Round 14 AFL ratings – the normalising

This round the only movement in the overall rankings was Collingwood jumping Fremantle. The nature of rating entire seasons is that movement tends to settle down towards the end of the year with weight of information already collected. By round 23, the expected movements should be small as the week will contribute just 4.5% of the total sample.

After round 11 we took a look at recent form, especially line-by-line form, over shorter periods of time. Starting after the byes, we plan to look more closely at these shorter periods to identify trends that will be slower to show up in the overall ratings tables.


Geelong’s loss to St Kilda and Adelaide’s defeat of North Melbourne also saw rating movements this week. In particular, Geelong’s midfield score took a hit after St Kilda, a team rated for the season as below average in the area, beat them on inside-50s.


Finally, a look at the state of opponent adjustment. By this stage of the year most teams’ set of opponents starts to look pretty similar so the adjustments start to become similarly small. While much is written about the inequality of the AFL draw, HPN has found that the AFL has a pretty fair draw. We still see the Crows and Giants as having had relatively hard schedules so far, but the difference is now quite small. At the other end, Richmond and Melbourne look like they’ve had relatively easy runs – relative being the operative word here.

opponents r14


Continuity without change (and a round 14 preview)

Continuity is always key

A common football truism is that a stable team does better than a chaotic one. But does this hold true when looking at actual results?


HPN has looked at the number of players that missed less than two players across the last three years (2014 to 2016) for each team and their final ladder position. There clearly appears to be a trend, namely that teams at the top end of the ladder have a more consistent best 22 than those at the bottom end.

2014 continuity2015 continuity

Continuity appears to be critical for two reasons on face value. Firstly, a team that plays regularly together is likely to be it’s best talent, with fewer fringe players rotating through the team. In this sense, this data would indicate that injuries, suspension and form issues seem to hit top sides significantly less than the also-rans.

Secondly, it would indicate that teams that get the opportunity to play together regularly build the (at least to our knowledge) immeasurable force that is cohesion. Cohesion is often cited when a champion team plays well, or lack thereof when a young team plays poorly. In a practical sense, this would occur not only when players learn how to play their role in a particular strategic system, but also when they know how to play the role in conjunction with their specific teammates.

In 2016, the continuity index largely apes the ladder again:

2016 continuity

These numbers will likely fall for every team through the rest of the season, however a clear pattern does emerge. Seven of the top eight teams on the ladder are represented in the top eight teams above, with only the Bulldogs sliding down the list. It is worth noting, however, that the Dogs have the third largest contingent of players yet to miss a game.

Round 14 preview

  1. Will Heath Shaw keep playing like it’s the 1970s?

As much as some like to dispute it, football is an ever-evolving game. In the 70s, it was typified by movement by foot against that by hand, with players such as Kevin Bartlett synonymous with this style of football.

Heath Shaw is a glorious call-back to this era:

2016 kicks v handball

Shaw can handball – we’ve seen it with our collective four eyes. But he chooses a stylistic dedication to the past instead (or is just better with his feet than almost any other player going around).

At the other end of the spectrum are a cacophony of ruckmen and inside mids:

2016 kicks v handball END

Headlined by fellow GWS veteran Shane Mumford. It’s good to know that they have their roles sorted out at the Giants.

2. Richmond might get a trillion marks in the forward 50 this week

OK, that might be an exaggeration – but not as much as you think. Richmond, the number one side for marks inside 50 per entry, is facing off against Brisbane, who sit stone-motherless-last for marks conceded per I50 entry.

r14 I50

If Brisbane are to win this week they need to play better defence than they have at any point this year.

3. Is it better to play or rest?

This round matches the teams who had the bye last week against those who played last week, and serves a example of the haves against the have nots. Last night North looked like a team that could have used a break, and Adelaide ran away with a massive surge in the second half of the last quarter. It looked like the Roos literally ran out of legs.

For the remaining five games, the bye team is favourite in just one game (Richmond v Brisbane) and with the odds tied in for Fremantle v Collingwood. If there’s any substance to the restorative powers of a week off then expect Carlton, Collingwood, Richmond, St Kilda and the Gold Coast to outperform expectations and sneak a win or two.

A Way-Too-Early 2017 AFL National Women’s League Power Ranking

Last week we threw together what we know about the AFL National Women’s League, now we’re going to look at what team strengths might look like.

A lot of unknowns remain about marquee recruitment and state drafts, but we can make some general inferences using the recent indicative strength of the state squads and the origins of elite players. Our main reference for results will be the 2013 National Championships, as well as 2015 representative fixtures and the 2016 Exhibition Series. We’ll also look at the pool of players selected for the most recent all-star games which breaks down like this:


Note that we have only done limited research on current Victoria-registered players who might be from other states originally, but some who relocated to Victoria for development opportunities may move back home to play now.

