Welcome back to the Power Rankings for the final time this year.
The final eight is set – but the order isn’t necessarily from best to worst, with one side of the bracket more scary. And did the best eight teams even make it?
What are the Power Rankings? This is our attempt to rank every AFL club from best to worst. We take wins and losses into account, but also the quality of opposition faced and the quality of victory. It’s a little bit ‘who’s hot and who’s not’; part predictive, part analysis of what’s happened. If Team A is above Team B, we’d probably tip A to beat B at a neutral venue this weekend.
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1. GEELONG CATS (18-4, 144.2%)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Thanks to their demolition job of West Coast in the final round, the Cats have ended up with the best percentage of any team since 2016, when Sydney finished up on 151.2% (we completely forgot about how good that Swans team was). Every team that has finished with a percentage better than the Cats’ 144.2% since 2010 has made the Grand Final, including the Eagles and Hawks in 2015, Hawks in 2012, Magpies and Cats in 2011. For what it’s worth it was the 2010 Cats who were the last to miss out with a percentage that good, and that’s the thing that hangs in the mind of Geelong fans. They’ve been here before. We thought the Cats would be at least good in the home and away season; they’ve been great (though the level of opposition in their 13-game winning streak hasn’t been super duper tough). But September was always going to be the test. Based on the numbers, Geelong should easily beat Collingwood… but we know about their first week of finals record. No Cats fan will be confident they can win that game until the final siren sounds and they have.
Next game: Qualifying final vs Collingwood at the MCG, Saturday September 3, 4:35pm
2. MELBOURNE (16-6, 130.5%)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Kinda like how people joke about making a plane out of black boxes – why can’t they make the whole finals out of Melbourne getting to play Brisbane? The Demons certainly won’t be scared if they lose their qualifying final and have to play the Lions in a semi-final, but losing to the Swans would put them on the tough side of the bracket. They’d either get Brisbane or Richmond in that semi, and then likely Geelong in the prelim (or Collingwood, but if Collingwood beats Geelong then they’re truly an unstoppable team of destiny). But the second vs third qualifying final is a great place to be, providing seven of the last eight premiers (last year’s Demons excepted). If Melbourne beats Sydney, they should get one of Collingwood, Fremantle or the Western Bulldogs in their prelim. As you can see by our rankings we think you could do a whole lot worse.
Next game: Qualifying final vs Sydney Swans at the MCG, Friday September 2, 7:50pm
3. SYDNEY SWANS (16-6, 127.9%)
Last week’s ranking: 2
The final eight we tipped going into Round 23 was the final eight we got, except for swapping Melbourne and Sydney. The Demons were clearly way better against Brisbane than anyone expected, but we didn’t think the Swans would find so much strife against St Kilda. It was a somewhat underwhelming conclusion to an otherwise brilliant end to the season. Will it cost them? Well, Melbourne has almost been more impressive away from home this year and they’re 8-4 at the MCG including a loss to Sydney, so maybe not. A home prelim is totally within reach and, as we explained above in the Melbourne section, whoever hosts that game will be a comfortable favourite to make the Grand Final. Because of that, Friday week is the biggest game for the Swans since the 2016 flag decider.
Next game: Qualifying final vs Melbourne at the MCG, Friday September 2, 7:50pm
4. RICHMOND (13-8-1, 121.6%)
Last week’s ranking: 6
There’s a difference between being the fourth-best team in it, as we think Richmond are, and being the fourth-most likely to win the flag. We’re fully on board the Tigers bandwagon – as we’ve mentioned, in their last 16 games their combined losing margin is 15 points, which is better than everyone bar Geelong (13 points). But a poor start to the season, those close losses and strong win-loss records for the teams above them mean the Tigers are having to try and win the flag from seventh. We know that can be done – the Bulldogs in 2016 were in a similar situation where their ladder position belied how good they were. But not only will the Tigers need to win four finals, potentially two of them interstate, but the way the finals bracket fell is much harder for them. We think Collingwood, Fremantle and the Bulldogs are the three weakest teams in the final eight – the Tigers can’t play the Dockers or Dogs until a Grand Final, and can’t play the Magpies until the prelim at best. Instead if everything goes as seeded, the Tigers’ path would Brisbane at the Gabba, Sydney at the SCG, Geelong at the MCG and Melbourne at the MCG. That’s so, so tough.
