AFL Rd 9 - Western Bulldogs v Richmond
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 29: Dustin Martin of the Tigers is tackled during the round nine AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Richmond Tigers at Metricon Stadium on July 29, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The 2021 AFL season is so nearly upon us, and the annual pre-season optimism is once again fueling premiership dreams for every player and fan alike. Channeling this optimism, we have concocted our own (premature) ladder predictor.

Here is what we think the table will look like come September:

  1. Brisbane

The Lions went ever closer to an elusive premiership flag last year but fell short to the experienced Cats at the penultimate hurdle.

In saying this, the capture of Joe Daniher from the Bombers could be core to their push to a Grand Final, and if he stays fit and firing, it is hard to see anyone stopping Chris Fagan’s boys from claiming a minor premiership.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 25: Eric Hipwood of the Lions celebrates during the 2019 AFL round 23 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Brisbane Lions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 25, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Another year of experience under the belt for the Lions potentially could be what they need to clinch their first flag in 18 years.

  1. Richmond

Damien Hardwick’s men made history last year after winning their third premiership in four years and cementing themselves as one of the greatest sides of the modern era.

However, off-season drama could potentially take its toll on the playing group, so it will be interesting to see how the Tigers fare this year.

They are still the team to beat however, and will take some stopping to prevent them from performing the three-peat.

  1. Port Adelaide

The Power had a spectacular home-and-away season in 2020, claiming a minor premiership, but similarly to Brisbane, fell short at the second-to-last hurdle.

With big Charlie Dixon having his best season yet and their stars in the form of Travis Boak, Zak Butters and Ollie Wines stepping up when it mattered, they looked favourites to take out the flag.

This year could be a bit more challenging, however Ken Hinkley’s boys will at a minimum comfortably make the top four.

  1. Geelong

After a heartbreaking Grand Final loss in 2020, Chris Scott’s Geelong side will have a burning desire to go all the way in 2021.

With the arrivals of Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins and Isaac Smith, the Cats have arguably never been this well placed to take a shot at the flag.

Geelong Cats Training Session
GEELONG, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 08: Isaac Smith of the Cats in action during the Geelong Cats AFL training session at GMHBA Stadium on December 08, 2020 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

However, with the bulk of their stars in the twilight years of their career, this could be the last legitimate crack at a premiership for the Cats for the foreseeable future.

  1. St. Kilda

The rampaging Saints were red hot in 2020 and won their first final in just under a decade as they knocked off the Doggies in Queensland during week one.

With the recruitment of Jack Higgins, Brad Crouch and James Frawley over the off-season, they are well poised to build upon the solid foundations they have laid over the last couple of years.

With this, the sky is the limit for the Saints, and the team could potentially push for a top four place.

  1. West Coast

Adam Simpson’s side had an abrupt and disappointing end to their 2020 campaign, losing a home elimination final to an embattled Collingwood side.

However, sides will underestimate the Eagles at their own peril, with the squad still brimming with quality and grit.

If West Coast can get their away record up to scratch, expect them to shoot up the ladder – with top four not off the table.

  1. Western Bulldogs

The Dogs made a spirited late charge into the top eight to sneak in at the eleventh hour of the 2020 season.

Despite going out week one of finals to the Saints, they have arguably looked in the best nick since their historic 2016 flag.

With the addition of outcasted Magpie Adam Treloar and the retention of Josh Dunkley, the Doggies have arguably the best midfield in the competition. With this, do not be surprised if they are in amongst it come September time.

Western Bulldogs Training Session
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 13: Adam Treloar of the Bulldogs in action during a Western Bulldogs AFL training session at Whitten Oval on January 13, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)
  1. Melbourne

The race for eighth is hard to predict, with the teams from 8-11 all having a genuine mandate to claim the last spot in finals.

Melbourne missed out on the eight after blowing it at key moments throughout the season. Simon Goodwin’s men did look threatening in some matches; however, fans are still hoping that the side can replicate their spirited 2018 season where they made a preliminary final.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, recruit Ben Brown can recapture form, then the Dees could be on for a final’s appearance should they correct their errors of yesteryear.

  1. Carlton

The Blues are building very nicely to finally have a genuine tilt at the top eight for the first time in a while. The acquisitions of Zac Williams and Adam Saad during the trade period have boosted their ranks and will add to the growing quality of their young list.

AFL Practice Match - Carlton v Essendon
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 25: Adam Saad of Blues runs with the ball during the AFL Practice Match between the Carlton Blues and the Essendon Bombers at Ikon Park on February 25, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

With Patrick Cripps leading from the front, David Teague will be confident that his side could make an impact on the shape of the top eight as he continues to implement his vision for the club.

With the return of crowds to Melbourne for 2021, expect the famous Carlton song to be belted out a few times over the season after the final siren.

