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Top clubs push hard to avoid peeking over precipice

Highly regarded young midfielder Tom Mitchell. If the Swans can keep him in the fold, he could be a cornerstone of future flag challenges.

Highly regarded young midfielder Tom Mitchell. If the Swans can keep him in the fold, he could be a cornerstone of future flag challenges. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Every now and again, a club that has been consistently vying for premierships suddenly and dramatically falls down the ladder.

It happened to St Kilda in 2012, Hawthorn in 2009, West Coast and Port Adelaide in 2008, and Brisbane in 2005.

Port Adelaide was arguably a home and away season over-achiever in 2007, and it was little surprise its squad suffered a negative reaction to its grand final annihilation. The Hawks were young and considered to have arrived early in taking out the 2008 flag.

Collingwood's hopes of avoiding a further slide rest with untested talent such as their first-round draft pick, Matt Scharenberg.

Collingwood's hopes of avoiding a further slide rest with untested talent such as their first-round draft pick, Matt Scharenberg. Photo: Getty Images

But in most other cases, teams that plummet out of the eight after being involved at the pointy end have pushed their senior talent as far as it can go, at the expense of getting games into the next generation.

In the AFL, he not busy being born is busy dying. The Lions' list in 2005 included many famous names: Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin, Justin Leppitsch, Jonathan Brown. Only Alastair Lynch, Shaun Hart and Craig McRae were missing from their losing 2004 grand final team.

But some inverse momentum, a few key injuries, and the inevitable letdown felt by a sliding team which has been at the pinnacle … and they finished 11th, ending their season with three humiliating thrashings, which foretold an upcoming decade of banishment from the top eight.

Some great teams plummet once their premiership hopes depart.

Some great teams plummet once their premiership hopes depart. Photo: Jamie Brown

The mission statements of many clubs now include explicit references to avoiding this syndrome. Successful clubs are aiming to defy the "natural cycle" intended by the salary cap and draft by identifying and developing replacement talent to regenerate their list and remain in contention.

The recent retirements of great older players remind us that the end can come quickly, and unpredictably, once a player passes the age of 30.

Geelong has not missed the finals since 2007, and once since 2003. Collingwood has been in the top eight since 2006; and Hawthorn since 2007 (but for its 2009 lapse). Sydney last missed the eight in 2009, but before that, it was 2002.

Can George Horlin-Smith, left, help replace Steve Johnson, right?

Can George Horlin-Smith, left, help replace Steve Johnson, right? Photo: Pat Scala

Are any of these teams at risk of not making the eight in 2015?


Star factor: Lance Franklin is as big a star as exists, and after a slow start, he is proving he is worth every cent to the Swans. Stars include fellow forward Kurt Tippett, who averages almost three goals per game for Sydney when he gets on the park, and elite midfielders Dan Hannebery, Josh Kennedy and Jarrad McVeigh. The other "star" at Sydney is the depth of competent, experienced foot soldiers across every department. Unheralded players like back pocket Nick Smith are dependable and more individually talented than they are given credit for.

Gifted young Hawk Brad Hill. Can he help fill the void which will open once Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell depart?

Gifted young Hawk Brad Hill. Can he help fill the void which will open once Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell depart? Photo: Pat Scala

Players currently over 30 (7): Nick Malceski, Ryan O’Keefe, Adam Goodes, Mike Pyke, Ted Richards, Lewis Roberts-Thomson,  Rhyce Shaw.

Potential retirees after 2014 season (4): Adam Goodes, 34, played 11 of 16 games in 2014; Lewis Roberts-Thompson, 30, 5 games; Ryan O’Keefe, 33, 4; Rhyce Shaw 32, 13.

Midfield profile, including current ages: Josh Kennedy, 26; Luke Parker, 21; Jarrad McVeigh, 29; Kieren Jack, 27; Dan Hannebery, 23; Craig Bird, 25; Ben McGlynn, 29; Harry Cunningham, 20; Lewis Jetta, 25; Tom Mitchell, 20; Brandon Jack, 20; Zak Jones, 19.

