Sorry for the clickbait headline, but through 16 rounds this statement is more fact than mere hot take. According to the HPN ratings system, applied historically back to 1998, this top four is the tightest since at least 2003.
Our ratings are expressed as in-season relativities, telling us how far above or below the league average each team is on some key measures of strength (related to inside-50s and scoring efficiency). We can represent multiple seasons of ratings like this:
And it’s not just the top four that is tight – the top seven have the smallest separation since 1998 (the first year that our ratings track). No team has cleared away at the top; and there are no major gaps for most of the top bunch. As indicated in last week’s column, there is a little bit of a gap between the top seven and North Melbourne in the ratings, but even this compares favourably with previous years.
The reasons for this are plentiful. Hawthorn, at the head of the pack in previous years, have been hit hard by injuries and retirements/delistings in the last twelve months. Last year’s ratings leaders West Coast appear to have had their playing style somewhat figured out this year, and look especially vulnerable away from the West. Sydney have improved on last season with a phenomenal defensive structure, and the long awaited rise of GWS is no longer long awaited. And that’s before we get to the historically dominant Adelaide forward-line and the Bulldogs’ midfield strength.
Neutral footy fans have never had it better.
After several surprising results last week, the top four in the HPN ratings are now separated by less than 2.5% – which could be overhauled with another surprising result or two. Sydney have risen to second, and GWS have slipped to fourth. Geelong also fall back hard into the pack.
Hawthorn, despite remaining clearly on top of the ladder, slipped a place to seventh. That may end up embarassing us come September but we stand by it based on the season to date. They’ve generally been doing enough to win, having the third strongest midfield rating (ie they have a good inside-50 differential) but pretty middling in both the forward and defensive arcs. There is every historical reason to assume they will step up come finals time, but that’s a historical view, not one based on the statistical evidence presented to us this season.
It’s a testament to the closeness of the season that the previous tworeigning grand finalists are both in contention but not streaking away.
This week has been shaping as a critical one in determining the eighth place in these ratings. The recovering Port Adelaide meeting the free-falling North Melbourne. If Port can manage to continue North’s slow march this week, it gives them a not-insubstantial hope of chasing North down on the real chase for the final spot in the finals, given their respective runs home.