(Last year finished 4th)
Predicted Average: 1701
While the capitulation of their ageing backline hasn’t been as spectacular as expected the writing has been on the wall for the ‘Rines. At the end of 2016 Bartel retired and Mundy missed out on defender status so the Wolverines look like they have non-committedly hit the rebuild button in the off season. They overlooked the likes of Roughy and Watson in the draft in preference of Josh Smith and Menegola. They also moved on stalwart Kade Simpson for Stringer and Maynard. In slightly stranger moves they also traded out Ebert (26yo) and brought in Dale Thomas. The much hyped Tom Ruggles was also delisted in the off-season.
Breakout Player – Josh Smith
Josh Smith is not the flashiest of player nor the classiest user but when given the freedom he certainly knows how to find it – he averaged 105 over the JLT series. He already averaged 75 in 2016 but could easily improve on this in 2017 which would put him into premium defender territory. The only thing holding Smith back will be his role within Collingwood.
Time to Slide – David Zaharakis
Ignoring the obvious Boyd, Hodge, Gibson, Johnson, Mundy, Lewis and Sandilands for a moment I’m predicting the return of players to Essendon will see a reduction in output from Zaharakis. In 2015 Zaharakis averaged a very worrying 75 before storming out of the gates in 2016 to average 94. Zaharakis might not slide as far as 75 but his output certainly won’t be in the 90s again.
Make or Break – 2017
2017 is the last year the Wolverines can make a premiership without committing to a proper re-tool, re-plumb, re-wire. They seem in two minds about it though and have arguably weakened their side while maintaining the services of some quickly depreciating players. The Wolverines can either see if they can eek out a premiership from this list or ensure they get the best value from players that won’t be around for long. If they choose to move on players then how they do so and who they bring in will probably define the Wolverines list for the next 3 years. 2017 is make or break for the Wolverines in more ways than one.
That’s a Bold Strategy Cotton, Let’s See If It Pays Off For ‘Em…
The positional jenga happening at the Wolverines made sense when they were in their premiership window but with their current list it’s difficult to justify. Boyd, Wallis, Stevie J, Tippett and Corey Ellis are all currently filling roles in positions without being anchored. Planning the next stage for a team is difficult when upwards of 6 players could retire at the end of the year but unexpected positional changes might cause some very unwanted headaches for the Wolverines. Virtual Sports seem to play it a bit fast and loose with awarding player positions and we’ve seen some inconsistent allocations before. Even if the coach doesn’t have to make a tough decision about making room in his midfield for an unanchored player or jettisoning the player it still robs that line of a slot that could have been used holding a developing asset.
The fact that the Wolverine’s forward line is 10th in the competition is probably more of a reflection of how strong the other forward lines are comparatively. A lot of jet mids were available as forwards in our initial draft and a fair few break-out players seem to be gifted fwd/mid status this year. Franklin, Rioli, Stevie J, Riewoldt and Stringer are a serviceable set of forwards but it just won’t stack up to others going around. Their backline continues to be their strength but the rest of the competition has caught up. Honestly, Wolverines seem to be in no man’s land with their list right now. They haven’t won a premiership and their side is weaker than 2016 but they also lack a suite of players with upside. The coach will need to decide on a direction early and commit to it because time is running out for a lot of his players.