Key positions: Ted Richards, 31; Heath Grundy 28; Sam Reid, 22; Kurt Tippett, 27; Lance Franklin, 27; Lewis Roberts-Thomson, 30.

Up and comers: Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, Harry Cunningham, Tom Mitchell, Brandon Jack, Zak Jones, Sam Reid, Dean Towers, Jake Lloyd, Gary Rohan.

Verdict. The likely retirees will not reduce Sydney’s strength considerably. The Swans have learnt not to rely on Goodes, whose injuries are making him a bonus rather than a staple; and O’Keefe has been out of the reckoning since early in the season. Shaw is a valued competitor, and if the out-of-contract Malceski also departs, there will be some pain, but if Sydney has anything it is a factory capable of producing quality back flankers. Sam Reid can effectively take over the swingman role formerly occupied by Lewis Roberts-Thomson. Twice-injured defender Alex Johnson will slot straight back if fully fit. The Sydney engine room is young and overflowing. Its prime movers are still on the rise, with possible Brownlow medallist Josh Kennedy at the helm, and Kieren Jack, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery and Craig Bird all 25 or under. They will be pushed by the younger types, including likely elite draftee Isaac Heeney. The star forwards should have at least two highly fruitful years ahead of them, though Tippett’s ongoing fragility is a concern. Like most teams, any more than one injury to a key defender would hurt, but Grundy and the evergreen Richards are exceptionally hardy.

Worst case scenario: Injuries to talls at either end and to a couple of engine room stars might hold the Swans back, but they will struggle to lose enough games to miss the eight. This is a young, well-balanced list, still on the improve, which looks able to cover most contingencies

Possible Sydney Team 2015

B Smith, Richards, Rampe

HB McVeigh, Grundy, Laidler

C Jetta, Kennedy, K. Jack

HF McGlynn, Franklin, Bird

F Reid, Tippett, Cunningham

R Pyke, Hannebery, Parker

I Lloyd, B. Jack, Meeney, Mitchell

Rohan, Jones, Johnson


Star factor: Joel Selwood, Steve Johnson, Jimmy Bartel. They are the most prolific ball-winners at Geelong, and their gritty brilliance and versatility remain absolutely central to the team’s continuing excellence. Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor are the best in the business as key big men at either end of the ground.

Over 30 (5): Jimmy Bartel, 30; Corey Enright, 32; Steve Johnson, 31; James Kelly, 30; Tom Lonergan, 30. Mathews Stokes, Andrew Mackie, Hamish McIntosh and Jared Rivers will be 30 later this year.

Potential retirees: Corey Enright.

Midfield profile: Joel Selwood, 26; Steve Johnson, 31; Jimmy Bartel, 30; Mitch Duncan, 23; James Kelly, 30; Cameron Guthrie, 21; George Horlin-Smith, 21; Steven Motlop, 23; Josh Caddy, 21.

Key positions: Tom Lonergan, 30; Harry Taylor, 28; Tom Hawkins, 25; Josh Walker, 21; Shane Kersten, 21; Mitch Brown, 23; Mark Blicavs, 23.

Up and comers: Mitch Duncan, Cameron Guthrie, George Horlin-Smith, Steven Motlop, Josh Caddy, Jordan Murdoch, Mark Blicavs, Allen Christensen, George Burbury, Jed Bews, Billie Smedts, Shane Kersten, Jesse Stringer, Josh Walker, Nathan Vardy, Daniel Menzel.

