For many AFL players, the 2020 season was a disappointment.
The same could be said for supporters, who had to watch players gifted opportunity after opportunity only to squander them and hinder the chances of their clubs in the process.
But a new season brings new opportunity and a shot at redemption. For some, it may be their last shot, whilst others may run the risk of falling down the pecking order rather sharply if they don’t make a fist of the 2021 campaign.
However, the hard work doesn’t begin next year and there would be quite a few players looking to get a head start and give themselves every opportunity to make 2021 their year. Some need it more than others, but with the season finishing a month later than usual, the players who are serious about being at their best next season will be putting the work in already.
I wonder how these guys are travelling?
Blunt assessment – Not good enough
Pulling out the big guns early, here. He’s playing for his AFL-life.
Question – if Charlie Curnow was healthy, would Mitch McGovern have been dropped more in 2020? I can’t see how he could have kept his place in the side.
He was held goalless in six of his 12 games this season and had under ten touches in nine of those games as well. A marking target, McGovern had three or fewer marks on seven occasions as he compiled a second season with the Blues where he would have to be in contention to be the most disappointing player on their list.
I have to cut him a little bit of slack here – maybe the fracture in his back prior to the 2019 season has had some lingering effects on him. However, he is trotting out there every week, so you’d have to assume he was fit, right?
Mitch is not his brother. He is unable to be in “okay” shape and be one of the best players on the park. He needs his biggest pre-season ever and it has to result in him being the lead-up target from half forward. Another disappointing season may well be his last at this level.
Blunt assessment – 2020 passenger
If I were Josh Bruce, I would jump on the phone, call Charlie Dixon and start asking questions as to what he does to get in the best possible shape.
Dixon put it all together this season after working hard with Chad Cornes (who is a freak!) and had his most impactful year to date. He was the difference in several games, with his repeat efforts and work ethic resulting to him getting to more contests and leading the league in contested grabs.
Meanwhile, it seemed as though Josh Bruce was stealing money from the Western Bulldogs given his lack of production. Six of Bruce’s 14 goals came in one game against the Kangaroos in Round Five, but he was held goalless in nine of his 17 games and had one goal on six other occasions.
As a recruit who was meant to hold down a key position for the Dogs, Bruce failed in 2020 and the work to redeem himself to the club begins much earlier than 2021.
JORDAN DE GOEY
Blunt assessment – Was too fat
Came back to pre-season before the 2020 season looking fat. There is no other way to say it – he was out of shape.
Worked his way back to play the first six games before injuring a finger and missing a long stretch.
The enigmatic forward/mid is out of contract, and to think he showed up to his “contract year” out of shape might give an indication as to just how seriously he takes his footy.
With off-field issues having to be a distraction, de Goey needs to knuckle down and have the best season of his career in 2021. That means no off-field issues, not drink driving, no blaming his dog for injuries and nothing else that would see him lose focus.
With his court case now adjourned until mid-2021, de Goey should be dedicating himself to being the best player he can be in 2021. I reckon his 2020 may have cost him some money already.
Blunt assessment – Worried about his fitness
If we are about to see Zac Williams hit the Carlton midfield and make a difference, he has to be in 2019-shape, particularly if you’re getting the length of contract he is receiving.
With GWS losing mids left, right and centre, Williams made the jump into the guts in 2019 and produced 5-6 weeks of excellent on-ball footy. However, as 2020 rolled around, Williams looked less-likely to be able to slot into the midfield rotation and was quickly deployed across half back in a role commensurate with both his skillset and fitness levels.
He played 11 of 17 games in 2020 and over the past three seasons, he has managed 37 of a possible 66 games.
Williams needs to be in tip-top shape or the Blues could wind up making a very expensive mistake – one that will result in Patrick Cripps having to put the Carton midfield on his shoulders…
… yet again.
Blunt assessment – Development needs fast-tracking
This bloke isn’t in the mix because he had a disappointing 2020, but more to do with what is on the horizon.
