Sunday, February 18, 2018

AFL WOMEN’S Power Rankings: Round 3 2018

The AFL Women’s ladder became more interesting this week, with the three undefeated teams after Round 2 – Carlton, Melbourne, and the Western Bulldogs – all losing this week.
The Dogs lost to a resurgent Adelaide side that was bolstered by the return of Erin Phillips. Phillips re-iterated her status as the greatest player in the land by scoring four out of her team’s six goals in her first match back from injury. Carlton – who had a relatively easy fixture up to this point – were comfortably beaten at home by a good side in Brisbane. And Melbourne was upset by Fremantle, despite having ten more entries inside 50s than their opponents, as the Dockers kicked six goals and no behinds.
Where does this leave how I rate the teams then?
  • Collingwood, who are the only winless team, look to be a step below everyone else. Count the Magpies out for this year.
  • Fremantle and GWS – the two bottom sides from last year – seem to have made up some ground. Carlton is probably somewhere near those sides, having beaten GWS at home and Collingwood. All of these teams are still a chance to make the Grand Final, but would need to improve slightly.
  • Four sides look to be pretty close at the top: the Western Bulldogs, the Brisbane Lions, Melbourne, and the Adelaide Crows. The Crows, missing Phillips in their first two games, are a win and a heap of percentage behind the others; however they are fortunate that the top sides haven’t got further away from them in the meantime. The Dogs, Lions, and Demons, all have two wins and similar percentages, and as things currently stand I think they all have similar chances of taking home the flag this year.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

AFL WOMEN’S Power Rankings: Round 2 2018

Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – they were the very first two AFL women’s teams, playing biannual exhibition matches from 2013 to 2016. Those matches were effectively women’s ‘All‑Star’ games, and featured many of today’s best AFL Women’s players, including Daisy Pearce, Ellie Blackburn, Darcy Vescio, and Chelsea Randall.

The 2016 clash in particular drew a lot of national attention – along with high ratings – ahead of the inaugural AFL Women’s season last year. Perhaps in part due to the memory of that moment Melbourne and the Bulldogs were two of the most-fancied teams going into the 2017 season, even though many of the players who pulled on their colours for that match were going to be spread out across the eight AFL Women’s teams.

Well it took a season, but maybe Melbourne and the Bulldogs are once again the leaders of the pack. The Demons had a very strong five-goal win on the weekend against last year’s premiers the Adelaide Crows (more on them in a moment). And the Dogs accounted for the other of the grand finalists, the Brisbane Lions, with an impressive nine-point win up in Queensland. The Demons and Dogs are both undefeated after two matches, as is Carlton, but the Blues have had only small wins so far against lower-ranked sides.

Meanwhile 2017’s two best sides seem to have taken a step back, particularly the Crows. Adelaide has been savaged by the injury to co-captain Erin Phillips, who last year had possibly the most dominant AFL season ever, albeit in a season that lasted eight weeks. Phillips’ two-week absence, and the lack of output from last year’s star forward Sarah Perkins (11 goals in 2017, none so far this year), are some of the main reasons that – in a competition of only seven weeks and one final – the Crows’ chances of defending their title are already close to zero.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

AFL WOMEN’S Power Rankings: Round 1 2018

Australian Football League followers: in thinking about the first-ever AFL Women’s season in 2017 you likely have some upbeat memories, but do you remember how well each team performed?

You probably recall that the Adelaide Crows won the inaugural premiership, and that they beat the Brisbane Lions in the Grand Final. But how about Melbourne’s strong ending to the season? How about the Western Bulldogs’ string of close results?

Well, the AFL Women’s Power Rankings are back to remind you roughly where each team is at going into the AFL Women’s second season. Basically, the Power Rankings take each team’s last season worth of games – with more recent games receiving a higher weight – and adjust for the strength of the team’s opponent and home ground advantage. (You can find the details of the Women’s ranking formula here.) For example, last year’s runners-up Brisbane had a tough first-round match up travelling to the reigning premiers Adelaide – if they had been beaten, the rankings would still rate them more highly than the ladder would.

