It was always going to be a close count between the Collingwood co-captain and the Fremantle star… and it certainly was!
Richmond and Collingwood have played off in the last three grand finals between them, with the Tigers claiming two premierships and the Pies none.
They’ve only met once in September during this period, with Collingwood claiming honours in the 2018 preliminary final.
Both teams will be fancied to be there at the pointy end of the season once more. Can Richmond pull off back-to-back flags for the first time since 1973-74? Will the Pies finally deliver Nathan Buckley his first AFL premiership medal?
The Tigers won the 2017 flag almost by stealth with a strong second half of the season, never really reckoned with as one of the best teams in the competition until the finals. They followed up by being overwhelming favourites all through 2018 but ran out of steam in the last month or two of the season.
2019 was different, injury-riddled and they were out of the top eight after 14 rounds. From that point on, they peeled off 12 wins in a row, putting the exclamation mark on their three years of dominance with an 89-point grand final victory.
Is more glory in store in 2020?
Richmond’s best 25
B: Nick Vlastuin, Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad
HB: Jayden Short, David Astbury, Bachar Houli
Foll: Toby Nankervis, Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia
C: Marlion Pickett, Dustin Martin, Shane Edwards
HF: Shai Bolton, Tom Lynch, Kane Lambert
F: Daniel Rioli, Jack Riewoldt, Jason Castagna
Int: Ivan Soldo, Sydney Stack, Josh Caddy, Liam Baker
Em: Jack Graham, Jack Ross, Jack Higgins
Shaun Grigg retired mid-season, famously allowing the Tigers to access Marlion Pickett in the mid-season draft. Alex Rance retired just before Christmas. Brandon Ellis exercised free agency to join Gold Coast, while Dan Butler and Jacob Townsend have moved to St Kilda and Essendon respectively.
That’s five 2017 premiership players no longer there, while Ellis won a second medal in 2019 as well.
Richmond didn’t bring anyone in from another club, the only team to do so this off-season. With their VFL side having won the flag as well, depth shouldn’t be an issue.
The back line has something for everyone – Nick Vlastuin’s intercepting, Bachar Houli’s run, Jayden Short’s penetrating kick, David Astbury’s professionalism, the dour defence of Nathan Broad, the razzle-dazzle of Sydney Stack and the unbeatable Dylan Grimes.
Up front, Tom Lynch kicked five goals in the prelim and Jack Riewoldt five in the grand final, a couple of pretty handy keys that both featured in The Roar’s top 20 this week. Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna and Shai Bolton provide class and cleverness, as well as fierce defensive pressure.
Through the middle, Trent Cotchin is the best captain and midfield battering ram in the competition, Dion Prestia won the best and fairest in a premiership side and there’s only one person that can claim that every year, Shane Edwards has the most creative hands in the business, Marlion Pickett displayed his class on grand final day and Kane Lambert runs as hard as any player in the league.
And then, of course, there is Dusty. When Richmond feel they’ve got the midfield battle covered, they can just rest him forward. Six goals in the qualifying final against Brisbane and four goals on the way to a Norm Smith medal in the grand final was the result.
The Tigers have a blend of experience and youth, a dual premiership side that has only the tenth oldest list in the competition. With a full list to choose from at the start of the season and plenty of hungry young players pressing for spots, they are going to be awfully hard to stop from contending once again.
Predicted finish: third.
The Pies were one errant Dom Sheed kick from winning a flag in 2018, and a Taylor Adams snap that just needed to be a few centimetres straighter from a grand final last season. Things didn’t fall their way at the end in either of those matches, but on both occasions they were five goals down earlier in the game so only have themselves to blame.
What is in store for the Magpies in 2020, after almost going under the radar in the lead-up?
Collingwood’s best 25
B: John Noble, Jordan Roughead, Brayden Maynard
HB: Jeremy Howe, Darcy Moore, Jack Crisp
Foll: Brodie Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams
C: Steele Sidebottom, Adam Treloar, Tom Phillips
HF: Josh Thomas, Brody Mihocek, Jordan de Goey
F: Jaidyn Stephenson, Mason Cox, Jamie Elliott
Int: Chris Mayne, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Callum Brown, Travis Varcoe
Em: Darcy Cameron, Ben Reid, Brayden Sier
Out of the club go Tyson Goldsack and Daniel Wells to retirement, while James Aish and Ben Crocker have ended up elsewhere in the AFL. Alongside some draftees, Darcy Cameron crosses from Sydney as a back-up to Brodie Grundy and to put pressure on Mason Cox’s spot.
While the Pies were defensively sound in 2019, ranking second, they never really got their offensive game going, rating only seventh in attack.
Mason Cox couldn’t build on his 2018 preliminary final heroics, Jordan de Goey was injured and didn’t have the same impact, Josh Thomas and Will Hoskin-Elliott dropped away and of course, Jaidyn Stephenson was suspended for ten matches for placing three bets on his own side.
Jamie Elliott returned to the forward line with a measure of success, and Brody Mihocek stepped up to lead the attack, but overall that part of the ground never gelled. There is enough talent there for it to, but quite a few players are prone to injury and form fluctuations, which makes continuity hard.
The Pies have an engine room that keeps them in all games and wins them many. Brodie Grundy could well be the ruckman of the century by the time he finishes, Scott Pendlebury still makes admirers go weak at the knees, Adam Treloar is prolific and Taylor Adams is the footballer’s footballer while Steele Sidebottom and Tom Phillips patrol the wings.
Down back, Darcy Moore is looking to take another step after a strong 2019, while Jeremy Howe is one of the best interceptors in the game. Jordan Roughead provides great value as a key back, and Brayden Maynard is as tough as old boots. Jack Crisp is ever the professional through mid and defence.
Collingwood lacks some star power at either end of the ground when compared to the likes of Richmond, GWS and West Coast, but they work an effective game plan that is a modification on what the Tigers do.
If the Pies midfield can peak leading into September and the forward line can click at the right time of year, they can kick off the 2020s the way they did the 2010s.
Predicted finish: fourth.
1. West Coast
5. Western Bulldogs
9. North Melbourne
10. St Kilda
11. Port Adelaide
18. Gold Coast