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Change of plan: What's different in 2016?

Getting to know Kade Stewart Having played three games in his rookie year, Kade Stewart has made an impact at Hawthorn, the boy from Katanning has travelled a long way to make his mark in the AFL.

Game-plan
The Crows have become tougher around the contests, averaging 71.88 tackles per game from rounds 10-19 compared to 66.55 in the first nine rounds. Contested possessions (159.66 up from 149.88) are also up. 

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Veteran midfielder Richard Douglas has spent more time up forward, with Rory Atkins rolling through the middle of the ground. Former captain Nathan van Berlo and draftee Wayne Milera have both been squeezed out of the side after playing in round one. First-year player Mitch McGovern has held his spot for the whole season.

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The return of tough nut Brad Crouch after a stint in the SANFL has coincided with the Crows winning more contested ball. - Lee Gaskin

Game-plan
Not much has changed as the season has worn on. Instead, the Lions are still trying to bed down Justin Leppitsch's ‘pressure-turnover-counter-attack’ style of game. Moving better ball users to half-back, like Allen Christensen (before injury) and Daniel Rich, has been an attempt to launch counter-attacks and mitigate against costly back-half turnovers, which have killed the team all season. 

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After three off-seasons of massive list change, this is the first year Leppitsch has had the team he wants in the current rebuild. However, with so many injuries, there hasn't been much flexibility for change. Josh Green and Lewy Taylor have been dumped at various stages in favour of Ben Keays as the Lions search for more forward pressure. 

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Winning ball at the source has been a focus for Leppitsch, and after winning the contested ball count just once in the first nine rounds, the Lions have won it four times in the past nine. - Michael Whiting 

Game-plan
The Blues have embraced Brendon Bolton's message – they are playing with purpose, are well organised in their structures and prepared to take risks. Their pressure on the ball carrier and relentless running have been consistent elements of their game.  

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The Blues are rebuilding and providing opportunities for youngsters, with three of last year's draftees being given a taste of senior football. Ex-Giant Lachie Plowman has played the past 15 games after missing the opening three rounds, but it appears several are on the outer including veteran defender Michael Jamison, Kristian Jaksch, Jason Tutt and Mark Whiley. 

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Their midfielders have been clearly instructed to push back hard into defence to help out. This did not happen enough under Mick Malthouse's tenure. - Howard Kotton 

Game-plan
Spearhead Travis Cloke's decline has made the Pies less predictable in attack because rather than being too Cloke-centric, they have been forced to direct more ball to targets such as Darcy Moore, Jesse White, Mason Cox and Alex Fasolo. 

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When an injury-ravaged club uses an AFL equal-high of 39 players and bloods six debutants, change is inevitable. Jeremy Howe was lured from Melbourne to play a forward/wing role but injuries have forced him to defence, where he has been terrific. Jarrod Witts started the season as the No.1 ruckman before being sidelined with injury, and Brodie Grundy has since become one of the AFL's form big men. Premiership veterans Alan Toovey, Tyson Goldsack and Brent Macaffer have been regularly overlooked, while Nathan Brown was also on the outer for a time.

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The recruitment of Adam Treloar, the emergence of Taylor Adams and the availability of Levi Greenwood has given the Pies luxury of using Steele Sidebottom more on a wing, where his running power, one-on-one skills and disposal are perhaps most damaging. - Ben Collins

Game-plan
John Worsfold had great intentions to improve the Dons' scoring after its bottom-four finish in 2015. But the loss of 12 senior players to season-long suspensions changed the focus to merely competing. The Bombers are the league's lowest scoring team, averaging nine goals a game. Essendon still tends to hold onto the ball too long in setting up its forward forays, creating an often stagnant forward group.

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Essendon is a completely different looking team to what it was last year. The interesting part is who have done well enough this season to hold their place next year. Darcy Parish has shown he is already one of the club's best midfielders, even with a full side, while Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's run and drive from defence has guaranteed him a place. Orazio Fantasia's pace and skill up forward will see him finish second in the club's goalkicking, and Michael Hartley has impressed at full-back. 

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Essendon has barely played its 'top-up' players in recent weeks. Last game they had just three of the 10 picked, and the week before they had just two. Worsfold has focused on youth and there are many positives to come from it. - Callum Twomey

Game-plan
The Dockers began the season trying to improve their ball movement from defensive 50, particularly controlling the tempo of the game with ball in hand and spreading the field when attacking. Unfortunately they are still working on the same deficiencies late in the year and not a great deal of improvement has occurred.  

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At the start of the year there was an emphasis on getting better ball users like Stephen Hill and David Mundy off half-back, but injuries and a lack of midfield depth has forced both men back into the middle. Michael Walters has rolled through the middle a little bit more with some success. Hayden Crozier has found a niche at half-back, although he has pushed forward at times in recent weeks to cover Hayden Ballantyne's absence. The ruck situation has been diabolical without Aaron Sandilands. Ross Lyon can't settle on one ruck or two, nor can he find the right combination. Youth has been given opportunity in this rebuild phase but nearly all of the youngsters have lost their place at one point or another. 

