The preseason water cooler talk, from the leaders in media to the two local bricklayers discussing their opinions over smoko, usually resolve over one thing: predictions.
However, given the season is less than six weeks until its opening act, each team has many a burning question or line of discussion that has brewed, and by the time the final siren has sounded to announce yet another set of premiership heroes, they shall be answered.
So what are these matters of discussion that need to be addressed by your club?
Adelaide Crows: can these kids play?
Adelaide in the last three years have drafted Chance Jones, Ned McHenry, Will Hamill, Lachlan Sholl, Jordan Butts, Fischer McAsey and Harry Schoenberg, who have all showed different levels of signs, and with the guys yet to debut – Josh Worrall, Ronin O’Connor, Lachlan Gollant, Riley Thilthorpe, Luke Pedlar, Brayden Cook, Sam Berry and James Rowe – all in the wings, Adelaide are clearly going through a rebuild. In 2021 we will know more about if they’re doing it correctly.
Brisbane Lions: are they good enough to make a grand final?
One of a few teams whose destiny are in their hands, Brisbane got Joe Daniher and have had two years of finals. In 1999 the Lions finished third and made a preliminary final, and then in 2000 they finished sixth and lost a semi-final before the famous threepeat. In 2019 Brisbane finished second and bombed out of the finals in straight sets, and then in 2020 finished second again and lost in the prelims.
After two years of finals 20 years ago they took the next step. Now they have the team to do it again.
Carlton Blues: can they actually make the eight?
When you’ve got the equal most premierships in the league but your best finish since 2000 is fifth, the high horse needs to be retired. The tall forwards need to stop getting injured for a start, but they’ve got the weapons to be a top-eight side, so they need to start performing.
Collingwood Magpies: has Bucks lost the group?
In what seems an eternity ago, Collingwood won the seemingly impossible elimination final against West Coast on 3 October, then Jaidyn Stephenson and Adam Treloar were unceremoniously shown the door, and with the drafting of Oliver Henry, Finlay Macrae, Caleb Poulter, Reef McInnes, Liam McMahon and Beau McCreery, the media have been on Collingwood more than any other side, and Nathan Buckley’s leadership has been called into question. In 2021 we will find out if Bucks has the group.
Essendon Bombers: did they nail the draft?
In Ben Rutten’s first official year at Essendon, thanks to Adam Saad and Joe Daniher departing, he got three consecutive picks in the top ten and got local lad Archie Perkins, the versatile Nik Cox and tall defender Zach Reid to build up the future. Cox played on a wing in the practice game against Carlton and Perkins played midfield-forward. Reid also has his fans. Essendon aren’t expected to play finals, but these three players are crucial cogs during a rebuild that seems inevitable.
Fremantle Dockers: how close are they to a finals berth?
Fremantle are one of the more fascinating teams in 2021 because they seem to have nailed their last couple of drafts. Nat Fyfe is only 30 at the end of the year. If key backs Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce stay fit and if Matt Taberner gets some help up forward, can Freo make finals? We will know where they’re at by September.
Geelong Cats: can the old men bring home a new premiership?
There’s an air of ‘premiership or bust’ around Kardinia Park, with Isaac Smith, Shaun Higgins and Jeremy Cameron coming over to the reigning runners-up. Geelong’s ruck seems to be the weakness, with Rhys Stanley’s fresh injury, Esava Ratugolea’s inconsistency, Darcy Fort’s inability to grab the spot and Shannon Neale’ inexperience, but the last All Australian ruck to win the flag was Corey McKernan in 1996, so it isn’t that bad of an issue.
Gold Coast: how many wins do they have in them?
Six wins in 2017, four in 2018, three in 2019 and five and a half in 2020 have been the case for the most northern club. In a weird way no-one would be surprised if the Suns won eight games or won two or any in between. The feeling within the group is there needs to be a maiden finals spot, but ten wins would be a fantastic jump.
Greater Western Sydney Giants: is the Ferrari now a Honda Civic?
No disrespect to Honda Civics or their owners, but if you had a Ferrari for five years and then had a Civic, would you be dancing in the streets? The Giants fell off the perch in 2020 after a maiden grand final berth and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence things will get better, especially with Jeremy Cameron gone and a quad injury to Jesse Hogan. The 2021 season could be the year the Giants realise Leon Cameron might not be their man going forward. Michael Voss or Alastair Clarkson, anyone?
