Every AFL club's make or break for 2018

The preseason is done and dusted which means attention turns to the AFL home and away season. ESPN has analysed the field and given pass marks for each club.


2018 pass mark: A return to the GF

After claiming the minor premiership and reaching last year's grand final, expectations on the Crows will once again be sky-high in 2018.

Don Pyke's side looked unbeatable at times last year but Adelaide's failure on the biggest stage will surely have sparked a fire inside the playing group to go one better.

The Crows have suffered a few setbacks with key defender Jake Lever departing for the Demons and Charlie Cameron moving to Brisbane. However, the signing of Bryce Gibbs will bolster their midfield stocks enormously.

At their best, there's no team in the competition that can score as freely, and their 2018 campaign will likely come down to how they perform on the road - particularly at the MCG.

It's going to be a tough ask but with a group of players seeking redemption, anything other than a return to the grand final will be a bust for the Crows in 2018.


2018 pass mark: Avoid 18th and lift percentage to 80+

It's tough to see the Lions' recent struggles turning around anytime soon, particularly after the loss of former skipper and ball-magnet Tom Rockliff.

Nevertheless, there are some promising signs that will have Brisbane fans somewhat optimistic ahead of 2018. No. 1 draft pick Cameron Rayner already looks an AFL-ready player and should have no problems slotting into the midfield alongside guns Dayne Beams and Dayne Zorko.

Luckless half-forward Allen Christensen is also set to make his long-awaited return and will add some much needed experience to the forward line.

And then there's Luke Hodge who will play an instrumental role in the development of what is the third youngest side in the competition.

Chris Fagan's second year at the helm will need to be an improvement on 2017's five wins which resulted in the wooden spoon. If his side can maintain a percentage of at least 80 it may not be all doom and gloom.


2018 pass mark: Six wins

The Blues showed some promising form during preseason with wins over St Kilda and Hawthorn to suggest Brendon Bolton has them on the right track.

Paddy Dow already looks capable of slotting into the midfield along with a fit Patrick Cripps while 2018 could very well be a breakout year for promising forward Charlie Curnow.

Nevertheless, 2018 is unlikely to be a year Carlton surge up the ladder, especially given the fact they will be without two of their best and most consistent players from last season. The loss of Gibbs to Adelaide and Sam Docherty -- who went down with a season-ending ACL injury in January -- means Carlton's progression is likely to stagnate a fraction.

If they can continue to get games into their youngsters, show signs of development and match last year's six wins, fans should be pleased.


2018 pass mark: Be in finals contention at Round 20

Since the beginning of 2014, Collingwood's home and away record is a disappointing 39 wins and 48 losses.

Despite boasting plenty of talent -- admittedly injuries have prevented them from being on the park at the same time -- it just hasn't clicked for Nathan Buckley's side. However, like Richmond last year, 2018 could be the year it does click.

There aren't too many midfield quartets stronger than Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Adam Treloar and Taylor Adams. Throw in the much-improved Brodie Grundy in the ruck and a backline blend of experience and youth and all of a sudden you can see why expectations are always so high for the Pies.

Collingwood must be looking for a return to the finals this year. If Buckley's future starts being discussed inside the opening 10 weeks then the Magpies have some serious concerns.


2018 pass mark: A home final

If you believe the preseason hype then Essendon is set for a breakout year in 2018.

The Bombers had a very busy trade period picking up Bulldogs premiership star Jake Stringer as well as former Giants midfielder Devon Smith and crafty half-back Adam Saad.

The supplements saga appears to be fully behind the football club now and Essendon fans are right to be bullish about the upcoming season given that on the surface their squad is significantly stronger than 2017 - a year in which they played finals.

Anything other than a return to the finals would be a bust for the Bombers. In fact, with a few clubs on the slide, a home final should be their primary focus.


2018 pass mark: Finish higher than West Coast

The re-signing of skipper and Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe will give the entire Fremantle fraternity a sense of confidence heading into 2018.

