December is upon us and Christmas is on the way so the team here at Zero Hanger decided to take a look at what your club's biggest wish will be heading into the 2020 season.
Reilly O'Brien to play all 22 games
At the beginning of last season, Reilly O'Brien had played just two games and was expected to be little more than a backup for the experienced Sam Jacobs. But after Jacobs went down with a shoulder injury, O'Brien stepped up to the plate and delivered, playing 18 matches and averaging over 33 hitouts a game.
With Jacobs now shipped off to GWS and only uncapped rookie Kieran Strachan and the inexperienced Billy Frampton waiting in the wings, O'Brien is Adelaide's number one man for the foreseeable future. As a result, it is crucial the 24-year-old stays healthy and remains competitive against the elite ruckman in the competition to give his midfielders the best chance at success.
Avoid a repeat of Melbourne's 2019 season
After the Lions' terrific year, it's hard to imagine them failing to make the finals next year, let alone finish 17th, but it's been done before. After Melbourne's Preliminary Final finish in 2018, it appeared the Demons were finally set for success, with many fans and pundits tipping the club to be premiership contenders in 2019.
Simon Goodwin's men would win just five games in 2019, with only Gold Coast finishing below them, despite boasting an immensely talented squad. Both clubs have endured long periods of poor performances and Brisbane's side have been similarly hyped heading into 2020, but fans will be hoping that's where the similarities end.
An unscathed pre-season for Sam Docherty
Carlton have made significant steps towards turning their fortunes around and making their long-awaited return to finals footy under head coach David Teague. However, a key factor in the club's success will be the return of co-captain Sam Docherty from injury. It has been 838 days since the 26-year-old last took the field after being sidelined with a recurring knee injury.
Docherty first ruptured the ACL in his left knee in pre-season 2017 and again around this time last year. The rebounding defender is pivotal player within Carlton's lineup, but the given his injury history, the Blues will just be hoping they can get him through training without another recurrence.
An injury-free 2020
Despite finishing fourth and making the Preliminary Finals in 2019, it was a difficult year for Collingwood who were devastated by injury for the majority of the year. With important senior players such as Taylor Adams, Dayne Beams and Jordan De Goey all missing time, the Magpies struggled at stages, including a five-week period where they lost four games.
The Pies were without the likes of Beams, De Goey and Tom Langdon for their Preliminary Final clash with the Giants and eventually lost the match, finishing yet another season with heartbreak. Although the club will certainly be wishing for better fortunes in 2020, they may not be wishing hard enough with Taylor Adams already spotted in a moon boot in pre-season.
Joe Daniher's signature
Arguably the biggest story of the trade period was the Joe Daniher saga, with the former father-son selection keen on a fresh start in Sydney. The deal, however, did not eventuate and Daniher is now stuck at Essendon for another season. The main challenge for the club this year will be to convince the son of Anthony to stay at the club, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.
In addition to the difficult contract situation, the Bombers will also have to negotiate Daniher's injury problems, which have kept him to just 11 games in the past two seasons. Essendon fans were thankful the club held firm at the trade trade but will now be hoping they can be persuasive and extend the 25-year-old's stay before he enters free agency.
Jesse Hogan to return to his 2018 form
Jesse Hogan's time so far in Fremantle has been nothing short of disastrous with injuries and off-field issues hampering the 24-year-old's first year as a Docker. The key forward arrived from Melbourne on the back of a solid 2018 season which saw him kick 47 goals in 20 games and was set to explode, if he could get his body right.
Unfortunately, in 2019 he couldn't, managing just 12 games for Freo before foot surgery ended his year. Fremantle have put a lot of faith in Hogan, trading picks six and 23 to land him and expect him to lead the forward line alongside the mercurial Michael Walters. Freo fans have plenty of experience with wasted talent and will be hoping that Jesse Hogan doesn't become the next Harley Bennell.
