By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
It was a perfect year for the Tigers as they claimed their third premiership in four years. Photo: Michael Klein
The rollercoaster 2020 AFL season came to an end last weekend with Richmond claiming their third premiership in just four years. We've graded every top-eight team in part two of our 2020 AFL Report Cards.
Note: Ladder positions are in order of where each team finished at the conclusion of the 2020 AFL Finals Series.
2020 Ladder Position: Premiers
Considering the off-field issues Richmond dealt with during the season, some in their control, some not, the 2020 premiership was one of their best yet. More than 100 days away in their hub and taking the long way through the finals, the Tigers found a way to jump every hurdle. They now join some of the competition’s elite teams in history, with their third flag in four years.
MVP: Nick Vlastuin
In a week where Dustin Martin is all the rave, as he should be with three Norm Smith Medals, it’s hard to not pick him for the MVP. However, the most consistent contributor all season and one stiff not to win Richmond’s Best and Fairest, was Nick Vlastuin. With key defender David Astbury out for a lot of the year and a young Noah Balta to help along, Vlastuin steadied the backline and provided plenty of offensive drive too. You could mount an argument he should have made the All-Australian team, but an inclusion in the squad was a nice feather in his cap.
Surprise Packet: Shai Bolton
In 2019 Shai Bolton became a really effective small forward, but 2020 saw him become a damaging midfielder in the absence of Dion Prestia. At just 21-years-old and with 28 games of experience coming into the season, you would be right in thinking he might not be up to such big midfield time so early. However, he quickly began dominating games with his penetrating kicking and good clearance work. One to watch for the future at Tigerland.
Best Win: Grand Final vs Geelong
It’s an easy pick considering it was the grand final, but the way the Tigers won the game made it their best win. Down by 21-points late in the second quarter, it took some Dustin Martin heroics to get the margin to 15-points by half-time and get Richmond back in the game. From there, the Tigers kicked nine goals to two in the second half to run away with the game 31-point winners. Their toughest grand final of the three and the most impressive.
2021 Barometer: 1st-5th
Can’t see a dramatic drop coming from the Tigers in 2021 and with all of their stars returning, a top four finish is the expectation once again. I expect the competition to be very even next year so it will be tough to back up for a fifth straight year, but first to fifth seems like the right range.
Superstar forward Tom Hawkins had a career best year in 2020 winning the Coleman Medal. Photo: Getty Images
2020 Ladder Position: Runners-Up
The Cats got a lot right in 2020. They capitalised on their experienced list making their first grand final appearance since 2011. Unfortunately for Geelong fans, they fell one win short of a premiership. A strong finals performance was the pass mark for Geelong and they delivered, they were arguably the best team for a majority of the home and away season. While it looked as though they’d tired on the eve of the finals with a 26-point loss to Richmond in round 17, where they managed just one goal across the first three quarters of the match, they then came from behind to defeat the 16th placed Sydney Swans in a thriller in round 18 to just scrape into the top four. They opened their finals campaign with a 16-point loss at the hands of Port Adelaide, and many had written the Cats off for 2020. However, they managed to find their best football again in both the semi-final and preliminary final before falling in the grand final to Richmond.
MVP: Tom Hawkins
Hawkins rose to another level in 2020. The Coleman Medalist booted 49 goals and also led the league in both score assists and marks inside 50. It was Hawkins’ potency up forward that made the Cats so difficult to stop for a majority of the season. His consistency opened up the rest of the forward line, and while the 32-year-old Cat kicked 49 goals he setup many others as well. For a superstar forward that has already had a decorated career, 2020 may have been his best yet.
Surprise packet: Lachie Henderson
After being delisted at the end of 2019 by the Cats, Henderson was picked up by Geelong once again after a rookie position opened up through the departure of Ryan Abbott to St Kilda. A perfect example of a second chance, the key defender went on to play 14 of a possible 21 games in 2020. He put together a fantastic back half of the season as a reliable defender, something he has done throughout his career, and will likely earn himself a one-year deal as a result.
