The following is a team-by-team preview with futures tips for the 2020 AFL season.
After another disappointing season, the Crows took the opportunity at the end of 2019 to begin a list rejuvenation, moving on a multitude of experienced players, including Eddie Betts, Sam Jacobs, Josh Jenkins, Alex Keath, Richard Douglas, and Andy Otten. Their big problem for this season is that they didn’t bring in anyone to replace those guys—other than developing tall Billy Frampton—and they didn’t net a particularly strong draft hand either. It sets this year up as a likely development season, which will be tough to take for a team that has been set up to contend for the last six or seven years.
With the likes of Rory Sloane, the Crouch brothers and Michael Talia still in their prime, the Crows should be competitive, but unless a few of their young players take surprising leaps in their development they are still likely to lose more games than they win. I’m expecting another slide for the Crows, potentially all the way down to the bottom two or three.
Predicted Ladder Position: 16th
The Lions are an interesting proposition this season. Will they back up their second-placed finish from 2019, or will they fall back down? They couldn’t make the most of their double-chance last year, dropping out of the finals race in straight sets, so they’ll have plenty of motivation to keep improving. But opposition teams will have put a lot more work into them over the off-season, so they might need to utilize a plan B more often than was required in 2019. Despite losing the experience of Luke Hodge and a few fringe players like Tom Cutler and Lewis Taylor, they’ve still got one of the most talented young lists in the competition, and they’ll be hoping recruits Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Callum Ah Chee can make an impact, and that Grant Birchall can remain fit enough to step into a Luke Hodge type role off the half-back line.
The Lions should win the majority of their games at home, and with a bit of luck should win enough away to cement another top eight finish. They’re talented enough to go all the way, but do they have the experience and the mental toughness to win big finals away from the Gabba? I’m not convinced, not just yet.
Predicted Ladder Position: 6th
For the first time in years, expectations are high at Carlton. The Blues played some really good football in the second half of last season after replacing senior coach Brendan Bolton with David Teague, and they’ll be looking to replicate that form from the very beginning of this season. There’s good reason for the excitement: their young, talented players have had another pre-season, they’ve brought in the talented Jack Martin for no outlay, and of course, fan-favourite Eddie Betts is back in the navy blue. Now for the potential dampeners: Charlie Curnow will miss the first half of the season, and fellow key forward Harry McKay is in doubt for the opening rounds with a groin issue that has severely hampered his pre-season. That puts a big hole in the Carlton forward line, and I’m not sure they have the depth to cover those two. If McKay can get back early in the year and have an immediate impact it won’t affect their season too heavily, but if he struggles for fitness or form then the Blues will be heavily reliant on Mitch McGovern and Levi Casboult — and that’s not a particularly imposing key forward set-up.
Because of that, I expect the Blues will take time to warm into the season. They’ll be competitive, but I can’t see them winning enough games early on to qualify for finals—that might have to wait until next year.
Predicted Ladder Position: 14th
Can Collingwood front up again after two consecutive years of coming so close but falling short? They still have one of the best midfield groups in the competition, despite potentially having seen the last of Dayne Beams, and they’ve got stars both forward and back. But their time is running out—they need to capitalise while Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom and the likes are still at their peak.
That’s not to say they won’t be competitive after that—they’ve got a very impressive young core group that will hold them in good stead for the next half-dozen years—but to me it feels like this year might be their last chance to win a flag with this current group. Their key defence stocks are still somewhat limited, but if Jordan Roughead can again provide support to Darcy Moore then they might just be able to paper over that crack. The rest of their fortunes will depend on the health of their list; if they finally get a good run with injury they’ll be right there at the pointy end of the season.
Predicted Ladder Position: 4th
Essendon’s off-season strategies continues to mystify me: despite needing inside grunt, they seem perpetually focused elsewhere. They did at least address another need by luring in a decent back-up ruckman in Andrew Phillips, but I can’t help but think they’ll still get beaten up around the ball in big games by clubs with a strong midfield group. I’m sure the Bombers are hoping Andrew McGrath’s permanent move to the midfield will help, but he’s not exactly a big body. Tom Cutler might help out, but he’s not the calibre of player they need.
