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.

Who are the Kings of Style of the 2017 AFL season?

This week’s post features a contribution from the excellent Figuring Footy, aka Rob Younger. If you don’t already follow him/read his work, get around it ASAP!

After a weekend of big upsets, HPN thought we’d take a step back and reassess the league as it sits after seven weeks. With Adelaide finally registering their first loss, immediately after we talked them up, we currently sit at the spot that is (practically) inevitable each year; no team is invincible, and no side utterly hopeless.

Indeed, on the HPN Ratings even the outlying Crows have come back to the pack a little, with the previously mentioned long tail seeming even more pronounced.

Round 7 ratings

However, while we feel the ratings above are accurate reflections of the strengths and weaknesses of each side, they miss some of the colour of the play of teams. As such, we thought it appropriate that we look at the differing styles of each side in the season to date.

Richmond Are The Anti-Arsenal (they won’t let you walk it in)

Perhaps the most surprising side of the 2017 season has been Richmond, which joyously means that we won’t hear any shitty “9th again” jokes. Good riddance.

The catalyst for the Tigers’ resurgence hasn’t necessarily come in the front half of the ground, but instead in the back 50. Compared to last year’s Richmond outfit, the Tigers have turned into a defensive wall, especially close to goal.

We asked Friend Of The Program and all-around top stats guy Rob Younger from Figuring Footy for a way to show this.

Compared with 2016, the Tigers have conceded nearly 200 fewer points in the first seven rounds, and 141 fewer ExpScore points as well. Where the goal square and close corridor was a mess of shots in 2016 (27 across the first seven games), the Tigers have nailed that door shut this year, only conceding 12 shots with 10m of goal.

THEY. WON’T. LET. YOU. WALK. IT. IN.

Richmond also had an alright defence in 2015, albeit with a slightly different focus:

The Tigers have kept a slightly right-leaning focus of their defence. This could perhaps be a product of where the opposition feels comfortable leading, a conscious effort to push right-footers to their non-preferred side or maybe just teams avoiding where Alex Rance stands. Whatever the reason for the lopsidedness, the Tigers have pushed the opposition opportunities out significantly, and denied almost anything near goals. Adelaide was able to work out a solution when the two sides met, but no other side has found a real counter to date. If they can somehow keep this type of defence up, they will be in premiership contention later this year.

Queensland’s Matador Defence

During summer the Queensland Bulls often run riot over the short grass of the Gabba, but this season (and for the last three as well) their co-tenant the Lions have been playing the other half of the bullfighting equation.

BrisbaneDefRd7.JPG

The Lions are currently last defensively as measured both by opposition scoring shots per inside-50 and by marks inside-50 per entry – both by a substantial margin. Their only real competition with respect to the former is the side that concedes the most goals per opposition inside 50 entry; their state-mates the Suns.

Both the Lions and the Suns have shown the ability to score in bunches this year, but when their midfield is beaten their respective back groups have been simply unable to keep the opposition at bay. Aggressive run and gun might be both sides’ only hope of victory, but it really hasn’t worked so far for the Lions in particular.

Kick First, Ask Questions Later

The kick v handball question is an old and nuanced issue. About a decade ago the pervasive thinking amongst football clubs moved from kicking where no other better option exists to looking for an extra handball to find a better target by foot.

As The Arc pointed out earlier this week, Carlton in 2017 is going a different way. The Blues are turning the clock back to a slightly happier time on Lygon Street.

CarlKick.JPG

Carlton have played like a team that doesn’t know how to spell the word handpass, let alone execute one (citation required). There’s often benefit to “zigging” when almost every other side “zags”, even if the move is one back to an older age of footy. The weather that Carlton has faced may have something to do with the figures so far (Carlton have been to the MCG five times and Etihad once), but as our dads might say “THAT’S HOW FOOTY USED TO BE PLAYED.”