Brisbane was not beaten though – on the contrary, the Lions had an impressive two-goal win against their Grand Final conquerors, and have re-joined the Crows as the highest-rated sides in the league. The Lions also leap-frog Melbourne, with the Demons having to fight for a close victory against last year’s bottom-placed team the GWS Giants.

Actual round one ladder leaders the Western Bulldogs are a touch behind, as while the Bulldogs had a big first-up win it was against the bottom-ranked team, and it doesn’t yet outweigh the fact that they won only two out of seven matches last season. Carlton and Collingwood fill out the middle, while the Giants and Fremantle remain as the lowest-ranked teams.

Not surprisingly there are some other rankings of the AFL Women’s teams out there in the blogosphere. For a breakdown of how the AFLW teams rate in each area of the field, and an approximate rating of every player’s value, visit the HPN website. The FootyMaths Institute also has a team rankings system, along with predictions for every match and a team’s likelihood of finishing in each of the ladder positions. (Are there any other systems out there?)

Monday, October 2, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Post-Finals 2017

It happened! My beloved Richmond won its first premiership in 37 years, beating the Adelaide Crows in the Grand Final as I predicted it would before the finals began. Well … sort of. What I actually said was that, while I very slightly favoured Richmond in a Grand Final against Adelaide at the MCG, I thought that the Crows had the best chance of winning the premiership. This was because the Tigers’ likeliest path to the flag relied on them first beating Geelong in the opening week of the finals, and I considered that to be about an ‘even chance’ of happening.

Well, the Tigers not only got themselves on to the likeliest path, they steamrolled over it. Big wins against Geelong, GWS, and the Crows mean that not only are they the premiers (the most important outcome), they are also much more highly rated here than they were leading into the finals series. Back then I had Adelaide and Sydney as clearly the two best sides. Now Richmond is up there with them. Any of the three teams would have been very worthy premiers, but the Swans found themselves on a difficult path after finishing in sixth place on the ladder, while the Crows had one of their season’s worst performances at the final hurdle.

Richmond also got better as the season went on. While it started the season with five straight wins, many of those early wins came against poor to average teams, and not often by large margins. By the end of the season they were comfortably beating the very best. It was somewhat similar to the Bulldogs’ run to the flag last year, although Richmond started its ‘hot streak’ earlier. In 2016 the Dogs were only average in the matches leading up to the finals – possibly in part due to injuries – but they came back after the ‘pre-finals’ week off and played at a whole different level. Richmond played pretty well from their Round 18 win over GWS onwards, and had a couple of big wins going into the finals series that suggested they were emerging as the third ‘frontrunner’ behind the Swans and the Crows.

As for the other finals teams, the many lop-sided results during the past few weeks meant that almost all of them lost a few rankings points on the way out – essentially their rankings points were re-distributed to Richmond. Sydney finishes as the top-ranked side, narrowly ahead of Adelaide and now the Tigers. Geelong, Port Adelaide, and GWS remain as the ‘second tier’ of teams. West Coast and Essendon – the last two sides into the finals – finish among a large group of average sides that would all have decent hopes of contending for finals next year.

Speaking of next year: can Richmond do it again? Well, when you’re up high there is more space to go down than up. They did have fantastic luck with injuries in 2017, and a more favourable draw than they are likely to receive next year. Also some of their players – most notably superstar midfielder Dustin Martin – played better or at least as well as they ever have, which could be difficult to repeat. On the other hand, maybe Dusty will get even better…

But that is tomorrow’s problem. For now Richmond has the flag they and their fans have long been searching for. And for this fan at least that is way more than, this time last year, I thought possible.

