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
By Ollie Nash
Richmond joined the elite teams in history with its third flag in four years. Photo: AFL Photos
You may hate us now but being a Richmond fan wasn’t always easy. This four-year run may seem like an eternity for some, but we’ve paid our dues.
For the first 19 years of my life I held a grudge against my old man for forcing my siblings and I into barracking for Richmond. He didn’t do much else wrong, but his choice in AFL teams was terrible at the time.
In simple words, the Tigers sucked. I was born in September of 1998, a year where we finished ninth on percentage. It should’ve been a sign of things to come. In 1999 we finished 12th and 2000 ninth. 2001 bought some hope, but I don’t remember it, being three-years-old at the time. We finished fourth and lost in the preliminary final to eventual premiers Brisbane. It was a quick fall back down the ladder, which is where we stayed for a long time.
In 2002 we finished 14th, 2003 13th, 2004 last, 2005 12th, 2006 ninth, 2007 last, 2008 ninth, 2009 and 2010 second last and in 2011 and 2012 12th.
Apart from a preliminary final in 2001, finals weren't a regular stomping ground for Richmond in the early 2000s. Photo: Richmond
Growing up in Ballarat, going to the footy in Melbourne was a big deal. Knowing our form and with young, passionate boys to look after, Dad would usually pick out some games Richmond were a chance of winning and take us to those. It sounds terrible writing that, but when you linger down the bottom of the ladder for so long, these decisions need to be made to keep the confidence of us young country supporters up.
The schedule was usually very similar. On a Saturday or Sunday morning, the family would be up early, us kids decking ourselves out in Richmond gear, while Mum and Dad would pack the lunches. We’d be treated to some hot chips to share at the ground, but with three young kids (eventually four), buying food for all of us at the footy was not viable for the folks.
In the car we’d jump and begin the hour and 20 minute journey to the MCG. It seemed no matter what route Dad took or how early we left, we always found traffic and were rushing across the outdoor carparks of the ground to try and get a glimpse of the first bounce. We knew if we could hear the screams of “BALL” bellowing out of the ground as we walked in that we’d just missed it.
Usually, Dad would get us general admission seats down near the cheer-squad, usually off to the side in one of the pockets. Now I think of it, a pretty impressive feat to do so in a traditionally packed out MCG for a Tigers home game.
A chance to check out the Tigers at training excited my brother and I just as much as the games did.
With his careful selection of games, I actually have a positive recollection of going to the footy, witnessing Richmond’s rare wins each year. There was of course some bad memories, particularly round 12 2004 against Fremantle that gives me PTSD.
The Tigers led at every change, going into the fourth quarter up by 16-points. The Dockers proceeded to kick 5.4 to Richmond’s 1.2 and steal the game by 10-points. I cried that day.
There was round two in 2008 against North Melbourne at the MCG. We went to the game with Dad’s brother and his family who were Kangaroos supporters. Richmond had beaten Carlton in round one while North had lost to Essendon. So, my pre-game analysis as a 10-year-old was simple. “If we can play like last week and the Kangaroos play like last week, I think we’ll win.” We lost by 41-points.
There were even more disappointing nights on the couch at home after a tough loss. When the trip down ended in a win though, the drive home couldn’t be topped.
I was there when Dean Polo, in his debut game, kicked three goals and had 28 disposals to win the Yiooken Award for best on ground in the ‘Dreamtime at the G’ match in 2006. He was delisted by the end of 2010.
Two weeks later, thanks to the generosity of the late great Shane Tuck, we watched the Tigers beat top of the table Adelaide at the then Telstra Dome by three-points. He managed to get us into the rooms post-match as well.
We were back at the MCG three weeks later to watch Richmond beat North Melbourne by 35 points. The highlight was Kangaroos small-man Troy Makepeace lining up for goal and Dad thinking he was a chance to mark it. He jumped sharply to his right to try and grab it, crushing my five-year-old brother in the process and making him cry. The man behind us said we were on the big screen as the old man comforted him, but we just missed it. Two sons, both have cried at the footy.
I saw Jack Riewoldt kick 10 goals against West Coast in round 12 2010. I watched us beat eventual premiers Sydney in round seven 2012 at the MCG, right after watching my high school team St Patrick’s College win the Herald Sun Shield.
