VFL/AFL Home-and-Away Season Team Analysis

This year, Sydney collected its 8th Minor Premiership (including its record when playing as South Melbourne) drawing it level with Richmond in 7th place on the all-time list. That list is headed by Collingwood, whose 19 Minor Premierships have come from from the 118 seasons, one season more than Sydney/South Melbourne and 11 more than Richmond.  

For the Pies, that's one Minor Premiership for every 6.2 seasons, a record bettered only by Port Adelaide, whose three Minor Premierships in 18 seasons amounts to one every 6 seasons. Port will need to win 17 more Minor Premierships in the century ahead if they're to better the Pies' record at a similar point in their history.

Carlton and Essendon sit tied for second on the all-time Minor Premiership ladder, each having accumulated 17 Minor Premierships, though Essendon's record is marginally superior since they've participated in two fewer seasons.

Only four of the current teams have yet to win a Minor Premiership in their entire history: the two indisputable newcomers in Gold Coast and GWS, one relative newcomers in Fremantle, and the hard-to-still-call-newcomers in the form of the Western Bulldogs.

Collingwood also hold the record for most Top 2 finishes on final home-and-away season ladders, occupying one of the two positions 42 times, making them the only team to have done so in more than one-third of the seasons in which they've played.

Carlton are next best, both in terms of number of Top 2 finishes (35) and the proportion they represent of seasons played (30%). Essendon and Geelong occupy the next two positions, each with 26 appearances in 1st or 2nd though Geelong's count comes from one fewer season played.

The same four teams and in the same order - Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon and Geelong - also lead all-comers on Top 4 finishes. Richmond lie 5th on this measure in terms of number of appearances, and 6th behind West Coast when we recalibrate appearances to recognise opportunities.


Ladder position can sometimes flatter, sometimes mask a team's true quality in a given season. Metrics supplementary to ladder position can be formed using teams' average scoring per game, represented as the traditional percentage measure (points scored/points conceded x 100), or as points scored or conceded per game relative to the other teams in the competition.

A marker of Collingwood's overall quality, for example. is the fact that they have finished:

  • over 80% of their seasons with a Percentage greater than 100
  • over 70% of their seasons having scored more points per game than the average team of the same year
  • over 80% of their seasons having conceded fewer points per game than the average team of the same year
  • over 66% of their seasons having BOTH scored more AND conceded fewer points per game than the average team of the same year
  • less than 15% of their seasons having BOTH scored fewer AND conceded more points per game than the average team of the same year

That ranks them 1st on all of these metrics except for proportion of seasons scoring more than the average number of points per game where they sit second behind Carlton.

West Coast's and Adelaide's performances, in particular, stand out in this table, the Eagles having, for example, scored more points than they've conceded in 19 of the 28 seasons in which they've competed, and the Crows having done similarly in 15 of their 24 seasons.

One interesting analysis to perform using the data in the table above is to compare the number of times a team has scored more points per game than the all-team average with the number of times it has conceded fewer points per game than the all-team average. In a very crude way this might be taken to reflect the relative offensive versus defensive capabilities of a team across history.

The first thing to note is that the pattern of scoring is such that a larger number of teams in any given year tend to concede fewer than the average number of points per game than score more than the average number of points per game. On average, 50.8% of teams in a given season will score points at above the all-team average, but 53.9% will concede points at below the all-team average.   

Even given that ratio, however, there are a number of teams for whom the excess of above-average defensive records for a season exceeds their above-average offensive records to an unusually high degree. Collingwood, for example, have conceded fewer points per game than the average team in 12 more seasons than they've scored more points per game than the average team (96 versus 84). Hawthorn (46-36), Brisbane Lions/Fitzroy (58-52) , St Kilda (46-34) and the Western Bulldogs/Footscray (50-28) are other teams with relative large excesses of defensive over offensive superiority.

Only two teams have large excesses of offensive superiority, Essendon (80-71) and Kangaroos/North Melbourne (39-25).

A sense of the Pies' and the Blues' extraordinary all-time records, and of the Crows', Cats', Hawks' and Swans' more-recently impressive records can be gleaned from the table below, which charts each teams' percentage (PC, expressed as Points For/Points Against), average points scored per game relative to the all-team average for the same season (PF_Index), and the inverse of the average points conceded per game relative to the all-team average for the same season (PA_Inverse_Index).

For all three lines a value of 1 represents the all-team average for the season, higher values represent superior performance, and lower values represent inferior performance.

It seems visually apparent that, for all teams, there's a high level of positive correlation between any pair of the measures, which is borne out by calculating the simple pairwise linear correlation coefficients across all teams:

  • PC with PF_Index: +0.89
  • PC with PA_Inverse_Index: +0.90
  • PF_Index with PA_Inverse_Index: +0.61

That third correlation implies that teams will tend to have relatively strong offensive performances in those same seasons that they have relatively strong defensive performances. There's no real surprise in that finding, though it's interesting to note that the correlation is far from perfect (there's only about 36% shared variance) and also to note that the correlation is stronger for some teams and weaker for others (see table at right).

