Can Sydney and Essendon’s form upheaval drag them into the finals?

The last bye round saw a fair bit of movement but no change to the overall picture – also presented by the real world ladder – of an even season. This week we’re going to focus on shorter term trend-lines to see which teams are on the move or are declining.

Round 13 ratings

Adelaide stands alone at the top above 110% of the league average, with Port, GWS and Geelong also above the historical 105% cutoff for past premiers. Adelaide are also the one side which is clearly well above-average in all three parts of the ground, with it’s 107% defence the only weak line; and still sitting above 105% of league average. The Crows merely have the fourth best defence so far this year, as opposed to the second best midfield and forward ratings so far this year. Whilst the Crows have been beatable this year, it’s taken three extraordinarily good performances to knock them off so far. Adelaide currently sit as the 18th highest ranked team since 1998 according to the HPN ratings, with every side rated higher making at least the Preliminary Final and eight winning the flag. At the present time indications are strong that the Crows are set for a deep run into September.

Recall that very few sides have won premierships rating below 100% in any area of the ground. The Bulldogs last year were the biggest outlier with their anaemic offence, while Sydney 2005’s offence and North Melbourne 1999’s defence are the other two which were below average for a premier since 1998. With that in mind, note that Geelong, GWS, and now Melbourne are the sides who currently sit at least barely above-average across the park.

Port Adelaide, West Coast, Richmond and Essendon all exhibit one serious deficiency right now, alongside their obvious strengths. This doesn’t rule them out of course (even if these ratings don’t change), but it points to the obvious arguments against them. Each would be breaking the tides of the previous 20 years of the HPN ratings – which are by no means infallible. Of the aforementioned four sides, Port Adelaide have the profile most resembling a potential Grand Finalists, as it is only the strength of schedule adjustment dragging them down from a league average offence.

Notable further down the pecking order is the Swans, 9th overall and pretty even across the park as well. They’re only rated at 97.8% of average in offence, but are now above-average in midfield and defence. Some, ignoring their mostly soft recent opponent set, have called them the “form side” of the competition as they’ve gone from 0-6 to 5-7. We won’t go that far, but they serve as a good segue into looking at shorter term formlines.

Here’s the 3-game movement in both line graph and table form:

Form Guide rd13 movement

Form Guide rd13

HPN had Sydney as low as 15th after round 5, and Essendon as low as 17th after round 4. From their poor early season output, those two sides have been the biggest movers since round 6. The fact that they play each other this weekend is an excellent test of whose formline will hold in what should be a study in statistical contrasts between the evenness of the Swans and the strong Bomber bookends.

Brisbane, interestingly, have rallied in the last three weeks, moving back up above 90%, which is among the better worst teams we tend to see in our ratings system. This certainly concords with them breaking through for a win and otherwise displaying that much-maligned quantity of “pluck” recently. The Lions forward line has been a saving grace, putting teams under early pressure if forward entries can be made by their at-times overly patient ball movement.

At the top end, the leaders have all slipped back to the pack a bit as well, after Adelaide’s round 6 rating had us talking about historic highs off the back of inside-50 differential and efficiency dominance. They were subsequently, mystifyingly, destroyed by North Melbourne and more explicably beaten by Melbourne. That 118% rating looks a long way off now and the Crows may just have to be content with the minor premiership as opposed to being the best single-season team in the last decade.

Let’s turn now to the strength formlines by area of the ground:

MidForm Guide rd13

Essendon’s midfield has improved a lot over the season, but it was starting from an extremely low base where they were giving up four inside-50s for every three they got themselves. The wet weather game in round 3 in which the Blues dominated inside 50s counted heavily against Essendon early, but irrespective of this the Bombers movement through the middle of the ground has improved in recent weeks. Port Adelaide, their recent victim in this area, still looks good in midfield ball control, but have slipped in the last four weeks.

The Swans and Demons have also shown marked improvement in midfield strength in their last six games. Collingwood, for whom it’s their sole strength, had a slump and now a recent recovery.

Fremantle, on the other hand, have fallen off a cliff in the middle, and Gold Coast and Carlton have lost the benefit of early season midfield drubbings of the Lions and Bombers midfields respectively.

FwdForm Guide rd13

Up forward, the Crows have been pipped recently by Essendon as being the team with the strongest looking (i.e. most efficient per inside-50) forward line. Those two and the Cats have built impressive dominance in this area, well ahead of any other club. The Crows have been struck by some injury and form issues but one would expect them to sit in the top spot here by the end of the year.

Note that Brisbane – even without prized re-signing Josh Schache – sit 7th in the forwad strength metric off the back of a recent burst of better football. Forward strength is also Hawthorn’s biggest strength this season, and has recovered in recent weeks.

Richmond and the Bulldogs have both crashed hard in forward-50 potency, now even behind early season strugglers Collingwood and Gold Coast. This impotence is surely a little bit alarming for two teams with finals aspirations, perhaps moreso for the Bulldogs.

Def Form Guide rd13

Round 13 ratings
Round 13 ratings

Richmond continue to defend better than anyone else, and this gap has grown in recent weeks. The Bulldogs have improved here as the season has worn on, after they looked pretty surprisingly poor early. GWS had a brief period looking dominant around the Round 6 mark, but now shape as merely average as they’ve struggled to eke out wins with half a NEAFL side.

Down the bottom, Collingwood and North Melbourne have seen their defensive ratings slide from pretty good to kinda bad, while most of the other strugglers sit roughly where they have all year.

The Bombers round out a really lopsided side (brilliant forwardline, plodding midfield) with some very good defensive stats. Returning to the matchup with the fellow “form side”, the pretty even Swans, we might expect to see this come down to whether Sydney can limit Essendon’s relative inside-50 chances sufficiently. Sydney have the better midfield strength rating by a considerable distance, but that’s an average and they have of course been patchy. If the Bombers get near parity in inside-50s, their forwardline and backline look strong enough to carry the day. If the Swans exert control inside-50, they’ll likely score enough even though they’ll probably be less efficient inside the arcs.