Next game: Elimination final vs Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, Thursday September 1, 7:20pm
5. BRISBANE LIONS (15-7, 119.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 4
If the Lions had beaten Melbourne just once, they would’ve been in the top three. Instead two horrific losses have not just forced them into a do-or-die week one final, but ruined their credibility as a contender. If they get past the in-form Tigers they’re getting another bloody good opponent in the form of Melbourne or Sydney – they’d much prefer the latter – and even after that it’s either Geelong or Collingwood at the MCG. So the opposition will be very tough, and they’d have to win three interstate finals to finally claim that flag they’ve been close-but-not-close-enough to for so long. We think the Lions are better than Collingwood and Fremantle in a vacuum… but it’s harder to see them making a prelim, never mind winning the whole thing.
Next game: Elimination final vs Richmond at the Gabba, Thursday September 1, 7:20pm
6. COLLINGWOOD (16-6, 104.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 5
They shouldn’t have beaten Carlton; not with those absolutely horrendous contested footy numbers. But then, they shouldn’t have won 11 in a row, and they did that. And they shouldn’t have gone from 17th to fourth, the equal-biggest rise in VFL-AFL history. And they shouldn’t beat Geelong, right? But these Magpies have been doing a lot of things they shouldn’t. They have the third-lowest percentage for a top-four team in the AFL era, and the Sydney loss proved this team isn’t some invincible team of destiny. But they don’t need to be invincible, because they’ve got the double chance. Even if they do lose to the Cats, they’ll host a very winnable semi-final against Fremantle or the Bulldogs. A prelim final is completely within reach, and it could be against Melbourne, and… well, they shouldn’t have beaten Melbourne twice this year, right?
Next game: Qualifying final vs Geelong Cats at the MCG, Saturday September 3, 4:35pm
7. FREMANTLE (15-6-1, 117%)
Last week’s ranking: 7
They had to win their last three games to have a shot of making the top four. They won them… but pretty much all the other results went against them. So this may seem like a disrespectful 7th for the Dockers given how close they were to the double chance – there’s a lot of good teams this year, alright! – but even while finishing fifth, they’ve got a pretty good shot at a prelim. Pretty much everyone is expecting them to beat the Bulldogs, given how well they did so just a few weeks ago. And from there you’re getting a game at the MCG which, as we’ve seen all season, does not scare Justin Longmuir’s side. If they get Collingwood, we think that’s the easiest match-up possible of the top six. And if they end up facing Geelong, well, that’s not ideal but they’ve beaten them already this year (and the Cats would’ve just lost). We can totally see Freo in the final four and from there, anyone can win it. In fact we’d say the top seven teams in this ranking can all win the flag.
Next game: Elimination final vs Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium, Saturday September 3, 8:10pm
8. CARLTON (12-10, 108.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 8
9. WESTERN BULLDOGS (12-10, 108.9%)
Last week’s ranking: 9
It’s very close, as their percentages show, but we think by the end of Round 23 the Blues were a better team than the Bulldogs. After all the Dogs kinda just slumped in with two wobbly wins, while Carlton did everything they could to upset a pair of top four teams… well, except in the last few minutes of those games, where they did everything they could to lose. Will the Bulldogs do much damage, and would the Blues have? Probably not – the Dogs looked nowhere near the Dockers a few weeks ago. In the end we’re left with a fanbase that is more relieved than thrilled to be playing finals given how much they’ve declined year-on-year (the Bulldogs), and one that’s totally shattered but once they can get past that, should feel good about finally making it in 2023 (the Blues). On percentage, this was the second-closest battle for eighth ever, behind Melbourne missing out by 0.5 percentage points behind West Coast in 2017. And both teams went pretty well the next year…
Next game: Elimination final vs Fremantle at Optus Stadium, Saturday September 3, 8:10pm
10. PORT ADELAIDE (10-12, 110.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 10
We’re big on percentage as an indicator, as long-time readers know. Well, the Power have a better percentage than a top-four team, sitting six wins behind them because they stopped training how to win close games (well, that’s what Collingwood fans told us anyway). They’re ahead (if only by a little bit) of Carlton and the Bulldogs. They’re also the first team to miss the finals with a percentage in the 110s since West Coast (116.9) and Adelaide (114.1) in 2014. If you’ll recall, those Eagles made the Grand Final a year later while the Crows won a final despite the Phil Walsh tragedy. So the Power really should finish higher on the ladder next year. Though we can also look back at 2012’s St Kilda, who in the last gasp of their contending era finished ninth on 123.3%… and finished 16th a year later. So it’s not a sure thing.
