The beginning of an AFL season always seems to offer up mixed results as we analyse each game ferociously in hopes of determining where each club sits. It seems like this is more the case this year, perhaps amplified by the unusual nature of shortened game time, fixturing, and everything else COVID-19 has altered in our great game.
After seven rounds the likes of which we’ll never witness again, we’re still no closer to a legitimate, clear premiership favourite. But whilst most clubs still harness premiership ambitions, an emphatic line can be crossed through a few clubs who should be entering the ‘rebuild’ window if they haven’t already embarked on it.
Below are five teams (unsurprisingly the bottom five on the ladder) that are in different phases of the rebuilding process. What should they be doing over the remainder of the season? What should their off-season look like?
It seems like the Hawks get written off regularly, only for Alastair Clarkson to conjure a resurrection to make them finals contenders again. But their form over recent weeks would have even the eternal optimists questioning whether they can do it again. This form, culminating in Sunday’s loss to the Demons where they began favourites, has many questioning where to for the Hawks?
They sit in an intriguing position given they remain only a game from the eight despite their poor form. Given this and their current list dynamic, the Hawks are still best served looking to challenge for this year’s finals series. Who would doubt Clarko from being able to turn things around? But even if they do, the list needs a serious overhaul at season’s end.
It’s time to relinquish the mantra of topping up with mature age talent, hit the draft and re-shape ala Roughead, Franklin and Lewis in 2004. Their top end talent is limited but the likes of Worpel, Lewis and the promising Will Day (all under 22) provide a base. Mitchell, Wingard, O’Meara and Sicily provide the proven talent and experience moving forward, but do any of their older players provide value to a team seeking a premiership? Premiership stalwarts Smith, Breust and Gunston would likely procure the Hawks additional first round selections.
The Dockers have been competitive for much of 2020 but remain at just two wins after the first seven rounds. Despite their struggles, the Dockers list looks in good shape after having multiple first round selections in recent drafts. In fact, it may be injuries more than anything that’s preventing them from a strong finals challenge.
Competitive again in the derby against the Eagles on Sunday, they were hampered by the unavailability of Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling that subsequently allowed the Eagles key forwards to run wild. With those two back, the talented yet currently inconsistent duo of Lobb and Taberner up forward, and the two-time Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe alongside the silky-smooth Michael Walters, the Dockers have the nucleus already in place. Add to that the talent of first round selections Brayshaw, Cerra, Young and Serong, and this rebuild is near completion.
The remainder of 2020 stands as a developmental phase for the Dockers. Coach Justin Longmuir needs to continue to pump midfield minutes into Cerra, Serong and Brayshaw, the latter of which has shown particular improvement in recent weeks. With continual progress and a sustainable injury list, Dockers fans should expect nothing less than finals contention next season.
Another side whose been competitive for much of the year, the Swans have been forced to fully embrace the youth path given a mounting injury list. After playing a staggering nine players 21 and under in Saturday’s loss to the Suns, John Longmire has no other choice than to continue down the development path for the remainder of the season.
Likely to be one of the major players during the trade and free agency period, the Swans list strategy is of great interest moving forward. Will they again revisit the possible acquisition of Joe Daniher? You would have to think so regardless of whether or not Daniher even takes the field for the Bombers this season. If they do acquire him, what happens with their abundance of talls with he, Franklin, Reid and young Tom McCartin? What about the contracted Tom Papley who’s in career best form but wanted to join the Blues last season?
In an ideal world the Swans need to see what their young talent can produce before revisiting their finals chances ahead of 2021. For example, we all know what Callum Mills can provide as a solid, general defender. How about as a bona fide midfielder though? Could he turn into a genuine star by the end of 2020? This is the perfect time for coaching staff and fans alike to find out the answers to such questions.
Of the five clubs mentioned, North may find themselves in the direst position. It’s difficult to find a positive for them since the AFL restart, bar perhaps the form of Jy Simpkin whose evolved from average, run of the mill player into a genuine all-australian contender.
Injuries have hit North hard this season, particular to experienced heads Ben Cunnington and captain Jack Ziebell. Even the bright spark of Simpkin was dimmed by an ankle injury early in Saturday night’s horrible loss to the Tigers. But even despite their injuries, there’s no doubt this list needs a serious rejuvenation.
The good thing for North is that many of their senior players that aren’t injured are still having good years, something that could help them at the trade table come seasons end. What could a club give up for 32 year-olds Todd Goldstein and Shaun Higgins, both whom have demonstrated that they could be of great value to a contending club. Both have been great servants for the club but now is the time to meet a mutually beneficial result. Allow them a move to chase a premiership and likely receive a first-round selection in return.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for key forward Ben Brown whose form continues to drastically slide. In no way should the club be offering a huge contract to retain him, and nor should they be offering the same to out of contract players in an attempt to ‘top up’. With their current direction offering little daylight, North need a full blown rebuild to rejuvenate a stale, unimaginative list.
Winless through seven games and with constant off-field scrutiny, many would argue the Crows have hit rock bottom. Unfortunately for their fans, results are unlikely to improve at all in the short to medium term. The good news is that there is a clear, direct method as part of their rebuild should they engage it.
Barring a minor miracle, the Crows will win the wooden spoon and thus earn the number one pick. They could also gain the second pick as free agency compensation for midfielder Brad Crouch who seems likely to move on. They also currently possess the Giants first round selection, a pick that’s looking higher than expected given GWS’ poor form. What else could they get for the likes of Brad’s brother Matt, or Rory Laird?
There seems a viable situation where the Crows have 3-4 top ten selections and perhaps even more throughout the remainder of the first round. All senior players could be on the trading block, however the likes of current captain Rory Sloane and former skipper Taylor Walker appear to be of greater value to Adelaide than they may be elsewhere.
Speaking of leadership, the decision to select Tom Doedee as captain in Sloane’s absence raised eyebrows, however his performance against the Saints on Monday night was breathtaking as far as intercept defenders go. Do Crows management pull the trigger early in regard to the captaincy going forward? The 30 year-old Sloane is unlikely to be a part of Adelaide’s next premiership tilt, whilst the 23 year-old Doedee could lead the club from their current state to premiership glory.