Hawthorn Hawks: how many more old guys go?
David King saying that Hawthorn will finish last wasn’t the worst take, but it still seems impossible that a Clarko-coached team could be the worst in the league. With no James Sicily for most of the year, Jack Gunston will miss the first six weeks and there’s no real quality key forward or X factor midfielder. But with Ben McEvoy and Luke Breust signing on, the older guys include Shaun Burgoyne, who’s going to finish up; Jon Ceglar, who’s got trade bait written all over him; Keegan Brooksby, who won’t be there; Liam Shiels, who is make or break; and Kyle Hartigan, who has a deal. How much list turnover do the Hawks go through?
Melbourne Demons: can they save Simon Goodwin’s job?
Melbourne are on the ropes, make no mistake about it. Simon Goodwin has two years left on his deal, but barring the 2018 season Melbourne have been poor, with just a preliminary final and 17th and 9th to show for their efforts. Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver, Steve May and Christian Petracca seem to be the only A-graders, and with Ben Brown and Sam Weideman going down with injury, they look stuck up forward. Goodwin will be under pressure all season.
North Melbourne Kangaroos: how good are these kids?
North are going through a rebuild, and with their epic cleanout over the preseason, they’re committing to the kids. Like Essendon, this draft was key, and with their selections of Will Phillips (3), Tom Powell (13), Charlie Lazzaro (36), Phoenix Spicer (42) and Eddie Ford (56), only midfielders and small forwards did seem odd, but they need to be backed in. Lazzaro and Powell have been the best in the preseason, but if North want to strip back and start again, these kids are the start.
Port Adelaide Power: can they make the big dance?
The reigning minor premiers have an amazing spectrum of quality veterans – Robbie Gray and Travis Boak turn 33 this year, Tom Rockliff and Hamish Hartlett are 31 this year and Tom Jonas is 30 – and quality kids, including Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, who are only 21, 20 and 20 respectively, with mature bodies in between. This group can absolutely win the flag. Perhaps inexperience was their downfall in 2020, but that excuse is gone now. They can absolutely be a top-two team in the league.
Richmond Tigers: will they win four from five?
Richmond are the biggest club in Victoria by a country mile. They’re the envy of the league, with 60 per cent of the premierships in the last half-decade, and every time the media wants to know if ‘success fatigue’ is setting in they go to another level. With everything that went wrong in 2020, their flag should be celebrated as one of the best ever, but now they can come home and win another. It would surprise no-one. Dustin Martin isn’t out of his prime, the role players know what to do, Dylan Grimes re-signed and if Tom Lynch stops whacking blokes, they’ll win it again.
St Kilda Saints: how many finals can they win?
There’s a famous footy quote that ‘not one club can win a premiership in the preseason but 18 can lose it’, and the fear is that injuries to Jarryn Geary, Rowan Marshall and Ben Paton may prove that truism accurate. But the Saints have got the base to really build something special here. They’re almost the majority ‘second team’, but if they’re fit at the back end of the year, St Kilda making a preliminary final is not out of the question.
West Coast Eagles: is this their last tilt at a flag?
As I wrote a week or so ago, West Coast are the dark horse for the flag, and with their best players in the twilight of their careers and not a heck of a lot of youthful depth coming through, if the Eagles are to win another flag in the short term, it has to be this year. They’ll get their home games of course, but if they don’t win the flag, the premiership window might close on them.
Western Bulldogs: can a midfield drag them to finals wins?
The Bulldogs are one of the more interesting case studies of 2021 so far. Almost stealing an elimination final largely thanks to Caleb Daniel’s last quarter was the story of their year, and they needed to address the tall forwards, tall backs and ruck help for Tim English. They drafted academy gun and No. 1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan to help the talls in attack, but relying on a kid who hasn’t played yet to make up your deficiencies is laughable. Ryan Gardner doesn’t look to be up to the standard down back, Alex Keath wasn’t at his best in 2020, Easton Wood is past his prime and no help down back.
But the Bulldogs have Adam Treloar in a midfield that seemed overcrowded last season. The Dogs aren’t winning the flag in 2021, but can they improve on a three-point loss in the first final? Time will tell.