Is it do or die for Kenny?

There is one big question facing 17 clubs heading into the 2020 season: Can they catch the Tigers?

The one other club has its own poser: Can they stay hungry enough to go back-to-back for the first time in almost 50 years?

The last time Damien Hardwick's men tried it they were ambushed by Collingwood in the preliminary final.

But the Pies have major questions of their own - and so does every other team.

As the countdown to Round 1 gathers pace, the Herald Sun's experts reveal the biggest question for every club. Did they get it right? Leave a comment below.

 

ADELAIDE

How does Matthew Nicks reshape the Crows?

New Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks won't have Alex Keath, Eddie Betts, Sam Jacobs, Josh Jenkins, Hugh Greenwood or Cam Ellis-Yolmen to work with. How Nicks remodels the Crows will determine whether they bottom out in his first season at the helm. Tom Doedee's return will offset Keath being traded, while Tyson Stengle or Shane McAdam could replace Betts up forward. Reilly O'Brien took the ruck job from Jacobs last year, while Jenkins' move to Geelong will open a regular spot for the hugely talented Darcy Fogarty. If Adelaide plays this right, a tough off-season could have a huge silver lining.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Goal Scoring

Since 2014, Eddie Betts and Josh Jenkins have kicked 310 and 261 goals respectively - ranked No.1 and No.2 at the club in this period of time.

- Tim Mitchell

 

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New Crows coach Matthew Nicks holds his first training session. Picture: Sarah Reed
New Crows coach Matthew Nicks holds his first training session. Picture: Sarah Reed

 

 

BRISBANE LIONS

Is the Lions' rapid rise sustainable?

Brisbane was one of the stories of 2019 as it rose from 15th in 2018 with a 5-17 record to win 16 games and secure a top-two berth under Chris Fagan. A straight-sets finals exit will have left the Lions smarting, although it didn't detract from their development last year. Young guns Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry and Cam Rayner will only get better. The Lions have the No.1 ranked midfield in the league and with Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko and Jarryd Lyons to at the coalface their forward line will enjoy plenty of service. It'd be take a bold tipster to suggest Brisbane's rise was a false dawn.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Cam Rayner

In 2019, Rayner rated poor among general forwards across the competition, rating poor for disposals and below average for score involvements. Rayner averaged fewer AFL Player Rating points, disposals, score involvements, goals and tackles than his debut season.

- Tim Mitchell

 

 

CARLTON

Will the Blues finally take off?

Ten years ago Carlton spruiked the slogan "Can you smell what the Blues are cooking?". But the milk or pudding, or whatever was simmering away on Brett Ratten's, Michael Malthouse's and Brendon Bolton's stovetops, all went sour. Or so the club thought. But one Patrick Cripps finger wiggle helped signal a new era when his fourth goal helped bury Brisbane in David Teague's first game as coach, ushering in a new offensive flair, and a more relaxed vibe at the club.

Away wins over Fremantle and Sydney in the back half of last season confirmed that all the players, and indeed the fans, were firmly on board the Teague train. Yes, star young forwards Charlie Curnow (knee) and Harry McKay (groin) are working their way back from injuries, and who knows what the much-hyped Jack Martin will deliver after landing him for free. But Carlton's best team, including returning co-captain Sam Docherty and the best young player in the league Sam Walsh, has enough weaponry, and surely now the belief, to help deliver a 10-win season in 2019. Let's just hope that deliciously-talented souffle doesn't go flat.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Midfield group

Other than Patrick Cripps, the Blues don't have a midfielder to rank in the top-190 players in the competition.

- Jay Clark

 

Patrick Cripps is hoping to lead Carlton up the ladder. Picture: Michael Klein
Patrick Cripps is hoping to lead Carlton up the ladder. Picture: Michael Klein

 

Mason Cox is under pressure to hold his spot in Collingwood’s best 22.
Mason Cox is under pressure to hold his spot in Collingwood’s best 22.

 

COLLINGWOOD

Can the Magpies make the most of Brodie Grundy?

That last quarter against Greater Western Sydney in the preliminary final will burn. On a wet MCG, Grundy was dominant in the ruck against Shane Mumford but connection with his teammates was an issue, as it had been all year, meaning the Pies were unable to convert his taps into clear midfield clearances and clean forward entries.

Does it mean the big ruckman has to grab the ball out of the ruck less and be more predictable? Or should he have free rein to call the shots? Either way the Pies have room for improvement in their centre bounce operations. Collingwood picked up Sydney big man Darcy Cameron, who will battle Mason Cox for the full-forward and back-up ruck position. After a quieter season last year, kicking 19 goals in 14 games, Cox has a fight on his hands to lock in a regular berth.

HOT SPOT: Forward line mix

The Magpies have 10 forwards on their list to rate above average or average across the competition. Trying to work out the right mix might be a challenge.