 

Anatomy of an upset – how do AFL teams overcome the odds to spring a big win?

This season has seen some pretty surprising upsets as well as a general pattern of unpredictable results. As we’ve said before, there’s a wide spread of non-terrible teams – 17th is currently two games outside the top 8, where last year that gap was 6 games. Most teams this year are capable of causing a boilover. We thought we’d take a look at some of the bigger upsets this year and see if we can identify the sorts of things that lead to or characterise the upset results.

Before we jump in to talking about upsets, here’s our current ratings of each team on strength in the three parts of the ground:

Round 12 ratings

Big movers this week are Essendon and Sydney who both jump two spots from unexpected big wins. At the other end of the scale, North, who looked quite good early despite not getting results, finally drop from the fringes of the eight to the edge of the middle tier of teams.

So, what goes on when a poorly-rated team beats a highly-rated team? This post will make no pretence of trying to predict such upsets, after all, if we could do that they wouldn’t be upsets or we’d be very rich betting on them. What we’ll instead do is see how our ratings can offer some clues as to what happens in some upsets.  We have tried to break down upsets into four broad categories. Our inside-50 based  strength ratings potentially have something to say about the first three categories.

1 – Midfield dominance

Generally, the easiest path to victory is to dominate territory, and in turn dominate the number of opportunities your team has to score at the expense of the opposition.

The Gold Coast win over Geelong was, intriguingly, driven entirely from the midfield. We wrote recently about how the Suns could (could!) make finals, and their midfield starting to put some wins on the board is a big part of why.

We rate Geelong overall as a fairly indifferent midfield, in terms of the team’s ability to secure an inside-50 count advantage, and this was a game where they were comprehensively outplayed in that department. While the Suns aren’t world-beaters in this area, they are better than a lot of the ordinary sides – and not much in raw numbers behind the Cats. In this game Gold Coast had 71 inside-50s to 48, Witts dominated Rhys Stanley in the ruck, and they had a small 40-36 clearance advantage led by David Swallow. They laid more tackles, had a ton more possession including more contested ball. Ablett sent nine kicks inside-50 himself.

Only the Cats’ greater forward efficiency (scoring from 58% of their entries) and a bit of Gold Coast inaccuracy prevented a worse rout.

North Melbourne’s huge win over Adelaide, while a shock in terms of Adelaide’s underperformance, was generated by the predominance of inside-50s. Adelaide’s weakest line is their defence, and whenever teams have been able to pepper them enough, they’ve looked vulnerable. Both North and Adelaide scored from around half their inside-50s (that’s a pretty high level of forward efficiency or defensive weakness) meaning that by dominating the inside-50s, North assured themselves victory. They seem to have achieved that dominance through forced turnovers, centre clearances, and simple Adelaide errors.

We still have to throw our hands up in confusion at why Adelaide’s midfield were so impotent on that blustery Hobart afternoon, particularly in the first quarter, but there’s a limit to how much any statistics can identify things like confidence, effort, and simple cascading team-wide shock. However, we can see from that, and also from Melbourne’s win over the Crows, that when the Crows are beaten in the middle, teams can score against them with relative ease considering what a good side they have mostly been.

2 – Stylistic superiority

This refers to a situation where a lower rated team can use its limited strengths to grind out a surprise victory.

Fremantle lost to Brisbane on the weekend and a big part of why was Brisbane’s ability to actually help out their decent forwardline with good supply – something they have rarely been able to do in 2017 as the worst-rated midfield on inside-50 differentials.

Fremantle, rating stronger overall, had been looked pretty balanced across the board – almost equally below-average in all areas. Brisbane, by contrast, are more lopsided, they have had what we consider a decently efficient forward line, but they have been starved of inside-50s and hammered in defence.

In this game, perhaps aided by the absence of Sandilands and the pain-impaired performance of Fyfe, Brisbane actually found itself winning in the middle and dominating the inside-50s battle handsomely. Their forwardline (including through goals from midfielders) accordingly put on a big score through their greater opportunities.

Sydney and the Bulldogs has been an interesting battle for a couple of years now. Opinions differ on whether this was an upset – ladder position would say so, but some ratings systems had the Swans ahead through either lingering 2016 strength or home ground advantage.

Note that the gap has closed in our ratings as a result of this game. The weight of the win resulted in a major recalibration of ratings for the two teams’ strengths this week. This was particularly in our Bulldogs midfield rating dropping by about 5% after their apparently stronger midfield lost the inside-50 count 71-39. That imbalance could easily insert this match into the “midfield dominance” category, but interesting things also happened at either end.

The matchup looked a contrast to last year’s grand final which pitted a stronger Dogs midfield against a superb Swans defence. Things have changed this year – the Swans are rating as average or below-average across the board, while the Dogs’ already mediocre forward potency has regressed and the midfield struggled more, as the backline takes up more of the slack.

Sydney unexpectedly dominating the midfield battle gave the game a huge margin, and this was the first time Sydney had won that inside-50 count in the last four encounters. However, the Swans also scored more efficiently (48% vs 42%) from the inside-50 opportunities given.

Basically, the Swans’ average forwardline did better against a decent defence than the Dogs’ terrible forwardline did against Sydney’s average defence. The Bulldogs needed to win the inside-50 count by a bit, not just get close, under those circumstances. They did so in the previous three matches and carried the day, but things turned dramatically here.

3 – Incredible efficiency

This refers to a situation where a lopsided team uses its dominance in at least one part of the ground to overwhelm the opponent. Instead of a perfect storm of opposing strengths and weaknesses, the underdog instead relies on their own strength in an area to snatch the win.

