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by Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Perth

Chris reviews changes to AFL playing rosters and peers into the crystal ball

AFL clubs use the off season drafts and trading to get the most appropriate players for their squads. A notable feature of this year's trading is an increase of traded players returning to their home states. Here is my take on what trades happened and how teams will fare in 2018.

The reigning premiers have kept their squad mostly intact. Notable movements were the retirement of Ivan Maric and Steven Morris. Chris Yarran was delisted. The onfield performance will not be affected by the absence of these players. Youthful replacement players were drafted and will take some years to develop. Richmond will stick to their game plan of applying high pressure at the fall of the ball. The only thing that will stop the Tigers from winning another premiership is what goes on inside their heads.

The Crows traded goal-sneak Charlie Cameron to Brisbane and Harrison Wigg to Gold Coast. Scott Thompson retired. Troy Menzel was delisted. Cameron's creativity around goals will be missed, which will place more pressure on Eddie Betts to perform the magic. Bryce Gibbs (from Carlton) and Sam Gibson (North Melbourne) were good pickups. Gibbs will add grunt to the midfield and compensate for the long-term injury to Brodie Smith. Expect the Crows to continue with their attacking football by running through the lines and targeting their powerful forwards with long kicks.

The big 'in' for the Cats is the homecoming of Gary Ablett Jr. If he can stay healthy he will add midfield and forward flexibility to a team that has narrowly missed finishing top of the table, by mere percentage points, for the past two years. Darcy Lang was traded to Carlton, Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie retired and Steven Motlop moved home to Port Adelaide. Expect the Cats to continue using attacking and open football to break free of congestion.

Greater Western Sydney
The Giants' biggest loss is the retirement of Shane Mumford, who provided muscle and first use of the ball at bounce downs. They also lost Nathan Wilson (traded to Fremantle), who provided run and long kicking from defense. Stevie Johnson retired and they will miss his 'X' factor in attack. The Giants retain a strong squad and they are arguably the only team that can play three styles of game in the one day. They are strong with inside pressure (even with the loss of Wilson); they have strong outside runners who can break through lines; and they have the skilled ball users who can use the Hawthorn tactic of slowing play to spread the ball across the ground and draw players out of a contested forward line. Expect the Giants to go one better this year.

Sydney Swans
The Swans have retained the core of their squad and have only delisted fringe players. Kurt Tippett has retired through injury which leaves the Swans ruck vulnerable. Their draft intake consists of young players who will take time to develop.  Expect the Swans to stick to their game plan of contested football and allowing forward space for Buddy Franklin to run free. Their younger players have developed well. Don't expect the Swans to lose the first six games this year. They will be a tougher unit but may not have the balance in their side to win the flag.

Port Adelaide
The Power have been busy at the trade table. They traded Matthew Lobbe (to Carlton),  Jarman Impey (to Hawthorn), Jackson Trengove (to Western Bulldogs), Brendon Ah Chee (to West Coast), and Aaron Young (to Gold Coast).  These losses have been compensated by the big inclusion of Tom Rockliff (from Brisbane) as well as Jack Watts and Jack Trengove (both from Melbourne), Trent McKenzie (from Gold Coast), Lindsay Thomas (North Melbourne) and Steven Motlop (Geelong). Motlop and Lindsay will offer additional flexibility in the forward line. Expect the Power to continue with a mix of contested and open football. The loss of the creative Sam Gray (injured) may affect their early performances. They are rolling the dice by bringing in experienced players but it is a risky short-term strategy.

The Bombers will feel the loss of Brent Stanton and Jobe Watson who both retired.  Heath Hocking has been delisted. This loss of experience is partially compensated by the addition Devon Smith (GWS) and Adam Saad (Gold Coast). Jake Stringer (from Western Bulldogs) will add forward presence and release the pressure on Joe Daniher, who should have a big year. Expect more of the same from the Bombers, with coach John Worsfold's focus on defense and mid-field accountability to continue.  A tougher draw this year will test the Bombers.

Melbourne delisted Mitch White, Heretier Lumumba and Jack Trengove. They traded Jack Watts (to Port Adelaide). Harley Balic (from Fremantle) could be a valuable inclusion but the rest of the drafting and trading was focused on untried youth.  Melbourne will continue with their game plan of strong defense and quick ball movement to high marking forwards. The return of a fit Jesse Hogan will be a bonus. This is the year for Melbourne's young players to come of age and push further up the ladder.

Western Bulldogs
The Dogs have lost the experience of retirees Matthew Boyd, Travis Cloke, Bob Murphy and Stuart Crameri . They have picked up Haydn Crozier (from Fremantle), Jackson Trengove (from Port Adelaide), and Josh Schache (from Brisbane). Schache will perform better than he did with Brisbane and should assist Tom Boyd. Crozier will add sparkle to the attack. Expect the Bulldogs return to their high-pressure football. Strong tackling and quick hands will and push them back into the eight.

