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Footy foresight: Predictions for Australia's football codes in 2019

Rieko Ioane, Lachie Neale, Keisuke Honda and Ben Barba. Getty Images

With the 2018 calendar year drawing to a close, we reflect on another incredible year across the four major Australian football codes and come up with some bold predictions about the 2019 season.

There's something for everyone to contemplate as they munch on another turkey leg, sip on a cold one and cross their fingers for a Boxing Day victory for Australia.

AFL

What will change from 2018?

Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong have been the competition's most consistent sides over the last decade and a half, combining for a staggering nine premierships since 2005. Last year the Hawks surprised many by cracking the top four, while the Cats and Swans also played in September. However, next year I expect to see a changing of the guard and I'm making a bold call that 2019 will be the first season since 2002 that all three will miss out on finals. Interestingly, 2002 saw Geelong finish ninth, Hawthorn 10th and Sydney 11th; perhaps a repeat is on the cards.

What will remain constant?

Despite the AFL introducing starting positions to help combat congestion, low scores are here to stay. The reality is that modern coaches value defence so highly that it won't take long before they adjust to the new rules and find fresh ways to apply defensive pressure during games. It's worth remembering, though, that this doesn't necessarily equate to boring footy. The past three seasons have each seen low scoring averages but have served up some of the greatest on-field action in recent memory.

What will define the season?

They may have had a strong draft but the Gold Coast Suns are back at ground zero and 2019 could be the club's toughest season to date. The loss of spearhead Tom Lynch and defensive lynch-pin Steven May means a truckload of experience, not to mention quality, has gone out the door. While it may not be 10-goal floggings week on week, it's going to be a long season for Stuart Dew's young and fractured side. I expect them to be wooden spoon locks next year with the question about whether or not the club should continue to exist once again becoming a hot topic of conversation.

Who will win the premiership?

Richmond. I really feel that the Tigers' heartbreaking preliminary final loss to Collingwood will make them stronger in 2019, if that's even possible. Damien Hardwick's side was a cut above the competition for the most part of 2018 but discovered that strange things can happen in finals if you aren't 100 percent switched on. The addition of Tom Lynch to Richmond's already dominant forward line is a scary prospect and if they bring the same intensity to which we've become accustomed to over the last 24 months, it's going to take something incredible for them not to win their second flag in three years.

Who will win the Brownlow Medal?

Lachie Neale. Two of the last three Brownlow Medal winners (Patrick Dangerfield, 2016; Tom Mitchell, 2018) have been elite midfielders who have landed at a new club and excelled from the outset. I expect Neale, who had been an underrated star at Fremantle, to do exactly that at Brisbane. With a young and exciting list, the Lions are going to win more games in 2019 and Neale's ball-winning ability will be hard for the umpires to ignore. The 25-year-old has also proven to be a serial vote poller, hitting double figures in each of the past four seasons, including a career-high 20 votes in 2016.

Who is in the firing line?

Chris Scott. He may have just been handed a two-year contract extension, but Geelong's senior coach needs to lead his team deep into September or else questions about his future will crop up once more. The Cats' list is bursting at the seams with talent, but under Scott, aside from 2011, they've been perennial underachievers. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of it all is their shocking record of three wins and nine losses in finals since 2012. The Cats are in the premiership window and need to strike soon or else Scott could find himself looking for a new job come 2020.

Who will be the biggest riser and slider of the year?

I'm very bullish on Brisbane in 2019 but I believe Essendon will make the greatest gains. After a shocking start to 2018, the Bombers finally got it together and stormed home with 10 wins from the final 14 games to only just miss out on finals. With the addition of Dylan Shiel, a likely return of key forward Joe Daniher and another year under the belt of a young and talented list, I'm expecting big things from John Worsfold's side. I think they will finish in the top four and can be a genuine premiership threat.

In terms of a slider, I just can't see Hawthorn replicating its top four finish of 2018. It's true you can only beat who is in front of you each week but the reality is the Hawks had a soft draw, particularly in the back half of last season. I predicted above that they would miss finals and I'm sticking with that.

What will be the headline of the year?

"Carlton's Stocker gamble pays huge dividends"

- Jake Michaels

RUGBY LEAGUE

What will change from 2018?

The NRL have announced a further crackdown on time wasting during play. The countdown clocks that run for scrums and drop-outs will each be five seconds shorter, in an attempt to keep the game moving. Most satisfying to fans will be a new crackdown on the sin bin dawdle which came to prominence last season. When sent to the sin bin, players will now be required to jog off the field directly to the sheds or risk being charged with contrary conduct under the NRL judiciary code. It all means we should be seeing more football played during the 80 minutes.

What will remain constant?