On first glance using what’s available, we think a power ranking for the NWL should look something like this:

1 – Fremantle

2 – Brisbane

3/4 – Melbourne/Bulldogs

5/6 – Collingwood/ Carlton

7/8 – GWS/Adelaide

Fremantle (1)

Underlying state strength and recent results suggest that a team made up of the best Western Australians should start out at the top of the power rankings as they’re likely to be stronger than any quarter-Victorian side built by roughly equitable means.

Using the 2015 all-star exhibition team squads (Demons and Bulldogs), we can say over a third (15/46) of that talent is are Western Australian. Even at the very top end, eight of the most elite 24 players selected were Western Australian – Chelsea Randall, Kara Donnellan, Kirby Bentley, Emma King, Kiara Bowers, Kellie Gibson, Emma Swanson, Renee Forth and Hayley Miller. All except Bentley played in Western Australian teams during the 2016 Exhibition Series and would surely be the first targets for the Dockers.

This strength is, of course, contingent on WA keeping enough of their best players away from eastern states who will surely be eager to lure them away.

Western Australia is the second strongest state for women’s football but remains well behind Victoria. At the 2013 championships, Victoria defeated Western Australia by 90-32 initially and then by 50-13 in the final, while the West Aussies outclassed third-placed Queensland 82-23.

More pertinently to this ranking, Western Australian sides have results against half-strength Victorian sides. In this year’s exhibition series, Western Australia ran a Western Bulldogs side representing half the Victorian pool to within 13 points and in 2015, Western Australia kicked straighter to defeat a Victorian side 52-48. That side was called Victoria 1 and would have been stronger than half-strength because Victoria 2 played the weaker NSW that day and easily won.

This all suggests that if Fremantle can retain a critical mass of WA’s strongest players, they should enter 2017 as favourites against a Victorian talent pool split four ways rather than two.

If enough of those players get lured to play for other sides, Fremantle could find themselves pulled back into the pack. For now the Dockers look potentially dominant. Fremantle have a stated aim of playing an entirely Western Australian team, which is an obvious move in their position. It will be interesting to see the extent to which they manage to retain everyone they want. We’d call Chelsea Randall, one of the highest rated in 2015 (retained by the Demons before the draft) and currently employed managing football in the Pilbara very likely to be selected as a marquee player. We haven’t seen much regarding the plans of the others, though most seem to be based in the WAWFL league right now. Seven of last year’s 46 elite players were from the Coastal Titans alone.

If Fremantle do turn out to be very strong this year, look for rejected bidders West Coast to be added to the mix very quickly if only for equalisation reasons.

Brisbane (2)

It might be a bit of a leap to rate Brisbane in second, even this far out, but the divide of Victorian talent and the growing strength of the Queensland game put the Lions in the mix.

In practice we think Brisbane will probably finish amongst the Victorian teams, as a couple of the Victorian squads might end up more stacked than others. This ranking is also based on the assumption that Brisbane can assemble nearly all of their own state’s best talent.

Queensland is clearly the third strongest state in women’s football, but the question is how far adrift they are of the big two. At representative level they generally beat NSW/ACT sides (75-28 in 2015) and consistently lose to WA and Victorian sides (although the 2016 under 18s side only lost to WA by 1 point, which suggests strong development coming through).

Queensland have a fair contingent of very talented players, including a couple of rising stars. Judging by the 2015 all-star player pool, Queensland had seven of the best 46 players in the country. Victorians make up 20 of that group (roughly five per AFLNWL side), placing the Lions slightly ahead with respect to elite talent. HPN has included Katie Brennan, now Victoria-based, in these numbers as even though she relocated to play at a higher level as an 18-year-old and is hoping to stay at the Bulldogs, she must at least be open to returning home if made the right offer.

The Queensland group includes Melbourne’s former second-picked Tayla Harris who is already working at Brisbane, and the game’s number one ruckman Aasta O’Connor and first picked former Bulldog. They will also have Craig Starcevich, one of the game’s best coaches right now. Harris and O’Connor might be enough to drag the Lions to the top rungs of the ladder on their own, and both will only get better with time. Brennan would strengthen them further. There may be a real dilemma for Brisbane as to the choice between O’Connor and Brennan (if interested) as the second marquee on their submitted list, as the one they they place third they may lose to another club.

In addition, Emma Zielke was drafted 7th (effectively rated 19th overall) in 2015 and already works at the Gabba as a ground manager. The other elite players are Leah Kaslar, a lockdown defender, Emily Bates, a midfielder or halfback flanker, and Jordan Zanchetta, a midfielder. This seven would therefore be well spread by position, potentially providing balance to the team.

