AS WE bade farewell to two Carlton favourites in 2020, a new star of the competition emerged at Melbourne.
The dropping of a club captain also features in the next instalment of AFL.com.au's countdown of the year's biggest stories, while a ruckman sharing his notes on a rival makes the list from 30-21.
30. Christian Petracca joins game's elite
After five seasons of gradual improvement, Melbourne midfielder-forward Christian Petracca exploded in 2020 and became the star the Demons knew he could be. Released into the midfield, Petracca became a hard-ball specialist, ranking No.4 in the AFL for contested possessions (12.6 a game) and No.3 for ground-ball gets (9.2), also lifting his average disposals from 18.7 to 23.5, despite shortened matches. He kicked 15 goals while spending less time forward and finished third in the Brownlow Medal. His outstanding physical preparation ahead of his sixth season also saw Petracca win his first club champion award and he enters 2021 with the look of a player who has another level still to reach.
29. The Bulldogs get Jamarra
The Western Bulldogs' ability to snare the best young prospect in the country with a combination of late picks was the story of the 2020 NAB AFL Draft. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was long recognised as the best draft prospect and the Bulldogs had priority access to him through their Next Generation Academy, matching Adelaide's bid for the forward at pick No.1. Ugle-Hagan cost the Bulldogs picks 29, 33, 41, 42, 52 and 54, becoming the first and last player to be snared by a club at pick No.1 under the Academy bidding system. The AFL changed the rules ahead of the 2021 season, making clubs unable to match such bids inside the top 20 of the draft. The Bulldogs struck just in time and secured a player who has been compared to Sydney superstar Lance Franklin.
28. Brown exits during brutal North list cull
North Melbourne played its final game on September 18, losing to West Coast by 15 points and sealing its three-win season and 17th-place finish. Less than 24 hours later, 11 players were delisted as a brutal list cull got underway. Leadership group members Jamie Macmillan and Jasper Pittard were cut, as was Majak Daw. The next week, the club's leading goalkicker for the previous four seasons, Ben Brown, was put on the trade table, eventually joining Melbourne. Four players arrived during the Trade Period, and seven followed at the NAB AFL Draft and Rookie Draft, with the club now at ground zero in a comprehensive rebuild under new coach David Noble.
27. Courageous Carlton champs retire
In 2018, when he prepared to play his 300th game, Kade Simpson was photographed with club greats John Nicholls, Bruce Doull, Craig Bradley and Stephen Silvagni. The fifth member of the Blues' 300 club, he retired in 2020 on 342 games as tributes flowed in from former coaches, captains and teammates. Courageous, selfless, resilient, consistent, reliable and smart were all words used to describe the stalwart, who co-captain Patrick Cripps declared was a Carlton legend. Lion-hearted ruckman Matthew Kreuzer also called time at the end of 2020 after a career interrupted constantly by injuries. Highly competitive and with great aerobic capacity, Kreuzer's best season came in 2017 when he was nominated in the 40-man All-Australian squad and finished third in the best and fairest. Admired by fans and teammates, he retired after 189 games in 13 seasons.
26. Off-field dramas put Magpies on the back foot
Collingwood was far from the only club to breach strict COVID-19 protocols in 2020, but its off-field indiscretions came in a cluster and at a time that must have impacted performance. It started with star midfielder Steele Sidebottom, who was suspended for four weeks after a drunken Saturday night. Then Jordan de Goey was charged with sexual assault in relation to an incident that is alleged to have occurred in 2015. He returned to play and train while the legal process took (and continues to take) its course, with his contract negotiations a further distraction. Finally, coach Nathan Buckley and assistant Brenton Sanderson were fined $25,000 when they reported to the club that they had played tennis with former Australian Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik in Perth, breaching COVID-19 protocols. Through it all the Magpies fought on to make a semi-final, but it's worth considering what could have been for a talented group without the mid-season setbacks and distractions.
25. GWS makes giant selection statement
After months of poor performances that had left them scrambling for a top-eight finish, the Giants made the biggest selection call in their history, dropping captain Stephen Coniglio for the round 17 clash against Melbourne. Rather than be listed as 'rested' on the team sheet, Coniglio insisted on calling the decision what it was and he became the first full-time captain since John Worsfold in 1998 to be dropped. The Giants lost by five points and their season ended with a 52-point thrashing at the hands of St Kilda in the following round. Beaten in the midfield and unable to move the ball with the fluency of previous seasons, the Giants were the biggest disappointment of 2020 after making their inaugural Grand Final in 2019.
24. Majak's emotional return
A year-and-a-half after sustaining pelvic and hip injuries when he fell from a Melbourne bridge, Majak Daw was selected for North Melbourne's round nine clash against Adelaide. It was an emotional chapter in a career that started in 2010. After addressing serious physical and mental health issues, Daw fought back to play his first game in more than 700 days, kicking a goal and leading the team off in a rare moment of joy for the struggling Kangaroos. "Over the past two years, the battles I've gone through that’s worth it, winning with your teammates," he told broadcaster Fox Footy. The AFL's first Sudanese-born player, Daw was delisted at the end of 2020 after a career that saw him have a significant impact in his community and as a multicultural ambassador for the AFL.
23. Bushfire Relief Match raises millions
After a summer of tragic bushfires, the AFL and its players, clubs and fans came together to stage an exhibition match between Victoria and the All-Stars that raised $8 million. A crowd of 51,052 assembled at Marvel Stadium on a Friday night in late February to watch Victoria overcome a 30-point deficit and win by 46 points in a match that paid tribute to emergency services workers and raised much-needed funds for bushfire-ravaged communities. Firefighters, police and SES workers ran through a banner as a guard of honour was formed by some of the game's best players, who made themselves available for a special occasion that made a big impact.
22. ROB shares scouting notes on Nic Nat
"Run off him hard, he is lazy and unfit," read Adelaide ruckman Reilly O'Brien's notes on his upcoming opponent, Nic Naitanui. "Will have a field day getting ball and marking everything." Unfortunately for O'Brien, he had accidentally posted those notes on social media, blaming a broken phone for the mistake. The big Crow responded with class, posting a video explanation on Twitter and declaring he now had to walk the walk, which he did in an entertaining battle. Never one to sweat the small stuff, or miss an opportunity to set a positive example, Naitanui presented O'Brien with a new phone post-match, ending one of the more humorous stories of the season.
21. Ratten awakens Saints in finals return
St Kilda's run to its first finals campaign in nine years, under the stewardship of second-chance coach Brett Ratten, was one of the feelgood stories of 2020. 'Ratts' wore his heart on his sleeve in 2020 and quickly had the players on side after leading them as interim coach for the final six rounds of 2019. He implemented a bold, fast-paced game style that was both effective and enjoyable to watch as the Saints climbed to a season-high of second on the ladder in round 10. Their return to finals action vindicated the club's decision to appoint Ratten when others might have consigned him to the coaching scrapheap after six years as Carlton coach. His success could now open the door for other coaches to earn second chances in the top job.