For GWS, Everything Is A Clearance Sale

We don’t think every team puts equal stock in winning clearances. A won clearance can still easily result in a turnover from the subsequent possession, and lead to the ball being rebounded back the other way. Clearances aren’t a great midfield strength measure in isolation, as they don’t correlate terribly well across the competition with inside-50 ratios or even with, you know, winning.

Rd7I50Cl

Adelaide and Port Adelaide, for instance, are doing pretty well on the scoreboard and in generating a predominance of inside-50 opportunities despite being indifferent break-even clearance sides. Port in particular have a very high ratio of inside-50s to opponent inside-50s despite not winning clearances, suggesting an outside midfield game that is working well.

However, a very high clearance ratio in a good team probably suggests they regard it as a strength and a tactical tool. Such may be the case with GWS, whose clearance ratio is a league high 122% and whose dominant wins in 2017 all match with games where they destroyed their opponents in the clearance stakes. A lot of analysis of GWS focuses on the wave running they do with their powerful and skilled runners, and they seem able to achieve this out of stoppages at will if teams aren’t sufficiently careful.

The games where GWS didn’t win a disproportionate share of clearances were those where they looked mortal. They lost the clearance counts to Adelaide (by 1) and St Kilda (by 11) and only just topped the Bulldogs (by 2) in their close win. Elsewhere, they did what they pleased and won accordingly.

We don’t have access to score sources, but we’re willing to bet the Giants do very well scoring from stoppages. We’d also speculate that sides who can win clearances can trouble the Giants. That could include Collingwood this weekend (who incidentally have never lost to the Giants)

What Fremantle’s ruck dominance means

FreoHitouts

How do teams generate clearances? One obvious answer is by having a good ruckman. Fremantle, the side with the best ruckman, are also a good clearance-winning team. The top five sides for clearance ratios all also have positive hitout ratios (but not the other way around) which suggests rucks do still matter if you care about winning clearances.

Fremantle’s 115% clearance ratio is almost certainly partly a product of the towering presence of Aaron Sandilands. Gold Coast, GWS, Collingwood and Brisbane all also have pretty good primary ruckmen securing hitouts, and this may be part of what is translating into their relative clearance success. The Demons are a strange case which should probably be ignored for the moment – they’ve gone from having a really good ruckman to not really having one at all, so their season totals reflect both those situations.

This doesn’t mean that hitout domination necessarily translates linearly into midfield success, however. North Melbourne, for instance, are sixth in hitout differential, but lose the clearance counts on average. Fremantle are the key case study to what ruck dominance means. The Dockers themselves are generating more than two hitouts for every opponent hitout, which is an insane degree of dominance. But they’re also not translating those hitouts as efficiently into clearances as that might suggest.

The brute force effect of utterly dominating hitouts is only giving Freo a modest advantage in terms of winning the ball away from the area around a stoppage. This may suggest there is a saturation point of ruck dominance beyond which ruck contests get too predictable, and midfielders too evenly matched, to gain further advantage.

Have the top five started to pull away from the competition already?

Currently the 2017 season of the AFL looks like a small number of really good teams and then an unusually long tail of ordinary but not terrible teams. Only six clubs currently sit above the competition average on our combined rating covering midfield, offensive and defensive strength. By contrast, the bottom ranked side (Carlton) is closer to the pack than any team has finished in our ratings for any season since 2009 (Melbourne).

Round 5 ratings

Adelaide, GWS and to a lesser extent Port Adelaide currently look well ahead of every other team in terms of their strength, with Geelong and Richmond also looking pretty solid on the back of great output in one part of the ground. The gap from Richmond (5th) to Melbourne (6th) is currently larger than the gap from Melbourne back to Sydney (15th). Likewise, the gap from Adelaide in first to Richmond in fifth is greater than the gap between Melbourne in sixth and Carlton in last.

We should note that it is early days and big movements can happen across a season as opponent strengths become more reliable and we get a larger sample of games. However, the question may simply be whether the lead group contains three, four, or five members and whether anyone can break out of the peloton composed of at least half the competition.

