points to Richmond
2008 Port Adelaide 119 points to Geelong
2005 Brisbane 40 points to Port Adelaide
2004 Collingwood 50 points to Brisbane
2001 Melbourne 60 points to Essendon

Will the same happen to the Swans after their 81-point belting at the hands of Geelong?

Naturally, losing a grand final will leave feelings of remorse and frustration.

Sydney have made three deciders in the last decade and haven’t been able to add silverware to their cabinet, losing in 2014, 2016 and 2022.

It seems coach John Longmire has the list to claim a flag, with a good mix of youth and experience as well as multiple match winners.

The Swans play a tough brand of football that is reflected in the ‘bloods culture’ of being unrelenting and persistent.

However, the game has evolved and as we know in sport, if you don’t adapt with it, you get left behind.

Geelong played that to perfection in 2022, developing a speedy game which in combination with their defensive outputs proved to be a winning duo.

Sydney must add more strings to their bow or potentially face the same fate as the above six teams.

Although finishing second, Longmire’s men are to be hunted by all other clubs (as well as the Cats), which means there’s a target on their back.

But as the new season is set to unfold, the Swans must find a way to push last year’s shortcomings to the side and focus on the task ahead.

Is it time for Adam Simpson to move on?

How long should coaches be given before there’s a change of guard?

Simpson will coach his 10th season at West Coast in 2023 and has been relatively successful, making two grand finals and winning one (2018) in that time.

However, 2022 was arguably the worst in club’s history as the Eagles were hit with injuries and positive COVID-19 testing, resulting in 42 players used throughout the year.

Winning two games and finishing 17th, speculation started to gain momentum that Simpson would depart for his old club, North Melbourne, who was looking for a senior coach.

The former Kangaroos player denied any link to his former team, saying in July last year he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve been here for nine years and I’m as invested as I’ve ever been,” said Simpson, who is contracted to West Coast until the end of 2024, according to ESPN.

“There will come a time when I get tapped on the shoulder (by West Coast) but at the moment I am contracted and I’m up for the fight.

“It’s going to be a long road for us and it would be silly to look sideways at the moment.”

But, if West Coast underperform in 2023, does Simpson get the tap on the shoulder despite being contracted to 2024?

Rival clubs have been quick to pull the trigger on coaches who fail to see results such as Essendon and Ben Rutten and St Kilda and Brett Ratten.

Since their famous grand final victory in 2018, the Eagles have been on a slow decline, losing a semi final, elimination final than missing September altogether, followed by the dismal 2022 season.

Simpson has taken the club through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but a new voice and direction should be taking the next generation of players into the future.

Josh Kennedy just retired; Shannon Hurn is 35; Luke Shuey and Nic Naitanui are 32 and have struggled with staying on the park; Then there’s Jeremy McGovern, Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling, Andrew Gaff and Elliot Yeo who will be above 30 and entering the twilight of their career.

Simpson should be arranging a solid foundation of youthful players that will take over from the veterans as well as a place for a new senior coach to fit in seamlessly after he departs.

That will be solely determined by what the Eagles achieve in 2023.

How does Bevo fit Darcy, Ugle-Hagan, Bruce, Jones, Lobb and Naughton?

It’s not the worst problem to have for Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.

A host of six more-than-serviceable players in your lineup that can fill 3-5 positions in your best 22 is far from a problem.

But with all fit, who gets the nod?

Let’s look at the locks. Aaron Naughton up forward is a lock. Rory Lobb as a forward and back-up ruck is a lock. Liam Jones down back is a lock.

That leaves two extremely young and talented talls in Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy, as well as veteran Josh Bruce.

The latter has been seen training with the defenders in hope to continue playing senior football given the recruitment of Lobb and emergence of Ugle-Hagan in 2022.

Beveridge will have a hard time deciding on who chooses.

For arguments sake, let’s say Naughton, Lobb and Ugle-Hagan occupy that tall forward line.

Recently signed on Ryan Gardner will line-up alongside Jones in the backline, potentially leaving one more spot up for grabs.

By all reports, Darcy has made a meteoric improvement with nearly a whole preseason under his belt while Bruce is still finding his feet after his ACL injury at the end of 2021.

Beveridge hasn’t been afraid in the past to throw his youngsters in the deep end and it’s unlikely he’ll stop now.

The son-of-a-gun will start next to Jones and Gardiner, with the former Blue playing a more intercepting role as opposed to a lockdown one.

Unfortunately for Bruce, he’ll miss out in the early stages of the season barring any injuries to his teammates.

But on the other side of the coin, the ex-Saint and Giant has proved he can play at both ends and should be ready for a call-up whenever needed.

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