It’s been a long ten weeks since an AFL game last graced the field. For the first time in months, the sweet sound of the siren will ring out over a handful of corporate fans and the fresh Sherrin will be slammed into the pristine deck. It’s the small things that have been missed most.
Round 2 of the 2020 AFL season serves as a secondary slice of round one. Just like its previous round, the second week of the competition will be unpredictable. Before the first match, pre-season form and off-season development means there will always be upsets. But Queensland hubs, a lack of crowds and the internal toll of self-isolation could impact AFL teams and players in ways we cannot predict. The result is nine games that hold no assumptions. How does one team hold a better claim for favouritism than any other? All sides are at square one. It should provide for a batch of exciting games.
Taking this into consideration, here is a preview of an exciting round of footy.
Richmond v Collingwood
Before COVID-19 blitzed through the world and interrupted national sport, the AFL community were frothing at the mouth for this round two match-up.
In the past couple of years, the proud Victorian powerhouses have forged a modern-day rivalry. They have been perennially successful in the past two Septembers, and play differing brands of footy that are only similar in terms of speed and skill. If their past meetings are anything to go by, this clash will be intense.
What can we expect from Richmond after round one?
The reigning premier’s opening round clash with Carlton did little to answer questions about Richmond’s 2020 form.
Starting off with a scintillating procession of goals, the Tigers looked as slick and bold as they have ever been. Marlion Pickett proved his Grand Final was no aberration with a steady midfield performance, while Dion Prestia and Dustin Martin were in sparkling touch.
But in the second half of the match, and particularly in the last quarter, a youthful Carlton side made Richmond look vulnerable. The Blues out-ran the Tigers and were able to constantly bounce through their vaunted defence. Jack Martin kicked four goals in a wonderful debut, and Patrick Cripps could not be curtailed by Trent Cotchin and the Richmond midfield. In the end, a four-goal win did little to stamp their authority over the competition.
Will the Tigers have rectified their sloppy second half, or does their Collingwood meeting spell a major opportunity for the Pies to bring the Richmond castle toppling down?
Does Collingwood have what it takes to overcome the Colli-wobbles in 2020?
Round one was a thrilling start for all black and white fans.
Coming up against the highly touted Bulldogs, they destroyed the 2016 premiers from the get-go. Scott Pendlebury was as industrious as ever in the midfield, while Jordan De Goey and Jamie Elliott gave the Bulldogs defence constant headaches en route to a 52-point demolition job. The most impressive part of their win was the impact promising young players in John Noble, Josh Daicos and the Brown brothers had. This group kept Jaidyn Stephenson out of the side, and were essential in firing the Pies to a massive win.
But did the coronavirus break come at the worst time for Collingwood?
Their depth looks as deep as it has ever been in recent years with the likes of Stephenson, Travis Varcoe, Rupert Wills, Brayden Sier and Matt Scharenberg not cracking into the side. The key will be how Collingwood have come back from the self-isolation period. Will the black and white train roll smoothly on from round one, or was the bump in the road disorienting for a side who are fully focused on more finals action?
What impact will Darcy Cameron have for Collingwood?
The only change Collingwood made following their round one win was the introduction of Darcy Cameron for the ginger Mason Cox.
Originally a back-up ruckman at Sydney, Cameron impressed in his pre-season hit out against the Tigers, where he constantly looked to be a threat up forward and supported Grundy ably in the ruck. But now he has to handle the pressure of the big stage. Can Cameron stand up to become the tall forward option Collingwood yearn for so badly? Or will he falter under the Thursday night lights? A major factor on the result lies with Cameron – if he can give Richmond’s small defence some headaches, then De Goey and Elliott can clean up his crumbs and kick a winning score.
Tip: This is a hard one. Both teams have significant claims on this match. I’m going with the Pies by 11 points, due to their depth and dynamic round one effort. But it’s difficult to count the Tigers out of any contest nowadays.
Geelong v Hawthorn
This is going to be a different game in many ways.
The two rivals are used to Friday night match ups under the intense scrutiny of the entire AFL world. They have done battle on many a September night. But now, Hawthorn must travel to a rather empty GMHBA Stadium, where the home side are notoriously successful.
Geelong need the win, for their brave showing in round one did little to quell GWS’ influence. They only have another season or two before their aging stars fall out of premiership contention. Jack Steven was an obvious recruit to lift them over the line in key September moments. They must bounce back if they are to be any threat for the flag.