Last year HPN drew a line at 105% as the lowest a side could be and still be a viable premiership chance, which was based on the previous 20 years of ratings. The Bulldogs, a historical outlier, only just scraped by this barrier on an unadjusted basis in 2016, and were just under it on an opposition adjusted basis. On this basis all of the top five teams still remain viable premiership chances – but we note (yet again) that the season is very young, and a lot will change between now and September.

Some teams pop out of this as not really getting results commensurate with their apparent strength. The Demons sit 6th here but only have won two games, having let three close games slip, and been unlucky with structure-wrecking midgame injuries. The Bulldogs, now at 4-1, continue to be unimpressive.

By contrast, perhaps Richmond and Fremantle, popularly seen as over-performing or lucky so far, roughly deserve their respective 5-0 and 3-2 records.

This season shape as it stands right now is an intriguing one, as we can see comparing to past completed seasons. The dense cluster around 95% is pronounced:

annual ratings.PNG

It would be relatively unusual for the season to finish with no team below 90% of the competition average. We should expect some stragglers to fall further behind to where strugglers end up most years.

Similarly, Adelaide are currently tracking as strongly as Geelong of 2007 and nearly approaching Essendon of 2000. They do look very good right now, but if they can sustain these offensive, defensive and midfield efficiencies across a season, it would make them one of the all-time great teams and be a massive story in its own right, especially if the Giants don’t manage to stay with them.

In terms of specific line strengths, right now as we look at our team ratings, only the top three sides are rated above average in all three areas. Adelaide are continuing 2016’s historic performance in offensive efficiency but have added a greater dominance of inside-50 opportunities, meaning if they don’t have dominant midfielders then at least they are still dominating in the midfield area. Port Adelaide and Geelong both look like they’re strongest through the midfield as well. Richmond and Geelong also both have one line (Defence and Offense, respectively) sitting at least 10% above average.

Currently it looks as though Essendon have the worst midfield, Collingwood the worst forward line and Gold Coast the worst defence, but none of those sides shape as the worst team overall. Those three teams are counterbalanced by other lines – Essendon have defended well, Collingwood’s midfield looks strong, and the Suns have been strong between the arcs if not within them.

Only Sydney, Hawthorn, Carlton and Fremantle are below average across the board so far this year and of those, Sydney’s defence, Hawthorn’s defence and Fremantle’s midfield are above 99%, so pretty much on average.

Some sides with pretty uneven strength include North Melbourne, West Coast and Brisbane. North have exhibited a pretty good defence, meaning they haven’t conceded scores from inside-50s too often in spite of their strong opponents. Rather it’s the sheer quantity of inside-50 opportunities allowed (identified in the midfield strength rating) which have brought them undone. The Eagles’ offensive efficiency has been their saving grace, while Brisbane’s offence has been league average but undone by the sheer lack of opportunities delivered by their midfield.

Are North and Hawthorn bad, or have they just faced a tough draw?

Almost every credible (and non-credible) football journalist in the country has waxed lyrical about the decline of the Mighty Hawks, and the Considerably Less Mighty Roos. Both sides were finalists in 2016, but have gotten off to tough starts in 2017, a combined 0-8 through a month of footy.

Each rating is an inside-50 based efficiency measure, and we adjust each team based on their opponents. The following is our rating of the strength of the four opponents each team has so far played:Round 4 opposition ratings.JPG

North Melbourne and Hawthorn have played relatively tough draw sets so far. At this stage, this should be treated with some caution, because every game is a quarter of the sample for each club.

It just so happens that most teams have faced a spread of sides so a couple of tough or soft opponents can stand out.

Hawthorn for instance is rated as having had a difficult draw due mostly to playing a highly rated Adelaide and a pretty well rated Geelong. Those two alone push the average up because at this stage few other teams have faced two teams rated in the top third. The Gold Coast midfield and Essendon defence also push up the averages Hawthorn have faced, although it must be borne in mind that the Hawthorn games themselves contribute 25% of the weight to those teams’ ratings.

