We got one round in before COVID-19 shut footy down for months. We’ve since had hubs, empty stadiums, footy every night of the week, and plenty of upsets. 2020 is certainly the season of the weird, wacky and wonderful.
No one could’ve picked the current top two before the season, and there’s sure to be plenty more surprises before then end.
Port Adelaide (1st, 8-2)
After a narrow after the siren victory over Carlton, and loss to St Kilda, Port Adelaide’s premiership credentials were under siege. A 51 point walloping of Melbourne helped reaffirm them, but they are still yet to claim that real big scalp. To be fair to Port, they’ve only had one chance, and that was Brisbane in round five. You can’t fault them for not beating teams they haven’t played. Regardless of their opponent, Port’s slick handball movement through the middle against Melbourne was mouth-watering at times, and deadly to any opposition. Their pressure was manic against the Dogs and got them out of trouble. It’s starting to come together for Port and they’re showing all the right signs. They are genuine premiership contenders as of now; in their upcoming fixtures they play both Richmond and Geelong, how they fare will determine if they can go all the way in 2020.
Prediction: Top 4
St Kilda (2nd, 7-3)
What a surprise package! Their off season trading spree has proved a huge success, fast tracking their development tenfold. Dan Butler could be the recruit of the year and is arguably in All Australian form, he’s coming equal second in the Coleman with 21 goals and ranks elite for goals, tackles and pressure acts. Zak Jones is breaking lines and has ranked elite for clearances and contested possessions. Brad Hill’s endurance is what sets him apart, and his impact has been nullified by shortened quarters, he’s a sleeping superstar that could be awoken as fatigue sets in over the upcoming fixture cluster. Dougal Howard and Paddy Ryder have chipped in also. St Kilda have won six of their last seven, more importantly they’ve knocked off Port Adelaide and Richmond: highlighting the fact that they are genuine contenders. The Saints play Geelong, Essendon and Brisbane in the next three weeks, how they travel will give us a crystal clear indication of their credentials. They’re shaping as the dark horse in 2020’s premiership race.
Goalsneak Dan Butler has been a revelation for the Saints
Brisbane (3rd, 7-3)
The Lions are rightly one of the premiership favourites, but their credentials took a hit against Richmond. A 41 point mauling by their bogey team the Tigers was disappointing, but not as bad as the scoreboard reads. The Tigers kicked 12.10 to Brisbane’s 4.17: only one less scoring shot. They were in the contest for the most part, and just had a horror night in front of the big sticks. They lost against Hawthorn all the way back in round one, and in the following nine games have lost just twice to Geelong and Richmond. They’re one of the only teams not forced to undergo the challenges of hub life, sleeping in their own beds and playing every game in their home state, which is a luxury never afforded to interstate clubs. We saw how beneficial an MCG run was to the Tigers in 2019 who played their final seven home and away games at their fortress and went on to win the premiership. After a 63 point shellacking of Essendon, Brisbane were looking seriously good. Lachie Neale is in Brownlow form, and he’s supported by a seriously formidable engine room that can match it with anyone. The side is well rounded, the group looks tight knit and they’re having fun: a factor that carries far more weight than its recognised for. Still expect Brisbane to be around at the very pointy end of 2020.
Prediction: Top 4
Richmond (4th, 6-1-3)
A shaky start to the season resumption, where they drew with Collingwood and dropped games to Hawthorn and St Kilda, raised concerns. But the Tigers have bounced back winning five of their last six, and comprehensively beating fellow top four side Brisbane by 41 points. Similarly to 2019, Richmond have been dealt an overwhelming injury list, their hardships further compounded by Bachar Houli and Shane Edwards opting out of the hubs for personal reasons. As of round nine David Astbury, Toby Nankervis, Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia were their big outs through injury. They’d also been missing skipper Trent Cotchin for three weeks, and their ‘twin towers’ had been misfiring with Jack Riewoldt out of form and Tom Lynch playing through a broken hand. Richmond play system based footy, and regardless of who’s on the team sheet, everyone has a role to play. This plan is advantageous when faced with injuries and has paid big dividends for the Tigers as of late. You can strip them of the shiny exterior the likes of Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin bring, but their engine will always be the same. Richmond are well placed and look poised to have a real tilt at three in four years.