Looking at the West Coast defence, Rotham is one that has emerged in the last couple of seasons and his improvement will be vital ongoing. With Shannon Hurn in the twilight of his career, it is important that players now start stepping up in order to seamlessly transition once the premiership captain calls time on his career. At one end, the Eagles are doing it with Oscar Allen as the third forward and in defence it is Rotham and Jackson Nelson.
All three need a powerful pre-season to bridge the gap between those they are understudy to and where they’re at currently.
West Coast is a power cub – having Rotham, Allen and Nelson become names mentioned in the same breath as Hurn, Kennedy or Sheppard is imperative to sustained success and I get the feeling it’ll be Hurn that says goodbye first. Or perhaps he will be departing at the same time as Kennedy.
Blunt assessment – Lack of progress
Third Blue – I know. I swear I’m not picking on you.
Dow is about to enter season number four at Carlton and is coming off a career-low three games, and a matching career-low of nine disposals per game.
Prior to the 2020 season, there was a lot of talk about Dow’s conditioning and how far he’d come. I have to admit, some of the still-shots looked impressive. However, he was unable to translate this conditioning into any kind of success.
With his name being thrown around as a possible trade option to get the Adam Saad deal done, the former number three pick has watched those taken before and after him establish themselves as regular senior players at their clubs while he is struggling to get a game. With him and Lochie O’Brien both taken in the top ten in 2017, that draft is starting to look like a bit of a failure for Carlton.
But hard work tends to turn these things around.
Blunt assessment – Regressed
Stack’s name was being thrust into the conversation about 2019’s best young players by Richmond fans following his impressive debut season, but the wheels fell off a little in 2020 as Stack’s form waned and his year culminated with an altercation outside a Gold Coast kebab shop that not only served to put him in a negative light, but his club as well.
Stack’s ability is unquestionable. So is his hardness at the contest – something Jack Viney could attest to, but after bursting onto the scene last year, Stack regressed in 2020 and could not regain his place in the Tigers’ side after Round 13.
Stack has been on the list in two premiership seasons, and despite 26 games, has not played a final. Whether it is work ethic or upstairs that is the issue, the way he prepares for 2020 will go a long way to determining how he fits in with the long term plans of this Richmond side.
Blunt assessment – Doesn’t chase
I love the physical nature of Zurhaar’s game, but there are aspects where he falls down as well. Defensive running would be the main one.
In the Round 13 game against Collingwood, Zurhaar found himself with Brayden Maynard for company. Physically, they seem well-matched. Though Zurhaar had moments where his physical play was important, Maynard continually ran off him to record 26 touches, with 21 of them coming uncontested. Not much was made of it in the media, as Collingwood won as they were expected to, but Maynard’s ability to do as he pleased once the footy hit the deck was indicative of Zurhaar’s lack of defensive accountability.
So, assuming this is purely a fitness-related issue, the North Melbourne team has their work cut out for them. I heard Garry Lyon state that Zurhaar needs to look at what Christian Petracca has been able to do at Melbourne with an improved fitness base and use that as your guide. Maybe he is onto something.
A player like Zurhaar, for all his benefits, could bring the North attack undone with a lack of chasing. Pre-season is where those concerns should be addressed and rectified. And if not, then North should probably not play him until they are.
Blunt assessment – Loses fitness base too quickly
Remember the game where Jake Stringer had his guernsey pulled off last season? It wasn’t a pretty picture… and I am not talking about that horrible tattoo, either.
Stringer started the season well, averaging 2.5 goals per game over the first four games. I had many Essendon fans point that out to me at one stage during the year, stating he would have been leading their Best and Fairest at that stage. However, on closer inspection, Stringer was a bit of a one-trick pony. In those four games, he had 13 scoring shots and just 14 score involvements. So, if he wasn’t directly involved in taking the shot at goal, he wasn’t doing much else.