- Jay Clark

 

ESSENDON

Has Joe Daniher checked out?

The trade request was too late to strike a smooth deal last year, but make no mistake, Joe Daniher is still expected to swap the red and black for red and white at the end of the season. The Melbourne fish bowl, the groin injury, and almost two years on the sidelines have all frustratingly added up for the father-son star. But as one of the club's highest-paid players, the Bombers need him to fire Tim Kelly-style to help break their finals curse which stretches way back to their last September win in 2004.

Clearly, this forward line has desperately missed its athletic centrepiece. The signs have been good early, as the happy-go-lucky Daniher has been his bubbly self around the club, and is clearly fully invested in regaining the form and springy fitness that made him All-Australian and best and fairest in 2017. But will he return before Round 6? Eight? Ten? The Bombers will be patient, but are confident his head is in the right place.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Forward-half game

The Bombers ranked 16th for time in forward half differential and scored just 34 points per game from forward half chains - ranked 17th.

- Jay Clark

 

 

Joe Daniher’s contract will be one of the big talking points of 2020.
Joe Daniher’s contract will be one of the big talking points of 2020.

 

FREMANTLE

Will we see a more attacking Dockers?

New coach, new game plan. Right? The arrival of new mentor Justin Longmuir will bring freshness to a Freo playing group that has been criticised for being too defensive and lacking firepower. The Dockers were ranked 16th for scoring in 2019, a season in which star recruit Jesse Hogan was again hampered by injury. Personnel aside, it will be the speed and manner in which Freo uses the ball that fans and rivals will be watching in 2020.

Longmuir, a highly-rated assistant under Nathan Buckley at Collingwood, returns to the club where he forged his name as a player. Only time will tell if he can get his side kicking more goals - and pressing for finals footy.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: The wing role

The Dockers lost two wingers last season - Brad Hill and Ed Langdon - and now don't have a recognised winger on their list.

- Ben Broad

 

GWS GIANTS

Can they avoid being the Adelaide of 2018?

Adelaide was humbled by the Giants' Grand Final conqueror Richmond in 2017 and is still healing more than two years on. The Giants clearly have a strong culture, evidenced by the commitment of skipper Stephen Coniglio and Lachie Whitfield despite multimillion-dollar interest from Victorian clubs. GWS now knows what it takes to reach the biggest day on the football calendar and the guts it displayed in its preliminary final win provides a blueprint for 2020. The first month of the season will tell us whether the 89-point humiliation against the Tigers has left any scars.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Injuries

The Giants were effected by injury more than any side last season, with two of their elite players - Callan Ward and Stephen Coniglio - not playing in September.

- Tim Mitchell

 

The only way is up for the Suns.
The only way is up for the Suns.

 

GOLD COAST

Can they get off the bottom?

It's the obvious question but after their extremely generous assistance package from the AFL, the Suns must get themselves off the bottom rung, quick smart. The additions of premiership player Brandon Ellis and tough nut Hugh Greenwood will help their cause, along with their array of prized draftees, headlined by No.1 pick Matt Rowell. Gold Coast hasn't tasted victory since April 14 last year and is currently on an 18 game losing streak. There were some encouraging signs from the likes of Jack Lukosius and Ben King last season and improvement across the board appears likely. Will it be enough to dodge another wooden spoon?

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Competitiveness

The Suns improved ever so slightly last season, but still struggled to be competitive with a percentage of just 61 per cent after a percentage of 59 per cent the previous season.

- Dan Batten

 

 

GEELONG

Does the senior coach need to be super pals with players?

Geelong locked in Chris Scott until the end of 2022, supremely confident he was the man to keep the Cats in the premiership mix as they continued to transition the list. His home-and-away record is superb, but the Cats have fallen agonizingly short of the Grand Final since Scott took the club to the 2011 premiership in his first year. What the club has debated internally in recent years is whether the senior coach needs to be inviting the players over for weekly dinners and having strong personal relationships, or simply productively professional ones. Can some of that space between player and coach even be beneficial?

Brian Cook put it on the agenda at the end of 2018, saying the senior coach had "rebalanced his energies" with the young players as premiership heroes Joel Selwood, Harry Taylor and Tom Hawkins get closer to the end of their champion careers. There has been a big shift towards connectedness at AFL clubs, but it has been Scott's view that he doesn't have to be in a young player's back pocket all the time to help get the best out of them.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Second half of 2019

The Cats went win, loss, win, loss for the second half of the season, struggling offensively, averaging just 77 points per game, ranking 16th for converting an inside 50 into a goal.

- Jay Clark

 

 

Hawthorn’s medicos will work their magic on recruit Jon Patton.
Hawthorn’s medicos will work their magic on recruit Jon Patton.

