What are the things to look forward to in the re-start and what are the concerns of each team?

 

Adelaide

No team has fallen further in the past three years than Adelaide. From odds-on flag favourite heading into the decider in 2017 to basket case just a few years later. The positive is that there is now the opportunity to build from the ground up again, and with the resources at their disposal it’s likely to be a short timeframe before the Crows are once again challenging in the finals.

With a strong core of youth-led by Tom Doedee, Riley O’Brien, Lachie Murphy, Elliot Himmelberg, Darcy Fogarty and Fischer McAsey, new coach Matthew Nicks probably has a free hit in 2020 to fast-track their development and return them to a more familiar part of the ladder.

However, with expectations so low is it difficult to quantify what progress looks like in 2020? With many judges predicting them to finish dead last there still needs to be accountability on the remaining experienced players on the list.

Tex Walker, Rory Sloane, Bryce Gibbs, Rory Laird and Tom Lynch may have missed their chance of premiership glory now. It remains to be seen if they have the physical capacity to brush off the past and usher in a quick transition to the next generation.

 

Brisbane

Brisbane were obviously the big movers last season, primarily on the back of a spectacular 10-1 home ground record as the early 2000’s moniker of the ‘Gabbatoir’ was revived. Chris Fagan would’ve been licking his lips when it was announced that Queensland would host one of the hubs for the restart, particularly after the patchy round one loss to the Hawks.

Tough matches against West Coast and Port notwithstanding, the Lions would be confident of turning at 3-2 when the next block of matches are released and that provides a solid launching pad for a second consecutive finals series.

While the Lions meteoric rise in 2019 looks sustainable based on their list profile and quality of young talent across the midfield and backline, the forward line might be of concern.

The Lions averaged just over 91 points per game last season – the highest in the league – but this was without consistency from their tall targets. Daniel McStay is a great size; 195cm and 100kg with neat skills, and the occasional mean streak, but only averages 10 touches a game, four marks and less than goal. Eric Hipwood has similar attributes to a young Lance Franklin, and as he enters his fifth season he must step up to be a 50+ goalkicker (or 2.3 per game in the shortened season), a trait he hasn’t realised to date despite his physical gifts.

If these two can average 4-5 goals between them a week that will go a long way towards keeping their team a genuine threat.

 

Carlton

Now in his sixth season at the top level, the former number 13 draft pick is ready to assume the mantle as league number 1. With 31 possessions, 10 clearances and two tackles in Round One, the Blues skipper is a midfield bull and about to hit his absolute peak. Any significant Carlton gains up the ladder this season will be led by the continued growth of Cripps in the games standing.

The other player Carlton desperately wants up and running to really push their case as a potential finalist in coming years is Charlie Curnow. However, as we are all aware trouble and misfortune seem to follow this precociously talented key forward. His Round 13 standout where he almost single-handedly delivered a victory for the ages against the Dogs on the back of seven goals should be the indelible memory footy fans have leading into this season, but instead, it is Charlie again in a knee brace and on the sidelines.

2021 awaits.

 

Collingwood

As one of the genuine fancies for the compromised 2020 premiership, Collingwood have a high-octane game style with multiple avenues to goal. Last season they had seven players kick 19 or more goals, with a further half a dozen players kicking over 10 majors.

Thirteen legitimate options to goal!

Compare this to their nearest competitors, Geelong (11), West Coast (11), GWS (11), Richmond (9) and the Pies boast an advantage that Nathan Buckley will want to capitalise on as much as possible. While the forward structure is a little unorthodox, there is firepower in the guise of de Goey and Elliott, Mihocek the workhorse, and opportunistic mediums Hoskin-Elliot, Thomas and Stephenson, while also expecting big things from son of a legend Josh Daicos.

Many a contender’s hopes and dreams have been dashed by injury or player unrest; an unfortunate reality for two of Collingwood’s biggest and brightest stars, Jordan de Goey and Darcy Moore. At their best, both players are certain All Australian selections, but have collectively missed 45 matches in the past 3 years and are susceptible to the bane of all professional athletes, the dreaded soft tissue injury.