Verdict: Geelong has been busy phasing out stars and giving game time to promising youngsters for a couple of years. It is a testament to just how many great players they assembled in the noughties that they still face big issues. There’s no replacing messrs Johnson, Bartel and Kelly in the engine room, but the good news is the Cats might not have to do that for another year. The stay of execution is the same in the big man ranks, with Tom Lonergan probably right for another year, and Harry Taylor probably three years off the danger zone. Geelong has developed talent as well as could be expected, but, apart from Motlop and Christensen, the ranks of the emerging players lack the brilliance of their forebears and will struggle to match the likes of the Gold Coast Suns' running brigade. The 2016 season could be difficult, but the Cats will get another chance to defy the precipice in 2015, with competent kids maturing at the same time as all-time-greats make their last hurrah.

Worst case scenario: An injury to Tom Hawkins exposes the lack of experienced, consistent tall forward targets; the Cats struggle to maintain their daring run and gun skill-based counter-attack from defence and through the midfield. The result is that Geelong starts to lose more of the close games which it is winning out of habit in 2014.

Possible team 2015:

B Rivers, Lonergan, Mackie

HB Guthrie, Taylor, Varcoe

C Motlop, Selwood, Christensen

HF Bartel, Hawkins, Johnson

F Murdoch, Vardy, Duncan

R McIntosh, Stokes, Kelly, Horlin-Smith

I Smedts, Blicavs, Caddy

E Hunt, Simpson, Bews

Possible team 2016:

B Bews, Brown, Smedts

HB Guthrie, Taylor, Varcoe

C Motlop, Selwood, Christensen

HB Burbury, Hawkins, Kersten

F Murdoch, Vardy, Duncan

R Simpson, Horlin-Smith, Caddy, Hunt

Bews, Stringer, McCarthy, Schroeder

E Hartman, Thurlow, Sheringham


Star factor: Jarryd Roughead, Luke Hodge, Cyril Rioli, Sam Mitchell, Brian Lake, Shaun Burgoyne, Grant Birchall, Luke Breust, Jack Gunston. That’s how you win multiple flags within a decade: a key forward, several top-line midfielders, a key defender and two 40-goal plus goalkickers. Elite talent across the lines.

Over 30 (7): Sam Mitchell, 31; Shaun Burgoyne, 31; Brad Sewell, 30; Brian Lake 32; David Hale, 30; Josh Gibson, 30; Luke Hodge, 30.

Potential retirees (2): Brian Lake, Brad Sewell.

Midfield profile: Sam Mitchell, 31; Jordan Lewis, 28; Shaun Burgoyne, 31; Luke Hodge, 30; Brad Hill, 21; Liam Shiels, 22; Cyril Rioli, 25; Brad Sewell, 30.

Key positions: Brian Lake, 32; Ryan Schoenmakers, 24; Josh Gibson, 30; Matt Spangher, 28; Jarryd Roughead, 28; David Hale, 30; Sam Grimley, 23; Tim O’Brien, 20.

Up and comers: Jack Gunston, Brad Hill, Liam Shiels, Ryan Schoenmakers, Will Langford, Jonathan Ceglar, Angus Litherland, Mitch Hallahan, Jed Anderson, Billy Hartung, Tim O’Brien, Luke Lowden.

Verdict: The Hawks, like the Cats, might get enough games out of their ageing stars to stave off a dramatic decline in 2015, but with the end looming for so many great players, there will be huge changes to this list in the near future, and a big risk of a drop-off. Already in 2014, Lake, Mitchell, Sewell and Gibson missed huge chunks of the year, which inevitably have affected performance. The Hawthorn midfield, despite diligent efforts to vary its mix, relies upon greybeards come finals time. Imagine it without Hodge, Burgoyne and Mitchell, and you see the extent of the development challenge. The dearth of quality key position options in defence, sans Lake, has been covered by a stellar line-up of half-backs. But such deficiencies eventually bite over the course of a long season. Has the athletic, exciting Ryan Schoenmakers matured enough to become a bulwark as a key position tall, or is he to remain merely a handy third tall/swingman? Can Hill, Shiels and Rioli carry the on-ball brigade? The Hawks have developed an encouraging array of emerging players, but are any of them good enough to carry the load as a key backman or primary ball-winning midfielder at the level of their predecessors?