 

Geelong coach Chris Scott has become a polarising figure. Picture: Alison Wynd
Geelong coach Chris Scott has become a polarising figure. Picture: Alison Wynd

 

HAWTHORN

Has the magic run out?

Premiership mastermind Alastair Clarkson was forthright on his up and down team early last year, branding the Hawks nothing more than a "middle of the road side". After more than a decade at the top, the brown and gold were certainly due a decent slide. But the Hawks had one of the their best home-and-away wins in years, stunning premiership fancy West Coast in their own backyard in Round 23, the week after Jarryd Roughead's six goal farewell sunk Gold Coast.

Now, their best 22 looks pretty handy again with Tom Mitchell on his way back from a broken leg and recruit Jon Patton in great shape as part of the new twin tower set-up with Mitch Lewis. Chad Wingard found form late last season, James Worpel is not far off becoming an elite onballer and Jarman Impey was brilliant before he went down injured. Sam Frost and Michael Hartley helps bolster a vulnerable area in defence and with a decent run of injuries, they can genuinely challenge the top teams. Again.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Clearances

The Hawks ranked 18th for clearance differential last season, ranking 16th for scoring from stoppages.

- Jay Clark

 

 

MELBOURNE

How do the Demons regain their edge?

Soft mentality? Too comfortable? Or just not fit enough? Coming off a preliminary final, Melbourne got a definite 'F' for their woeful 2019 season, not discounting a heap of injuries and post-season surgeries. But retired premiership great Jordan Lewis went straight to the heart of the issue this week when he admitted the Demons' "mindset wasn't as sharp" last year after surging up the ladder the season before. We all saw it.

But the Demons have made bold changes, revamping their coaching staff to help inject some fresh ideas, significantly increase their running power under new fitness boss Darren Burgess, improve their defensive accountability, and sharpen their delivery inside 50m. Encouragingly, only Nathan Jones has been managed through the pre-season, meaning Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw are all well ahead of where they were this time last year.

First-round draftees Kysaiah Pickett and Luke Jackson have impressed early and could feature early in the new season, while Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon will play prominent midfield roles. But the heat will be on early as the Dees face West Coast (away) and greater Western Sydney (home) to start the season.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Offence

The Demons ranked 17th for points scored last season, scoring from 38.2 per cent of their inside-50s - the lowest percentage ever recorded.

- Jay Clark

 

 

Jack Viney and the Demons need to bounce back hard in 2020.
Jack Viney and the Demons need to bounce back hard in 2020.

 

 

NORTH MELBOURNE

Where will the electricity come from?

You know what you get from the Kangaroos. A big-hearted, typically competitive effort from a list which has absolutely punched above its weight for the best part of a decade. The Roos are always in games with a decent chance. But it is true that the club has missed some top-shelf star factor and that lick of cream that could elevate North back into the top tier under Rhyce Shaw.

After missing out on some high-priced trade targets, next generation academy pick-up Tarryn Thomas could become the club's next genuine superstar talent. He flew under the radar last year, but the club's next poster boy has the ability to conjure something special in traffic, find the difficult target with his polished disposal and apply the sort of forward line pressure the Roos have been lacking. And at 189cm there is some nice versatility in his game.

Throw in Bailey Scott, raging bull Cameron Zurhaar, Jy Simpkin, the oft-injured Taylor Garner and onballer Luke Davies-Uniacke and the next wave of young Roos should be worth watching in 2020.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Defending stoppages

The Kangaroos struggled to limit the damage from opposition clearances last season, with only Gold Coast easier to score against from stoppages.

- Jay Clark

 

 

PORT ADELAIDE

Is it time for Kenny?

Will this be Ken Hinkley's final year at Port Adelaide? Hinkley is well aware it is finals or bust: "I'm quite happy to say that if we don't make finals, I won't be the coach of the football club in the near future," Hinkley said in August. Since the Power coach signed a three-year contract at the end of 2017, his side has finished 10th in consecutive seasons. He managed to regenerate his side with young talent last year and a fully fit Charlie Dixon will certainly make a difference, but making the eight will be a tough ask.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Execution

The Power ranked No.1 for creating turnovers in their forward half last season, but scored from just 28 per cent of these turnovers - ranked 14th.

- Dan Batten

 

Will Dustin Martin have the same fire in Round 1 that he did on Grand Final day?
Will Dustin Martin have the same fire in Round 1 that he did on Grand Final day?

 

 

RICHMOND

Can the Tigers stay hungry?

When you think about the greatest team of the past 20 years there are three clear candidates, the triple-premiership Brisbane and Geelong outfits and the four-time champs, the mighty Hawks. But the Tigers are on the verge of creating a premiership dynasty, too, despite the loss of arguably their second-best player, retired superstar defender Alex Rance. But they won the flag without him last year and have found another pair of excitement machines in Grand Final hero Marlion Pickett and Sydney Stack, to help compliment one of the best big-game players of the modern era, dual Norm Smith medallist and Brownlow star Dustin Martin.

