With the 2021 AFL Premiership season launch only now a few sleeps away, it’s time to remind ourselves of how each team is sitting going into the home-and-away season.
Here are our power rankings of all 18 clubs based on their pre-season form, last year’s finishing position and their off-season amongst other factors.
It’d be difficult not to rank the Tigers as the form side going into this season following a spirited Grand Final win to cap off a tough 2020 for the club.
Richmond will be looking to pull off a three-peat in 2021, and look in great stead to do so. In their pre-season hitout against the Pies, the Tigers survived a late surge to come out on top by a single goal.
Despite this, there is still a question mark over how the off-field drama surrounding Damien Hardwick’s split with his wife and subsequent relationship with a Richmond staff member will affect the side, but there is no doubt the Tigers are still the team to beat.
The Cats have had a stellar off-season, bringing in more high-end talent in the form of Isaac Smith, Shaun Higgins and Jeremy Cameron to what is an already stacked list.
With the burning pain of a grand final loss still very much at the forefront of their minds, many punters are penciling Chris Scott’s side as potential premiers. Their pre-season match against the Bombers wasn’t anything flash, edging Ben Rutten’s side by seven points down at Kardinia Park.
With an experienced and insanely talented side, the Cats will almost certainly be up there come September time.
The Lions were incredible in 2020 and would’ve been gravely disappointed not to feature in the first interstate grand final in Brisbane at the Gabba.
However, the side is still a youthful one, with an average age of 23.9 according to Champion Data, meaning that they still have their best years ahead of them.
Their AAMI Community Series game against the Suns, despite running out five goal winners, had a sour outcome as star Cam Rayner went down with an ACL injury, ruling him out for the year.
Despite this, Chris Fagan will be hoping that the void left by Rayner will be plugged and his young Lions, with the addition of big forward Joe Daniher, can push for their first flag in 18 years.
4. Port Adelaide
The Power had a breakout 2020 and are looking primed and ready to make another tilt at the flag this year. The club had a fantastic trade period, bringing in Orazio Fantasia from the Bombers and Aliir Aliir from Sydney to bolster their ranks.
Their Community Series match went swimmingly, flogging the Crows by 71 points in a pre-season showdown. Similar to the Cats, they will be looking to avenge their loss in finals last year at the hands of the Tigers, and with another pre-season under the belt of a playing group who seemed to have finally clicked last year, Ken Hinkley will have belief that his side can get back to the heights of 2020 and potentially further.
5. St. Kilda
Coming off the back of a gutsy 2020 finals run, Brett Ratten and his side will have full belief that they can go even further in season 2021.
St. Kilda’s pre-season matchup against the Blues went well, triumphing over David Teague’s side by 26 points at Marvel Stadium.
Trade period pickups of Crow ball magnet Brad Crouch, exciting forward Jack Higgins and veteran James Frawley amongst others have solidified the quality of their promising young list. With co-captains Jarryn Geary and Jack Steele at the helm, Saints fans will be dreaming of a fairytale 2021 and adding another premiership cup to their cabinet.
6. Western Bulldogs
The Doggies have had a brilliant off-season, retaining star mid Josh Dunkley and getting a steal in the form of discarded Magpie Adam Treloar to now possess what many consider to be the best midfield in the league. Their pre-season runout against the Demons was fruitful for the Doggies, thumping Simon Goodwin’s side to the tune of 39 points. Despite sneaking into the eight at the tail-end of 2020, Luke Beveridge will be hoping his side don’t leave it that late this year and instead solidify themselves as contenders early on. If their midfield can gel with Treloar thrown into the mix, expect big things from the Doggies this year.
7. West Coast
West Coast will have had plenty of time to mull over what was by their lofty standards a failed 2020 season.
After losing an elimination final to the undermanned Collingwood, Adam Simpson and his side will be chomping at the bit to avenge their shortfalls by making an impression on the 2021 season.
Their AAMI Community Series Western Derby against the Dockers went smoothly, coming out victorious in a good run-out for the side at Optus Stadium.
Their trade period was a solid one, bringing in Zac Langdon and Alex Witherden who will help bolster all three lines across the field.
There is something about the hype around the Blues this season that feels different to the false dawns of yesteryear.
The addition of Adam Saad and Zac Williams in the summer has added more quality to David Teague’s young squad. Their pre-season match against the Saints went not as smoothly as they would’ve hoped, going down by 26 points, however there will still many positives to take from the match.
Their round one match against the reigning premiers is usually a one-sided affair, but this year the Carlton faithful have a genuine mandate to believe that they can stick it to the Tigers and make something of the match.
9. Gold Coast
The Suns are building nicely for a tilt at finals footy this year under coach Stuart Dew. Their 2020 tailed off after a blistering start to the year, however with another pre-season of nailing down their game-plan and the return of the prodigious Matt Rowell, there is every reason for Suns fans to be optimistic about their chances this year.
Their pre-season match against the Lions didn’t exactly go to plan, but Dew won’t be too fussed about the result. With some of the best young talent in the land bundled into their team, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time until they finally crack the top eight, and it seems that there is little reason as to why their time can’t be now.
The Dockers had an underwhelming 2020, but it was to be expected with the side undergoing a transitional phase. Despite this, many have flagged the side as a potential surprise package in 2021 with the top eight apparently not out of the question.