Gary Ablett to retire with a third premiership
It is obvious that all 18 clubs will be wishing for a premiership this Christmas, but Geelong might have just a little bit extra riding on it with the retirement of one of the game's greats on the cards. Despite his seven year stint with Gold Coast, Gary Ablett Jr has remained one of Geelong's favourite sons and when he returned to the club in 2018, the aim was to send him off with another premiership.
The Cats came close in 2019, finishing minor premiers before being eliminated in the Preliminary Finals, but will have one last chance before the "little master" retires at season's end. The 35-year-old has played 235 games for Geelong, winning almost every individual accolade under the sun along with two premierships, with a third the perfect way to finish a hall-of-fame career.
Win more than six games
Suns fans could only stand by and watch as fellow expansion club GWS qualified for their first Grand Final in history. While the Giants have played finals for four straight years, Gold Coast are still yet to feature, and have only won more than six games on two occasions. The club have been in an endless state of rebuild, but on the back of two very solid draft classes, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel.
The biggest issue for the Suns has been player retention and the only way to rectify that is by winning and building a strong culture. If the Suns can win more than six games in 2020 they will show not only their fans but also their players that improvement has been made and start t make the club a more attractive destination to join.
Greater Western Sydney
Beat Richmond in the round seven Grand Final rematch
The Giants undid all of their hard work to reach the Grand Final by being blown out of the water by Richmond. The GWS that played on the last Saturday in September was very different to the team that won three straight finals to reach it. The main objective for the club in 2020 is to ensure the devastating loss does not have a lasting impact, like it did to Port Adelaide after their 119-point drubbing in 2007.
The Power have won just three finals since that day, a stat the Giants will be keen to avoid. This starts by getting their revenge on the Tigers in round seven for a rematch at the MCG. With the future's of Stephen Coniglio and Lachie Whitfield no longer up in the air, the Giants can solely focus on their on-field performances and a win in the Grand Final rematch will go a long way towards building the confidence and another tilt at an inaugural premiership.
A 100% healthy Jon Patton
The acquisition of Jon Patton from GWS is a low-risk, high-reward situation, with the Hawks only giving up a future fourth round pick for the key forward's services. With Jarryd Roughead retiring, the door is wide open for Patton to cement his position within Hawthorn's best 22.
However, not only will the 26-year-old have Mitchell Lewis, Jonathon Ceglar and Conor Nash to compete with, but he'll also have to overcome his body. Patton's 89-game career has been marred with injury, including three knee reconstructions, which was why the Giants let him go so cheaply. At full strength, Patton could become the destructive force many thought the former number one pick would be and form a dangerous tandem alongside Jack Gunston.
Steven May to get through a whole season
Much like Jesse Hogan's time in Fremantle, Steven May's 2019 as a Demon was a huge disappointment. The Demons traded away pick six to land both May and Kade Kolodjashnij from the Gold Coast Suns, with May earning a big contract keeping him at the club until 2023. However, the defender failed to repay Melbourne's faith, arriving in pre-season unfit and struggling to perform.
The 27-year-old played just eight games in 2019, but has already taken steps to ensure he doesn't replicate it, participating in yoga and a specialised fitness program to prime himself for 2020. If May can remain fit and build a strong defensive partnership alongside Jake Lever, the Demons will improve out of sight and perhaps return to their scintillating 2018 form.
Breakout year for Luke Davies-Uniacke
The number four pick in the 2017 Draft is yet to live up to expectations at the AFL level. When drafted Davies-Uniacke was seen as one of the most AFL-ready midfield talents in the pool, but has struggled to make a big impact, whilst fellow draftees James Worpel and Jaidyn Stephenson have already made splashes at senior level.
At 20 years of age, the Dandenong Stingrays product still has plenty of time to reach the lofty expectations set for him, but North Melbourne will be hoping it comes sooner rather than later with Shaun Higgins turning 32 this year. Despite heading into the draft as one of the best accumulators of the football, Davies-Uniacke has only eclipsed 20 disposals in a game twice and should look to build upon that facet of his game in 2020.