The late great Shane Tuck gave us tickets to the game and rooms post-match when the lowly Tigers beat the top of the table Crows in 2006. Photo: John Donegan JMD
Throughout these times there’s little things I remember about being at Richmond games. I can recall sitting in the stands and screaming “BALL”, a man a few seats down from me bellowing it with me with all his might. For the rest of the game all I wanted to do was yell “BALL” with that guy, the passion was infectious.
I can remember walking past the cheer-squad in the standing area, that by the time the game ended, were in fine form after a few too many. They chanted the famous “We are the boys from the MCG” chorus, one that I could’ve listened to all day long.
The walk from Richmond station, past Punt Road Oval over to the MCG was always enjoyable. Surrounded by thousands of fellow supporters, all filled with optimism and hope.
My greatest memory will be the passion that I saw and felt going to games even in the worst of times on field. I’ve never been to an empty MCG to watch the Tigers. It was always an experience.
Since 2013 it’s been happier times at Richmond, for the most part. Elimination final losses in 2013, 14’ and 15’ were heartbreaking, but I was just so glad to finally be a part of the September action.
2016 seemed like classic Tigers football, missing the eight. However, the four years since have been unbelievable. From the fairy tale premiership in 2017 to being one of the most hated teams in the competition in 2020, it’s been a fun rise up the ladder. The Tigers have finally got themselves to the point where neutral fans are sick of us winning. That’s exactly what you want to become as a footy club.
Friends tell me how much they hate us now, they’re sick of us winning. I couldn’t care less. The Tigers and their fans have earned this run, we’ve been put through the ringer. I haven't even mentioned the drafting errors in the early 2000s either.
So, we’re going to soak up a third premiership in four years and enjoy it as much as possible. Because, if 1982 to 2016 proved anything, it’s that it’s hard to make the eight to start with and it’s very hard to make grand finals and win premierships. We’ll never take it for granted again.
Cover Photo: Pinterest
By Ollie Nash
Jeremy Cameron has told the Giants he wants out, with Geelong his club of choice. Photo: AAP/Dave Hunt
Since the 2015 AFL off-season, the Greater Western Sydney Giants have lost seven walk-up starters to requested trades and look like losing another two in 2020.
Adam Treloar, Cam McCarthy, Devon Smith, Nathan Wilson, Rory Lobb, Dylan Shiel and Jonathon Patton have all asked to be traded and now Jeremy Cameron and Aiden Corr look set to join them.
How many players have GWS received back in trades for these guys? None. When it came to stars like Treloar and Shiel it was two first-round picks, for others like Smith it was a first and third round pick.
In short, the AFL trade period is filled with picks as compensation for star players. In the Giants case, some of these picks have ended superbly. In losing Cam McCarthy they were able to eventually get Tim Taranto in the 2016 draft as one example.
However, for a club that possessed so much talent from years of early draft picks in their infancy, that talent list is dwindling. Two-first round picks for Jeremy Cameron won’t cut it, they need players that can help them win now.
Despite losing so many players, the Giants still have a strong list. Photo: AAP
The Giants are still entrenched in the premiership window. 2020 form needs to be taken with a grain of salt for some of these clubs and players. Geelong and Richmond were able to hold their nerve in the hub away from family and friends. However, clearly GWS, West Coast and North Melbourne struggled.
Their list still consists of the likes of Toby Greene, Josh Kelly, Jacob Hopper, Lachie Whitfield, Nick Haynes, Stephen Coniglio, Tim Taranto, Phil Davis, Callan Ward and Harry Perryman. This is a team that made the 2019 Grand Final with half of its list on one leg.
So, with that in mind, the Giants have to play hardball and get a player that can impact on the field for them now. AFL rules make it hard. The player they ask for in return must agree to the trade. It has to be brought up though and the question at least asked.
I’ve said this for years but asking for players in return needs to become normal in AFL trade talks. It's the norm in the U.S. For example, when then Cleveland star Kyrie Irving wanted out in 2017, LeBron James and Kevin Love wanted immediate compensation to help them win a title the next season. Therefore, Boston gave up Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick for Irving. Help for the now and a pick for the future, simple as that.
