Clubs that will dominate a rollercoaster 2020
STANDBY for a turbocharged, instinct-driven, long-kicking, and potentially high-marking AFL season reboot.
COVID-19 has made AFL-2020 a very different proposition to the one that the 18 clubs spent months preparing for over the pre-season.
But footy's back and that's what matters.
SCROLL DOWN TO READ MICK MCGUANE'S ANALYSIS OF EVERY TEAM AHEAD OF THE SEASON REBOOT
None of us know what it is going to end up looking like, even though we had a snapshot in Round 1.
No one knows which team will be best suited by this year's abbreviated season.
I tipped Collingwood to win the flag in early March.
Watching them train leading into the season, they looked primed for a massive year and it showed with a powerful win over the Western Bulldogs in Round 1.
I'll stick with them.
But the coronavirus shutdown throws up some unknowns and I've got some concerns regarding the Pies' stretch of little soft-tissue issues in recent weeks.
Essendon will be suited by the ballistic 16-minute plus time on quarters, so too Port Adelaide.
The recalibrated fixture has gifted the Brisbane Lions the next four games at the Gabba, while Geelong's home games will all be played down the highway this year.
Four teams will be playing in a Gold Coast hub for the first four weeks.
Ross Lyon is spot on - this year you will have to be an 'ANYTIME, ANYWHERE' team.
The first half of games clubs will go all out with an attacking mindset to gain an early advantage.
That will suit the explosive players such as Dustin Martin, Nat Fyfe, Patrick Dangerfield, Jordan De Goey, Dayne Zorko and Christian Petracca.
If teams secure a good lead, some will go into ball security and tempo control after halftime. Slowing the game down to offset fatigue will be some coaches' directive.
We will likely see more corridor play coming out of defensive 50 and an emphasis on long-kicking game styles in the pursuit of territory. That will have Jeremy Howe licking their lips as high-marking becomes a feature.
Goalkicking will be down even more than it has been in recent seasons, with coaches protecting leads and the expected fatigue of players.
I doubt we will see the home-and-away leading goalkicker to finish with more than 50 goals. That hasn't happened since Collingwood's Dick Lee booted 47 goals in 1919.
Anyway, there's a flag to be won, so it's going to be a fascinating five months.
STRENGTHS: The Crows are rebuilding, but still have high-volume ball winners in Rory Laid, the Crouch brothers, Rory Sloane and Paul Seedsman. There seemed to be a shift in favour of long kicks instead of short kicks in the Round 1 loss to Sydney. Matthew Nicks wants a more direct wing-to-corridor direction.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: If Round 1 clearance numbers (-21) and centre clearances (-15) become a trend, it would be a serious concern. Their lack of inside-to-outside spread was stark hence being -44 in uncontested possessions and only taking 30 uncontested marks.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Can Bryce Gibbs still produce the consistency required to play AFL football?
STRENGTHS: An emotive team that play on instinct. The Lions have a number of players (including Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson) who bring a wave of energy. They have a contested ball/strong stoppage/territory brand. Not at their best in Round 1, but the first four weeks at the Gabba is a bonus.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: First player clear, think kick … that's their mantra. They must trust their forwards. Too often in Round 1 they looked to invent an extra handball when in space when kicking was the better option. Therefore the connection between mids to forwards was a bit off.
STRENGTHS: David Teague has given the Blues a freedom to play, evidenced by their forward half game after quarter-time in Round 1. There were positive signs quarters two to four - forward half intercepts (+10), points from forward chains (42 to 8), inside 50 differential (46 to 30), and scoreboard differential (68 to 61). But they lost due to a first-term Tigers' avalanche.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Blues are a poor kicking team. Using it better will help protect them from the opposition's ability to score from turnover. It helps set up your defence behind the ball. Attacking through the corridor-wing area and better conversion will help. Round 1 F50 conversion from marks was 2.4 from 11, compared to Tigers' 5.2 from 10.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Is Matthew Kreuzer unlucky or his body failing him too often?
STRENGTH: A high-volume team, who had the second most disposals of Round 1. They win their own footy and share it. Allow Collingwood 100 marks and they are hard to stop. Only Essendon and West Coast had more marks than the Pies in Round 1 (94). That allows you to control games on your own terms.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: It's only marginal but the Pies need to score more from their centre bounce dominance. Brodie Grundy destroyed Tim English in Round 1, yet the star-studded midfield scored only two points from having 10 more centre bounce clearances than the Bulldogs (who scored six points).
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Mason Cox took Richmond apart in the 2018 preliminary final and hasn't looked like doing it in any other game since. Here's his chance to reboot.
STRENGTH: The Bombers have natural ball winners on every line - including Dylan Shiel, Adam Saad, Zach Merrett, Michael Hurley and Devon Smith. They have great speed which will assist their uncontested game in a shortened season. Their Round 1 tackling against Fremantle was outstanding.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Their ability to defend consistency needs attention. Ranked 12th defensively last season, giving up 82.6 points per game, there were a few worrying signs in Round 1. Restricting the Dockers to 57 was good, but their last-term lapse was a concern, even if it had some underdone players.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Where is Joe Daniher at? Is his continued absence just bad luck, unlucky genetics or bad management?
STRENGTHS: The Dockers want to play quicker and more aggressive football under Justin Longmuir, with playing on from marks a priority. They are organised around the ball, have an emerging ruckman in Sean Darcy and their top end talent of Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters is elite.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Their defensive exiting by foot must improve. Too often in 2019 they had to play safe and go around the boundary to protect their skill errors. It will be intriguing to see if Longmuir sticks to a corridor attack out of D50, given their suspect kicking skills.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Rory Lobb needs to become more of a body ruckman, particularly at centre bounces. Stop reaching, Rory!
STRENGTHS: I'd urge them to play with more speed rather than trying to control tempo. Their ability to score from turnovers and their goals per inside 50 shows they are a highly efficient, decision making and ball using team. The fact all their home games are at GMHBA Stadium is a huge plus, even without crowds.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: They must work on their defensive transition and referencing out of stoppages. When they lose clearance, the likes of Patrick Dangerfield. Joel Selwood and Brandon Parfitt, at times walk and spectate out of stoppage.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: The Cats have an ageing list and with the shortened ballistic season will it show up their list profile? Their older core are their better players - Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Gary Ablett and Harry Taylor - but how many is too many?
STRENGTHS: The Suns potentially have some emerging threats up forward including Ben King, Ben Ainsworth and Alex Sexton. Stuart Dew wants them to be more of a corridor ball movement team out of D50, a risk I like considering the players in front of the ball. No more excuses!
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Defensively they must stay in the game for longer. They get scored against far too often and far too easily. Their midfield group 'sweat' on their opponents at stoppages making it easy for their opponents to manipulate space. They get towed around. Too reactionary. Hugh Greenwood will be a big-bodied asset, Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson must play with freedom and Brandon Ellis will bring some premiership experience around the contest.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: The honeymoon is over for Dew. Winning games must be the focus, not simply development.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
STRENGTH: A skilful, tough team with a deep midfield including Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene, Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto, Jacob Hooper and others. The Giants are the AFL's No. 1 stoppage team. Their ball movement on fast play is pure. If recruit Sam Jacobs can get back to his best, it would be a big win.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: As soon as teams are patient and shift the ball using angles, instead of kicking down the line against the Giants, it stops defenders Phil Davis and Nick Haynes from getting strong field position and getting set for intercept opportunities. Their back six are not as comfortable with this ball movement up the ground.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Has Shane Mumford got enough left in the tank to fight for the No. 1 ruck slot?
STRENGTHS: Good defensive structures, pressure acts, ball movement and the ability to score on turnovers. The Hawks are also very good at winning the ball back off the opposition. Their game style is in good shape. Don't underestimate Alastair Clarkson in finding a point of difference after a coronavirus shutdown.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Stoppage/clearance hasn't been a priority under Clarko. I think it should be. Being a good stoppage and clearance team equates to gaining territory and with Tom Mitchell back and with a fitter Chad Wingard in the mix, this could become an asset.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Chad Wingard, you've had time to settle in and get fit, so it is time to repay the Hawks' faith. That means getting back to your All Australian form.
STRENGTHS: I love how hard and tough the Demons are as a midfield group. Their contest and pressure is good. But their midfield is too much like for like. Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver and Nathan Jones are all midfield bulls. Simon Goodwin needs a better outside balance. Get Christian Petracca in there more often and get James Harmes to play on opposition's best onballer.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Melbourne's mid-to-forward connection must improve. But who fails who? Too often, the mids bomb it in long when they should lower their eyes. The forwards don't do their work early enough to get separation. They must lead where the ball should go, not where they want it to go.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Angus Brayshaw has great ball-winning ability but I'd love to see him hit more targets when kicking inside 50m.
STRENGTHS: Good around the ball and at stoppage. They roll up a fifth player from half forward to stoppage, with Jy Simpkin helping Ben Cunnington, Shaun Higgins and Jack Ziebell. They compete strongly and love going forward to give Ben Brown and their forwards a real chance.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Their back half efficiency needs work. Too often there is a run-and-gun effort with hands. I'd like to see them kick more to control the footy when coming out of D50.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Josh Walker likes to kick the footy and it is a role he can play well, especially kicking out of defence.
STRENGTHS: Shortened quarters will suit their speed of ball movement. They are a strong territory team as you can see from their +31 inside 50 rating against the Suns in Round 1.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Ken Hinkley needs to ensure he gets his midfield combinations right. You can't have Ollie Wines, Sam Powell-Pepper and Tom Rockliff all in there. Travis Boak is their best transition runner. Hinkley needs to get some of the younger Power players in to get a better outside balance.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Charlie Dixon. He straightens the Power up and is great in the contest, but he must get his body right. He is their barometer.
STRENGTHS: A game plan built on trust and instinct, the ability to share the ball using the best option and continually getting it forward with hands and feet. Their ability to score from back half is very strong, thanks to defenders Nathan Broad, Jayden Short, Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli, Liam Baker and Nick Vlastuin. The twin towers of Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch are hard to stop.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: When an opposition team 'gains territory' and 'holds territory' - as Carlton did after quarter time in Round 1 - it leaves the Tigers a little vulnerable. You must have a good forward half game to challenge the Tigers.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Is Toby Nankervis still the club's No. 1 ruckman or has Ivan Soldo leapfrogged him?
STRENGTHS: The addition of Zak Jones and Brad Hill provides speed, overlapping ability and gut-running. Rowan Marshall has a good footy IQ and with Brett Ratten's influence with ball use, I expect them to be more efficient when going forward. That means fewer long bombs and more lowering of the eyes.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Saints must defend turnover more consistently and start converting their chances. Inaccuracy has hurt them in recent seasons and again cost them a win in Round 1.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Paddy Ryder wants to be the No. 1 ruckman. But can the Saints afford to stifle Marshall's development? It's a delicate balancing act.
STRENGTHS: They have an incredible ability to absorb opposition inside 50s, which is a credit to their defensive workrate and structure. The back half of Dane Rampe, Callum Mills, Jordan Dawson, Aliir Aliir and Jake Lloyd can be trusted.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The mids must lift. I'd love to see Isaac Heeney in there more often, but Buddy Franklin's injury means he will have to stay in attack, with his Round 1 performance showing what he can do.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Buddy Franklin - once you start getting serious hamstring injuries at his age, they often keep coming back. Just ask Nathan Buckley!
STRENGTHS: Good decision making and kicking side, who understand how to manufacture space to free up a teammate to be a usable option. That's a requirement if you want to have a kick-mark control game.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: When teams put time into negating key defenders Jeremy McGovern, Tom Barrass, Shannon Hurn and Brad Sheppard, the Eagles can look vulnerable. Getting the ball to ground and taking West Coast's intercept game away from them can bring them undone.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Nic Naitanui influences games at his best, but needs to get continuity of games after such an interrupted run.
STRENGTHS: Even though the Dogs were -70 in disposals in Round 1, they are a high-volume side, averaging 390 disposals per game in 2019 off the back of ball winners Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter and Josh Dunkley. Keeping the ball in motion is their key. That can be a death by a thousand cuts.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: As good as ruckman Tim English threatens to be, he needs to be getting closer to break-even in hit-outs now. The hitout differential was -25 last year (18th) and the Dogs were -29 versus Grundy in the first round. If they can close the gap, it will see a more proactive rather than a reactive midfield.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Aaron Naughton was a pin-up boy last year, but a key forward finds it tougher when the competition knows more about you. Can he sustain the output, especially coming off an injury-interrupted preparation?