Geelong and Hawthorn have formed probably the most storied rivalry of this century, picking up in the late 2000s following their 2008 grand final, and continuing on for many years. The Kennett Curse has gone down in football folklore.
Alastair Clarkson is acknowledged as the master coach of this era, and usually has the Hawks competitive beyond their station. Chris Scott has some admirers but many detractors, and his teams often perform below their capacity. What is in store for each club in 2020?
The Cats had a funny 2019 in the end. On top of the ladder for 21 of the 23 rounds and with a percentage 15 per cent clear of their nearest rival, they limped into finals winning five of their last ten matches.
A mediocre win over Collingwood in week one put them in a prelim, where they played an outstanding half of football to put Richmond to the sword, but they couldn’t go with the Tigers after half-time when the eventual premiers raised the stakes.
Geelong’s best 25
B: Mark O’Connor, Jake Kolodjashnij, Jack Henry
HB: Zach Tuohy, Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart
Foll: Rhys Stanley, Joel Selwood, Quinton Narkle
C: Mitch Duncan, Patrick Dangerfield, Jack Steven
HF: Brandon Parfitt, Tom Hawkins, Luke Dahlhaus
F: Gary Ablett, Josh Jenkins, Gryan Miers
Int: Esava Ratugolea, Sam Menegola, Jordan Clark, Tom Atkins
Em: Gary Rohan, Cam Guthrie, Charlie Constable
Out of the club goes Tim Kelly, fresh off a top-five finish in the Brownlow, as well as ruckman Zac Smith and Scott Selwood. Josh Jenkins and Jack Steven come in as the standard top-ups from others clubs. To be fair to the Cats, they do a good job balancing their intake from other clubs along with developing their own talent.
The back line did a great job in 2019, albeit protected by the go-slow game plan with ball in hand that Chris Scott insisted on. Defending with the ball became a buzz phrase last season, with Geelong leading the way on the implementation of it, a continuation of a trend under Scott. But the conservative play appears not to lead to many finals wins.
Mark Blicavs is very good and has multi-purpose talents that sometimes confuse even the coaching staff. The solid but somewhat overrated Tom Stewart is always effective. Jake Kolodjashnij and Jack Henry get the job done more often than not, and Zach Tuohy is back in full health. Mark O’Connor gains more admirers by the game.
The Cats’ midfield is led by Patrick Dangerfield as always and Mitch Duncan is one of the best kicks in the league, but Joel Selwood is on the wane. What a champion he has been. Jack Steven has now been added into the mix, and will also ply his trade in the forward half. Quinton Narkle looks the goods despite only 12 career games – tough and hard but with a touch of class. He must get more opportunities.
The ruck has long been an issue at the Cats, but best not to overthink it. It means little as a position, and Rhys Stanley is fine.
Josh Jenkins has been added to the forward mix, and is probably fighting Gary Rohan for a spot, despite the two being very different players. What they do have in common is few possessions and a high percentage of their goals from the goal square – you only need one of those types. Esava Ratugolea is likely to play ahead of both.
Gary Ablett will continue to be dangerous closer to goal, Tom Hawkins is probably the most consistent key forward in the competition, and Luke Dahlhaus captured some of his best Bulldogs form last year but fell away in the second half of the season as the team did.
Gryan Miers was a revelation last year, but Jordan Clark and Tom Atkins also proved their worth as first-year players. Brandon Parfitt is going to be a good player for a long time.
As ever with Geelong, the talent is there, but they have Chris Scott to contend with. His match-day tactics are his supposed strength, but from the outside they appear to burden his players and drain them over the course of a season.
Was the 6-6 finish from their last 12 games last year the real Cats? If so, they can expect a mid-table finish in 2020.
Predicted finish: eighth
In 2018 the Hawks weren’t very good, yet ended up in fourth position on the ladder. In 2019, they were much worse, with a 5-9 record at one stage, yet still ended up knocking on the door of finals. How does Clarkson do it?
In both years Hawthorn came home with a rush, winning ten of their last 14 in 2018 and six of their last eight in 2019. With lesser talent than in their premiership years, Clarkson seems to take half a season to get his team where he needs them to be, honing his game plan and teaching his players.
Hawthorn’s best 25
B: Ben Stratton, Sam Frost, Blake Hardwick
HB: Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, James Sicily
Foll: Ben McEvoy, Jaeger O’Meara, James Worpel
C: Ricky Henderson, Tom Mitchell, Isaac Smith
HF: Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Chad Wingard
F: Mitchell Lewis, Jon Patton, Paul Puopolo
Int: Jonathon Ceglar, Tom Scully, Liam Shiels, Jack Scrimshaw
Em: Tim O’Brien, James Cousins, Oliver Hanrahan
Jarman Impey and Daniel Howe are both listed as indefinite on the AFL injury list, and haven’t been considered for the above side. Blake Hardwick is named but will miss the first half of the season.
The Hawks didn’t lose anyone they wanted to keep in the off-season, but did say goodbye to premiership stars Jarryd Roughead and Grant Birchall. In come Jon Patton from GWS and Sam Frost from Melbourne to slot into a goal square at each end.
The midfield still looks on the thin side, despite Tom Mitchell’s return, Ricky Henderson’s stellar form in 2019, and the stunning second year from James Worpel. Jaeger O’Meara won’t reach the heights for which he was destined before knee injuries struck him down, but is still a solid AFL citizen.
Isaac Smith and Tom Scully will continue to run all day and do a job on the outside, and Liam Shiels will do his work as a defensive jobber.
Down back, James Sicily is a star, and while Clarkson loves versatility, Sicily could be as good as Jeremy McGovern. Leave him down back, and let opposition sides work around him.
James Frawley, Ben Stratton and Shaun Burgoyne have been around forever; figuratively in the case of the first two, literally in the case of the latter. Blake Hardwick will miss the first half of the season, depriving the Hawks of their best lockdown small. Frost will provide pace to the back line, coming off his best season as a Demon.
Up forward, the Hawks dropped almost two goals a game from 2018 into 2019. Jack Gunston and Luke Breust couldn’t back up their exploits from the year before, while Jarryd Roughead and Paul Puopolo dropped away sharply.
Chad Wingard was a disappointment in his first year in the brown and gold, but track-watchers suggest he looks much fitter this time around. He’s a special talent when right, but question marks remain.
Jonathon Patton has been added to the mix, an old-fashioned key forward that doesn’t count mobility as an asset in an era when defensive pressure is key. Mitch Lewis turned heads in the second half of last season, but can he make great strides with Patton there as a key target alongside Gunston and Breust?
It’s easy to make the case that Hawthorn should be improved from 2019 with their additions of a Brownlow medallist, Patton and Frost, as well as another year of improvement from Worpel, and a more fully functioning Scully.
Predicted finish: seventh
1. West Coast
9. North Melbourne
10. St Kilda
11. Port Adelaide
18. Gold Coast