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Mick Malthouse: Stragglers set to be stuck down the bottom
Mick Malthouse: Stragglers set to be stuck down the bottom

The tragedy of the AFL's decision to move into new frontiers on the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney already is being played out at the foot of the ladder.

While I am a strong supporter of expansion, introducing two teams almost concurrently and providing the enormous concessions to the Suns and Giants has had a harsh consequence which will affect several clubs for several years.

Put simply, those struggling at the bottom of the ladder - excluding the pair of expansion teams - now have a long road to hoe as their usual source of replenishment through the draft has been effectively sapped.

The way I see it, there will be pain for four or five years.

With two new clubs taking almost all of the best young players in the nation, there is a dearth of talent being spread through the lists and it was always going to weaken the competition overall.

Sides near the bottom of the ladder and relying on a replenishment of first and second-round picks simply haven't been able to get their slice.

The replenishment needed to have taken place before the last two drafts, and some clubs missed the boat.

That means the poorer teams from 2010, 2011 and even this year are experiencing the inevitable stagnation that many critics predicted, while the sides at the top will stay at the top if they have reasonably young lists.

Melbourne's recruiting has been ordinary in recent seasons, there's no question about that.

The Western Bulldogs, in many respects, have drafted the same type of player for too long and have been caught out with not enough variety.

Port Adelaide are bringing on a few kids, but there's no replenishment coming through.

So these clubs are going to have to pick the eyes out of their draft picks and make them count.

They might have to court young players from the expansion clubs and try to convince them to come back to their home State.

They may also need to look to other opportunities, such as players from other sports, other countries or mature-aged players.

The anomaly to me is St Kilda, particularly because their best players are their older players, and that spells danger.

There is the suggestion their premiership window has closed. I believe it has slammed shut. Compounding the problem is that they brought in recycled players who haven't had a great impact and they neglected to bring in the kids.

So they've really had a double whammy, with older players and recycled players, and they will suffer in the future because of that regime.

It will be a big job for Scott Watters to replenish where he can, if he can, and to get fans to be patient.

But Watters has a good coaching methodology and may be able to ease a bit of the pain.

Mark my words, the most important person in a football club is your recruiting manager. He and his division supply the coach with the team.

Collingwood's national recruiting manager Derek Hine is one of the great men in football and has kept that club replenished. He looks at footballers at 17 and sees what they will be like at 22. He even looks at them at 12 and visualises them at 17.

Geelong also have replenished beautifully and Stephen Wells has proved to be an excellent recruiting officer who has done very, very well for them.

The opportunities Hine and Wells have given those clubs were no fluke - it's about being well resourced and doing your homework.

At the end of round four, I traditionally like to use mathematics to tick off those I think will make the finals and those who won't.

At that point this year, we had three undefeated sides - West Coast, Sydney and Essendon.

The Eagles have a relatively young list because they've already replenished and their senior players are still in very good nick.

Captain Darren Glass seems to be the first player to miss when they have a travelling game, such as to Blacktown in round three.

That's a great methodology to ensure he plays 15 or 16 games leading into the finals, because he's got a bit of wear and tear.

Sydney are undefeated, too, and have taken a new tack recently in keeping their early draft picks.

Those kids are starting to come through and because they and the Eagles are non-Victorian sides, they will have a lot of games with a distinct home ground advantage.

With four wins each already, the likelihood is that they will gobble up the number of victories needed to make the eight and then it's up to them to win enough games to make the top four.

On performances so far, West Coast are a certainty and Sydney will stretch for it.

Essendon are the surprise packet to me because they looked like they struggled against Gold Coast and then were fantastic against Carlton.

Carlton are going to be around the mark, while Adelaide are the most likely, in my view, to drop out of the eight when the big guns behind them start making a run.

Fremantle just need a good run with injuries. They have replenished at the right time.

The rest of the season will be a big test for North Melbourne because at the moment they are up and down like an ocean wave.

They should beat Gold Coast today and will then need at least eight wins from the last 17 rounds to challenge for that eighth spot.

Given where they were last year, it's a good opportunity for them. But Sydney last week was a game where they should have got a lot closer than 36 points, so they still have it all to prove, especially when you look at the teams still below them on the ladder.

Hawthorn and Geelong are there, but my theory is that top sides can start slow because they find a way to win when they have to.

This is where teams such as Adelaide, Fremantle, the Saints and North Melbourne will come under huge pressure.

Brisbane are interesting because they topped up with recycled players a couple of years back but have since started to bring in kids. Surprise, surprise, some of them are starting to flourish.

It's amazing, if you stick with good kids with coaching, patience and support, at some stage you will get your reward.

You don't put pressure on your recruiting staff to regurgitate players unless you really have to, you go to the young players who are going to have good upswing.

Brisbane are starting to see that with some of their kids, while the recycled players are the ones dropping out and falling away.

I'm all for second chances, but you've got to pick and choose very carefully.

Richmond lost to Geelong last Sunday mainly because of poor decision making and that will be a vulnerability until they clean it up. But having said that, I believe they have as much upside as any in the competition.

They need a massive lift from Jack Riewoldt and then eliminate the players who make poor decisions.

People claim Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney will win premierships in four to five years. But take it from me, and anyone else who has won them, they are not that easy to win.

When I look at Gold Coast, there has not been a successful side in any sporting code from there.

It's a transient society where people go for the sun and a surf and, while they like the football, they don't go to it in droves.

The reality is that it's a great place to visit, but Cairns may have been a better alternative.

Still, whichever way it goes, coach Guy McKenna is definitely the bloke to hold the camp together and get maximum results.

"Mark my words, the most important person in a football club is your recruiting manager.""