Good chance of bolter making leap into top four

As a group of under-performing and emerging teams gear themselves for a fresh start this season, history suggests one of the also-rans will launch themselves into the top four.

In 11 of the last 14 years - since the AFL introduced its current finals system in 2000 - at least one team has catapulted into the top four after not featuring in the finals the previous year.

In three of those years, the trend has actually produced two teams that emerged as serious premiership contenders after failing to reach September just 12 months earlier.

Given last season was one of the few years that broke the cycle, it seems even more likely that 2014 will produce another bolter.

Geelong of 2007 is the only team to have finished outside the top eight one year and gone on to win the premiership the next, and there have been three other teams who have ridden big turn-arounds to feature in grand finals: Melbourne (2000), Collingwood (2002) and Port Adelaide (2007)

John Worsfold's West Coast in 2011 and Adelaide in 2012 under Brenton Sanderson are the most recent teams to make massive year-to-year leaps, both making preliminary finals.

Both clubs are among those that will be hoping to repeat the effort this season.

North Melbourne is another team on the fringe that could make a big run, having proved super-competitive against finals teams last year, but let down by its inability to put sides away.

Carlton and Essendon also finished on the edge of the eight, although with riders given the Blues played finals despite not winning enough games to earn a top eight spot.

Essendon's 14 wins would have been enough to finish in the eight, but their place was handed to Carlton in the fallout from the supplements scandal.

Brownlow medallist and respected commentator Mark Ricciuto was captain of Adelaide in 2005 when the Crows won the minor premiership after not playing finals the year before.

Ricciuto said coaching changes - such as the switch from Gary Ayres to Neil Craig in 2005 - were one trigger for dramatic upswings.

He pointed out that clubs that pull off the feat usually had strong lists and many of the other pieces in place the year prior but, for whatever reason, underachieved.

''It was a new coach, change of leadership program and basically just a fresh outlook at the footy club,'' Ricciuto said of his recollections of 2005.

''You can get a huge swing pretty quickly if you are under-achieving one year and maximising your achievement the next,'' he said.

''We had under-achieved in '04 and in '05 we played to our potential. Obviously it didn't go to plan in the finals, but it shows how quickly it can turn around if you have a good list in place already and then it buys in fully and backs the coach. And a bit of luck along the way.''

The Crows lost to West Coast in the preliminary final that year.

The effect of a new coach has been a kicker for three ''bolters'': Paul Roos' Sydney in 2003, Craig in 2005 and Sanderson in 2012 - which is a good omen for teams such as West Coast, Essendon and Brisbane.

Coming to the four

In the 14 years since the AFL introduced the current finals system in 2000, 11 teams that missed the eight one year made the top four the next.

An "off year" for the trend, although Fremantle gets a sharp rise by adapting quickly to Ross Lyon's demanding game style, launching from seventh in 2012 to a grand final.

14th to 2nd (Preliminary final)
New coach Brenton Sanderson and an invigorated game plan brings total buy-in and key players - such as Brent Reilly, Daniel Talia and Sam Jacobs - come from nowhere.

West Coast
16th in 2010 to 4th (Preliminary final)
John Worsfold's frantic forward pressure underpins the resurgence of a talented list and the "House of Pain" is a fortress again.

No bolter emerges, but Fremantle (14th to 6th) and Sydney (12th to 5th) make big runs to finish just a game out of the top four.

After nine straight years, the cycle is broken. The period dominated by Geelong, St Kilda, Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs is in full swing.

St Kilda
9th in 2007 to 4th (Preliminary final)
The Ross Lyon effect kicks in after just one year, and an improved version of the list that challenged in 2004-05 starts to morph into the ruthless and disciplined unit that would later play in back-to-back grand finals.

10th in 2006 to 1st (Premiership)
After under-achieving the year before, the Cats undertake a major review of its operations and come back to conquer all on the field under Mark Thompson, with Jimmy Bartel winning the Brownlow Medal.

Port Adelaide
12th in 2006 to 2nd (Grand final)
Seemingly in decline after a premiership and four straight years in the top four, the Power makes one last major challenge under Mark Williams.

