The HPN Second Trimester (ish) Awards (plus Round 17 Team Ratings)

Round 17 ratings

There’s not much movement on the HPN Team Ratings this week, with GWS and Geelong continuing their week-to-week tango for 3rd and 4th, and the Dons jumping up into 6th. The rest is steady, and the weekly movements should get more subtle as time moves forward.

To fill out a full post, we thought we’d use the new tool that we (kinda) debuted last week (which we call Player Approximate Value, or PAV for short) to work out some AFL awards. One thing to note is that our ratings system is relevant to the PAV, because the better a side is in an area of the ground, the more points of value there are for the players in that area.

Behold the HPN Second Trimester Awards!!!

All Australian Team

23rd AA team 2017

This team is assembled from our best overall players list. We’ve tried to pick appropriate-ish players for position, whilst still trying to make this the highest rated team possible.

The next two on the cusp for total value were Zach Merrett and Marcus Bontempelli. Rating midfielders by midfield value alone, Josh Kennedy and Brett Ebert would slot in, but they’ve been less well-rounded players than Cotchin and Shiel who they’d probably replace.

We opted for a third tall forward in Walker, and minimal ruck back-up – Daniher will have to pinch hit there. There’s plenty of run off half back to compensate for a slight slowness on the wings too, and this side won’t lose many battles on the inside with a large cast of rotating mids. If you had to stump for an extra tall on the bench, Paddy Ryder would be the pick.

Best Forward

Lance Franklin comes out on top in offensive rating by quite a large margin. He’s leading for the Coleman which would alone count for a lot, but the goalkicking tally doesn’t do justice to Franklin’s spread of offensive output. He’s also kicked 20 more behinds than anyone else, which can be frustrating but just shows how many chances he’s getting. The other big string to his all-round offensive prowess is his indirect output – Franklin is third in the competition for inside-50s, averaging over 5 a game. This season is pure unshackled Franklin, a terrifying weapon anywhere forward of about halfback, roaming about, doing as he pleases.

Second behind Franklin on offensive output is Joe Daniher, who can do some of the long range stuff Franklin does and has as many contested marks, but isn’t as useful around the ground. Third is Dangerfield, who is the best player in the league due the combo of midfield and offensive output. The relatively normal Taylor Walker and Ben Brown round out the top 5.

Dayne Zorko is worth a mention here because he doesn’t pop up elsewhere in our lists, and he’s having a really good year. Overall he’s really high for both offence and midfield value – he’s quite likely the (distant) second-best Dangerfield after Dangerfield himself.

Best forward in a bad forwardline

“Bad” is defined as the bottom six in the league for inside-50 efficiency – for us that is Port Adelaide, Fremantle, Carlton, Collingwood, Richmond, and the Bulldogs.

Robbie Gray turns out to be the shining light here, providing most of his output to Port Adelaide this year as a forward. Gray is equal sixth in the Coleman race with 40 goals and might not be getting due credit for how effective he’s been as a focal point in Port’s relatively weak forwardline, which has been dependent on pressure and repeat entries this year.

Behind him in output provided to the battling forwardlines are, in order, Jack Riewoldt, Michael Walters, Charlie Dixon and Matt Kreuzer.

Best Midfielder

Patrick Dangerfield. You could split Dangerfield’s 2017 performance in half and have two well-above average footballers. He is about 20% ahead of Dustin Martin in second, who is having a career year, and in many years would be considered to be (by far) the best player in the game. Two Port Adelaide players, Ebert and Wines, hit third and fourth, with Dangerfield’s running mate Joel Selwood in 5th. When you factor in that Dangerfield is also top 5 for offensive output, it’s clear why he’s unbackable for the Brownlow.

Best Midfielder in a bad midfield

Team midfields are rated by inside-50 differentials. The teams with the worst ball control through the centre are North Melbourne, Fremantle, Hawthorn, Carlton, Essendon and Brisbane.
It should surprise nobody that Tom Mitchell just beats Lachie Neale on midfield worth. Neale has been the slightly better all-round player due to his offensive prowess but through the middle of the ground, Hawthorn’s ball movement all starts with Mitchell. In this, our ratings likely pretty closely mirror popular observations.