The integration into senior ranks of players from a fairly strong under-18s side (about equal with WA and Vic Country in 2016) should also help with depth. The Lions also stand to have one of the most significant home ground advantages, given the heat and humidity of Brisbane in the summer.

In terms of results, in the 2016 Exhibition Series the Queensland side (representing the Lions) were chosen along with WA to play a half-Victorian team. The Lions, with only three of this seven (Zielke, Bates and Kaslar) lost to the double-strength Demons side 91-20, after all the damage was done early. Against a team half as strong as this, with all their potential stars, coached by Starcevich, and played in the QLD summer heat? We’d expect the Lions to do a lot better.

Melbourne and Western Bulldogs (3 and 4)

This far out, it is very hard to determine the relative strengths of the four Victorian sides. We’ve ranked Melbourne and the Bulldogs higher due to the fact that they have an existing football setup and links to top players, which likely gives them an early advantage. Of the 6 pre-listed and first 6 draft picks at each of the Demons and Bulldogs 2015 all-star teams, both currently look like retaining four or five depending on those interstate prospects.

We rank Melbourne slightly higher than the Bulldogs as they have Daisy Pearce (the premiere player in the women’s game) and Michelle Cowan (the pre-eminent coach) on their full-time payroll at the club, likely locking them both into the inaugural season.

However, the Demons have lost one of their first-picked, Queenslander Tayla Harris, to the Lions, amongst other former interstate stars. The Demons had six highly rated Western Australians last year, and will surely hope to entice a couple of those to remain at the club.

The Dogs are losing their highly-rated coach (Craig Starcevich) back to Queensland where he was working as high performance manager for the Queensland Women’s team and will now coach basically that same group at the Lions. That loss may bring a touch of uncertainty to the Bulldogs.

Furthermore, the Dogs have also likely lost Meg Hutchins to Collingwood, as she has been appointed as their full-time Women’s Football Operations Manager, and Darcy Vescio has been strongly linked to Carlton. The Dogs may also struggle to retain Queensland ruck Aasta O’Connor who was one of their first picked last time around.

Katie Brennan, who kicked 4 of their 5 goals in game 2 in 2015, has Queensland links but has some desire to stay at the Dogs. The Dogs will likely pencil in their captain Stephanie Chiocci as a marquee, and presumably look to use the other spot to retain Brennan as well. The Dogs may also struggle to keep Brianna Davey, a Matilda signed to Melbourne City (whose season overlaps with the NWL).

Collingwood and Carlton (5 and 6)

It is very hard to split these two as there is little information on either side as yet. Collingwood likely have Hutchins on board, and that might be enough to separate them this far out, although Carlton are strongly linked to Darcy Vescio who appeared at their launch and is employed at the club as their graphic designer. However we think both sides are still likely to be stronger than the two interstate sides discussed below. Sportsbet is offering $6.00 on Collingwood winning the title but $9.00 for Carlton. This would have to be based on the recruitment of Hutchins (a Big V stalwart) or even on the names of the clubs.

We think they’ll start off a little behind Melbourne and the Bulldogs (as do the bookies) just because they don’t have a pre-existing setup and most of the best Victorians have already played at the Bulldogs or Melbourne, giving those sides the inside running on year one.

GWS/Adelaide (7/8)

The last two sides are tricky to project because they will likely have a good selection of Victorian or WA marquee options to compensate for weaker local talent pools, especially if the AFL intervenes with a proactive competitive balancing agenda or with extra marquee slots.

On the face of it, these sides are made up of the “development” areas of the country. South Australian women’s representative football has been much weaker than in men’s footy where they are the second state of football. NSW/ACT women have much more relative strength than in the men’s game.

In terms of selection to the all-star women’s series of 2015, both NSW/ACT and South Australia had two players chosen; Danielle Goding and Courtney Cramey for SA and Heather Anderson and Jodi Hicks for NSW/ACT (from the ACT and Wagga respectively). These low figures may partly reflect availability issues or knowledge gaps in recruiters as well as talent levels, but it’s clear there’s less readily available talent in these parts of the country. Of the four, Anderson is perhaps the most credentialed, and an All Australian pick in 2013. However, it is worth noting that Goding was a high draft pick in 2015, taken at #2 after 12 others had been pre-listed.

GWS will have the pick of Canberra and NSW players. With the Sydney and Canberra/Riverina competions roughly equal in strength both should have a strong showing in the team.

On 2013 representative results, the GWS draft area bodes well for them against the Crows. In the 2013 championships, NSW were the bottom Division One side (i.e. ranked 4th), while the ACT defeated SA for the Division 2 title. At under 18s level this year, NSW beat SA 72-7 but last year South Australia won easily, which also suggests uneven talent from year to year.