Referring back to our strength ratings, Essendon’s poor control of the midfield appears to be the only thing holding them back from the upper reaches of the ladder, as they loom large within both 50 metre arcs (2nd and 3rd for forward and defensive efficiency, respectively). That lack of control means their efficiency usually only has limited impact – an efficient defence under seige still concedes scores, and an efficient forward setup can only do so much with little opportunity.

Essendon have won the inside-50 battle just twice this year – by one over West Coast in Round 9 and by 16 against Port Adelaide last week. In both games Essendon won by more than 10 goals. Essendon v Port was especially polarising, as a Port Adelaide accustomed to winning plenty more inside-50s found itself beaten in that area.

Logic indicated that if the Bombers could get close to breaking even, or better, in the inside-50 battle, then they would win the game. They did more than that. They were also more productive up forward than Port when they got the ball up there, leading to the slaughter. Port Adelaide’s denial of space and movement in transition was going to be crucial, and it completely evaporated.

Whenever a team has a single overarching strength – think Adelaide’s forwardline, Richmond’s defence, Collingwood’s midfield – there would seem to be the potential for these sorts of results of something else gives them a chance to really press that advantage.

4 – Unnerving accuracy

This last one should be fairly self-explanatory, and we have seen a few examples where teams have gotten close but only took the chocolates due to unusual accuracy or inaccuracy relative to expectations. We are big fans of Rob Younger’s Figuring Footy as a guide to these games. Of all upset victories, these are probably the hardest to predict in advance.

On form, Carlton shouldn’t have been close to GWS last week. The Giants are in an injury-weakened state – they have maybe ten players missing from their best-22 and their reserves were pumped by 171 points due to the lack of available players. Despite this, they’d been getting results until they ran into this ragtag group of navy blue misfits.

As impressive as Carlton were in dragging GWS into a close battle, Figuring Footy noted that the Giants would still normally have won from the shots they created. Anyone who watched Toby Greene can attest to this, of course:

DCBw4RWUAAEHj7P

Another example of this type of game was West Coast’s dour win over Port Adelaide where West Coast, underdogs going in, needed an accuracy differential to complete their raid on Adelaide Oval.

All-in-all we are no closer to identifying upsets, but we reckon the clubs with lopsided strengths in different parts of the ground might be the ones to watch for unexpected results. Collingwood, Geelong, Essendon and the Bulldogs are among the most lopsided clubs, and perhaps will continue to be among the more unpredictable.

We might also expect more surprises for the Crows and Port Adelaide if they get on the wrong end of an inside-50 count, and even the lowly Lions to snatch another couple of results if they can get the ball forward enough.

Can Gold Coast somehow make the finals in 2017?

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Let’s start this out with the most obvious statement of all: Gold Coast is a below-average football team. They are the type of young-ish team who have solid performances on their resume (beating the Cats and Eagles), as well as some absolute shockers (cf. the China demolition). Due to the incredibly close and even 2017 season, in spite of a 4-6 record, they only sit a little over a game outside of the eight entering the back half of the year.

So… could they somehow make finals?

Firstly, yes, mathematically they’re not out of it. Their percentage sucks but with a couple of realistic upsets going their way the next fortnight, they could sit just outside the top eight on percentage, and equal on wins with seventh, after the byes. But more substantively, they have some points in their favour.

On the HPN team strength ratings, Gold Coast currently sits as the 15th best team in the AFL, almost average with respect to offence and midfield performance, but near dead last defensively.

Round 11 ratings.JPG

While there have been numerous young defections from the Suns’ ranks in the past two offseasons, they have managed to bolster their list with both promising young players and wily veterans looking for another chance, and have managed to continue developing the early talent that remains.

One of those wily vets, Jarrod Witts, has proven to be a revelation in 2017, breaking the Suns season record for hitouts in just ten (10!) games. In fact the Suns, for the first time in their history, aren’t terrible in the ruck stakes. Every year between their foundation in 2011, and 2016, they were one of the worst three sides for hitout differentials in the league. Witts has been solid as a near-sole ruck this year, taking the Suns to fourth in the league for hitout differential. While hitouts may not matter as much anymore, Witts has been also been able to provide a physical presence around the ground, sitting seventh at the club for tackles and fourth for 1%ers.

Previous rucks for the Suns have included Josh Fraser, Zac Smith, Dan Currie, Tom Nicholls, Charlie Dixon and Nobody, all of whom typically failed to get hand to ball anywhere near as often as their collective opponents. Nicholls, their number one ruck last year, was frequently pasted in the hitout stakes and really only took the hitout count honours against Stefan Martin/Josh Walker and against Jordan Roughead. We have to assume that getting a regular first look at the footy is a new and novel experience for the often beleaguered Suns mids.

It seems to have had a demonstrable effect on the performance of the Gold Coast midfield, not least in the performance of modern great Gary Ablett. Ryan Buckland from The Arc laid it out brilliantly this week, so we don’t have a whole lot to add, other than Ablett has been playing like he just hopped out of a time machine from 2009.

According to the soonish-to-be-released HPN Player Approximate Value formula, Ablett sits as the third most valuable player in the competition this year, on a per game basis (min. 50% of games). Aaron Hall and Jarryd Lyons are also having career years, the former perhaps in fringe contention for the All Australian squad, and the latter relishing his time as a first rotation mid. Both are significantly improved on their 2016 performances, providing about 25% more value to their team per game.

There is certainly room to improve for Gold Coast – their defence hasn’t quite worked out how to keep other teams out, especially with the absence of Sam Day, Rory Thompson and, briefly, co-captain Steve May. But Jack Leslie has begun to enter form in the past few weeks, and there are quarters where the backline doesn’t look terrible.

Part of their problem defensively may be their penchant to attack from the halfback line. As outlined by The Arc at ESPN a couple of weeks back, the Suns are like R. Kelly – all about the bounce. Adam Saad not only leads the league in bounces, but he has nearly double that of Charlie Cameron and Steven Motlop in second.