Third is Ben Cunnington who is even more of a pure midfielder than Mitchell. The top 5 is rounded out by Carlton’s key duo, Bryce Gibbs and Patrick Cripps. Gibbs is the form player in overall rating from this list, with his forward and defensive performances both a bit ahead of anyone else’s.

Best defender

Alex Rance. Were you expecting someone else here? Like that the new statistical value measure was broken and picked someone other than Rance? Rance is the Richmond defence – sure Houli is handy and Astbury has improved, but without Rance you’d think that Richmond’s defence would be south of mid-table rather than the best in the league. In second, Michael Hurley is having a resurgent year, as is Daniel Talia in 3rd. Dylan Roberton wouldn’t have been in many conversations talking about the best defenders in the league before 2017, but here he is in fourth. Rounding out the top five is Heath Shaw.

Best Defender in a bad defence

The eligible leaky defences are Fremantle, North Melbourne, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Gold Coast, and Brisbane.

Robbie Tarrant just pips Joel Hamling as most valuable defender in a bottom six defence, followed by Tarrant’s North Melbourne teammate Scott Thompson, Jeremy Howe and Michael Johnson. No one statistic defines Tarrant’s worth, but he’s good across all the main indicators of a defender – he’s top 15 for marks outside forward 50, top-50 in contested marking, top 30 in 1%ers (which include spoils), 11th in rebound-50s. This spread ensures he’s being credited with a large share of North Melbourne’s defensive performance.

Most Improved

There are several candidates that we considered here, such as Zac Jones, Jayden Hunt and Dylan Roberton, who have all improved significantly on their 2016 outputs, but the standout candidate here is Jarrod Witts. Witts was thought by many to be on the fringes of leaving the league, but his 2017 season has been extraordinary. Currently we rate Witts as the seventh best ruck in the competition, slightly below Grundy in 5th. While he was about a league average ruck in his opportunities with the Pies, the expanded role offered to him by the Suns has seen him improve his performances by about 20% whilst playing significantly more games.

Best 2016 Draftee

It’s not that common that a player can come into the league in their first year and produce at an average or above average level. Indeed, in 2017 only six draftees are playing enough games and well enough to be producing at that level: Sam Pepper-Powell, Mitch Hannan, Tom Stewart, Andrew McGrath, Tim Taranto and Sam Petrevski-Seton. The first name on that list, SPP, is well above that mark, and is shaping up to become an elite talent in years to come. Ken Sakata might be onto something. Mitch Hannan is also, at this stage, a cut above the rest of the pack.

Is Patrick Dangerfield having a better 2017 than 2016?

Before we get to the title of the post, and the meat of the content, let’s have a look at how the HPN Team Ratings are looking after sixteen thrilling rounds of football. This year is chaos; and chaos is beautiful.

Round 16 ratings.JPG

It was a big week for the “S” teams, with the Swans and Saints moving up two places, to fifth and tenth respectively. Sydney, after a pretty poor start, have come into contention – just sitting outside of the standard profile for a grand finalist. If they continue with their current form, they will likely finish the season in the top 3 in the HPN Team Ratings.

Both the Bulldogs and the Tigers took a hit last week, and as each week progresses the Bulldogs look less and less likely to make finals. The other significant slider was Gold Coast, about a month after we talked up the potential for them to make a charge to the finals if everything broke right. It didn’t, and now we look a little bit silly.

Some separation has finally opened up between St Kilda in 10th and the Pies in 11th, but with seven games left that gap can definitely be closed, especially considering the surprising results of the season to date.

And for Geelong…

Over the past six months HPN has been developing am individual player value system – something we hope we can fully reveal in the coming months. It values a player’s value based on team performance and each individual player’s contribution to it (or lack thereof).

