Which clubs looks destined for greatness, who is on the rise, or on the slide? Bold predictions that are actually bold, all in the realm that this cough pandemic doesn’t curtail the whole thing anyway…

Yes. It’s weird.

But for the purposes of not just this column but to some degree our self-esteem and mental wellbeing, we will take a look at what the 2020 season has in store like nothing is happening and there’s nothing to see here.

Team on the rise

Port Adelaide interests me. Sure, they lost Paddy Ryder, but they’ve still got Scott Lycett, a premiership ruckman. And too Dougal Howard, but to be honest, he isn’t Bruce Doull. Despite that they are coming off an 11-11 season with a 105% percentage. That one-point loss to the Giants in Round 19 flips around, they play finals.

It’s Kenny’s last year of a contract, they’ve got a very talented list, surely they’re a top 8 side this year with natural improvement from the youngsters and a good run with injury.

Freo has shown some positive signs in the pre-season, new coach, new mentalities, still a very talented list based on going heavy top-end draft of late. If Jesse Hogan can, well, have an influence onfield in 2020 thats massive as well.

But I’m going St Kilda to make top four. Why? They won nine games last year, four the year before, the trajectory is nice. I think Marshall and Ryder as ruck-forward combo looks tasty. I think Hannebery has a fit year and as a 29-year-old can have a really strong year. Hill and Jones are terrific additions to the midfield, if Dunstan or Billings or Gresham or Steele can elevate their games then they’re looking gravy. Also, a backline with a fit Carlile, Roberton, with Clark who I think has an All-Australian jumper at some point, looks terrific. Brett Ratten was a 50% winning coach at Carlton, he then spent time under Clarko, I think he will do great things at Moorabbin.

Paddy Ryder at St Kilda pre-season training (photo saints.com.au)

Team on the slide

Brisbane or Geelong, take your pick.

Don’t rate Brisbane’s 2019. May prove to be a fool and they finish top two again, but I doubt it. Lachie Neale had a great year, but the idea Hugh McLuggage is Robbie Flower all of a sudden? Yeah nah. Classic overachieve year, and I can’t see them making the eight when all things are even. Their draw last year was a dream, playing West Coast in Round One, upset them, then not facing any of the top teams until the last month of the year.

The Cats, I think the dynasty is over. Taylor is still a first-choice key back for them, that scares me, Hawkins is a gun but playing Ratugolea and Jenkins, or one or the other, doesn’t sit well with me. Can Ablett be elite by season’s end still? Dangerfield and Duncan are still huge in the guts, but if Selwood stars to slow down, and Steven coming in can’t be Saints B&F Steven just yet, the midfield looks thin. Not for me.

Player to take next step

Few names we like here, lot of youngsters. Sam Taylor from the Giants will become one of the game’s properly good key backs, I think Darcy Fogarty looks even better second year as the Tex Walker replacement for the Crows.

Andrew Brayshaw for Freo, watch him blossom in the guts next to Fyfe, Bailey Smith will catch Sam Walsh in 2020 as well.

Jacob Hopper might get into top 20 players in the comp conversations, maybe.

But for me, and I’m going with two, Hunter Clark and Harry McKay.

Clark might not play like Luke Hodge, but I see him having a similar defensive general influence. Minus the grit and the guts and the fear factor, Clark looks like an absolute rock down back for the Saints and might just get an AA jumper as soon as this year. Stud.

And as for McKay, no reason why he isn’t top five for the Coleman and leading the comp in contested marks, or certainly forwards in that category anyway. Not sure he is more talented than Charlie Curnow, but for a proper centre-half foward monster, McKay looks destined.

Hunter Clark against West Coast in Perth, 2019 (photo: saints.com.au)
Harry McKay after a goal in Round 3, 2019 (photo sen.com.au)

Rising star watch

This is an easier one. Some obvious names, last year’s top two picks in Matty Rowell and Noah Anderson, I think the latter is severely underrated so watch him go well. Max King from St Kilda looks to have a key role up forward in a good team, he’ll go well also.