A high risk halfback strategy can lead to rapid rebounding and goals conceded. Notably, against the Eagles, they played a very cautious probing game from halfback, and tried to only pull the trigger when a clear opportunity presented. The 99 inside-50s in that game was the second-fewest combined total in a Suns game this season (the win over Carlton had 90).

So, why again, does HPN think that they can make finals?

In short, their remaining draw looks really juicy.

Using the HPN team ratings as a proxy for team strength, we can work out the remaining strength of schedule (SOS) for each side, similar as we do at the start of every year. Using this process, we have found that Gold Coast have the second softest draw remaining, and the strongest effect in raw win terms (they have an extra game remaining over North).

R12SOS

Frighteningly, GWS have the third weakest draw, just as they appear to be getting a few players back from injury. Gold Coast face just three predicted finalists on their run home – West Coast (whom they just beat), a potentially shaky Richmond, and Port Adelaide. Their “away” game against the Bulldogs is also in Cairns. To make the finals Gold Coast will likely need to win at least seven more games, and very likely eight more. At the present time HPN predicts that GS are likely to win about 4-5 more games – not enough to swing them into the eight at this stage:

R12PWFINAl.JPG

However, we give the Suns about a 30% chance of getting 11 wins, and a 23% chance of getting 12 – which should be enough to make finals. This is a little bit higher than the chance that others give them – Plus Six One gives them around 11%, The Arc has them at a 9% chance of finals footy and FMI give them almost no shot. The HPN ratings are non-Elo based, so it’s expected that there would be some divergence here, plus the regressed residual of previous seasons’ ratings may still factor into Elo ratings at this point. GC would be hoping that it can break more HPN’s way.

In a neat inversion of the situation at this stage last year, North look a solid chance to improve their position in the back half of the year, too.

In short, for the Suns to make the finals they would need a number of things to break their way. Firstly, their defence needs to improve to be able to play all four quarters of a game, or they need to potentially look to attack less, done against the Eagles. Secondly, Witts, Ablett, Lyons and Hall need to continue on their merry ways, and Lynch needs to find his 2016 form again. Thirdly, they need to beat all of the teams in their rough ladder grouping – teams such as the Hawks this week, Carlton, St Kilda, Fremantle, Essendon, Sydney and Collingwood. Finally, they have to hope that other results start to fall their way – as do many of the teams in that aforementioned grouping.

It’s not going to be easy, but it is a little more possible than is being discussed right now.

Trade period: AFLW clubs take divergent paths in building for the future

The first AFLW trade and free agency period has come and gone, and seen all eight clubs set on slightly different paths on the way to the upcoming season. Whilst the raw number of trades and free agency moves was smaller than the typical AFLM trade and free agency period, the magnitude of the moves may have a wide impact on the entire competition in the years to come.

Player movements

Below is a table of every club’s list from the season just gone, coloured by where players ended up moving for the upcoming season either by trades or free agency moves.

(Click for a larger image)

AFLWlists.PNG

As we can see, no club was left entirely unaltered with every club except Fremantle losing a player to another side, and only Adelaide failing to acquire an import. Neither side bothered engaging in trading, as segregated draft pools make pick order meaningless to clubs in single-team states. Instead, Freo pinched their homecoming prizes via free agency.

Two clubs (Fremantle and Carlton) now have three players originally designated as “marquees”, a term now discontinued by the league. As the AFLW doesn’t disclose each player’s pay, one can only guess at how these player tiers are split.

Club primary lists for 2018 will be 27 players, with the remainder to be filled up via the draft. At the close of trade period, clubs could only have a maximum 22 players, but we’re unsure that they were permitted to exceed this during the free agency period. None did, however, and only Melbourne seems to have even reached that 22 player total.

signings

Interstate clubs stayed mostly on the sidelines

Given the segregated draft pools, interstate clubs didn’t have much need to engage in trades for picks. Brisbane and GWS made exchanges prompted by players desiring a move to or from Victoria. Adelaide and Fremantle didn’t bother at all.

Adelaide and GWS, with the weakest local talent pools from which to draw, would have mostly focused on retaining players recruited from interstate. Adelaide had 7 from outside SA/NT and GWS had 10 from outside NSW/ACT. They mostly managed to retain those players and GWS topped up further.

The Giants lost Alex Williams back to WA and Ashleigh Guest to Melbourne, but have replaced those with four other imports via trades and free agency. The loss of Williams will hurt GWS in their already-shaky defence, but Randall and Privitelli are both defenders themselves. Eva adds some serious class to the Giants’ midfield, and Boyd is a ruck/forward who probably comes in to support McKinnon.

Their most unexpected non-signings are two AFL Canberra players, Queanbeyan’s Ella Ross and Riverina’s Clare Lawton, who both played every game at GWS. Lawton is likely on the outer due to the signing of Boyd, but look for both as redraft chances later in the year.

NSW/ACT is as a draft pool is difficult to read from Under-18s results this year – they matched it with the historically stronger Queensland side, going down by just 3. They then lost by 87 points to WA, which is hard to triangulate because Queensland then went on to beat WA in what was, on past results, an upset.

Adelaide couldn’t retain former marquee Kellie Gibson who wanted a return to Western Australia. There has been speculation that Gibson was told that she would move down the pay tiers, but her status as an unrestricted free agent indicates that she wasn’t offered a contract – in line with the Fremantle statement on her signing. As Gibson moved via free agency Adelaide received nothing in return for her loss, presumably because nobody wanted to move slightly east. A trade of picks would have been useless for both teams, due to the state pool draft restrictions.

Gibson aside, their interstate players have all settled in to play in the local comp over the winter and not returned home. Adelaide have therefore taken quite a minimalist approach to the sign and trade period, content to retain players. There is really not much to say about them. The most notable delisting is the behelmeted Heather Anderson, who was badly injured in the Grand Final and if fit will surely be redrafted.

