Momentum is an amazing thing. It’s extremely difficult to create, very easy to lose. But those who have found it cling to it, knowing that even through hard times, developing good momentum will see them experience some success.
And then there are those who don’t have it. Some have lost it. Some have struggled to obtain it at all.
They can attempt to generate momentum, be it via recruiting, or a great slogan for their billboards (hello to Carlton) or even via an accommodating press, but it is only once they’re on the park that they can really build the only momentum that matters – winning.
With that in mind, which teams carry momentum heading into the 2021 season? Which teams were found out in a season that seemed to turn the entire sporting world on its head? And which teams are capable of building on what we saw from them in 2020?
Let’s take a look.
*Please note – the teams in each group are not in order. They’re grouped together – not ranked. Cheers.
WHO HAS THE MOMENTUM?
It is no surprise that the top four sit comfortably with the momentum. Winning IS momentum.
Brisbane are probably justified in feeling like they possess a little more momentum than the others. In looking at the lists of these teams, the Lions still have plenty of improvement, whereas the others have their absolute best players in that 28 and above region right now.
Brisbane has Eric Hipwood, Cam Rayner, Harris Andrews, Zac Bailey, Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry that will continue to develop in their system and have already showed that they are capable of being, at worst, pretty damn good players. At best, we are looking at the nucleus of a team ripe for ongoing success.
When you consider that Lachie Neale is 27, the only real impending losses the club will have to deal with will be in the form of Dayne Zorko and Daniel Rich over the next 12-24 months.
Switch over to Richmond, despite winning three flags in four years, the events of the past week may cause some people to start wondering whether or not there is a rift in the club, right?
Don’t be so bloody stupid!
This is a group on the precipice of true greatness. They currently sit at a point that most clubs only dream of – looking for a third premiership in a row and securing their spot as the greatest team of the modern era if they’re able to pull it off. Four flags in five years would make those claims pretty watertight.
Whilst not as well-positioned as the Lions in terms of young talent to carry them on in a few years’ time, this Richmond unit is built for success right now. They’ve lost very little in terms of their key personnel, have a game style that clubs are yet to work out ways around in the finals and with one of the best leaders in the game accompanying the best finals performer of this generation (and maybe ever), their run at the top has some legs left yet, even if trashy reporters are revelling in trying to cut them off at the knees.
I was tempted to have Geelong in the next tier down, as a loss in the Grand Final like that – blowing a lead on the back of some strange coaching decisions and your superstar going missing to upset the apple cart, would be a difficult pill to swallow.
However, the Cats have doubled down in their attempt to pluck a flag in the next year or two. They’ve held onto their kids throughout a trade period where there was much speculation about who would end up where, and secured one of the top forwards in the game to play alongside the reigning Coleman Medallist.
Whilst this isn’t exactly like recruiting Jason Dunstall to play alongside Tony Lockett, in picking up Jeremy Cameron, the Cats have added firepower to a team already capable of kicking bags. Add in Shaun Higgins and their wing positions look elite as well. Any momentum the Grand Final loss cost them has been rebooted by these additions and the retentions of Brandan Parfitt, Charlie Constable and Jordan Clark.
They must be doing plenty right to hold onto all three.
Port Adelaide jumped out of the box in 2020 and were probably the closest to the eventual champs in terms of having a game style that was difficult to stop.
A determined senior duo of Travis Boak and Charlie Dixon powered the older tier of players, whilst Port got lifts all over the park from players like Karl Amon, Trent McKenzie and a real lift from the aggression and desperation of Zak Butters.
But Port have room to improve. A foot injury to Connor Rozee saw him unable to take the step expected of him in 2020. He did save one of his best games of the season for the Preliminary Final, but it just wasn’t enough.
The Power have also added Aliir Aliir to their defence in a good move, and Orazio Fantasia to their list of small forwards… but… how do I put this delicately? At the moment, Fantasia is a complete joke as an AFL player. Yeah, I could have gone harder – he needs a complete turnaround in attitude and output to play anywhere but the SANFL.