It appears that South Australia has closed the gap with NSW/ACT noe hi VJ. The exhibition game this year between the future cores of the Crows and Giants at Adelaide Oval went down to the wire, with a kick on the siren giving SA the win against an inaccurate NSW/ACT. That suggests significant development has occurred at the top end of SA women’s football since 2013, and that they should at least be competitive with the NSW/ACT-based Giants next year.

NT players will be available to the Crows and we don’t know how much that will add in strength. NT results suggest they’re either a bit weaker than South Australia, or much much weaker than them or NSW/ACT.

GWS was originally to have access to Tasmanian players in their state draft, but this has since been rescinded in favour of funded relocation to any state.

These are both development states and their two local teams should be the weakest two teams without heavy recruitment beyond their borders, or a miraculous training and coaching impact.

If at gunpoint we had to pick a 7th and an 8th, we think overall NSW and ACT have usually had the greater strength over recent years and that the Giants might still have the edge over the Crows in year one for that reason. That’s admittedly in spite of this year’s closer representative result, and the wildcsrd of the addition of a few NT players.

A lot really may come down to what players each club secure from stronger states.

Post round 13 team ratings – just because you don’t play doesn’t mean the ratings stay the same

Geelong are once again on top of our team ratings thanks to a strong performance over the Bulldogs. Also contributing was a pretty poor effort by GWS against a very spirited Essendon. That game may have denied us the sort of hilarious record-breaking scores we were predicting last week, but instead it gave us a pretty cracking contest.


Melbourne and Port Adelaide both drift further back from the top 8 in strength ratings as their respective losses were widely stated to have just about sealed up the top 8’s members for the year. To see those ladder probabilities visualised, we highly recommend the FootyMaths Institute’s SWARMS system which has been calling the end of hope for both sides for weeks now.

Meanwhile the Dockers have won three in a row and now look like they’re playing up to the level we’ve been rating them at for most of the year, ie better than at least four or five other sides.

Sydney’s defence rating continues to build after a conditions-aided shutdown of Melbourne in the slop. Defensive ratings tell us how good a team is at preventing inside-50s from becoming scores, and the ratings continue to tell us that the current edition of the Swans has been better at this relative to the competition than every past defensive giant of the modern era. Some of that is aided by having played four games in heavy rain but that isn’t the whole picture as they’ve done similar things to a number of teams in the dry as well. The worry for the Swans continues to be their inefficiency in their own 50 metre arc which is slipping below that of any recent past premier.

The other thing to note here is small movements in ratings by teams who had the bye, thanks to re-estimation of the opponents they’ve played so far. The movements aren’t large but they reflect that we’re still weighting these ratings by how strong the opposing offensive/defensive/midfield lines of each opponent set has been.

Here’s the full set of tables:


Finally, here’s another check in with the plots of these ratings. The upper right quadrant is teams that are above average on both measures depicted:


So Eddie, When Does A Pattern Form?

This column wouldn’t have been written if not for the hard work of the Outer Sanctum podcast, Josh Pinn, Footy Maths Institute, Andy Maher and Erin Riley. Their work has been invaluable and they get all the credit for bringing this whole episode onto the footy world’s agenda. If you’re looking for another offbeat stats piece, this is the wrong article.

Back in May 1993 the then Collingwood President Allan McAlister was quoted as saying of Indigenous footballers:

“As long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect … As long as they conduct themselves like human beings, they will be all right. That’s the key.”

McAlister had been long outspoken to that point, but this was then (as it is now) a totally repugnant thing for most football fans to hear. The AFL responded by nearly immediately introducing an education campaign targeted at stamping out racism in the game, but didn’t bring any further action against McAlister. It couldn’t. It didn’t have the ability to do so at that point. Rule 35, the rule against racial vilification, was still two years away, introduced in response to the Monkhorst-Long incident.

It is interesting, and appropriate, to note that only one club president has been charged to date under Rule 35: Eddie McGuire.

The prevailing narrative over the years has Eddie McGuire as the champion of two things: “cheeky banter” and “gaffes”.

When is “banter” and “gaffes” more than that though? When does it separate from one or two public misstatements, or documented occurrences of abuse and become a pattern?

The Herald Sun in 2013 laid out a series of McGuire’s “gaffes”; by no means comprehensive but illustrative nonetheless. In it, you’ve got sexism (Jessica Rowe), homophobia (Johnny Weir), racism (Adam Goodes) and threats to livelihoods (Tony Sheahan). This is just one source, and omits the Heritier Lumumba homophobia scandal at the Pies in 2013 (that likely led to him leaving the club) and his conduct while head of Channel 9 (as outlined in Gerald Stone’s Who Killed Channel 9), amongst several others.

Once or twice might be considered a “gaffe”. When you repeatedly do and say offensive things, it becomes a pattern of behaviour. A potentially harmful one. Various outlets calling McGuire’s various offensive episodes “gaffes” significantly downplay his impact and influence of his voice in footy and in Australian society. He helps set a tone, he wields power.

