‘They’ll scare the hell out of sides’: Why Jake Niall says the Blues could steal a grand final spot

Who will make the eight? Can Geelong go back-to-back? Who will be the Brownlow medallist and Rising Star? What will be the story of the season? Our experts put their reputations on the line to answer these questions and more.

  • Scroll down to see Jake Niall’s ladder forecast

Could this be the year the Blues get their swagger back? The Age’s chief football writer, Jake Niall, thinks so, tipping Carlton to not only climb into the final eight after a decade in the wilderness but, if the stars align over Ikon Park, to make the grand final.

The Blues last played finals in 2013, but only because Essendon were booted out because of the supplements scandal. And there were 12 years of pain before that.

It’s a big call, but as the Blues enter their second season under former Brisbane Lions champion Michael Voss, expectations are rising. They fell less than a percentage point short of the eight in 2022, but with more midfield support for Brownlow medallist Patrick Cripps, and Coleman Medal winners Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow up forward, Niall has them just outside the top four and capable of inflicting maximum damage on the premiership favourites.

“Carlton I think will come up the ladder,” Niall said.

“They should have made the eight last year. I’ve got them fifth, and I think they will scare the hell out of a lot of good sides. I think they’ll be right there, and if everything goes right they could even be there on grand final day.”

Niall says half the teams in the competition are capable of winning this year’s flag, making 2023 the most open season in recent memory, and he predicts Melbourne will be back in business to ruin Geelong’s hopes of going back to back.

Below, Niall puts his reputation on the line to predict this year’s Brownlow Medal and Rising Star winners, the story that will dominate the season, and explains why the Western Bulldogs won’t go away. His predictions share some similarities with those made by Caroline Wilson – she is also tipping the Demons to win the flag – but Niall is more bullish about Collingwood.

Jake Niall, chief football writer

Brownlow: Christian Petracca (Melbourne). He finished with 24 votes last year after a season in which he had fluctuations and injury. He can do better in a dominant side.

Rising Star: Will Ashcroft (Brisbane Lions). He’ll play from the outset, in a strong midfield, and will benefit from the tag on Lachie Neale.

Story of the season: The big-name coaches in their second comings at success-starved clubs – Alastair Clarkson, Ross Lyon, Brad Scott.

On the rise: The Western Bulldogs. So much talent, tall and in the midfield, can’t be denied.

On the slide: Hawthorn. They were 13th, and they’ll be at least a few spots lower with so little experience. Long-term, though, they’ll be fine.

Headline you won’t see: Clarko goes to Buddhist retreat

Fans’ biggest gripe: Match review outcomes.

  • Caroline Wilson’s season predictions
  • Kane Cornes’ season predictions

Footy coverage coming up in The Age

Monday: Ins, outs, and what to expect from each club in 2023, Real Footy podcast, Crystal ball predictions from all our experts.

Wednesday: Expert tips and teams.

Thursday: Follow our live blog for news and expert insights from the Richmond v Carlton season opener at the MCG

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