Win Showdown 48 in the Prison Bars
Port Adelaide will be celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2020 and fans will be hoping the milestone will bring about on-field results. The Power have rarely worn their historic prison bar guernsey in the AFL, but will get the opportunity to do so when they face their rivals Adelaide in round two.
Port currently trail the Crows in Showdowns, with 23 wins to the Crows 24, and will be keen to square the ledger while donning the celebratory kits. 2020 will be a do-or-die season for the Power, with Ken Hinkley's job on the line and host of senior players entering the twilight of their careers so kicking off with a Showdown victory will be ideal.
Marlion Pickett to become a star
After one of the most amazing debuts in AFL history, the hype is real for Marlion Pickett. The footy world was shocked when the 27-year-old mid-season rookie was selected to make his debut in a Grand Final but one blind turn and a flag later, Pickett has already etched his name into Richmond folklore.
Pickett's story doesn't just make him a cult hero for Tigers fans, but is also a perfect ambassador for state league players who have AFL aspirations, and the league itself, with Pickett's success validating the mid-season draft. With fellow mature-age recruit Tim Kelly becoming a superstar after just 48 games, the opportunity is their for Pickett to show he's more than just a one-game-wonder and cement his spot within the side.
Brad Hill to earn his first All-Australian selection
After giving up picks 10, 58 and next year's second round pick for Brad Hill, Saints fans will be hoping they get a strong return on their investment. The former Hawk and Docker is a triple-premiership player and best-and-fairest winner, but he has never been able to sneak into the All-Australian team.
With St Kilda opting out of the draft and placing a strong emphasis on ready-made talent, the club are expected to make a top eight push with Hill leading the charge. If Hill has a successful season which culminates in a maiden All-Australian berth, the club's first since Nick Riewoldt in 2014, it would not only vindicate his signing, but may also have translated into wins, which have been scarce in recent years.
Buddy Franklin to kick 1,000 goals
Despite being one of the greatest goal-kickers of the modern day, Lance Franklin's last two season's have left much to be desired. The four-time Coleman Medallist has played just 29 games in the last two years and his 32-year-old body appears to be catching up to him, with soft tissue injuries hampering his progress.
However, Franklin reportedly arrived in pre-season this year in the best shape of his Sydney career, starting two weeks early with a few kilos shed off his frame. The 300-gamer currently has 944 goals to his name, just 56 off becoming the sixth 1,000 goal-kicker in AFL/VFL history. If Sydney get 56 goals out of Buddy in 2020, they'll be in a very solid position to make a return to the top eight.
Nic Nat at his best
After trading for superstar mid Tim Kelly, West Coast's on-ball squadron looks elite, but they'll need someone to give them first use. Nic Naitanui is the obvious answer, but with just 35 games to his name in the past three seasons, he is anything but a sure bet. The 29-year-old ruckman has been decimated by injury in recent years, with two ACL tears and an ankle injury keeping him sidelined.
With the Eagles putting a lot of eggs in the Kelly basket (three top 25 draft picks), it is crucial the club give him the best opportunity to thrive and forming a strong midfield unit alongside Naitanui, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed and Elliot Yeo is paramount. If Nic Nat is fit and firing, the West Coast Eagles are almost premiership favourites.
Fixing their ruck disadvantage
Although the Bulldogs made a successful return to the finals in 2019, there was one glaring statistic which they'll be hoping to fix in 2020. Last season the Bulldogs ranked dead last for hitouts, with 561 for the season, meaning their midfielders are not getting first use of the football at stoppages.
The club's number one ruckman, Tim English, had a breakout year, playing 20 games and competing against the likes of Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn. Although English is an athletic player who can move around the ground with ease, he lacks the physical presence to dominate in the ruck. A big hope for Luke Beveridge this pre-season is continuing to build English's game and size to win more contests.