Our experts debate all the hot topics and burning questions as Footy Fest continues.
Does Richmond have a worrying culture issue?
Niall Seewang: It depends on how you define and quantify culture - it is one of the great intangibles of footy and one those on the outside of clubs struggle to understand. But without doubt the Tigers have had a really poor year off the field, with mistakes made from the top (captain and coach) down. Winning papers over many cracks and if Richmond do win the premiership, no one will question their culture. But considering the multitude of off-field indiscretions that have blighted their 2020 campaign so far, something does seem off at Tigerland.
Jake Michaels: I think this is a serious overreaction to last week's incident. I'm not defending the Tigers pair (their actions were beyond stupid) but to say the team which has dominated the competition for almost four years has a culture problem is a huge reach. Just 12 months ago we were all raving about how great Richmond's culture was! This seems very reactionary to me.
Matt Walsh: Having read Jake's take above, I can't agree with him. This year alone they've had the Stack/Coleman-Jones incident, the Brooke Cotchin bubble breach and attempted cover-up, the Mabior Chol groping vision and poorly-handled fallout, and they've abandoned their VFL Women's team despite pulling in big cash and record memberships. Things are looking a little shaky. Salvageable, but not something to gloss over.
Jesse Robinson: It's easy to focus on some indiscretions this year and forget about the complete overhaul the club went through in recent years. If you look at the club's work in the community, its Korin Gamadji institute, the emphasis on mental health and connection, or read the books on the premiership years by Konrad Marshall, or listen to president Peggy O'Neal, I think there is overwhelming evidence of a culture of nurturing, development and genuine care. That's not to pretend there haven't been issues this year but to suggest there is an issue with the culture of a whole organisation due to some indiscretions is wrong. You learn more about a club in how it responds to these kind of incidents rather than what is happening.
Who has been the coach of the season?
NS: I think Ken Hinkley narrowly edges out Chris Scott so far in 2020. Their teams sit first and second but Hinkley's ability to lift the Power from mid-table to ladder leaders is nothing short of exceptional. I love the fact he earmarked a premiership as Port's goal during the preseason - not many coaches lay their cards on the table so openly, especially after missing the finals four times in the previous five years.
JM: It's hard to go past Brett Ratten. The Saints have taken a significant step in 2020 and look to be heading towards a finals berth. They slowed a little after a lightning start but Ratten has managed to get them back on track, currently sitting sixth with a 9-6 record and a percentage of 113.9. Still not sure why the Blues moved off him...
MW: For two teams in the bottom half of the ladder, I've been really impressed by Justin Longmuir and Stuart Dew - particularly Longmuir. He's instilled a really tight defensive setup at Freo that has worked despite injuries to key defenders. Giving more midfield time to the likes of Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw while sending Nat Fyfe forward has been a future-minded move as well. He's getting the best out of the list for sure.
JR: If I can't give it to Matt Rowell for his excellent work on the Suns' bench then it's hard to argue with Ken Hinkley as the best coach so far. He's found the consistency we've been demanding from the Power for a while now and has made great use of his star forward in Charlie Dixon while being ruthless with his selections each week, all of which has led to them sitting a game clear at the top of the ladder almost at season's end. Now let's see what he can produce in the finals.
An #AFLDraft special! The team is joined by @ChrisDoerreESPN— footytips (@footytips) December 7, 2020
and @championdata's Christian Joly to chat:
🦠 COVID curveballs
🧐 A top 20 phantom draft
📈 Risers and sliders
👀 Ranking the No. 1 picks since 2000
Stream the latest @ESPNAusNZ#AFL pod herehttps://t.co/XHlrbAAC7Y
Can Brisbane win the flag without Harris Andrews?
NS: I doubt it. He could be sidelined until preliminary final week and even if he does return in that timeline, he'll be severely rusty. Andrews is the glue that holds the Lions' defence together, equally at home nullifying rival forwards and launching counter-attacks. The Lions would hate to come up against a rampaging Tom Hawkins, Charlie Dixon or Tom Lynch without Andrews, and I think he needs to be back by the second week of finals if they're any chance.
JM: I don't think they would win a Grand Final without him but he'll be back before then (if they go that far) and therefore I'm not writing them off just yet. Don't forget, this team has plenty of weapons and recently learned their home ground will host the big dance. As far as I'm concerned, they are still one of four teams which can win it this year.
MW: Semantics, but yes they can. Will they? Geez, it's going to be hard. I know Richmond won the 2019 flag without Alex Rance, but the Tigers boasted Dylan Grimes, David Astbury as their other key backs, as well as Nick Vlastuin and Bachar Houli who can come in and intercept. No offence to Darcy Gardiner and an ageing Grant Birchall, but they're not on the same level. I know coach Chris Fagan declared "we're a team, not the Harris Andrews Football Club", but he's a massive out.
JR: There is no doubt it makes things more difficult, but the Tigers managed it without Alex Rance in 2019. No one player makes a club, and there will be some big performances required from the lesser-known Brisbane defenders. I also wouldn't rule Andrews out if the Lions made it all the way to the Grand Final.
Should Alastair Clarkson leave the Hawks and coach elsewhere?
NS: He doesn't appear a happy lad this year, does he? Maybe the four-time premiership coach just isn't used to being down the bottom of the ladder - or maybe he's just a sore loser, like Jake suggested on this week's podcast - but he does seem to have a decent-sized bee in his bonnet. He's contracted until the end of 2022 but I wonder whether, after 15 years at the Hawks, he might be tempted elsewhere. I guess it depends on whether he's happy to rebuild again.
JM: Why not? This Hawthorn list isn't going to be at the pointy end of the ladder for quite a while, so jumping ship now for a club on the rise might not be such a bad idea. But if he really is the master coach everyone seems to think, he should be able to stay and turn it around. Unfortunately that's not so easy when you don't have the players...
MW: I think he's committed to the Hawks and while that might mean a slow rebuild, as we've seen throughout the last week, it doesn't mean he won't try and make things easier for himself. First it was the holding the ball rule he didn't like, now he's not a fan of the draft, all but calling for an end to academy and concession picks. Peculiar timing, hey?
JR: Should he actively pursue another club? Probably not, but there's quite a few clubs that should be sending some enquiries his way. With a resume like that, Clarko shouldn't have much trouble finding another gig if he parts ways with Hawthorn, which would likely be a huge mistake on Hawthorn's part. Imagine him at a club like Melbourne with a list to use immediately.