Furthermore, both out of contract this season and likely to be inundated with godfather offers from rivals based on potential and exposed form. How Collingwood navigate these treacherous waters could go a long way towards determining their fate this year.

 

Essendon

After just hanging on in round one against a disappointing Fremantle, Essendon would’ve been thrilled at the fixture Gil and his men handed to them for the first block of the re-start. With the next three matches eminently winnable they have a chance to secure a top-eight berth early and they could prove difficult to dislodge.

Conversely though, if they aren’t sitting at 4-0 when they face Collingwood, the backroom machinations may already be in motion. The positive on the horizon is the imposing figure of Ben Rutten poised to take the reins at season’s end, or perhaps much earlier, bringing to an end another unhappy coaching tenure since Sheedy left seemingly a lifetime ago. Rutten has an impressive resume and could be the fresh voice a club so desperately stuck in the past sorely needs.

While injuries could be listed as a concern at half a dozen clubs, most notably Fremantle, there can be no doubt the Bombers are currently being hit hard by ailments to several vital players. Joe Daniher, potentially the best player on their list has barely played in 2 years, and their skipper, Dyson Heppell looks set to have a second straight season ruined by a foot injury. Add to this the quad injury that will leave energetic forward Orazio Fantasia sidelined for the next few matches, and the absence of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti in upon the recommencement of the season, and this club is in dire need of someone to stand up and be the star they so desperately needs.

 

Fremantle

Similar to Hawthorn, the Dockers have an opportunity to unleash a three-headed forward monster if everything goes right. Jesse Hogan, Rory Lobb and Matt Taberner (with very handy back-ups. Cam McCarthy and Brennan Cox in reserve) could form the nucleus of an unstoppable forward division. No club is equipped to deal with their combined aerial threat if they can all stand up at once. Supporting this triple-threat are very capable smalls, Brandon Matera and Sam Switkowski who could end up feasting on the generous scraps left in the wake of the big men.

However, Fremantle have again been struck by bad luck in the form of injury, their two key defensive pillars. Pearce and Hamling are still several weeks away, as is key playmaker Nathan Wilson, leaving the back 50 led by Luke Ryan looking quite inexperienced.

Coupled with the off-season loss of star Brad Hill and serviceable Ed Langdon, this puts even more pressure on the ample shoulders of their dual Brownlow Medallist, Nat Fyfe, and AA superstar Michael Walters. With an exciting collection of kids at the disposal of new coach Justin Longmuir, can two or more of the following: Adam Cerra, Andrew Brayshaw, Conor Blakely, and the new draft crop, Hayden Young, Caleb Serong and Liam Henry step up immediately to provide the support their A-graders require?

 

Geelong

One of the big winners of the compromised season are the Pivotonians, not just because of the decision to schedule matches usually fixtured for the MCG at Kardinia Park, but also the reduced number of games must be looked upon favourably by Chris Scott and his match committee.

Whether it’s the rationale of his coaching philosophy, or a hand forced upon him by the ageing legs of his list, the Cats have treated the past few seasons as a sprint, not a marathon and have been found wanting against better prepared teams come September. With five less matches scheduled in 2020 and one played several months ago, the extra gas in the tanks of their older, but still prime movers could make the difference between another ignominious finals exit or that previously unachievable goal.

While the shorter season should help, the simple fact of the matter is that all of Geelong’s very best players are amongst their oldest. A nominal best five of Ablett (36), Selwood (32), Hawkins (31), Dangerfield (30) and Duncan (29) compares unfavourably with their major premiership rivals at Richmond, West Coast, Collingwood, and GWS. When push comes to shove at the pointy end of the season will these grizzled veterans be able to muster one last momentous effort to usurp their younger and probably hungrier opponents?

 

Gold Coast

For a club with a fairly bleak history of finishing towards the tail end of the ladder, two wooden spoons and a best ever finish of 12th, there is plenty of excitement when analysing the playing list for 2020. Young guns abound, and the absolute cream of the crop from the last two national drafts in Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine, Ben King, Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell join promising talents such as Jack Bowes, Brayden Fiorini, Ben Ainsworth, Will Brodie and Charlie Ballard.