Monday, August 28, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 23 2017

I said last week that it looked like the eight ‘best’ teams according to my rankings would actually also be the eight sides in this year’s finals series. That’s still the case – but that’s only because Melbourne’s loss to Collingwood drops them out of the top eight ranked sides this week, with the West Coast Eagles, as they did on the actual ladder heading into the finals, taking their place.
And so the first week of AFL finals are set. As I’ve done for the past few years I’m going to try and predict the results of each final, using each team’s rankings points at this stage, along with my usual home ground advantage adjustments. In general this leads to a fairly orthodox pick for the flag. But this year the results may be somewhat of a surprise.
Qualifying Finals:
Adelaide defeats GWS
Richmond defeats Geelong

Elimination Finals:
Port Adelaide defeats West Coast
Sydney defeats Essendon

Semi Finals:
GWS defeats Port Adelaide
Sydney defeats Geelong

Preliminary Finals:
Adelaide defeats Sydney
Richmond defeats GWS

Grand Final:
Richmond defeats Adelaide

Wow - !! Did I just show that Richmond is the favourite for the flag? Well… no. I would say that clearly the Adelaide Crows are the team with the best chance of winning the premiership going into this year’s finals series.

The main problems with this straight head-to-head prediction method is that it doesn’t show how close the teams’ chances of winning each match are, and doesn’t show what is predicted to happen under alternative paths. Based on my rankings Richmond’s chances of beating Geelong in a final, and Adelaide in a final at the MCG, are about as close to 50-50 as you can get. If Richmond loses its first final against Geelong it is potentially thrown on to a tough path to the Grand Final, possibly having to face off against Sydney the next week (for which my rankings would not favour them), and then possibly Adelaide on the road after that (for which the Tigers would definitely not be favoured).

In contrast if Adelaide loses its first final it’s path will probably not be as tough, with a home final against Port Adelaide or West Coast the next week, and then a final against Geelong or Richmond the week after that. And at best the Crows will have two home finals, and then the Grand Final, quite possibly against a non-Victorian club.

My rankings actually rate the Sydney Swans as a slightly better team than Adelaide going into the finals series. But the Crows’ chances of winning the premiership are better, as they only have to win three matches to be the premiers, whereas the Swans – who finished in sixth – have to win four.

I’ll be back after the finals series finishes in five weeks time with my final rankings for 2017. Unless Richmond actually does win the flag, in which case you may hear from me in about November. Enjoy the finals!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 22 2017

It looks likely now that the top eight ranked teams here – the same top eight since Round 19 – will also be the eight teams that make the finals this year. This may seem not that unusual, but there are usually one or two ‘better’ sides that miss out through a couple of results not going their way (e.g. North Melbourne in 2013). Combine that with a season where so many teams are bunched around the middle and it is sort of remarkable that it looks like we’ll have the ‘right’ eight sides in the finals.
This week, it’s the last of my ‘end-of-season’ team summaries, covering Port Adelaide to the Western Bulldogs. Again you can see the ranking points of these teams for each round of 2017 in the graph below.