Still, the Power have the pieces in place right now to challenge and ongoing to build around. An interesting aside this season will be watching who of Mitch Georgiades or Todd Marshall becomes their second tall forward. As much as I like Marshall, I reckon Georgiades has a little more drive and intensity. You cannot teach that.
WHO IS ON THE CLIMB?
A few might be surprised to see Sydney listed here but their 23-and-under brigade is excellent and they only added to it with two picks in the top five, including Logan McDonald, who many believe could be the best young forward selected this season.
When you consider names like Florent, Rowbottom, Stephens, Blakey, McCartin, McInerney, Dawson, Mills and Hayward all slot into that age demographic, the future of the Swans is bright and they will no doubt rise to power once again over the next three or so seasons. When you add that two of their undoubted stars; Papley and Heeney are just 24, the nucleus of this young group is solid as a rock.
Yes, they still have Buddy there taking up space, but once he has waddled off to retirement, Sydney have the young talent to be contending again really quickly.
St Kilda made great strides in 2020 and have bolstered their ranks again in 2021 without losing much at all. The addition of Brad Crouch will be fascinating to watch, as his ball-winning ability will make the Saints’ midfield that little bit harder to match up on.
Jack Higgins is an interesting piece to the puzzle. He is by no means a walk-up start in a team that already possesses Dan Butler, Jack Lonie and Jade Gresham capable of filling the high half forward OR deep pocket forward on the team. Competition is great and it may bring out the best in a few of them.
The Saints’ young defence is where they have a huge advantage. Nick Coffield, Hunter Clark, Ben Long and Ben Paton are all 23-and-under and I am guessing it would not surprise anyone if they ended up all playing 200+ games. To have that collection of players to work with Dougal Howard (24 years old), the Saints are positioned exceptionally well and I reckon their supporters can feel it, too.
You get a couple of schools of thought whenever you talk about Gold Coast. You get those who dismiss where they’re at and where they’re headed, based on the old “yeah, well they get everything handed to them” argument, and then there are those who acknowledge that yes, whilst they may have squandered their first efforts to establish an AFL power, their second effort, with all the players recommitting to the club, is vastly different – they look as though they have it right this time.
To just procure one of Lukosius, King, Anderson, Flanders, Rowell, Rankine or newly-acquired Elijah Hollands, other teams would fall all over themselves, but the Suns have managed to sell the idea of growing as a team, and these blokes all want to be part of it.
When you add in the excellent recruiting of Hugh Greenwood and Brandon Ellis last year and Oleg Markov this season (I want Rory Atkins to prove he belongs!) the Suns look ready to start their climb up the ladder as well.
And the same could be said for Fremantle.
I reckon the Dockers are two thirds of the way to securing their future. Whilst Nat Fyfe remains the key to their fortunes, there are three parts of an emerging midfield that look as good as any trio of kids in the game. Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw have already recommitted and the last one remaining is Adam Cerra.
Sign him, and the momentum of this team really starts to propel them.
They had some serious injury concerns in 2020 but in a topsy-turvy year, it seemed to open up opportunities for others to shine. Brennan Cox became the most relaxed key defender in the game, whilst both Ethan Hughes and Taylin Duman displayed plenty to look forward to as well.
Up forward, Matt Taberner has claims on being the best contested mark in the game and, statistically, was basically a good as Charlie Dixon in 2020 without the hype. He doesn’t really tear games apart, though, and that could be the one thing required.
Finally, Carlton… we’ve all seen the jokes over the years… they know we’re coming –yes, yes, but are the Blues finally ready to launch an assault on the finals that is more substantial than the Joe Ganino “one and done” method of lovemaking?
Carlton picked up a couple of prizes in the trade period in Adam Saad and Zac Williams but they’ll need a bit more from the middle tier of players to start making a significant impact. Right now, there a few too many passengers for my liking.
