Our experts debate all the hot topics and burning questions as we head into the 2020 AFL finals series.
Should free agency compensation be scrapped?
Niall Seewang: There are issues with compensation but I think it should be retained. Without it, weak clubs will be made even weaker because generally they can't attract gun free agents but they still have to pay the salary cap minimum. One thing the AFL needs to do though is be more transparent with its formula for compensation - it's so murky and frustrating for those who don't have the league's 'secret herbs and spices' recipe.
Jake Michaels: The free agency compensation is there for a reason. If we remove it, then all of a sudden we'll see the same few teams stockpiling talent, while those that aren't 'destination clubs' are never able to improve their list. Instead of scrapping the compensation, the AFL needs to look into what teams receive. It's been far too inconsistent since it was introduced and that's why some fans want it gone.
Matt Walsh: Get rid of it. Clubs are letting players walk because of the compensation they'll get AND the 'formula' is so convoluted that it makes most fans scratch their heads. Lose a player in free agency? Sign one to make up for it! If the AFL doesn't have the guts to do that, the formula needs to be fixed so clubs aren't getting super-early picks for letting someone walk...
Jesse Robinson: Yes, it's time for it to go. Teams have had a few years to get used to how free agency works and organise their salary caps accordingly. At this point there shouldn't be a reward for not being able to fit players in your salary cap or because a player wants to leave when their contract is up. We're never going to see 'super teams' like other sports where you can buy an entire roster in free agency - the salary cap and the draft system should be what balances the competition.
Which non-finalist will play finals in 2021?
NS: Trusting Melbourne is one of the more foolhardy things to do in footy but I can see them improving at least a smidgin to make the eight next year. They boast a handful of the league's elite players and have some youngsters who should improve with another preseason. I'll back the Giants to play finals too - they've got the talent to match most teams, although whether Leon Cameron can develop a suitable game style remains to be seen.
JM: They were awful in 2020 but I'll still take the Giants to bounce back and make a return to finals football next year. Surely that's not too much of an ask, even without Zac Williams who looks like he's heading to the Blues. There's still enough quality on the list and with Leon Cameron coaching for his future, you'd expect them to make amends. Then again, we've been wrong about the Giants before...
MW: Could the Dockers bounce up the ladder quicker than anticipated? Their defensive game was outstanding in 2020, and their young midfield has come along in leaps and bounds. If they can add a piece to the forward line in this offseason, they could push for a top eight spot!
JR: There is a few free agency moves to play out here but the Giants should be good enough to make the eight next season and then there is the curious case of the Demons. Melbourne were good enough to play finals this year but didn't, so it's hard to say what will change for them next year, especially if they lose Jack Viney in free agency. The outsider here is the Suns. The footy world was very excited about them this season before Matt Rowell's injury derailed their season - if they don't play finals next year they should be banging on the door.
Which coach is under the most pressure next year?
NS: Leon Cameron, then daylight ... then Simon Goodwin ... then a bit more daylight, then Rhyce Shaw and David Teague. I don't think Cameron or Goodwin will last the year if their teams aren't likely to play finals, while Shaw and Teague must do more in their second full seasons in charge. And despite 2021 being his debut campaign as a senior coach, keep an eye on the Ben Rutten situation if the Dons start in disastrous fashion.
JM: It has to be Leon Cameron, doesn't it? After making the Grand Final in 2019, the Giants have gone backwards at an alarming rate, missing finals and now looking likely to lose a number of key players. Cameron has had enough time to land a flag and you'd think anything short of a return to the big dance in 2021 will force GWS to look elsewhere for a senior coach ... for their sake, let's hope it's not too late.
MW: Cameron is a good choice, but I'll go left-field. Is it weird to say Ben Rutten given he hasn't coached a game? The Bombers may lose a few key pieces in the offseason, and given Rutten has 'had the reins' for a couple of months anyway, Essendon's hierarchy will be under pressure to produce results. That is, unless the Bombers realise they might need to rebuild again...
JR: I don't like putting pressure on coaches but Simon Goodwin surely has to know he is on watch next year - that team has underperformed massively and they can't keep living on one prelim appearance. David Teague will also be nervous - he needs to get the Blues into the eight next year.
Should clubs give retiring players farewell games?
NS: It depends on a few variables, principally the status of the retiring player (are they all-time greats or just good servants of the club?) and the importance of the match (is the club in the finals hunt?). I think there's still a place for emotion and romance in footy and I do love it when a retiring player is able to be celebrated before, during and after one last appearance, so I'd err on the side of giving them a farewell game.
JM: I don't really understand it. Sure, if you're a 300-game champion of a club, you should probably get a guernsey, but most players shouldn't be entitled to a last hurrah. Take Bryce Gibbs. He came into Adelaide's team a fortnight ago and played well against the Blues, only to be dropped. I don't really get it. Just play your best team every week.
MW: If you're in a crucial clash which determines whether your club makes finals or top four, then I think you need to forgo sentimentality for the best 22 available. In a game that means nothing? Give the fans something to cheer about. It was great to see players like Kade Simpson, Paul Puopolo and others (like Jarryd Roughead last year) get a farewell game.
JR: If the game is not season-defining then absolutely. You wouldn't risk it if finals were on the line and the player wasn't close to your best 22. That being said, there's more to footy than winning games, there is relationships within the club, fanbases, members ... some players and their families put a third or more of their life in to a club by the time of their retirement, the least a club with nothing to lose can do is say thank you let them wave goodbye.