Contributed by: Brett Northey
World Footy News doesn't focus heavily on the Australian Football League because as the premier competition in Aussie Rules, it receives a great deal of coverage already - much more than all the other leagues outside of Australia put together. But we also encourage all our readers to have an interest in the game's top professional league, so here we offer a review of the season at the halfway point.
Season 2005 began with last year's premiers Port Adelaide highly fancied, along with up-and-comers Geelong and St Kilda, who both narrowly missed making the 2004 grand final. A question mark hung over the Brisbane Lions, winner of the previous three premierships and runner up to Port in 2004. Surprisingly all four teams struggled early, with only Geelong looking strong by the halfway point, with 11 rounds completed and 11 to go. St Kilda have looked dangerous at times but continue to be patchy and are looking shaky for the much sought after top four finish. Port and Brisbane both looked destined to miss the finals altogether, but wins in round 11 have kept both clubs in touch of the top 8 and will consider themselves a chance.
The big improvers of 2005 have been the West Coast Eagles. Having finished 8th three years in a row, the Western Australian team appears to have stepped up a notch. Their midfield was already possibly the best in the AFL with the likes of Chris Judd and Ben Cousins, but this year they have added some good key position players and are warming as premiership favourites, sitting top with 10 wins and just 1 loss.
Leading the chase for the Eagles are Melbourne, who have corrected their unfortunate trend of alternating between good and bad seasons, by stringing together two good ones in a row. Close behind are Adelaide, enjoying form under new coach Neil Craig that wasn't expected, with few predicting they would see finals action. Next come Geelong, then Richmond who are also looking good, maintaining their form into the middle of the season when in the past they have dropped away. Rounding out the top 8 are Sydney, North Melbourne (who started on fire but have since crashed) and the Saints.
Just outside the top 8 are the ever-perplexing Fremantle, a tipster's nightmare, and the improving Western Bulldogs. Next are last year's grand finalists Port and Brisbane, both having shocking years by their recent standards yet still in contention. Collingwood and Essendon are most likely out of the running because of their poor percentage, and at the foot of the ladder are Hawthorn and Carlton.
With around 12 wins normally required to make the final 8, Brisbane, Collingwood and Essendon would probably have to win 8 of their last 11 matches to see finals action in 2005. With an abysmal percentage Port would also seem unlikely contenders if not for a draw against Carlton, which might just be what gets them into the 8 at the end of the minor round. At the other end of the ladder, only West Coast and Melbourne seem assured of finals action, although Adelaide and Geelong, both with 7 wins and excellent percentages, are also starting to look comfortable (they face off in round 12 and the winner will certainly be pretty safe).
The goalkicking ladder has a different look to recent years, with smaller forward Mark Williams of Hawthorn leading on 48 goals. This bucks the trend of tall forwards such as Lloyd and Gehrig dominating. In betting for the AFL's best and fairest player, the Brownlow Medal favourite is West Coast's Ben Cousins, although his team-mate Chris Judd may take a lot of votes away from him. Current Medalist Judd would also be favoured but is ineligible after being suspended earlier in the season. Fremantle's Matthew Pavlich and Adelaide's 2003 Brownlow Medalist Mark Ricciuto are also considered big chances. One thing is certain, a lot of unexpected ups and downs will, as always, occur in the second half of the season.
For more information on the AFL see the official AFL website or any of numerous other media sites that cover the league.
World Footy News