As the home and away season for 2016 comes to an end, the final eight is almost set in stone, with three weeks to go until the post-season campaign begins, and with the eight teams we have set to participate this year, this could shape up as one of the more exciting finals campaigns we've seen in recent memory. The eight teams competing this year all have a different tale to tell, but they all have the same goal, to be the champions at season's end.
Of course we've got the reigning premiers at the top of the ladder right now. Three-time reigning premiers to be very specific, looking for their fourth straight premiership, this would be only the second time in the history of the AFL that a football club has achieved such a feat, following the Collingwood team from 1927-30.
But it hasn't come so easily this year for the Hawks. Having had to do it without Luke Hodge for the first part of the season, Liam Shiels has missed a fair chunk of the season with injury, Ben Stratton will miss a month with a pectoral injury and of course there's the big story about Jarryd Roughead. What was supposed to only be a knee injury that should've kept him out for half of the season, has developed into one of his worst nightmares – with spots of cancer on his lungs having ruled the key forward out for the remainder of the year, with his health understandably more important than the notion of winning another flag. The sad thing is, this hasn't been the first time Roughy has been spotted with cancer, last year he had his first case of melanoma on his lip, forcing him to miss a couple of weeks of footy.
The Hawks have looked average at times this year, but they still find ways to win. Can you imagine them winning four in a row? People might not like it and wish upon anyone else but the Hawks can become arguably the greatest team of not just the modern era, but the greatest team of all time.
But the number of teams that can seriously challenge for the title this year is mind-boggling. Sydney are up there with a massive chance again this year. The last time they missed a finals campaign was in 2009, where they finished 12th in a 16-team competition. Since then, they've been quite superb in bringing in recycled players such as Kennedy, McGlynn, Rhyce Shaw among others, the most recent acquisition being Lance Franklin, who's presence in the red and white has been absolutely spectacular since his arrival from Hawthorn.
The Swans can be compared to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA right now, they're consistent, professional and they always seem to find a way to be up there with the best of them at the end of the season, there is all that malarkey about the COLA at the Swans, but the development of star midfielders Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker over the years just goes to show that the Swans don't have to buy or bring in players from other clubs to be a success.
Then we have Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney and Geelong who sit at third, fourth and fifth on the ladder respectively, all three of them sit along with the Hawks and the Swans as the premiership fancies of this top eight, but you wouldn't have thought so at the start of the year.
The Crows were properly about to begin life without Phil Walsh, who as we all know, was murdered midway through last year, but remarkably, they rebounded from this tragedy and not only made finals, but they beat the Western Bulldogs in what could only be described as an epic elimination final.
Under new coach Don Pyke, anything was possible about these Crows before the first round of the AFL season this year, but as we sit at the near tail-end of the season, it's clear as day that Pyke has only added to what Walsh started in his very short tenure at the Crows, they are the number one scoring team in the AFL right now, with the likes of Jenkins, Walker and Betts being the headline acts inside Adelaide's forward 50. Imagine if they went all the way this year, it would have all the makings of a feel-good story you could put to theatre in a heartbeat. What's more impressive is that all they've done this year was without the help of Patrick Dangerfield, who was arguably Adelaide's best player last year.
Over the course of those five years, Scott has been remoulding his list so that it can contend for a flag without having to drop significantly down the ladder, most recently the recruiting of Zac Smith, Scott Selwood, Lachie Henderson and of course Dangerfield over this past off-season. With the exception of Selwood, who's missed a lot of footy this season with injury, these recruits have definitely helped the Cats massively in their rise back up the ladder this season. A premiership for Geelong will be telling about Scott's method of shipping off Geelong's old favourite sons (Like Stevie J, James Kelly and Stokes last year and possibly Bartel this year) for players in their prime that can make a massive impact on the field instantly.
Let's not forget the other three teams in the hunt for the finals. For West Coast, the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne. Compared to the rest of the teams in the eight, these three aren't considered much of a chance, but you can't count them out just yet, regardless of what has happened.
You wouldn't have believed that the West Coast Eagles were in the grand final last season, given the season that they're having this year. They came into season 2016 as one of the heavy premiership favourites, having picked up Jack Redden and Lewis Jetta with high hopes they can rediscover their best footy from their previous clubs. Unfortunately this has not been the case this year as the Eagles have really been inconsistent, especially when they play away from Domain Stadium.
Then we have the injury-stricken clubs of North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, both of them started the season so brilliantly. North won the first nine games of the year before it all started going downhill. Many people predicted this, as the Roos hadn't played against the likes of Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong, which saw North lose to all of them as well as losing to Adelaide and the Bulldogs.
With last, but certainly not least, the Western Bulldogs, who have been one of the more braver stories of 2016, starting with the knee injury of captain Robert Murphy, who has missed pretty much the entire year, the Dogs continued to lose soldiers to injury along the way having played games without Luke Dahlhaus, Jason Johannisen, Matthew Suckling and of course there was the horrific leg injury to Mitch Wallis, but have still pulled through for memorable victories against fellow finals contenders in Adelaide, West Coast, Sydney and more recently North Melbourne.
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