The AFL has claimed bragging rights over the NRL after Elijah Taylor won The Frownlow Medal in 2020 and broke the NRL dominance of the award. Taylor was found guilty of physically assaulting his partner, and for smuggling the same woman into the team’s hotel in breach of strict COVID-19 protocols.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition.
NRL players have dominated the medal since Shaun Kenny-Dowall won in 2015. He handed the mantle to NRL colleagues Corey Norman and Tim Simona, before Ben Barba won in 2019. Karmichael Hunt claimed the prize in 2018, but he played NRL and Super Rugby as well as AFL, so Taylor’s victory gives the AFL its first outright medallist.
The AFL is understandably proud of its maiden victory, but may have to temper celebrations for 2021. The first five nominees for the 2021 award are all NRL players, and they will be very hard to beat. Jarryd Hayne, Jack de Belin, Tristan Sailor and Jamil Hopoate all face charges of violence against women, and should have their legal proceedings completed this year. Manase Fainu is also awaiting the outcome of his court case, for allegedly stabbing a man outside a church dance.
Super Rugby has one victory, courtesy of Hunt, while the A-League has never won the award, and only recorded a handful of nominations in six years.
The NRL is heavily favoured to re-establish its dominance in 2021, but a year is a long time in football, and professional footballers are capable of getting themselves into all sorts of scandals off the field. So, can the AFL win the most prestigious award in Australian sport for a second year running?