  1. Gold Coast

The Suns were looking exceptional value in the first half of season 2020, with the prodigious Matt Rowell shining for the first few weeks of the season before suffering a year-ending shoulder injury.

As the year wore on, the side faded to a disappointing 14th placed finish, however their squad is only going to improve with age, and 2021 could be the season that Stuart Dew’s side take the leap into finals footy.

With youngsters Noah Anderson, Izak Rankine and Ben King all having good 2020’s, Gold Coast are poised for a big year. Do not be surprised if they somehow sneak into the eight come round 23.

  1. Collingwood

The Pies had a disappointing 2020 both on and off the field. Injury crisis, poor list management and subpar performances marred their season, and with the racism investigation controversy already casting a shadow over 2021, it will take everything that Nathan Buckley and his side have got to propel them into the finals for a fourth consecutive season.

AFL Rd 6 - Collingwood v Hawthorn
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 10: Brody Mihocek of the Magpies kicks during the round 6 AFL match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Hawthorn Hawks at GIANTS Stadium on July 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

If their forward-line finally gets firing, then it will put them in good stead to sneak into the final eight, with Brody Mihocek desperately needing help in attack.

  1. Greater Western Sydney

Greater Western Sydney were in good stead to make the finals last season, but a late-season lapse saw them drop out of the eight and end their season on a low.

With big list losses in the form of Jeremy Cameron, Zac Williams, Jye Caldwell and others, Leon Cameron will have to pull a rabbit from a hat if the Giants are to return to the finals again this season.

The capture of troubled forward Jesse Hogan will hopefully provide cover for the departed Cameron, but there are still huge gaps left in other positions to be filled which will take some time to replace.

  1. Fremantle

The Dockers had another tough year in 2020 but are building nicely for the future with their exciting crop of youngsters.

With Luke Ryan becoming a stalwart in defence, Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra taking big steps in midfield and Matt Taberner starting to come into his own, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the Dockers in the years to come.

Finals isn’t a clear possibility this year for Justin Longmuir, but it will be another season of promise, with a lot of positives to be picked from it.

  1. Hawthorn

Alastair Clarkson’s side has had a disappointing last three years as the remnants of his historic three-peat side fade away.

AFL Rd 4 - St Kilda v Hawthorn
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 14: Hawks head coach Alastair Clarkson and his players look dejected after losing the round four AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Hawthorn Hawks at Marvel Stadium on April 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

2020 was well below what Hawks fans were hoping for, and chances are that this season will be much of the same. Their promising group of youngsters in the form of Will Day, James Worpel and Jack Scrimshaw will give fans some promise for the future, but as for the short term the Hawks will just be looking to rebuild for time being.

  1. Sydney

The Swans are in a state of rebuild, and 2021 will be another season of getting the squad to where John Longmire wants them.

Last year Tom Papley was superb, and young Swans in the form of Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom and Oliver Florent took big steps towards becoming top quality players. Finals are likely out of the question this year, but if Lance Franklin can somehow come back and return to his previous form at 34 years of age, then perhaps the Swans can finish higher than expected.

  1. North Melbourne

After a tumultuous 2020 and the sad departure of coach Rhyce Shaw due to personal reasons, North Melbourne will be hoping to have a better year than the one just gone.

New coach David Noble will be hoping to galvanise the playing group and get the side back to their best. The arrivals of defender Aidan Corr and young star Jaidyn Stephenson will boost their ranks and hopefully cover for the loss of some of their big stars.

2021 will hopefully spell progress for the Roos, however they will do little to trouble most of the teams above them.

  1. Essendon

Nothing seemed to go right for Essendon in 2020.

Finishing 13th as well losing star forwards Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia amongst other departures have left fans scratching their heads as to how the club will improve under new coach Ben Rutten.

AFL Rd 17 - Port Adelaide v Essendon
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 12: Ben Rutten, Senior Assistant Coach and Team Defence of the Bombers during the 2020 AFL Round 17 match between the Port Adelaide Power and the Essendon Bombers at Adelaide Oval on September 12, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Matt Turner/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The arrival of Jye Caldwell, Suns key forward Peter Wright and Saint Nick Hind bodes some positivity, but holistically the Bombers are a depleted squad in desperate need of a rebuild.

A couple of spirited victories in 2021 will likely be the highlights of the year for Essendon, who will ultimately fail to impress.

  1. Adelaide

Adelaide had an incredibly dismal 2020, registering the three wins from a shortened season.

Their 2017 Grand Final appearance seems a lifetime away after recent performances, and coach Matthew Nicks has a mammoth task of rebuilding the broken side especially after the departures of Brad Crouch and Rory Atkins.

The Crows have a few bright sparks in the form of  Lachlan Sholl, Shane McAdam and Harry Schoenberg, however they are still severely depleted in their forward department, which will ultimately spell another wooden spoon, with the side registering no more than a handful of wins.