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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.