Much remains uncertain about the AFL in 2020, but perhaps not those sides who will be there battling it out in the pointy end of the season. The league’s best have either remained stable or bolstered their sides, in the case of the Eagles and their addition of gun midfielder Tim Kelly in the off-season.
But if the only constant in professional sport is change, expect more shocks akin to the Lions’ stunning rise up the ladder in 2019. Here, for now, are the premiership favourites for 2020.
There’s distance between the Tigers and the next flag favourite. After three years at the peak of the AFL hierarchy, don’t expect Richmond to go anywhere anytime soon. While Alex Rance is irreplaceable, the Tigers backline have already proven they can more than stand up without him. Grand Final revelation Marlion Pickett looks set to add to the Tigers’ depth alongside emerging talent like Sydney Stack and Shai Bolton.
They did lose two-time premiership player Brandon Ellis to the Suns in the off-season, and missed out on the first-round compensation pick they felt they deserved. Their major loss, however, is their fans: for the foreseeable future, they’ll be no Tiger Army to will their side over the line. Perhaps those crowd limitations will prove their biggest opponent this year – barring catastrophe, top four and another finals assault is virtually pencilled in for the Tigers.
West Coast Eagles
When you add Tim Kelly to an already star-studded midfield, one thing’s for sure – you don’t get worse. The Eagles look set to bounce back from their disappointing semi-final exit in to Geelong in 2019 and are one of the chief flag favourites for AFL betting.
A bigger ‘if’ is the long-term health of Nic Naitanui. But look out if he does stay fit, considering the Eagles have already proven in 2018 they can win the whole thing without him and other key personnel. Now, the opposite seems the case – it’s difficult to imagine who’ll be squeezed out to make way for Kelly. The other question mark is the long-term viability of Josh Kennedy as the Eagles’ main man in the forward line. The two-time Coleman Medallist turns 33 this year.
The Pies have found stability under coach Nathan Buckley and their list is primed perhaps more than any club to go one step further and claim the flag that has eluded them in the past two seasons. They’ve already proven they can go with anyone on their day, and that’s before the competition has seen the best of emerging stars like Jaidyn Stephenson and Jordan De Goey.
Should the injury troubles that have plagued them in the past stay away, many have the Pies down as their flag favourite. The one shadow over their year is the health of Dayne Beams, who has likely played his last AFL game.
The extent of the Giants’ Grand Final embarrassment means they may just be underrated as a premiership favourite. To be sure, absolutely nothing went right for the Giants on Grand Final day – not even the coin toss – but it’s easy to forget several of their best 22 were either on the sidelines or bruised and battered after a punishing finals run.
Add a fit Stephen Coniglio and Callan Ward back into the Giants best side and it’s hard to argue once again that they don’t possess the most talent in the league on paper.
After another preliminary final disappointment for the Cats in 2019, the question remains – do they really have enough to win it all? The loss of Tim Kelly is a serious blow to their midfield stocks, and Jack Steven’s capacity to regain his best form at the Cattery is very much a question mark after a turbulent off-season.
It’s been said more times than would fit on one hand, but here we go again: this year could, finally, be now or never for the Cats. Long-time champion Joel Selwood is now 32 and Tom Hawkins will join him this year, and it’s been nearly a decade since they played off in the big one in 2011. But Geelong have defied expectations too many times to bet against them being there at the pointy end of the season once again.
After a meteoric breakout year in 2019, the Lions will be keen to secure back-to-back top four finishes. Their list is certainly one of the healthiest in the competition, with a crop of young stars continuing to develop under the watch of strong leadership from the likes of Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson.
Not all are convinced they’re yet the real deal, but the Lions surely have too much talent to slide significantly down the ladder. Maybe a flag is still beyond them, but anything short from a preliminary final will be a disappointment for Chris Fagan’s men.