We deliberately factor in no historical data in these ratings, so the strength of each team can take a while to settle down. It also means the best 2016 sides get zero credit as tough opponents if their forward, midfield and defensive data in 2017 does not warrant it. This approach makes the early season jumpy, and it means we’ll have a better picture as the season progresses. Just like what happens in reality.

As we are now into our second week of tracking the HPN rating we can start to track the sides that are on the improve as shown above. We can see the week to week movements by teams, which is basically jet fuel for HOT TAKES.

Round 4 ratings

North’s draw of Geelong, GWS and West Coast is clearly the hardest set so far, which has a major impact on their standings in our ratings – their competitive performances against good sides mean they rate well. While Hawthorn do look abjectly terrible, we caution against pessimism regarding the Kangaroos until more form is exposed. They might be okay. Might.

While most would rate the Bulldogs as another tough opponent for North, we currently beg to differ as the above chart indicates. The reigning premiers (this still feels strange to type) have seemed pretty scratchy thus far. Nothing about them currently stands out as terrible, but their performances to date look below the league average in all three areas of the ground, once their soft opponent set is factored in. Sydney, Collingwood and Fremantle all sit bottom half, scaling the Dogs’ ratings down with them.

Fremantle bolt up the ratings this week after beating Melbourne, while Essendon continue to slump as the win over Hawthorn loses its shine and more results come in. GWS, the presumptive pre-season premiership favourite, have claimed top spot by virtue of a solid defeat of Port Adelaide. Whilst Adelaide beat GWS in round one, GWS’s performances since then have been enough to make up the deficit on the day. The two form teams of the competition don’t face off again during the season, so we will likely have to wait until finals for the (already) highly anticipated rematch.

Richmond have mostly beaten up on poor sides (Collingwood, Carlton, Brisbane) but have done it well, and their defeat of West Coast looks good. We’re still not sure they’re as good as third in the competition, but there’s no evidence to the contrary yet.

The Giants’ midfield is their strongest area relative to league averages, while Adelaide continue to reproduce their 2016 offensive prowess – they are simply an amazing side at converting inside-50s into scores. The best defence, currently, is somehow Port Adelaide, and we’ll be fascinated to see if this holds and to try to explain why if it does.

In order to win on the field, the AFLPA must win off it first

It’s hard to argue that rich young men deserve more money. The sympathies of the average person often go to the minimum wage battlers before it goes to footballers on a comparative motza. And that’s fair – no-one at HPN will argue for a second that you shouldn’t read up on Fair Work Commission decisions on the minimum wage or penalty rates.

But ultimately this is a sports (primarily AFL) website, and the AFL is currently locked in an industrial dispute with it’s players. And it shows no sign of ending. Despite a recent offer to the AFL Players Association to attempt to end the more than year long stand-off, it appears that a final deal is a while away yet. The issues as reported appear to many and varied, with one major sticking point.

Cash money.

Earlier in 2017 the AFLPA was pushing hard for a fixed percentage of total revenue – a contentious issue in the negotiations that seems to fallen off the radar of the most recent round of coverage. Instead, the most recent reported offer to the AFLPA has been a 20% increase immediately, with 1% increases for the next five years.

While this seems generous in isolation, the AFL recently negotiated the single biggest increase to broadcasting rights in the code’s history. This is a massive new income stream, and it makes the offer seem comparatively… well, have a look for yourself:

tpp

In this situation, AFL Broadcast Rights include both TV and Radio rights, which have both exploded in value in recent years. The most recent TV rights deal was for $2.508 billion dollars over six years, a roughly 60% increase on the previous deal. Whilst broadcast rights don’t represent the total revenue of the AFL, it provides a decent simulcra to the state of the AFL’s finances.

However, we know from our post on club revenues that the AFL distribution of funds (including broadcast rights) provides a small fraction of most clubs’ revenue.