Stringer sat out for seven weeks after Round Five and struggled to impact games upon his return. He reminds me a lot of a younger version of Luke Hodge in that regard – could start off really well, but because he didn’t have the fitness base, an injury would set him back much further than it would those in top condition.
Stringer needs as much fitness work as he can prior to the season. Like De Goey this year, he is coming into his contract year and needs to impress. If he comes into 2021 in career-best condition and gets a good run at the season, we may find Stringer is still capable of being the player the Bombers require him to be.
Blunt assessment – Injury-prone
Looked to have made the step up this season before injury curtailed his season. Logue has the makings of a powerful defender, and in concert with Luke Ryan, Brennan Cox, Ethan Hughes and Taylin Duman, could usher in a new era of defence at Freo.
With Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling waiting in the wings, the Freo defence looks fantastic… injuries aside. And that has been Logue’s downfall, right? A clean run at pre-season and another summer in the gym will see Logue, who seemed to adapt well to being an interceptor, take on a larger role at Fremantle.
I’ve heard some suggest he could become a big-bodied mid at some stage, which will be a huge boon to a team with kids coming through and a big gap between Fyfe/Mundy and the youngsters. Logue will need a larger fitness base to play that role, and will have to hit the pre-season harder than ever before.
Fingers crossed he gets through unscathed – he deserves a clean run at it.
Blunt assessment – Inconsistent
Time to move from player who flashes in and out of the game to a reliable, consistent ball winner and pack crasher.
SPP is an absolute bull, but his string of games in 2020 registering between 10-14 touches (nine games out of ten) are a worry. He needs to build that tank an add some genuine endurance to the bash and crash style he is already so good at.
Entering his fifth season, we should really start to see the best of Powell-Pepper, and if he has his best pre-season to date, will offer tremendous help for the Boak/Wines combination.
Could a Sam Powell-Pepper averaging upwards of 20 touches per game be the difference between a Prelim Final and a Grand Final?
Blunt assessment – Not strong enough
Reads the ball so well, but is still too easily dismissed when caught in a matchup on a key forward. Ballard looks like an All-Australian defender in the making, but additional strength will provide vital as he progresses through his career.
Now entering year his fourth season, and with the recovery of Rory Thompson taking longer than expected, the development of Ballard is vital to the overall improvement of the Suns.
Throw five kilograms of muscle onto his frame and Ballard will become a force to be reckoned with in defence and will provide a fantastic one-two punch for the Suns.
Blunt assessment – The young hope in the middle
In demand elsewhere, has improved his tackling game and a fixture in a very good Geelong side, Parfitt has already surprised with his development. However, the question about his ceiling remains – how good can he be?
At 22 years old, Parfitt is yet to peak, but his application in terms of tackling and willingness to play his role without trying to do too much speaks of a discipline many players don’t possess. Many have been critical of the Geelong recruitment process – bringing in players of 30+ years of age, but the development of Parfitt is important both now, and as these players move into their retirement.
Already ranked third in the league in tackles per game in 2020, a big pre-season from Parfitt could see him make the move into the centre square permanently for the Cats and offer a huge hand to Dangerfield and Duncan.
Blunt assessment – Fallen off a cliff
Look, we’ve all toyed with the idea that 2018 was the outlier, right? I don’t want to use the word “fluke”, but if they flukey-shoe fits…
Brayshaw leapt from the box in 2018 and has all but jumped back in it since. In a midfield full of blokes who cannot kick to save their life, Brayshaw has failed to distinguish himself from the pack. Relegated to the wing at times, he hit 20+ disposals in just three games in 2020. They all came in a bunch from Rounds 11-13 as Brayshaw registered his lowest disposal average since his rookie year.
So, what do you do with this bloke? Do you plonk him in the centre and allow his chemistry with Max Gawn to develop like it did in 2018? Or do you cut your losses and look at what you can get for him on the open market?
Brayshaw’s talent is undeniable, but is the fitness really there? Is the hard work being done?
Whether he is at Melbourne or elsewhere, this season is a career-defining one for Angus. A good pre-season is just the beginning – he has to deliver in 2021.