Best win: Semi-Final vs Collingwood
While the Cats started as favorites going into their semi-final clash with Collingwood, a number of people believed they were done and they’d be knocked out of the finals in straight sets at the hands of the Magpies who had just come off a nail-biting win over West Coast in Perth. However, Geelong smashed Collingwood from the opening bounce in what was arguably their most complete performance of the season, running away winners by 68-points, and launching themselves right back into the premiership race. Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield combined for four goals each in an impressive display as the Cats kept the Pies to just one goal for the for the first three quarters.
2021 Barometer: 1st-8th
It would be easy to say you’d expect Geelong to drop off given their ageing stars, however as they do every year they continue to bring in established talent. While Geelong have lost Gary Ablett to retirement, they've already signed three-time premiership Hawk Isaac Smith on a two year deal, they’ll also likely welcome superstar forward Jeremy Cameron and experienced midfielder Shaun Higgins through the doors at Kardinia Park. It’s hard to get a gauge exactly where in the eight the Cats will be next year, however they’ll feature in September regardless.
Port Adelaide stunned the competition finishing the home and away season with a 14-3 win/loss record. Photo: Getty Images
2020 Ladder Position: 3rd
Port Adelaide are a club that loves to set extremely high expectations. In 2020 with Ken Hinkley under the spotlight, the Power switched the lights on and performed, putting together their best season since 2014. At the beginning of the year Hinkley announced the Power were a premiership contender. While many dismissed the claim and laughed, Port Adelaide’s young core combined with star veterans to finish the home and away season atop the ladder with a win/loss record of 14-3. Port Adelaide hadn’t featured in the finals since 2017, finishing 10th in both 2018 and 2019. After defeating Geelong in the first week of the finals the Power set themselves up for a home preliminary final against Richmond, which they very well could have won, going down by one straight kick. They were very close to an unlikely grand final berth that no one outside the club expected going into 2020. Regardless of the loss it was an extremely impressive year, and they have well and truly set themselves up for a strong future.
MVP: Travis Boak
The veteran midfielder is ageing like a fine-wine, finishing second in the 2020 Brownlow Medal count on the back of averaging almost 23 disposals per game along with five clearances. Boak finished the season with a third All-Australian selection, with the 32-year-old's stellar year playing a major part in the Power finishing on top of the ladder. It's hard to see him taking a backwards step in 2021, his leadership is invaluable for a club with such an abundance of young talent.
Surprise Packet: Zak Butters
Amongst the trio of first-round picks selected by the Power in the 2018 National Draft that also included Connor Rozee and Xavier Duursma, going into 2020 you would have placed Butters as the third pick of the bunch. However, after a much-improved season from Butters it’d be hard to pick now. He rocketed into the 2020 All-Australian squad averaging over 14 disposals and showed he could go forward and kick goals. He is tenacious and hard at the football, and if this year is anything to go by this kid will be a star of the competition for years to come and maybe even a future captain of the club.
Best Win: Round 11 vs Richmond
The Power took on the reigning premiers in a goal for goal contest, trailing by a point going into the final quarter. Port lifted to another level kicking 3.4 while keeping Richmond scoreless to run away winners by 21 points. The victory announced to the rest of the league they were a definite contender in 2020.
2021 Barometer: 1st-8th
With a young core as strong as Port Adelaide’s and their veterans continuing to perform, it’s hard to see them not finishing in the top-four in 2021. However, they have to put it all together again and show the rest of the competition that 2020 wasn't an outlier year. I’d expect them to finish in the top-four next season, however with the competition as even as ever a 5-8 finish wouldn't surprise me either. Regardless, the future is very bright at Alberton.
The Brisbane Lions were just win one away from a grand final in 2020. Photo: Michael Klein
2020 Ladder Position: 4th
Anytime you make a preliminary final the season is definitely a tick; however, Brisbane can’t help but feel this was one they let slip. Had a really strong home and away season, losing just the three games and finishing second on the ladder on percentage. Their qualifying final win over Richmond seemed to be the coming of age game for the young side, however the preliminary final loss to Geelong was a disappointing way to end. A grand final appearance gives them an A-, so a B+ seems about right.