To blithely defend what McGuire said as “just a joke” is to echo the exact insensitivity and self-centred disregard for impact on others that any number of violence against women campaigns seek to stamp out. We should all understand by now that it doesn’t matter if something is a “joke”; words have weight and even mere “jokes” carry important meaning to others. Such “jokes” make many who are well familiar with the fear and impact of gender violence feel attacked and degraded and even unsafe. They certainly don’t contribute to the inclusive atmosphere that footy claims to want.

Men who claim to be sensitive to the issues of violence and sexism need to understand that language helps create an atmosphere and a tone, and that it simply isn’t about how they themselves perceive something but how others receive it.

It is notable that this week the AFL signed up to the “Our Watch” campaign. The campaign is focused on sexist language, back-room talk and the normalising effect these things have in perpetuating a culture which makes it okay to disrespect and dehumanise. To wit:

“The most consistent predictor for support of violence by men is their agreement with sexist attitude. Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes. They excuse and perpetuate the gender stereotyping and discrimination against women that underpins violence.”

McGuire and his co-hosts not only engaged in an extended violently imagined rant against a woman they dislike, but McGuire used explicitly sexist language in the attack – using the term “black widow” to describe Wilson. He deliberately used this sexism to try to make more wounding his “joke” attack. The deployment of harmful stereotype as a verbal weapon against opponents is the very essence of the culture the AFL is committing to address, and has done since Rule 35 was introduced.

What compounds it is that in his attempted “clarification”, McGuire showed absolutely no understanding of the broader context of violent banter and sexist imagery. He continued to centre himself and his own understanding, insisting that it was “just a joke” and blaming others for misinterpreting. However, his message in that segment could not have been clearer.

McGuire has a pattern in this regard – when we look at the litany of incidents, with Rowe, with Goodes, with Weir and now with Wilson, all of his “apologies” centre himself as a wronged party. They barely acknowledge the deep hurt that words and jokes can cause, they place the burden of misunderstanding on others, and they focus first and foremost on  defending Brand Eddie, Broady boy and bringer of banter.

In the 1990s, McAlister was eventually challenged for the presidency of Collingwood, and in face of the challenge withdrew from the race. He had 10 years in the top job, and oversaw the Pies winning their first Premiership in three odd decades. McAlister’s last year in charge saw the Pies recruit and play their first known Indigenous player, Robbie AhMat.

The reasons for McAlister’s departure were many and varied, according to sources at the time. The club’s on-field decline didn’t help, and his “Maggieland” project can only be described as a failure. One item not mentioned in his departure was that quote from 1993. To his credit, McAlister attempted to make amends for his previous comments, and lead the drive to Indigenous recognition at Victoria Park. That doesn’t mitigate his comments.

Collingwood today is six years departed from its last flag, four from its last winning final and three from making the finals. The same pressure that was applied to McAlister in his final days must be mounting on McGuire now, even absent his penchant for terribly judged publicly broadcast “jokes” at the expense of others.

The president of a football club is expected to be its moral compass, its spokesperson and one of its key role models. The president should represent all of the members of their club, and make decisions on their behalf.

Collingwood have a great number of fans that disagreed with McAlister then, and who disagree with McGuire’s behaviour now. A proud club such as Collingwood deserves better than McGuire as their voice. Violence against women, homophobia and workplace bullying are not working class values, they’re not Collingwood values, and they’re not Australian values.

Eddie McGuire doesn’t deserve to be sacked for the club’s off-field performance; he deserves to be sacked because he openly does not represent the values of the Collingwood Football Club.

Round 13: The Opponent-Adjusted Coleman

Josh Jenkins is your opponent-adjusted Coleman leader

Never ones to miss a chance (justly and unjustly) to call Josh Kennedy a flat-track bully, we’ve taken a look at this season’s 15 leading goalkickers. We’ve looked at who they’ve kicked their goals against in order to see who’s really providing the most value to their teams:


The three measures we’ve made to adjust goal value are:

  • Goals scaled for opponent win-loss record – this weights each goal by how far above or below 0.500 each team is. Thus a goal v North Melbourne (who are 0.833) is worth an extra 33% and a goal against Brisbane or Essendon (who are 0.083) is worth 42% less than average.
  • Goals scaled for opponent points against. This adjusts each goal by how above-average or below-average each team’s defence has been this year. Thus a goal against the Bulldogs is worth 128% of average and against Brisbane is worth 73%.
  • How far from their season average the player is against top 8 sides. This is also roughly half the difference between goals per game against top 8 and against bottom 10 sides (but not exactly, unless they’ve played 6 against each group).