Amongst the teams with at least 25 seasons' history, St Kilda (+0.75), Hawthorn (+0.74), and Brisbane Lions/Fitzroy (+0.67) stand out for having scoring records where relative offensive and defensive performances are significantly more correlated than the average team, while Richmond (+0.55), Sydney/South Melbourne (+0.49), West Coast (+0.48), Kangaroos/North Melbourne (+0.46), and Western Bulldogs/Footscray (+0.16) stand out for the opposite reason.

The result for the Dogs is particular remarkable as it suggests that they must have managed years with simultaneously superior offensive and inferior defensive performances, or inferior offensive and superior defensive performances, with a frequency higher than any other team in the competition.

We can, in fact, confirm this by referring to the earlier table and subtracting from 100% the two rightmost percentages. This calculation gives us the proportion of seasons in which the team was neither offensively and defensively superior to the average team., nor offensively and defensively inferior to the average team.

For the Dogs this proportion is 42%, which is bettered only by University's 43% from just 7 seasons and Fremantle's 45% from just 20 seasons.


There is, of course, only so much that can be inferred about current teams based on their performances from 20, 50, or, especially, a century ago. 

Let's restrict our attention then to what I've dubbed the Modern Era here on MoS, which runs from 1996 to 2014.

During this period, Port Adelaide and Essendon have accumulated most Minor Premierships, three each, though in Port's case, from one fewer season. Eight other teams have earned at least one Minor Premiership, and nine more - including the Brisbane Bears who played only in 1996 - have earned none.

Geelong have racked up the most Top 2 finishes with seven, which is three more than any other team, and all but six teams (again including the Bears) have finished 1st or 2nd in at least one season. Geelong also has the highest number of Top 4 finishes with nine, but on this measure leads all-comers by only one, Sydney having recorded eight Top 4 finishes during the Era.

Only GWS and the Gold Coast have failed to achieve a Top 4 finish in the period.

The table includes statistics on each team's average scoring across the Era (this data was also in the previous table, but historical comparisons are affected by changes in average scoring levels across longer periods of history, so I didn't seek to make them there). Geelong are the only team to have averaged more than 100 points per game across the entire Era, though Essendon (99.0) and Kangaroos/North Melbourne (98.6) have come close.

GWS have the lowest points-scoring average at 69.3 points per game, Gold Coast the second-lowest at 78.2 points per game, while Melbourne at 85.6 points per game are the team with the lowest points-scoring average amongst those who've played every season in the Era.

Melbourne (102.8) also has the highest number of points conceded per game during the Era amongst those who've played in all 19 seasons. The Western Bulldogs join them as being the only teams in this category who have conceded over 100 points per game.

Sydney, conversely, have the best defensive record within the group, having conceded only 83.4 points per game, some 3.2 points per game less than Geelong, who sit second, and 4.0 points per game less than Adelaide, who sit third. These are the only three teams to have played in all 19 seasons and conceded fewer than 90 points per game.

The remarkable nature of Sydney's defensive scoring record is made even clearer by the table below, which reveals that the Swans have finished the home-and-away season with a Percentage over 100 in 18 of the 19 seasons of the Modern Era, and have conceded fewer points per game than the average team in 16 of those 19 seasons.

No team comes close to the Swans in terms of seasons with Percentages over 100, the Pies and Crows nearest with counts of only 13, some five behind the Swans. Geelong does, however, have a better record than the Swans in terms of seasons where they've conceded fewer points per game than the all-team average. They've registered 17 such seasons across the Era, one more than the Swans.

Essendon and the Kangaroos/North Melbourne have jointly recorded the most seasons where they've scored more than the average team, a feat they've managed 14 times, which is once more often than the Cats and the Dogs.

GWS is the only team not to have scored more than the average team in any season, and they and the Gold Coast are the only two teams not to have conceded less than the average team in any season. Amongst the teams that have played in all 19 seasons,  Fremantle, Melbourne and Richmond have recorded the lowest number of seasons with above average scoring. They've done this only five times - which, curiously, is only once less often than Hawthorn have managed it, though the Hawks' six have come during the past seven seasons, skipping only 2009.

Melbourne also have the record amongst those teams that have played during the whole Era for fewest seasons with above-average defensive performance. They're conceded fewer points per game than the average team in only five seasons, one fewer than the Kangaroos/North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

We'll finish with a subset of the chart shown earlier, here restricted to the 1996 to 2014 time period.

Hawthorn's Era-of-two-halves is clearly depicted in the chart, the better half commencing in 2008, though with a minor reversion in 2009.

Also shown is the Lions' steady decline; the Blues' and the Pies' rises and part declines; Fremantle's, Port Adelaide's and Richmond's emergence; the Cats' gentle decline and the Saints' more precipitous falling away from the highs of 2009 where they finished the season with the Minor Premiership, a 156 percentage but, unfortunately, no Flag.

(The Bears, by the way, though they appear to be data-less in the chart, suffer only from the geometric challenge of drawing a line defined by only a single point. I've left them in the chart for completeness and out of respect. Their PC for the 1996 season was 1.26, their PF_Index 1.05, and their PA_Inverse_Index 1.19).