Port Adelaide: Port started the season really well, beating the heck out of Fremantle, Carlton, Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Hawthorn. Beating the heck out of bad sides – that is, really destroying them – is something these rankings value, and as a result Port spent a good chunk of the season within the rankings’ top four. However, proponents of the view that thrashing bad sides doesn’t mean a lot were vindicated in this case as the Power fell away, and now look like that they won’t make the top four on the actual AFL ladder. In terms of the rankings Port’s big losses to Essendon in Round 12 and Adelaide in Round 20 did the most damage to their standing.
Richmond: Apart from Essendon the Tigers have been the biggest improvers in 2017. They were bad last season, particularly towards the end, but this season they returned to a level more in line with their performances from 2013 to 2015. Until this week I thought that they were probably not a top four side in terms of ability – and a relatively easy fixture had helped to get them there – but I’ve had to revise my opinion a bit after they finally did what good teams do this weekend, and annihilated another side. Either way, things certainly look a lot less bleak at Tigerland than they did at the start of the season.
St. Kilda: Like Collingwood the Saints have generally been about average across 2017. They had two games after which their ranking points jumped up – Hawthorn in Round 6, and Richmond in Round 16 – though in the latter case it came right back down again when the Saints were in turn well beaten by Essendon the next week. The team would probably be a bit disappointed it did not progress further this year, but they have still come a long way from 2014.
Sydney Swans: Last year’s top-ranked side Sydney started off badly, losing their first six matches, which was reflected here in the Swans losing about four goals of ranking points in just the first seven rounds. However, because they were so good last season they never fell below sixth in the rankings. Over the final two-thirds of the season they regained their 2016 form, and are likely to finish the season along with Adelaide as clearly the two highest rated sides. The Swans have been particularly good since Round 15 – a stretch that has included comfortable away wins against Geelong and Melbourne, big wins over Fremantle and Gold Coast, and wins against other top sides GWS and Adelaide.
West Coast Eagles: The Eagles went from being pretty good to just average in 2017, which resulted in them receiving perhaps a disproportionate amount of criticism during the season. Apart from the big loss against Essendon in Round 9 (and perhaps the loss against Hawthorn early in the year when the Hawks were performing badly) they were mostly OK, but the drop back from premiership hopeful to fringe finals side is the one that brings the most heat. In hindsight that loss to the Dons was really the first, big sign that the Eagles were not going to be among the ‘second tier’ of teams anymore.
Western Bulldogs: I like the Dogs, but I admit they possibly became a target for my analytic smugness during 2017. (This writer may be even more smug.) The Bulldogs won an improbable – though not at all undeserved – flag last year, and had fans, media, and bookmakers proclaiming them as one of the competition’s new superpowers. More than that they became the lightning rod for theories and narratives about ‘what it takes’ to win a premiership – heart and guts, a week’s rest before the finals, being a team rather than individuals – as if the other seven clubs in the finals were somehow significantly more tired, selfish, and unmotivated.
I enjoyed the Dogs’ flag, and was happy for their fans (most of them anyway). So it’s nothing against the Dogs themselves that I took some assurance in watching all of those narratives get exposed for the largely unsubstantiated ‘hot takes’ that they were as the supposed new powerhouse sat among the middle rungs of the ladder. Look: if you play finals series enough times eventually unlikely outcomes will happen. And after some tough preliminary final losses over the years the Dogs were due their day. But there was little that was destined about the Bulldogs’ triumph in 2016. Anyway … sometimes we should appreciate something precisely because it was improbable.
(Of course, if the Dogs somehow do it all again this year, I will seem like quite the fool in a month’s time ...)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 21 2017

A couple of weeks ago the GWS Giants were the team that had lost the most ranking points in 2017. But with their big win against the Western Bulldogs this week they pass the title of ‘club that has taken the biggest step backwards in 2017’ to the Dogs, their 2016 preliminary final conquerors. Of course when you are high up to begin with you have further to fall. The Bulldogs are now ranked thirteenth (by a close margin) – which is a fair drop for a reigning premier – though they were never ranked higher than fifth here in 2017, even at the start of the season.

I’m going to continue on with my ‘end-of-season’ summary for each side: this week it’s Geelong to North Melbourne. As was the case last week you can see their ranking points for each round in the graph below.

Geelong Cats: The Cats were above average yet again in 2017. Their peak came in Round 5 a week after slaughtering Hawthorn, but losses to Collingwood, the Gold Coast Suns (!), and Essendon brought them down from a ‘four goals better than average’ side to about ‘two goals better than average’. That’s about where they have been ever since, and in an even season that’s generally been good enough to have them ranked third or fourth for most of 2017.

Gold Coast Suns: As of this week the Gold Coast Suns have become the first side other than the Brisbane Lions to be ranked last in 2017, after the Lions themselves thrashed the Suns in the second QClash of the season. They started off OK … after that aforementioned win against Geelong in Round 7 they were ranked as respectably below average. But it’s all gone horribly wrong from about Round 13 onwards, and based on form since then they have comfortably overtaken their fellow Queenslanders as the competition’s worst performed side. When even your departing coach regrets having come to your club in the first place you know you have some issues.

GWS GIANTS: As I covered a few weeks ago the Giants took a huge stride backwards this season, from being great to being merely good. I suggested then that injuries and suspensions (combined with some weaker ‘replacement players’) may have played a part. Big wins against the Bulldogs and Melbourne in the past couple of weeks have restored some of the Giants’ standing, so it may be that they are on their way to being a dangerous side in the finals again.

