Analysing the 2022 flag contenders

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In this article, I will analyse who I consider to be the main contenders for this year’s AFL premiership.

I will analyse their strengths, their weaknesses, and the players who will make or break their campaigns. Let’s get into it!

Melbourne 
I have to begin with the only undefeated team in 2022 and the reigning premiers in the Demons.

The Demons have built their premiership success on defence, much like Richmond and Hawthorn before them.

Steven May and Jake Lever have formed what is one of the best defensive duos in the last 20 years and Harrison Petty has played the role of the lock-down defender perfectly over the last 12 months.

Melbourne also control the arcs. They rank second in inside 50s per game.

They address their main issue, which is their forward line, and they then can control the ball when doing this. They rank second in disposals per game in 2022.

Melbourne have dominated everyone put in their way so far this season. Players like Steven May, Clayton Oliver, Max Gawn, Bayley Fritsch, and Angus Brayshaw are all having career-best seasons.

Steven May

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

How do you beat them?

Well, it’s easier said than done obviously, but the Demons can allow teams to have free run out of the middle at times, especially this season, where they rank 12th in clearances per game.

Their main rivals, the Lions, rank first in clearances per game this season, and teams like Carlton also pride themselves in this area of the game.

The other area where you can beat Melbourne is their lack of proper superstar forward-50 players. For a team averaging nearly 58 inside 50s per game, an average of 13 goals a game isn’t terrific.

This is because Melbourne lack any star tall forward. Only Ben Brown and Tom McDonald are down there. They have kicked 21 goals of the 105 the team has scored this year.

They have a very strong reliance on their small and medium-sized forwards like Bayley Fritsch (16 goals), Kysaiah Pickett (nine goals), and James Harmes (eight goals).

They are also relying on midfielders like Christian Petracca (seven goals) and resting rucks Max Gawn (seven goals) and Luke Jackson (five goals) to do the damage forward of centre.

You would be a brave person to tip against the Demons in 2022, but as Leigh Matthews said, if it bleeds, you can kill it.

Opposition teams know how to beat them, or at least have a theory. But whether they can execute it or not is the million-dollar question. They’ll be hard to beat.

Brisbane 
The Lions are widely recognised as the main threat to the Demons in 2022 and it’s hard to argue a case that they’re not, considering they have been around the mark for the last four seasons and most of the list is now at their absolute peak.

Brisbane’s MO has been the same for a while now. They are the best attacking team in the competition, ranking first in points scored per game and ranking third in inside 50s per game.

They rarely handball (ranking 15th in the competition for handballs) and have a focus on getting the ball in quick to their forwards, which is proven by the fact that they rank second in kicks per game, yet 12th in disposals per game.

Impressively this season, they’ve done it without Eric Hipwood, who generally averages 30 goals per season. Charlie Cameron and Joe Daniher have kicked 38 goals between them.

Charlie Cameron of the Lions celebrates a goal

(Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Zac Bailey is not far behind them with 18 goals in what is the best triple threat in the competition.

How do you beat the Lions? Again, it’s easier said than done, and I’m going to make a big call and say that they have fewer holes in their game plan and in their team than Melbourne does.

They score with complete ease again in 2022, they dominate the contest, and more importantly than anything, they have now become one of the stingiest defences in the competition.

The defence of Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner, and Marcus Adams is working brilliantly in tandem and it’s made them a much better team.

The area where the Lions can get beaten is by themselves in the big games.

Their finals record for the last three years has been very poor (all but close losses) and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating come September.

That will answer whether they have learned from their previous shortcomings.

It is hard to pick a team for the premiership considering they’ve underperformed in finals in each of the last three seasons, but all signs point to them being the clear second seed in the race for the premiership.

Fremantle 
Clearly the surprise packet of 2022 has been the Dockers, who sit second on the ladder with just one loss after eight rounds.

And in comparison to Brisbane, the Dockers are the best defensive team in the competition and seemingly focus more on restricting what you can do with the ball rather than what they can do with it.

The Dockers rank first in fewest points scored against so far in 2022 and most of this is down to the back line working perfectly together.

Luke Ryan is having another terrific season, providing brilliant intercept marks and brilliant run out of the defensive 50, ranking ninth for total rebound 50s this season.