Sadly, headlines relating to anything other than what is happening on the rugby league field. The NRL has become rich source of content for the tabloid media, with many outlets actively hunting down the latest scandal. Mind you, the way players continue to behave, they don't seem to be too concerned about the game's image. If it's not drunken/drug-induced misadventures or more sinister criminal charges, then we'll have the club-related intrigue of salary cap cheating and player and coach poaching. It would be nice to get through just one season where all the headlines were about the quality of the football being played.

What will define the season?

The success or otherwise of the many coaches who have changed clubs ahead of 2019 will define the season. The last time Wayne Bennett left the Broncos, he brought the Dragons a premiership in his second year at the club. Rabbitohs fans will look at their roster and expect similar, if not even quicker results. Anthony Seibold heads to the Broncos and will be under immense pressure from the start as he tries to bring premiership success to the club. Ivan Cleary returns to the Panthers to coach his son, Michael Maguire takes over the Tigers and Des Hasler returns to the Sea Eagles. Will all these clubs be pleased with their new coaches?

Who will win the premiership?
The Roosters must be a good chance at going back-to-back after strengthening their roster with the addition of Angus Crichton and Brett Morris, but since 1993 the task has proven too tough for any club. The Storm have lost Billy Slater and Craig Bellamy would be elevated to the rank of greatest coach ever if they can take out the prize. The Sharks have undergone massive changes and are now without coach Shane Flanagan. If last year was tight, 2019 promises to be almost impossible to pick. If not the Roosters, then it could well be the Rabbitohs, with the confidence Wayne Bennett will bring to the club.

Who will win the Dally M?
Ben Barba returns to the NRL after tearing the English Super League apart and picking up its major individual award along the way. He returns to a Cowboys outfit who are desperate for an attacking star to take over from the retired Johnathan Thurston. When it comes to winning the Dally M a player needs to not only have an outstanding season, he needs to outshine all of his teammates. If Barba can return to his peak NRL form, he could be on the way to picking up his second Dally M medal.

Who is in the firing line?
Parramatta Eels coach Brad Arthur had a horror year in 2018, picking up the wooden spoon after finishing in the top four the year before. With Jarryd Hayne and Corey Norman both leaving the club and Mitchell Moses rumoured to be after a release, Arthur has a struggle ahead of him with the side's creativity. Another poor start to the season could see his head on the chopping block

Who will be the biggest riser and slider of the year?
The Sea Eagles have way too much talent under returning coach Des Hasler to stumble through the season like they did last year. They will challenge for a top eight position after finishing 2018 one win above the wooden spoon. The Warriors squeaked into the top eight last season only to lose their elimination final against Penrith. Shaun Johnson has left the club to join the Sharks and his most likely replacement Mason Lino had already packed his bags for the Knights. A tough year awaits the New Zealanders.

What will be the headline of the year?
"Greenberg resigns, takes six-month holiday"

- Darren Arthur

RUGBY UNION

What will change from 2018?

A new coach, some new recruits and a provincial Union that's back where it belongs: surely this is the year the Blues contend in the New Zealand conference? We're calling it, the Blues will be back in 2019. After a run of years at the bottom of the pile in New Zealand, new coach Leon MacDonald has everything he needs to lead a resurgence in the City of Sails. Sure, there are concerns about Sonny Bill Williams' body and the jury is out on whether Otere Black or Stephen Perofeta can step up to provide the necessary direction from No. 10. But there is so much raw talent in this Blues squad that it simply must fall into place eventually. We're not saying they'll go from the outhouse to the penthouse, but an improvement on last season's 4-12 and a third-place finish should be the goal.

What will remain constant?

Rugby Australia's move to create the National High Performance model headed up by Director of Rugby Scott Johnson is a massive step in the right direction, but it's hard to see any short-term improvements in terms of the Wallabies' fortunes. Australia, as it stands, are a mess at Test level. Four wins from 13 Test matches in 2018 was a woeful return, particularly after they had started so brightly with a hard-fought win over Ireland in Brisbane. The biggest problem was that they appeared to be completely void of a clear direction or game plan, resulting in some rudimentary errors and mind-boggling bad decision-making. Johnson may at least offer Cheika some different ideas and has the power to overrule the Wallabies coach, but it's hard to see them venturing past the quarterfinal stage in Japan next year. Beating both Fiji and Wales, securing their path to the knockout stage, is no given either.

What will define the season?

The World Cup. Rugby's showpiece event takes on new meaning in 2019 with its first ever foray into Asia. Japan will be spectacular hosts from September 20, albeit with a slightly underwhelming opener that pits the host nation against international heavyweights ... Russia. But for the first time in the tournament's history there looks to be genuine uncertainty about each of the four pools, paving the way for a knockout stage that may prove to be the best yet. The All Blacks are beatable; England seemed to have turned the corner; Ireland have their best team ever but have never made a semifinal; Wales and South Africa are trending upwards while France and Australia at least have history on their side when it comes to World Cup performances. And upsets aren't beyond Argentina, Scotland and Fiji. Bring. It. On.

Who will win the World Cup?