Hawthorn: The Hawks have had one of the odder seasons in 2017. In the first seven weeks they were awful, getting destroyed by Geelong, Gold Coast, and St. Kilda within the space of four weeks. But from Round 14 to Round 18 they were fantastic: including beating Adelaide on their home turf, having a draw with GWS, and narrowly losing their return bout with Geelong. Overall then they rate about average for the year, but – like Sydney – it’s really been a season of two very different halves for the Hawks.

Melbourne: The Demons have had easily their best season since these rankings began, and have been rated as above average since they also beat Adelaide on their home turf back in Round 8. Melbourne’s improvement this year could be seen as basically the next step in the steady progression of a young side. Actually though, it’s likely primarily due to the massive improvement of Clayton Oliver, and bringing in good veterans Michael Hibberd and Jordan Lewis. We’ll see if their other young players aside from Oliver have enough improvement left in them for Melbourne to take another step forward.

North Melbourne: The Roos had the semblance of still being an average side up to about Round 10, with only some close losses keeping them from being mid-range on the actual ladder. But after that they dropped away badly, due both to heavy losses and defeats to poor sides. They haven’t quite been as bad overall during that time as Fremantle and Gold Coast – both of whom they lost to – but the Kangas could be starting from a fair way back in 2018.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 20 2017

And so – at the top of the rankings – we’ve ended up about where we started, with Adelaide and Sydney once again clearly ahead of the rest. The Crows and the Swans put some distance between themselves and the other top teams this week, with the Crows destroying Port Adelaide, and the Swans easily beating Geelong on the road.
Over the next few weeks, as we approach the end of the home-and-away season, I’m going to give a summary of how each team’s ranking points developed through 2017. This week I’ll look at the first six clubs in alphabetical order, which are Adelaide to Fremantle. You can see their ranking points for each round in the graph below.

Adelaide Crows: Adelaide has held the top ranking for most of 2017. Once the rounds got under way the Crows only surrendered the top spot in Round 8, following successive beltings by North Melbourne, and Melbourne at home. That may have been the correction that revealed the Crows’ true level of ability, because they have stayed around the 20-25 ranking points mark for most of the time since. Still the Crows are considered by many to have the best chance of winning the premiership this year. They have been a very good – although not dominant – side throughout the season.
Brisbane Lions: Brisbane has been clearly the AFL’s worst team so far in 2017, and has been on the bottom of the rankings for the entire season to date. But having both Adelaide and Brisbane in the graph this week helps illustrate one of the major themes for 2017: the teams became more even. The Lions have improved from being relatively awful to merely relatively bad over the course of the season. Their improvement picked up the most steam over the second half of the season, particularly with their big win against Fremantle in Round 12.
Carlton and Fremantle: These teams followed similar paths in 2017, with both being rated below average across 2017. Fremantle had some observers fooled that it may contend for finals earlier this year following a few close wins, but the Dockers’ mammoth losses against Port Adelaide and Adelaide should have had the alarm bells ringing. Carlton has steadily improved for much of the year – with its biggest improvement in ranking points coming after it beat the GWS Giants – but the Blues have similarly never really threatened to reach even an ‘average’ status.
Collingwood: Speaking of ‘average’ Collingwood has been consistently average to below average for the majority of 2017. Their performances from week to week have generally been reliably average, albeit with varying results. The Magpies slipped a few weeks back after getting comfortably beaten by Hawthorn and Essendon, but have since regained some ground with a win against West Coast, a draw against Adelaide, and a win by a big margin against North Melbourne.
Essendon: Obviously the big improvers of 2017. That was not a surprise, given that the Bombers regained several senior players from year-long suspensions. What was perhaps a surprise was how much they improved. The Bombers rose up well past their 2015 form to a level that resembled more their early-2013 performances. Young players like Zach Merrett and Joe Daniher are clearly better than they were a couple of years ago, and combining them with the returning veterans has resulted in a solid football team. For a stretch in the middle of the season there they were even an elite one.