Blunt assessment – Disappointment
Could have been the recruit of the year in 2020 but ended up as the third or fourth-best recruit… ON HIS TEAM!
We heard a lot from the Saints about Brad Hill in 2020 – about how his teammates had to do better to get him involved in the game and kick it to him more often. Sorry… he is not the shitty kid playing forward pocket in the local Under 14s who needs the handballs over the top in the goal square to get him involved. He is a premiership player and one that supposedly has one of the best tanks in the game.
Yet that was rarely on display in 2020.
Hill played every game, topped 20+ disposals three times and had 11 games where he had 15 or less disposals. In short, he was poor. Returning the lowest averages since his rookie year, Hill was a major disappointment at St Kilda – one of their few disappointments for the year – and will need to hit 2021 hungrier and more determined to make an impact than ever.
Brad Hill has the potential to be THE guy that puts the Saints a step closer to glory, but cruising around the ground waiting for teammate to do the work won’t cut it. Hill needs to put the work in to get back to his running best and if he hasn’t started already, it might be right about time.
Blunt assessment – Poor form flew under the radar
You know what – this bloke got off really lightly for an insipid 2020 effort. No press detailing his failure ala Ben Brown. No heat put on him in the press like Stephen Coniglio had to deal with; Jeremy Cameron was given a free pass to cruise through 2020 in second gear and get away with it.
That should be the last time that happens.
A player with his ability should have been producing a lot more.
Averaging a career-low for goals per game, Cameron had one game of significance in 2020, slotting four goals against the Dockers, but with one goal or less in nine games this season, and six games where he had eight touches or less, his output cannot be considered anything but poor.
Perhaps Cameron’s heart wasn’t in 2020? Perhaps he knew he was out a long time before he informed the Giants and was in self-preservation mode? All I know is that that kind of shit might fly on a team that doesn’t get a heap of coverage, but phoning it in on the Cats’ list might see him have to face the music in 2021.
Blunt assessment – Not strong enough in contests
The year from hell for Big Ben culminated with a split from the Kangaroos. 180+ goals in three seasons, then one bad one and the relationship was fractured… I find it hard to comprehend.
Brown’s body has changed markedly over the last few years. Appearing leaner in 2020, he was unable to take contested grabs (he took six in nine games) and he kicked multiple goals in just one game for the season before succumbing to injury.
The full forward’s game revolves around hard running and multiple leads, but Brown’s lack of strength in contests have left him looking like one of those inflatable blokes you see out the front of vacuum cleaner stores, flailing around after being outmuscled.
Wherever he ends up in 2021, Brown has to be stronger in the contest and become more than a mark-kick kind of player. With good delivery and a couple of kilograms of muscle, we might see Brown re-emerge as a force in 2021. If I were him, I’d be strongly considering a tenure with GWS.
Blunt assessment – On rails
2018 seems like so long ago, and it would seem like an eternity if you were Tom McDonald.
After playing the season of his life, the Dees opted to go with him as the number one forward, letting Jesse Hogan head to Fremantle. However, McDonald failed to deliver, notching seven goalless games amongst his 16 games in 2019 and three more from his nine 2020 games.
McDonald may not be at Melbourne after this trade period concludes, but wherever he ends up, he will have to work incredibly hard to restore faith in his ability. Maybe a stint in defence could help him at whatever club he lands at?
McDonald has had the capacity to work up the ground and back during his career, and he will need to be in that type of shape again to have an influence in 2021. If he puts the work in, we may see a career renaissance. If not… at least we still have 2018.
Blunt assessment – A question of leadership
Given the mantle of captain at GWS to go with his long-term deal, Coniglio hardly set the world on fire in 2020. Looking uncomfortable in the role at times, Cogs seemed a shadow of the player he was in the 2019 season, becoming the first captain in a looooong time to be dropped from the senior side.