However, the reality is the Dockers are in a rebuilding phase and this year could be one of experimentation, particularly with 35-year-old ruckman Aaron Sandilands all but certain to be playing his last season.

Harley Bennell's return is still unclear but if he does get back on the park this year you can certainly expect a spark.

A return to the finals may be a tall order for the Dockers but if they can end the season as the best team in the west, their fans will have something to crow about.


2018 pass mark: Top two finish, preliminary final

Any team that has Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood is surely on their way to a premiership, right?

If only it was that simple.

Preseason form wasn't overly encouraging and the Cats have already been dealt a significant blow with Dangerfield likely to miss Round 1 with a hamstring injury. Add in the fact the question marks on Ablett's durability and the Cats appear somewhat exposed from the outset.

If there's one man the Cats need to get more out of this year it's Tom Hawkins. After a mediocre 2017, a lot is riding on the 29-year-old and his performances could very well determine just how far the Cats go.

If Geelong can keep their star trio fit and get more out of Hawkins, they should be able to at least match last year's effort of reaching a preliminary final.

Gold Coast

2018 pass mark: Avoid 18th and re-sign Tom Lynch

Despite being a unanimous pick by most for the dreaded wooden spoon, the Suns showed some promising signs during preseason to suggest life without Ablett will not be all doom and gloom.

Stuart Dew has reinvigorated his young charges who are playing some inspired football and the hope will be that they can carry it into the home and away season.

Unfortunately for the Suns, April's Commonwealth Games means they will be on the road for the opening 10 rounds of the season. Early wins will be key or it 2018 could very quickly turn ugly.

If the Suns can avoid an 18th place finish and manage to re-sign key forward Tom Lynch, it may not be a disastrous season.

Greater Western Sydney

2018 pass mark: Reaching a maiden grand final

The Giants will continue to be one of the competition's benchmark sides in 2018 and it's hard to see them failing to make the top four.

Their list is stacked with talent in all areas of the ground and Leon Cameron continues to impress as senior coach.

Not an awful lot has changed from last year other than the hunger for a grand final berth has been ratcheted up a few notches after consecutive preliminary final defeats.

If the Giants don't reach the big dance this year, they may start wondering if it will ever happen.


2018 pass mark: Make finals, or go very, very close

Hawthorn has to be the most difficult club to predict ahead of the new season. Was last season's tumble down to 12th a sign that a long rebuild was in order? Or just a blip before another return to the summit? Who knows, but the Hawks will certainly take a lot of confidence into 2018 after their eye-catching finish to last year: after Round 7, the Hawks went nine wins, six losses and a draw, with some of their victories impressive (think beating Sydney twice and the Crows in Adelaide).

They also endured a horror injury run last campaign, with Cyril Rioli, James Frawley, Ben Stratton, Grant Birchall, Jon Ceglar and Jaeger O'Meara all missing big chunks of the season.

So, which way will the Hawks go? With a bit more luck, they should certainly improve from last year's 12-th placed finish and push for the top eight.


2018 pass mark: Make finals - and win one

Everyone knows about Melbourne's decade of horror, perfectly summed up by the Demons missing the finals last year by 0.49 per cent after losing to a nothing-to-play-for Collingwood in Round 23. How very Melbourne.

But this year's Melbourne may be - should be - different. Their core is talented, young, brash and hard, with matchwinners across every line.

If the Dees get a better injury run than last year -- when they were often without Jesse Hogan, Max Gawn, Jack Viney and Nathan Jones among others -- then there's no excuses: they must feature in September. If it all clicks, they should be aiming for at least one finals victory.

North Melbourne

2018 pass mark: Avoiding the bottom four, and signing a big fish

The rebuilding, replumbing, re-wiring, re-whatever-you-want-to-call-it job at North Melbourne is far from complete, but most Kangaroos fans understand the circumstances behind the club's slide down the ladder last year.

While most assume 2018 will be another tough one for Brad Scott's men, it's easy to forget the Kangaroos were highly competitive throughout a lot of 2017. Yes they finished 15th with six wins but their percentage of almost 90 showed the club's ability to push most sides.