South Australia have also had a couple of stronger under-18 classes in recent years. They currently sit undefeated with two massive wins in the 2017 u18 competition – albeit against weaker competition in Tasmania and the NT (the three teams will form “the Allies” in round 2 matches). As such, the Crows might find enough to replenish their list without looking interstate again.

Fremantle were also minimal participants in the player exchange, content to bring home a couple of big names via free agency. Despite their lack of movement, the Dockers may end up the biggest winners of the entire period. For a club who turned out to be unexpectedly hampered by the loss of the cream of WA’s talent pool, getting back Gibson and Williams is an unalloyed win. Fremantle now have three of the original marquees, having also retained Kiera Bowers who missed the season with an ACL injury. They also now have three priority pick level players from last year, retaining Antonio and Bentley as well as adding Williams.

The Dockers have left a couple of notable players on the table, including midfielder Demi Okely, rebounding defender Akec Chuot and the hard-tackling netball convert top-up in Alicia Janz. We’re more or less assuming the Dockers will look to draft these players if better local options don’t present themselves, but if another club can convince them to relocate, they could enter a different draft pool instead.

WA can probably also be assumed to be producing good under-18s talent, and will no doubt be adding several players this way. So far this year they have had a big win against NSW/ACT and a slightly surprising loss to Queensland.

For Brisbane, they retained their possible flight risks (especially marquee West Australian Sabrina Frederick-Traub) and their main involvement was trying to extract fair return for Tayla Harris. We’ll discuss them when we discuss that trade as a whole were made.

Like South Australia, Queensland sit undefeated in the under-18 competition, but they did it against much stronger opposition, knocking off perennial favourite WA by 10 points. Brisbane will expect to do well as well as anyone out of the upcoming draft.

Trades are for Victorians

Five trades were completed during the exchange period, all unsurprisingly involving Victorian clubs for whom the fungible currency of trade week – draft picks – actually have meaning. However, the four clubs took differing strategies during the week, with Collingwood and to a lesser extent the Dogs trading into the draft whilst Carlton traded out of it and Melbourne focused on player swaps.

We’ve translated the pick trades below into the position they ended up sitting within Victoria, as those will be the competitive element of the draft:

Trade2

These two trades between GWS and the Dees collectively sent two fringe Melbourne players to GWS in exchange for Guest and a pick that entitles the Dees to the 18th selection within Victoria. Compared to the other moves this is a relatively late pick, and will be the Demons last active pick – and a upgrade of two spots on pick 20.

Pepa Randall was the 16th draft pick for Melbourne, or the 19th player into their list overall. She is only 21 and didn’t manage a game for the Dees in 2017. At VFLW level she has proven to be an effective small forward who has a sense for the goals, but Giants sources call her a key defender. Boyd is a tall who rucks and plays forward. She played every game for the Dees, but as a secondary ruck behind Lauren Pearce and as a forward who didn’t get on the scoreboard at all.

Ashleigh Guest deliberately moved to the Giants this year, nominating for the NSW draft pool. She told an interviewing charity last year “I moved to Sydney from Melbourne in November to put myself out of my comfort zone”. She has apparently decided to move back into her comfort zone and should plug into the Dees midfield.

trade1

Nicola Stevens won Collingwood‘s best and fairest in a pretty disappointing year for them. Carlton gave up three picks for Stevens – more or less trading out of the draft and demonstrating how highly they value her (or how lowly they value draft access).

Collingwood’s balance within this trade is probably best assessed in conjunction with the following movement.

trade3

Overall the Magpies lose the two players their coaches rated as their best at their awards night – Stevens and Eva. In return they obtain Lambert, who will be potentially one of their best. She was the Dogs’ first draft pick (4th onto the list) and came 7th in the Dogs best and fairest while missing one game and otherwise struggling with a difficult hip injury.

Collingwood emerge from the exchange period down a top established top player on balance, and instead have an extra pick inside the first eight Victorian picks in order to replace the shortfall:

Pies balance.PNG

We don’t have a valuation points system suitable to the AFL Women’s Draft at this stage but this move basically represents the addition of another high pick and improvements in position. If we assume Lambert can recover from her injury and be roughly like-for-like for Eva, then the Pies should do well, giving themselves an extra shot at securing a replacement for Stevens from the top of the draft. Collingwood had one of the oldest lists in 2017 so this move may be looking to position themselves for the future for  We’ll talk more about the draft below.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, used this trade to maintain their position at the top of the Victorian draft and improve the position of their second pick. The pick 3 they gave Collingwood was the first Victorian pick, but the GWS pick 1 they gained now becomes the new top competitive pick. A shrewd move.

trade4

The core of this trade was Brisbane walking the tightrope of trying to get players for Harris without letting her walk and leave them with worthless draft picks via the system of discretionary free agency compensation. They’ve done quite well here, all things considered. Exon was technically a rookie due to her split involvement in athletics and VPL soccer, but she won a VFLW premiership last year before the Blues signed her as a rookie, an odd quirk of the foundation AFLW signing system. Exon ended up one of Carlton’s midfield run and gun players.

The other player traded in was Bella Ayre, who juggled year 12 and a two hour commute each way to training, leaving school at 3:30 and getting home from training at midnight. On paper Ayre is a slight downgrade forward option on Harris, but she starred in a couple of games last year and should allow the Lions’ forward setup to remain basically unchanged.

The Dees shed Deanna Berry to the Bulldogs but obtained Bianca Jakobsson in exchange. They were both mostly forwards, but as with many players, various sources insist they are versatile. Of the two, Jakobsson is a truer tall target, finishing in the top 10 in the AFLW for contested marks and marks inside 50. However, Berry is four years younger than Jakobsson, and might have more room to grow in her game.

This is probably an upgrade for the Dees in terms of their prospects next year, as Jakobsson plays tall. The Dees were relatively average in this area last year – 5th for contested marks per game, 3rd for marks inside 50.

