AFL Round Table: Should the Grand Final rematch be the season opener? Most improved player in 2021?

play
The best and worst AFL guernseys of all time (2:12)

With the 'prison bars' debate dominating last week, the ESPN Footy Podcast team think back to some of the AFL's worst (and best) guernseys of all time. (2:12)

The 2021 AFL season is well and truly underway, and our experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 8.

Should the Grand Final rematch be the opening game of the season?

Rohan Connolly: Yes. I'm old enough to remember when it used to happen, in the mid-to-late 1980s, when Essendon, Hawthorn and Carlton ruled the roost. The fall-out from the previous season's Grand Final was always a talking point in the lead-up, it made great theatre, and that was when football had far less promotional savvy than today. With all due respect to the Tigers vs. Blues, I'd be far more excited about a Grand Final rematch kicking off the new season.

Jake Michaels: I'm not too fussed with this and can certainly live with it either way, but why not do it again? I find that by the time Round 8 rolls around, everyone has well and truly moved on from last year's Grand Final. It would be pretty special to restart the following year with the two best teams from the previous season, just as it's done in other leagues around the world.

Matt Walsh: Hasn't the build-up to Friday night's clash between Richmond and Geelong just been ... lost? It's a bit of a shame, and yes, I'd like to see it be the opener. The run in would be hyped wonderfully, and there's nothing quite like the idea of unfurling the premiership flag in front of the team you beat to get it!

Jarryd Barca: I'd like to see it. Take nothing away from Richmond and Carlton's clash to open proceedings, but the alternative's build up would be far more exciting for the neutral supporter. The Blues just haven't delivered in that fixture.

Who is more of a flag threat out of Port Adelaide and West Coast?

RC: I think you have to say Port. While both teams have had their issues on the road lately, and against the very best teams, I'm slightly more confident in the Power's capacity to jag a win away from home against the odds, and their record not just this season but last, is more consistent. Ultimately, while I've got plenty of respect for the Eagles' best, I still think they'd have to play and win two finals at home to be able to win a Grand Final. I wouldn't say that as definitively about Port Adelaide.

JM: Both at absolutely full strength? I reckon the Eagles are more of a flag chance than Port but there's a few long-term injuries for West Coast and a full strength team looks a long way off. I'm really not convinced by either right now. Can I say neither will win it in 2021!?

MW: I think Port, and comfortably. The losses to Brisbane at the Gabba and West Coast at Optus (ironically) were both really bad but I think they have the tools and are a more complete side than the Eagles, who admittedly have a few key names out.

JB: Brisbane is becoming a bogey team of Port Adelaide, having now won their past four encounters; some teams match up well against others and the Power lost to a strong side, so I'm not concerned. The Eagles, on the other hand, are far too hit and miss and are deemed flat track bullies for a reason. I still trust Ken Hinkley's men more, I like their system, they're a balanced team littered with match winners and have recruited superbly in the offseason.

Who is the most improved player in 2021?

RC: It has to be Tom Hickey, doesn't it? His story is amazing. At a fourth club, in a fourth state, having been traded out of West Coast after just three games last season, and again recruited purely as a back-up ruckman. Lo and behold he becomes central to Sydney's unexpected climb up the ladder, and is 12th in the AFL Coaches' Association award after another best-on-ground against Geelong. I'm loving how he's going. So must the Swans.

JM: There's plenty of worthy candidates including Hickey, Bailey Dale and Oscar Allen, but I've loved the work of Ben Keays this year, who has just notched 50 games. I know last year we had shortened quarters, but just look at these numbers from 2020 to 2021: disposals (16.5 to 27.3), clearances (2.9 to 5.4), inside 50s (2.5 to 6.4) and tackles (3.3 to 5.4). He's become a really valuable midfielder for Adelaide.

MW: The bad thing about going third in the Round Table is my choice is odds-on to have been pinched! Tom Hickey with 24 coaches votes and nearly a goal a game as a 30-year-old ruckman brought into his fourth club (as a backup) is astounding!

JB: Darcy Parish has really elevated himself this year. The 23-year-old has forever shown signs he will be a damaging onballer, but we've only seen him lightly scratch the surface of his potential. He's never averaged more than 21 touches, but this season he's up to 27 per game, which includes seven score involvements and six clearances. That Anzac Day game was unreal!

How many more games will Adelaide win this season?

RC: Five. I've just been through the fixture, and it's not kind to the Crows. They've got nine more games against current top eight teams, two each against their local rival Port Adelaide, West Coast and Melbourne, and there's still seven more road trips, including Perth and two unfamiliar venues in Cairns and Ballarat. Mind you, I still think eight wins for the season would be a big advance on what most were expecting.

JM: I said on the podcast a few weeks back, after the red-hot start, that I could only see the Crows winning four or five games for the season... TOTAL. Let's face it, they upset Geelong in Round 1 (where surprises frequently occur) and have only beaten Gold Coast and North Melbourne since. The Crows will do well to win three more games in 2021.

MW: They've been brought back down to earth recently, but Rory Sloane will improve this side. If they can finish the year on seven or eight wins they'll be pretty happy after a wooden spoon year last season.

JB: They stormed out of the blocks and were impressive in doing so to bring in their 2021 campaign, but lack of established talent across the field catches up with you. Apart from the Round 1 Geelong scalp, they haven't beaten much. Four more wins this season and I'll tip my hat to them.