Finally, with reasonable support from established veterans David Swallow, Jarrod Witts, Hugh Greenwood, Brandon Ellis and Jarrod Harbrow, Stewie Dew and Mark Evans can plan to see on-field gains from their hard work in the background.

This is a fairly morbid thought, but the Gold Coast Suns are staring down the barrel of 20 consecutive losses when they come up against the might of West Coast next Saturday night. After a promising start to 2019 where they won three of their first four, the wheels completely fell off and the margin of defeat became deeply concerning.

So where is their next win coming from? With home assignments due to the covid-hub in SE Qld in the first month, the club would be frantically circling the matches against Adelaide and Fremantle as must-wins as much to illustrate the future viability to the aforementioned young stars as much as to retain relevance in a changing AFL landscape.

 

Greater Western Sydney

It’s hard to reconcile that GWS and the Gold Coast were effectively identically set up ten short years ago, such is the different path they’ve travelled since. Surprising to some, the Giants have competed in three out of the last 4 preliminary finals, scuppered by a Dogs side destined for the ultimate success in 2016, and outclassed by a brilliant Richmond in their other two finals forays.

One of the recent criticisms of the club out of West Sydney was that they lacked soul and the history required to achieve ultimate success. Two thrilling finals victories on the road in 2019, along with a grand final embarrassment, and importantly a committed and unified playing group auger well for them being ready to take the final step.

With a club originally designed to develop a rich crop of youngsters keeping the best, and using the surplus as currency to maintain the flow of draft picks, there is always the risk of rival clubs targeting wanted players, and again this spectre looms large at Giants Stadium. One of the stars of the 2019 finals series, Zac Williams and arguably the number one forward in the league, Jeremy Cameron are certain to receive offers from other clubs far in excess of what the Giants can cobble together, notwithstanding their value to their current club.

If these two don’t or won’t commit long term to the Giants during the season, will this potentially derail the efforts of Leon Cameron and new skipper Stephen Coniglio to sell the vision of a GWS premiership that was assumed a fait accompli a decade ago, but yet to be realised.

 

Hawthorn

There’s a fine line between genius and mad scientist; one which Alastair Clarkson has expertly traversed in his coaching days. Whether it be the cluster, allowing the opposition to clear the ball, or elite skilled keepings-off, he has always seems ahead of the pack, and now looks to be all-in on height.

Borrowing a term from the great Phil Jackson thanks to the stunning Last Dance documentary on Netflix, the Hawks look to be implementing their own version of a ‘triangle offence’. The last few rounds in 2019 showed how accomplished Tim O’Brien could be with a remit to run and jump at the ball, and Mitch Lewis continues to show his credentials as one of the rising key position stars of the competition. When combined with the behemoth Jon Patton acquired from the Giants, the Hawks have potentially a devastating attack, especially when supported at ground level by multiple AA’s, Breust and Burgoyne.

Winning three successive premierships has almost always been followed by a barren stretch for the clubs involved. Since WW2 only Melbourne (who after a last hurrah in ‘64 from their golden era have still not saluted again), Brisbane (who took 15 years to return to top 4), and Hawthorn (who have finished in the top four twice since their third successive flag in between two years missing the finals), have managed this most exclusive feat.

The Hawks, with Clarkson at the helm, the most astute list manager in the game, and a litany of All-Australians still performing at their peak have managed to arrest the slide, but have they actually realistically challenged? Time will tell if the tactic of topping up with ready to go recruits to complement talented youth can replicate the success of previous times without the type of all-time greats at the coaches disposal.

 

Melbourne

Their giant talisman has been handed the captain’s armband for season 2020, and if his passion and consistent form count for anything, Melbourne will be much better for Max Gawn leading them onto the field of battle this week. I think most would excuse the Dees round one loss in such extraordinary conditions, but with four very winnable games coming up, the big man can lead the way and guide the way to Melbourne reasserting themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Apart from a brief period in late 2018 when Sam Weideman lived up to his lofty number nine draft selection, Melbourne have struggled to find a second key forward to support first Jesse Hogan, and later Tom McDonald. The jury is still well and truly out on Weideman, but with only 31 games under his belt, he is still young enough, and has shown he has the weapons to perform on the big stage.