Prediction: Top 4
Geelong (5th, 6-4)
They’ve lost to West Coast, Collingwood, GWS and Carlton. Geelong’s only victory of note has come against Brisbane. To be fair to the Cats, they’ve had high-profile outs including Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, Quinton Narkle, Luke Dalhaus, Jordan Clark and Jack Steven. They have crunch games coming up against St Kilda and Port Adelaide. If they can’t win either of those, they’d only be making up the numbers in the eight. On the flip side, two straight wins would see them 8-4 with respectable scalps and throw them in the contender bracket. The Cats haven’t missed finals since 2015 and have made three Prelims in the last four years, with no premierships to show. Don’t be surprised if this trend continues and makes for another frustrating year at Kardinia Park.
West Coast (6th, 6-3*)
They had a horror stay in the Queensland hub losing three straight and as a result were disregarded in the pretender scrap heap. To be fair to the Eagles, two of the three losses came against top four sides Port Adelaide and Brisbane. They won the premiership in 2018, had a decent 2019 campaign, and have since added bona fide midfield star Tim Kelly to their ranks. West Coast picked up some easier wins against Sydney, Adelaide and Freo which instilled confidence in the group, and have since taken down Collingwood and Geelong, the former a 66 point thrashing. Writing off a side like the Eagles – who have gone all the way in recent years and added Tim Kelly – was downright stupid, expect them to make the critics eat their words
Prediction: Top 4
Greater Western Sydney (7th, 6-4)
Last years’ grand finalists have beaten Geelong, Collingwood and Richmond, but fallen to Brisbane and Port Adelaide. It was an ‘ugly’ win against Essendon on Friday night, but a win they had to get. The Giants have been playing low frequency, high impact footy in terms of their inside 50’s. They rank last in the AFL for inside 50’s but have been above the league average in every game for scores per inside 50. They did of course lose the 2019 Grand Final by 89 points, but don’t be surprised if they overcome the scars unlike any team this century. Of the eight other teams to lose a grand final by more than 40 points since 2000, just three made finals, one made the top four, and none made it further than the second week. In 2019, the Giants battled big outs all finals series and played their decider a week early. With the pain still raw, last year’s thrashing could serve as motivation and poise them to give 2020’s finals series a real shake-up.
Collingwood (8th, 5-1-4)
The Pies had a horror fortnight, and they’ve hampered by off field distractions and a hypocritical president all year, not to mention their injury woes. Steele Sidebottom had a drunken night out, Jordan De Goey’s assault charges from 2015 got dug up, and now Nathan Buckley has breached COVID-19 protocols. Plenty of misfortune, but sometimes you create your own luck. They will be without Jordan De Goey and Jeremy Howe for the next seven to nine weeks, which you would assume is the home and away season at a minimum. Scott Pendlebury is missing for the next two to three weeks, Steele Sidebottom missed four weeks, Isaac Quaynor picked up a nasty shin gash. Difficult circumstances. Let’s not forget they drew with Richmond, as well as beating Geelong, GWS and St Kilda. The West Coast loss was a disaster, but including their two matches just gone Collingwood play four bottom sides in four games. The fact Freo coach Justin Longmuir is an ex-Collingwood assistant didn’t help the Pies. They got over the line by nine points in a must win against Sydney. Similarly to West Coast, a run of easier fixtures could be just what the doctor ordered to reignite their campaign, and the upcoming matches against Melbourne and Adelaide are must win. Their main concern however, isn’t necessarily the off-field dramas but rather their inability to score: you have to go back to round four to find the Pies kicking a score above 60. They were the best defensive side in the competition, but the loss of Jeremy Howe has had a big impact, and the only way to win a game of footy is to kick goals. Even with everything they’ve got going on off-field, you’d be shocked if the 2018 grand finalists didn’t play finals in 2020.