That being said, North have to find a way to avoid the bottom four this year. They also must give their fans hope that a sharp rise is on the horizon by landing a key off-season target having failed in their big-money chase of both Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly last year. Rory Sloane, anyone?

Port Adelaide

2018 pass mark: A preliminary final berth

Talk about loading up. The Power, having lost a thrilling extra-time elimination final to West Coast last year, decided to throw all their cards on the table during a hectic off-season signing extravaganza.

Whether Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop, Jack Watts, Trent McKenzie, Jack Trengove and Lindsay Thomas are the answers to their premiership puzzle remains to be seen, but the brazen moves signify one thing: The Power are backing themselves to be right in the premiership mix in the short-term future.

They must at least get to the penultimate weekend of the season to justify those decisions.


2018 pass mark: Create a dynasty, starting with another GF berth

Reigning premiers. We repeat, Richmond fans - the Tigers are the reigning premiers. But that was so 2017, and the memory of the Western Bulldogs' slump after their own fairytale flag is still fresh for most AFL fans.

The big question is, can Richmond avoid a premiership hangover? It will be fascinating to see if Damien Hardwick's team - which stormed to the title thanks to a frenetic, pressure-laden game plan - can retain that hunger having scaled the mountain.

Motivation shouldn't be an issue. The Tigers enter season 2018 with the AFL's sixth-youngest list, meaning Richmond has a chance to establish a dynasty like the Hawks and Cats of recent eras.

St Kilda

2018 pass mark: Finals, and a big-name recruit

One word: Finals. It's pretty simple when judging the breakeven point for the Saints this year. St Kilda last made September in 2011 but despite plenty of bluster and promise, have fallen short of pushing into the finals the past two seasons, winning 12 and 11 matches respectively.

But it will be a challenge. With no Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna, the onus will fall on the club's younger players to drive the Saints back up the ladder. Can they do it? The talent is there, but inconsistency has blighted Alan Richardson's men in recent seasons.

The second part of the equation? An elite trade target come the off-season. The Saints recently claimed they were better placed than any other club in regards to their salary cap, so it's time they proved that by splashing some cash.


2018 pass mark: A grand final berth

Remember the sloppy, spiritless 0-6 Swans of last year? It's almost inconceivable considering the benchmarks Sydney have set in the past decade or so.

John Longmire and Co. certainly turned it around brilliantly last year before crashing out of the finals at the first stage, and you can take it to the bank that the Swans won't allow a similar tardy start to derail their 2018 campaign.

With a squad boasting a glut of A-graders, and some emerging talent arguably as good as any team in the league, Sydney has to be primed to get to the last Saturday in September. Anything else is another failure, especially during the Lance Franklin era.

West Coast

2018 pass mark: A clear direction

Are the Eagles coming or going? Rebuilding or challenging? Not many outside the club - possibly even inside - truly know what the short-term future holds for West Coast.

They were an enigma last year, playing some awful footy at times but still sneaking into the finals and then winning one in hostile territory. Quite an achievement. But so many questions are unanswerable ahead of the new season: When will Nic Naitanui return and can he get back to his best? Do the Eagles have enough young talent coming through the ranks to generate a realistic premiership tilt down the track? How will they settle in their new home ground? And will they win the signatures of key free agents Jeremy McGovern and Andrew Gaff?

The Eagles look capable of again sneaking into the finals or at worst, dropping into the bottom six. But one thing their fans will be desperate for is a clear direction.

Western Bulldogs

2018 pass mark: A return to the top eight

How quickly a fairytale fades. The feelgood Doggies, the toast of the AFL when they broke their drought to win the 2016 premiership, crashed back to earth last year in spluttering to a 10th-placed finish.

The Bulldogs battled in many key areas last season but one of the key intangibles, hunger, was sorely lacking. It's time the Dogs bared their teeth again.

And with a long summer behind them, the Dogs have to be confident of again gracing the September stage. They boast one of the league's premier midfields and while they're a bit thin at each end of the ground, it didn't hurt them in 2016, did it?