Talk of Ollie Wines potentially being available would be huge for the Bombers, because he’s exactly the type of player they need. But any chance at him is a whole season away, and I expect this year will be just like 2019 for Essendon. Joe Daniher is going to spend the majority of it on the sidelines, while Cale Hooker is struggling to get fit, as is Dyson Heppell to some degree. I can’t see the Bombers overcoming those hurdles to improve significantly—another fleeting finals berth would be best case scenario for Essendon.
Predicted Ladder Position: 13th
The Dockers are probably one of the teams most difficult to get a read on at this stage. They’ve got plenty of talent, and with a new coach coming in, they could be ready to push up the ladder. That being said, it could take time for the new game plan to gel, and they’ve also been hit hard with injuries. Key forward Jesse Hogan is out indefinitely with mental health issues, while key defenders Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce will miss the early stages of the season with leg injuries.
That alone is a real dent in their structure, but when you add David Mundy and Nathan Wilson to the list of important players missing the open rounds it makes things really tough. I’m expecting the Dockers to follow a similar trajectory to Carlton: a slow start followed by gradual improvement over the course of the season as they gel and welcome key players back from injury. I’m not expecting them to get near the top eight, though with their list they’re probably capable of that if everything went right for them.
Predicted Ladder Position: 15th
The Cats are another club that has been in contention for the last few years without managing to snare a premiership—so how do they take that leap in 2020? Well, losing Tim Kelly hurts, but they’ve replaced him with ex-Saint Jack Steven, who is also a very good, albeit different player when he’s fit and firing. They’ve also brought in ex-Crow Josh Jenkins at the recommendation of Patrick Dangerfield, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fits into the mix. He’s sure to kick plenty of goals, but will he actually improve the efficiency of their forward line?
Other than the injured Mitch Duncan and Jake Kolodjashnij, they’ve got a relatively healthy list of best-22 players to choose from for the opening round clash against GWS, which is always important at this time of year. I’m sure the Cats will yet again win plenty of home and away games, and will qualify for finals. But I can’t see anything changing when they come up against the very best. I just don’t think they’ve got the depth to beat the best teams when it matters.
Predicted Ladder Position: 8th
The Gold Coast, despite a positive start to the year, ended 2019 back in the doldrums. They did build some positive momentum once the season was over however, with the re-signing of emerging star Ben King, and the recruitment of top draft picks Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson. It’s easy to look good in the off-season though, particularly when you’ve got so many high draft picks. The Suns now need to convert their potential into results. That task will be helped by the addition of some experience in Brandon Ellis, Hugh Greenwood and Zac Smith—as well as the fact they managed to get through the trade period without losing anyone of significance.
I think the Suns will be better this season, and I expect they’ll be able to sustain their form for a longer period of time. Whether that’s enough to lift them from the bottom of the ladder is questionable, particularly considering they’ve been given the third most difficult draw according to Champion Data. But it’ll be fun to watch Rowell and Anderson break into the team together, and hopefully build bonds with other budding stars like Izak Rankine, Ben King, and Jack Lukosius.
Predicted Ladder Position: 18th
The Giants made their first Grand Final in 2019, but it won’t be one they want to remember; they were utterly embarrassed by the Tigers. It would have seemed a long pre-season for the Giants, and their hunger and aggression was on full display in their first hit-out when they trounced the Swans. Clearly you can’t read too much into practice games, but I think it just shows that the Giants are still hungry and ready to make amends. They lost a few good players in the trade period, but that’s normal for GWS, and the addition of Sam Jacobs from Adelaide should help bolster their weakest area, the ruck.
They were looking good on the injury front as well, that was until reigning club champion Tim Taranto busted a shoulder against the Swans. It’s still a relatively short list, but Taranto and Callan Ward are two big names to be missing for significant portions of time. Still, the Giants have shown they’re capable of covering key players, and I expect they’ll do the same again this year. I’m not writing them off from winning the flag but they’d need a bit of luck to fall their way—they’ll definitely give themselves a chance for that to happen.
