In our series leading up to round one, AFL.com.au writers debate the best moments, players and teams since the turn of the century. From the pick of the Brownlow and Norm Smith medallists to the finest wooden spooners, non-finalists and premiership teams, a rotating panel will turn their minds to footy's big moments since 2000.
This week Jennifer Phelan, Travis King, Ben Collins and Lee Gaskin discuss the best and most enthralling premiership season. Was it 2010, which exploded in an amazing drawn Grand Final? Was it the dawn of the Swans/Eagles rivalry in 2005? Or was it 2016, when the Dogs snapped their premiership drought with a fairytale ride through the finals?
It's hard to go past a season that ends in the last ever Grand Final draw and replay. The Collingwood-St Kilda deciders – the first since 1977 – ignited debate for years to come about the validity of replaying the match the following week, something that was ultimately scrapped in 2016. It was a tumultuous but enthralling year for many clubs and individuals, with Alastair Clarkson's career reaching a crossroad when Hawthorn lost six of the first seven games. It emerged years later that he believed he would have been sacked had the Hawks not beaten Richmond in round eight. Round 13 produced the infamous chapter in the Steve Johnson-Steven Baker clash that saw the former suspended for three weeks and the latter for nine; Mark Williams walked away from Port Adelaide in round 15, and it was the last 16-team season, with Gold Coast entering the competition the following year. Jennifer Phelan
Stunned Collingwood and St Kilda players after the 2010 Grand Final draw. Picture: AFL Photos
I'm sorry to say it, Jen, but you're looking through a black and white lens if you reckon 2010 tops last season. It had everything. Hawthorn's chase to become indisputably the greatest team of all by winning four-straight flags, Essendon's players banned for anti-doping offences, the emerging threat of Greater Western Sydney, Freo's dramatic fall from grace, Buddy's stunning return from mental health issues, the top-four race hinging on the last day of round 23 and Patrick Dangerfield's record-breaking Brownlow Medal triumph. Then there was the astonishing finals campaign. Who could forget Isaac Smith's missed shot after the siren that would've sent the Hawks into a preliminary final and their straight-sets finals exit a week later, the Giants falling agonisingly short of a maiden Grand Final, the Swans' brutal smackdown of Geelong and, finally, the Western Bulldogs' emotion-charged run from seventh to end the game's longest existing premiership drought after 62 fruitless years? It simply doesn't get better than that. - Travis King
Although I share Jen's allegiance, I'm with Kingy – there's just no topping the fairytale 2016 season, which produced perhaps the greatest finale to a season in the competition's 120-year history. A couple of other seasons stand out for me and, though they were just three years apart, they were completely contrasting bodies of work. The first was 2005 when AFL chief Andrew Demetriou infamously derided Sydney for its dour style, but by season's end the ugly ducklings had transformed into show-stopping Swans to break a 72-year premiership drought and claim the club's first flag as a Sydney entity. Of course, that season is also be remembered as the start of what became a remarkable Swans/Eagles rivalry. Better than that, though, was 2008, which marked the birth of the legend of Lance Franklin, who at just 21 amassed 113.88 (and he remains the most recent centurion) in a Hawthorn side that conjured the greatest Grand Final upset in 50 years against Geelong, which had finished the minor round four games clear atop the ladder. In the process, Alastair Clarkson won the first of his four flags. - Ben Collins
When we're talking about an entire season, and not just a gripping Grand Final or a fairytale four-week finals series, nothing tops the drama and twists and turns of 2005. It all started on a Thursday night in round one when St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt was reduced to tears on the bench after the Brisbane Lions hammered his injured shoulder. The drama rolled on from there. Twenty-five games in the premiership season decided by six points or less; undefeated West Coast getting knocked off by bottom of the table Collingwood in round nine; the inaugural Dreamtime at the 'G, now one of the game's most iconic fixtures; defending premiers Port Adelaide beating Fremantle in round 22 to leapfrog the Dockers into eighth spot, before facing cross-town rivals Adelaide in week two of the finals. And, of course, the start of the memorable Sydney v West Coast rivalry, and that mark by Leo Barry to secure the Swans' their first premiership in 72 years. I rest my case. - Lee Gaskin
The Swans celebrate their first flag in 72 years. Picture: AFL Photos