So, on paper, they are possibly even better than last year. The challenge for Damien Hardwick is keeping the group motivated and hungry, knowing they have already climbed the mountain twice and were probably the best team in it when they were stunned by Collingwood in the 2018 preliminary final. Comfortable playing the role of the hunted once again, Richmond is deservedly the team to beat in 2020.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Wingers

With Brandon Ellis departing, it will be interesting to see who fills the other wing position along Josh Caddy, with Kamdyn McIntosh not playing a game at AFL level after Round 17, Patrick Naish only playing two matches and Oleg Markov playing two matches over the last two years.

- Jay Clark

 

 

ST KILDA

Have the Saints pulled the right rein?

After loading up on high draft picks with mixed results, the Saints have boldly changed strategy, bringing in running machine Bradley Hill plus Zak Jones, Dan Butler, Paddy Ryder and Dougal Howard. But its cost them club favourite Josh Bruce and workhorse wingman Jack Newnes. When you add Dylan Roberton to the mix after a career-threatening heart scare, injury-plagued midfielder Daniel Hannebery and second-year spearhead Max King, the Saints, surely, are a more complete and competitive outfit under Brett Ratten in 2020.

Importantly, Hill adds some much-needed run and Jones will give the engine room a physical, uncompromising edge. Ryder will help allow the Saints move Rohan Marshall around the ground to where they need him at different times and Butler, given more opportunity, will be given a licence to go hunt and bury bodies close to goal. We are not talking up their top-four hopes just yet but the Saints should be rewarded for their adventurous trade moves.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Accuracy

For the past three seasons, the Saints have ranked 17th, 16th and 18th for goalkicking accuracy.

- Jay Clark

 

 

Lance Franklin was enjoying an excellent pre-season until he suffered an injury setback. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Lance Franklin was enjoying an excellent pre-season until he suffered an injury setback. Picture. Phil Hillyard

 

SYDNEY

Will this be Buddy's last season?

Superstar Lance Franklin was flying after returning to pre-season early, only for knee surgery to sideline him until at least Round 1. The 32-year-old joined Sydney on a nine-year deal in 2013 and spoke of his desire to fulfil the mega contract before playing his 300th game last season. Injury limited one of the game's greatest ever forwards to 10 matches last year after he managed 18 games in 2018. If he's sidelined for an extended period again this year, retirement will be a question Franklin and coach John Longmire are asked about frequently.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Contested footy

The Swans ranked a clear 18th last season for contested possession differential, losing the stat by more than 10 in half of their matches.

- Tim Mitchell

 

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WEST COAST

Is Tim Kelly the icing on the cake?

The 2018 premier bombed out in a semi-final last year, a result many felt was an underachievement. Fast-forward six months and there's real optimism Adam Simpson's side - second in flag betting for 2020 - can again climb the AFL mountain.

Much of that hype centres on the much-vaunted midfield, with former Cat Tim Kelly to link up with new skipper Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed and Co. Throw in a fit Nic Naitanui and it's not hard to see why the pundits are bullish on the Eagles.

Key forward Josh Kennedy is getting older but emerging forwards Oscar Allen and Jarrod Brander look capable backups. And surely the midfield power ensures plenty of opportunity.

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Contested footy

The Eagles contest work away from stoppages last season was a concern, ranking 18th for post-clearance contested possessions and ground ball gets.

- Ben Broad

 

The Bulldogs will give new skipper Marcus Bontempelli more protection this season. Picture. Phil Hillyard
The Bulldogs will give new skipper Marcus Bontempelli more protection this season. Picture. Phil Hillyard

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Do the Dogs have to get more physical?

You got the feeling Western Bulldogs' coach Luke Beveridge was still filthy at Greater Western Sydney's strongarm tactics in the Giants' elimination final win when he said the club would have to refine their martial arts skills over summer. Remember, Toby Greene lost track of where his hand was around Marcus Bontempelli's face as part of the physical intimidation, putting an end to the Dogs' red-hot late season run. "There was a bit of MMA and a bit of footy going on in our game - and we just didn't win the MMA battle, so we've got to get better," Beveridge said. In other words, next time the opposition wants to rough up the Dogs' new captain in a big game, the coach will want a response in some form this season. We know the young gun midfield is one of the best in the league and the Dogs should genuinely contend for the flag, again, now that new recruits Josh Bruce and Alex Keath will significantly bolster their spine, the club's biggest area of vulnerability.

 

CHAMPION DATA HOT SPOT: Defence

 

The Bulldogs conceded 86 goals last season to opposition key forwards - the third-most of any side.

- Jay Clark


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