Who will stop Jon Patton?
The boom Hawthorn recruit looks fit and ready to fire.
After multiple serious injuries, Patton’s move to the Hawks heralded a serious potential to take Hawthorn back into the top eight in 2020.
Just looking at his highlights from GWS, it’s obvious how destructive Patton can be when in full flight. If Hawthorn can get Patton reaching his peak, Harry Taylor and Mark Blicavs will struggle to contain him. He’s the missing link Hawthorn are crying out for. But can he prove himself against a fierce foe?
Will the return of Tom Mitchell make Hawthorn’s midfield unstoppable?
Not since the days of Sam Mitchell has Hawthorn’s midfield looked so irresistible.
Now, Tom should line up in his return season from his gruesome broken leg, standing alongside the likes of Jaeger O’Meara, Chad Wingard, Tom Scully and James Worpel in the centre circle.
With their midfield stocks boosted, the brown and gold could trouble the Cats. They have youth and serious pace on their side, while Worpel and Wingard hold the dynamic ability to regularly hit the scoreboard. The result will depend on the Hawks’ midfield. They easily have the potential to control the clearances and give Patton perfect delivery. But will they perform?
What impact will Geelong’s aging recruits have?
Geelong made their premiership intentions clear in the 2019 end-of-season trade period.
Swooping on Josh Jenkins and Jack Steven, the Cats are looking to go further than their 2019 preliminary final exit.
The Cats have plenty of talented youngsters, but heavily rely on Taylor, Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins to be successful. Looking to the 2020 season, Jenkins and Steven were brought in to address two current issues in their outside running speed and their tall forward stocks behind Hawkins.
These trades have the potential to blow up in Geelong’s face and push them down the ladder. But they may also be shrewd moves if the pair are to rediscover their footing at GMHBA Stadium and power the Cats back into flag contention.
Tip: Another 50/50 call. But if any coach is able to handle the coronavirus break best, it’s Alastair Clarkson. Hawks by 23.
Brisbane v Fremantle
When the AFL world went into a COVID-19 limbo, Brisbane managed to slip away from some scrutiny.
Coming off a shock 2019 season where they shot back up the ladder and into the finals, they now face a fierce challenge to deliver again in 2020. A round one loss to Hawthorn did little to alleviate the heat. Now, they must beat Fremantle in a shortened season if they are to cast their eyes on a top-eight place for the second consecutive season.
The Dockers, under new coach Justin Longmuir, fought back bravely in their narrow round one loss to the Bombers. They are mysterious – the likes of James Aish could add plenty of depth to Fremantle’s youthful line up. Has the time off given Freo a chance to develop a more attacking game plan?
Will Lachie Neale and Charlie Cameron replicate their 2019 form?
A major part of Brisbane’s top four finish last season was the All-Australian years Neale and Cameron had. The former dominated in the midfield and was up the pointy end in Brownlow Medal contention. Cameron kicked a dazzling 57 goals and became a versatile deep forward who had the potential to become unstoppable.
But now we are into a new season, and the two Brisbane stars must find new ways to dominate if their side is to emulate their 2019 season. Fremantle have spent 10 weeks studying the game of Brisbane’s best players. Neale and Cameron will have to go to a new level if they are to lead the Lions to a much-needed victory.
Can Fremantle finally find a working tall forward combination?
The biggest issue facing the Dockers is their lack of tall forward options. It’s been a pressing issue since the Ross Lyon days, where Matthew Pavlich received little assistance in the air. For them to take a step up the ladder, it’s a problem they must figure out sooner rather than later.
Fremantle have plenty of handy half-forward flank options in Matt Taberner and Sam Sturt. Michael Walters is a match-winning midfield and small forward option. Other than that, Cam McCarthy has big shoes to fill if he is to regularly kick bags of goals. His fitness is touch and go after his health scare at training last week, meaning Rory Lobb will have plenty of pressure on him to perform and carry the forward line through this match. He is a wonderfully talented player, but he may be stretched coming up against Harris Andrews.
Tip: Brisbane to bounce back and win by 18. Fremantle will be brave and make a late charge, but the Lions have too much firepower for the clutch moments.
Carlton v Melbourne
This battle between two Victorian teams will define each side’s 2020 campaigns.
Carlton inspired fans with its round one performance against the reigning premiers. A wealth of new inclusions gives them reason to believe they can reach the top eight in a shortened season.
