Why every contender can and can’t win the premiership, finalists, analysis, odds, strengths and weaknesses, latest news – TOTOCC

Rejoice footy fans – the day has arrived that AFL returns.

There’s always an extra buzz in March as all 18 clubs go into the season with fresh hope, no matter how they fared in 2022.

In reality, however, several clubs likely remain a ways off flag contention, and there’s a clear pool – albeit a wide one – of teams more firmly in the mix.

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But they aren’t all without their flaws.

Below foxfooty.com.au has ran through why the 10 clubs pushing for finals can – and can’t – win the flag.

Lewis opens up on concussion issues | 04:16


Why they can

Do we even need an explanation here? The reigning premiers were clearly the best team last year, riding a 16-game winning streak en route to their first flag since 2011. The Cats play their nine home games at Kardinia Park again and they’re as good as any team at managing their stars throughout the regular season to set them up for finals. Still loaded with veterans and general star power all over the ground – boasting five All-Australians in 2022 they’ve now arguably gotten stronger after adding Tanner Bruhn, Ollie Henry and Jack Bowes. Although those moves have arguably set them up for sustained success more than they did for 2023 specifically, Geelong still goes into 2023 with the most experienced list.

Why they can’t

For so long we’ve asked the question: When will this incredibly ever-green Cats team fall off the edge? Topping up with experienced players year after year, they’ve somehow defied the odds to consistently go deep into September, culminating in last year’s flag. But is this finally the year of the drop off? Even if it’s only a slight decline, so many other contenders are now nipping at their heels. Plus Joel Selwood’s retirement leaves a key leadership void, and they may be without Tom Hawkins to start the season after off-season foot surgery – a less than ideal procedure for the big-framed 34-year old. We also know how rare it is for clubs to go back-to-back, so the odds aren’t on Geelong’s side from that perspective. Will they possess the same hunger as last year?


Why they can

For all the disappointment that was Melbourne’s end to 2022, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it won its first 10 games and looked unbeatable as the hot favourite to win a second-straight premiership. And this is basically the exact same team that steamrolled its way through the 2021 finals series to win that famous flag, blessed with stars on every line including probably the best midfield in the competition led by Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn. They then went and recruited Brodie Grundy, who, on face value, is an upgrade on Luke Jackson to form perhaps the most imposing ruck duo we’ve ever seen alongside Gawn and provide a scary new point of difference, as well as Lachie Hunter. They’ll also welcome back Tom McDonald after an injury-cruelled 2022.

Melbourne’s new ruck duo Grundy and Gawn (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

Why they can’t

As much as the Grundy pick-up feels like it improves Melbourne – highlighted by he and Gawn combining for six goals in the practice match against Richmond – there’s still an unknown of whether it genuinely bolsters the Demons’ forward half – a weak point in the back half of last season. It could therefore be argued Melbourne was better off adding a more natural gun forward instead of a ruckman given its midfield was already dominant, even though the Dees’ ball movement in attack arguably let them down more than anything. But if Gawn and Grundy can indeed both have an impact forward, Simon Goodwin’s team could well have gotten better in two areas. Furthermore, as impressive as Melbourne’s start to 2022 was, the stats show its pressure rating was well down from 2021.


Why they can

The Lions have previously been able to go deep into September without really challenging for the flag, but now, they might just have the cattle to do so. Brisbane was arguably the winner of the off-season after adding Josh Dunkley, Jack Gunston and Will Ashcroft. Dunkley and Ashcroft provide a huge boost to the midfield as two genuine impact platers, whereas in the past, it was a case of shut down Lachie Neale and stop Brisbane. This also figures to benefit Neale and Hugh McCluggage. In Gunston, they get another weapon up forward that feels like a better fit than Dan McStay was.

Dunkley tackles Callum Mills (Image Supplied for Editorial Use only – **NO ON SALES** – ©Phil Hillyard )Source: News Corp Australia

Why they can’t

Until last year, Brisbane’s finals record under Chris Fagan was just 1-5, having struggled to perform on the big stage. Do we just assume this can change with improved personnel? Plus, whether it’s in the grand final or earlier, the Lions would need to be able to win at the MCG – a ground they’ve won just one of their last 13 games at, although they did knock off Melbourne there in last year’s semi final. Ongoing concussion issues to Marcus Adams means the Lions could be without the trusty defender for an extended period in a key blow.


Why they can

A team coming off a grand final has all the upside in the world if the likes of Errol Gulden, Chad Warner, James Rowbottom and Logan McDonald can take their games to another level. That’s where Sydney’s improvement will come from compared to rival contenders making significant trade and free agency additions. These Swans are coached as well as any team in the competition, and John Longmire doesn’t get enough credit at times for how effectively he can bring a group together. It’s therefore more maturation from a combination of both individuals and the team as a collective that can take Sydney one step further than 2022.

Why they can’t

There’s perhaps no team better set up for premiership success in the coming years the Swans. But is its time now, of was Sydney was slightly ahead of its time in making last year’s grand final? That’s the big question hanging over Longmire’s team and one the AFL world will eagerly be waiting to find out. Of course, while it feels like Sydney has ample experience, its list is the fifth youngest in the league, according to Draft Guru. We’ve also seen clubs get scarred and fall away after such heavy grand final losses as Sydney’s to Geelong last year in another unknown surrounding the young Swans.

Tigers improving but still big issues? | 03:47


Why they can

After a slow start to last season, the Tigers came with a rush in the second half of the campaign, dropping just three of 11 games after the byes as one of the form teams of the competition. Despite failing to get past Brisbane in the elimination final, it was a reminder of how potent this Tigers outfit can be when its on song to reemerge as flag contenders with an exuberance of youth. Of course, Richmond’s now bolstered the one area of the ground it’s ever been vulnerable – not that it mattered during the club’s golden run – with star midfield recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper to add a scary new dimension to Damien Hardwick’s side.

