Our experts debate all the hot topics and burning questions as we head into the 2020 AFL preliminary finals.
Which team is under the most pressure to make the Grand Final?
Niall Seewang: The more I think about it, the more I think the Lions might be under the most pressure, simply because no other non-Victorian team will be in a position to host a Grand Final at their home ground - at least until (if) the AFL's MCG contract ever winds up. That possibility could be used as motivation but the importance of the opportunity could also be weighing heavily on their minds - imagine letting this slip!
Jake Michaels: Gee, you could make a genuine case for all four teams, but I'd have to say Brisbane. Nobody in a million years could have predicted the 2020 Grand Final would be played at the Gabba, and the Lions simply have to take advantage of what's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If they were to lose to the Cats, it would be three losses from four finals in the last two years and some serious questions would start being asked...
Matt Walsh: If you're the team which sits atop the ladder from Round 1 until the end of the home and away season, then surely you're under the most pressure to make the Grand Final. Port Adelaide missing out on making the decider from here would be a massive choke, regardless of their finals-hardened opponent in Richmond (who Port beat already this year)...
Jesse Robinson: The Cats are under the most pressure - Geelong fans and the footy public all probably feel that they should have won a premiership in the Dangerfield era at least. Geelong will feel the need to get the job done while they've still got the likes of Ablett, Taylor, Hawkins and Co. A Grand Final appearance would definitely take some of the heat off Chris Scott.
Who wins the Tom Hawkins vs. Harris Andrews battle?
NS: Whoever wins this titanic battle will go a long way to deciding the prelim. We've all seen how badly Geelong's attack functions when Hawkins struggles (see Week 1 of the finals) and I think Andrews has what it takes to take the points against the big Cat. He should also receive more support from his midfield teammates than what Collingwood offered up in the semifinal. Whether that's enough to tilt the game in Brisbane's favour remains to be seen...
JM: It's going to be an all-star battle but I'd probably give the Hawk a slight edge here. He's just too strong and will likely have the better of Andrews in the one-on-ones if the ball is coming in quickly. I actually think the Lions should play someone like Darcy Gardiner on Hawkins and let Andrews be the third man in to help out in the deep contests. But either way I see Hawkins having a big say in the game.
MW: What happened when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? It's the All-Australian full back against the Coleman medallist! I agree with Niall that if Andrews can blanket Hawkins, it will go a long way to helping the Lions win. What's a breakeven for this battle and the match? If Hawkins kicks three, the Cats win.
JR: You have to give it to the Coleman medallist - he's been outstanding this season and is coming off a strong four-goal performance against the Pies. I would expect him to kick at least two goals and he will probably need to in order to help the Cats across the line.
What letter grade would you give Collingwood and St Kilda?
NS: As we wrote in our revised 2020 pass marks piece, Collingwood's season can only be viewed as a failure. They have fallen away again for the second successive year, and considering the talent on their list, I can only give them a D. The Saints, however, can look back at their season with immense satisfaction. Winning a final is a fantastic step forward and they look capable of going deeper next season. I'll give Brett Ratten's side a B+
JM: Let me start with the Saints. I didn't expect them to play finals and certainly didn't think they'd win one, so I have to give them an A. Brett Ratten is turning this club around and has uncovered plenty of young talent. You feel they are one midfielder away from challenging the upper echelon teams in 2021. As for the Pies, it's a completely different story. They have gone backwards since falling agonisingly short in 2018 and could be set to lose a number of key personnel. It's a failed year, but I'll give them a D+.
MW: I had the Saints battling for a finals spot, so for them to win one and bow out to the reigning premiers in a semi is a commendable effort - I'll give them an A. Having said that, the expectations are now high, so what can they do this offseason to make them even better? As for the Pies, what's more to say? They're a Dom Sheed miss in 2018 away from having won a flag to justify the talent on this list, but they may end up without one. It's a D- from me.
JR: St. Kilda get an A, they have blown all our expectations out of the water and still have room for improvement. Saints fans will be stinging from the loss to the Tigers but there's plenty of joy just up the road I would expect. Collingwood get a C, it was a bit of a nothing season and some real flaws were exposed, but it's hard to call it a failure of a season when you make it to a semifinal. Plenty of work needed for next season if they are to improve.
What's your Brownlow Medal trifecta?
NS: If we're to believe the bookies and experts, it's Lachie Neale and then daylight, right? The star Lion has been unbelievably impactful and consistent this year and I can't see anyone else upstaging him. Travis Boak is my pick to finish second, ahead of Jack Steele. And don't be surprised if umpires' favourites Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin poll better than expected!
JM: It's hard to see anyone other than Lachie Neale having the medal draped around their neck. The star Lion has been sensational in 2020, particularly earlier in the season, and would be a worthy winner of the award. I'll take Melbourne's Christian Petracca and Port's Travis Boak to round out the podium this year.
MW: It's such a hard award to pick because it's so subjective and from the opinion of the umps, but looking at the season objectively, it has to be Lachie Neale, followed by Travis Boak (though I can see him missing out in a few rounds he should poll in) and then a well-known champ like Dusty.
JR: Lachie Neale, Jack Steele and Patrick Dangerfield. Neale is obvious, Steele dominated for an exciting Saints team, but we always underestimate Danger's ability to poll big amounts of votes, he has polled more than 20 votes in seven of the last eight seasons, so he's always going to be in my top three.