MVP: Lachie Neale
A pretty easy pick. Brownlow Medallist, AFLPA and AFLCA Player of the Year and Brisbane’s Best and Fairest winner. A superb year all round from Neale, racking up a lot of the football and hitting the scoreboard more regularly too. At just 27, there’s plenty of good footy to come from Neale and these Lions in the coming years.
Surprise Packet: Callum Ah Chee
He’s a player the AFL world has known about for a long time after four years at the Gold Coast Suns, but in 2020 he became a really damaging asset for Brisbane. Playing 18 games, he became the Lions Mr. Fix It, his speed and agility really impacting games throughout the year. Up forward or down back, Ah Chee played a significant role and will be valuable in their premiership tilt in the coming seasons.
Best Win: Qualifying Final vs Richmond
Entering the qualifying final against Richmond, Brisbane hadn’t defeated the Tigers in their last 15 attempts. Physically they went after the reigning premiers and didn’t take a backward step. Despite trailing at quarter time and Richmond’s best efforts to comeback in the last quarter, Brisbane were able to get over the hump, winning the game by 15 points and setting up a home preliminary final.
2021 Barometer: 1st-5th
With age on their side and now two years-worth of finals experience, the Lions should be there abouts again. Similar to Richmond, top four is the expectation but given the evenness of the competition, fifth could be a possibility too.
St Kilda made the finals for the first time in nine years 2020. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
2020 Ladder Position: 5th
The Saints made the finals for the first time since 2011 in a massive improvement for a club that has struggled to get things right since they last featured in September action nine years ago. St Kilda went after a number of established stars at the end of 2019 and they delivered. Paddy Ryder, Dan Butler, Bradley Hill, Zak Jones, and Dougal Howard were all brought in at the end of 2019 and all performed on a consistent level. As well as the recruitment of a number of players, the clubs brigade of youngsters continued to improve. Max King proved his promising potential showing he will likely be a superstar forward of the competition for many years to come. Nick Coffield, Hunter Clark and Ben Paton all improved again in 2020 and look to have established themselves in the Saints best 22. Things look as though they’ll improve again for the Saints in 2021 with a number of names being linked to the club as they look to increase the depth of their list. Combine this with their young stars flourishing and their recruits playing more games together as a group and the premiership window is starting to open again for St Kilda.
MVP: Jack Steele
The 24-year-old midfielder went from a consistent player, often used as a tagger in previous seasons, to a superstar of the competition. Steele finished third in the Brownlow Medal tied with Christian Petracca as well as earning a maiden All-Australian jacket and his first Best and Fairest at the Saints. He averaged just under 22 disposals per game while being ranked in the AFL Stats Pro ‘Elite’ category for both contested possessions and clearances. It proved a masterstroke from new St Kilda coach Brett Ratten releasing Steele onto the ball and allowing him to freely win the football, as opposed to trying to stop the oppositions best midfielder. This played a huge role in the Saints improvement in 2020 and at 24 years of age he’s only going to get better.
Surprise Packet: Dan Butler
2017 premiership player Butler had fallen out of favour at Richmond, with St Kilda recruiting him from the Tigers at the end of 2019. The small forward was electric with his game breaking speed, kicking 29 goals in 19 games, as well as averaging just under four tackles per game. Butler has slotted in perfectly alongside Max King and Tim Membrey in the St Kilda forward line, and you can only see 2021 being another strong year for the speedy Saint.
Best win: Round 8 vs Port Adelaide
St Kilda travelled to Adelaide to take on top of the table Port Adelaide in round eight. Going into the game the Power were 6-1 and the task of defeating them on their home deck in front of a small but loud Port Adelaide crowd wasn’t an easy one. However, the Saints put in arguably their best quarter of 2020 in the fourth term, kicking five goals to none to silence the Power faithful and show the rest of the competition they were the real deal in 2020.
2021 Barometer: 4th-8th
After finishing the 2020 home and away season in 6th position, I expect the Saints to remain in that 4-8 bracket in 2021. They’re only going to get better, while top four may be slightly out of reach next year, I also can’t see them missing the eight. The Saints youngsters are beginning to excel while they also continue to attract the interest of established stars in the trade/free agency period, which will only improve their list and increase their depth. I love what Brett Ratten has brought to this club and with another year at the helm expect the Saints to feature in September once again in 2021.