We then averaged together the percentage changes indicated to get an all-in change to make to each player’s goal tally, giving the following “opponent adjusted Coleman” race wherein Josh Jenkins has overtaken Franklin, Kennedy and Lynch among the top 15 goalkickers, due to the opponent-rated value of his goalkicking:


Note that all three of Adelaide’s big forwards have performed better against the top sides than against weaker sides on all three of these measures. The average is for a small decline, but those guys have bucked that trend to stand up especially well in tough games.

The Crows have a bye this week but we’re keen to see if they can continue this.

Essendon are bad in kind of a weird way

As discussed in our strength ratings this week, the Bombers rate as one of the worst teams in the last decade, as far adrift of the competition as Melbourne in 2013 or the first years of GWS. Yet despite this, they have a number of statistical attributes not usually associated with truly terrible teams or with most recent wooden spoon sides. In particular, they get their share of the ball. This is a table of Essendon compared to the wooden spoon sides on a number of basic statistical differentials since 2010:


Essendon are also ranked first for marks per game and second for disposals per game, but have also conceded the most marks and most disposals.

This discrepancy between getting their share of the ball and still usually losing by a lot as their opponents get the ball, may be reflective of the Bombers having about a third or half of an AFL-standard side, quite different from the usual mess of kids and future delistees that most wooden spoon teams tend to be carrying.

These numbers suggest a cautious playstyle that is possession-heavy but breaks down due to signficiant lack of quality.

What happens to really good offensive and defensive teams?

If you’ve been reading our weekly team ratings post you’ll have seen us commenting on how historically good the Adelaide offence has been in terms of converting inside-50s to scores, and how similarly historically good Sydney have been at stopping opponents scoring from inside-50s. This raises the question about whether past teams who have been so good in these areas have been successful.

Let’s look, then, at the 20 best records in offence and defence since 1998, including the opponent-adjusted records of 2016 teams:


More really good offensive sides have won premierships than really good defensive sides – 9 premiers and three runners up populate the 18 sides in the offensive list while 3 premiers and 5 runners-up appear in the defensive list. This partly reflects that, on average, the best offensive teams rate a bit better overall. Even within this cohort, what we are seeing from Adelaide is a rare spread of traits. The Crows’ degree of forward dominance without correspondingly very high midfield strength is really only matched by the 2004 Port Adelaide side among premiers, as well as 1998 North Melbourne and 2010 Geelong and the Crows themselves in 2012.

Among top defensive sides, Geelong in 2007 and Essendon in 2000 were just extremely dominant teams, period. That means that only Sydney in 2012 appears as a premiership team whose clear biggest strength was its very defensive efficiency. There just haven’t been as many sides who have rated highly overall with defence being their biggest strength – Sydney 2012 and Adelaide 2005 are really the only two sitting in the range the 2016 Swans now sit. Other strong sides have either had better midfield strength (ie inside-50 differentials) or have been pretty evenly strong across the board.

On the other hand, while more strong offensive teams have won flags, every top 20 defensive side made finals, while several with a top 20 inside 50 offensive strength missed the finals altogether. This may illustrate that it’s easier for a mediocre side to have a good forward line than a good defence, or that a good defence lets teams grind out results without threatening in September.

GWS sitting in both lists is illustrative of why we think they’re premiership favourites right now. Their midfield is unusually lacking for a side with both their high offensive and defensive ratings, but the sheer degree of balance and quality across the measures is suggestive of a side on the cusp of something pretty special.

Things to watch this week

Max Gawn is in for a day out

Kurt Tippett is the competition’s best ruck-forward and Sydney’s number one ruck, and his injury leaves them forced to run Callum Sinclair and one of their novice big men (Toby Nankervis or Sam Naismith) against the form big man of the competition. Sydney in past seasons have done okay losing the ruck battle, especially during the Mike Pyke era, but they may find it difficult to adjust, having grown accustomed to Tippett providing them regular first use of the ball.

Moreover, just listen to how the big Demon sounds onfield. Terrifying.

With Ted Richards still missing and the underrated Jeremy Laidler out with a knee injury, Sydney also look vulnerable in defence. If the Demons are to threaten, it’ll likely be by exploiting Gawn’s dominance and moving the ball quickly before Sydney’s badly undersized defence can organise to cover each other.

GWS should beat Essendon by a hilarious amount

This is best vs worst and rain won’t save them because it’s at Etihad.

The path to victory for the Dons probably requires John Worsfold to lobby the AFL to ban the kick and also running bounces, given their difficiencies in those areas, and only allow movement via handballs. The possibility of this happening is possibly why the Dons current odds for the match are as short as 14.00.

Hot take of the week

We cast our eyes over this petulant dirge of an article bemoaning that GWS, a new football team, will have success and “nobody” will care. We hate this attidude for a number of reasons.

