The most disappointing team for 2020?
Essendon, North Melbourne and Hawthorn are all in the discussion, of that there can be no doubt. But the title for 2020 surely goes to the Giants of Greater Western Sydney, even if they somehow work their way through the logjam in and around the bottom reaches of the eight to make the finals.
The team that barnstormed its way into the Grand Final last season sits in 10th-place with an 8-8 record ahead of Friday night’s must-win clash with St Kilda.
How it got to this stage will be the subject of a rigorous post-mortem, but taking a quick glance at the playing list, it is hard to see too many of their top-liners (including some of the highest-paid players in the competition) who have improved on last season.
Toby Greene? Serviceable. Josh Kelly? Averaging six fewer touches a game in 2020. Jeremy Cameron? 3.1 goals a game in 2019, 1.5 a game this year. Stephen Coniglio? Dropped from the side. As captain.
Dropping Coniglio was a huge move and it smacked of desperation. But as the Giants most likely threw their season away with an insipid final quarter against Melbourne last week the player they ordinarily would have looked to was watching on from the stands.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.
Kevin Sheedy doesn't weigh in too heavily these days on the team he helped create. But he did mention dropping Simon Madden once in 1981 at Essendon when Madden was captain of the Bombers and that he went on to become one of the greatest ruckmen of all time. What he didn't say was that he replaced him as captain the very next year.
He also said that he was over-ruled by then list manager Stephen Silvagni at the 2012 draft when he wanted to draft South Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy to the club. The Giants have had access to so much emerging talent over the years, but might have whiffed on just about the best of them all.
Many felt the Giants would automatically take the next step in 2020, which for them would be to win the premiership. But you could mount the case that they took advantage of Brisbane’s stage fright in the semi-final and a slumbering Collingwood in the preliminary final just to make it as far as they did last season.
And history doesn't treat kindly teams that get thrashed in Grand Finals as did the Giants. Sheedy’s Bombers rebounded from a hefty loss in 1983 to win it the next year, as did Hawthorn and Carlton variously through that decade.
But from the 1990s on it changed. Geelong didn't win a flag for another decade and a bit after their various failings in the early 1990s. Sydney didn't get back to the Grand Final for nearly another decade after losing comprehensively in 1996, Carlton and Essendon haven’t come close since their 1999 and 2001 defeats, while Port Adelaide’s 119-point loss to Geelong in 1997 set it back for years.
The Giants might be carrying a few mental demons from last year’s capitulation to the Tigers and it could be for the best that their season ends on Friday night and the post-mortem begins.
Coach Leon Cameron is safe; he has signed on for two more years. But there are some big names on big bucks at the club who have under-delivered and who we may not see in the charcoal-and-orange again.
What a fascinating few months it will be.
It is also a big week for…
1. St Kilda: Friday night is big for the Saints as well. Lose to the Giants and depending on how the rest of the weekend plays out, they could miss the finals berth that has been there’s for the taking pretty much all year. They couldn't blow it, could they?
2. John Worsfold and Ben Rutten: Who knows how this has played out behind closed doors, but the handover from Worsfold to Rutten hasn't played out too well on the scoreboard and Essendon people have decried a lack of fight, spirit, brand and identity throughout 2020. Worsfold was the right man at the right time for the Bombers back in 2016 but probably did stay in the job for 12 months too long. Rutten, with his Richmond triumvirate of Dan Richardson and Blake Caracella takes charge from Monday and SEN’s Jack Heverin has it right in this respect – Rutten needs to spell out his vision for the club and lay down some expectations. And he needs to do it soon, if not at the post-match presser after the Melbourne game this weekend, then pretty soon afterwards. The club owes that much it to its supporters.
3. Retired players (1): Kade Simpson has been a warrior for the Blues through what has mainly been dark days for the old, dark navy blues. The best story that re-emerged about Simpson this week after his retirement announcement was that a few years back, when the Blues brought back its 300-game players for a photo shoot as Simpson reached that milestone, the reclusive Bruce Doull immediately accepted, saying, “I’d do anything for Kade Simpson”. At Carlton, there can be no greater praise.
4. Retired players (2): There was no questioning Hawthorn’s appetite for the draft when in 2009 and 2010 they plucked a pair of mature-aged defenders who would both go on to become three-time premiership players and in Ben Stratton’s case, captain of the club. Stratton was a brilliant multi-faceted defender who was tough, smart and versatile. Before one of the Grand Finals, he was inexplicably ranked the 41st best player of the two teams before the game in the Herald Sun. At the Hawks he was one of the first picked. Puopolo soon became a small pressure forward like his good mate Cyril Rioli, and while he couldn't boast the same highlights package, he grew to love a goal and a big pack mark. The least the Hawks could do is send them off with a win.
- Port Adelaide: Hasn’t been budged from top spot all year, but needs to beat Collingwood on Sunday night for a magnificent wire-to-wire run through the home and away season and the deserved minor premiership.
Round 18 predictions
West Coast (36) v North Melbourne
St Kilda (6) v GWS Giants
Essendon v Melbourne (14)
Brisbane (26) v Carlton
Hawthorn (10) v Gold Coast
Adelaide v Richmond (33)
Sydney v Geelong (27)
Fremantle v Western Bulldogs (10)
Collingwood v Port Adelaide (14)