Josh Daicos had a breakout year in 2020. Photo: Michael Klein
2020 Ladder Position: 6th
2020 started in dominating fashion for the Pies but by the end of the season, they were a shadow of their early season selves. Some of it was out of their control, injuries the main one that really affected their continuity and form. Some was in their control, however. Their ball use forward of centre wasn’t up to standard especially given the talent they have inside forward 50. A feather in their cap is how they dealt with the hubs and all the adversity throughout the season. The Adam Treloar situation has potentially damaged their culture, however throughout the season it was second to none.
MVP: Taylor Adams
Taylor Adams has always been a great midfielder and a lead by the front type player for Collingwood. 2020 saw him put it all together on a consistent basis however, especially when the chips were down midway through the year. He averaged nearly 23 disposals per game which in shortened quarters is superb and went at 64 percent efficiency, no doubt an area of his game he worked on a lot. Rewarded with the Magpies Best and Fairest which was a great end to his best season to date.
Surprise Packet: Isaac Quaynor
I’ve always been a huge fan of Isaac Quaynor but in 2020 the footy world got to see him flourish on a consistent basis. Playing off half-back he was dynamic for Collingwood, breaking lines and showcasing his penetrating kick, making kicking the ball 60 metres look effortless. Despite a gruesome lower leg injury against the Swans in round 10, he still managed to play 11 games and pick up 13.5 disposals, more than two rebound 50s and close to 200 metres gained a game.
Best Win: Elimination Final vs West Coast
It was an easy pick for Collingwood’s best win of the year. Forced to quarantine in Perth for seven-days before the game and playing West Coast at Optus Stadium who were 7-0 at the venue entering the match, it was an impossible task for the Pies. A four goal to one opening term got the ball rolling though, thanks to three snags from Mason Cox to start the game. From there it was a tight struggle, leading by three and 10 points at half-time and three-quarter time respectively. Despite falling behind early in the last term and allowing late goals from Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, the Magpies held on for the unlikeliest of one-point victories.
2021 Barometer: 5th-9th
My expectations on the Pies in 2021 has a lot to do with what happens this off-season. The news floating around the Adam Treloar situation isn’t good and with other popular senior players like Tom Phillips possibly on the way out, the comradery of the group will be questioned. This coupled with their inability to score consistently has me putting them just outside the top four and potentially missing the finals, considering the evenness of the competition next year.
Overall 2020 was a disappointment for the West Coast Eagles. Photo: AFL Photos
West Coast Eagles
2020 ladder position: 7th
2020 was disappointing for West Coast, there’s no way around it. Throughout the year it was Geelong, Richmond and the Eagles that were seen as the genuine flag contenders, ahead of Port Adelaide and Brisbane. With the inclusion of Tim Kelly, top-four was the expectation and it wasn’t met. Injuries didn’t help their case, but every team dealt with injuries in 2020, especially the premiers Richmond. They didn’t play well in the hubs, losing to the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Port early in the season to put them on the back foot. The two-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in round 16 put an end to their season in hindsight, forcing them out of the top four on percentage. The one-point elimination final loss to Collingwood at home wasn’t good enough and the Eagles will look back at this year as a chance gone begging.
MVP: Nic Naitanui
Nic Naitanui has experienced the worst lows of AFL footy. Two ACL injuries and missing out on playing in a premiership in 2018 is a tough pill to swallow. It makes his 2020 campaign even more impressive, winning his first West Coast Best and Fairest and dominating in the ruck more than we have ever seen. Rewarded with his second All-Australian nod and first since 2012, it’s great to see big Nic Nat back and firing every week.
Surprise Packet: Liam Duggan
Liam Duggan is already a premiership player and had played 85 games entering 2020. However, 2020 saw him become more of an accumulator off half-back and one of their go to users of the footy out of the backline. He averaged nearly career highs in disposals in shortened games and the second most rebound 50s of his career. Was rewarded with a fifth place finish in the Eagles Best and Fairest in one of the AFL’s toughest years.
