The top contenders for the 2022 AFL premiership: Looking ahead

·Contributor
·6-min read
The likes of Sydney, Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions are all well placed to contend for the 2022 AFL premiership, despite things not quite going their way in 2021. Pictures: Getty Images
The likes of Sydney, Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions are all well placed to contend for the 2022 AFL premiership, despite things not quite going their way in 2021. Pictures: Getty Images

The 2021 premiership cup hasn’t even been lifted yet, but for officials and supporters of the other 16 clubs, eyes are already on 2022.

But who will be among the contenders battling for a flag this time next year? Let’s take a look.

Melbourne and Western Bulldogs

Probably goes without saying that this year’s grand finalists will be among the mix next year, so let’s bundle them together.

This week’s grand final is certainly not a last run at a flag as it sometimes is for a grand finalist, both these sides are young and still have improvement in them.

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Melbourne seems to have struck that perfect team chemistry where everyone knows exactly what they need to do – and they do it. The forward line has only stabilised late in the season and will be even better with another year together.

The Dogs have done it the hard way this finals series after stumbling in the final few weeks of the home and away season, and will need to consolidate their backline mix next year.

These two teams are here to stay as premiership contenders for the next few years.

Brisbane Lions

Straight-sets exits in two of the past three years. To be frank, they blew a golden opportunity last year to play a grand final on their home deck.

That could haunt them for years to come, but more finals heartbreak should strengthen their resolve.

Lachie Neale looks like he’s staying, and with young stars both in defence and up forward, the Lions will continue to be formidable for the next few years.

Port Adelaide

Two straight preliminary final losses at home, the most recent an embarrassing, no-contest performance against the Western Bulldogs.

After being the best team in the comp during the 2020 home and away season the Power was hit by injury this year and still found a way to sneak into the top two.

Recruits Aliir Aliir and Orazio Fantasia made them stronger, and they have the Brownlow medallist, Ollie Wines.

There’s still a lot to like about Port, but another season of failing to match it with the best teams will leave it in a precarious position.

GWS Giants

All those years they had that star-studded line-up of top draft picks that couldn’t get it done, but now it looks as if coach Leon Cameron has developed a team with real grit.

They won four of their last five to clinch a finals berth, including a brilliant against-the-odds win against Geelong missing half their best team. Their elimination final win over Sydney was absolutely brilliant.

A clean bill of health next season for the GWS Giants should hold them in good stead, after they won four of their last five games to close out the season. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
A clean bill of health next season for the GWS Giants should hold them in good stead, after they won four of their last five games to close out the season. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Giants lost Jeremy Cameron but gained Jesse Hogan in attack, while the no-name backline really stood up.

They seem to get smashed by injuries every year, but with a cleaner bill of health next year, should be pushing for the top four again.

Sydney Swans

The rejuvenation of the Swans over the past few years is really starting to bear fruit.

There are young guns everywhere you look and they continue to blood new players. The fact they had the first three nominations for the Rising Star award this year shows the real depth they are developing.

Is 2022 too soon to consider them genuine premiership contenders? Possibly, but they were excellent against the best teams this year, beating Brisbane, Geelong, Western Bulldogs and the Giants. But they had poor losses against also-rans such as Gold Coast and Hawthorn.

Buddy Franklin will hit the 1000-goal mark early next year, and while George Hewett’s expected departure will be a loss, the Swans are really building.

Richmond Tigers

You can blame injuries, but it was clear almost all season that the hunger just wasn’t there for Richmond this year.

No club in the modern era has been able to win more than three flags in the same period. Can they find a way?

Their backline will need bolstering after the retirements of David Astbury and Bachar Houli, but the big issue for Richmond over summer will be finding that determination to apply fierce pressure all over the ground.

Maybe a longer off-season will do the trick. They should be much better in 2022.

St Kilda

The Saints closed out their season well, but missed finals after poor goalkicking in the first half of the season doomed their record. (Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
The Saints closed out their season well, but missed finals after poor goalkicking in the first half of the season doomed their record. (Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

They finished a game and significant percentage out of the eight, but the Saints could just be that team that bolts up the ladder just as Melbourne did this year.

Jack Steele needs more help in the midfield, and they just can’t seem to win games without Paddy Ryder in the ruck, which is a worry because he’ll be 34 by the time the new season starts.

But with Max King finding his feet up forward, the Saints can take big strides. They beat the likes of the Giants, Brisbane and Sydney, but were let down in too many games by woeful kicking for goal.

Essendon

There was plenty to like about the Bombers in Ben Rutten’s first year in charge. They blooded plenty of good kids and Darcy Parish went to a new level in the midfield.

Peter Wright was a good addition in the forward line, but is that a long-term solution?

Maybe 2022 is too soon for a flag, but they should be pushing towards top four.

Geelong

The biggest off-season in two decades coming up at Kardinia Park. The Cats really have to decide whether they can still contend with this list.

It’s hard to see where the improvement comes from to go the next step. It will need to come from game style rather than personnel, because it’s clear their controlled ball use game plan doesn’t stand up in finals.

Fremantle

Plenty of experts rated Fremantle’s season a flop, but given the heavy toll of injuries, there is a lot to be optimistic about.

The likely loss of Adam Cerra will be a big blow, but the Dockers are a fairly young group that are really starting to come together.

Like St Kilda, goalkicking accuracy was particularly costly, especially when you finish a game (and even more percentage than St Kilda) out of the eight.

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