A functioning two-pronged tall attack would go a long way towards returning Melbourne to the top half of the ladder.

 

North Melbourne

It’s probably not unfair to suggest that a higher profile club with the current North Melbourne list would be talked up much more enthusiastically leading up to the restart than the Kangaroos. Overflowing with talent and desire from youngsters Luke Davies-Uniacke, Cam Zurhaar, Nick Larkey and Jy Simpkin to complement the old guard of Shaun HIggins, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and bookends, Ben Brown and Robbie Tarrant, it would not surprise to see the boys from Arden St via Hobart bounce up the ladder.

What they are possibly missing though is that next marquee player who puts the rest of the group on their shoulders and drives them to great heights. For mine, that player could be Tarryn Thomas. A highly promising debut year showed a fraction of his talents, from brutal tackling, to sublime balance, and exquisite skills, he’s the type of player you could build a team around should he continue to grow into his potential.

Bursting into prominence in 2015, Ben Jacobs showed a penchant for tagging almost unrivalled across the league. With unforgiving discipline and workrate he quickly racked up the victims, but injury struck hard and he has only appeared in 20 matches in the past four years. Ongoing effects from an accidental head knock are casting serious doubts on his ability to get back on the field, but moreso to regain health and a normal life.

 

Port Adelaide

The Power went all in at the 2018 National draft, securing the highly-rated trio of Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters, and couldn’t have been more pleased with how they performed in their freshman season. As a result, expectations have shifted and the positive vibes out of Alberton seem to have more substance than in the past few years as Port Adelaide has sputtered along creatively missing the finals, or merely making up the numbers when they have made it.

An impressive round one victory albeit against the hapless Suns has the teal and black primed to bully their cross-town rival this Saturday night en route to an exciting season-defining stint in Queensland which could confirm their credentials as a finals worthy team.

Since the glory days of the early 2000’s, Port have had a nasty habit of over-promising and under-delivering, usually with the same premise that their youth are the stars to be supported by a more than capable list. Fast forward to 2020 and we find ourselves in the same position, the spark of Rozee et al will drive greater feats from established players SPP, Wines, Dixon, Watts, Lycett, and breathe new life into older stars Boak, Gray and Rockliff.

For too long there have been excuses for the lack of results, the time is nigh to turn that around and stop wasting the great talent at their disposal.

 

Richmond

The reigning premier has managed to maintain an incredible 97,000 members despite the uncertainty about the 2020 season and a third premiership to reward these loyal fans would consolidate their legacy. Despite the permanent loss of superstar Rance, the Tigers are still the team to beat with even more improvement expected from the likes of Tom Lynch, Marlion Pickett, Sydney Stack, Shai Bolton and Liam Baker with no player apart from perhaps the skipper likely to show signs of slowing down just yet.

That elusive third flag in an era would probably move them into a conversation with Geelong below the Lions and Hawks three-peats as the best of the AFL-era.

A challenge that is inevitably faced by every successful team is how they cope with depth players moving on. Whether that is due to salary cap pressures, greater opportunity or simply to inject youth and attempt to prolong the period of success, it happens to every club.

This past off-season Richmond lost great servants Brandon Ellis, Dan Butler, Jacob Townsend who ended up at other clubs, along with the retirements of Rance and Shaun Grigg. While the first three were never considered world beaters, they knew the Hardwick system back to front and importantly were trusted by their teammates to play their role.

The new draftees and those in the reserves will now get their opportunity, but will they be able to perform to the same level of those that have left? Will they continue this Tiger dynasty, or bear witness to the first cracks in the dam?

 

St Kilda

St Kilda’s disappointing first round fade out was probably saved from greater scrutiny by the global pandemic that brought the season screeching to a halt. Perhaps more than any other club the opportunity for a season reset will benefit Brett Ratten and his team. The mistakes made will have been meticulously reviewed by the experienced and wily Ratten, who will leave no stone unturned to ensure his second chance in the coaches’ box is a success.

Most successful premierships are built on a combination of quality draft picks and astute recruiting. Hawthorn added Lake, Gibson, Gunston etc… to Hodge, Mitchell and Rioli, while Richmond added Nankervis, Prestia, Houli etc… to Martin, Cotchin, and Riewoldt.