Best Win: Round 9 vs Geelong
It was games like this nine-point win over Geelong that had experts riding the West Coast bandwagon. Down by 16 points at half-time and eight points at three-quarter time, the Eagles kicked 4.1 to 1.2 in the final term to send a warning to the rest of the competition. Gun midfielders Dom Sheed, Tim Kelly and Luke Shuey were all superb, while Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling kicked 6.1 between them. Considering some of the dominant games Geelong had over Port Adelaide, Collingwood and Brisbane throughout the year, this was an impressive win for West Coast.
2021 Barometer: 3rd-7th
The Eagles aren’t going anywhere in terms of flag contention, especially if the season is semi back to normal and they can play at Optus Stadium every second week. With the evenness of the competition though that I’ve discussed and their slightly older list, a third to seventh finish seems more likely, but anywhere in the top four has them as a genuine premiership threat again.
Many had high expectations of the Bulldogs going into 2020, however they just scraped into the eight. Photo: Jono Seattle/AFL Photos/Getty Images
2020 Ladder Position: 8th
There were high hopes for the Bulldogs going into 2020 with many experts and fans predicting them to finish in the top four. In short, it was a rollercoaster year for the club, filled with small winning and losing streaks. It was a horror start to the year losing their first three games, two of them by more than six goals casting some serious concerns. However, the Bulldogs picked things up in round four winning four of their next five, and there were times throughout the year where they showed us how good they could be at their best. Overall many would say it was a failed year for the club. For the second year in a row they were knocked out of the finals in the first week, something the Bulldogs faithful wouldn’t be satisfied with. Their midfield is one of the best in the competition but they still haven’t completely worked out who is best fitted in their key position spots up forward and down back. For a club that had high hopes in 2020, an elimination final exit only gets them a C+.
MVP: Tied - Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel
I have decided to go with a two-way tie. These two players are both deserving of the award as Jack Macrae had another extremely consistent year, while Caleb Daniel stood out claiming his first Best and Fairest and earning his first All-Australian selection. In a midfield packed with depth Macrae again shined as one of the Bulldogs best. Averaging just over 26 disposals per game in a year with shortened quarters is a remarkable average across 18 games. He averaged over 10 contested possessions per game and also 5.2 score involvements per game. Caleb Daniel continued his fairly consistent career, the 24-year-old averaging just over 20 disposals per game, however it was his efficiency with the ball that made his year so successful on a personal level. Going at 82.1 percent disposal efficiency it was rare the smallest player in the competition failed to hit a target.
Surprise packet: Mitch Wallis
Before 2020 Mitch Wallis was already one of the best players at the kennel. However, it was his permanent move into the forward line that has granted his selection as the Bulldogs surprise packet of 2020. The 28-year-old went forward to kick 25 goals in 18 games, his consistency so reliable for the Dogs, and at times played out of the goal square as the Bulldogs struggled to work out their best formula inside their forward 50. He well and truly held his own at just 185cm. After a successful 2020 as a forward, expect Wallis to be parked deep inside the Bulldogs 50 again in 2021.
Best Win: Round 16 vs West Coast
It was a low scoring affair at Metricon Stadium in front of just over 500 people. However, the 532 were treated to a Sunday night thriller. The Bulldogs had to win if they were serious about playing finals and it wasn’t a great start, with the Eagles kicking four goals to zero in the first quarter to lead by 22 points. After quarter-time the Bulldogs kicked six goals to the Eagles three, and if they were more accurate in front of goal (6.13), they may have won the game by more. Tim English was massive in the final moments of the match taking two game saving marks, while Caleb Daniel and Jack Macrae were superb as the Bulldogs scraped home to defeat the Eagles by two points.
2021 Barometer: 6th-12th
The Bulldogs finished the home and away season in 7th position with it coming down to the final round just to scrape into the eight. In 2021, I expect them to be around a similar mark, however it wouldn’t surprise me if they are a team that gets squeezed out of the eight. They were incredibly inconsistent in 2020, but if they can fix that up next year then they’ll play finals. The midfield is incredibly deep however, their key position stocks are a shambles at the moment, and they need to work out who plays best in what position quickly otherwise they won't play finals next year.
Cover Photo: Chris Hyde/AFL Photos