View Comments
Head-to-head with the AFL boss

As I look across the class of 2012 for the first half of the season, there is no failure rate because that will ultimately be measured at the year's end.

Pre-season expectation has materialised for some, others have gone beyond expectation and there are a few who are a bit below expectation.

But I'm looking for reasons, not excuses.

I think it's been one of the weakest years in football because the inclusion of the two new expansion teams at virtually the same time has diluted the talent pool. I'm a great believer in that your competition is judged on your lowest denominator. And there are still too many sides who haven't looked like making and shouldn't be expected to make the eight.

That's disappointing, but I'm still looking forward to what is to come as we charge towards the finals. Here is how I've marked the competition so far.

Collingwood 1st (after 13 rounds)

Grade: A+
Projected wins for rest of minor round: Could win them all
They're an A+ because they've done everything right. I predicted they'd finish top and win the premiership and halfway through the season they're one game clear on top of the ladder. They've kept the majority of their best players up and the growing up of Dayne Beams and Steele Sidebottom have helped them cover the key injuries they've had. Any side that can win nine games on end has done very, very well. The flag is another matter because it is on the day, but they will finish top four without a doubt and most probably on top. That will give them every chance.

Sydney 2nd

Grade: A
Projected wins: 5 to 7
Up until last week I was highly impressed with them. The Sydney of old was a side where you just loved their hardness. But it seemed to desert them a little in the second halves against both Essendon and Geelong and that is a problem. One thing that was exposed against the Cats was their lack of inside pace. When you close down their outside pace with players such as Lewis Jetta and Rhyce Shaw, they don't have a lot more with Gary Rohan out injured. They won't win me over until they prove they can cope without those players on the outside. They get scored against quickly at times and need to find a way to better sustain their defensive quality. That matters in the finals.

Essendon 3rd

Grade: A
Projected wins: 5 or 6
I'm still not sold on Essendon because they have too much reliance on Jobe Watson. Unhealthily, he exposes too many players when he has a bad game and he's the catalyst for all their big wins. I'll still have question marks on the Bombers until more of them have shown they cannot just go with Watson for the ride, but also pilot the plane when needed. Nonetheless, I'm giving them an A because they're a much better side than last year.

West Coast 4th

Grade: A
Projected wins: Can win them all
Their success has been predictable to me. They've had their injuries, but they haven't whinged about them at all. They reflect their coach, who played with injuries and never used them as an excuse. Their big test was last week against Collingwood and I thought they held up very well. They also made nonsense of the suggestion they couldn't play well at the MCG. I would have come away from the game thinking it was all upwards for what is definitely a top-four side. The worry was they were not able to stop the influence Dayne Beams, Dane Swan and Travis Cloke.

Adelaide 5th

Grade: A
Projected wins: 7
It's fair to say Adelaide have been predictably good because they were in the finals three years ago and hadn't lost a lot of players. They looked a tired side and had a lot of major injuries and were experimenting with Patrick Dangerfield. He has now gone from a boy to a man. The Crows were well discplined by Neil Craig and had a sound game structure based on defence and run. Brenton Sanderson obviously makes them feel confident about themselves. But even though they're 9-3, I'm not sold on them because they have flaws in their game. When they get beaten, they get beaten by too much and don't have enough recovery through leadership. Their good draw, which they deserve because of last year, means they could finish in the top four by default.

Hawthorn 6th

Grade: B+
Projected wins: 7 or 8
Hawthorn still worry me because of the way they got beaten by a lot against both Sydney and Richmond. Good sides that intend to win premierships don't get belted like that. Luke Hodge will come back at some stage and I really think they need him for both stability and direction. If they can get him back with five or six weeks to go, he will be a major weapon for them. But I still think they lack spread from the middle and their backline is highly vulnerable to a good forward line. They have to beat at least two of the sides in front of them to have any hope of a top-four finish.

Geelong 7th

Grade: B
Projected wins: 4
A side that's been up for five or six years can't stay up forever and it would be unfair to expect them to be the same side as last year. Cameron Ling has been a massive loss and they haven't been able to fill his void. They have struggled to cover the loss of ruckman Brad Ottens, too. There are a lot of players edging towards that 30-plus age range and you're not the same player when you get there, particularly if a lot of you get there together. Some of the kids they expected a lot of haven't performed at that level. I have enormous respect for what they have achieved, but what you're seeing is an inevitable ageing decline. Father Time catches up with everyone.

St Kilda 8th

Grade: A
Projected wins: 7
I've been very impressed with St Kilda. One thing supporters love to see is a side that is prepared to play young kids. They are really playing out of their skin for the Saints with an enthusiasm and spark that is reigniting the place. I love Scott Watters' game plan which is tuned to scoring, but with a strong mind on defence. It's going to be tough for the Saints to make the finals, but I think they can and they should be applauded to date. When they're challenged, leaders like Nick Riewoldt and Lenny Hayes really have a crack and stand up. They are an exciting side and I like watching them. I like their attitude and with a bit of luck with injuries they'll make the finals.