For the Bulldogs, through either style or personnel reasons, they weren’t a great marking side last year. The loss of Berry won’t impact them that much on that front, and they indirectly benefit from Melbourne obtaining Jakobsson here. Melbourne left Jessica Anderson – another full-forward – unsigned. She had only kicked 1 goal and took 7 marks in her 5 games, and on statistical output Jakobsson is a clear upgrade. However, the Bulldogs may find use for Anderson if they want to add another tall to support Brennan, having obtained most of their goals last year from midfielders such as Blackburn, the now departed Lambert, and Lamb.

The Blues surprised us this season with a relatively unheralded group (for a Victorian team) in terms of previously established talent – we noted they had the least elite talent in terms of all-star honours. They then proceeded to embarrass us and other pundits with an organised game based around a small core of top talent supported by the players they pulled from the draft.

They have now taken the exact opposite approach this year after drafting successfully – removing themselves from the draft to an extent, and trading aggressively to secure two gun players:

carlton balance.PNG

Carlton did secure their prize in Tayla Harris, as well as the Collingwood B&F in Stevens earlier in the trade period, but have given up plenty in order to do it – three best-16 players and multiple early draft picks.

Who “won” trade period?

The question of which are the right moves move probably hinges on whether this upcoming draft is a mature one useful for building a long term future. Much of the eventual success and evaluation of this trade period will come with the announcement of the player retention rules with respect to the expansion of the AFLW in 2019.

We can conceive of the Collingwood/Bulldogs and Carlton/Melbourne trade periods as (perhaps by necessity) taking opposite bets on the state of the upcoming draft. The Dees were content to take their picks and gain one mid-range new pick, while Carlton left themselves with just one pick from the first 15 Victorian selections – pick 12 overall, or number 7 in Victoria.

The Bulldogs have three selections before Carlton’s first pick, and one a little after it. Collingwood have two picks before Carlton’s first, and then three more soon after. In both quality and quantity terms, the two clubs are positioned aggressively for this draft.

vicdraft.PNG

What sort of draft will it be? Last year’s draft was establishing the competition, and presumably collected all of the key established talent of all ages. So the question is whether the incoming young cohort who were too young or undeveloped last year are of sufficient number and quality to provide the multiple elite players needed to justify the bet on the draft.

Damien Keeping at Carlton and Wayne Siekman at Collingwood both have recent experience in Victorian women’s football development. Keeping and Siekman were both in the Vic Metro Youth Girls setup last year. This makes the contrasting positions they’ve taken is especially intriguing in terms of how they might rate the talent pools with which they should be quite familiar.

Check back in five or so years to see who was right.

What about cross-code rookies?

This coming season, rookie listed players will only be able to play if upgraded for an injured player like in the men’s game. This suggests we may not see the same volume of cross-code converts making headlines in future. We’re not sure if clubs will, or can, leave primary list spaces vacant for rookie upgrades.

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In 2017, nine rookies out of the sixteen played a game, a total of 58%. This was a pretty good strike rate, and a number of players had a real impact. Some of these players had football experience, such as Exon who had played other sports (Victorian Premier League soccer) but also had a football background. Exon won a flag with Darebin before being recruited by Carlton.

Others brought over a generalised athletic skillset that worked in transfer, such as Catherine Phillips (ultimate Frisbee) and Ellie Brush (W-League). Erin Phillips of course, came in as a rookie and combined both a childhood footy background and being an experienced, world class athlete and won the league Best and Fairest.

If we’re looking for players likely to bring similar attributes to the successful rookies, those who might be likely to have an impact if upgraded, we’d nominate Georgie Parker at Collingwood from the small group of announcements. She’s an Olympic level hockey player, an elite standard of athlete, so could be expected to contribute if given the chance. There may also be more signings to come of players with actual football experience – so far only six of a potential 24 rookies have been signed.

However, overall, we should expect to see the cross-code transfer rookie signing reduce in significance with the new list rules.

What do we really know about Port Adelaide?

As the bye rounds get underway, our ratings system based on forward, defensive and midfield strength continues to settle into seeing a top three teams and then a large middle class.

Round 10 ratingsAlongside the ladder’s top two of Adelaide and GWS we also see Port Adelaide defying their eighth ladder position by sitting second overall in strength rating. The most obvious point here is they’re a game behind everyone else – win that (by enacting revenge on The Bye, perhaps) and they’re 4th.

We’ve talked before about Port’s midfield and defensive strength, this week we want to focus on the widespread analytical unanimity regarding them. Our high rating is interesting because we’ve come up with a similarly high rating of Port Adelaide to a number of other amateur analysts taking different approaches. The Arc has them 4th in its Elo system, Footymaths has them 3rd, Troy Wheatley’s power rankings has them third. Adrian Polykandrites has them 3rd in a subjective power ranking. Tony Corke has them with the second highest expected win percentage.

Why the agreement? Port have mostly done two things this year – destroyed lowly sides by extravagant margins, and put in competitive losing efforts against other contenders.

Their worst performance of the year, the loss to West Coast, still looks pretty good from most non-score based metrics and was probably best seen as a confounding tactical win for the Eagles rather than a lasting indictment on Port’s quality. Other than that, the Ls have been respectable losses to the top two sides and almost rolling Geelong on their absurd home deck.

The interesting thing, though, is the footy world doesn’t yet have much a track record for Port against teams in the vast middle tier of either the ladder or strength rankings. They have beaten the four current bottom sides and a 7th-placed Fremantle with a giant asterisk hovering over them. They’ve lost to the top three sides and then to 6th-placed West Coast in a truly weird game.

The Eagles and Dockers are the only teams they’ve played who are sitting anywhere between top-4 lock and likely non-finalist. Can Port lock up the expected wins against the league’s middle class? All our analytical signs, and those of others, seem to point to “yes”, but it really remains to be seen.