Worst case scenario: Injuries and retirements strip the Hawks of several of their finest players at once, thrusting a raft of competent, but not brilliant, fringe players into the front lines. Though there is still a core of fine talent, performance cannot possibly match the stellar deeds of the past four years, and the slide begins.

Possible team 2015:

B Stratton, Gibson, Birchall

HB Hodge, Schoenmakers, Suckling

C Shiels, Mitchell, Hill

HF Breust, Gunston, Rioli

F Hale, Roughead, Smith

I Ceglar, Lewis, Burgoyne, Puopolo

E Duryea, McEvoy, Spangher

Possible team 2016:

B Stratton, Birchall, Duryea

HB Suckling, Schoenmakers, Litherland

C Shiels, Hill, Smith

HF Breust, Gunston, Simpkin

F Puopolo, Roughead, Rioli

R Ceglar, Lewis, Langford

I McEvoy, Hallahan, Anderson, Hartung

E O’Brien, Lowden, Spangher  


Star factor: Scott Pendlebury, Travis Cloke, Dayne Beams, Ben Reid.

Over 30 (3): Luke Ball, 30; Quinten Lynch, 31; Dane Swan, 30.

Potential retirees (2): Luke Ball, Quinten Lynch.

Midfield profile: Scott Pendlebury, 26; Dayne Beams, 24; Dane Swan, 30; Steele Sidebottom, 23; Luke Ball, 30; Jarryd Blair, 24; Brent Macaffer, 26; Taylor Adams, 20; Josh Thomas, 22; Tim Broomhead, 20.

Key positions: Nathan Brown, 25; Ben Reid, 25; Jack Frost, 22; Lachlan Keefe, 24.

Up and comers: Taylor Adams, Tim Broomhead, Jamie Elliott, Alex Fasolo, Nathan Freeman, Matthew Scharenberg, Jack Frost, Tom Langdon, Marley Williams, Brodie Grundy, Jarrod Witts, Ben Sinclair, Paul Seedsman, Adam Oxley, Ben Kennedy, Patrick Karnezis.

Verdict: Collingwood only qualifies for this analysis as they have made the finals every year since 2006. The fact is, the Pies have already slid off the mountain-top, rebuilding while still making the finals, and their line-up is already youthful. Collingwood is an example of what faces Hawthorn and Geelong as newbies take over roles from premiership-winning incumbents. The Magpies’ future depends on the improved output of players already in place, and the contribution of injured junior stars yet to play. Of senior talent getting a regular game, only Luke Ball and Dane Swan are likely to depart in the near future. Collingwood has traded well for draft picks, but its recruitment of senior talent – Quinten Lynch, Clinton Young, Jesse White, Tony Armstrong – has been less successful. It means that avoiding a further slide depends on improvement from within via the likes of Ben Kennedy, Taylor Adams and Tim Broomhead. There will be even higher hopes that the unplayed Matt Scharenberg and Nathan Freeman are more skilful than many of their young peers. The Magpies badly need to find some elite ball-users, star quality and luck with injuries. With Ben Reid and Jamie Elliott alongside Travis Cloke in attack, and Nathan Brown back in defence, they have a far more formidable appearance. But to become a premiership contender once more, they will need some classy midfielders to emerge. Otherwise, they will be left hanging by their fingernails from the precipice.

Worst case scenario: If the Magpies’ poor luck with injury continues, and they field a team similar to the outfit which ran out against Essendon in round 17, 2014 – featuring a tiny, inexperienced defence, a sloppy midfield overly reliant on three top-liners, a feckless young ruck brigade, and a forward line with one legitimate threat - it will not just miss the eight, it will plummet.