North Melbourne
14th in 2006 to 4th (Preliminary final)
Dean Laidley gets everything out of a not-so-highly rated list in a year when Brent Harvey is its only All-Australian and Corey Jones leads the goal-kicking.

10th in 2005 to 3rd (Preliminary final)
After five years at the helm, Chris Connolly finally gets his clearly talented team to catapult into the top four for the first time in the club's history.

12th in 2004 to 1st (Preliminary final)
Stale under Gary Ayres the year before, the Crows list is completely re-energised by the new philosophy of a then-unheralded Neil Craig, and it leads to the minor premiership in a remarkable turnaround.

St Kilda
11th in 2003 to 3rd (Preliminary final)
Fraser Gehrig has a career year in which he wins the Coleman Medal with 103 goals and Grant Thomas' team loses to eventual premier Port Adelaide by a goal in the Preliminary final.

12th in 2003 to 4th .(Preliminary final)
A team filled with many of the players set to become "the greatest team of all" - in the eyes of some, anyway - begin their rise under Mark Thompson.

11th in 2002 to 4th (Preliminary final)
Paul Roos' first full year brings the quintessential new coach spike in a rebirth season topped off by Adam Goodes winning his first Brownlow Medal.

9th in 2001 to 4th (Grand final)
Collingwood fully embraces the Mick Malthouse era and the first of back-to-back (losing) grand fnal appearances follow.

Port Adelaide
14th in 2001 to 3rd (Semi-final)
Warren Tredrea, Matthew Primus and Gavin Wanganeen all have stand out years as the Power reaches the top four for the first time in their history.

9th in 2000 to 4th
Danny Frawley is lauded by the Tiger army for bringing finals back to Richmond for only the second year since 1982, and they knock off arch rivals Carlton in the semi-final.

14th in 1999 to 3rd (Grand final)
Shane Woewodin announces himself with a break out year to win the Brownlow Medal and the Demons roll a wave of good will and momentum under third-year coach Neale Daniher.

So which team will make the big jump this year?


North Melbourne
Had they won half of the 10 games they lost by 16 points or less they could have made the top four last season. Will have learnt plenty from those losses. Look better on and off the field this year.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 10th
Wins: 10

A full year and another pre-season learning Mick Malthouse's game plan. The list was good enough to advance to the second week of finals last year. Have brought in new players to add punch.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 9th* (Replaced Essendon in the finals under AFL penalty)
Wins: 11

West Coast
Fit the criteria. A list, only this time last year, rated good enough to win the flag but under-performed in 2013 and was injured. Could also get the new coach "spike" others have in the past.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 13th
Wins: 9


Included for they will technically have to come from outside the finals to do it. Were in the top four for all but one of the first 18 rounds last year. List has not changed much and, for now, there are no supplement scandal issues to worry about.
2013 Finish: 7th* (Replaced by Carlton in the finals under AFL penalty)
Wins: 14


Would need to somehow win enough games until Taylor Walker's return. Players that emerged in 2012 would need to re-emerge this year, and Adelaide Oval would need to become a fortress.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 11th
Wins: 10

Gold Coast
The talent on the list will become a top four team one day, but this soon? Highly unlikely. All the third-year young guns would have to come through big time.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 14th
Wins: 8


Brisbane Lions
Weren't too far off finals last year after a roaring finish, but with players departing and a change of coach over the off-season, just featuring anytime in September would be a satisfying result.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 12th
Wins: 10

Western Bulldogs
The goal will be to build on the positive end to last year and see more improvement from its youngsters . . . and get the forward structure settled.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 15th
Wins: 8

Will be flat out just adjusting to Paul Roos' new philosophy and earning back the respect of the competition.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 17th
Wins: 2

Greater Western Sydney
Just focusing on becoming competitive for longer in games and more often. Brought in experience to help with that.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 18th
Wins: 1

St Kilda
Would be the furthest thing from Alan Richardson's mind. Has plenty of time to build an assault over the next few years.
2013 H/A Season Finish: 16th
Wins: 5

This story Good chance of bolter making leap into top four first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.