ESPN4 Minute Read
Welcome to ESPN’s AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!
This week, Rohan Connolly and Jake Michaels debate the million dollar question — who wins the 2023 AFL premiership?
Who will win the 2023 premiership?
Rohan Connolly: I’ve quite honestly never before found it so hard to identify even one team I think stands out as a flag favourite ahead of the rest. At least four in my view have very serious claims. And they also all have vulnerabilities. But if push comes to shove, I’m probably still going with Collingwood.
I’ve actually got a bit of a hunch Thursday night’s epic between the Magpies and Melbourne might be merely a prequel to a Grand Final rematch between the two, so it’s far from curtains for the loser.
And a call for the Pies over the Dees for me really is a toss of the coin, and probably would have been different but for the untimely knee injury to Jake Melksham, which has meant Melbourne has to fashion yet another different forward set-up at the worst possible time.
Collingwood, in contrast, I feel has ridden out the storm, will get key defenders Darcy Moore and Nathan Murphy back this week, while the recent renaissance of Jack Ginnivan just increases the Pies’ unpredictability and spark given the continued absence of Nick Daicos. And the latter’s return for either a semi or preliminary final is obviously a huge boost.
Collingwood has taken on and beaten all comers for pretty much two years now, and is a better and more mature line-up even than last September, when it won a final and lost two to the eventual grand finalists by a kick.
It’s solid both defensively and offensively (ranked third and fourth, respectively), has a well-documented capacity to hang in games then come over the top of opponents with a withering finish,
And it also has a massive plus in the MCG, where it will play either three out of three, or at worst three out of four times if it is to win a premiership. The Magpies have won 24 of 30 games at the venue since the start of last year, and most weeks play in front of finals-sized crowds and atmosphere.
That, too, will matter in a flag race where every little edge could be the difference.
Jake Michaels: Answering this question on the eve of finals is always tough, but it somehow feels even more difficult in 2023.
With that said, I believe the winner of Thursday night’s qualifying final between Collingwood and Melbourne will end up hoisting the premiership cup on Grand Final day. So who wins that game? The Demons.
Simon Goodwin’s side has flown beautifully under the radar this year. It’s not received the plaudits quite like the Magpies or even the Power, but it’s been good enough and consistent enough to bank the requisite wins for a top four finish and the coveted double chance. Not bad for a team many felt were just plodding along for the majority of the season.
The Dees tick just about every box when it comes to Champion Data’s Premiership Standard, which looks at how teams are tracking in comparison to the 10 most recent premiers in the statistical areas viewed as critical to flag success.
Unlike the other seven teams set to embark on a finals campaign (Collingwood included), Melbourne doesn’t have any glaring weakness or area of improvement. In fact, they rank in the top third of teams for all defensive and midfield measures, and three of the four offensive metrics. Not only that but its ball movement and territory game is as good, if not better, than any team they will come up against over the next month.
The loss of Melksham does make me a tad nervous about this prediction, given he had been playing such a pivotal role in the forward 50m. But with Clayton Oliver back and rounding into form and the resurgence of Jack Viney, it will allow Christian Petracca to spend more time in the front half, partnering Bayley Fritsch, who has also just returned to the side from injury.
And then there’s the fact Melbourne knows what’s required to deliver in September, having won the flag 24 months ago. No other team contesting the finals has won a premiership in the last decade. The Dees will win it and a month from now we’ll be debating the AFL’s latest potential dynasty.