If I were Geelong in last year’s trade period, I would have asked for at least one player in exchange for Tim Kelly with a couple of draft picks as well. You are a team in the premiership hunt, about to lose one of your best midfielders, what are first round picks going to do for you?
I can tell you who didn’t want those first-round picks; Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood.
The same applies to GWS. Coniglio, Ward, Kelly, Taranto and all the rest couldn’t give two f***s about first-round picks. They want to win a premiership next year, get them players who have at least some experience at AFL level.
Why not ask the question about Esava Ratugolea? Maybe Rhys Stanley to strengthen their ruck stocks. Even some mid-sized players would be helpful, Jordan Clark, Charlie Constable, Quinton Narkle or a Tom Atkins who have all fallen out of favour in 2020.
Brandan Parfitt’s name has been mentioned, as has Ratugolea’s, Parfitt’s possible move being shut down by his manager Tim Lawrence today.
Ryan Burton was one of the high-profile forced moves of recent years, going from Hawthorn to Port. Photo: AFL Photos
For someone of Cameron’s calibre, one of these players, a first rounder and a second rounder would be fitting. Some help now and draft picks for extra compensation.
Port Adelaide did this in the off-season of 2018. Hawthorn were going hard at Power star Chad Wingard, so Port asked for then 21-year-old Ryan Burton in response. In a three-team trade that included Brisbane, the Power got back Burton, Sam Mayes, pick five, 15 and a future fourth rounder while giving up Wingard, pick six and two future third rounders.
Since the trade, Burton has played 16 and eight games in 2019 and 2020 respectively, this year hampered by injury. He was still able to be a starter in both of Port’s finals this season, while Mayes played six games in 2020.
The Power were able to get a young star that could come into their side and contribute straight away. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for, because Hawthorn are wanting to recruit one of your superstar players. Play hardball and get something in return. Just because your player wants out doesn’t mean you have to settle for picks.
GWS have to do the same. Cameron wants to leave, fair enough, he’s been a great servant of your club. However, play hardball. He’s a Coleman Medalist, two-time All-Australian, Best and Fairest winner and a nine-time leading goal kicker at the Giants. Oh, and he’s averaged two and-a-half goals per game throughout his career.
He is a star and they need to demand fair compensation for him. Geelong will know that and should be willing to depart with some of their young stars.
Cover Photo: Getty Images
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Gary Ablett was great in Geelong's preliminary final win and will look to end his career with a premiership. Photo: AAP/Dave Hunt
Greatest Cat of all pounces Geelong home
If there was anyone that was going to stand up with the Cats so close to a grand final, it had to be the little master, Gary Ablett. Kicking a clever snap deep in the pocket of the Gabba to silence the Lions roar, he followed it up with a goal on the run from 55-metres out sending daggers into the hearts of Brisbane fans.
It was vintage Gary Ablett. The two vital goals mirrored highlights we’d become so accustomed to seeing in the earlier part of Ablett’s career with the Cats as a stay at home half-forward flanker. Whenever he has been at his best this year Geelong’s forward line has looked the best in the competition. If he’s not kicking goals he’s putting it on a plate for his teammates, making the Cats incredibly hard to stop.
It is only fitting that one of the greatest the game has ever seen will play his 357th and final game in a grand final, as he searches for his third premiership with the Cats.
Port beaten at their own game
It’s hard to lose a final in any sport. It can be easier to accept it when you feel as if you stuck to your guns and game plan but were beaten by a better side on the night. For Port Adelaide, they have to accept the fact that they were beaten at their own game and the style of play that had helped them to a minor premiership.
The Power’s game all year had been focused on clearances, dominating the contested ball, getting it forward quickly and pressing up to be able to put forward pressure on. It didn’t happen on Friday night. Port lost the clearances by 12, centre clearances by seven and stoppage clearances by five. They were able to win contested possession but only by six.
The positives? They had every chance to win the game. Winning the inside 50 count by 15 would usually mean a victory, but the Power’s 20 percent efficiency inside 50 didn’t allow it. So, it’s an opportunity missed, but one that should instil confidence that they are around the mark and should be playing at the pointy end in 2021.
