What we tend to get in the AFL Footy Media is one bloke sticking his neck out first and the others piggybacking off his opinion.

It happens time and time again. One former player or analyst offers an opinion and within hours, sometimes minutes, that opinion underpins the take of just about every expert out there.

In the 2020 season, someone at Champion Data decided that Mitch Duncan was a wingman. He’d played there in the past and as far as the AFL Media was concerned, that’s the role Duncan was occupying week in and week out.

Only, he wasn’t.

Duncan was playing out of the centre whilst Sam Menegola and a combination of Cam Guthrie, Mark Blicavs and a smattering of other Cats ran around on the opposite side of the ground. Still, it didn’t stop a few experts parroting each other as the season wore on. Several labelled Duncan the best-performed wingman of the season about a third of the way through.

They needed a Geelong version of John Lennon to stand up and shout that he wasn’t even the best wingman at Geelong in 2020!

But I digress…

The AFL groupthink powers on year after year and pre-season after pre-season.

So-and-so is flying…

Someone else is burning up the track…

Another has returned in career-best shape…

One says it and the others follow suit, but I often find myself asking whether this is real news, or whether they’re just making shit up to fill column space or retain twitter followers. I gravitate to option two more often than not, sadly.

With that in mind, I want to ask how sure we are of the things we’ve been told over the last few weeks and months. I want to know how much of it we believe and whether or not we are questioning the popular takes as we head toward 2021 with a head of steam (It’s only about 58 days until the Marsh Series starts!).

So, here we go. The 2021 season version of “Are We Sure…?”

 

 

ARE WE SURE THAT JEREMY CAMERON FINDS FORM AGAIN?

Look, I think I could play alongside Tom Hawkins and manage to snag a few goals, such is his ability to bring others into the game, but given what we saw from JC in 2020, how confident are you that he can bounce back?

There are a heap of factors to consider, here. Was his heart in the 2020 season? Did the reduced game time impact his ability to run his opponent up and back to the point of exhaustion? Was his form more reflective of the overall GWS malaise, or was his poor performance a large contributor to the disappointing season of the Giants?

There are huge expectations on Cameron coming into 2021. The Cats were close to a flag in 2020 and they have recruited him with the view that another genuine forward weapon will put them over the top. At 27, Cameron should be at his peak, but instead, we have witnessed possibly the worst season of his career heading into what could be his most important.

Does he have it in him to elevate his game back to 2019 levels? Or has that ship sailed, leaving the Cats to once again rely on the broad shoulders of Tom Hawkins to carry them deep into finals?

Personally, I think the Cameron investment was a very good one, but real judgment will be made around the end of September. With an ageing list, it is a premiership or bust for Geelong in 2021.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT HAWTHORN WILL NOT BOTTOM OUT IN 2021?

No, I am not sure.

Looking at the Hawks list, my heart is sinking. Sicily’s absence leaves a huge hole in the defence and unless Tom Mitchell is able to recapture the form that took him to the 2018 Brownlow, the Hawks are painfully thin in the middle.

Whilst many have labelled Adelaide as the 2021 wooden spooner, the Hawks look brittle. Painfully so.

The forward line is reliant on Jon Patton getting healthy, but judging by what we saw in 2020 that is a huge long shot. Gunston is hurt already and Mitch Lewis looked to take a step backwards last season.

So, given the Hawks look weak in the midfield, the defence would have to be watertight, right? Only, it’s not. You’ve got Blake Hardwick, Jack Scrimshaw, Sam Frost, Kyle Hartigan and Will Day learning the ropes.

Does that fill you with confidence?

The Hawks are in trouble.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT NORTH WILL BE ONE OF THE WORST TEAMS IN THE LEAGUE?

So many get a bit of a kick out of sinking the boots into North. Not me. I look at the injury list they had last season and can see why they fell away.

First and foremost, if Ben Cunnington is healthy, the Roos are a much better team. His hardness around the footy allows young blokes like Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke to play support roles in the guts, which is about the level they should be at right now. Last season, they were asked to carry a midfield. It was a role they struggled to fulfil.

North’s kids have the potential to break out. We saw what Simpkin and LDU are capable of, but there is star potential in Curtis Taylor, Tarryn Thomas and the forward combination of Cam  Zurhaar, Nick Larkey and Jaidyn Stephenson could cause some real headaches.

In defence, Ben McKay really came along in 2020 and Luke McDonald had a career-best season.