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Stephen Hill has moved to an inside role in the midfield in the last month. He is a noted outside runner but he's had to help the midfield at the contest. He's averaged 11 contested possessions in the last four weeks, his career average is 7.58. - Alex Malcolm

Game-plan
Key recruits (notably Patrick Dangerfield) have enabled the Cats to win centre clearances. Dominating field position (averaging 56.5 inside 50s) allows defenders to press hard and control the air battle. Midfield pressure is vital. 

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Mark Blicavs has gone from the ruck to a running midfielder who goes third man up at stoppages and runs with dangerous opponents. Lachie Henderson's intercept marking has been important. Whether the Cats stick with Jed Bews in defence or push Cam Guthrie back will be an ongoing discussion. 

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The Cats' defence has tightened with the influence of defensive coach Matthew Scarlett significant. Geelong sits second for points conceded (after being 11th in 2015). - Peter Ryan

Game-plan
Rodney Eade's second year at the helm has been about consolidating his principles, and one thing he hasn't stood for is a lack of pressure, dropping Brandon Matera, Tom Nicholls and Aaron Hall at different times. Playing three tall forwards since round 12 has resulted in an average of 10 more points a game (90 compared to 80 beforehand). 

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The Suns were hopeful of making finals this year and will expect to do so in 2017, but Eade hasn't been shy to drop a bigger name and expose a draftee if form has warranted it. Jesse Joyce has taken his chance at half-back with his good ball use, while Jack Martin has also played there to get more involved – a move that has worked a treat. 

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The Suns' ability to lock the ball inside their forward 50 has gone through the roof recently. In the past eight weeks they've averaged 13 tackles a game in that zone, compared to just seven through the first 10 weeks. - Michael Whiting 

Game-plan
The Giants' off-season work on improving their contested footy is glaringly obvious when comparing the numbers – they've jumped from 14th to first for average clearances per game, and 18th to third in contested possessions.  

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Former midfielder Toby Greene has been brilliant in his role as a high half-forward, booting 34 goals to be second at GWS for the season, while Rory Lobb is second in the league for contested marks after grabbing his spot as the team's third tall forward. 

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With Shane Mumford healthy, GWS have jumped from dead last to fourth in centre clearances per game this year. - Adam Curley 

Game-plan
Long bombs to Jon Ceglar and Ben McEvoy, who if they don't take the mark, at least bring it to ground and let the elite small forwards do their work. Case in point in round 18 against Richmond, where in the third quarter, McEvoy palmed the ball from a marking contest to Rioli, who was front and square and snapped the goal. The ball never even hit the ground. High-fives all round in the Hawthorn coach's box. 

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As mentioned, Ceglar and McEvoy, when not in the ruck, play as true full-forwards. If they take contested marks then great; if they bring the ball to ground then that's OK as well. Jack Gunston is an aerobic beast and is playing more up the ground this year and can sometimes be seen as an extra defender behind the ball towards the end of quarters. 

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Ben Stratton is increasingly used to play on the opposition's No.1 forward, irrespective of size. One week it might be Eddie Betts; the next it might be the considerably taller Jack Riewoldt. - Ashley Browne

Game-plan
Melbourne has vastly improved its ability to score, bumping its average up to 91 points per game in 2016. The Demons' enhanced scoring power (which sat at 71.5 points per game last season) has stemmed largely from the work Simon Goodwin and analyst Craig Jennings put in over the pre-season. 

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The Demons planned to have both Bernie Vince and Christian Salem patrolling across half-back, players adept at making sharp decisions and using the ball effectively. Vince has flourished in that role, but Melbourne has been slightly hamstrung by the thyroid illness that has interrupted Salem's year. Jack Watts has kicked 34 goals, settling in as a permanent forward after being shifted all over the place last year. 

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Melbourne has revamped its defensive structure, meaning it is playing less one-on-one defence this season. The half-backs are far more proactive inside the zone defence, even, at times, charging into the centre square to be used as a link man from centre clearances. The half-forwards are often employed to run the back of the square to provide overlap through the arcs. - Ben Guthrie 

Game-plan
The Roos have adopted a more finals-like, lockdown defensive game plan and have been happy to win ugly. North conceded an average of 103 points in the club's opening month of victories, compared to 61 in the last four wins. 

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With Jarrad Waite injured and Drew Petrie only recently finding form, Ben Brown has become more of a focal point in attack. Brown has been used less in the ruck (zero hit-outs past two games, averages three per game) with Petrie spending more time relieving Todd Goldstein and hitting up to the wings to link up play.