But Melbourne should be confident they can avenge their horror 2019 season. They have a decent and finally fit squad. But the pressure is on, and a second loss on the trot would throw Simon Goodwin and his troops into limbo.
Is Jack Martin the real deal?
His round one effort on debut for the Blues was superb.
Four goals and an eye-catching display across the midfield and forward line had his name up in lights. He was always touted as a prodigious talent up at the Gold Coast, but now he is more mature and fighting fit to have a breakout 2020 season.
Carlton need a versatile forward with Charlie Curnow still sidelined. Could Martin be the answer?
Will Steven May, Neville Jetta and Jake Lever finally create an unbreakable defence?
Melbourne paid big bucks to get both Lever and May over to the Dees. Lever was lured after starring in a Grand Final bound Adelaide side. An ACL injury ruined his debut campaign, and it took until the second half of 2019 for him to string some games together. Now, he has the chance to start a season fully fit. Can he recreate his 2017 form and change the dynamics of Melbourne’s back line?
Jetta will return from an injury-hampered 2019, while May can finally settle into a groove at centre half-back with some sturdier support. If the trio stay fit, they may hold the key to rectifying Melbourne’s form slump. They have the ability to make Carlton’s life hell on Saturday.
Tip: Melbourne look to be a remarkably better side then what they put up in 2019. But they still fall down in the midfield, and I predict their stronger back line will eventually crumble under the weight of pressure created by Cripps and co. Carlton by 25.
Port Adelaide v Adelaide
Showdowns are always mouth-watering occasions.
The two clubs hate each other, so much so that they are cringing at having to potentially share a hotel when going up to the Queensland hub. Combine this with Adelaide’s recent scandals and Port Adelaide’s bold finals call. This Showdown is massive.
The shortened season means this is the only Showdown we’ll see this year, barring an unlikely finals match-up. With a small crowd being allowed in, Port need a win to show they are a rejuvenated force that can finally break into September (or October) action again. Adelaide have undergone intense scrutiny after players were caught fighting in an intra-club match. If they can focus their fire on the opposition, this Showdown could be one of the best in recent seasons.
Can the Power thrive without Dougal?
In the off-season, Port Adelaide lost the dependable Dougal Howard. With Dan Houston also being thrust into the midfield, the Power’s key defensive stocks are a tad depleted. Tom Clurey and Tom Jonas did the job ably in round one, but will they be able to do it again on the likes of Taylor Walker and Darcy Fogarty?
If they do begin to struggle, Houston’s return to the backline could change the game. Luckily, Ryan Burton is a flexible defender who can cover a tall forward if required. The Power’s versatility is impressive, but a Showdown ought to test out their new look line up.
Is 2020 the year Darcy Fogarty and Reilly O’Brien step up to fill key tall roles?
Both Fogarty and O’Brien showed plenty of promise in spurts throughout the 2019 season.
Fighting against the likes of Elliot Himmelberg and Josh Jenkins, Fogarty finished the season ahead of them. His wonderful five goal match against West Coast solidified his potential, and an impressive pre-season gives him the spearhead title in the Crows’ forward line.
O’Brien played so well that the Crows felt comfortable to let Sam Jacobs go to the Giants. Adelaide didn’t get Brodie Grundy, but they have a young ruckman who is highly rated within their own walls. If the Crows are to improve and develop throughout the 2020 season, a lot rests on O’Brien and Fogarty to make giant strides.
How much of an impact does the mid-week brawl have?
In-house fighting is never ideal for team culture.
When Billy Frampton and Kyle Hartigan were caught on camera throwing punches in a heated match simulation fight, Adelaide were labelled as a side in disarray.
The Crows are adamant it’s a sign of passion. But going into round two, they face the most scrutiny out of all teams. How will they handle being the first team under the blowtorch in the 2020 season?
Tip: Adelaide have had a tough week but will surely lift for the Showdown. Port Adelaide looked complete and dangerous in their round one win, so they should get the job done over their cross-town rivals. Power by 37.
Gold Coast v West Coast
This game is one of the only clear-cut ones heading into the second round.
Gold Coast were disappointing at home against the Power. They needed the time off to work on developing their young draft picks and cultivating a culture for the club to build on. Their only advantage that West Coast may be thrown off by having to settle into their new hub. They’re clutching at straws.
West Coast are high up in premiership favouritism for a reason. With the inclusion of Tim Kelly, they have a scary midfield and can still rely on Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling to convert their centre dominance into scoreboard pressure.
