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Aussie Rules: 2022 AFL season preview

The Melbourne Demons are out to make it back-to-back grand final wins in 2022 but there are a host of challengers for the flag in what looks to be a wide open AFL season.

Simon Goodwin's men finally broke their 57-year wait for a premiership when they beat the Western Bulldogs in the 2021 grand final in Perth and are priced at 13/4 to bring it home again.

The contenders

The Demons are one of the hot fancies to win the flag and if they can keep all of their star players on the park they could take some stopping.

There has been talk of complacency creeping in with some claiming that the Demons could suffer a hangover from their grand final success last season.

Such talk has been shot down on more than one occasion by players and coaches alike, who all claim they are hungrier than ever to make sure last season was no one-off.

The draw looks to be tougher in 2022 but they have a side which is packed with quality and includes the likes of Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Steven May, Jake Lever and Max Gawn.

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The Brisbane Lions could be one of the main dangers to the Demons and are priced at 13/2 to win the flag.

Under coach Chris Fagan they have made finals in each of the last three years but the preliminary final is as far as they have got.

Last year the Lions crashed out of finals in straight sets but are in prime condition to go again in 2022 and anything less than a grand final appearance will be viewed as a disappointment.

They have 2020 Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale settled and ready to fire, Cam Rayner returns from an ACL injury that ruled him out of last season, while former Essendon star Joe Daniher will be expected to play a huge role.

Tigers to roar again

The Richmond Tigers will be looking to put a disastrous 2021 campaign behind them. The then reigning premiers did not even make the top eight and play finals.

Whatever could go wrong did go wrong and with more luck this season they could add to the three premierships they have won in the last four years.

Star midfielder Dustin Martin missed much of last season after suffering a lacerated kidney but is now back to full fitness and is reported to be looking lean and mean in pre-season.

Damien Hardwick’s men are priced at 11/1 to win the grand final.

Port Adelaide are another team that have shone in recent seasons but cannot take the next step and make the grand final.

They have made home preliminary finals in the last two seasons but lost them both. The 71-point drubbing against the Western Bulldogs last year would have been particularly hard to take.

Power coach Ken Hinkley is almost in the last-chance saloon but he has a talented young list and has added the experience of Jeremy Finlayson and Josh Sinn to it.

Port Adelaide are a genuine contender to win the grand final and can be backed at 10/1.

Best of the rest

Seven or eight teams could genuinely fancy their chances of going all the way and winning the flag if they can stay relatively injury free and play their best footy consistently throughout the year.

One such team is the Western Bulldogs who midway through the third quarter of last year’s grand final were leading Melbourne by 19 points. What happened next stunned everyone as the Demons booted 16 out of the next 17 goals to romp to victory.

Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says they have got over it and will move on but only time will tell. They do have one of the strongest and most talented midfields in the comp and are priced at 6/1 to make up for last year’s grand final heartbreak.

Under coach John Longmire the Sydney Swans also had a great season before losing to Greater Western Sydney in the first week of finals. They will be looking to go much deeper this season and are a very exciting team to watch.

Push for finals

Usually one or two teams who play finals one year, slip out of the eight and are replaced the year after. The battle for the eight is always an intriguing one.

Carlton will be hoping to fight their way back in there in 2022 following a lengthy absence.

The Blues are priced at 19/10 to make the eight and will now be lead by new coach Michael Voss following the departure of David Teague, who had a turbulent 2021 to say the least.

Essendon made finals last year and are priced at 6/5 to make the eight again. Greater Western Sydney are 1/1 but will have to recover from missing the suspended Toby Greene for the opening five games of the campaign.

Geelong have a remarkable finals record under coach Chris Scott but have been unable to add to their flag success back in 2011. They do have an ageing list but one full of quality and their chances of success could hinge on how well gun forwards Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins gel. Geelong are 12/1 to win the flag.

Rebuilds

Collingwood and Hawthorn are both going through rebuilds and have new coaches on board for 2022.

At Hawthorn the master has handed over to the apprentice with Alastair Clarkson making way for Sam Mitchell, while Craig McRae takes charge of the Pies.

West Coast Eagles say they will not use a crippling injury list as an excuse to write the season off and start rebuilding, but they face a huge challenge to get back into finals after slipping out last season.

WA rivals Fremantle are making progress under Justin Longmuir and keeping captain Nat Fyfe on the park to assist their talented young group could be key to them breaking into the eight.

Adelaide Crows are also making progress but it has been suggested 2023 will be their year to get closer to finals.

The pressure is on both Stuart Dew at the Gold Coast Suns and Brett Ratten at St Kilda who will be pushing for the eight but could have to settle for midtable.

North Melbourne finished bottom of the ladder in 2021 with just four wins and will be looking to continue the rebuild and climb the ladder under coach David Noble.

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