Predicted Ladder Position: 2nd
After finishing ninth in 2019, the Hawks will be hoping the return of Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell will propel them back into finals in 2020. Unfortunately, they’ve copped a few more serious injuries to key players, with Blake Hardwick and Dan Howe both set to spend plenty of time on the sidelines. Jarman Impey is still recovering from his ACL injury and won’t be seen for another few months, while Jack Gunston is touch and go for the season opener.
They’ve also been dealt a fairly difficult draw, which makes me think the Hawks are in for a similar finish as last year. Mitchell will help, but you would think it’ll take him a while to get back to his best. A big factor in their fortunes might be the output they get from their two bargain-priced key position recruits, Jon Patton and Sam Frost. If Patton can stay fit and spearhead the forward line, and Frost can hold down a key position in defence to a decent standard, they’ll be improved considerably, but both have serious question marks. I’m not expecting huge things from the Hawks this year, but they’ll win enough games to earn a mid- table finish.
Predicted Ladder Position: 10th
The Demons are an interesting one. Which year was the aberration, 2018 or 2019? Their pre-season results have been promising, but that won’t mean much when they run out to play the Eagles in the opening round. From all reports, Christian Petracca has had the best pre-season of his career and is ready to transition into a full-time midfielder, which would be huge for the Demons. The problem with their midfield last year was that it was one-paced and predictable; Petracca would add much-needed explosiveness, but I won’t be convinced he’s ready until he puts together a good month in the regular season.
They picked up a few handy players in Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon, who should both help improve their run and carry. It’s looking like both Max Gawn and Steven May will be fit for the opening game, which is a good result from where they were a few weeks ago. Things are definitely looking rosy for the Dees at present, and while I do think they’ll be a better side this year, I’m not predicting them to reach the heights of 2018 again; an eighth to twelfth-placed finish is probably more likely.
Predicted Ladder Position: 11th
The Kangaroos weren’t particularly active in the 2019 trade period, choosing only to lure fringe GWS midfielder Aidan Bonar rather than chase another big fish as they had in previous years. They’ve got some talented young players coming through—Tarryn Thomas will be a star and Curtis Taylor is showing signs of rapid development this pre-season— but those guys won’t be ready to shoulder enough of the burden to lift the Roos back into contention this year.
It’s still unclear whether Ben Brown will be fit to take on the Saints in round 1, and while his absence may not be for long, they can’t afford to play without him as he leaves a gaping hole in their forward structure. I’m not sure the Roos would win many games without him, so let’s hope he’s ready to go next weekend. I expect we’ll get more of the same from North in 2020; they’ll play hard and be a pesky opponent, but they’re not going to be one of the better teams. If they can scrape into finals they should be very pleased with their effort.
Predicted Ladder Position: 12th
Despite having another questionable trade period, Port have reportedly had a really solid pre-season which has culminated in them winning both of their Marsh series games—and against two decent opponents. Their experienced players seem to be in good form and their younger guys look exciting, playing with confidence and daring. The only negatives from the two practice matches were the minor injuries to Charlie Dixon and Scott Lycett—two of their most important players—but they should both be right for the opening game against the Suns. And really, even if they miss that week the Power should be able to take care of the Suns without them.
Ollie Wines will return from a shoulder problem at some stage in the early part of the season and it’ll be interesting to see how they slot him in if they’re playing good footy at that point. He’s a great player, but if he doesn’t come back and prove he’s clearly a part of their best midfield then he might be looking for a new club at the end of the season.
There’s plenty resting on the outcome of the year for coach Ken Hinkley; he’s been told it’s finals or bust. I reckon Port will be close to the mark, but whether they make it or not might come down to luck with injuries and/or a few tight results.
Predicted Ladder Position: 7th
The Tigers will enter the 2020 season without a pre-season win but that won’t worry them at all. Not much worries you when you’ve won two of the last three premierships, not even one of your best players retiring prior to the start of the season. The Tigers are sure to be one of leading contenders again in 2020; all of their key players are still in their prime, and they’ve got a clean bill of health for this time of year. David Astbury and Dylan Grimes last year proved they can handle key defensive duties without Rance, and if Marlion Pickett can regularly produce performances similar to what he did in the Grand Final then they’ll have one of the recruits of the year.