This week, it’s all downside for them – anything other than a big win over a 2017 struggler in Hawthorn will downgrade their ratings, and another dominant effort would just be more of the same. Fixtures can be weird that way.

Plotting the team strengths

The table of strength ratings we show above can also be presented in a graphical format, combining any two of the strengths to characterise the teams in different dimensions. Below are several charts plotting teams relative to the league average. In each case, you want your team to be in the top right quadrant.

A general bit of context: Most premiership teams sit in the top right quadrant (ie, above average on all measures), mostly above 105% on each. The main exceptions have been the 2016 Bulldogs and the 2005 Swans who both had slightly below average offensive strength.

Round 10 offmid

Adelaide and GWS are the main powerhouses in the midfield+forward dimension. They both generate a predominance of inside-50s, and then use them with above average efficiency once inside. A number of sides such as the Bulldogs, Collingwood and Richmond clearly show their main flaw on this graph – butchering their plentiful inside-50 forays.

Brisbane are highlighted here as being non-terrible once they actually get forward. Zorko, Hipwood, Robinson, Beams and Schache have all averaged a goal a game when they’ve played and collectively done enough to pose an average level of forward threat.

Round 10 defmid

There’s Port Adelaide, using the combination of inside-50 predominance and a stingy defence on the relatively rate occasions they concede as their main path to victory. Richmond look the same but to a lesser extent. Essendon are highlighted as a team which defends pretty well – and they have to, as their midfield is providing no assistance. Brisbane are Brisbane.

The other fourteen teams seem to cluster rather tightly here, in stark contrast to 2016 when Sydney were historically good defensively decent on the midfield axis, with more sides trailimh off towards current Brisbane territory of defending poorly but getting hammered even worse between the arcs.

Within the cluster, West Coast stand out as a team who look poor in the midfield and average in defense, but in spite of these measures but are still firmly in finalist range.

Round 10 defoff

This third plot ignores the midfield and just focuses on what happens within the 50-metre arcs. Teams that look really strong at both ends of the ground are Essendon and Adelaide and to a lesser extent, GWS and West Coast. The key difference between the four sides is of course how well their midfield power protects and provides opportunity at the two ends.

Note that “midfield” here refers to everything between the arcs – midfield strength by inside-50 is a measure of the whole team’s power between the arcs. Adelaide and GWS’ much vaunted half backs contribute to the midfield just as much as the “true” midfields.

At the other side of the line, we see a stack of sides who look below average at both ends of the park. Collingwood, Carlton, Fremantle, St Kilda, Hawthorn and Gold Coast all, relatively speaking, leave a lot of work to be done by players in the middle of the field.

Finally, Richmond and the Bulldogs almost stand alone as being effective in defence and pretty dysfunctional up forward.

The Race for the Eight is tightening up, and the Dogs are on a surge

Over the last 7 weeks HPN has been tracking the fortunes of teams using our Team Ratings, and some early trends appear to be emerging. But before we get to them, lets look at how the ratings sit after 9 weeks of footy:

Round 9 ratings

For the second week in a row, Port Adelaide hold the top spot on the HPN Ratings, just a sliver ahead of cross-town rivals Adelaide. GWS sit on their own between the surging top two, and the cluster of 11 teams below. After their bad loss to Essendon, West Coast have lost a lot of ground, with their midfield rating a particular concern at this point of the season. While their much vaunted attack has largely lived up to expectations from the opportunities obtained, and their defence is performing above league average against the amount of ball they’ve had to defend, their midfield threatens to sink their hopes of playing in late September.

(Bear in mind of course that these are average measures, meaning both home and away games, and therefore can’t account for the weird space-time inversion that apparently befalls West Coast when they play in Melbourne.)

The Eagles currently sit in the bottom third of the league in their ratio of clearances to opponent clearances, and inside-50s to opponent inside-50s. Most of their companions in the lower range for these measures don’t look like finalists at this stage:

WCClearrd9

The addition of Sam Mitchell doesn’t seem to have helped in at least these measures of midfield ability. The West Coast will be hoping that the easy answer for their issues is that they are an away thing, but their average midfield output over the year (regardless of venue) hasn’t looked that good. There’s still plenty of time to go in the season, but the signs aren’t so good at this stage.

St Kilda also took a big step back last week after threatening to cement a spot in the top 8 of the HPN Ratings. Without Josh Bruce (who kicked 6 goals in the last 3 weeks prior to being dropped), St Kilda’s forward line seemed to lack in targets inside-50, and the Swans were able to reel in 18 marks inside 50 to the Saints’ 6 in perfect conditions.

Much has been made of Paddy McCartin’s development, or lack thereof, but McCartin is only barely 21 years old and is an undersized key forward. He was always unlikely to dominate in a game where Riewoldt and Membrey also had limited influence. Most KPFs take a little bit of time to get up to speed, and his form in the VFL has been very encouraging. Bruce is perhaps still the Saints’  better third option up forward right now, but McCartin’s time will very likely come.

On the flip side of the coin, Fremantle were the biggest movers up last week, beating a weakish Carlton after a slow start this week. The HPN Ratings are much more pessimistic on Fremantle than the AFL ladder, and intuitively we probably all understand that three wins by less than a goal leaves a club’s win-loss record flattering them a little. However, it is clear that they are on the way back up after a very poor 2016.

Form Guide rd9

Over the last seven weeks the Dockers are the biggest movers up our ratings, a touch ahead of the Bulldogs. It’s taken some time for the Fremantle’s new additions to fit into Ross Lyon’s system, but it appears they are loosely in the mix for the bottom end of the eight.

The other team mentioned above, the Bulldogs, are seemingly starting to hit some form. Last year the Bulldogs turned an okay season into a surprising premiership, and there was then much conjecture around which Bulldogs side would show up in 2017. For the first month the answer was neither, as the Dogs side out on the park looked like it would struggle to make the finals. However, over the last month or so the Dogs have settled as players have re-integrated into their best 22, and finals footy seems to be their destiny if the progress continues. And if the Bulldogs make the finals anything can happen, as last year shows.