However, Justin Longmuir’s side are still a young, inexperienced yet talented group of players who still need another few years under their belts until they can turn their focus to finals.
Their trade period was stale, and they did narrowly go down to rivals West Coast in their pre-season game, but all the blueprints are there for Fremantle to improve again in season 2021.
Simon Goodwin’s boys haven’t been at the races over the course of the past couple of years.
2019 was disappointing and last year, despite showing flashes of their 2018 selves, was ultimately a failure after the team could not stand up when it mattered, surrendering a finals berth that was very much in their reach.
Their pre-season hitout didn’t go overly well either after they were on the receiving end of a thumping from the Doggies. The arrival of Ben Brown from North Melbourne could perhaps be the missing piece of their forward puzzle, but the tall forward staying fit and consistently performing is a tough ask following last year.
Many feel this could be Goodwin’s last chance to elevate the club to another finals appearance and the pressure will be on for him to get the side to dish up regularly acceptable results.
The Pies had a horror off-season in 2020/21. Their list management during trade period, the racism investigation saga and the subsequent resignation of club president Eddie McGuire all shook the club to it’s core.
The fire-sale of some of the clubs stars such as Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson has meant the playing group is very much undermanned going into the 2021 season. That being said, they did put up an impressive performance against the Tigers in their pre-season match, narrowly going down to the premiers in a late fightback, but their problems going forward is what will hamper the Pies over the course of the season.
13. Greater Western Sydney
GWS haven’t been the same side since their 89-point 2019 Grand Final flogging at the hands of Richmond, and Leon Cameron would be scratching his head as to how he can get the side back to the top in season 2021.
Their trade period was disappointing, drafting in the beleaguered Jesse Hogan and Braydon Preuss, but losing many stars such as Jeremy Cameron, Zac Williams, Zac Langdon and Jye Caldwell amongst others.
Despite this, the side had a decent runout in their pre-season match against the Swans, coming out on top by 28 points, but Cameron will still be anxious as to how his side will fare come their first round game against the Saints on Sunday.
The Hawks had a woeful 2020, and many are predicting much of the same in season 2021.
Coach Alastair Clarkson has had rumours swirling around for much of the off-season over whether he will be around at the club for much longer, but will still be wanting to make progress with his Hawks side.
Hawthorn had a relatively quiet off-season, bringing in Tom Phillips and Kyle Hartigan in the trade window and Lachie Bramble via the SSP, but notably losing experienced midfielder Isaac Smith to the Cats.
Their pre-season game went smoothly, thrashing the Roos by 39 points at Arden Street. The Hawks likely won’t be making a sizeable impact on the 2021 season, but getting the playing group back towards where they once were is what Clarkson will be aiming for.
The Swans are a side still in development, but have some promising youngsters in the pipeline who look destined for big things. Their 2020 season left a lot to be desired, but there were some spirited performances in there which gave a glimpse of the teams potential.
Sydney’s trade period was a quiet one, only recruiting Tom Hickey from the Eagles and parting ways with Aliir Aliir who moved to the Power. The Battle of the Bridge pre-season match went the Giants way however, but there were some impressive individual performances from first year players Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden.
The Swans would be happy to chalk up more than half a dozen wins in season 2021, with progress being made all over the field.
16. North Melbourne
The Roos have been well off the pace for a number of years now, and the unfortunate departure of coach Rhyce Shaw over the off-season has meant that Brisbane Head of Football David Noble had to take the reins and try to build something at Arden Street for 2021.
The club had a pretty decent trade period, bringing in Pies Jaidyn Stephenson and Atu Bosenavulagi as well as Aidan Corr and Lachie Young. However, star forward Ben Brown was shown the door after a horrible 2020 season, whilst Shaun Higgins and Majak Daw were the other significant departures.
Their pre-season wasn’t anything to write home about, going down by 39 points to the Hawks at Arden Street, however their first half wasn’t bad by any stretch, giving some insight into what David Noble is going to bring to the club.
With some promising youngsters, the Roos should be looking to chalk up at least a few wins in 2021 and have some tangible positives to take into the future.
To head the rebuild process at The Hanger is a task that the vast majority wouldn’t envy, but that is what lies ahead of new head coach Ben Rutten.
The playing group isn’t anywhere near competitive enough even for the top half of the bottom ten, and the departures of Adam Saad, Orazio Fantasia and Joe Daniher amongst others has seen a large chunk of quality leave the Bombers. However, the arrivals of Jye Caldwell, Peter Wright and Nick Hind as well as some other reinforcements gives Rutten some hope that he can build something meaningful in the long run.
The Bombers had a pretty good match against last year’s Grand Finalists Geelong, but went down narrowly by seven points. For the clubs sake, a couple of good wins in 2021 would give fans some hope that the club is slowly on the up, but expect a lot of tough weekends in season 2021 for Essendon.
The Crows have had a shocking few years since their 2017 Grand Final fiasco, and coach Matthew Nicks will be looking for progress in season 2021.
After drafting in Jackson Hately, Mitchell Hinge and Nick Murray whilst losing Brad Crouch, Kyle Hartigan and Rory Atkins amongst others, the Crows will be looking to build upon their hopeful end to the 2020 season where they won three of their last five matches.
Despite being flogged in their pre-season runout against the Power, Rory Sloane and co. will be hopeful they can start getting a consistent game-plan up and running for this season and beyond.