Digby Beacham’s AFL Season Preview

PREMIERS – Melbourne $4.50*

We’ve been blessed to witness a string of wonderful football stories in recent times. Indeed, Melbourne’s drought-breaking premiership triumph against the Western Bulldogs on an historic night in Perth last year is a beauty.

It could only be trumped by the Demons going back-to-back before their faithful at a heaving MCG in late September … and I think they can. Simon Goodwin’s charges know the importance of rewarding their long-suffering Victorian fans and have the appetite to do exactly that if the pre-season is any indication.

The players returned in excellent order and while they were beaten at their most recent outing, narrowly at the hands of Carlton in the Community Series, their failure to adhere to the new umpire dissent requirements and a backline missing a swag of proven performers worked against them.

The return from a knee reconstruction of Adam Tomlinson only boosts the options available to Goodwin, while the overall profile of their list suggests they have not yet peaked. If there is a better starting midfield than Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney, I’m all ears.

They are potent forward of the ball, organised behind it, are prepared to get their hands dirty and as the Bulldogs found out last year, have the ability to score quickly and heavily. If Melbourne’s key performers stay healthy (the same applies to all other contenders, to be fair), they have the potency to climb the summit again in 2022.

BROWNLOW MEDAL – Christian Petracca $8.50*

An elite talent who has morphed into an elite midfielder on the back of elite habits.

Christian Petracca, please stand up. It wasn’t always the case. A prodigious teenage talent, Petracca tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during his maiden pre-season with Melbourne and when he finally made his debut, many expected great things.

Maybe the player himself did also. There were question marks on his work ethic and whether he had the flexibility (or trust in his body) to become a player the club expected when it selected him second overall in the 2014 national draft. Not anymore. His past two seasons have been wonderful, with the 2021 campaign seen as his coming of age.

Now 26, Petracca is at the peak of his powers and coming off a season that saw him poll 25 votes in the Brownlow Medal, enabling him to finish sixth behind Ollie Wines. It followed a 20-vote year in 2020 which delivered him a share of third with Jack Steele.

It is a body of work that is impossible to ignore entering 2022. Even more when you consider he collected the Norm Smith Medal as best afield in the grand final.

COLEMAN MEDAL – Jeremy Cameron $5.50*

We all know that Geelong gave up plenty to land Jeremy Cameron.

It didn’t pay dividends in 2021, but it was hardly a disaster either. The potent left-footer battled hamstring injuries in his first season down the highway, yet still contributed 39 goals from 15 appearances to help the Cats reach a preliminary final.

His 34 majors in 12 home-and-away matches was a very solid return, so solid in fact that it came at a clip of 2.88 goals per game.

Coleman medallist Harry McKay was the league’s leading goalkicker with 58 majors from 19 games at 3.05 per outing. If Geelong are to push for a top-four berth, you would think both Cameron and Tom Hawkins are going to be prominent.

RISING STAR – Jason Horne-Francis $4*

Speak to anyone inside the four walls at Arden Street and it’s impossible not to pick up on their excitement about what No.1 draft pick Jason Horne-Francis brings to the table.

Barring a last-minute setback, Horne-Francis will debut against Hawthorn in round one, the launch pad for what many Kangaroos fans are hoping will be a long and decorated career at the club.

The teenager can find his own footy, knows where the goals are and has the added advantage of playing at the senior level in the SANFL. His preliminary final performance for South Adelaide last year – 24 disposals, 11 clearances and three goals – left senior football recruiters shaking their heads.

The kid is the real deal and though Collingwood young gun Josh Daicos also looks primed to play early on and is loaded with talent, Horne-Francis could emerge as the premier young player in 2022.


1. Melbourne
2. Brisbane
3. Western Bulldogs
4. Geelong
5. Port Adelaide
6. Sydney
7. Fremantle
8. GWS

9. Essendon
10. Carlton
11. Richmond
12. West Coast
13. St Kilda
14. Collingwood
15. Hawthorn
16. North Melbourne
17. Adelaide
18. Gold Coast

*Odds correct as at 12pm, 9th March 2022.

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