Possible team 2015:

B Williams, Frost, Toovey

HB Seedsman, Keefe, Scharenberg

C Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Freeman

HF Elliott, Reid, Fasolo

F Goldsack, Cloke, Kennedy

R Grundy, Beams, Adams

I Macaffer, Broomhead, Lumumba, Witts

E Langdon, Brown, Oxley

3 comments so far

  • Will , i reckon Simpkin and Spangher have done enough to be in the starting Hawk line-up. More than useful and better given assured selection. But it's all guesswork , i guess.

    rural NSW
    Date and time
    July 24, 2014, 5:16PM
    • Just another excuse to kick Collingwood when they're down.
      LOVE IT!

      Glen Iris
      Date and time
      July 24, 2014, 5:16PM
      • I think that Rohan will make the team ahead of B. Jack and a fully fit Johnson ahead of Laidler, and No room in Collingwoods team for D. Swan???

        Date and time
        July 24, 2014, 8:50PM

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        2014 Home and Away

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        Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
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        MEL 83 vs WBU 99 Report Stats
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        Fri, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
        ESS 64 vs SYD 114 Report Stats
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        NTH 125 vs BRI 38 Report Stats
        FRE 96 vs GEE 64 Report Stats
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        Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
        GEE 111 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
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        GWS 41 vs RIC 154 Report Stats
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        PTA 100 vs HAW 86 Report Stats
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        Fri, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
        STK 54 vs COL 140 Report Stats
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        MEL 75 vs PTA 95 Report Stats
        BRI 98 vs CAR 91 Report Stats
        ESS 104 vs RIC 54 Report Stats
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        ADE 109 vs GCF 77 Report Stats
        WBU 51 vs FRE 89 Report Stats
        HAW 94 vs GWS 87 Report Stats
        WCE 44 vs NTH 82 Report Stats
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        Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
        GEE 107 vs CAR 102 Report Stats
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        HAW 123 vs WCE 79 Report Stats
        PTA 129 vs STK 59 Report Stats
        WBU 87 vs BRI 95 Report Stats
        GWS 66 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
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        CAR 90 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
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        WCE 103 vs GCF 100 Report Stats
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        ESS 77 vs MEL 78 Report Stats
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        STK 70 vs WCE 103 Report Stats
        MEL 66 vs NTH 107 Report Stats
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        GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
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        HAW 116 vs GCF 63 Report Stats
        STK 73 vs RIC 117 Report Stats
        FRE 88 vs WCE 81 Report Stats
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        ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
        COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
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        NTH 108 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
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        RIC 79 vs BRI 54 Stats
        GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
        GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
        MEL 34 vs FRE 97 Report Stats
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        GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
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        Round 17
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        ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
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        MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
        NTH 92 vs STK 33 Report Stats
        WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
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        Round 18
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        CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
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        GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
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        Round 19
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        FRE 83 vs CAR 78 Report Stats
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        ADE 105 vs WCE 136 Report Stats
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        HAW 107 vs WBU 45 Report Stats
        COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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        Round 20
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        RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
        Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
        GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
        CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
        HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
        PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
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        Sun, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
        BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
        STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
        WCE 126 vs COL 66 Report Stats
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        Round 21
        Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
        CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
        Sat, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
        SYD 127 vs STK 56 Stats
        GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
        ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
        COL 56 vs BRI 123 Report Stats
        ADE 69 vs RIC 79 Report Stats
        Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
        NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
        MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
        FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
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        Round 22
        Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
        PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
        Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
        NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
        ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
        GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
        WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
        HAW 94 vs GEE 71 Report Stats
        Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
        BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
        WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
        RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
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        Round 23
        Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
        COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
        Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
        CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
        FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
        SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
        NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
        GEE 143 vs BRI 81 Stats
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        GCF 99 vs WCE 151 Stats
        ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
        WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
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        AFL Finals Round 1
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        AFL Finals Round 4
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        SYD 74 vs HAW 137 Report Stats
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        AFL Home and Away
        Overall standings
        Team P W L D % Pts
        Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
        Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
        Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
        Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
        Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
        North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
        Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
        Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
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