Hayden Young has improved dramatically in his third year of senior footy. He has been another one of those players who have increased their intercept possession numbers as well as having a beautiful kick, which rarely lets him down.

Alex Pearce (touch wood) has finally got a good run at it with injuries and is rarely beaten, while Heath Chapman has improved dramatically in his second season of AFL and ranks second in total intercepts among rising stars.

Fremantle defender Alex Pearce

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Dockers’ midfield is another position where numerous players are having career-best seasons.

That includes Will Brodie (averaging 27 disposals a game and ranking seventh in clearances per game in 2022), Caleb Serong (who is averaging a career high in both disposals and clearances), and Andrew Brayshaw (who has established himself as one of the competition’s best midfielders, ranking second in total inside 50s and ninth in total effective disposals per game).

That midfield works beautifully both on the inside and outside and it’s still without arguably their best player in Nathan Fyfe, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

How do you beat them? The Dockers are still relatively unproven, especially both forward and in defence.

There’s an argument to be made that the best defences in the game will be able to out-mark them, which will then allow for other teams to then create attack.

There’s also an argument to suggest that they are simply not ready yet, which does have some credence with most of that back six having played under 50 games.

They’re unproven, but they are the X-factor.

Carlton 
The Blues’ faithful have waited a long time for September action and it seems like this will be the year they can make a run deep into September.

Under new coach Michael Voss, the Blues have the blueprint, which is that they dominate around the contest and therefore control possession and the tempo of the game, evident by them ranking fourth in clearances per game and first in disposals per game.

Patrick Cripps is having an all-time season as things currently stand, ranking third in clearances per game, ninth in stoppage clearances per game, fourth in contested possessions per game, and sixth in total score involvements as well as averaging nearly two goals a game.

He has Sam Walsh and Adam Cerra riding shotgun this season. Walsh is ranking fifth in disposals per game, first in total uncontested possessions, and sixth in effective disposals per game. Cerra is averaging 26 disposals per game and is near on perfect when given any space.

Sam Walsh

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Combine that with Matt Kennedy, who is averaging 25 disposals a game and five clearances, and it points to the Blues having the best midfield in the competition when they are firing on all cylinders.

Carlton also has the most dangerous forward duo in the league, in Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay.

They have combined for 45 goals this season already. If you can beat both of them, you probably beat Carlton, but it’s mighty hard too do.

How do you beat them? You beat them by equalling them around the contest and exposing what I consider to be a relatively weak back line.

Obviously, it’s harder than just theoretically matching it with them around the contest, but if you can get some easy ball going inside 50, the likes of Lewis Young, Adam Saad, Zach Williams, Jordan Boyd, and Sam Docherty are very susceptible in one-on-one contests.

The blueprint is there to beat them, but it is hard to match it with a midfield consisting of Cripps, Walsh, Cerra, George Hewett, and Kennedy.

Richmond
The Tigers are getting the band back together and have played their best footy in over a year over the past fortnight after a few structural changes.

Since the appointment of David Teague in the off-season, the Tigers’ forward line has been working very functionally throughout this season, evident by them ranking second in points scored per game.

Tom Lynch has found some career-best form over the past few weeks and now leads the Coleman Medal race, while Jack Riewoldt (13) and Shai Bolton (16) have both been very good.

The defence, which was a concern earlier in the season, now looks a whole lot better with Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin coming back into the side to help out the two young key defenders in Noah Balta and Josh Gibcus, as well as the continued emergence of both Daniel Rioli and Nathan Broad.

Josh Gibcus

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Tigers’ midfield concerns are not as bad as once feared with their champion Dustin Martin back into the fold, as well as Dion Prestia coming back in this week.

Shai Bolton has been terrific in there over the last month, as has been former skipper Trent Cotchin, who is having a much better year than his last couple.

How do you beat them? In the middle.

The Tigers rank 17th in clearances per game and it has been an issue for the last few seasons.

This has been worsened by the introduction of the 6-6-6 rule, as well as the stand rule.

This doesn’t allow for the Tigers to get players behind the ball as easily as they once did, which actually allowed them to give up the clearance.

Even though it can be argued that in the past the Tigers’ clearance work has lifted in September, it’s still a major area of concern.

Dominating the contest and putting as much pressure as you can on the two inexperienced key defenders is the way to beat the Tigers.

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