Movement Graph.JPG

The two sides that have dropped the most are the Tigers and the Lions – and both are somewhat expected.

Richmond got off to the hottest of starts, with their defence a force of nature early on. Since then the Tigers have been merely good around the ground – still firmly in the mix for finals, but probably not the top two or perhaps even four. As per our earlier table, the Tigers struggle to win clearances – not a debilitating issue, but potentially a problem. The Richmond forward line has also shown that it hasn’t quite learned how to get their large amount of inside fifty entries to count on the scoreboard, with the forward line perhaps looking the most deadly when Martin (13 goals, 12 behinds, 10 assists, 53 inside-50s) floats up.

The Lions, by contrast, are pretty good with respect to winning clearances and pretty terrible at turning them into inside 50 entries. When they do get the ball up forward, Brisbane are less efficient that the average team in converting into points. The Lions are also terrible at stopping opponents from scoring from inside-50 opportunities, conceding at the highest rate per inside-50 entry of any team in the league. The Lions are young, and it might get better for them as the season progresses, but it doesn’t look good right now. It looks bad. Real bad.

The 2017 AFL season is really, really good, so why are we being distracted from it?

It may be a bold opening statement, but we will use it anyway: this early AFL season is the most compelling one that HPN can remember in our footy watching days. No side is invincible, no side utterly hopeless (Brisbane aren’t utterly hopeless).

The early season favourites in Adelaide were just convincingly beaten two weeks in a row by sides with gameplans to counter them but who may not make the finals. The presumptive pre-season premiership favourites (or PPPFs), GWS, have an injury list that stretches for days and are being exposed by other strong midfields.

Geelong are extraordinarily top-heavy with Dangerfield, Selwood and Duncan leading the way; Melbourne without Gawn are perhaps lacking in star power, with Cam Pedersen (?!?) currently one of their most important players. Sydney forgot how to play Australian Football for the first six weeks of the year and have maybe remembered too late. And who knows if the Bulldogs are any good? We sure don’t.

On an individual basis, we are seeing the rare resurgence of an injured star over 30 (Ablett), and the emergence from the clouds of a young player as perhaps the best in the league through two months (Sloane). The spread and depth of talent across the league is impressive right now, and with much of that talent being young it will only keep moving this way.

This season has shown that any team can beat any other, and the race for the finals is truly up in the air.

The HPN Ratings for the week reflect this.

Round 8 ratings

Port Adelaide have leapfrogged their local rival into first in the rankings, driven by their stellar midfield and inexplicably stingy defence. Port’s midfield is particularly well rounded, with the inside grunt provided by Wines, Ebert and Powell-Pepper tempered by the run and creativity of Wingard, Wines, Gray and Polec. Ryder and Trengove have proven to be a ruck combination that provides more value around the ground than any potential losses in raw hitouts, and they never fail to provide a solid contest under the ball.

Melbourne’s impressive win over Adelaide vaulted them up the standings, with the Demons looking remarkably well balanced through the eight weeks to date. The issue for the Dees remains consistency of effort from week to week, and the ability to cover for significant outs, such as Hogan and Gawn.

At the other end of the scale, North Melbourne looked very ordinary last week in backing up from their own win over the Crows. North is a relatively unknown quantity in 2017, with their best performances (such as in the GWS and Adelaide games) worlds away from their worst. They aren’t totally out of finals contention yet, but a loss this week to Melbourne will severely dent their hopes.

However, none of these things have been the major AFL media topics this week.


 

Distraction is a critical part of any PR armoury – using a thought provoking issue or proposal to distract away from any bad news. The NRL has State Of Origin for built into their schedule pretty much for this reason.

The AFL has been conditioned to handling near-permanent bad news stories since 2013, with the Essendon/ASADA scandal sucking up a massive amount of oxygen from the media and general footballing public. It’s easy to see how distraction, at least on a temporary basis, has formed a critical part of the AFL’s thinking.

The move to a 7-day-a-week, 50-ish-weeks-a-year media cycle hasn’t helped, with the easy distraction of “footy on the weekend” only covering a bit over half of that timeframe. As such, the AFL have become adept at tossing out hypothetical ideas for the public to discuss, helping to retain interest and to distract from negative off-field events. They’re also good at dropping bad news at the end of a given cycle, after newspaper and TV news deadlines. This isn’t uniquely mischievous – just smart media gatekeeping by a huge and powerful organisation.

And in an extremely critical reading of the week’s events, that’s what the AFL has attempted here. Last weekend former number 2 draft pick and injured but currently listed Fremantle player Harley Bennell wandered onto a field of his reserves team to talk to his cousin, and was promptly removed by club staff. This event came about a month after his refusal by airline staff to board a flight due to perceived drunkenness.

This, by most standards, is a “negative issue” and could therefore benefit from a reset of the media narrative, along with the racist “banter” on “The Bounce“. What the AFL appears to have done is to reset the narrative using their “off-season” playbook by floating thought bubbles, and not using their “mid-season” one which generally involves returning to focus on footy. These really should be two separate ways of handling PR issues.

The floating of stupid fixturing ideas – and to repeat, they are stupid ideas, and we will discuss in more depth in coming weeks why they are so very stupid – has almost completely removed any focus on Bennell or Danny Frawley, but also almost any other football issue including the week of footy ahead.

(Incidentally, you’re never going to make the fixture fair until there’s four more teams or a shorter season, but more on that another day.)

According to Matt Cowgill at ESPN (and The Arc) eleven sides have at least a one-in-four shot at finals footy, with only one sitting in a near-hopeless position. Even Carlton, should they upend Fremantle and North, will have about a 15% chance of September action. No team should feel secure right now, and no fan really has an excuse to not watch the weekend ahead.

The AFL should focus on getting that message out instead.