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Rick Browner and Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Perth, Western Australia

This is the last in a four part series giving fans a taste of the excitement to come. Season 2012 kicks off with the March 24 game between the Sydney Swans and new team to the competition, Greater Western Sydney. To be played at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, this encounter will make history as New South Wales now becomes home to two Australian Rules Football teams.

UNDERDONE DOGS?

With injuries to key players before the season actually gets underway, the Western Bulldogs are going to face an uphill battle to be competitive this year. This club is the perennial “also-ran” team in the competition and their preseason work has not shown any indication that 2012 will be different. It seems that the Bulldogs show some dash, get their fans excited then trail away with the thought of “there’s always next year.” Their Finals window closed when Brad Johnson retired and next year is with us again.

Ageing stars, injuries and a new, unproven coach will hamper the Dogs’ chances of being a major force. Always capable of biting their opponent on their best day, they are inconsistent and lack the ability to string a long streak of winning games together. Get the team fit and firing together and it may well be a different story.

Watch out for:
1) new coach Brendan McCartney’s approach to the big leagues, having never played at AFL level himself.
2) Brian Lake to get fully fit and lead from the front.
3) more players to step up and fill the gaps left by the loss of Barry Hall, Ben Hudson and Callan Ward.

BOMBING AGAIN

Essendon finished last season well and truly off the pace and disappointed their fans after a promising start to the season. More is expected of them in 2012, their second year under favorite son coach James Hird. The Bombers' preseason matches have not been anything out of the box. Perhaps they are keeping things in reserve for the main season.

With a reasonable early draw, the Bombers may find themselves with a few wins under their belts to give them some confidence. However the oldest player in the AFL, Dustin Fletcher, must surely be tired of his workload in the backline and should he go down with an injury, the Bombers will be in a world of hurt.

“Bigger and stronger” are the keywords that were heard during the Bombers' preseason build up and a number of players have piled on the pounds as a result. Overall Essendon will probably finish in the Top Eight but will not be real contenders for the flag.

Watch out for:
1) Dyson Heppell to feature in the highlight reels – he shows more and more class with every game.
2) Dustin Fletcher to play his last season.
3) Jobe Watson’s dodgy hamstrings to let him down again.

GEE-LONG GONE?

Could ripples of unease be vibrating through the Geelong faithful? The reigning Premiers had a fairy shaky NAB Cup series and were humiliated by the lowly rated Richmond. NAB Cup aside, the reigning Premiers Geelong must start the 2012 season as favorites to finish in the Top Four once again.

This is no ordinary team. Three premierships in five years is a record all the other clubs would love to emulate and thre is no doubt that Geelong deserves its place in AFL history books. However will the loss of club giants Cameron Ling, Brad Ottens, Cameron Mooney and Darren Milburn (who all retired after the Cats’ 2011 Premiership win) throw the Cats’ balance off enough to see them challenged on more occasions that they have been in recent seasons?

Although their player list is the oldest in the competition, the Cats still manage to unearth young gems and inject them into the team alongside the veterans. Their recruiting department has managed the list so well that another Grand Final appearance could well await this season.

Watch out for:
1. a stellar season from Joel Selwood as he rises effortlessly to the demands of the Geelong captaincy without losing his ferocious appetite for the hard contest.
2. early breakout performances from youngster Allen Christensen as he cements his place in the side.
3. Chris Scott to keep the club’s profile very low until late in the season. Having made history by coaching a team to the Premiership in his debut season as coach, Scott will want to keep himself and the Cats under the speculation radar for as long as possible in his quest to make history for the second year in a row.


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