(Last year finished 10th)
Predicted Average: 1683
The Outlaws were the big winners in the pre-season draft for me after being massive, dumb, ugly, smelly losers in 2016. They locked away, McGrath, who could be the first Heppell/Ellis type defender this league has seen in a draft, with pick 1. Roughy then slid to them at pick 11 but they weren’t done there. Setterfield, arguably a first round pick had he been drafted by a club other than GWS, was available at 19 and Tuohy, who could be a new Enright, was there for him at 21. Outlaws were also able to handcuff Darcy to Clarke with their rookie selection though the fact that Clarke remains on their list at all probably nullifies all the previous good work. Outlaws also shrewdly shored up their defence with the acquisition of Hooker and Rance at the end of 2016.
Breakout Player – Josh Kelly
Kelly looks set for a massive year. He improved his average by 16 points in 2016 to 89 but I think his ceiling is around the 105 mark. Kelly was prolific in the JLT series averaging 94 and racking it up at 1.22 ppm. Whitfield’s absence in the first part of the year should also help Kelly establish his role in GWS. The 4th year mid, anchored as a forward, will help nullify some of the forward PODs in the league such as Merrett, Hunter, Bont, Martin, Mitchell and Adams.
Time to Slide – Tom Nicholls
Nicholls gets no love from Rocket and seems to be constantly out of favour and out of the Gold Coast team. Their recruitment of Witts along with the Sun’s fair amount of tall timber might spell the permanent relegation of Nicholls to a back-up ruckman. The onus will be on Nicholls to get his body right and prove that he deserves the number 1 ruck mantle.
Make or Break – Michael Hibberd
Hibberd was the Outlaws 2nd pick in the initial draft and they’ll be expecting a better return from his Melbourne playing days than they got from Harry O’Brien Perennial Flog Heritier Lumumba. Hibberd’s fantasy production used to be more consistent than publisher Mills & Boon. He’d rarely crack the ton but also rarely would he return a dud score. Outlaws would have been expecting Hibbo to be the rock that they build their defence around. If Hibberd can return to his 85+ ways then the Outlaws defence will be serviceable but anything less will likely see them giving up points in that line most weeks.
That’s a Bold Strategy Cotton, Let’s See If It Pays Off For ‘Em…
There weren’t many trade rumours flying around of Outlaws hunting a ruckman in the offseason but they really should have been. It was announced a few weeks away from list lodgement that Clarke would miss at least half the year. Nicholls seems out of favour and when you have to rely on McKernan playing each week you know you’re in trouble. Their only bankable ruck is Rory Lobb. Outlaws didn’t even enter the draft with a ruck spot free and as a result had no choice but to watch English go by at pick 11 (though Roughy wasn’t a bad selection). It’s difficult to tell how good English will be or how quickly he’ll achieve his ceiling but it could be a decision that the Outlaws lament for many years.
With the addition of Hibberd, Stanton and essentially Beams to the 2017 Outlaws side I expected the Outlaws to surge up from the bottom of the ladder. However, the real catalyst to an Outlaws climb will require a return to form for Armitage, Hanley, Greenwood and, especially, Redden. Unfortunately, Outlaws probably need to find even more improvement from somewhere to be a serious premiership threat and this would traditionally come in the form of kids with potential about to step up to be solid contributors. For a team near the bottom of the ladder they only have a few candidates with Stretch, McGrath, Wilson, Setterfield, and Duggan falling into this category. Outlaws will need a high strike rate from them or the team will not progress.
Outlaws will give up massive points in the ruck division but when their midfield is firing they should be competitive with any side. As mentioned before, the competition in the middle of the ladder is tight and will likely be decided by injuries and match-ups.