Five rounds into the 2018 season the majority of teams have three or more wins. But which of them are really above average?
If you were just looking at the AFL ladder at the moment it might be a little hard to tell which teams are actually the strongest finals contenders in 2018. Twelve teams – two-thirds of the league – have won three or more of their five matches so far. But which teams, once you take into account their fixtures so far, have actually been the most impressive? And which of them look the most likely to sustain their good performances?
The Power Rankings were designed to answer exactly these types of questions. It differentiates strong wins from narrow ones, and strong opponents from weaker ones. Clearly, as you can see from the table above, it still rates Richmond and Adelaide highly, and doesn’t think much about Gold Coast’s credentials. Also it’s not yet convinced about teams like North Melbourne or Fremantle, despite some impressive wins from both teams this year.
For teams like North Melbourne and Fremantle, some of this scepticism comes from their relatively poor performances in 2017. Based on their 2018 performances alone most of the teams that have won three or more matches in 2018 have been at least decent. With the exception of Gold Coast the average net margins in 2018 of all these teams, adjusted for home ground advantage and opponent strength, have been at least near zero (see table below). Further, of the rest, Fremantle is the only team I’d say hasn’t yet shown the potential to stick with the others.
We can divide these sides into four groups: “proven to be good”, “could be good”, “probably not above average”, and “well below average”.
“Proven to be good”
The first group of sides should be fairly uncontroversial – some ups and downs aside they have been the consistently best-performed teams over the past year or so: Richmond, Adelaide, Sydney, Geelong, and GWS. They were the top five sides last year, and have all put in at least a couple of good performances so far in 2018.
“Could be good”
On 2018 form alone Hawthorn, Collingwood and West Coast have been about as good as the above sides, with a couple of impressive wins each and generally decent performances. What keeps the Power Rankings from rating them as highly for now is that they were only around average last season. (West Coast finished sixth after the finals, but just barely made it into the finals series.)
Port Adelaide was a good side last year, their struggles against top sides notwithstanding. However since their great win in Sydney in Round 2 their performances over the past few weeks have been below average, and it’s not clear that they are one of the better sides anymore.
North Melbourne is a more complicated case. They were clearly a below average side last year, and have lost to Gold Coast and Melbourne this year. And two of their three wins have been against ‘bad’ sides in St. Kilda and Carlton. However those wins were thrashings and being able to beat up on ‘bad’ sides – despite the ‘flat-track bully’ stigma – is generally a good sign that you are no longer a bad side yourself.
“Probably not above average”
Fremantle was well below average last year, and have not beaten an above average side so far in 2018. But they do at least appear to be much improved, particularly with their big win against the Bulldogs on the weekend. They are around average on 2018 form alone.
“Well below average”
Gold Coast did start the season well, with wins against North and Carlton that were good enough to offset them being against below average sides. But their trips to Perth did not go well, and their latest win was a narrow one against lowly-ranked Brisbane. They may already have enough wins now to not finish last, but I don't expect the Suns to trouble the other finals contenders this year.