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Why it's so tough to tip a winner this season

Peter Ryan (AFL Media)  May 18, 2017 12:51 PM

AFL 2017 Round 03 - Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 08: Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal during the 2017 AFL round 03 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Western Bulldogs at Domain Stadium on April 08, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media)

IT'S BECOMING something of a cliche to describe 2017 as an even season.

But the facts keep stacking up to support the argument.

Take the ladder as your starting point.

For the first time in the game's history, the three teams sitting in the second, third and fourth-bottom spots of the ladder have percentages above 90.

Only twice since 1897 – in 1913 and 1950 – has it even come close to happening. 

In only 20 seasons have teams with two wins and six losses carried a percentage above 90 into round nine.

So having a trio competitive enough to have percentages above 90 but still be languishing near the bottom of the ladder is why predicting the eight has become so tough.

Sydney (94.28 per cent), North Melbourne (92.13) and Collingwood (91.36) are not easybeats.

The Swans played in last year's Grand Final, while the Kangaroos have lost three games by less than a goal and beat top-placed Adelaide in round seven.

Collingwood has been inconsistent but competitive, pushing flag favourite Greater Western Sydney and having not lost by more than 23 points.  

Add in the fact that 11 games in the first eight rounds have been decided by less than a goal, and the competitive balance the AFL has long sought appears to have arrived.

The close results sparked Twitter user and football writer Andrew Gigacz to show what the ladder might look like if the games decided by less than a goal had gone the other way. 

Such a situation might make it more difficult for the AFL to sell club CEOs the need for fixture revamp designed to keep clubs alive for longer, but the League remains undeterred.

However, it's worth noting that since the final eight began in 1994, only three of the 33 teams that started a season with two wins and six losses played finals and only one of those (the Brisbane Lions in 1997) had a percentage above 90 going into round nine.

It's why the idea of potentially playing 18 games before playoffs and/or finals remains a significant piece of work being undertaken, with AFL football operations manager Simon Lethlean on Tuesday saying a process of consultation would begin soon.

"There is always a mood to make sure we are doing the best thing for our game," Lethlean said.  

"We look to evolve and make change if change would be better for our game, so we're working hard to make sure what we have currently got is the best and if we can make changes to improve it we will.

"That requires talking to those that play the game, coach the game, administrate the game, and we're doing that as we speak."