Passion for the game needs to be reignited 

Collingwood looks likely to treat water in 2014, while Gold Coast will be aiming for its first finals appearance.
Collingwood looks likely to treat water in 2014, while Gold Coast will be aiming for its first finals appearance.

FOR all our sakes, season 2014 needs to be the year where we learn to love again.

After all that happened last year, many fell out of love with the game.

It was a year where there was little respect - for the rules, for the players and for the game.

The passion this sport can bring out in people can be reignited, but only by having a season that is dominated by nothing off-field, and everything on it.

While that may be hard with the threat of infraction notices hanging over Essendon, and crowd behaviour thanks to one Hawthorn supporter in Launceston already putting into focus matters over the fence, the relationship between the fans and the game is not beyond repair.

It will be the year where the Hawks learn to live without Buddy and Sydney gets used to life with him.

Both teams look well prepared for the experience.

Lance Franklin's versatility as a forward means he should fit comfortably in any forward line, but there will always be scrutiny around the length and value of his contract if he doesn't perform.

The Swans, meanwhile, lack the depth of previous seasons, but made a preliminary final last year despite a terrible injury list.

For the Hawks, who define the term versatility, there is still more than enough there to kick a winning score with Jarryd Roughead, Jack Gunston, David Hale, Luke Breust and Cyril Rioli.

With an abundance of running talent, new recruit Ben McEvoy and returning talent such as Matt Suckling and Ryan Schoenmakers, the reigning premiers look hard to beat.

Despite criticism of its dour style of play, if Fremantle can reproduce the pressure that Ross Lyon's coaching style breeds, it is another genuine flag contender.

After that, it becomes quite congested.

From a list point of view, Essendon is in a good position to challenge.

With 12 players in the 25-30 age group, it is entering the period where it should be challenging for a premiership.

How it structures its forward line is the on-field priority, as well as managing those off-field distractions and late-season fade-outs.

The Bombers showed last year with several emotive wins that they were capable of letting their football do the talking, and the playing group will have a point to prove after being denied finals.

North Melbourne's run of heartbreaking losses cost it September action, but with some fitness and defensive tweaks, it can right those wrongs.

Throw in the class of Nick Dal Santo and the talent of father-son pick Luke McDonald, and there is genuine reason for excitement at Arden Street.

I'm expecting Geelong to slide slightly from the team that was a kick away from a grand final, but not dramatically enough to fall out of the eight.

With talented youngsters and genuine stars in Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Corey Enright, Harry Taylor and a fit-again Tom Hawkins, it is capable of doing damage again.

Richmond played some outstanding football last year to finish fifth with 15 wins, but lost its elimination final to Carlton after leading by 32points.

Whatever the Tigers achieve this year won't matter until they can win a final.

How Jack Riewoldt is used in attack and Dustin Martin responds after his contract dramas will be of keen interest, but this settled outfit looks to have the capabilities to play in September again.

For me, the last spot of the eight is between Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Carlton, Gold Coast and West Coast.

In many ways, the Pies will be treading water in 2014. They won't drop away, but won't challenge for the flag.

New skipper Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Ben Reid, Travis Cloke, Dayne Beams, Luke Ball and Steele Sidebottom should see them sneak into the eight, but Nathan Buckley's list is primed for future, not immediate success.

Heath Shaw, Dale Thomas, Darren Jolly, Alan Didak and Andrew Krakouer all being shown the door when they could still have had an impact is evidence of that.

It's a similar story with Port Adelaide's list, so a slight fall backwards would not surprise.

There's talent there with Travis Boak, Chad Wingard, Angus Monfries, Justin Westhoff, Hamish Hartlett and Jay Schulz, but for many consistency has never been a strength.

Carlton will again rely on its midfield strength to see it through but there remain plenty of questions about its forward line, especially with Eddie Betts at the Crows.

Expect Gold Coast to look like a finals side by the end of the year, even if it doesn't qualify for September.

After eight wins last year, 10 this year is not unrealistic for this group of talented and exciting youngsters headed by that bloke called Gary Ablett.

West Coast will be an intriguing case study under new coach Adam Simpson and a finals appearance is a realistic aim with 14 players in the 25-30 age bracket.

In Nic Naitanui it has one of the most unique players, quality in Matt Priddis, Scott Selwood, Luke Shuey, Chris Masten and Sharrod Wellingham, while its forward line of Mark LeCras, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling will take some beating.

Injuries derailed the Eagles last year, so any luck in that department will be greatly received.

It's hard to see where Adelaide is going to find significant improvement to return to September.

It has a bolstered forward line with James Podsiadly and Betts, and Taylor Walker returning from injury, but its midfield will be without skipper Nathan van Berlo.

Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane and the 2012 version of Sam Jacobs will need to play out of their skins to get into the finals.

The Western Bulldogs have looked to bolster their attack with Stewart Crameri's recruitment, but they will need more than his 30 goals last year for Essendon.

The Dogs will continue to impress at the stoppages and with the contested ball, but scoring is their big concern.

The bottom four already looks pretty set with Melbourne, Brisbane, St Kilda and Greater Western Sydney the likely occupants.

For the Lions and Saints, it has the potential to be horrible considering recent departures, but expect the Demons and Giants to take some steps forward, especially Melbourne with Paul Roos' possession game plan, the recruitment of harder types like Daniel Cross and Viv Michie and a forward line full of potential.


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