Injuries are the key to the Roos’ 2021. They are nowhere near as bad as the media have made them out over the past 12 months.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT WEST COAST HAVE NOT UNDERACHIEVED WITH THIS LIST?

I’m not sure.

Their 2020 season was just a waste. The slow start in the Gold Coast hub put them behind the eight ball. A questionable goal line call against the Bulldogs relegated them to the bottom half of the eight, and they capitulated to Collingwood in the finals with stars missing and other stars unable to fire.

Their 2019 season ended in an uncharacteristic capitulation to Geelong as well, which leaves memories of the great 2018 season a fair way back in the rearview mirror.

With a team boasting talent like McGovern, Hurn and Barrass in defence, Yeo, Shuey, Kelly and Naitanui in the guts, and Darling, Kennedy and Ryan up forward, West Coast are a team perfectly built for success, only they have been markedly unsuccessful over the past two seasons.

2021 is the season they need to turn this around. Looking back at this period with one Grand Final appearance from 2016-2021 would have to be viewed as an underachievement. Yes, the team had injuries at crucial points but which team hasn’t? West Coast may be the most talented team in the game, but without another flag, this group may be destined to be remembered as the Port Adelaide to Richmond’s Brisbane Lions of the early 2000s.

It’s time to stand up.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT THE BRISBANE LIONS HAVE ENOUGH CONSISTENT FIREPOWER?

On their day, they’re brilliant, but the combination of Hipwood, McStay, Rayner and Charlie Cameron have not fired together in the finals. And that is a real worry.

Rayner and McStay, in particular, had horrible finals series, with the pair averaging 5.5 and 3.0 disposals in the two finals outings for the Lions/ Rayner’s numbers are poor; McStay’s would make you want to vomit if you were Chris Fagan.

The Lions have attempted to address the issue with the recruitment of Joe Daniher, but given his inability to hit the park for an extended period over the past three seasons, it kind of feels as though the Lions know they need someone to stand up, yet they don’t trust those they already have. They seem happy to take the gamble and are hoping like hell it all pays off.

In theory, a Daniher/Hipwood forward duo could create havoc – they’re horrible match-ups to contend with, and with Charlie Cameron at their feet, they could be a terrifying duo to deal with. However Daniher has played just 15 games in the past three years and the last time Hipwood had the chance to make a real statement, he saw his Lions bow out. His contribution – five touches and a goal.

McStay appears as though he may be on the outer should Daniher get himself right, but even when right, Daniher’s kicking at goal can be wayward. Given how Brisbane performed in front of goal in 2020, they seemed to have tried to remedy the problem by adding something exactly the same.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT CHARLIE CURNOW IS NOT COOKED?

He was one of the hottest commodities in footy just two seasons ago, but the wheels are falling off for Charlie, it seems.

The dubious nature of his knee injuries have more than a few people scratching their heads and the reoccurrence of the injuries has cast a doubt over his body’s ability to recover. With four injuries to the same knee in a 12 month period, Charlie Curnow is at the crossroads at just 23 years old.

He is a player reliant on his athleticism and stamina and whilst the latter can come back, knee injuries tend to suck the life out of the athletic players. If we get one more setback for Curnow as he again tries to recover from the knee injury he first suffered playing basketball, Carlton have to start asking some serious questions around which eggs they put into their baskets.

Right now, there would be more eggs in the Harry McKay basket than the Charlie Curnow one.

 

ARE WE SURE THAT DUSTIN MARTIN AND LANCE FRANKLIN WERE UP TO NO GOOD IN BROAD DAYLIGHT WITH A “COLOURFUL” CHARACTER?

This is what’s called a media beat-up.

If I was going to meet with someone to lay the groundwork for some match-fixing, or stat-padding to benefit some gamblers, then I’d definitely do it over lunch with a member of an opposition team in an area where I could be photographed.

That’d be the wisest course of action, wouldn’t it?

Whilst I am not stating that it wasn’t a mistake to associate with someone that could lead to people thinking that way, Dusty and Buddy are permitted to sit down and have a meal. They’re not probationary release prisoners – they’re grown men who can choose who they damn well eat with.

I got a message from someone asking me why we weren’t covering this story. The answer was simple – because it’s garbage.

And hey, if the bloke paid for lunch, I’d probably go as well.

 

ARE WE SURE THE TIGERS VETERANS HAVE ONE MORE YEAR IN THEM?

Personally, I do. However, I understand the concern around Richmond as their stars start to age.