Why they can’t

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the Taranto-Hopper double coup, but had the Tigers not landed the pair, would the footy world have been as bullish on them this year? And if not, how much credence should we put into one off-season – as good as it was. In saying that, even just one of Taranto and Hopper would’ve been huge, so to get both was a genuine home run. But the team’s trajectory had previously been up and down, and they’ve lost a ton of experience in recent years. Does this team have that same dog hunger from five years ago?


Why they can

The real question is, why can’t it be? Yes, the Blues haven’t played finals in 10 seasons, but they’ve been building one of the most promising lists in the competition for several years now that looks ready to deliver. It includes maybe the best spine in the competition led by the last two Coleman medal winners in Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow, stars on every line and a tough, blue-collared midfield unit that overwhelmed opposition last year. Of course, Carlton already looked like one of the big risers of 2023, starting the season 8-2 before fading late. History suggests one team every year comes from outside the finals into the top four, and the Blues fit the bill.

‘Carlton can win the flag!’ Eddie Betts | 01:41

Why they can’t

It’s crucial Carlton takes learnings away from its late-season failures, with its issues seemingly more mental than fundamental – the little things they could’ve done better in big moments or times they could’ve showed more composure. Their personnel is arguably as good as any side, but from what we saw last year, the Blues just couldn’t stand up when the pressure went up a notch and stakes increased. From that perspective, Michael Voss’ side has to show it can win big games before it’s considered a genuine contender.


Why they can

Daring to dream was a key theme at Collingwood last season, and it’ll hope to take that same mentality into 2023 despite being widely tipped to tumble down the ladder – for some, all the way out of the top eight. The Magpies addressed several key needs by adding Tom Mitchell, Dan McStay, Bobby Hill and Billy Frampton to provide key boosts in a multiple areas that could buffer the near guarantee they won’t play in as many close games. The Pies could simply get better overall and not rely on winning the way they did last season. They otherwise have invaluable veteran talent that holds them in great stead in big games, and were the side that came the closest to stopping the Cats in their tracks in last year’s finals series.

Why they can’t

It’s been said countless times, but what happens if the Magpies don’t emerge victorious from an unprecedented amount of close games? It’s simply unsustainable to win the way Collingwood did last year as a genuine criticism, evident by its percentage of 104.3 ranking 10th in the competition. Was it indeed just a season out of the box after they finished 17th the year prior? Rival teams will also have done their homework on Collingwood over the off-season in slowing down and countering its exhilarating new brand under Craig McRae. Plus after a top-four finish in 2023, the Pies get a much tougher draw this year.

Pies plan to upset reigning Premiers | 02:07


Why they can

The main area of concern for the Bulldogs was their lean key position stocks, but they addressed it by adding Liam Jones and Rory Lobb to shore up Luke Beveridge’s side at either end of the ground. For too long the Bulldogs relied on the dominance on their midfield, but they now line up a lot straighter to add a different dynamic. Along with development from Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy, the Dogs’ new-look tall timbre forward in particularly looks seriously dangerous, and should allow Marcus Bontempelli to play permanently in the midfield to soften the blow of Josh Dunkley’s departure. This is a team that in recent years has played in big finals – and won big finals – and might’ve just needed that slight tinker to take it to another level.

Why they can’t

The loss of Dunkley shouldn’t be underestimated, even though the Dogs’ midfield – arguably the deepest in the competition – seemingly has enough star power cover it. Not that Dunkley was ever played exclusively as an on-baller, but losing a player of such quality is going to have some kind of negative impact. If say the Dogs only improve marginally in other areas but fall away in the midfield – their strongest area of the ground – they could find themselves in the same spot as last year – a finals contender, not a flag contender.


Why they can

The ‘Flagmantle’ dream was alive for a big chunk of last season, with the Dockers occupying a spot in the top four from Rounds 4 to 18 – without Nat Fyfe for the vast majority of it – before falling away late in the season. This is a budding team that’s been on the rise for several years and finally blossoming. Justin Longmuir’s midfield led by Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong – although very young, can compete with the best on-ball units in the competition, and its defence is elite. With a finals series of experience under its belt, natural development and improvement from the forward line and the sky is the limit for Freo in 2023.

Fyfe is back after an injury-riddled 2022 (Photo by James Worsfold/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

Why they can’t

Although you could forecast Fremantle making a genuine push for the top four, winning a flag is another level altogether. They were outclassed – and in many ways overawed – by Collingwood in a semi-final at the MCG that showed they still have a ways to go. The Dockers, despite adding Luke Jackson and Jaeger O‘Meara, also lost ample experience in the off-season as they’ll line up vastly differently to last year. That unknown adds a layer of uncertainty to Freo.


Why they can

Probably the biggest smokey of these 10 sides, let’s not forget the Power made back-to-back preliminary finals in 2020 and 2021 with essentially the same list as now. And after a horror 0-5 start to 2022, Port Adelaide surged home to finish two wins outside the top eight – but with better percentage than the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood. There’s still plenty of talent for Ken Hinkley to work with and an exciting new-look midfield headed by Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Jason Horne-Francis as well as gun forward recruit Willie Rioli. Charlie Dixon staying healthy could be the difference.

Why they can’t

There’s arguably no coach under more pressure than Hinkley going into 2023, and the Power simply can’t afford to start the season slow or it risks completely capitulating. It’s also very possible Port missed its shot at going all the way in those 2020 and 2021 seasons – where it finished first and second respectively – and is now nothing more than a top eight contender, having not played with the same swagger or hunger in 2022 and struggling in multiple areas.


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