The AFL has been fixing its fixture for a while now in an attempt to give every fanbase the hope that comes with early season wins.
By having the perceived lesser-lights square off with each other in the opening rounds, there’s a decent chance most clubs will celebrate a victory while the season is still shiny and supporters will stay engaged.
But not even Hansie Cronje could have concocted the series of results that have occurred with just the Easter Monday blockbuster between Geelong and Hawthorn to come to complete five rounds.
After an incredible 18 wins by underdogs in the first 36 games, the upsets kept coming over the holiday weekend to maintain the most even start to a season in history.
Stunning losses by early pacesetters West Coast and Greater Western Sydney combined with not just surprising, but punishing wins by St Kilda and Carlton, saw the AFL record a 22-year first.
Not since the wild 1997 season has every team recorded at least one win and one loss so early on.
Despite the chaos it’s never too early to take a swing at predicting who the real contenders are — and with what we’ve seen the competition appears to be splitting into these five groups.
Geelong (Ladder position: 2nd, Record: 3-1), Collingwood (4th, 3-2), GWS (6th, 3-2), West Coast (8th, 3-2)
Outside of a surprise home defeat to the Giants, Geelong has been scintillating despite facing as tough a fixture as any team. The Magpies, Giants and Eagles have all shown flaws — but their best footy is a grade above most teams and they’ll be there come September.
St Kilda (1st, 4-1), Fremantle (3rd, 3-2), Brisbane (9th, 3-2), Gold Coast (11th, 3-2)
You only need to compare the ladder with Ladbrokes’ premiership markets to see how little faith most have in these four. St Kilda is the only team with four wins (the Cats can join them today) but is still paying a monstrous $41 for the flag. That’s the same odds as the Dockers, despite Ross Lyon’s side occupying third position. The two Queensland clubs have ensured there’s no talk about the state of footy in their state with bright starts but are still at long odds to even make the eight.
Richmond (10th, 3-2), Adelaide (12th, 2-3), Hawthorn (13th, 2-2), Melbourne (17th, 1-4)
All four have provided evidence to suggest they’re not the same sides they’ve been in recent years, but all have the pedigree to deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. Richmond is the most certain to make the finals.
Port Adelaide (5th, 3-2), Essendon (7th, 3-2)
Two of the most frustrating footy sides to follow in the competition had incredibly good Fridays and are top eight sides at their best. You’d be a brave person to pick them confidently though and both have benefited from playing the Demons while they’re struggling as well as a game each against a bottom-feeder.
Western Bulldogs (2-3), Carlton (1-4), Sydney (1-4), North Melbourne (1-4)
The Bulldogs began the season with promising wins against former powerhouses Hawthorn and Sydney but it’s been downhill since and a 44-point defeat to the previously winless Carlton is enough to rule a line through their chances. The Blues broke their drought but, along with the Swans and Kangaroos, are going to struggle for wins this season.