Is Matt Rowell going to live up to the hype?
Being a number one draft pick always comes with magnitudes of pressure.
But being supposedly the best player to come through the system in decades throws a bit more weight onto Rowell’s young shoulders.
He has been talked up, and many have seen his glittering highlights reel from his junior days. Gold Coast need a generational talent like him to take them out of financial and on-field trouble, so they will be watching the new inclusion with bated breath on Saturday night.
Are West Coast good enough to win a flag from the Gold Coast?
The Eagles played an amazing brand of footy to take home the 2018 flag.
Full of resilience, they learnt from their 2015 heartbreak by constantly playing on the new surrounds of Optus Stadium. This helped them acclimatise to the ‘G. But Metricon Stadium won’t offer the same help.
West Coast are definitely a massive chance at once again taking the flag back to Optus Stadium in 2020, but they have been thrown a massive curveball. They are used to a bursting home crowd and adoration from their home city. Now they’ll have to win for most of the season without family members and in the foreign environment of an empty Metricon Stadium. Can they handle this pressure if they are to once again go all the way?
Tip: Eagles will be way too good, and should coast home. West Coast by 49.
GWS v North Melbourne
If the first round is anything to go by, another interesting match should take place on Sunday between the Giants and the resurging Kangaroos.
Both teams have reason to be desperate for this win. North Melbourne, revitalised by coach Rhyce Shaw, would be perfectly positioned to attack a finals berth if they can snatch a second successive win. But GWS, with the inclusion of Sam Jacobs and the return of Stephen Coniglio and Callan Ward, are eyeing off a return to Grand Final day to amend for their 2019 horror show.
Will Ben Brown and Ben Cunnington get the help they need?
The two Ben’s are critical to North Melbourne’s chances. Their attack starts from Cunnington’s bull-like ferocity in the middle. He is a magnificent player, often giving his side first use and instilling a sense of toughness around their on-ball brigade. But he needs help from the aging Shaun Higgins and Jared Polec. For the sake of the Shinboners future, it is also time for Jed Anderson and Jy Simpkin to step up and create a brutal midfield group.
For Brown, he will hold most of the Giant’s attention. Nick Larkey is missing, meaning another Roo forward is going to have to command the attention of Phil Davis. If the GWS veteran is allowed to freely patrol the back line, he will constantly play third man up on Brown to nullify his impact. The Roos should look to Jack Ziebell to play down forward more often in a versatile role out of the goal square. If the going gets tough, new recruit Josh Walker may be thrown forward to shake up their structure. It’s a massive concern for the Kangaroos, who will already have their hands full down back looking after Jeremy Cameron and Jeremy Finlayson.
Is Sam Jacobs the key to a flag?
Shane Mumford was a wonderful acquisition for the Giants, taking them to a Grand Final and toughening up his teammates. But he is now gone.
Bringing in Sam Jacobs from Adelaide was a mighty boost. They have the dynamic midfield group to thrive off his clean ruck work. The side should benefit by having a mobile ruckman who rarely loses a tap. But will this improvement in the ruck correlate to a maiden premiership? Coming up against Todd Goldstein will put Jacobs to the test straight away, so we should get a good idea of how the boom recruit will fare for the Giants.
Tip: The Kangaroos are full of pluck, but GWS look scary-good. After a slow start, the Giants should kick into gear and run away with it. Giants by 34.
Sydney v Essendon
In what could have been known as the ‘Joe Daniher Cup’, two uncertain sides will square off in front of a select few on Sunday. Sydney, with a bevy of emerging talent, pulled off a meaningful upset in Adelaide to kickstart their season. Now, they face a sterner test in an Essendon side who are cobbled together but always dangerous.
The Bombers are looking to once again feature in finals action, so a win here is a must. They have struggled to keep their list fit and healthy, and will have to be at their best if they are to leave Sydney with a win.
Can Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills fill the shoes of Josh Kennedy and Jarrad McVeigh?
Sydney still have an aging group of veterans to beware, but if they are to become a finals threat then they are relying on their younger squadron to develop. The two key members of this emerging group are Heeney and Mills, who have played multiple seasons and should be ready to take the next step.
Heeney has the potential to be the next dynamic midfielder and forward extraordinaire. His round one performance was breathtaking – can he back it up with such a long time between games? He should be looking to assume the reins that Kennedy has held for the past decade.