Carlton 9th

Grade: C+
Projected wins: 5
They have been a victim of Chris Judd. When he plays well, so do the Blues, and when he doesn't they get lost. Now they've got Marc Murphy out as well. Their best game in the past month was against West Coast. Their best is pretty good, but they rely so heavily on one player to perform at a level to give them confidence. They've got to grow up. I'm disappointed with them, and on their own high expectation they would be disappointed with themselves. They will need to beat Hawthorn or Collingwood, or both, in the next two weeks to make the eight.

Richmond 10th

Grade: B
Projected wins: Minimum of 7
They are identical to North Melbourne in that their best is good enough to win games of football consistently. The only difference between them winning and losing against good teams like Geelong and West Coast was their ability to believe. Just when they start to believe, they get ahead of themselves and go out and play Fremantle at the MCG and get a belting. They still haven't really learnt how to win or take responsibility for winning. You can never accept satisfaction and against the Dockers I saw players running around as if it was going to happen. They have to look at that game and snap out of the apathy of thinking they have the best young midfield in the country and that wins are just going to come because of that. This game takes no prisoners. They have to realise the season goes to round 22 and then the battle starts.

North Melbourne 11th

Grade: B
Projected wins: 5 or 6
The Kangaroos are a bit of an enigma because they've knocked over Geelong and Adelaide, but lost to the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide. They are equal eighth at the moment and that's close enough at the halfway stage to have destiny in their own hands. They won't have to rely on other sides losing if they do the right thing by themselves. They have a brand of footy that looks very capable when they don't allow other teams to push them out of it. They'll either win five more games and miss the finals or six and get in.

Fremantle 12th

Grade: C+
Projected wins: 6
They have been my major disappointment. I know Nat Fyfe and Anthony Morabito haven't been out there and Aaron Sandilands has been missing more recently. But every side has injuries and you have to be able to absorb that – that's depth. Perhaps they haven't adjusted to Ross Lyon's game plan as smoothly as I may have thought. He coaches in a distinctive way and while he hasn't won a premiership, it has been highly successful. He is a man of my heart being defence first, but it doesn't seem to have been totally accepted by the players. It may also have something to do with the ground size at Patersons Stadium. The leash has come off for them to score a bit, but that has also opened up opportunities for their opponents to score heavily. Lyon will still be working out what some players can and can't do. If they can beat a more fancied side, they can make the eight.

Brisbane 13th

Grade: B+
Projected wins: 4
They certainly won't finish in the eight and will more than likely finish about where they are at the moment. But they're making inroads. Their midfield lacks a bit of pace and speed on the outside. Their good is very good, but their poor is still too poor and there are massive differences in their standards. I don't think all is lost, they just need to find more consistency in their performances.

Western Bulldogs 14th

Grade: C
Projected wins: Lucky to win 2
I was very impressed with them early on, but I've slowly lost faith. Brendan McCartney has been restricted because their forward line just doesn't have a striker. You can have the best soccer side in the world, but no striker and no score. Ultimately, I think having had Barry Hall has put them back a couple of years in attack. McCartney has tried everything available to him in terms of key forwards and I'm not seeing any light in the tunnel currently. They match sides up to half-time in inside 50s, but come away with no lollies. It's all toast and no jam for them at the moment. Only recruiting a key forward can solve their immediate problem.

Port Adelaide 15th

Grade: B (for persistence)
Projected wins: 2 or 3
Port have come from near the bottom last year and are probably playing to their level. Inevitably, that happens through inconsistency and they're not quite good enough to go any further at this stage. They've had some injuries to key players, but again, you've got to accept that will happen in a contact sport. They have to build out of that having such an impact on them.

Melbourne 16th

Grade: C+
Projected wins: 3
They won't make the eight, but I've watched them a few times now and they're getting closer to a game style that will take them forward. Whether or not they've got the talent to increase their win-loss ratio is debatable, but they look far better structured. It's taken time for their players to acknowledge Mark Neeld's game structure and their win over GWS was a small stepping stone towards getting better. Neeld will not vary from the game structure and he'll be looking for the players who can play to it for the immediate future.

Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast 17th and 18th

Grade: Each B
Projected wins: Irrelevant
I'll put these two together because they are both still learning and next year, GWS will get the same as Gold Coast are getting this year. They will find out what second-year football is all about when coaches and teams have worked them out. Clubs are not going to be dismissive of Jeremy Cameron or Jonathon Patton next year. They will get hounded next year like the Suns boys have this year. Some will swim and some will sink. They'll finish 17th and 18th and it doesn't matter which order because it's not about number of games won at this stage, it's about number of games played. Gold Coast have been hit hard with injuries to their best young players like David Swallow and senior players like Jarrod Harbrow and Nathan Bock. Young players from both sides are getting exposed because of the lack of senior players around them. They both get Bs because it's a matter of development and both coaches have coached a style that the players are accepting.

MY FINAL EIGHT

Collingwood
West Coast
Adelaide
Hawthorn
Essendon
Sydney
Richmond
St Kilda