Let’s suppose they get a lift from Will Setterfield, Tom Williamson and Caleb Marchbank this season. Will that be enough to propel them into finals if their stars perform to expectation? Could someone like Paddy Dow start to make good on their heavy investment in him? How about Mitch McGovern?
A lot of “what ifs…” about the Blues this season, but they have generated a buzz about themselves – they’re good at that – now they just have to deliver, or the momentum stops abruptly.
WHOSE MOMENTUM HAS STALLED?
I know I am gonna hear it from Eagles supporters, but here goes…
I don’t have as much faith as I did in the West Coast list 12 months ago. Not even close.
There was a time not too long ago that I thought they would be the biggest challenge to the era of Richmond dominance – it made sense, right? The 2018 premiers v the 2017/19 premiers; it could have been the saving grace to a 2020 season that was… trying. Yes, that’s the word – it was a trying season.
The Eagles limped through 2020 and now, with players like Naitanui, Hurn, Kennedy, Shuey and Redden the wrong side of 30, part of me is wondering whether they have it in them to stage one last tilt at the flag.
I find myself thinking they are, but only if plenty goes right. They still have plenty of firepower and have added Alex Witherden as the eventual replacement for Shannon Hurn, the momentum started to slow for this team when Willie Rioli was provisionally banned and it has not yet picked up steam again.
I reckon we’ve got until Round Six-Seven to see whether the Eagles can regain some of the swagger that made them the best team in the game a few years ago.
And if West Coast lost momentum, GWS almost ground to a halt after their 2019 Grand Final debacle against the Tigers.
Here’s a list of players I thought were well below the expected level in 2020.
Jeremy Cameron – gone
Zac Williams – gone
Phil Davis – hurt
Sam Taylor – hurt
Cal Ward – recovering
Stephen Coniglio – uninspiring
Josh Kelly – shunted around different positions
Tim Taranto – hurt
Looking at that list, even a lift from half of those blokes (Cameron and Williams aside) and GWS is a top four contender, but they cannot sustain another season where eight of their best 22 are well below average.
In addition to losing the two aforementioned players, Jackson Hately and Jye Caldwell also flew the coop, but this is an area the Giants have not struggled with, as Tom Green looks to be a star and Lachie Ash showed plenty as well.
They’ve got a season to arrest their slide or players who saw the orange and charcoal as a way to a premiership might begin reconsidering their options.
And I’ve added the Western Bulldogs here as well.
Despite picking up Adam Treloar as a bargain and Mitch Hannan to add a bit more pace around forward 50, I did not like the optics of the Josh Dunkley situation at all. His desire to leave indicates that he believes there is little opportunity for him there and I cannot see that situation being improved by the addition of another midfielder who spends a heap of time on the ball.
Whilst I am sure this can be dismissed by a few quick wins and some healthy camaraderie demonstrated between the players, but the Dunkley situation is one that I believe will rear its ugly head again in October.
Plus, since 2016… the Dogs really haven’t shown too much, have they?
WHO HAVE LOST THEIR MOMENTUM?
I’ll start with my team – we’re cooked for a while.
Hawthorn tried topping up and bolstering a decent side with decent players. The result is… indecent. The Clarkson “moneyball” approach has flopped.
They have a forward line with a young forward that went backwards and a recruit that could not stay on the park. They had a midfield that was underpinned by the brilliance of Tom Mitchell and completely exposed when he broke his leg and they have a defence that is now without James Sicily for the whole year.
They are all momentum stoppers. The Hawks went backwards.
Essendon went backwards as well, however. Whilst the addition of Josh Dunkley could have been a great one, the Bombers went heavily into the 2020 draft in the hopes it can conjure a trio much like Port Adelaide did a couple of seasons ago. Things like that can shift a team into a high gear quickly, but history tells us it’ll probably take time.
And I am not sure time is something they have copious amounts of.
Hurley and Hooker as the key defenders have both hit 30 and their best lockdown defender missed 2020 and will turn 30 this season as well. That’d be Patrick Ambrose, by the way.
