W2W4, AFL 2018: Jude Bolton's key questions

Ahead of last season, if you had've predicted Richmond would break their 37-year premiership drought you would have been laughed out of the room. Every year there's so many twists and turns that it's almost pointless trying to forecast what the new season has in store. But what's the fun in that?

While I don't have a crystal ball to consult ahead of what is looming as another fascinating season, there are several key issues which I think will shape the 2018 AFL season.

Here's my take on What To Watch For this year.

Will a new contender emerge as a threat to Dangerfield and Dusty?

This year will prove to be the year of Nat Fyfe. He averaged 26.5 disposals in the JLT series and the contested ball-winning beast is in line to get back to his Brownlow Medal-winning best.

For him to take the mantle from either Dustin Martin or Patrick Dangerfield as the AFL's premier player, his finishing in front of goal will be key. Always high for score involvements, Fyfe can display his dominance in the air inside 50 but must execute his goal kicking. If he can do this, he may push his nose in front of Danger and Dusty.

Aside from the three superstars named above, who could be next in line? At 25, and truly established as one of the premier on-ballers in the league, I feel Adam Treloar is well positioned to be one who can push into the conversation. By taking the first option and executing it well, Treloar can get confidence from his skills as there is no question around his ability to find the football or explode from congestion.

Christian Petracca another with the tools to be a genuine gamebreaker at the elite level. He has the power, the skill, and dare we say it, the arrogance that all champions have.

The word out of Melbourne is Petracca has increased his previously suspect endurance this off-season, meaning the explosive clearance-winner will be a weapon in two areas of the ground.

If he can add consistency to the glimpses of dominance he's shown in his 39 games, he'll be just about unstoppable.

Which team in Sydney will be the strongest?

Both Sydney teams will enter the season with key players missing but at this point I think Sydney may be slightly stronger. Sam Naismith is a huge loss for a side that relishes first use at the coalface, so there's no doubt his absence will be sorely felt by the Swans. The pressure will be on Callum Sinclair or the untested Darcy Cameron, who must stamp themselves if the Swans are to have a consistent year at stoppages. No doubt there will be pinch-hitting from Dean Towers and Aliir Aliir but is it unsustainable to have them in there week after week.

It is however not an insurmountable problem for Sydney. John Longmire will have them primed to start the season in frenzied fashion after last year's 0-6 opening, while they also boast several genuine matchwinners -- hello, Buddy -- a pro-active midfield at ground level and a miserly defence that conceded the fewest points in last year's regular season.

I can see the Swans pushing deep inside the top eight.

But what about their cross-town rivals? GWS have still been tipped by many pundits to be the dominant side this year. While not dismissing the influence and presence of the retired Shane Mumford, I feel the first thing Leon Cameron must address is the half-back line. Without Nathan Wilson (traded to Freo) and Zac Williams (Achilles, likely to miss the season) helping launch attacks, the void must be filled without opening up the floodgates for goals-against.

Lachie Whitfield was terrific against Collingwood in the pre-season, showing he may be the one, but it is likely they will turn to youngster Harry Perryman to build upon his eight games for the club. Both players need a defend-first attitude, otherwise clubs will really look to isolate them one-on-one in their defensive 50 at times.

The Giants will play finals, but their older brothers will get the bragging rights in the Harbour City this year.

Will there be signs of life in Queensland footy?

There will be more positives than negatives this year for both Queensland sides but it may not make a significant effect on wins and losses.

I feel Brisbane will continue their strong finish to 2017 with some exciting football, but a lack of significant key forwards is going to make it tough for Chris Fagan. Josh Walker has to impact the game in the air and not leave it all to Eric Hipwood.

No doubt, Brisbane will be cued into to the efforts of Richmond's 'small ball' forward line to put the focus upon that maniacal pressure in the front half to deliver results, while Luke Hodge will add leadership and stability to the backline.

For Gold Coast, Stuart Dew is set on installing 'good habits' and looking to establish a brand of football that can stand up. Two wins in the JLT Series was the perfect start to show there is signs of life but it will take time.

Pearce Hanley's shoulder is an early concern, as is the fact they'll be on the road for the opening 10 rounds of the season due to the Commonwealth Games, but the opening round against North Melbourne is a big chance to start their year in the right fashion.