Tom Lynch will be even better this year after a full pre-season, and that’s a scary thought for opposition backlines. There’s not much else to say about the Tigers. You can just about lock them into a top four finish, and given their track record at the MCG, they are every chance to win another flag from there.
Predicted Ladder Position: 3rd
The Saints will enter the season as the team with the most changed list from 2019. They went hard in the trade period, targeting speedsters Brad Hill and Zak Jones, Port pair Dougal Howard and Paddy Ryder, and Richmond goal-sneak Dan Butler. They gave up plenty to get those guys to Moorabbin, but things are looking positive so far: all five are likely to be in their current best 22. It has to be mentioned that they traded away three other best 22 players to get them, so the jury is still out on just how much they improved their list. If Max King can have an immediate impact, then Josh Bruce won’t be missed, and while they are different players, Brad Hill should have just as much, if not more impact than Jack Steven would have. Blake Acres seemed to be regressing at St Kilda so while it might hurt if he develops at Fremantle, you wouldn’t think his loss would be significant for this season.
The Saints have no significant injuries to speak of, although Dan Hannebery’s durability is still under question after he missed a couple of practice matches. I don’t expect the Saints to make the finals in 2020, but I do think they’ll improve on their nine wins from last season; somewhere in the 10-12 vicinity seems right to me.
Predicted Ladder Position: 9th
With a host of experienced Swans retiring at the end of 2019 after a 15th-placed finish, Sydney are officially in a rebuild phase. They’ve been one of the most consistent and competitive clubs for so long now that this will be a strange period for them, but it’s inevitable.
Lance Franklin will be missing for the first portion of the season, and even when he gets back on the park you’d think this might be the first year he shows signs of slowing down. They’re lucky Tom Papley didn’t get his wish and move to Carlton, because he’s been a clear standout for them in their Marsh series games. They’ll need more growth from Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills this year, and they’ll be hoping their first two picks from the 2019 draft, Dylan Stephens and Will Gould, can have an immediate influence. But even if they get all that it’s still a development year for the Swans—as evidenced by them being the worst performed team in the pre-season competition—and I would be utterly surprised if they didn’t finish in the bottom six.
Predicted Ladder Position: 17th
The pain of a disappointing finish to 2019 was eased by the acquisition of ex-Geelong star Tim Kelly, who finally got his wish to return home to Perth. Kelly automatically puts the Eagles back into premiership contention by strengthening their already-prolific midfield. He’ll join new skipper Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, and Andrew Gaff in a group that should give Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy—who has had a full pre-season for the first time in years—plenty of opportunities to kick bags of goals.
Despite a lacklustre practice game against the Dockers, the Eagles as a whole are fit and ready to go, and it seems inevitable they’ll be playing an important role in September action yet again. Can they go all the way? Besides the Tigers, they’re probably just as good a chance as anyone.
Predicted Ladder Position: 1st
The Dogs finished the regular season in barnstorming fashion before capitulating horribly to GWS in the elimination final. They’ve since improved their list considerably by adding bookends Josh Bruce and Alex Keath for little cost, but it was their vaunted midfield that took a beating against the Giants. It’ll help if Tim English has the breakout season he seems destined for, but they’ll also need some fringe players to support their stars when they’re being targeted. They’re still missing a second winger to pair with Lachie Hunter, and while Keath is a great addition, he’s more of an intercepting defender rather than the shutdown defender they still don’t have. Bruce will be massive for them however, particularly when paired with young gun Aaron Naughton—having two of the best contested marks of the competition in the one forward line will be a new look for the perpetually undersized Dogs.
I expect they’ll play finals again this year because of those improvements, but I’m still not sure they’re good enough to go all the way. They’ve shown they are good enough on their day, but do they have the consistency?
Predicted Ladder Position: 5th
Premier: West Coast at $6.50 (bet365)
Wooden Spoon: Gold Coast at $1.57 (bet365)
Brownlow: Marcus Bontempelli at $12.00 (Sportsbet)
Rising Star Winner: Fischer McAsey at $34.00 (bet365)
Coleman Medallist: Tom Lynch at $4.50 (bet365)