The following players are already 30 years old.

Jack Riewoldt

Bachar Houli

Shane Edwards

Trent Cotchin

And these guys will join them during the season.

Dustin Martin

David Astbury

Dylan Grimes

Look, this is by no means a funeral procession for the careers of these guys, but being a man of 30+ myself (and then some), you come to understand that fitness and health are fleeting and it can be a very slippery slope once you lose a little bit of footing. Jack Riewoldt has been solid since he had an injury-interrupted 2019, but hardly the player we remember. That’s not a knock on Jack – he has found different ways to contribute, but once you hit 30, things tend to take a little while longer to heal and normal recovery takes that little bit longer.

The Tigers will be feeling cherry ripe to have a crack at their own three-peat, perhaps placing them at the top of the tree in terms of teams in the modern era, but no one beats Father Time. Not even the mightiest of teams.

They’ve got three of the last four. A fourth would be the hardest-won and perhaps the most satisfying of all.

 

ARE WE SURE THERE IS NOT A MASS EXODUS FROM GWS AFTER 2021?

I was just perusing their contact situations this morning. Another season of limited success, or…gulp… missing the finals again could see a few that have been committed to this group achieving team success begin to cast their eye elsewhere.

Jeremy Cameron was the first cab off the rank, but with Josh Kelly coming up on restricted free agency and a young gun like Jacob Hopper coming out of contract, the Giants may have to tread very carefully.

It’s by no means the end of the world, as you have kids like Tom Greene and Lachie Ash coming through the ranks that would be able to grow into those spots. However, one of those Giants would also need to sign an extension for that to occur, as Ash didn’t sign a rookie extension in his first year. That could mean nothing or it could mean a lot – I guess we’ll know by mid-season. If Hopper and Ash don’t have signatures on paper, things could start to get a little messy in western Sydney.

 

ARE WE SURE THE BLUES’ RECRUITS MAKE THEM BETTER?

I’ve been a little pessimistic about the acquisitions the Blues made this off-season.

On paper, Adam Saad will add some speed and metres gained to their defence, but I found his style of play often amounted to running as far as he could and kicking as far as possible every time he had the opportunity. This can work, but it can bring things undone just as easily. Still, maybe that manic, helter-skelter is exactly what the Blues need. We’ll soon see.

The other pick up is Zac Williams, who comes to Ikon Park with designs on a midfield role. Over the past few seasons, Williams has spent minimal amount of time playing on-ball for the Giants and did so when he was in peak physical shape in 2019. In 2018 he was hurt and out of shape. Ditto 2020. So if he doesn’t manage to work into the best possible shape to commence 2021, it leaves the Blues with another running half back flanker to add to to the mix.

If Carlton are to make the next step, I believe it will come from the improvement of players like Setterfield, Williamson, Petrevski-Seton and Harry McKay. If Saad and Willams make an impact as well, that’ll be a bonus.

 

ARE WE SURE THE DOGS NEEDED TRELOAR?

They swooped in and picked up a high-quality player and bent Collingwood over in the drawn-out process, but of all teams looking to bolster their midfield, I wonder whether the Dogs actually needed someone with the skill set of Treloar.

In a team that houses Bontempelli, Liberatore, Macrae, Bailey Smith and Lachie Hunter – all of whom play diverse roles through the midfield, does adding Treloar to the mix simply make things tighter for all concerned, particularly with Josh Dunkley already pursuing a trade after the 2020 due to struggling to get a run on the ball?

On the surface, Treloar is a complete ball magnet. His return from injury in 2020 saw him crack 30-disposals in his first three games back and four of his first five outings. Even in shortened games, he was piling them up.

But what does he offer that Jack Macrae does not?

A former partner of mine would often go to the shops for a specific reason and when she returned, she’d have a whole heap of other stuff as well. When I asked her why she’d purchased all that stuff – things would most likely not use – she answered “because it was on sale.”

Yes, Treloar was definitely on sale, but did the Dogs need to buy him? He is a great insurance policy against a rash of injuries , and with $300K per season covered by the desperate Magpies, you cannot blame the Dogs for biting, but part of me wonders whether there’ll be too many chefs in the kitchen at Whitten Oval when it comes to the midfield brigade. And if one chef was already thinking of leaving after the 2020 season, the lack of opportunity may just prompt him to explore it again after next season.

 

I have more of these coming over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve got any of your own, by all means, throw them out there.

 

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