A fair question would be to ask how the rise of TPP compares with the wages of the average Australian worker, which we luckily have in graph form:

tpp2.png

There is little doubt that compared to the average Aussie worker, footballers have had a pretty decent run over the last 20 years. However, when compared with the rapidly-increasing revenues of the AFL, it’s hard to mount the argument that the players don’t deserve a significantly larger share of the increased success that the AFL is seeing.

Some may point to extra effort being put into grassroots football, or the introduction of the AFLW competition, by the AFL as a mitigation for offering the players such a deal. This argument works at face value, until you find out that it cost the AFL about $4 million for the clubs’ contribution to the AFLW’s running costs – a small fraction of the money being negotiated above. And the AFL spent just $41 million on game development grants, and $16 million on developing new markets. The 2016 AFL Annual Report indicates that total AFL revenues have increased by over $200m in the last decade – a number that will increase by another $175m in 2017. In the same period player wages have increased by less than $100m across the board.

Previously, HPN has assumed that there would be a 50% rise in the salary cap to about $15m per club – a figure that would only amount to between $280 and $320 million of player payments across the entire competition (depending on the spread of increases per year). This would adequately compensate for the loss of the veteran’s allowance, and the removal of the rookie list (with a subsequent expansion of the main list).

While other issues exist on the bargaining table, one can’t help but feel that they would proceed quickly once the issue of pay is sorted out.

An extremely early look at HPN’s AFL Team Ratings

Three weeks of the AFL season are past us and…honestly, we don’t know who is good or bad yet. Are the Suns set for another long year, or is there light in the tunnel? Is Ross Lyon about to be sacked, or is he a genius for the Dockers upset win over the Bulldogs? Should the Tigers make a big offer to Dustin Martin, or for some unknown reason not offer one of the best players in football the money he deserves?

WE. DON’T. KNOW.

We are going to look at how the team strengths sit (according to the HPN Team Strength Ratings introduced last year) and see what rash judgements we can bring to the table.

In 2016, HPN did not run our team ratings this early in the year; unsure what affect the volatility of the small sample size would have over the data. However, we think there are some interesting trends emerging early, some which will hold and others that won’t.

Across a 22 game season, each week of football is worth roughly 4.5% of the total season. However, after round three each game for each team represents 33% of their sample – a very high amount. To attempt to counter this, we have (as we did last year) adjusted each Rating for the opposition strength as determined by Ratings in their opposition’s other games. In short, this should make the data less “noisy”.

Round 3 ratings

As you can see, the consensus best team so far in 2017 (Adelaide) holds the top spot on the HPN charts as well. Two of the three currently undefeated teams hold spots in the top four; namely Adelaide and Richmond. Joining the Crows and Tigers at the top end of the HPN Ratings is pre-season presumptive premeriship favourite GWS and early season surprise packets Port Adelaide. It is worth noting that the only loss so far by both the Giants and Power has been to the top ranked Crows. All four sides sit near the top with respect to the Mid Scores, and have scores in each of the three categories above the league average (after adjustment for opposition). These are good early signs for this quartet, but early signs nonetheless.

Also siding with popular opinion is the noted backward movement of two perennial favourites, Geelong and Hawthorn. The Cats and Hawks may have records that are polar opposites, but both sides seem to have slipped a little from last year. If it were not for Geelong’s incredible efficiency up forward, they could be sitting at 1-2. And the Hawks have barely fired a shot yet.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the early HPN ratings is the low grade given to the Bulldogs, who have a promising 2-1 record. The Dogs have taken a significant hit from the opposition adjustment, as they have only recorded close-ish wins (and a loss) against relatively low ranked sides. This should adjust over the coming weeks when they face tougher opposition – pending their ability to win those games. It is also worth noting that the Cats and Dogs record-breaking midfield performances from last year have declined severely in the season to date – something to keep an eye on.

Finally, the Essendon and Carlton ratings were skewed significantly by the extreme weather on display last weekend. This should normalise over the coming weeks.