With two months of footy left before finals and the byes behind us, every team will be looking to the finish line.
Where that line is differs for each side and obviously there’ll be clubs that fall short and under-perform. Some teams need only give their fans hope while others must push deep into September to have any chance of satisfying expectations. Here is what each AFL side needs to do to leave 2017 with a nice big tick.
The Crows currently sit second on the ladder and despite a few shock losses, have been one of the more consistently dominant teams of 2017. Despite it being such an even season, anything short of a home Preliminary Final that sets up a Grand Final tilt would feel like a failure for a team who has sat near the top of the ladder all season. It’s as simple as that for the Crows. This is an open season where a team could steal a premiership and Adelaide is as good a chance as any. If they could do that while claiming both Showdowns, that would make their fans very happy.
Pass mark: Finish top two and make the Grand Final
Bonus point: Win the Round 21 Showdown
Brisbane have probably already done more than many could’ve hoped for coming into the season and that was highlighted with their win over the Bombers on the weekend. They’ve suffered injuries to key players and are still growing under first-year coach Chris Fagan so all the Lions need to do is give their fans a reason to believe the club is heading in the right direction. A few more wins on top of having the number one pick in the draft would be a nice bonus.
Pass mark: Give fans something to look forward to next year
Bonus point: Pinch another two wins
Opposition teams don’t want to play Carlton. They force you into a low-scoring battle and are as consistently competitive as any team in the competition. The key for the Blues will be to keep that up until round 23. They’ve only had the one bad loss so far in 2017 and if they can finish the season with another win or two while pushing the likes of Sydney, West Coast and Geelong, that would give them great confidence going into 2018. That will prove difficult because of their reliance on younger players who are already starting to tire, but it’s hard to not to give the Blues a tick already, regardless of how they finish.
Pass mark: Remain a difficult team to beat
Bonus point: Crack the 100 point barrier
Nathan Buckley stated last year that a pass mark for himself and Collingwood in 2017 was finals. You can put that down to delusions of grandeur as this Magpies list was never getting anywhere near finals this year. Predictably, they’re stuck in the bottom four and will probably remain there. They’ve been competitive in almost every game and if they can keep that up, win a couple more games and figure out their long-term direction… well at least that’s something. The problems at Collingwood lie with their list management as much as they do with Buckley and they need to sort that out as soon as they possibly can.
Pass mark: Know what the club will look like off-field in 2018
Bonus point: Win three more games
Essendon have shot themselves in the foot by losing to Brisbane. They’re now back among the pack and will have to put seven more wins together if they want to play finals. Anything short of that, given their fixture, will be a waste of a season. Remember, Essendon finished 18th last year and were granted a draw befitting of a wooden spoon team. They could realistically win all of their remaining games, but this side has shown no consistency this year and could easily stay in their current position of 11th. They’re absolutely good enough if they get it right.
Pass mark: Finals
Bonus point: Win every remaining game
Fremantle sat on equal points with the team in eighth place last week, but were as far away from finals as the bottom four. However, finals were never really on the radar for the Dockers and if they can get five games into Sean Darcy, Brennan Cox, Griffin Logue and others from here, then they can give themselves something to build from next year. It might even be worth putting Aaron Sandilands on the shelf for the season. It seems likely they’ll retain Nathan Fyfe which is great news for a club which now needs to hit the draft and build around him. Put your faith in Ross Lyon long-term.
Pass mark: Get game time into talented kids
Bonus point: Re-sign Nathan Fyfe
Geelong are in the same boat as Adelaide. They had a bit of a form slump in the middle of the season, but have been worthy of a top four finish all year. Their run home is filled with winnable games and if they don’t get themselves a home Qualifying Final, it’ll probably be a waste of what could have been. From there, this side is more than capable of winning the flag. The Cats have to take advantage of such an open premiership race and win the flag before their window closes.
Pass mark: Finish top two and make a Grand Final
Bonus point: Win the minor premiership
The Gold Coast Suns have been cursed with horrific injury luck for a few years now under coach Rodney Eade, but it would seem their list simply isn’t good enough to contend with the best sides. It appears they’ll finish in that awkward ladder position above the bottom four, but well below the teams fighting for finals and at this stage of the year, all they can really hope for is to remain competitive, play some exciting footy and hopefully have an idea of what they want their list to look like in 2018.
Pass mark: Remain competitive
Bonus point: A healthy list
Greater Western Sydney
Some have tried to keep the lid firmly on the Giants all season, but it remains clear that anything short of a Grand Final birth is a failure for this team. Yes, they’ve been burdened with a ridiculous injury list and that doesn’t seem to be getting better, but they’re STILL sitting on top of the ladder despite that. If they can slowly get back to somewhere near their best heading into September, then they really should be winning the flag. They’re still a young team though and if they don’t win it this year, that’s probably okay, but they have to get there – especially since no other team is standing out as a premiership winner.
