There has been wide debate and speculation surrounding the topic of who might've brought home the flag in the 2020 AFLW season. We can't do better than guess, but taking into account a seasonal analysis of each of the top teams, here is our rendition of what may have happened.
As we already know, the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the last two rounds of the 2020 NAB AFLW season. We went straight into semi-finals, all of which were elimination affairs, meaning whoever was to be crowned premier would have had to have won three consecutive matches to get there. There has been much speculation on who would have stood tall at the end of the season, so let’s take a look at which remaining four teams had the best shot of taking home the premiership trophy if the remaining finals were played. Who would have been victorious?
North Melbourne vs Carlton
The 2019 grand finalist, Carlton, gained vital experience, having already dealt with the big stage while playing in front of 53,034 at Adelaide oval in last year’s grand final showdown. Despite being completely blown away by the Crows and losing their captain and best-and-fairest Brianna Davey to cross-town rivals Collingwood, they came back this year with a vengeance, reestablishing their credentials as one of the top teams in the competition.
Their ability to adapt their game plan to suit every opposition allowed them to go into every home and away game with confidence. The Blues were able to do this thanks to their quality players at their disposal all across the park. Maddy Prespakis sits on the top of this list, as she cemented her position as one of the best players in the competition after somehow taking her game to another level in 2020 after an incredible debut season.
Kerryn Harrington commanded the team across half-back as always, and Tayla Harris and Darcy Vescio were a constant issue for opposition defenders. The acquisition and belief in draftees, Lucy McEvoy, Grace Egan and Charlotte Wilson, also proved to be a great decision as all three won Rising Star nominations.
The Blues showed what finals footy was all about in their convincing 29-point win over Brisbane in the semi-finals. After a slow start, only being a goal up at half-time (a situation they found themselves in all too often in this year), they eventually burst away from the Lions in the second half of the game to earn them a spot in what would have been a blockbuster preliminary final against the courageous Kangaroos.
North Melbourne came into the 2020 season considered as ‘the team to beat’ and didn’t crack under the pressure, finishing top of Conference A in the shortened home and away shortened. Despite losing their opening round to Melbourne by an agonising two points, the Kangaroos never looked back, winning six games consecutively, including their semi-final thriller against Collingwood, thanks to former magpie, Jasmine Garner, who stood tall across half-back taking several impressive marks in the dying minutes.
It’s no surprise after her terrific season, which saw her crowned AFL Players’ Association AFLW MVP. After her move to the Kangaroos’ already strong midfield, we saw just how good she is around clearances alongside the likes of skipper, Emma Kearney, ball-magnet, Ash Riddell and young gun, Ellie Gavalas. The Roos’ midfield became their biggest strength, and the best in the league; it was big reason why their season was so successful.
It wasn’t just their midfield that was firing during the season, they outscored every team in the competition comfortably and conceded the second least amount of points at the other end of the ground. Making them one of the most well-rounded teams in the competition and solidifying why they were the hot favourites to take home the premiership had the season been completed. They will again be a serious contender for next year’s flag.
It would have been one of the best games of the season, but the Kangaroos were the favourite for a reason. They finished top, they had one of the best players in the league with Garner, and they were in red-hot form. Despite their grand final experience, Carlton struggled to score early all season, and the Roos wouldn’t have let them back into the game. North Melbourne 2020 grand finalist, only just.
Fremantle vs Melbourne
In the other conference, Fremantle was the other serious contender to take home the 2020 premiership trophy after remaining unbeaten all season, which is an AFLW record itself, despite not playing the last two rounds or the remaining finals. The Dockers dominated the newly established Gold Coast at home in the west ruthlessly winning the semi-final by a whopping 60 points.
The always entertaining purple haze continuously put on a show for the crowd, whether it was Roxy Roux flying in a big pack for a mark, or small-forward, Sabreena Duffy running rampant and kicking four goals in a game. They were one of the best teams to watch in the competition and one that surprised many after losing players prior to the season to arch-rival and new team, West Coast.
Captain, Kara Antonio and vice-captain, Kiara Bowers were key pillars for the Dockers and played a big role in the havoc they caused with their forward game-plan. Antonio always provided a key target and is one of the best in the league for forward pressure, and Bowers is a contested bull through the middle of the park who thrives on the physicality of the game.
By these players getting their hands on the footy early and rushing it into their forward 50 as quickly as they could, they were able to use their forward pressure to lock the ball in. This game-plan is simple and can be chaotic at times, but as they proved, it was effective, with teams struggling to constantly be on the defensive.
Melbourne narrowly beat out Collingwood for a spot in the semi-finals on percentage and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was heartbreak for the Giants as the Dees made a last quarter come-back to earn a spot in the preliminary finals thanks to young forward, Lily Mithen who kicked the winner with 25 seconds left on the clock.
They severely struggled with injuries and had to overcome the longest and most severe injury-list in AFLW history to make first finals appearance. After coming up short in the previous three seasons, the red and blue finally make finals and they definitely made the most of it.
Unsurprisingly, Daisy Pearce was named as best captain by the AFL Players’ Association AFLW in her first season back after giving birth to twins. What was surprising though was her move to the Dees’ defense in 2020, but she was a revelation. Her great knowledge of the game allowed her to read the play and organise with ease. She was calm and composed with the ball and the Demons loved it in her hands.
New recruit, Libby Birch had a breakout season in defense, becoming one of the best lock-down defenders in the competition and helping Melbourne have the best defensive line in the competition, conceding the least amount of points in the home and away season.
The best defense in the competition versus one of the best scoring teams, structure and organisation versus chaos and pressure. It would have been opposites playing one another and an entertaining game to watch. Our prediction is that Fremantle would have got over the line and continued their unbeaten streak into the grand final. Melbourne did well to get into the prelim but have struggled with winning must-win games and this would have been just that.
Grand Final: North Melbourne V Fremantle verdict
What a game this could have been between the two best teams in the competition. Bowers up against Kearney would have been one of the best one-on-one contested battles since the AFLW began. Fremantle love to get the ball forward quickly and unpredictably, but with Garner able to float across half-back and her marking ability, North would have been able to intercept and rebound the ball back out of their defensive 50. The purple haze would be limited in the free possession they could get out of the middle with the Roos elite midfield getting their hands on the ball first. Our verdict, North Melbourne were the best team in the competition and love the big stage, they are our 2020 AFLW premiership team.