For the 10 clubs to miss out on the finals this season, the trade period and national draft represent opportunities to fill holes on their lists and enable them to climb up the ladder. Here's how they should approach this time of the year.
WEST COAST (9th)
Season summary: Entered 2021 as a flag contender, butthe Eagles' game style fell apart. Pressure was poor and when they had the ball, they could not execute the precision kick-mark style of previous years.
What the Eagles are looking for in trade period/national draft: After three straight years of not using a first-round draft selection, they will want to take advantage of a bumper West Australian crop.
ST KILDA (10th)
Season summary: While they were hit hard by injuries to key players, the Saintsremain inconsistent in their performance. Spearhead Max King took big strides, booting 38 goals in 20 games.
What the Saints are looking for: Need to invest in early draft picks to bring more younger players on to the list. Another key defender should be on their wishlist.
Season summary: Several stars suffered significant injuries at crucial stages, but the Dockers' 2-8 record against top-eight teams demonstrated they were not worthy of a finals spot.
What the Dockers are looking for: Speedy Cat Jordan Clark wouldbe an ideal acquisition if he decides to return to Western Australia. They also need more mobile, taller forwards.
Season summary: After winning three flags in four years, the Tigers were hit hard by injuries to key players, but there is enough talent on the list to challenge again.
What the Tigers are looking for: They are well placed for high-end picks at the draft and may be on the hunt to boost depth in the ruck and defence.
Season summary: Another wasted season, culminating in the sacking of coach David Teague and CEO Cain Liddle leaving after a review of the club's football department.
What the Blues are looking for: New coach Michael Voss will aim to boost the Blues' ruck stocks and add depth to the midfield to support Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh.
Season summary: Started with a remarkable victory over Essendon and finished with a flourish after Alastair Clarkson's decision to cut ties with the club and give new coach Sam Mitchell clear air in 2022.
What the Hawks are looking for: Must obtain as many top-30 draft picks as possible and focus on recruiting skillful footballers.
Season summary: The Crows started strongly but still a fair way to go to match the better teams, although narrow wins at home over premier Melbourne and Geelong were highlights.
What the Crows are looking for: They are looking for tall and small forwards to bolster their scoring potential, as well as searching for more midfielders with pace and skill.
GOLD COAST (16th)
Season summary: Touk Miller emerged as an elite midfielder and the Suns notched several strong wins against good opposition, but they were too inconsistent.
What the Suns are looking for: The season-ending knee injury to co-captain Jarrod Witts underlined the need for a back-up ruckman and they would be looking for more key-position players in defence and attack.
Season summary: A disaster coach Nathan Buckley and long-time president Eddie McGuire depart as the on-field fortunes take a huge nosedive.
What the Magpies are looking for: The bonus for new coach Craig McRae will be the acquisition of Nick Daicos as a father-son national draft selection. But the Pies desperately need a mobile tall forward and key forward.
NORTH MELBOURNE (18th)
Season summary: The Roos' rebuild under new coach David Noble started slowly, but there were positive signs towards the end of the year.
What the Kangaroos are looking for: As wooden spooner there is plenty of room for improvement, particularly in attack to support key forward Nick Larkey. Need more midfielders with class and speed.
Bennett an old, wise mentor
Wayne Bennett fell agonisingly short of a record-breaking eighth premiership in the NRL Grand Final, but his typically-feisty joust with the media post-game was a clear indication he would not walk away quietly or quickly from the game he loves.
While it was Bennett's final game as South Sydney coach as he hands over the reins to assistant Jason Demetriou next season, he still has plenty to offer the code. At 71 Bennett would be considered past his prime by many, but experience at the top level should not be underestimated.
Importantly, he had the respect of the Rabbitohs players. As long as the mind remains sharp and the body is strong, there is no reason why older coaches cannot be successful.
In other sports around the world there are plenty of recent examples of successful older coaches and managers, notably Sir Alex Ferguson at Premier League club Manchester United and Bill Belichick with National Football League club New England Patriots.
Has Howard got it right? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @hpkotton59.