Toby Nankervis played a great last quarter to help Richmond across the line against Port Adelaide. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Richmond’s role players instrumental
I harp on it and harp on it, but role players win you premierships. The stars will more often than not play to their high end capabilities, but it’s the battle of the bottom six on each team that makes the difference. On Friday night, that’s the battle that Richmond won.
Nathan Broad, Noah Balta, Liam Baker and Toby Nankervis didn’t dominate the stats sheet, but they were vital in the win. Balta was able to nullify Charlie Dixon’s influence, Baker didn’t miss a ground ball despite the wet conditions and Nankervis was best on ground in the fourth quarter.
The ruckman had five disposals, a tackle, four intercept possessions, three intercept marks (one contested), nine hit outs (five to advantage) and 19 pressure acts in the final term. Lots will be made of Dustin Martin’s game, which is fair enough. However, it’s players like Nankervis that will be vital to Richmond’s premiership hopes against Geelong on Saturday night.
Brisbane’s opportunity to win a flag in their backyard ends in a disappointing fade-out
The script was set up perfectly for Brisbane. A top-four finish, a win in the first week of the finals, a home preliminary final, and had the Lions won the game they would have booked themselves an extremely rare home grand final at the Gabba.
However, the Cats slashed the Lions script and ended the dream. Geelong smashed Brisbane in the middle of the ground from the opening bounce winning the clearances 15-4 in the first quarter. That dominance continued throughout the game as the Cats bullied the Lions.
The Cats led by five-points at halftime with the game well and truly in the balance, however it seemed as though Geelong had dominated the contest regardless of the score-line. Following halftime Brisbane faded terribly, as the Cats kicked 7.8 to Brisbane’s 2.3. If Geelong were more efficient in front of goal the 40-point margin may have blown out even further.
The loss will haunt the Lions all summer, especially knowing they had a once in a lifetime opportunity to win a flag in their own backyard.
Cover Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Patrick Dangerfield was at his very best in the Cats win over Collingwood. Photo: Quinn Rooney
Dangerfield stands up for Cats when they need him most
Patrick Dangerfield’s semi-final performance was a mirror image of his 2017 Semi-Final performance against the Sydney Swans at the MCG. On both occasions, Geelong have had their backs against the wall, with Dangerfield going forward to kick multiple goals helping his side over the line in win or go home scenarios.
In the 2017 Semi-Final he kicked 4.3 and finished with 26 disposals as the Cats went onto defeat Sydney by 59 points. On Saturday night with shortened quarters the superstar Cat kicked 4 goals and finished with 19 disposals as Geelong went on to win by 68 points. If he can replicate this performance against Brisbane on Saturday night Geelong may very well be on their way to their first Grand Final in almost ten years.
2016 Bulldogs feat even more impressive
The biggest story to come out of Collingwood’s loss to Geelong on Saturday night for me was just how impressive the 2016 Western Bulldog’s premiership was. The Dogs finished seventh that year, won a final in Perth and Sydney and beat the three-time reigning premiers at the MCG.
If Collingwood was to go all the way, it was going to be a similar path for them, winning Perth and then the Gabba for three straight weeks. Their 68-point loss to Geelong just showed footy fans how hard it is to win a flag from outside the top-four.
Mentally and physically it’s a huge effort, especially after such an emotional elimination final win against West Coast last week. So, Pies fans, there’s no shame in that loss, if history tells us anything, it should have been expected.
Tom Lynch was a handy addition to the Richmond team on Friday night. Photo: AAP/Dave Hunt
Physical Tom a finals player
The only thing coaches ask of their key forwards is to bring the ball to ground and not get out-marked. In finals, this becomes even more vital. Richmond’s Tom Lynch provided that and more in the Tigers 31-point win over St Kilda on Friday night.
Once again, he was in the headlines for an indiscretion, pushing his knee down onto Dougal Howard’s shoulder. However, despite this and his wayward kicking, he was superb. Seven shots on goal for two majors, 17 disposals and six marks, two of which were contested.
It was his impact on the contest that was more important though, crashing packs and helping small forwards Shai Bolton, Jason Castagna and Daniel Rioli get first use on the ground and hit the scoreboard.
A ‘Battle’ hardened warrior
There’s always stories of players playing while injured during the AFL Finals. Josh Battle was another added to that list on Friday night. He disappeared from the field for almost 30 minutes. It was later revealed he had broken his foot at the eighth minute mark of the second quarter.