In the 2019 off-season the Saints loaded up with Dougal Howard, Brad Hill, Paddy Ryder,Zak Jones and Dan Butler. Objectively, only Brad Hill is AA quality right now, but unlike the Hawks and Tigers before them, the Saints don’t have elite young talent on the list to complement the influx of role players. This certainly doesn’t doom the strategy to failure, but if it does then it’s a long way back for the boys from Moorabbin.

 

Sydney

With news that their biggest name, Lance Franklin, is again facing his football mortality the Swans now have the opportunity to use a real-life crystal ball and see what the future holds after another great forward departs the SCG. Critics of the Sydney game plan in the last few years would suggest John Longmire has been too reliant on Franklin up forward, and when he’s been missing the structure is more unpredictable.

With Nick Blakey coming off an excellent first season, and heir-apparent, Isaac Heeney likely to spend more time up forward than stopping gaps in 2020, along with unlucky not to be AA last year, Tom Papley there is the making of an inexperienced, but highly exciting forward line. Perhaps even one that Tom Harley might be able to convince Joe Daniher he’d like to be a part of from 2021.

The Swans have prided themselves on their incredible longevity of success, only missing the finals twice since 2000 before last season, including winning two premierships and playing in three other Grand Finals. This consistency of performance has been vital in maintaining membership levels and engaging a traditionally fickle Sydney sports market.

With the likelihood of an extended run outside the finals for the first time since the early 90’s is the club now established enough to continue to thrive in an increasingly crowded market?

 

West Coast

The year is 2030 and a group of AFL fans are having a robust discussion in a pub over which was the best West Coast midfield: Cox/Cousins/Judd/Kerr or Naitanui/Shuey/Yeo/Kelly. A lot depends on what happens this season and next as to how that conversation might turn out, but there can be no doubt that adding the impressive mature age Tim Kelly to an already stacked West Coast midfield can only make them better.

Naitanui will naturally have questions marks over his durability, but if he is able to remain on the park he has the tools to elevate his three teammates and Sheed, Gaff, Redden, Hutchings to the upper echelon of midfields in the AFL era and confidently lead his team against any comers in the race for the flag.

While the Eagles are nurturing an enviable list of rookies into their side, it is clear to see that their time to win is now based on the age profile of their best players. This is more apparent than anywhere else in defence where, in AFL terms, the players resemble a Dad’s Army, albeit an extremely capable one.

Will Schofield (31), Shannon Hurn (32), Lewis Jetta (31), Brad Sheppard (29) , and even Jeremy McGovern (28) are all well above the league average age and surely not getting better, again though from a very high base.

Organisation and experience can overcome many weaknesses in AFL football, but the Eagles’ defence is at significant risk to any young, athletic forward lines who are given great service by their midfields, the type you might find at Punt Rd, the Holden Centre, the Whitten Oval and Giants Stadium in particular.

 

Western Bulldogs

The Western Bulldogs have never been afforded any favours from HQ, and while the resumption of the AFL in round two sees the old firm (Rich/Coll/Haw/Gee) given the prime fixture spots, the Dogs manage to muscle into the coveted Friday night spot for Round three.

Not for one second should anyone suggest this is a charity case handout either – these two teams’ recent history make the Dogs v Giants match a genuine blockbuster, with both teams having legitimate flag aspirations and the last meeting in September ending on a sour note after several fracas throughout the match.

This is a must-see game of the first block of rescheduled games.

The final mentioned above will still be fresh in everyone’s mind, and exacerbated by the timid round one thrashing at the hands of the Pies. Are the Dogs able to compete physically with their main finals rivals?

Not long ago the Bulldogs were renowned for their fighting spirit. Players of the likes of Matthew Boyd, Dale Morris and Liam Picken were the equal of anyone in the competition for going out and getting the job done regardless of what the opposition threw at them. The new breed for all of their potential and silken skills are yet to show the same mental fortitude.

 

Got some things to get excited about, or reasons for concern of your own? We’re all ears at The Mongrel. You know where to get us – below for comments, or on our socials… we’re not hard to find.