The system attempts to measure contribution in three different areas of the ground, and is able to give a rough indication of not only player value, but also player type. Currently we have valued every individual player season back to 1988- about 30 years’ worth of data to go off. Over the next year or so you will hear a lot about this system. So forgive us if we are brief now – we promise to provide you with TMI later on.

Patrick Dangerfield, according to our system, is on track to have the single best season since 1988. Even more impressively, the season he would relegate to second would be his 2016 season.

Here’s a list of the top 10 seasons since 1988, according to our system.


This list contains four Brownlow Medal seasons, and although he may seem out of place here in the upper echelons, don’t sleep on the quality of that Stynes Brownlow year where the big man averaged 26 disposals and 9 marks a game. It also contains three seasons by the player many think is the greatest key position forward/player of the modern era (Carey), an additional season by a future Brownlow Medalist (Buckley, 2000) and Andrew McLeod’s best year, whose achievements defy simple summary.

In short, Dangerfield is in rarefied air this year. According to both our system and the Champion Data Player Ratings, he is streets ahead of his competition this year. It is also worth noting that both HPN and Champion Data also had Dangerfield as the best player last year.

So why is Geelong struggling? Good question.

According to Champion Data, Geelong have the equal most players inside the top 25 this year – tied with Richmond on three. Our system has a fourth Tiger making the top 25 – but this is quibbling – both sides’ success often rests on the performance of their elite players, specifically through the middle of the ground.

However, beyond this elite talent, Geelong seemingly lacks for depth. HPN has nine Cats inside the top 100 players in the league – only one younger than 27. However, only a further three are in the next 100 players – an indication that if the top end talent doesn’t fire, the depth isn’t there to supplement it.

Defensively, Geelong only has one player inside the top 35 for defensive value according to our system – Zach Tuohy in 12th. At the other end of the ground, Dangerfield rates as their most valuable offensive player, as well as their most valuable player through the middle. So that’s handy. Hawkins is also inside the top 10 league-wide here, but (aside from Daniel Menzel) the specialist support is thin.

This may be an issue for the Cats going forward too – many of their top contributors are beginning to exit their peak, and the depth behind them just hasn’t been proven at AFL level. A playing list full of aging good-to-great players is a recipe for potential disaster, especially when combined with the fact that Geelong hasn’t had a first round pick for the last two years, and doesn’t hold a 2017 pick currently. Whilst Stephen Wells has shown himself to be able to pick gems with later picks, the strike rate for success for those selections is significantly lower than high picks.

For 2017, Geelong still have a realistic shot at the flag, however much of that rests on the shoulders of Dangerfield, Selwood and Duncan.

This is the most even season since 1998

The weekend after Brisbane rolled a potential finalist and two weeks after lowly Hawthorn shocked Adelaide, focus has naturally sharpened on the evenness of this year’s competition. We’re here to add to the chorus saying yes (this great piece by The Arc has more international context), this is a really even year.

It looks even more compact than it did earlier in the season, as frontrunners Adelaide, Port Adelaide and GWS shrink back to the pack and the worst teams rally.


One measure of evenness would be the number of teams in premiership contention. Typically, we label as premiership contenders any team sitting above a rating of 105% (actually 104.96% thanks to the Bulldogs last year). On that bar we’re actually down on previous seasons, as there were 7 contenders in 2016.

However, given how relatively weak the top sides look this season, we’re sceptical that our 105% rule really holds right now. This is a season made for exceptions and runs of form by otherwise unconvincing sides.

We can see visually how this season compares to past years in terms of the positions of the best and worst sides, as well as the compactness of the middle tiers:

bar stack

Visually, this is clearly a very bunched-up year in a way that hasn’t happened for a number of seasons. It is also marked by a lack of significant frontrunners or massive strugglers.