My tip is Izak Rankine as I still believe he is the most talented kid from his draft class, which had Sam Walsh in it. Freak. He plays a full season, be prepared to be amazed.

Rowell is a good kid, but head to head he doesn’t have anything on Rankine for mine.

Izak Rankine against the Bulldogs pre-season 2019 (photo: Ian Hitchcock)

Coleman Medal

Last year six blokes kicked over 50 goals. Jeremy Cameron won with 76, Ben Brown and Tom Lynch in the 60s, Tom Hawkins, Jack Darling and Charlie Cameron round out the half-dozen.

Hard to see anyone going past Cameron again, mind you Ben Brown is due to go close again. On averages he probably runs Jezza the closest.

So will go the obvious one here with Jeremy Cameron, but for a smokey, Charlie Dixon if Port Adelaide get back into the finals.

Charlie Dixon after a goal in Round 21 vs. Sydney, 2019 (photo: portadelaidefc.com.au)

Brownlow Medal

No beating around the bush, if he stays fit I like Josh Kelly. 2017 count he played a full season, his fourth, got 21 votes. Last two years, missed almost half a season each time, got 11 and 10 votes.

He plays whatever a full season is in 2020, he will be right up there. He is a proven poller, is a Brownlow kind of player playing in a Brownlow kind of position. Just turned 25, seems bang on to me.

Josh Kelly at the 2017 Preliminary Final at the MCG (picture: Michael Klein)

Top 8

Unlike the magazines that come with the Herald Sun early March telling you the top 8 will be the same as last season because ‘look at the form guide, good teams are still good’, it just never happens that way.

So, taking into account some bold ideas on who might be on the rise, who will leap out of nowhere perhaps (ala Brisbane last year, Collingwood the year before), but also those due for a finals-spell, we’ve come up with:

  1. West Coast – a fit Naitanui, the acqusition of Tim Kelly, won a flag in 2018 and should have made top four last year if not for a Round 23 stuff up.
  2. GWS – still way too much talent. Grand Final was yuck, sure, but looking at lists, no-one comes close.
  3. Richmond – can’t see them dropping out of the four, backing up will be tough. Teams will be better against the Tigs this year, dynasties are hard because teams work you out eventually.
  4. St Kilda – why? well why not? Add to last year’s nine-win team Ryder, Howard, Hill, Jones, Butler, a fit Carlile and Roberton, an exciting Max King and an ex-Clarko assistant, a qualification that has won every flag since Clarko’s three-in-a-row. Your witness.
  5. Collingwood – slight drop, but I sense more the same. Good footy side who just missed a flag, then just missed a Grand Final. I see finals again, winning one, maybe two tops.
  6. Bulldogs – Didn’t show up week one of the finals last year, but back half of the year no-one was more exciting and threatening. Added Keath down back, who was an AA-backman mid-year, got Josh Bruce up forward and have a quality midfield. Tim English goes good too. They look good.
  7. Essendon – taking a punt on Blake Caracella here. He has come across from Richmond and essentially has fleshed out a new game plan with 2021-onwards senior coach Ben Rutten, and it might just come off. Talented list, a number of AA-quality players, if they get any footy out of Joe Daniher then the sky is the limit. But even so, Stringer can kick 40-50 and they can make the eight without him.
  8. Port Adelaide – won 11 games last year, their best team is still very potent and Ken Hinkley is in an official make or break year. I think they tip over the right side of the ledger, to mix metaphors, and those good youngsters with another pre-season under the built only help get the Power back in the finals.

Grand Final

Found this difficult, so let’s firstly project out a finals maze from the top 8 predicted. I think the Eagles and Giants host prelim finals, I think West Coast defeats Richmond in a belter prelim in Perth, but I can see the Giants being upset by whoever comes from the other side. St Kilda or Collingwood perhaps. The Pies get ultimate pay back two weeks in a row? Or can the Saints leap into a Grand Final right away. Not sure.

So scrapping that, I do think West Coast make it, as for their opponent, let’s say its the Giants, but the Eagles win their second in three, the Giants lose back to back.

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