Pass mark: Make the Grand Final
Bonus point: Win every remaining game
Despite the unbridled optimism of Bruce Mcavaney, Hawthorn won’t be playing finals in 2017. Yes, they’re only two games outside of the eight, but so is everyone else. Hawthorn still boasts a large number of premiership players mixed in with a few talented kids and they’re going to make life difficult for the teams who are actually contending for finals. Hawthorn doesn’t have a first round draft pick, doesn’t really have any more young talent to blood and can’t make finals so their pass mark is simple – screw up everyone else’s seasons and make teams very unwilling to face you.
Pass mark: Make every team scared to play you
Bonus point: Get Ryan Burton the Rising Star Award
If the Bulldogs have taught us anything, it’s anyone can win the flag. Melbourne certainly can, but that’s obviously not the mark they’ll be judged by. It was unclear whether they’d take the next step and become a finals team in 2017, but they clearly have and from here, if they can get themselves a home final and maybe a September victory, their fans will have a lot to look forward to next year. Their injury list is increasing quickly though and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to keep up their high standard of footy without their best players. They’ll make finals though, and that’s enough to give the Dees a tick.
Pass mark: Finals experience
Bonus point: Win a final
It’s fair to say North were always going to crash down the ladder when they ripped the heart out of the club last year. They chose to back in their kids and while some have shown promise, it hasn’t been enough to get them out of the bottom four. They’ve been competitive in almost every game and far more so than you’d expect from a team currently sitting in 17th. North still has a massive mountain to climb and may be the team furthest away from a flag. They need to fix the recruiting issues they’ve had and give fans a reason to care going forward because North are struggling for relevancy right now and don’t really have much to get anyone excited by.
Pass mark: Give fans a reason to by a 2018 membership
Bonus point: Take an exciting, marketable player with pick two
Port Adelaide currently sit fourth on the ladder and many have them as a team fighting for a spot in the top four. Unfortunately, there’s just no reason to believe they are a team worthy of a Qualifying Final. They haven’t beaten anyone currently sitting in the eight and their biggest scalp was probably Sydney in round one when they were in a slump. Port can conceivably play finals without beating a top eight side and if they consider that a win, then good for them, but they have to prove they’ll be a team who aren’t just making up the numbers.
Pass mark: Don’t just make up the numbers
Bonus point: Win the Showdown, beat Melbourne or beat West Coast
The Tiger bandwagon is steaming towards September and a top-four finish looms likely, BUT let’s all take a deep breath here and remember what we’re dealing with here. Richmond doesn’t have to win the flag this year. Dustin Martin is probably sticking around and what’s gotten them to this unexpected position is an injection of youth up forward so they’ll be hanging around the top for a while. Richmond simply needs to win a final and get that monkey off of its back. It’s come close a few times, but they’ve never managed it. Just do it, Richmond. Win a final for the love of Punt Road. Everything else after that comes as a bonus.
Pass mark: Win. A. Final
Bonus point: Make the Grand Final
Like Melbourne, St Kilda’s pass mark at the start of the season wasn’t finals, but more to continue evolving into a team that could be a finals team in 2018. The evenness of the season has put them in a position to play finals, but they’ll have to claim a few scalps including Essendon, Richmond and West Coast to get there. They don’t have to make finals to get a tick, even though they finished 9th in 2016. If the Saints can get themselves to 11-13 wins, grab a big-name player over the off-season and launch into 2018, that’ll be as much of a success as anything. They’d probably just be making up the numbers if the slipped into finals anyway.
Pass mark: Win 12-13 games
Bonus point: Nail this year’s trade period
Sydney are the in-form team of the competition right now and is a big chance to defy the odds and play finals. The advantage they hold over the teams around them is percentage. Sydney could make finals with 12 wins, but will need 13 to make sure of it. Getting to 13 would mean beating one of GWS, Adelaide or Geelong and all three of those games will be at the opposition home ground. If they don’t pinch one of those, they’ll be relying on Essendon, St Kilda and the Bulldogs to slip up. A pass mark for the Swans is difficult because pre-season you would’ve said finals without a shadow of a doubt, but after starting 0-6, saying they have to play finals is a little unfair considering no team has EVER made it from that far back. Sydney will need to win all of their home games from here and pick up a big win over one of the best three sides in the competition. If they do that, then it’s hard not to give them a tick.
Pass mark: Win every remaining home game
Bonus point: Defy history and make finals
The Eagles haven’t been a consistent side this season, but big wins over Geelong and the Bulldogs (in Victoria) have put them in a relatively safe position on the ladder. They have to play finals to get a tick without doubt, but looking at where they are now, they probably need to secure a home final from here otherwise they’ll have under-performed. Five wins is probably enough to get them there and they have five more games in Perth plus another winnable game against St Kilda. There’s no reason to suggest 2017 won’t be a successful year for the Eagles.
Pass mark: Get a home final
Bonus point: Make a Preliminary Final
The Western Bulldogs’ fall from grace as the season has transpired has been disappointing. The reigning premiers are now looking unlikely to play finals this year, but anything short of that has to be considered a failure. Because of their percentage, they’ll need six more wins to get there and with Carlton, Gold Coast and Brisbane (away) looking like the only games you can mark them down for, it’s going to be a steep hill for the Dogs. From a distance, they seem to have lost their spark and they’ll need to discover it as soon as possible.
Pass mark: Finals
Bonus point: Find 2016’s September spark