No team is anything near as bad as 2013 Melbourne and GWS, for instance. Notably for premiership talk, there’s presently no lone bolter like the otherwise even 2007 or 2000. We wonder whether a fit GWS would have been capable of filling the role of 2007 Geelong or 2000 Essendon in this very open season, but this has not so far been the case.

Some more specific numerical representations of evenness are presented below. We’ve looked at the gaps from the top teams to other teams, and how far back the worst team is, as well as the average distance from mediocrity:


We can note for 2017 so far:

  • The league wide gap from first to last is as low as it has been since 1998.
  • Within the best 8 teams (note these are not necessarily the ladder top 8) the gap was last lower in 2003
  • The top 4 isn’t as even as last year’s very close race but is still quite close historically
  • The last place team isn’t particularly close to the 8th best side
  • Teams are, on average, closer to the median team rating than any time since 2002.

We can also look at this in terms of ranking the last 20 seasons across the measures:

evenness seasons1998 is the only year that was ranked as more even than 2017, with most other years falling down on various measures either due to dominant teams or hopeless stragglers.

On most measures, we can see that in general, the last decade (back to 2007) was more uneven than the decade before it. 2011 and 2012 were the worst years for competitive equality because of the weak expansion sides, but this doesn’t explain everything. The era in general was marked by less parity among teams, including within the cohort of finalists and top 4 sides.

It’s too early to call 2017 a state shift in the AFL towards greater competitive balance, but most of us surely welcome the early signs.

Injury lists, surging teams and staving off failure – nine tales from midseason AFL

Let’s be honest: it’s a tiny bit after the true middle of the season, but we are firmly in the part of the footy year where (in most seasons) most teams have started to sort into their layers amongst the league. This is evidenced in this week’s HPN Team Ratings, which has seen little movement for the teams.

Round 14 ratings

The sole team to move up this week was Hawthorn, at the expense of Carlton and Fremantle. Only one side at present fits the bill of a likely premier according to the ratings, and they lost to Hawthorn last week so let’s just suggest that the next two months will be quite illuminating.

But how about this week? What should we be watching out for in the games to come?

Glad you asked.

Melbourne v Sydney

This match-up pits (arguably) the two most in-form teams of the competition against each other. According to Matter of Stats’ Game Importance Index, this game is potentially critical to both sides – both Melbourne and Sydney’s finals chances will take a significant hit with a loss.

According to the HPN Team Ratings, both sides are relatively evenly matched in the midfield, with opposing strengths (Sydney’s backline and Melbourne’s forwardline) and weaknesses (Melbourne’s backline and Sydney’s forward-line) matched against each other. Digging a little deeper, both the Demons and the Swans are relatively effective at both taking marks inside 50 and stopping their opponents from doing so – both sides are in the top 4 of both categories.

For the Demons, it is their small to mid-sized brigade doing the hard yards, with four of their top five ranked players for marks inside 50 standing under 190cm, with only the Pies leaning as heavily towards the smalls. Sydney are perhaps seeing the Demons at the perfect time as their leading goal kicker in 2016 (Hogan) and their top two in 2017 (Garlett and Watts) all sitting on the sidelines.

For the Swans, Sam Reid has often acted as a barometer for their success. In games that Reid has dragged in more than 8 marks, the Swans sit 4-0; less than this mark they are just 2-7 (the two being blowout wins over the Saints and Lions). Similar results follow Reid’s contested marking performance as well. The performance of Reid is critical to opening up Franklin, and the rest of the Swans forward line, as weapons if he can effectively play the lead up forward role.

Western Bulldogs v West Coast

Both sides, rated by some to be top four chances at the start of the year, are also battling their way for a spot in the eight. The Bulldogs face the same scenario as a year ago, namely that a weak forward line is letting down their efforts around the ground. For the Eagles, their forward line is leading the way in an otherwise average team.

The key issue for both sides is that their strengths are less effective than they were a year ago, and their weaknesses perhaps look a touch weaker as well. This game might be decided between the arcs – if the Eagles can come close to breaking even with inside 50s, they should be able to squeak out a win.