The first is the view that expansion sides should not have success because there’s no sad old people who remember them being bad for a long time. Let’s be straight – we at HPN are all in favour of Melbourne and the Swans winning every premiership from here to 2025 to make up for decades of suffering fandom, but that’s a terrible metric by which to judge the worth of a team or a result.

We wonder whether there was similar bitching about sides not doing a 30 year apprenticeship when West Coast, Adelaide (and even Port Adelaide) won quick premierships with a heavily reliance on the concessions they were given when they joined the AFL. There are no long suffering West Coast or Adelaide fans, those teams have never been bad for very long and will never face existential crisis. Does that invalidate them? What about all the flags won pre-equalisation by teams able to rort the transfer and zone system and poach players to maintain their dominance while other teams struggle? Should those Carlton and Essendon and Collingwood premierships all be dismissed as “manufactured”?

This attitude that some happiness by some fans is worth more than others is poisonous. If GWS win a premiership, they will make significant numbers of new fans and recent converts happy. They’ll make many people who support them happy. They’ll make people who don’t like their opponents happy. There’s no obvious reason to dismiss that happiness in comparison to that of others.

Moreover, we’d point out that ever year most of the AFL doesn’t see their team win a premiership and we still mange to enjoy the sport and keep coming back. How many people enjoy a flag because their team wins is a stupid thing to judge by. By that weird football utilitarian logic it would be desirable to hobble unpopular clubs like North Melbourne to increase total football happiness. But even when Collingwood win the flag, over 90% of AFL fans don’t get to see their side win – and you don’t see the rest of the league celebrating that a lot of fans got to see their team win. What’s the difference if a somewhat higher proportion of fans don’t get a flag the year GWS win?

Besides which, GWS’ inoffensiveness and the sheer fun of their gamestyle would likely mean that even by some ‘higher average happiness’ metric, you’d get more happy football fans with a Giants flag than Collingwood or Hawthorn winning.

The third problem is these tacky buzzwords like “manufactured” and the attitude that the club is being “handed” success. This is Bigfooty sledging level rhetoric. We’ve written about this before, but the thing with GWS is that to be as good as they look now, they’ve run a nearly flawless recruitment strategy. They nailed their initial selections and then turned every loss of a player into something useful. There was never a guarantee that would happen (we’ve seen plenty of clubs screw up despite having a bunch of early picks, after all), so let’s actually give them a little credit for building what they’ve built.


The AFL National Women’s League – What Do (And Don’t) We Know


After the announcement of the creation of a national women’s Australian Rules competition, HPN thought we’d look at the known knowns and the known unknowns of the new competition.


The Teams

On Wednesday 15 June 2016, the eight teams of the inaugural season were announced. They are, along with their areas of draft catchment:

  • Carlton (VIC)
  • Collingwood (VIC)
  • Melbourne (VIC)
  • Western Bulldogs (VIC)
  • Fremantle (WA)
  • Brisbane (QLD)
  • Adelaide (SA/NT)

The Number Of Players

Each team will have 25 players on their initial lists, recruited through a variety of mechanisms. That means 200 players will get an opportunity to play in the first competition. Given that a full team is 22 players (18 onfield plus interchanges), we assume there’ll be provision to supplement these lists if a spate of injuries occur.

The Length Of The Season

The AFL have stated that there will be six home and away rounds, followed by finals. They have also stated that the competition will run in February and March, and have suggested it will start after the Australian Open. With that in mind, it would suggest that a straight knockout, two-week finals is likely on the cards as compared to a standard McIntyre Final Four (with a double chance for 1 and 2) that would go for three weeks. This would place the Grand Final in the opening week of the men’s AFL season.

The Top Salaries

Various media reports have stated the marquee players of the new competition will be paid $25,000 for the two month season and whatever preseason they also do. Various reports have also stated that the next tier of players will earn around $10,000, descending in contract value along with draft order per state.

The Recruitment Methods

The AFL previously outlined three different methods of recruitment for the inaugural season:

  • Two undrafted marquee players;
  • 20 players drafted from state drafts; and
  • Three undrafted free agents (players not drafted, players not registered with state competitions such as those from other sports)

Whilst it was initially said that there would be two marquee players per side, there has been further information that certain teams in “development” areas may be able to sign extra marquee players. Recent articles also no longer mention the pre-signed non-marquee players. We’d suggest the listing of non-drafted players is yet to be finalised – what we know currently is that each club is sending lists to the AFL of five preferred marquee signings.

State-based drafts will take place in October and indications are that women can nominate for specific states or for anywhere they’re willing to move and play. This is certainly the case for Tasmanians, with the AFL planning to fund the costs of flights and accommodation for Tasmanians to nominate for whichever draft they’d like. This is a change from the previous plan of assigning Tasmanians to GWS.