While Battle didn’t dominate the contest, he was able to play through the pain and come back onto the field to take a strong contested mark, and kick a much-needed inspiring goal for the Saints to help keep them in the game. He also providing another option up forward to help take the pressure off Max King and Tim Membrey.
Cover Photo: News Corp Australia
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
The Lions ended a 15-game losing streak against Richmond in an impressive display on Friday night. Photo: Nine
Brisbane roaring with the Lions
After Friday night’s qualifying final between the Lions and Richmond it is clear that Brisbane are behind their team. Just over 22,000 people were in attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions in Queensland, however it sounded as if there were 50,000 at the match.
The Lions are 12-0 at the Gabba in 2020 and with their first preliminary final since 2004 in two weeks’ time, expect the Brisbane faithful to be just as vocal as they were in Friday night’s qualifying final. Small forward Charlie Cameron shook off Dylan Grimes, electrifying the crowd with three classy goals, as the Lions ended a 15-game losing streak to the Tigers.
The win showed us Brisbane has come a long way from the raw Lions of the 2019 finals, with 2020 arguably their best chance yet to win a premiership in a once in a lifetime opportunity on their home deck.
2020 is the year of the Rat in China, however in Australia it could be the year of the Lion, after they showed they are up to the fight, taming the Tigers in a famous qualifying final victory.
Collingwood defied all the odds for a famous win over the Eagles in Perth. Photo: Getty Images/AFL Photos
Beware Cats its Swooping Season
It’s swooping season and the ‘Dirty Pies’ have found some strong form. Being forced to quarantine in the week leading up to their elimination final clash with the West Coast Eagles in Perth, the Magpies were back to their best on Saturday night.
In arguably the match of the year Collingwood turned it on from the opening bounce with Mason Cox booting three goals in the first quarter. After that it was almost goal for goal all night. Brody Mihocek stepped up to kick three crucial goals, while Jordan De Goey impacted the scoreboard when it mattered most. The usual suspects in the middle of the ground in Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams and Scott Pendlebury were massive for Collingwood against the elite West Coast midfield.
Nobody gave the Magpies a chance against West Coast in Perth. However, after their one-point win they’ll take a lot of confidence into their semi-final clash with Geelong on Saturday night. It’s swooping season, and with the Cats out of form and their finals struggles continuing, the ‘Dirty Pies’ might just send them out of the finals in straight sets.
Steven Motlop proved to be one of the match winners for Port Adelaide over Geelong. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Role players stepping up
In every finals series in all sports around the world, the role players become the most important players on the ground. The stars will do their thing as they have all year, but what wins you big games at the end of the season are your bottom six players. Port Adelaide’s fringe guys were better than Geelong’s on Thursday night, led by former Cat Steven Motlop.
The 29-year-old kicked three timely goals from his 11 disposals to keep the Power’s lead over Geelong at a comfortable one. Come preliminary final time it may not be Motlop and instead might be a Todd Marshall or a Karl Amon. Either way, if these bottom tier players for any of the remaining clubs can fire, it puts their team in a great position.
Look at the Miami Heat in the NBA. Tyler Herro, one of their bench players, dropped 37 points in the Eastern Conference Finals. They have had other guys throughout the playoffs do the same and now they find themselves in the NBA Finals. These are the players that are just quietly some of the most important at this time of the season.
Paddy Ryder's hamstring injury was the one negative outcome of the Saints impressive win over the Dogs. Photo: AFL Photos
Dogs need impact over numbers
The Western Bulldogs are an extremely talented football team. They’re midfielders of Marcus Bontempelli, Bailey Smith, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley, Lachie Hunter and Tom Liberatore is one of the best in the competition. On paper it’s stronger than St Kilda’s, but it’s clear that their impact isn’t where it needs to be.
The Dogs had the top four possession getters on the ground in their three-point loss to the Saints, and six of the top 10. What will help them win these finals however, is if these possessions become more impactful. Teams like Richmond have won games against top teams this season with no player having 20 disposals. They win because each disposal is effective and damaging.
The Bulldogs stars aren’t playing badly by any stretch, they just need to turn their 20 to 25 touches into line-breaking, impactful disposals.
Cover Photo: AAP