Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh dissect all of the main talking points heading into a massive season of footy.
Should State of Origin return as a permanent fixture?
NS: I'm less romantic about the 'good old days' of State of Origin than most footy fans and I have no real desire to see it brought back on an annual basis. The bushfire charity game is a cracking idea for the specific purpose of raising money for those affected by the fires but I doubt it'll ever become a permanent spectacle again, which is no skin off my nose.
JM: Can we wait and see if the game is any good before we pencil this fixture in until the end of the century? If it is a success, I'm all for having it return permanently, but figuring out when the game will be played is going to prove to be the greatest challenge. There just doesn't seem to be a perfect time for it.
MW: The romanticist in me says yes -- and in a more pure form (no more of this All-Stars business) -- but the realist in me says risking injury in the preseason to satisfy the football traditionalists is a bad move. Let's see how the bushfire relief game goes and maybe they can think about scheduling State of Origin in October (so long as grounds are available) in coming years.
Which team is the hardest to read heading into 2020?
NS: For me it's Hawthorn. They were hard to read from week to week in 2019, and it's almost impossible to get a gauge on them looking ahead to the new season. For a team that fluctuated so much last year, the Hawks still finished ninth. If Tom Mitchell gets back to his best and Jon Patton finds his feet again, the Hawks could again be a major player, but for some reason I could also see them dropping down towards the bottom four. Who knows!
JM: It might seem a little strange to pick the minor premiers from 2019, but Geelong is one team I could see finishing top four again or missing finals altogether. The loss of Tim Kelly is obviously massive and with an aging list there are certainly plenty of question marks hanging over Chris Scott's team, not to mention Scott himself.
MW: Was the blistering, attacking Melbourne that we saw in 2018 an accurate reflection of where the Demons are at for 2020, or was the underdone, underwhelming version of 2019 closer to the mark? They seem to have the pieces, although outside midfield depth remains a question, so can they pull it together? They remain a mystery to me.
How do you feel about shortened half-time breaks?
NS: Of all the things the AFL thought necessary to fix heading into 2020, it's this? Surely if the league was worried about the length of games, they'd look to shorten the playing time rather than the half-time break. I'm ambivalent about the change, but staggered it was considered important enough to actually look into.
JM: I'm not too fussed about the length of the half-time break. If the players like it, then what difference does it make? But if you don't think the change will have a significant impact on the game, you're kidding yourself. A 15 minute interval may not be enough time for players to get off the ground and back into the rooms, meaning we could see some coaches opt for half-time addresses on the ground.
MW: If the players are happy to tick it off then it's good enough for me. I don't get distracted or lose interest in the game at half time, but if the AFL, AFLPA and other bodies think it'll somehow retain younger viewers, then go for it...
Which 'forgotten' player will have the most impact in 2020?
NS: There's a few obvious candidates -- Tom Mitchell, Sam Docherty, and Callan Ward to name a few -- but I reckon Jaidyn Stephenson could be the difference between the Pies contending for the flag or not. His self-inflicted betting suspension ruined his 2019 season but in 2018, his first year, he kicked 34 goals and his electrifying pace and X-factor give the Magpies a weapon few clubs possess.
JM: Without question it's Hawthorn ball-magnet Tom Mitchell. He won a Brownlow Medal, missed a full season through injury and now NOBODY is talking about him. If Mitchell plays at even 75% of the level he set in 2018, he will almost certainly be named All-Australian, and who knows, might find himself at the point end on Brownlow night once again.
MW: Two preseason ACL injuries, two long season completing two separate knee rehabs. It's easy to forget that Carlton co-skipper Sam Docherty was an All-Australian halfback in 2017, but his leadership and know-how will be a major boost for the young Blues if he can make a successful return to the park. It speaks volumes that he was instated as a co-captain with Patrick Cripps halfway through his rehabilitation. Fingers crossed for him.