It pains us to say it, but Eddie Jones will be a two-time World Cup winner this time next year. England may have endured their worst Six Nations on record in early 2018, followed by a 2-1 series loss in South Africa, but there was enough evidence in their November performances to suggest they are again heading in the right direction. If all of his key troops are fit -- see Vunipola brothers, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje - then England possess the necessary size to play the power game this World Cup appears set to be fought through. In Farrell and scrum-half Ben Youngs, England also possess the kicking skills to be able to drop high balls that fall into space or are fielded just outside the safety of the opposition 22. If England are shock quarterfinal losers, or better still exit at the pool stage with defeats to Argentina and France, then we've just done a suitable job playing the mocker, haven't we? You're welcome.

Who will win the major individual award?

Already a two-time nominee for World Rugby Player of the Year, it will be a case of a third time's a charm for All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane. The 2017 Breakthrough Player of the Year could have easily taken the top gong that year but was controversially overlooked for teammate Beauden Barrett. Ireland playmaker Jonny Sexton was a worthy winner in 2018, but Ioane, who has 22 tries in 24 Tests, will surely be a major try-scoring threat throughout next year's World Cup. In terms of Australia's John Eales Medal, it's very hard to go past David Pocock for back-to-back triumphs. He is the one truly world-class player in the Wallabies line-up.

Who is in the firing line?

After Rugby Australia confirmed Michael Cheika would be the Wallabies coach at the World Cup, but report into Scott Johnson as Australia's new Director of Rugby, the attention shifts entirely to Cheika's Wallabies staff. Any of Stephen Larkham [attack], Nathan Grey [defence], Simon Raiwalui [forwards] and Mick Byrne [skills] could be in danger, but after some serious failings towards the end of the year it appears Larkham and Raiwalui look most likely to be shown the door. Cheika has presented his thoughts to the board, and will begin dialogue with Johnson in the coming months over any potential changes.

Who will be the biggest riser and slider of the year?

Pumping up the Blues during the preseason is always a risky exercise. But as mentioned earlier, if they can't climb up from the bottom of New Zealand in 2019 then when will they ever? They will have All Blacks rest weeks to deal with, just as the other four Kiwi franchises will, but after just four victories in 2018 the only way is up. Heading in the other direction will be the Highlanders, who have waved goodbye to fly-half Lima Sopoaga; add to that rest breaks for key All Blacks Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo and the Landers' squad could be tested. They won't sink to second last - the position the Blues occupied in 2018 - but a slide out of the playoffs is possible.

What will be the headline of the year?

"TMO blunder results in huge Cup controversy"

- Sam Bruce

FOOTBALL

What will change from 2018?

It's all about new beginnings for football in 2019. Graham Arnold begins his second stint as Socceroos boss in earnest in January, tasked with defending Australia's continental crown. The new FFA board will be tasked with reviving a flat-lining A-League. Oh and there's the not-so-small task of building two new expansion teams from scratch.

What will remain constant?

Calls for second tier, promotion and relegation, better marketing of the A-League and the abolition of the salary cap have provided a constant vuvuzela-like drone to A-League discussion for years. That will not change.

What will define the season?

With the men's cricket team, the Wallabies and the Kangaroos on the nose for a litany of reasons, there is a void that needs to be filled in the hearts and minds of all Australians. Fast, fearless and role models for all, a deep run at June's World Cup in France will cement the Matildas as Australia's favourite national team -- if they aren't already.

Who will win the premiership?

Speaking of role models, Melbourne Victory lead the way in the A-League in how a club should be run. The Victorian giants are first in membership numbers, player recruitment, and excellence in back- and front-room staff. That off-field success will be rewarded with a premiership and championship double.

Who will win the major individual award?

Keisuke Honda has been a breath of fresh air since arriving in August. The Japan international has wowed fans with his performances on the pitch and impressed even more with his professionalism off it. Let's just save time and give him the Johnny Warren Medal now and be done with it.

Who is in the firing line?

Next season could be the Wellington Phoenix's last in the A-League, with the Kiwis falling well short of meeting stringent criteria required to extend their licence. Many will get bogged down in details, the metrics and the backroom deals required to #SaveTheNix -- forget all that. The only metric that will save the Phoenix is their league position. It will be near-impossible for the FFA to cull a club if they win the A-League, and easy to usher out a team that comes dead last. Anywhere in the middle is a sliding scale.

Who will be the biggest riser and slider of the year?

Sydney FC were always going to regress after two years of dominance. Add in another difficult Champions League campaign will and the pressure on Steve Corica in his first season in charge will start to increase.

As for a riser, look no further than Perth Glory's Chris Ikonomidis. The 23-year-old has returned to the A-League and has already locked in his spot in Tony Popovic's league-leading side. Next stop is another Socceroos bow.

What will be the headline of the year?

"U.S. stunned: Matildas waltz into World Cup final!"

- Mike Wise