IT'S THE Ratugolea Riddle.
Geelong in 2020 may actually be a more dangerous team without Esava Ratugolea, its brilliant retrieval of a 37-point deficit against Western Bulldogs in round 14 emphatically proving 2020 premiership credentials, quite possibly favouritism.
Yet since February and as recently as two weeks ago, Geelong coach Chris Scott has been publicly lauding his big forward/ruck – an extraordinarily talented 22-year-old just 38 matches in to a career seemingly destined for stardom – as crucial to success.
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To AFL.com.au in the pre-season, Scott said: "He could be a special ruckman in my view." In mid-August, Scott said Ratugolea had the "potential to be exceptional… I think we're a better team with Esava in it".
Ratugolea is still beautifully raw as a potentially super AFL talent. But he is far from a seasoned footballer. He presents as a viable marking target inside 50, but can at times crowd the space otherwise set aside for the dominant Tom Hawkins, and has kicked only 3.5 from 10 matches this season, as well as averaging 8.5 disposals, and 2.3 marks.
Ratugolea played the first nine matches of the season, but only once - against the winless Adelaide in round 13 - since the Cats started a five-match winning sequence after a narrow loss to West Coast in round nine.
He's only 22, Ratugolea, is still an AFL "baby", and might actually evolve into being the next Nic Naitanui.
But with Rhys Stanley performing very nicely in the ruck, and with a now-fit Josh Jenkins almost certain to be given a crack at some stage of the remaining three home-and-away matches (Essendon, Richmond and Sydney), the 2020 season may just not be for him.
What a luxury, though, for the Cats. A fit Ratugolea there, if needed. Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood to return. Reckon season 2020 is shaping as the year of the Cat.
Desperate Kangas lurch from bad to even worse
North Melbourne's season, and immediate future, is now in the disaster category.
Eight scoring shots to Gold Coast's 31 on Sunday resulted in a 63-point loss. It could have been 100-plus.
The life has been sucked out of this club, and already, season 2021 is a near-impossible "sell" to supporters and even more significantly, free agents and out-of-contract players from other clubs.
Said it at the time and will never deviate. The decision to sack Brad Scott as coach midway through 2019 was a project without proper process, planning and foresight. Twenty-six matches later, and with just three wins in 2020, the Roos are an unmitigated mess.
Injuries have hurt North Melbourne this year, but the club very, very, very questionably played Ben Cunnington in round five when he could barely walk, and also played captain Jack Ziebell two weeks later when he too seemed barely fit to run a lap of an oval, let alone play a game of AFL football.
Those were desperate decisions made by a desperate organisation.
Where's Ben Brown with his knee injury?
And now that desperate organisation is refusing to play Jared Polec, despite wanting sympathy in declaring that only 28 players were available for selection in round 14. That Polec was forced to sit in the stands and watch as his pathetic team scrounged eight shots at goal on Sunday was just wrong.
Tiger emotions spill over, and why shouldn't they?
Richmond easily accounted for West Coast last Thursday. Its premiership defence is tracking beautifully.
Even with another injury to a key player emerging from the game, the Tigers have now already done enough to book a finals berth, and are poised to win at least two of their remaining three matches (Dockers, Cats, Crows).
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Dylan Grimes' damaged hamstring sees him added to an unavailable-list already including Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards and David Astbury, but by winning a second flag in three seasons in 2019, Richmond proved its system was impenetrable.
But the Tigers are enduring a storyline which just won't go away, a storyline being driven by the power of family – personal family and football club family.
And while it is far from normal, every single person involved in it should be cut some deserved slack, given this football club has openly encouraged expressing vulnerability and real emotion.
The captain and his wife. Her father. The coach. The CEO and his wife. All have seen raging media headlines generated out of their actions and words since the Tigers set up base in a Gold Coast hub, and given the COVID-19 pandemic-generated stresses of 2020, all their words and actions are actually OK.
Put yourself in any of those shoes. I defy you to act any differently in the way you would choose to defend a loved one.
The four games that derailed St Kilda's season
Rounds one, six, 13 and 14.
St Kilda fans know the relevance. Matches against the woeful North Melbourne, Fremantle, Brisbane and Melbourne – lost respectively by two, six, two and three points.
Any possibility of a seriously impactful 2020 season has been eradicated by those narrow defeats. The cumulative toll is demoralising, possibly suffocating.
The remaining 2020 Saints matches are against Hawthorn, West Coast and GWS. They need two wins to play finals. What was looming as a very good season is now shaping as an unfulfilled one.