Western Bulldogs (9th, 5-5)
The Dogs have knocked off GWS, Sydney, North Melbourne, Essendon and Gold Coast – no one overly impressive. Their greatest concern is when they lose, they lose big. In four of their five losses – against Collingwood, St Kilda, Carlton and Richmond – they have an average losing margin of 46 points and didn’t lose by less than 39 points. Their percentage is suffering at 92.2, and in such a cutthroat season where 14th and 5th are separated by two games, that could be the difference between playing finals and another underwhelming season for the 2016 premiers. We saw their best against Essendon, and it was devastating. Unfortunately, there’s a big gap between that and their worst. They were impressive against Port Adelaide, but failed to capitalise on periods of dominance. If they can find more of their best and less of their worst, we could see the Bulldogs in finals action for a second straight year, but they’ll need to improve to make their presence felt in the premiership hunt.
Essendon (10th, 5-4*)
After round six, the Dons had overcome the distraction of Conor McKenna’s positive COVID-19 test to sit inside the top four with a game in hand, and they’re only loss was a one point thriller to Carlton on the back of an interrupted week at training. Since then, they’ve been handed 42 and 63 point defeats and the hands of the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane, barely scraped over the line for a three point victory over the winless Adelaide, and fallen to GWS. They’ve got an injury list that consists of Joe Daniher, Orazio Fantasia, Dyson Heppell, Cle Hooker and Jake Stringer. Essendon have also had a favourable fixture to date and still need to play Port Adelaide, Richmond, Geelong and West Coast; whilst having already played the bottom four and five of the bottom six. Can’t see them in finals calculations.
Gold Coast (11th, 4-6)
Gold Coast have been showing so much promise and look like finally elevating themselves off the bottom of the ladder, but we’ve seen it all before, and it isn’t pretty. In 2018, the Suns started the season 3-2, and finished 4-18. In 2019 and even better start at 3-1, yet it ended at 3-19. This season they started at 3-1 again, but have gone 1-5 since. Prodigal sun Matt Rowell may be missing for the remainder of the season, but that’s no excuse, they have an abundance of young talent. On a positive for the Suns, they’ve already played Port Adelaide, West Coast, Geelong, Western Bulldogs, GWS and St Kilda. They’ve been getting agonisingly close at times, but don’t know how to win. They play Essendon and Richmond in the next fortnight, if they don’t pick up a win you can write off their slim finals hopes, and add this season to the alarming trend of false starts.
Melbourne (12th, 4-5*)
Round nine’s clash against Port Adelaide was a disaster for Melbourne, especially after showing promising signs that they could be near recapturing their 2018 form. None of Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton featured in finals from 2013-2017, and often found themselves battling amongst each other to avoid a wooden spoon. In 2018, it appeared Melbourne had been the first of the three to revive themselves as threats to the competition, going all the way to the Prelim. Round nine showed us just how steep their decline has been since the barnstorming run. In round seven, Port beat Carlton after the siren; in round eight St Kilda beat Port; in round nine Melbourne were annihilated by Port, and kept goalless until the stroke of half time. Where has it all gone wrong? Simon Goodwin would love to know the answer, but my suspicion is it’s not exactly black and white. After a 17th place finish in 2019 – a season they entered as one of the premiership favourites – finals still looks a long shot in 2020. They beat Adelaide by 51 points, but one good quarter against an 0-10 side doesn’t do it. With a midfield consisting of Max Gawn, Jack Viney, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver among others, you’d expect to see the Demons doing much better. 2020 is shaping as another write off. On a positive note, pick three Luke Jackson and pick 12 Kysaiah Pickett have impressed, and Harley Bennell is taking strides to recovering his best footy.
Petracca is having a breakout year
Carlton (13th, 4-5*)
Early in the season, it was Carlton’s horrid starts putting them under the spotlight. They conceded the first five goals against Richmond to be trailing by 31 at quarter time, against Melbourne they were held scoreless in the first quarter and trailed by 32 at quarter time. They’ve completely turned that around, winning six of seven first quarters since, but are now faced with another issue: their ability to maintain momentum and halt the opposition’s. In their last 20 games, Carlton have conceded a 30 point turnaround 13 times, a simply damning stat that should be keeping David Teague up at night. A complete four quarter performance from the Blues is devastating, we saw it when they tore the Dogs to shreds by 52 points. Carlton may have fixed their slow starts, but in reality, they were putting a band-aid over their inability to put a complete performance together. If the Blues can stamp out the horror quarters, there’s no doubt they’re a finals side. Whether they can will be their burning question in the second half of season 2020.
