Believe this: No one knows until the final siren sounds on the 2018 Toyota AFL Premiership competition who will be the champions.
For now, however, guessing is great fun.
Last year’s premiers, the Richmond Tigers, are ranked fourth or fifth in the Premiers Futures market by a couple of the bookmakers.
Numbers crunchers Champion Data, the official analytical service of the AFL, ranks the Tigers’ list as the ninth best in the competition. They are immediately behind the Western Bulldogs, at seven, according to Champion and the Hawthorn Hawks at eight.
When the examination is limited to the best 22 on each of the sides, the Tigers jump ahead of the Dogs and the Hawks.
The opinion of Champion is that the Sydney Swans have both the most talented full list and the best 22, while the bookies we consulted both showed the Swans as the number two favourite to capture the flag in 2018.
What is a punter to do?
When we looked a little over a week ago at the 2018 Premiers Future market on Ladbrokes, the Adelaide Crows were at the top. They still are, as the market has not shifted since we first checked.
Champion ranks the Crows as number three in terms of overall and top 22-list quality.
Champion arrives at its predictions by comparing players on different clubs in the same positions and age categories over a number of seasons in order to attach a ranking to each player. Combining the rankings for each player on a club’s list then provides a score of the strength of the club’s list.
The Champion system’s weakness is that a lack of senior level footy will leave a player twisting in the wind, as far as a Champion ranking is concerned. That means that last year’s Grand Final hero, Jack Graham, who kicked three goals in the Tigers’ Grand Final win over the Crows, does not have a Champion ranking, since he has played just five senior games.
Jacob Townsend, who bolted the GWS Giants for the Tigers in 2016, has only 37 games across six seasons, so Champion Data does not include him in its calculations.
Therefore, good luck, handicappers.