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Among footballers who have played 10 games or more this season, Daniel Wells leads the competition for average goal assists (1.3 per game). - Travis King

Game-plan
The Power's clearance numbers (from 39.88 to 38.77) have remained similar despite hit-outs falling dramatically (from 33.55 to 25.66 per game) after the loss of ruckman Matthew Lobbe midway through the season. 

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Jackson Trengove has admirably filled in as a makeshift ruckman after knee injuries to Lobbe and Dougal Howard. Logan Austin and Tom Clurey have impressed in the backline, filling in for the experienced Tom Jonas and Jack Hombsch. Darcy Byrne-Jones has also been another find as the Power find that balance between challenging for the finals and building for next year. 

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Usually an in-and-under midfielder, Sam Gray has been used on the wing and is developing his craft as an outside runner. - Lee Gaskin

Game-plan
There has been little consistency to the Tigers' game-plan. They started as a high play-on team, but changed tack after round five. During a positive stretch between rounds eight and 14 they moved the ball through the corridor, but that has also been replaced now with more conservative ball movement. 

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Key forward Jack Riewoldt is lining up higher up the ground and averaging a career-high 15.1 possessions. However, with 41 goals to his name, he could finish the season with fewer than 50 for the first time since 2009. Shaun Hampson has taken the No.1 ruck role from Ivan Maric, and injuries have dictated a rotating cast of half-backs, including Jayden Short, Corey Ellis and Brandon Ellis at times. Youth has been the priority since finals were taken off the agenda in early July. 

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Twice this season (in rounds five and nine) the Tigers have failed to win a possession in the centre corridor after a rebound from their defensive 50, meaning they are generally being forced wide. They rank 15th in the AFL for this category. - Nathan Schmook

Game-plan
Injuries have forced St Kilda into playing an undersized backline, but it's doing the job. Sam Fisher has been absent from the senior team since round 11, when the Saints were smashed by Adelaide, but they have conceded more than 90 points only twice since that then (against Gold Coast and Essendon).

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St Kilda has been able to move Nick Riewoldt to a wing, while also retaining three talls in its forward line, thanks to the rise of Tim Membrey. The trio of Membrey, Josh Bruce and Paddy McCartin (when fit) has offered a much more unpredictable forward line. Only Bruce and Riewoldt booted at least 20 goals last season, whereas this year, Membrey, Bruce, Riewoldt and Maverick Weller have already topped that mark.

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In the last four weeks, Jade Gresham has averaged 2.5 clearances per game – a marked lift from just over 0.5 per match the previous 11 weeks. Gresham's effectiveness has offered the Saints a point of difference at centre bounce contests. – Dinny Navaratnam 

Game-plan
The Swans' defence is not only the stingiest in the competition, the team's defenders have also given the team more run this season. The Swans have jumped from 11th to third for rebound 50s, with Dane Rampe ranked second in the league, and the emergence of young guns Callum Mills and Zak Jones also helping. 

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Youngster Aliir Aliir has overtaken veteran Ted Richards as the Swans' third tall defender, while the emergence of small forwards Tom Papley and George Hewett has seen Ben McGlynn also fall out of favour. The Swans have trusted in youth this season, with seven debutants already playing senior footy. 

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Despite their star-studded contested ball winners in the midfield, the Swans are ranked 13th for centre clearances this season.- Adam Curley 

Game-plan
The Eagles didn't seek to make any major changes this season other than continue to improve on last year. The biggest query was how the defensive structure would adjust to Eric Mackenzie's return. The web remained in place and Mackenzie needed to fit into the new system, but he has found it difficult to adjust. 

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Mackenzie's struggles have led to a belief that the defence overall has not worked that well, but actually the Eagles' defence has held up quite strongly. Their major issues have been the number of inside 50s they have conceded and the lack of pressure on the ball carrier in the midfield. They have also not been as sharp with their ball use, which has exposed their defence at times. They have not created as much supply up forward either because they have lost the midfield contest a lot this season. The loss of Nic Naitanui for six weeks has been part of that, but they won five of the games he missed and, while the raw clearance numbers have fallen, their scoring differential from clearances has held up well. The Eagles just haven't had enough contributors. They have rolled a lot of different combinations through the midfield but Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff continue to do the bulk of the heavy lifting without much support. 

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Josh Hill has been used on a wing and at half-back at times this season to good effect but it has changed the mix up forward. As a result he has only 19 goals so far in 2016 after kicking 40 last year. The Eagles' scoring has been down in the last month. - Alex Malcolm

Game-plan
The Dogs love to win the contested ball and then flick it around until they get clear. Their high possession style sees them the competition's biggest accumulators at an average of 420.5 disposals per game.

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Despite a raft of injuries, coach Luke Beveridge's demands of versatility and attacking flair haven't changed despite the lack of key personal at times. The Dogs' renowned team defence has also helped them cope with its injury crisis, with guarding space taking precedence over one-on-one contests. 

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The club's use of 36 players this season is the highest of all the top-eight sides. Adelaide in comparison has used only 27. - Ryan Davidson

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs