2020 AFL Season Preview

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AFL fans wait with bated breath as to whether the season will go ahead on Thursday night as the ongoing COVID-19 saga threatens to disrupt the opener between Richmond and Carlton.

If games are suspended altogether, this preview will all be for moot. But if the season does go ahead behind closed doors, there is still plenty of money to be made in our AFL Futures market.

We’ve previewed all 18 clubs and landed on a best bet for each team, so be sure to check out our complete analysis below.

Adelaide Crows

  • Last Season: 10-12 (11th)

The Crows look a shell of their former selves to start the season, which is an alarming sign considering they appeared in the Grand Final only three years ago.

An 11th placed finish last season was highlighted by only one win in their final five games, making it almost impossible to build a case for Adelaide improving – let alone finishing in the top eight.

Matthew Nicks – who spent eight years in Port Adelaide’s system – has been appointed as new head coach. His first task is to rid Adelaide of a somewhat toxic culture that has existed ever since the collective minds saga in 2017.

Nicks’ second task will be overcoming the loss of experienced names like Sam Jacobs (GWS), Richard Douglas (retirement), Josh Jenkins (Geelong), and Eddie Betts (Carlton). It’s an uphill battle with the club currently ranked 15th in average age (23.6), so realistically, the wooden spoon is more likely than a finals appearance.

Best Bet: Crows Under 8.5 Wins @ $1.87

Brisbane Lions

  • Last Season: 16-6 (2nd)

The beauty of last year’s second-place finish means footy is alive and well in Brisbane. But the downside is, the Lions now have expectations to meet.

This is still one of the youngest sides in the league, so to go as far as calling Chris Fagan’s team the complete package is a little hasty.

Still, there is plenty of room for optimism about Brisbane and anything short of a top-eight finish will be seen as a complete disappointment.

The good news is, aside from Luke Hodge’s retirement, most of the Lions’ core is still intact. Harris Andrews and Daniel Rich make up one of the most lethal halfback duos in the game, while Brisbane’s high-scoring ways should continue with Eric Hipwood and Cameron Rayner entering their prime.

Losing a leader like Hodge will be felt in the backline – even more so if Marcus Adams fails to play a full season. Adding four-time Premiership player Grant Birchall to the side should give the Lions another prominent voice in the locker room though.  

Fagan’s connection with this group is something to behold, so if the Lions can reclaim their edge at the Gabbatoir after being belted by Richmond and losing narrowly to GWS in the finals, the sky really is the limit.

Looking at the draw, the Lions do have a tough start to the season with games against Hawthorn and Collingwood, while things aren’t any easier in the final month with GWS, West Coast and Essendon all on the cards.

In a nutshell, book Brisbane in for another finals appearance, but a return to the top four might be a little ambitious.

Best Bet: Lions Over 12.5 Wins @ $1.75

Carlton

  • Last Season: 7-15 (16th)

Has Chairman Mark Lo Giudice finally found a winning combination?

This time last year we were discussing Brendon Bolton as a potential saviour at Carlton, right before things went pear-shaped in the form of a 1-9 start.  

Bolts was eventually sacked and replaced by Jeff Teague, who breathed new life into the club with a big win over the Lions in Round 12. The Blues went on to win six more games before Teague was eventually appointed the full-time head coach, a run that included wins over Fremantle, Sydney, Gold Coast, Adelaide and St Kilda.

From the outside looking in, Teague appears to have a good rapport with his players after learning plenty at West Coast, St Kilda and Adelaide as an assistant. The only question now is, how far can he take one of the AFL’s most problematic clubs?

Blues fans know they have to trust the process, but there is reason to get excited, nonetheless.  

While the loss of Dale Thomas’ leadership will be felt, club legend Eddie Betts returns for one last hurrah. He’ll inject himself into a scary-looking forward line made up of Mitch McGovern, Charlie Curnow and Jack Martin, while the midfield should also cause plenty of problems manned by Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh and Marc Murphy.

The Blues are still a few years away from competing, so the top eight might be out of the question. That said, they proved to be a handful for clubs like Hawthorn, Brisbane and even the Tigers in Round 1 last year.

Carlton won seven games in the midst of a coaching change, so 8.5 seems a little low with plenty of promise emerging.

Best Bet: Blues Over 8.5 Wins @ $1.80

Collingwood

  • Last Season: 15-7 (4th)

Collingwood might be one of the toughest teams to get a read on this year, because depending on which way you look at the Magpies, you could build a case that they’ll win the flag – or miss the top eight altogether.

Beating Geelong in the first round of the finals last year was a promising sign, but a complete choke job against GWS in the Prelim has left a sour taste in supporters’ mouths.  

2019 was a bit of a weird season for Collingwood though, as Nathan Buckley had to overcome a range of injuries to his star players from start to finish. Unlike other teams, however, the Pies have tremendous depth at their disposal that makes them one of Richmond’s biggest threats.

Last year the Pies recorded some big wins over the Tigers, Lions, Bombers and Cats, but they also managed to lose in forgettable fashion to West Coast, Fremantle and North Melbourne at home.

Those kinds of losses can’t happen again if the Pies are to return to the Grand Final. Ladder position is everything – especially for a team that exhausted themselves against Geelong in the finals before turning up flat against the Giants.

Listwise, the Pies haven’t changed much, so there aren’t any excuses. Anything outside of a top-four finish could cost Nathan Buckley his job, but after losing the Grand Final in 2018 and falling short in the Prelims last year, there’s nothing to say third time isn’t the charm for Collingwood this time around.

Best Bet: Collingwood Top 4 @ $2.00

Essendon

  • Last Season: 12-10 (8th)

All you can say for the Bombers last year is this: at least they made the eight.

Essendon was murdered by 55-points against West Coast in the first week of the finals, extending their finals winning drought to 16 years. The ongoing mediocrity of this club has fans growing anxious, and there’s no reprieve in sight with another ‘wait and see’ year ahead.

Tying in with their lack of success as a club, the Bombers ranked middle of the pack in contested possession, disposals, goals and inside 50s last year. Those stats aren’t pretty for a team that features superstars like Joe Daniher, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Jake Stringer and Orazio Fantasia – even if the injury bug played a part.

The likes of Mark Baguley, Zac Clarke and David Myers have since departed as the club continues to try and identify who their key pieces are moving forward.

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on head coach John Worsfold after many ups and downs last season, but the Bombers have provided him with the support of assistant Blake Caracella.

Many consider Caracella to be the future of the club after playing a big part in Richmond’s premiership victories. His input will be all for moot if injuries ravage Essendon again, but maybe he and Worsfold can finally start to steer this team in the right direction.

Best Bet: Bombers Over 10.5 Wins @ $1.85

Fremantle

  • Last Season: 9-13 (13th)

If it weren’t for some embarrassing losses to the Suns, Dees and Blues last year, the Dockers may have finished top eight.

Fremantle sat 4-2 after the opening six weeks before losing three on the trot. May through June was a rough stretch, making the Dockers another difficult team to get a read on with Round 1 approaching.

With the easiest fixture in the league this year, the pressure is now on first-year head coach Justin Longmuir to produce results.

At his disposal is a very talented list headlined by Nat Fyfe and Jesse Hogan, but losing leaders like Brad Hill, Ed Langdon and Aaron Sandilands will be felt.

Longmuir spent nine seasons combined at West Coast and Collingwood, so everything points towards a successful future. Unfortunately, the status of Hogan’s return to the club remains up in the air, while the injury struggles make them tough to trust.

Best Bet: Dockers Over the Wins Total

Geelong Cats

  • Last Season: 16-6 (1st)

We’re basically back to where we started with Geelong.

The Cats have topped up on talent in the form of Josh Jenkins and Jack Steven, but the departures of Scott Selwood, Tim Kelly and Zac Smith will no doubt start to show as the season rolls along.

For a team that won the minor premiership, Geelong certainly managed to underachieve when it all mattered most.

A narrow 10-point win over Collingwood in Round 1 of the finals was followed by a gutsy win over West Coast in the Semi’s, right before the Tigers proved too much in the Prelim despite a gallant first-half performance.

The answer to Geelong’s shortcomings aren’t as simple as bad luck or the draw. This is a team chock-full of talent both young and old that really should be contending with the Richmond’s of the world.

A return to form from Tom Hawkins, who went missing in several key games last year, would go a long way to the Cats regaining their edge. Gary Ablett and Patrick Dangerfield looked as dangerous as ever last year, so Hawkins re-establishing himself as one of the game’s most accurate half-forwards should put Geelong right back in the finals picture.

The Cats also have an enviable backline that, if healthy, is arguably the best in the league.

Jake Kolodjashni, Zach Tuohy, Mark Blicavs and Tom Stewart are as tough as they come, while the midfield is still manned by the immortal Joel Selwood.

Other than the ruck, it’s hard to pick out an area of concern for Geelong on paper, so if they manage to fall short again this year, it simply has to come down to the chemistry between players and coach.

Best Bet: Geelong to Miss Top 4

Gold Coast Suns

  • Last Season: 3-19 (18th)

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone tipping the Suns to finish anywhere other than the very bottom, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few positives to look forward to on the Gold Coast this season.

Outside of Jack Martin’s departure, the Suns roll over much of the same roster that failed to win a game from Round 4 onwards. That obviously doesn’t fill anybody with confidence, but the addition of two-time premiership winner Brandon Ellis is at least a step in the right direction.

Nobody is making a secret of this rebuild at Metricon and there is very little optimism that the club finishes any higher than 18th. Still, this season is all about individual wins, building around Lachie Weller, Alex Sexton and Pearce Hanley, whilst also getting game time into top draft picks Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.

Best Bet: No Bet

GWS Giants

  • Last Season: 13-9 (6th)

The Giants were a testament to the “you’ve got to be in it to win it” theory last season.

GWS played all the way through to the Grand Final after finishing sixth on the ladder, and although that final game at the ‘G proved to be a forgettable one, the Giants still have plenty to feel good about as one of the more successful clubs over the last five years.

Like most teams, Leon Cameron has lost some of his long-time leaders in the form of Brett Deledio (retirement) and Jon Patton (Hawthorn). The Giants did bolster their ruck by adding Sam Jacobs though, who now slots in amongst what is easily the most talented midfield in the competition.

Providing they all stay healthy, Lachie Whitfield, Stephen Coniglio and Josh Kelly are the lifeblood of this team through the centre, while Coleman Medal winner Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene are a potent duo in the forward line that are only proving tougher to stop each year.

The Giants enjoy a very winnable first six weeks of the season with games against Geelong, Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Essendon, Sydney and the Gold Coast before meeting Richmond in Round 7. It’s hard to find a flaw on this team, so backing them to be the last team to lose looks good value.

Best Bet: GWS Last Team to Lose

Hawthorn

  • Last Season: 11-11 (9th)

So long as Alastair Clarkson is coaching the Hawks, they’ll always be in contention.

Last year Hawthorn fell just short of the top eight largely due to some embarrassing losses to the Bulldogs, Saints and Demons early in the year.

In typical Hawks fashion though, they did respond by winning their final three games over GWS, the Suns and West Coast, laying the foundations for what many Hawthorn members are hoping to be a turnaround back to finals footy in 2020.

In terms of ins and outs, the Hawks will welcome back Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell into the side after missing all of last season due to a broken leg, but the same can’t be said of Jarman Impey, who suffered a gruesome knee injury late last season.

There is plenty of upside to this Hawthorn team but there are also a few loose ends that leave them looking a year or two away.

While the immortal Shaun Burgoyne continues to dazzle down back, an injury could leave the Hawks vulnerable with Blake Hardwick already injured to start the year.

Meanwhile, in the middle, Ricky Henderson and James Worpel are two of the most promising young players in the game, but to say they are in their prime would be a bit of a stretch.

The same also goes for forward Mitch Lewis and Tim O’Brien, not to mention the uncertain future of Chad Wingard – who underwhelmed during his first season in brown and gold.

Again, the Hawks can beat just about anyone in any round, so they do look good value to make the eight. This club continues to improve, the only question is, can they find some consistency and luck on the injury front?

Best Bet: Hawks Top 8

Melbourne Demons

  • Last Season: 5-17 (17th)

Last season proved you simply can’t take the demons out of Melbourne.

After qualifying for the finals in 2018 only to be belted by West Coast in the Prelim, the Dees reverted to their old ways finishing with only five wins to their name – two more than the Suns.

The biggest problem for the Dees last year was kicking goals and finding accuracy in front of the sticks. Melbourne was reasonably efficient at getting the ball inside 50, but once there, they simply lacked the talent to convert opportunities into points.

Simon Goodwin has been retained for another year as coach, but you have to think if the Demons get off to another 0-3 start, his job is all but over.

Unfortunately, that is a very realistic scenario with West Coast, GWS and Fremantle all on the cards, while the additions of Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson aren’t anything to get overly excited about.

Best Bet: Demons Under the Wins Total

North Melbourne

  • Last Season: 10-12 (12th)

With all the turmoil going on off the field, the Roos still did well to finish 12th on the ladder last season following Rhyce Shaw’s appointment as Brad Scott’s replacement.

Shaw will be eager to instil a new culture at the club after winning three of his last five games in charge, and he certainly has plenty of talent to work with as the Roos look to vault themselves into the cluster of middle-ground teams vying for a spot in the eight.

Majak Daw is the big name returning to the side, which should help bolster a backline that has struggled mightily over the last five or so years. Sam Wright and Scott Thompson retiring leaves a massive hole in terms of experience, but the hope is North’s midfield can pick up the slack.

Todd Goldstein and Ben Cunnington are again the names to watch in the midfield, while up forward, Ben Brown is again among the favourites to take out the Coleman Medal.

Overall, you can throw North in with the likes of Fremantle, Hawthorn, St Kilda and Essendon for a spot in the eight. But whether their backline can hold up even for a shortened season remains to be seen.

Best Bet: North Melbourne Under the Wins Total

Port Adelaide

  • Last Season: 11-11 (10th)

Port Adelaide has finally embarked on the rebuild that should have happened a long time ago.

The Power have added zero names of note this offseason but lost the likes of Paddy Ryder, Sam Gray and Matthew Broadbent in the process. For a club that finished 10th on the ladder last year, some regression is obviously expected with even less experience on the roster.

The draft did bring some good news with Port holding four picks inside the Top 25. David Koch will tell you playing finals is the goal, but it’s really hard to get excited about a roster that’s been talked up to be something it’s not.

Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray are the two top names in the starting 25, but they aren’t game-changers.

The same goes for Tom Rockliff, Brad Ebert, Justin Westhoff and Steven Motlop, making Ken Hinkley’s job even tougher as he faces a make-or-break year.

Best Bet: Port Adelaide Under the Wins Total

Richmond

  • Last Season: 16-6 (3rd)

When you’re at the top, there’s only one place to go.

But who’s beating the Tigers this year?

Richmond are the outright premiership favourites for the second year running after completely decimating GWS in last years Grand Final. The chance of a shortened season should favour the Tigers even more in the market, but no matter the circumstance, it’s going to take nothing short of a miracle to derail the yellow and black freight train.

Down back, Nick Vlaustin and Dylan Grimes are set to take a big step forward in their improvement, while Bachar Houli remains the lynchpin now that Alex Rance has retired.

In the middle, take your pick between Toby Nankervis, Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia and Dustin Martin for quality, while the forward line looks as dangerous as ever with Tom Lynch settling in.

