The West Coast Eagles will convene at Optus Stadium on Sunday night to attend an AFL-first virtual Brownlow Medal. Teams from across the nation will assemble in their home states or assigned hubs and tune in to the made for TV event, which will be hosted by Chanel Seven hosts Hamish McLachlan and Jacqui Felgate. AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan will be in Queensland to read the votes on the evening.
Bookmakers nationwide reckon it’s a race between two – Brisbane’s Lachie Neale and Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak – but they’ve been wrong before. Remember when a certain star Eagle unexpectedly claimed the game’s highest individual honour in 2014? We certainly do!
We’ve done the research and put forward the club’s top five contenders ahead of the 2020 Brownlow Medal.
According to AFL.com.au’s Brownlow Medal predictor, Naitanui is West Coast’s best chance at pinching the league’s top individual prize from the favourites. And we tend to agree. The marquee Eagle had a phenomenal home and away campaign where he ranked second in the league for total hitouts and total centre clearances per game. He averaged 29.1 hitouts, 11.3 disposals, 5.7 clearances and 3.6 inside 50s per outing in 2020. As good as those numbers are, they don’t really tell the tale of Naitanui’s season. His tap work was out of this world good this year, helping the likes of Luke Shuey, Tim Kelly and Dom Sheed surge the ball forward with ease, and he was equally sublime at ground level, as evidenced by his clearances. He is a strong chance to poll maximum votes for at least two games - round one v Melbourne (13 disposals, 23 hitouts, six clearances) and round 13 v Greater Western Sydney (28 hitouts, 14 disposals, seven clearances, one goal) - in addition to picking up a handful of other votes along the way.
West Coast’s six-time leading goal kicker had another fantastic year patrolling the attacking arc. In fact, you could argue that Kennedy might have challenged for a third Coleman Medal if he happened to avoid an errant knee from Richmond defender Noah Balta in round 14, which essentially cost him two games. Nevertheless, he is bound to poll several votes for a couple of destructive outings, including his seven-goal haul against Collingwood in round eight and dominant performance in round seven RAC Derby where he bagged four majors.
The All Australian forward had a breakout year in blue and gold, taking his game to new heights. Ryan proved he is much more than a human highlights reel in 2020 by making marked improvements in his ball use and pressure game. He had a number of standout performances that are likely to net him some Brownlow votes, including but not limited to his outing against Hawthorn in round 12 (five marks, three goals); his eight-mark, four-goal effort against Essendon in round 15; and influential effort against St Kilda in round 17 where he amassed an equal season high nine score involvements.
The AFL’s premier running machine is sure to poll strongly on the league’s night of nights. Gaff continued to rack up outrageous numbers in spite of the game’s shortened format in 2020, averaging 24.3 disposals for the season (ranking him eighth in the competition for players who made more than 10 appearances this year). He will be a strong chance to poll in rounds one (30 disposals, eight marks, one goal), round eight (26 disposals, 11 marks, one goal) and round 17 (33 disposals, one goal).
West Coast’s prized off-season recruit has a history of polling strongly in the Brownlow Medal – he placed fifth in last year’s count – and he’s sure to snag a few votes following a strong debut season in blue and gold. Kelly wielded his influences in many games this year, but we’re thinking he caught the umpires attention in these games: Round eight v Collingwood (29 disposals, four marks, one goal), round 14 v Richmond (26 disposals, four tackles, one goal) and he will, without a doubt, collect votes for inspiring 30-disposal, nine-clearance and one-goal performance in round 17 when he willed the Eagles over the line against the finals-bound Saints in one of the club’s best wins of the home and away campaign.