Carlton v Adelaide

After starting the season 6-0, Adelaide has “slumped” to 3-4 over their last seven games. The HPN Team Ratings still likes their performance overall, but they are rapidly coming back to the large pack in the middle. If Carlton has any chance this weekend they have to continue to defend effectively with the “duct tape and toilet paper roll” constructed defence of Liam Jones, Lachie Plowman, Jacob Weitering, Kade Simpson and other spare parts. If Carlton can somehow win the inside 50 battles, and stop the ultra-effective Crows forward line, they might have a chance to put up enough points to win. Might. But it’s not likely.

Gold Coast v North Melbourne

This might be the last chance saloon for both sides – if that hasn’t already come and gone. In order for Gold Coast to win they will have to find a way to stop North’s tall targets from sneaking marks inside 50 – the Kangaroos currently sit 5th in the competition for marks inside 50 per i50 entry.

Gold Coast holds the lowest contested disposal ratio of any side – with contested disposals making up just 34.6% of their disposals. If North can shut down their play around the outside, they should be able to grab the win.

GWS v Geelong

On paper this is the blockbuster match of the round, pitting two potentially top four sides against each other. Unfortunately, what may be more important is who is off the park rather than on it. GWS has twelve players on their injury list (albeit with two named to play this week) – over 25% of their current available players, with their reserves side getting destroyed at every turn by NEAFL club sides and deeper AFL reserve sides. Geelong, however, suddenly has fifteen listed in the injury report (with three named to play this week). If these two sides face off later in the year, it is very likely that it will be two radically different teams on the park.

Port Adelaide v Richmond

Both Richmond and Port Adelaide have relatively strong midfields and defences slightly held back by their forward lines, according to the HPN Team Ratings. However, Port’s midfield has been the strongest in the comp so far this year, and the Richmond defence has been the standard-bearer for the competition. Only one side has a higher contested disposal ratio than the Power this year – namely the Tigers, with 40% of all disposals being contested. If the Tigers are able to turn a likely epic inside battle into effective inside-50s, they might be able to win.

Essendon v Brisbane

Brisbane have been looking better until halftime in the previous few weeks, then falling away late. For a team anchored to the bottom of the ladder they are still able to find the goals when they get the ball up forward (they’re in the upperc echelons – 6th for offense rating); the issue being that they rarely can do so. The Lions actually win the majority of clearances in their games, but the ball clearly gets turned over a kick or two from entering the 50 metre arc. In short, they will continue looking for a way to fix that.

As noted last week the Dons bookends are its strengths (and their midfield rating is climbing), and if the key position players can do their job this week there shouldn’t be room for an upset.

Hawthorn v Collingwood

With both teams’ finals hopes hanging on by a thread, an interesting battle emerges between a decent attack but weak defence (Hawthorn), and a decent defence but inept attack (Collingwood). For the loser the finals might be an afterthought in 2017, so this may be the most willing game of the round, even if a little out of the spotlight. On paper the Collingwood midfield should dominate the Hawks from both a clearances and inside 50s perspective, and it appears that the Hawks’ only path to victory will be to limit the damage in both areas.

Fremantle v St Kilda

Fremantle’s surprising position as a member of the top eight after 11 rounds has been swiftly followed by an unsurprising tumble down the ladder, one that may not be over yet. The HPN rating has Fremantle as the second weakest side in the AFL at present; perhaps a touch harsh but it’s an even year. Three of Fremantle’s wins have come by less than a goal, and some of those results were sloppy at best even if they were on the unlucky side of a close one last week.

By contrast St Kilda has continued to grow as the season has progressed, but issues continue to present themselves. They don’t appear to be settled up forward this year in contrast to years previous, and the integration of Jake Carlisle into their back six has taken some time. But if the Saints can’t knock off the Dockers away from home, they probably don’t merit a spot in September.

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:


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?

If you can’t beat the clickbait hoards, join them.

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).


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:


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.