11. ST KILDA (11-11, 99.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 11
We’re trying to figure out how we feel about St Kilda right now, and the closest recent comparison is West Coast this time last year. Now we’re not saying the Saints are going to finish bottom two next year – though we didn’t think the Eagles would drop that far either – just in the sense that this is a crucial off-season. They chose the path of trying to succeed in the 2020-23 window rather than slowly building through the draft again. They’ll always have that 2020 elimination final, but otherwise it’s hard to see the Saints climbing much higher than this, because for two straight seasons they’ve been a pretty much bang-on average team. Their percentage rose from 91.5 to 99.3 and they won an extra game this year; they were better, but in the end nowhere near the top four. And so they need to choose a path – stick with this group that’s relatively old (they had the seventh-oldest team in Round 23) and bolster it again if possible, or actually go to the draft after making just one first-round pick in the last three seasons. Each option has its risks but going down the middle and changing almost nothing, like the Eagles opted for, will not help them.
12. GOLD COAST SUNS (10-12, 102.8%)
Last week’s ranking: 12
It’s unfortunate that the best season in club history ended up with them finishing 12th, but for perspective, if they’d finished 10-12 with a percentage of 102.8% last year, they would’ve been ninth and a win out of finals. It genuinely feels like the Suns are finally arriving, and their percentage rise of 26 points (from 76.8% in 2021) was the second biggest in the AFL, behind only Fremantle (86.5% to 117%). The next step, going from good to great, is the hardest one but there’s certainly enough talent on this list that can continue to build together. It’s not like they’re relying on veterans to any real extent – they’ve only got two players 30 or older on their list. If Izak Rankine goes that hurts, though. The timing of his breakthrough was perfect for them finally coming good.
13. HAWTHORN (8-14, 89.8%)
Last week’s ranking: 14
14. ADELAIDE CROWS (8-14, 86.7%)
Last week’s ranking: 13
These two teams are in a very similar position. They’ve shown growth from last year, but not much – the Crows rising from seven to eight wins, the Hawks essentially stagnant after seven wins and two draws in 2021. They’ve got a few bright shining young talents but are still reliant on some of their better veterans who had them contending last decade. And while Sam Mitchell is under less pressure than Matthew Nicks because he hasn’t been there as long, you’d really like to see some growth in 2023. Hawthorn, Adelaide and North Melbourne have all featured in the bottom six in the last three seasons; no-one will bat an eyelid if the Roos are still there next year, but if the Hawks and Crows can’t close the gap to the top eight, questions will be asked.
15. GWS GIANTS (6-16, 84.6%)
Last week’s ranking: 15
We really like the Adam Kingsley hire. The long-time assistant has run second for a senior coaching gig at least four times, including at Collingwood, Carlton, Gold Coast and Adelaide, and the praise he gets from some St Kilda greats who worked with him during his near-decade at the club is glowing. He should get time to implement his methods and tactics and, with a more talented list than their ladder finish of 16th suggests, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants out of the bottom six next year. The only
16. ESSENDON (7-15, 83.2%)
Last week’s ranking: 16
Hard to imagine a much worse season for the Bombers than the one they’ve had, just a year after playing finals. Not in a pure football sense – they only won four fewer games. But jeez things feel a hell of a lot worse than that. In the space of a week they’ve gone from being terrible but having a coach, to being terrible but not having a coach. So… progress?
17. WEST COAST EAGLES (2-20, 59.8%)
Last week’s ranking: 17
18. NORTH MELBOURNE (2-20, 55.8%)
Last week’s ranking: 18
These are the first two teams since 2018 to finish a season with a percentage under 60. Back then it was Gold Coast (59.9) two wins ahead of Carlton (59.3). Before that you’re going back to 2013’s Melbourne (54.1) and GWS (51.0). The Giants made finals three years after that, but the Suns and Blues haven’t made it in the four years since their low points, and it took the Demons five years to return to September. The Eagles are a big club that can land talent, and there’s obvious room for optimism with Alastair Clarkson at North, so perhaps the timelines won’t be so long. But that’s how far back they’re coming from.