Mills is now injury-free and full of leadership potential. He will need to be at his best if he is to help nullify Essendon’s dangerous small forwards. If he can step up, it may be the start of his evolution as a player in the mould of McVeigh.
Are Essendon ready to go?
It’s a simple question, but it will be hard to answer until we see which Essendon takes the field on Sunday.
They are an inconsistent team, capable of beating anyone on their day with fast and aggressive ball movement to clever forwards. But they have been hit hard by injuries, and may struggle to get off to a decent start upon returning to the second round.
Jacob Townsend, after just one game for his new club, is already a key cog in their success. They are longing for a reliable tall option up forward while Daniher sits on the sidelines, and his round one performance against Fremantle suggested he is capable of fulfilling these expectations. A lot rests on Darcy Parish, Andrew McGrath and Adam Saad – explosive players who can kick-start the Bombers season if they burst out of the blocks.
How do Sydney cover no Franklin?
He was set to go, and once again looked in ominous touch.
But Buddy Franklin suffered another disappointing setback the other week, leaving Sydney’s forward line in disarray.
They need his experience to guide Nick Blakey, Heeney and Ben Ronke forward in their development. But without him, they look vulnerable. Tom Papley is Sydney’s only genuine forward target, meaning the ball must constantly come to ground if the Swans are to post a winning total. This could prove too much for an inexperienced side.
Tip: Sydney have the chance to prove they are an improved team, but their flimsy forward line will struggle. Expect Essendon to work into the game slowly. Bombers by 21.
St Kilda v Western Bulldogs
This is an early do-or-die clash for two smaller clubs who are hellbent on finals action.
The Saints, with their wonderful trade period and new coach, are boldly looking at a top eight spot. They have the list to do it, and a coach who is experienced in guiding young teams forward But the Bulldogs also traded well, and have their eyes on repeating their super second half of 2019. With both sides failing miserably in round one, the loser of this clash could well be saying good-bye to their finals aspirations due to the shortened season.
Who has the bigger impact – Aaron Naughton or Max King?
Both teams possess amazing tall forward prospects in Naughton and King.
Naughton currently has the edge over King due to his impressive 2019 campaign, while King is now starting to forge his AFL career after a knee injury.
The Bulldogs and Saints are basing their future around these players. With the two teams eyeing off finals, they need their young stars to feature prominently if they are to create potent forward lines. It’s a tough ask for the two players, but this Sunday match-up will give us the early indication as to which one is ready to lead their team forward in 2020.
A question mark hovers over Naughton’s head, who is in doubt for the clash with a knee injury. If he doesn’t recover in time for the match, St Kilda have a good chance of winning.
Which side’s experienced players will perform under pressure?
The Saints and the Bulldogs will face a lot of scrutiny if they lose this match. It’s so early for a team to be written off, but whichever team falls to zip and two will face an uphill climb in 2020.
St Kilda did their best to revamp their squad in the off-season, pulling in premiership Tiger Dan Butler, Patty Ryder, Bradley Hill and Dan Houston. Their goal is clearly to jumpstart the development of their younger players by surrounding them with experienced veterans all over the ground. If they are to improve as a side, much of the lifting will have to be done by these recruits, alongside the aging Dan Hannebery.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs went for slightly younger options in Josh Bruce and Alex Keath over the trade period. They are intent on future success, but should be looking to improve on their 2019 top eight finish. With two new bookends at either end of the ground, they Bulldogs expect a lot out of these established players to propel them out of their first-round rut.
Who wins the battle of the young ruckmen?
St Kilda and the Bulldogs share another similarity – they both have emerging ruckmen who are at the forefront of the next wave of rucking stars.
Tim English has taken his time to develop in the red, white and blue, but should be stronger and fitter in 2020. He has the frame and ability to become another taller midfielder for the Bulldogs, providing Bontempelli, Hunter and Macrae with first-rate service. But he’ll face a tough test first up in Rowan Marshall. He jumped out of the blocks in 2019 and became one of the best ruckmen in the competition. Can he continue to improve and challenge the likes of Brodie Grundy? If he is to do so, he’ll need to beat English and show he is a handy goalkicking option too.
Tip: This is another game that could go either way. Much will depend on which team has prepared best over the isolation period. It’s tight, but I’ll tip the Bulldogs by 8.
That just about sums it up for this second round of the 2020 season. Anything can happen, and I’m sure there’ll be a raft of new headlines and stories popping up over the weekend. Let the games begin.