Just when you thought this team had reached its highest gear last year the Tigers improved again and again. Outside of a Round 23 trip to Perth to face the Dockers, it’s almost impossible to think of a reason as to why this team won’t have a chance to defend its flag.

Best Bet: Richmond to Make the Grand Final

St Kilda

  • Last Season: 9-13 (14th)

The Saints have been a popular pick to sneak into the eight this year and looking at their list, it certainly seems a possibility.

St Kilda parted ways with Josh Bruce, Jack Newnes, Jack Steven and a handful of others during the offseason and replaced them with the always exciting Brad Hill and Zak Jones, while Paddy Ryder looks a welcome addition in the ruck.

There’s no doubt this is a much stronger list than we saw from the Saints in 2019 and a full year under Brett Ratten should see them take another step forward.

It is worth keeping in mind though that St Kilda’s list of wins last included victories over the Suns, Bombers, Demons, Blues, Bulldogs and Dockers last season, so some growing pains should be expected throughout the year.

Best Bet: Saints to Make the 8

Sydney Swans

  • Last Season: 8-14 (15th)

The Swans have finally hit the rebuild button after missing the finals for the first time in 15 years.

Retirements have hit the club hard with Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack and Heath Grundy choosing to hang up the boots, leaving the leadership firmly in the hands of Dane Rampe, Buddy Franklin and Sam Reid.

Sydney lost four games by 10-points or less last season, so their 15th place finish on the ladder didn’t really do them justice. Still, there are plenty of questions about this side with most of the season hinging on the health of Franklin.

Best Bet: Swans Under the Wins Total

Western Bulldogs

  • Last Season: 12-10 (7th)

The Bulldogs tapped into that underdog edge we saw during their 2016 premiership run to finish seventh on the ladder last season.

Luke Beveridge had his team flying in the second half of the year with seven wins from their last nine games, leaving many to believe the Dogs are the most dangerous team in the competition despite being belted by GWS in the first week of the finals.  

Liam Picken, Dale Morris and Tom Boyd have departed the club with Josh Bruce being the main inclusion.

Beveridge still has plenty to work with though with a good mix of youth, experience and big and small talent.

Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae should figure into the Brownlow conversation again, but the real area to watch this season is the forward line. Bruce and Aaron Naughton should make up a handy one-two punch alongside Aaron Naughton, who kicked 30 goals last year in his first full season.

The Dogs played with a real chip on their shoulder last season and it translated into some real hard and tough footy. Their ball movement can be a joy to watch at times, and the squad has only grown stronger and more mature.

Anything short of a top eight spot would be seen as a disappointment, but realistically, the Bulldogs should have their sights set on the top four.

Best Bet: Bulldogs Top 8

West Coast Eagles

  • Last Season: 15-7 (5th)

We often define a premiership hangover as missing the finals the very next season. But in West Coast’s case, the Eagles simply failed to find their mojo last year despite making it as far as the Semi’s.

The Eagles started the season on the back foot with a blowout loss to the Lions before steadying with two impressive wins over GWS and Collingwood.

From there, West Coast sputtered through April with back-to-back losses to Port Adelaide and Geelong, before winning five on the trot to eventually finish 15-7.

West Coast faces a similar challenge this year with the Dees, Saints, Cats and Port Adelaide all on the cards. Realistically the Eagles could be 4-0 after the first month, and when you look at their list, the expectations only grow from there.

A healthy Nic Naitanui is not only good for the Eagles, it’s also great for the competition as a whole.

Josh Kennedy has reportedly had a terrific preseason, and the addition of Tim Kelly to the mid-field more than makes up for the 215 games worth of experience the Eagles lost with Chris Masten retired.

Last year one of West Coast’s biggest problems was the second quarter, so if they can find a way to re-establish consistent ball movement and goal-scoring, this team is by far the biggest challenge to Richmond once again.

Best Bet: Eagles Minor Premiership

Tips, recommendations and commentary are for entertainment only. We provide no warranty about accuracy or completeness. You should make your own assessment before placing a bet.