With the 2021 AFL season not too far away, our experts tackle some of the big questions.
What impact will the new 'stand' rule have?
Niall Seewang: I'm going to be in the vast minority here but I think it'll have a positive impact on the game. I've no doubt there'll be some controversial 50m penalties paid as players get used to the new man-on-the-mark interpretation but hopefully that is outweighed by faster, more attacking ball movement. Anything that can reduce congestion and open up the field is worth trying in my opinion.
Here's a taste of the new rule playing out pic.twitter.com/zHGB6zORvX— Raw Rodd (@NotRodd) February 20, 2021
Jake Michaels: Let me begin by saying this rule is TERRIBLE! There's no reason for the AFL to implement this and all it's going to do is create mass confusion and result in a ridiculous amount of 50m penalties being paid. I get you can't creep on the mark but surely a sideways step is acceptable, no?
Matt Walsh: Having watched some vision of a few of the scratch matches, the players seem to get it. There haven't been too many 50m penalties paid, and the games (from what I saw) opened up dramatically through the corridor, which depending on if you're the in the AFL offices or a defender on the end of a fast-moving chain, you'll either love or hate!
Jesse Robinson: Likely not much. As we've seen with the plethora of rule changes over the years, you don't really notice too much until it happens in a tight game and we just get used to it. It will be interesting to see how alert players are to the new rule late in the fourth quarter of Round 1.
Which team is the hardest to predict heading into the new season?
NS: My podium for this question is Collingwood, GWS and Melbourne, with the Magpies 'winning gold' in the uncertainty stakes for 2021. It's been an incredibly tumultuous offseason for the Magpies and who knows how much that will impact the players and coach Nathan Buckley. There's still enough talent there to push deep into finals -- remember, this was a team that was able to beat West Coast in an elimination final Perth in October -- but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they slid way below the top eight.
JM: There's a few candidates here but I reckon Port Adelaide is pretty tricky to gauge. Ken Hinkley's side finished 10th in 2019 and then surprised everyone by winning the minor premiership last season. At their best, they look like world beaters, but they can certainly have some off days. I could seriously see them finishing anywhere between 10th and first this year. Who really knows...
MW: The Demons, still! After their out-of-the-box 2018 when they finished fourth, they then finished 17th in 2019, and split the pack finishing ninth in 2020. They made some moves in the offseason to bring in a much-needed key forward into the club, but with Ben Brown out with a knee injury for the early parts of the year, there are some serious question marks hanging over the Dees, and for me, there are just too many sides better than them this year...
JR: Melbourne. Who knows what we're going to get? Will they pull it all together and replicate 2018 and be led by Christian Petracca or will they middle out again and leave us expecting more? Simon Goodwin will need them to fire early if he wants to be around to see the end of the season as coach.
Who is your premiership tip for 2021?
NS: I like Geelong. How could you not, with the 'win-now' acquisitions of Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins? Winning a premiership after losing a Grand Final is rare (the last team being Hawthorn in 2013, after losing the 2012 decider) but the Cats will win the vast majority of their home games in Geelong, setting up what should be a top-two finish. From there, a flag should be firmly within reach.
JM: I'm with Niall. The Cats have made some serious upgrades in the off-season and have the disappointment of last year's Grand Final spurring them on. I'm expecting Tom Hawkins and Cameron to combine for 110 goals this year, Patrick Dangerfield to be back in the top three on Brownlow Medal night and skipper Joel Selwood to hoist the premiership cup at the end of September.
MW: Not to follow the crowd, or toot my own horn, but I backed the Cats last year and they came very close. The important thing for them is they've extended their window by at least one more season with the acquisitions of Cameron, Smith and Higgins. I think the Tigers are still the benchmark, but this Geelong side -- on paper -- looks hard to beat.
JR: It's hard to go past Geelong, but Port Adelaide look like a very strong challenger. They're near impossible to beat at home and will see even more improvement out of the likes of Rozee, Butters and Duursma. This might be the year that they put it all together.
Who will be the recruit of the year?
NS: If -- and this is a big if -- Joe Daniher stays fit, then surely he'll make the biggest impact of last year's club-hoppers. The Lions have been crying out for one more true key forward target during their ascension from pretenders to contenders and Daniher is the perfect option. He should make a dynamite one-two combination with Eric Hipwood - again, if he stays fit.
JM: The footy world was left in shock when Collingwood moved on Adam Treloar at the end of 2020, and the star midfielder will have plenty to prove at his new home. The Dogs already boast a star-studded midfield group and Treloar could benefit from it by getting up the ground a little more and hitting the scoreboard. Treloar will be an All-Australian in 2021, take that to the bank!
MW: Zac Williams wanted midfield minutes and that's what he's going to get at Carlton. He showed in the 2019 finals series what he can do when played on the ball, but with the depth the Giants have through the middle, he wasn't going to get a sustained crack at it. Could this be his breakout year? I have a good feeling about him.
JR: All of the above are strong candidates but if we're looking at simply impact on the team, I'm going with Stef Martin. The Bulldogs are a super team that had little to no ruck presence last year. I still think Tim English will be a great player, but the Bulldogs now have a gun ruckman and having someone to train against and learn from will only set up Tim English to be their ruck of the future.