The 2021 AFL season is well and truly underway, and our experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 5.
Which club should pursue Kade Simpson hardest?
Rohan Connolly: Given that Simpson himself has said it would need to be a team that is likely to be playing finals, and that he's about to turn 37, that narrows the choices a bit. I would have thought either Geelong or West Coast would make sense (even if it would push the average of both up to near the pensioner bracket!) Both have very solid defences, but perhaps lack a little explosive run out of the backline. Simpson certainly offers that.
Jake Michaels: The Blues? Although I guess if they wanted him, he'd still be playing... I reckon the Demons could benefit enormously with Simpson in the side. Not only does he provide plenty of experience but he would offer smart ball use in the back half, while still being able to play a lock down defensive role. And hey, Melbourne has history with recruiting these types of players late on in their careers. Remember Jordan Lewis?
Matt Walsh: I think North Melbourne is the obvious choice given the position the club is in, but as Rohan said, he'd be keen to join a contender. I can see both the Lions and the Swans benefitting from having him on the list, as well as West Coast, who could be without Shannon Hurn for a while (though he'll probably be back by then). If fit, Simpson could slot in at more than a few teams. He's skilled and very durable.
Jesse Robinson: There's two ways to look at this, do you send a player late in his career to a rising club to develop their kids like Brisbane did with Luke Hodge and Grant Birchall, or do you take the NBA approach and add a veteran to a stacked line up and make a charge for a flag? Given Simpson's already begun some coaching with the Blues' AFLW side, I'd be inclined to take a look at him if I was Essendon or North Melbourne to help with their development. The nostalgic side of me would love to see him running around in the long sleeves for the Blues, even though it'd be a bit weird with Zac Williams wearing his number six!
A month into the season, who plays in the Grand Final?
RC: Four rounds in? You serious? Going to be pretty dirty if this gets thrown back in my face as a prediction gone spectacularly wrong given it's only mid-April! That said, I'm still pretty comfortable with my pre-season Grand Final tip, which was Richmond and Western Bulldogs. Surely, even at 2-2, the Tigers need no explanation. And the Doggies? Ticking over beautifully at the moment, and a lot more potent up forward. Definitely good enough to get there.
JM: Well I had the Cats and Lions playing in the Grand Final, so I'm a little nervous right now! I'm going to hang tough with the Cats, as I think the inclusion of Jeremy Cameron and the return of Patrick Dangerfield will be significant, but I'm swapping Brisbane for the Bulldogs, for basically the reasons Rohan listed above. All of a sudden they have a scary three-pronged attack to go along with the most dominant midfield in the league. What's not to like about that?
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MW: You got me, Rohan, I'm furiously scribbling down notes to expose you on the podcast later this year! In all seriousness -- and I'm 'barracking for the yarn' here -- but the Bulldogs are showing me no reason not to think they're the real deal in 2021, while the Demons have leaders on every line (including in the coach's box) and room for improvement. Dees vs. Dogs would make a success-starved supporter base very happy.
JR: At this early stage a Power vs. Bulldogs Grand Final seems like a likely match up. Two sides with a strong blend of youth and experience that play footy which is fun to watch. If Port can guarantee a home run through finals, you'd almost lock them in for a Grand Final slot and the Dogs are the best of the bunch right now.
What will be the biggest storyline to come out of Round 5?
RC: It might well be a continuation of one of the biggest to come out of Round 4, that is, another chapter in the "where to for Collingwood" saga (though I've forgotten which number in the series by now). At 1-3, the Pies are clearly in trouble. Not for the first time, the stage is set for another of those rousing "backs to the wall" performances on the road in Perth. This time, though, it's against a West Coast side stung by a bad fade-out against St Kilda. Another bad loss for Collingwood here, and the vultures will be circling.
JM: What on earth has happened to the Lions? I have a sneaking suspicion Essendon will upset Brisbane at the Gabba (I'm crazy, I know), a result which would leave Chris Fagan's side at 1-4, with their only win coming courtesy of Zac Bailey's kick after the siren against the Pies. Teams almost never make finals after dropping four of the first five games, and that would have to be the biggest talking point should the Dons cause the upset.
MW: I think the Giants are very capable of bursting the undefeated Swans' bubble. Toby Greene is a monster of a leader and a tough matchup, and the win over Collingwood was exactly what the Giants needed to kick-start their season. If it's salvageable, they'll give the Swans a red-hot shake - remember, this Sydney team is still full of youth and inexperience. They won't be perfect forever.
JR: If it's not another controversial umpiring decision, then the Hawks handing the Demons their first loss of the year and suddenly the AFL world starts asking all kinds of questions about the legitimacy of the Demons ... again.
What change would you make to list management?
RC: I'd simplify it. I understand the argument we need greater flexibility of player movement and contingencies to cover various scenarios. But these days you need a PhD to get your head around the various draft points formulas and regulations, and now we're talking about even more devices to manipulate senior lists. Too much, I say.
JM: Why do we always need to change stuff!? I'm comfortable with what we currently have in place and don't see a great need to do anything differently.
MW: This is very ESPN of me, but I would introduce an 'injured reserve' list similar to in the NFL. For long-term injuries, teams can place a player on the IR, and then top up their list to maintain a certain number of players (let's say 43) with delisted free agents - such as your Kade Simpsons of the world. Think of it as a medical sub for the list.
JR: Keep 18-19 year old draftees on ice for a year, give them a year in the system, learn the system and structures, develop their bodies, learn to be a professional athlete and then unleash in their second year. This will cost us the incredible debut years of someone like a Sam Walsh or Matt Rowell, but longevity of career and body as well as reduced list churn could be a huge upside. Oh, and scrap the Father-Son rule.