West Coast Eagles
The Eagles have cleaned out their squad and lost more on-field experience than any team in the competition. Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis, Drew Petrie, Sam Butler, and Jonathan Giles have retired. Sharrod Wellingham and Josh Hill were delisted. The only replacement with experience is Brendon Ah Chee (a Port Adelaide fringe player). The rest of their recruitment strategy has been on youth. The Eagles will need to adjust their 'Eagles Web' (moving press around the ball) to the wider boundaries of the new Optus Stadium. They have traditionally struggled with this strategy on the MCG (Optus dimensions are similar to the MCG).  They have also lost the smarts of Priddis and Mitchell, which will place additional pressure on Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff. Jack Redden will also need to step up in the midfield. Nic Naitanui will return from injury but will find it a challenge to immediately return to his best. Expect the year to get ugly for West Coast.

Saint Kilda
The Saints have lost the experience of Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, and Sean Dempster through retirement. American import Jason Holmes was delisted, along with Nick Coughlan. Logan Austin has come in from Port Adelaide. The Saints will struggle up forward without Riewoldt; and 2014 number one draft pick, Paddy McCartin, will be under enormous pressure to improve on his five games and five goals of last year. The Saints still have a long way to go before they will be a force.

The Hawks have lost reliable defender, Josh Gibson (retired) and Luke Hodge was traded to Brisbane. Billy Hartung and Kade Stewart were delisted. Jarman Impey (traded from Port Adelaide) may add some spark up forward but perhaps he won't be needed if both Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo fire. Jaeger O'Meara has recovered from injury and will provide impetus to the Hawk's midfield. Expect the Hawks to play the same style as previous years. They will open the game out by moving the ball across the ground and only attack when they see an opening. Their reliance on precise kicking will be tested now that some of their best ball users have retired. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they will spend another year mid-table.

The Magpies have lost Ben Sinclair and Jesse White through retirement. They have delisted fringe players Lachlan Keefe, Mitch McCarthy, Liam Mackie, Henry Schade, and Jackson Ramsay. They have brought in a raft of untried younger players.  It would appear that they are rebuilding, again. Their younger stars are a year older and the team may show a general level of improvement.  Tactically we can expect more of the same from Nathan Buckley's boys. Things will change from week to week but the focus will be on using Adam Treloar, Scott Pendlebury, and Taylor Adams to apply pressure on the ball and transfer turnovers quickly to a hungry young forward line. American recruit Mason Cox has been given a contract extension and should start to have more of an impact on games. If the Pies stay healthy they will improve as the year progresses.

The Dockers have traded well over summer and probably have improved their player stocks more than other clubs. They traded Lachie Weller to Gold Coast to steal the second pick of the draft. Young players Haley Balic and Haydn Crozier were traded home to Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs respectively.  Veterans Jon Griffin, Zac Dawson, Garrick Ibbotson, Zac Clarke and Nick Suban were delisted along with Shane Yarran and Sam Collins. Nathan Wilson and Brandon Matera were traded from GWS and Gold Coast respectively. Wilson will add run from defense and Matera will give another option up forward. Expect the Dockers to return to their trademark manic pressure on opposition ball carriers. They have a long way to go to be a top team but expect them to be hassling for a place in the top eight.

North Melbourne
Andrew Swallow retired and Sam Gibson was traded to Adelaide. Inconsistent forward, Lindsay Thomas, was delisted. Apart from Billy Hartung (from Hawthorn) who will add some experience, the Roos' recruiting focused on youth. Expect the young North players to step up with more of a contested possession game this year. They lost five games last year by less than a kick and this year they will win more close ones than they lose. Goldstein appears to be back to his best and the Ben Cunnington and Shaun Higgins will continue to grow in the midfield.  Coach Brad Scott has North playing as a team, without reliance on individual players. Expect them to improve this year.

Gold Coast
The Suns have traded Gary Ablett Jr (to Geelong), Brandon Matera (to Fremantle), and Adam Saad (to Essendon). They have delisted a raft of fringe players with a focus on drafting youth. In addition they have received in trade Lachie Weller (from Fremantle), Harrison Wigg (from Adelaide), and Aaron Young (from Port Adelaide). Coach Stuart Dew is expected to add a tougher edge to the Suns' young talent. The loss of Ablett will be felt but will be compensated by the growing maturity of the young squad. The Suns should be tougher to beat this year but they probably won't trouble the stronger clubs.

The Blues traded Bryce Gibbs to Adelaide and delisted a raft of fringe players. Dennis Armfield retired. They gained Matthew Kennedy (from GWS), Darcy Lang (from Geelong) and Matthew Lobbe (from Port Adelaide). The Blues are still in rebuilding mode and have pulled in a long list of young talent from the draft. Tactically, the Blues will be trying to get hold of the ball and take advantage of Matthew Kreuzer's ruck prowess and Marc Murphy's delivery. Coach Brendon Bolton will be looking for accountability from his young charges. Young midfielder, Patrick Cripps, will have a big year but the Blues will be "a work in progress".

The Lions have traded Tom Rockliff to Port Adelaide and young tyro Josh Schache to the Western Bulldogs. They have delisted eight fringe players with a focus on picking up talent from the draft. Luke Hodge (from Hawthorn) will provide much needed on-field experience. Dayne Beams and Dayne Zorko will need to carry the midfield. The Lions will be in survival mode as the young team picks up beatings throughout the year.  However, there is a glimmer of hope. They do have nine players selected from within the top 25 of the draft over the past three years.

Article last changed on Thursday, March 22, 2018 - 1:27 PM EDT

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