Hawthorn (14th, 4-5*)
The disrespect towards mastermind Alastair Clarkson was hard to believe. The footy world is always looking for targets. People quickly forget he’s a four-time premiership coach, and every premiership coach since the Hawks three-peat has been a former assistant of his. Hawthorn were amid a four game losing streak, the last two of which coming against bottom five sides. They were playing slow footy that was hard to watch and their brand was under attack. The Blues had blazed away to a 31 point lead in the opening quarter of their round nine match-up, and their season teetered on a knife’s edge. They turned it around in spectacular fashion. Ultimately storming to a 31 point victory and scoring 89 points, with the kind of character champion teams are built around. They currently sit 14th on the ladder, but are just a game and a half out of the eight. You can never rule out a team coached by Alastair Clarkson.
North Melbourne (15th, 3-7)
They promised so much at the back end of 2019, playing with that ‘shinboner’ spirit under Rhyce Shaw, yet have delivered so little in 2020. They started the season well with wins over the Saints and Giants, and then went winless over their next six, until a 69 point drubbing of the Crows. The credibility of beating a winless side is of course in question. North appeared to have lost their brand in the last couple of weeks, not playing that contested ‘shinboner’ footy. Shaw may have been experimenting, but their successful finish to 2019 was off the back of hard, tough, contested footy. They controversially dropped Ben Brown and Jared Polec before the Adelaide win, and the move came up trumps. Bold selection calls keep players on notice, and in the right circumstance can get the best out of a team or snap them out of a form slump. Doing so should be a recurring theme at North, and Shaw can’t back down from the tone he’s set if they want to finish the season well. Unfortunately, they lost to Geelong on Wednesday, and are shaping as a bottom four side.
Fremantle (16th, 3-6*)
Fremantle are one of the most underrated teams of the season so far, don’t be surprised if they make a big jump up the ladder before seasons end. They’ve comfortably had the hardest fixture to date, already playing eight of the top 11 teams, and just one of the bottom seven. Their win against the Pies was more than just an out of the blue upset, during the match their pressure was off the charts, literally. For every possession, the pressure the player is under is rated from one to seven, this forms the opposition’s pressure rating: during the Collingwood game Freo peaked at a pressure rating of 231, the gauge only goes up to 220. This is a seriously encouraging sign for Justin Longmuir, who himself is an underrated coach and could prove his credentials this season. They’ve got a host of young talent, with cream of the crop Caleb Serong winning the round eight Rising Star nomination and being one of the best on ground in round nine. Fremantle are only two and a half games out of the eight with a game in hand, and have the softest run home in the league, don’t sleep on them.
Sydney (17th, 3-7)
Their Buddy Franklin heist was a huge success, but the Swans are paying for it now. According to the Herald Sun’s AFL Rich 100, Franklin is on $1.4-1.45 million. This is the second most of any player in the AFL, and he hasn’t played a single game in 2020. They’re also missing Isaac Heeney, Josh P. Kennedy, Sam Naismith and a host of others. They’ve beaten Adelaide, North and Hawthorn, but it’s going to be a tough year for Swans fans. They came close against an out of form Pies, but couldn’t get the job done. Bottom four side.
Adelaide (18th, 0-10)
These are dark, dark times at West Lakes. They gave St Kilda a run for their money, and fell agonisingly short against the Bombers. The Crows were building for a win, it was so close they could almost taste it, and then they dished up a dismal showing against North Melbourne – who were on a six match losing streak themselves – getting thumped by 69 points. Back to square one. The Demons could’ve been their last chance to pick up a win, and they were in the game for three quarters until Melbourne exploded in the last, surging to a 51 point thrashing. They’ve played everyone from 15th down and it’s hard to see them winning a game in 2020. In a seriously even competition, the Crows are the outlier. They are three games behind second last, who themselves are only one game off 11th. Adelaide wanted to get games into their kids, but their complete overhaul of senior players wasn’t the right way to go about it. The side is lost and has little experience guiding their younger players. Another big concern for Adelaide is how much players have improved since getting out of there; Hugh Greenwood is dominating at Gold Coast, Eddie Betts has reinvented himself at Carlton. Worrying signs. They are 2020’s wooden spooners without a doubt.