The initial reporting has suggested that each team would receive five pre-listed players, and would need to fill the remaining 17 list spots via a state based draft, however this has been walked back in previous days.

There also appears to be a strong interest from players outside of the current competitions joining the NWL, with Melbourne City keeper Brianna Davey already linked to the Dogs. This would allow for extra financial opportunities for talented female athletes in Australia.

Finally, there seems to be a provision for Father/Daughter recruiting, in a manner yet to be determined (will there be point matching on draft picks? PLEASE LET THERE BE BIDDING!). The requirements for Father/Daughter is for the father to have played one game at AFL level at the affiliated club at this early stage.

Team Budgets

It has previously been announced that the AFL will contribute $500,000 to each of the eight teams in the first competition; however at the launch the AFL indicated that they would cover all costs of the new competition. It is unknown at this stage whether these payments will be ongoing or not, nor what extra resources clubs may themselves pour in.

The Rules

The AFL announced on the 15th of June that they competition would be “full AFL rules”. However, they hedged this by saying “We’re not going to make any changes that are not well thought out.”

Known Unknowns

Name of the Competition

While no official name has been announced, a number of clubs are running with National Women’s League (NWL) so for simplicity we’ll do likewise. Given that WAFL is taken and AWFL is not a great acronym there aren’t too many decent naming options.

The Salary Cap

We’ve seen mention but no confirmation of a salary cap of around $300,000, nothing firm has been announced. HPN has calculated a scenario for salary caps based on information already in the public domain.

Salary Cap:

Marquee players (2 at $25,000): $50,000

Free agents and drafted players (23 at ave of $10,000): $230,000

Total cap: $280,000

Potential movement of interstate players

The chance to earn $25,000 over two to three months, for some women with no previous opportunities to make a living wage through sport, is an amount that may be able to lure players from the strongest states to less established states and teams. We expect the AFL to proactively encourage the use of marquees and pre-lists to bolster the teams from weaker women’s football states.

A state-based draft will be used to make up about two-thirds of each team. This will render most teams a de facto state squad, or for the Victorian teams a partial state team. Given that most of the women will be paid a significantly lower amount (i.e., up to $10,000 per season) the potential for non-marquee relocation is unknown but seems limited. It’s worth noting that male AFL players have commuted to interstate teams in the past, and some clubs have reserves players train with their affiliated team for most of the week when not selected in the main squad. There may be the potential for FIFO players, working their standard job for most of the week while training and playing in a condensed week.

The fragmentation of an uneven talent base by state could become a competitive balance issue, one that would only be solved by offering sufficient pay to make a national draft worthwhile to these players, who of course have jobs to hold and families to support.


It has been mooted that both Seven and Fox Footy have shown interest in showing NWL games, and there has been some mention of radio coverage. In what form and frequency all of this takes is as of yet unknown.

The Grounds

It hasn’t been declared where the games will be played. Various clubs have announced some information about where they intend to play home games, and other grounds will be unavailable during the proposed time of the season (due to cricket). There’s also the possibility that double headers with the men’s pre-season games are arranged, especially in metropolitan areas.

These are HPN’s best estimates as to ground usage:

  • GWS: Sydney Showgrounds/Blacktown International Sports Park/Manuka (at least 1 game)
  • Adelaide: Marrara Oval (at least 1 game), various SANFL grounds
  • Fremantle: Planning to play at Cockburn HQ and Curtin University for one game each. Also scope for Subiaco Oval and Fremantle Oval.
  • Carlton: Visy Oval/Docklands/Punt Road
  • Collingwood: Victoria Park/Docklands/Punt Road
  • Melbourne: Docklands/Punt Road
  • Western Bulldogs: Whitten Oval/Docklands
  • Brisbane: Coorparoo/Gabba/Aspley/Moreton Bay

Punt Road hosted the state game between NSW and Victoria this year, and doesn’t have a cricket pitch any more. Etihad hosts T20 games until late January but we assume the AFL has priority access.

Adelaide will not have Adelaide Oval and split games between Darwin and Adelaide. It could use any number of SANFL grounds– the relatively central ovals of Sturt and Norwood have been used for preseason games and would seem to be ideal.

The Sydney Showgrounds hosts the Sydney Thunder in the BBL but there surely won’t be any issues with the senior tenant GWS hosting games there. If there’s a turnaround with the pitch (or preparations for an early Easter Show) then both Manuka and Blacktown are available for GWS along with a number of smaller inner city suburban ovals.

The Lions traditionally struggle to find preseason venues in metropolitan Brisbane and it will be interesting to see if they can resolve this for the NWL.

How will the teams go?

The two biggest determinants of club performance will likely be their marquee signings and the underlying strength of each player pool that is available to clubs through state-based drafts. We’ll have some early thoughts on power rankings in the near future.