After a heart-stopping draw against St Kilda in last year’s grand final, Collingwood romped away to win the rematch and break a 20-year premiership drought. With a young, improving list, the Pies could be set for a golden era – but as the new AFL season dawns, everyone apart from Collingwood fans will be desperately hoping they run aground.
Elsewhere, all eyes will be on the competition’s newest side, the Gold Coast Suns, who arrive with the competition’s best player in Gary Ablett.
Overview: Played finals for the past two seasons but will continue to tread water until they develop some quality key-position players.
Key player: Chris Judd – won a second Brownlow Medal last season and shows no signs of dropping his famously high standards.
Overview: Favourite son James Hird returns to coach and, though he has a talented young list, playing finals may be beyond him.
Key player: Jobe Watson – won the Bombers’ last two best and fairest awards, developing into one of the league’s best hard-ball midfielders.
Overview: Preliminary finalists three years in a row, the Bulldogs are agonisingly close to the top rung but will likely fall short once again.
Key player: Adam Cooney – now mature enough to be an on-field leader and the Dogs will be relying on his match-winning qualities in the midfield.
Overview: Gary Ablett has left, and although the Cats have plenty of quality, their list is ageing and their decline irreversible.
Key player: Joel Selwood – pretty handy as far as replacements for outgoing star midfielders go; a champion already at 22, and a future captain in waiting.
Overview: One of the hardest sides to tip – short on stars but well-coached and with an even spread of talent. Dogged enough to surprise again.
Key player: Scott Thompson – the Crows have lost plenty of experience in recent years, leaving Thompson as the old head in the engine room.
Overview: Brimming with talented youngsters but short of top-liners. The expected departure of Tom Scully at year’s end could prove distracting.
Key player: Aaron Davey – adds much-needed experience, as well as plenty of zip, to Melbourne’s young list. Goal-scoring midfielders don’t grow on trees.
Overview: Will be hoping a new jumper marks a departure from the inconsistency of their formative years. Must build on last season’s gains.
Key player: Matthew Pavlich – Fremantle’s leading scorer for the past six seasons and one of the superstars of the competition.
Overview: Last year’s wooden spooners can bounce back if top-liners stay injury-free and some young midfielders take the next step.
Key player: Mark LeCras – arguably the league’s best mid-sized forward and will again be the Eagles main man in attack, despite a mooted move into the midfield.
Overview: Won a flag ahead of schedule in 2008 but their young guns have now matured sufficiently for the Hawks to go all the way again.
Key player: Lance Franklin – a nightmare match-up and the league’s most destructive forward when on song. If he clicks in 2011, the Hawks will be flying.
Overview: Been thereabouts in recent seasons but lack established stars to challenge the elite. On the right track, but still developing.
Key player: Drew Petrie – versatile enough to pinch-hit in the ruck while also playing a role in attack or defence. A young side needs his experience.
Overview: Trading for experienced players has backfired horribly for coach Michael Voss. Brendan Fevola has been sacked and the Lions must begin rebuilding all over.
Key player: Jon Brown – still one of league’s blockbuster key forwards; may live to regret spurning lucrative offers to leave Brisbane.
Prediction: Wooden spoon.
Overview: The reigning premiers will expect to go close again this year, recruits Chris Tarrant and Andrew Krakouer bolstering their young squad.
Key player: Scott Pendlebury – emerging as one of the league’s classiest young midfielders, with exceptional balance and vision. Absolute silk, even in the clinches.
Overview: Tough times could lie ahead for Port Adelaide – they’ve got a rookie coach and a list weighed down with dead wood.
Key player: Travis Boak – one of their next-generation midfielders who will be expected to take on increased responsibility as Port rebuild.
Overview: They’ve lost the past two grand finals and will be close again, but a one-dimensional attack remains a persistent concern.
Key player: Nick Riewoldt – one of the great forwards of the modern era; a rocky off-season is unlikely to prevent him from producing another outstanding year.
Overview: Their first season will be a success if they develop a following, win a few games and their young kids show something.
Key player: Gary Ablett – will be expected to be the star of the show; fascinating to see how he goes without the stellar support he enjoyed at the Cats.
Overview: Perennially written off, only to confound with their ability to beat more fancied sides. Still have the quality to play finals.
Key player: Adam Goodes – remains one of the game’s great utilities and one of the hardest players to match-up against.
Overview: No side has suffered more false dawns than the Tigers, but they really looked to have turned a corner last season. Time will tell.
Key player: Jack Riewoldt – can expect closer attention this year, but looms as a long-term star and Punt Rd cult hero.