The saving grace is the ascension of Jordan Ridley to the position of new golden boy of the club. Best and Fairest at just 22 gives him an amazing platform to build on. The Bombers would be closely watching the development of Brandon Zerk-Thatcher this season to compensate for the decline of the Hurley-Hooker combo.
And then there is the question about the run from half back. With Conor McKenna gone (thank god) and Adam Saad leaving for Carlton, there is definite opportunity for Mason Redman to fill the void, but the addition of Nick Hind gives the former Saint an chance at a regular spot as the rebounding runner.
Doesn’t exactly fill you with hope though, does it?
The Hawks and Bombers face off in round one. A win will perhaps imbue some confidence and commence some momentum. A loss… it’ll hurt.
Melbourne have absolutely lost the lot since their stellar run in 2018, missing the finals again in 2020 despite a huge year from Christian Petracca.
They’ve acquired Ben Brown to attempt to rectify their scoring woes, but if there was one thing I noticed about Brown over the last couple of seasons, it was that he needs good delivery to get a run and jump at the footy. He needs great delivery.
Sadly, the one thing you cannot help but notice about the Dees is that they rarely kick well running inside 50 and if people are expecting Ben Brown to start outmuscling blokes and taking contested grabs, they may want to rethink that.
Melbourne need a finals appearance to stop the rot but given the last two years as a sample size, I am not sure they can get that done.
North Melbourne have lost momentum and they basically brought it on themselves in one aspect.
A coaching drama, rifts with players, injuries aplenty and the decision to allow experienced players the opportunity to explore their options have basically set North back a little, but it is not as bad as it seems.
Putting it out there – 2020 will be as bad as it gets for North, having endured a season where every smaller forward they had went down hurt. That kind of thing completely devastates a team structure. With the return of Curtis Taylor, Tarryn Thomas, Kayne Turner and the addition of Jaidyn Stephenson, they may surprise many with a mosquito fleet capable of wreaking havoc.
That said, they have a new coach, a new system and this is a reset for the Kangaroos, so some pain is expected… it just may not be as painful as others are expecting.
Speaking of resets, Adelaide had one of their own in 2020 and will be feeling it for a while.
Looking as though they may have gone through the season winless for a while, the Crows found a bit of a groove late in the year and almost lifted themselves off the bottom of the ladder with a string of wins, but although they started to click, their worst was still pretty horrible.
The forward structure remains a problem and the decline of Rory Sloane in 2020 was something that slipped under the radar of most. Still, those same people managed to load up on Tex Walker at every single opportunity…
They had some wins, with Rory Laird moving into the middle and demonstrating he can win contested footy and both Lachie Sholl and Will Hamill showing a bit, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Adelaide.
But the light is faint at the moment and there is a fair distance to travel.
Big improvements from Fogarty, Himmelberg and Chayce Jones, along with a full season from Tom Doedee will rectify much of what ails the Crows in 2021.
And finally, we come to the Collingwood. Talk about slamming on the brakes and completely losing momentum!
Firstly, the club has been embroiled in an ongoing feud with Heretier Lumumba that shows no signs of slowing down (I suggest a cage match). Then they had Steele Sidebottom turn up “half-naked” in Williamstown, then the Jordan de Goey situation growing another set of legs, then the Nathan Buckley “tennis match”, then a huge capitulation to Geelong in one of the worst finals performances I’ve seen (a week after a great one, it must be said). Finally, we had the tenure of Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson (and don’t forget Atu Bosenvulagi!) brought to a close simply because the club cocked up their books.
Quite a year for the Pies.
Look, they have a great list, but they royally cocked up in 2020 an need a year of good news stories, player retention and I reckon it is about time de Goey earns the title of superstar that has been bestowed on him a little too quickly.
No All-Australian selections. No Best and Fairest awards.
Time to rectify that.
So, there’s the momentum train heading toward the 2021 season. Of course, things change quickly and one or two injuries may shuffle the decks a little at any clubs, but as of right now, there are fewer clubs with momentum than there are without, whilst there are seemingly more building than there are losing it.
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