So, how does Coniglio rectify things and thrust GWS back into the frame as a contender? It all starts with hard work, and he should set about making himself the benchmark.
There was another captain who had some trouble adjusting to leadership. That bloke now has three premierships with the Tigers. That is who Coniglio needs to look at and emulate.
Coniglio needs his “follow me” moments in games, but he also needs to set the tone on the track. First to arrive – last to leave and in the top group for fitness right from the first session.
Is the failure of 2020 enough to light the fire under Cogs and have him emerge as a true leader? This pre-season will answer a lot of questions for those doubting his capacity to lead this club.
Blunt assessment – Unrewarded running for a reason
It might be a bit harsh to expect a heap from Scully after it was thought he may not play again a couple of years ago. However, he has played 35 of a possible 39 games over the past two seasons for the Hawks. Unfortunately, in this time we’ve seen him perform far below the level he is capable of.
The former number one pick recorded a career-low 13.57 touches per game (disregarding the 2018 season where he played a few minutes of one game before injuring his ankle). With Isaac Smith now off to play for Geelong (vomit!), Scully’s run becomes incredibly important for the Hawks. They have no more Smith, no more Ricky Henderson and will need Scully to start doing some rewarded running, as opposed to this “unrewarded running” we keep hearing about.
Blunt assessment – Huge potential
I’ve been watching Hayward with interest since 2018, when he went on a bit of a run that saw him average over two goals per game through seven games. At that point, I started to think we may be witnessing a future All-Australian forward making the big step in his career.
Since then, Hayward has struggled a bit, with arguably his best form coming when he has been given a job as a defensive forward. His game on Nick Haynes was one of the better defensive forward efforts of the season.
Hayward has a real x-factor about him; when watching him at ground level there is a definite bit of Stevie Johnson in him – it will just be the consistency that allows him to excel.
The harder you work, the luckier you get and I get the feeling that Hayward could make the leap from opportunistic forward to consistently dangerous threat around goals with his best pre-season yet.
Blunt assessment – Time to step up
The Crows are being patient, with The Fog showing plenty of signs that he could be a ten-year key forward for the team, but they’ll need to see more out of him in short order.
Fogarty averaged a career-low 7.40 disposals per game in 2020 and managed just 0.80 goals per game. Factoring in the reduced game time, Fog’s efforts were still very disappointing. He cracked ten touches just once and had a season-high of four marks in Round One against the Swans.
Many have maligned the output of Tex Walker at times in 2020, but he is doing the heavy work to allow players like Fogarty and Elliott Himmelberg the opportunity to develop without the pressure. They need to come to the party in 2021.
Blunt assessment – Poor first year as captain
“How good is this?” asked Rory Sloane as the Crows ran out for game one of the 2020 season. The answer, sadly, was “not very”. At least in terms of Sloane’s season.
In his first stint as standalone Adelaide captain, he failed to hit 20 disposals once in the 2020 season.
At a time when the Crows needed their skipper to stand up, he was unable to have an impact, averaging nine fewer disposals than in 2019 and being moved out of the middle at times to play on the wing.
The Crows are in the early stages of a rebuild and Sloane won’t be with the club when they contend again, but he is responsible for instilling a strong work ethic in young players right now. As a leader, having under 20 touches in every game next season is completely unacceptable.
Blunt assessment – Didn’t take it seriously
Alarm bells went off this season when he was not in the Round One side for the Lions. A relatively high-profile pick up from the Crows, I thought both him and Hugh Greenwood would make significant impacts on their new teams.
I was half right.
Was not in good shape to start the season and was called out on it by Chris Fagan. Worked his way into the side but his numbers were down from a career-high 23.5 touches in 2019 to 10.89 this season. That is a massive fall.
Ellis-Yolmen just wanted an opportunity at Adelaide. Stuck behind others, he didn’t get the chance to shine. He didn’t in Brisbane either, but this one he has to wear, himself. Only a huge pre-season leading into the 2021 season will see him make an impact on the flag-contending Lions.
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